Campaign Launched to Seek Justice For Jewish Refugees

By Ezra HaLevi

Arutz Sheva / 30 Oct 2006


Efforts by world Jewry to obtain redress and spread awareness about the eviction of more than half a million Jews from Arab and Muslim countries received a boost last week.


The Israeli government, which has refrained from officially backing the effort until now, has now announced that it would fund and assist the effort. The announcement was made at a conference on the matter held in Jerusalem on October 22-23.


"There are not only Palestinian refugees," Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit announced before the conference’s participants, “but there were Jewish refugees – 600,000 of whom came to Israel. The State of Israel seeks to put the claims of Jews from Arab countries on the table, parallel to the extremely well-expressed claim by [the Arabs] who left in 1948 and 1967."


“The difference,” Sheetrit added, “is that no Jews want to go back to those countries. One can say that there was an exchange of populations for the sake of peace.”


Sheetrit said that one of the most important aspects of the campaign is the attempt to register individual and communal losses suffered by those displaced from Arab and Muslim countries. He expressed his hope that with the backing of the Israeli government, the narratives and history of those individuals and communities can finally be fully documented.


An estimated 900,000 Jews were forced to leave their homes in Arab and Muslim countries in the course of the 20th century. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has twice affirmed that Jews who fled the persecution of Arab countries were indeed refugees in every legal sense of the word.


The World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, one of 56 national Jewish organizations taking part in the effort, estimates that Jews were robbed of more than $100 billion in personal and communal assets by Arab and Muslim governments.


The organizers of the campaign stressed, though, that the effort is not about money. Speaker after speaker bemoaned the fact that although an estimated one-third of world Jewry is of Sephardic and North-African origins, the history of such Jewish communities is obscured by that of pre-Holocaust European Jewry and the tragedy of the Shoah (Holocaust) itself.


“This is not about money,” says Stanley Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). “This is about documenting Jewish history – about the stories and the legacy.”


Goals for the campaign include the establishment of museums in places like Egypt and Morocco; the protection of Ezra the Scribe’s tomb, located in Batzra, Iraq and currently under threat of destruction; and the protection and return of 400 Torah scrolls rotting in the basement of the Iraqi Museum.


Another theme voiced by many of the conference’s participants who immigrated to Israel after being thrown out of their respective countries was a personal call to those Arabs still living in refugee camps throughout the region. “I want to call to my fellow refugees from Palestine,” one man said. “Ask yourselves, ‘Why am I still in these camps?’ Know that you are being used as pawns, and demand from your own people that they do as Israel did, allowing you to rebuild your lives and move forward.”

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