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Arabs during 1948 war with Israel Photo: AFP
Arabs during 1948 war with Israel Photo: AFP
 
 

Let's talk about refugees

Op-ed: After longtime focus on Arab refugees, Israel putting Jewish refugees on the agenda

Dan Calic
Published: 04.15.12, 11:59 / Israel Opinion

This month a meeting took place with little fanfare, addressing a subject that has sat on the sidelines throughout the peace process, having received only the slightest media attention. The topic of the meeting was about refugees.

 

No, not Palestinian refugees; Jewish refugees.

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For many years the world has heard about the "right of return." This refers to Arabs who became displaced during the defensive war Israel was forced to fight when the surrounding Arab countries attacked it the day after declaring independence in 1948.

 

The plan was for Israel to be destroyed "in a few weeks," allowing Arabs to return to their home. Yet these plans were dashed as Israel won the war. After Israel's victory, not a single Arab country took these Arabs in - they were intentionally left to become "refugees," so the world would perceive Israel as the villain.

 

For more than 60 years now, most of them have lived in camps. As part of any peace agreement with Israel, Mahmoud Abbas has demanded that they and their descendants be allowed to return. Today they number more than five million. Their return would mean Jews would no longer be the majority in the only country designated as their homeland.

 

If they are not allowed to return, Abbas has demanded compensation.

 

Compensating those complicit in a plan to destroy Israel seems a logical absurdity.

 

Mutual compensation

What is virtually never given media attention is the issue of Jewish refugees. For centuries, Jewish communities existed in many Arab countries. Their combined numbers were estimated to be roughly 850,000. The UN partition vote in 1947 brought tremendous upheaval for them.

 

The creation of the tiny state of Israel brought about a harsh reaction from Arab countries where Jews lived. They lost jobs and had their homes and land taken away. Their assets were frozen. Many were jailed, and some were killed. Virtually all of them were eventually forced to flee with just the clothes on their backs, and whatever they could carry.

 

The recent meeting, which seeks to raise awareness of the Jewish refugee issue, was hosted by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Attendees included individuals from numerous organizations representing Jews from Arab countries.

 

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon opened the meeting by calling attention to the injustice done to the Jewish refugees.

 

Ayalon also asked the Arab League to take responsibility for giving birth to the Palestinian refugees by declaring war on Israel, which caused their displacement. He insisted that if compensation is part of future negotiations, it will be addressed only on a mutual basis, which includes Jewish refugees.

 

This meeting represents an attempt by Israel to counter the Arab revisionist agenda by presenting documented facts designed to bring fairness and media attention to this long overlooked component of the "peace process." Whether the balance of opposing narratives will shift remains to be seen.

 

While much remains in dispute, there is one indisputable fact about the peace process. There has been far too much "process," and far too little "peace."

 

 

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