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The Unbearable Silence about the Jewish Refugees

Today, fewer than 4,500 Jews remain in Arab countries. Israel absorbed and integrated 600,000 of the more than 850,000 who left.

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Libya in 1961 deprived the less than 10% of the Jews who had remained there of their citizenship, as did Algeria in 1962. Iraq seized the property of Jews. As a result, Jews began leaving, were driven out, or were brought out. By the mid 1970s almost all Jews — more than 850,000 — had left those countries. According to figures and analysis provided by “Justice for Jews from Arab Countries,” and by Stanley Urman, its executive vice president, the largest numbers came from Morocco (265,000); Algeria (140,000); Iraq (135,000), and Tunisia (105,000). Almost all of the 55,000 Jews living in Yemen were taken to Israel by the air operation, “Magic Carpet.” About 130,000 Jews were airlifted from Iraq to Israel.

Today, fewer than 4,500 Jews remain in Arab countries. Israel absorbed and integrated 600,000 of the more than 850,000 who left.

It is high time to end the virtual silence and unwillingness to consider the question of Jewish refugees, and to recognize that they should be part of any final resolution of the Middle East refugee problem. The crucial United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22 1967 mentioned that a comprehensive peace settlement should include “a just settlement of the refugee problem.” It was Arthur Goldberg, the U.S. representative to the UN largely responsible for drafting the Resolution, who clarified that the language referred “both to Arab and Jewish refugees, for about an equal number of each abandoned their homes as a result of the several wars.” The implication was that any arrangements made would apply to all — not only Arab — refugees in the Middle East.

This point of view is reflected in both bilateral and multilateral agreements. The Camp David Framework for Peace in the Middle East of 1978, Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979, the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty of 1994, the Madrid Conference of 1991-92, and the Israel-Palestinian Agreements beginning in 1993, including the Declaration of Principles of September 1993 and the Interim Agreement of September 1995, all articulated similar language.

Similarly, the UNHCR announced on two occasions, in February 1957 and in July 1967, that Jews who had fled from Arab countries “may be considered prima facie within the mandate of this office,” thus regarding them, according to international law, as bona fide refugees.

In any settlement, the property abandoned by Jews would need to be taken into account. Calculation of this, although not easy, has been assessed as some $300 billion; and Jewish-owned real estate — about four times the size of Israel — at about $6 billion.

The international community is long overdue, in dealing with the Palestinian refugees, to see that equity prevails. It should be conscious of the rights of Jewish refugees, who, as a result of Arab and Islamic behavior, have suffered by being deprived of rights and property. The international community should also call for redress for these descendants. Some form of compensation is due the Jewish refugees; and discussion of it should be part of final status talks in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.

About the Author: Michael Curtis is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Rutgers University, and author of the forthcoming book, Should Israel Exist? A sovereign nation under assault by the international community.


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