Moshe Karif (R)
Photo: Sebastian Schiener

Jewish property in Arab countries

Israel must demand compensation for assets worth billions left behind by Jewish refugees

The approaching days of fall, we are told, are the days of a new international conference aimed at solving the Middle East conflict. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is rushing between the region's capitals, and the Saudis promise to take part but under one condition: We, they claim, are coming to discuss everything, even basic questions like Jerusalem's status and the refugee question.


The Goddess of Good Fortune will benefit Olmert if he managed to truly talk about everything and put into the equation the joint refugee question: The Palestinian refugees and their compensation, and the Jewish refugees from Arab countries and their compensation.


Compensation to the Palestinian refugees is one of the main issues that must be solved when the historic reconciliation between us and the Palestinians is worded. But in the same breath we must remember that the Jews of the Arab states left behind property worth billions, and no one thinks about demanding this historic loss back.


The Jews who lived in Arab countries, many of whom came here after their relations with their Arab neighbors were severed following hundreds of years of coexistence, lost their entire world in one moment.


The national awakening which generated the establishment of the State of Israel, created hostility between Jews and Muslims, which led to big waves of immigration that left behind not only a rich tradition, but also a lot of private and public property.


The young state did not believe the stories about the great wealth left behind. In the few times when the attention was focused on the issue of the Jewish property in Arab countries, this was not in order to compensate the immigrants from Tunisia, Morocco or Iraq, but in order to arrogantly offset between the Jewish property left there and the Palestinian property left here.


Moshe Sharett, who served as foreign minister in 1951, told the Knesset that "the value of the Jewish property frozen in Iraq will be taken into account by us in the compensation we promised to pay the Arabs who left their property in Israel."


Forty-eight years ago, when there was another opportunity to finally conclude the unresolved saga between us and the Palestinians, the State of Israel exerted more efforts in mapping the Jewish property through the Spanish-American Federation. The federation's president admitted at the time that "it is clear no one believes that the Arab countries will compensate Israel, but we need to have a counter-claim against the Palestinian claim."


Mapping process needed

The State of Israel never won the public's cooperation in its attempt to trace the property, mainly due to the deep lack of trust in the process and due to the offset intentions.


In order to know how much Jewish property was left in Arab countries, we are in need of quite a difficult mapping process: Private houses, businesses, stores, public buildings, synagogues, mikvaot (ritual baths), clubs – all was left behind. There are those who estimate the value of Jewish property at $10 billion to $30 billion. Others argue that the property of the Jews of Iraq alone reaches $100 billion and that the property of Egyptian Jews is worth $60 billion.


Now, when the Saudis want to finally resolve the big questions, it is time to also discuss the solution to the question of the Jewish property in Arab states. Prime Minister Olmert can repair the year-long injustice in the periphery of Israeli society, which is populated with people from Arab countries, their children and grandchildren.


Israel must establish a transparent public authority for the mapping of the Jewish property in Arab countries. We must appoint teams to collect information from the generation of the parents who are still living amongst us and can prove their ownership of this property.


After the mapping stage, the findings will be presented to anyone who really wants to end the conflict here. We will talk to them next fall about everything, about Jewish property and Palestinian property. We shall not offset: We shall finally build the suitable infrastructure for those who left their property behind, here and there.


פרסום ראשון: 09.23.07, 08:25
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