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Jewish Refugees From Arab Countries Meet in Knesset

Up to a million Jews who were expelled from Arab countries when Israel was established say they deserve at least the same as Palestinian refugees.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 2/16/2010, 4:17 PM / Last Update: 2/16/2010, 4:58 PM

Up to a million Jews who were expelled from Arab countries when Israel was established say they deserve "at least the same" as the so-called Palestinian refugees from 1948.

A conference on the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries was held at the Knesset on Monday, with the participation of supporters from Israel and around the world. In attendance were former Canadian Minister of Justice Prof. Irwin Cotler, U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, Stanley Urman, who chairs the Justice for Jews from Arab Countries organization (JJAC), and leaders of organizations of Jews from Egypt, Syria, Libya, Morocco, and other Islamic/Arab countries.

Also present was MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas), who has sponsored legislation in the Knesset to ensure that Israel place Jewish refugees’ claims on the negotiating table between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

In April 2008, the U.S. Congress approved Resolution 185, supporting rights for Jews from Arab countries and stating that whatever rights are granted to Palestinian refugees in any future Israeli-Arab accord must be similarly accorded to Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

"We should have acted even before the US Congress," MK Ze'ev said after the conference, "but certainly now that the U.S. has recognized that the Jews and Arabs must be treated the same, certainly we should recognize that the Jews were robbed and were banished from their homes."

"In Damascus, we left all our property behind, including public and private property," one woman said at the conference. Another woman from Morocco said that the Arabs stole "our jewelry from off our necks," and another from Egypt said, “My grandfather owned two six-story buildings, and he wasn’t allowed to take a thing; we had to leave with just the clothes on our backs…”

Writing in a 2007 report published by the JJAC, Minister Cotler explained, "Let there be no doubt about it: Where there is no remembrance, there is no truth; where there is no truth, there will be no justice; where there is no justice, there will be no reconciliation; and where there is no reconciliation, there will be no peace.”

Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin told the conference, "The number of Jews living in northern Africa and the Middle East before 1948 was more than one million [and more than the highest estimates of the number of Arab refugees - ed.] … The same is true with the monetary demands: If the [Arab] refugees’ property was estimated at $4 billion in today’s money, the property of the Jewish refugees is estimated at $6 billion.”