What have Jewish refugees got to do with the Palestinians, critics ask? The current negotiations are between Israel and Palestine, not Israel and its neighbors.
The 14th May, the anniversary of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, is traditionally a day when articles appear in the press lamenting the plight of the Palestinian Refugees. You will struggle to find any mention of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Point of No Return is reproducing extracts from this Huffington Post article by Lyn Julius, which contains the main talking points. Read article in full
Advocates for Jewish rights do not seek to delegitimize Palestinian claims. But it is a feature of the prevailing discourse that Jewish refugee rights are dismissed as an impediment to peace, denigrated or ignored, while Arab rights — including the much-vaunted ‘right of return’ — are put on a pedestal. Only Arab refugees may enjoy the exclusive support of the UN agency UNWRA. Only Arab refugees may pass on their refugee status from generation to generation so that, exceptionally amongst the world’s displaced peoples, five million people can now claim to be Palestinian ‘refugees’.
For precisely these reasons Jewish and Arab refugees must be compared.
It is beyond dispute that there were two sets of refugees in 1948. It is not a suffering competition, but the rights of refugees carry no statute of limitations. What about the human rights of these Jews who fled violence and persecution with one suitcase ? Would they or their descendants ratify a peace referendum that ignored their rights?
Recognizing the narrative of 50 percent of the Israeli population who descend from Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries could well be the key to reconciliation.
The conflict has linked Jewish refugees with the Palestinians since the 1930s when the Palestinian Arab leadership became complicit in victimizing Jews in Arab countries and dragged five Arab states into the 1948 war against Israel. This war resulted in the displacement of some 40,000 Jewish refugees from Jerusalem and the West Bank, in addition to the 850,000 forced to leave Arab states.
Arab states themselves cemented the link when they criminalized Zionism, persecuted their innocent Jewish citizens as ‘the Jewish minority of Palestine’ and stole their assets.
More proof of such a link is the fact that the Arab League plays an active role in the present ‘bilateral ‘peace talks. Moreover, Arab states such as Lebanon, Syria and Egypt hosting populations of Palestinian refugees have an essential role to play in solving the refugee problem. A good start would be for the Arab League to rescind the 1950s Law prohibiting Palestinians from becoming citizens ‘to avoid the dissolution of their identity’.