Last week a campaign called "I Am A Refugee - Justice for Jews from Arab Countries" held its first major conference in Jerusalem with many personalities from all sectors attending. It was held under the auspices of Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon along with Minister of Senior Citizens Dr. Lea Nass and Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress Dan Diker among others.
For excepts from the panel discussion click here.
Justice for Jews from Arab Countries is an organization that seeks to publicize that more than 800,000 Jews had to leave Arab countries after Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948.
The organization is fighting for international recognition for these Jewish people as refugees. Such recognition would entitle them to restitution for loss of property and business. The group calls its mission "a matter of law and equity.”
Participants in the panel discussions at the conference said they feel that undue attention is focused on the approximately 700,000 registered Arab refugees who willingly left Israel during the 1948-1949 War of Independence, according to the Final Report of the United Nations Economic Survey Mission for the Middle East published by the United Nations Conciliation Commission, December 28, 1949. Speakers said the Arabs hoped to return to a larger slice of the land once the Jews had been driven out, as opposed to the reestablishment of a Jewish state.
According to a previous interview with Member of Knesset Einat Wilf (Independence Party), "We calculated 30,000 living people who lived in what is today Israel before 1948 that could get the title of refugee."
This population of Arabs who lived within the boundaries of British Mandate Palestine have now multiplied to 5 million, according to United Nations statistics.
A panel discussion on traditional and modern media was held as part of the conference. Participants included Iraqi-born ambassador Zvi Gabbai, journalist Lyn Julius, whose parents fled Iraq in 1950, and Dr. Dror Eidar, from Iran. Dr. Eidar stated that UNWRA, the United Nations aid organization especially set up for Arab refugees, considers all descendants as refugees, regardless of their present place of residence, nationality or economic situation. Thus, prosperous Arab-Americans whose grandfathers left the fledgling Israel are counted as a refugees. Babies born today in Gaza can also obtain refugee status.
UNWRA’s official operational definition of a Palestine refugee is any person whose "normal place of residence was Palestine during the period June 1st 1946 to May 15th 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict... and descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition.”
This definition includes all those who came from far away places during the last two years of the British Mandate, to seek work in Palestine either in British or in Jewish establishments.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon stated, ”it is time to correct an historic injustice and deal once and for all with the issues involving Jews who were forced out of Arab countries. From today we are actively moving forward on an active diplomatic and political agenda. We are instructing our embassies and consulates around the world to bring up this issue with the governments and parliaments in their host states in any relevant discussions or meetings. We are liaising with parliamentarians from around the world who can bring forward a resolution on this issue.”
International aid continues to be donated to UNWRA. According to TheHill.com, the United States has contributed $4.4 billion to UNRWA since 1948. This is in addition to regular financial aid from European countries and NGO's.
All other refugees in the world are aided by UNHCR -- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Under their auspices, once a refugee has been accepted by a host country and has settled there, the refugee status is withdrawn, and with it any aid. Descendants are not considered to be refugees.
A personal note: Should my great-grand-daughter, who lives in England also be entitled to refugee status because I was driven out of Germany in 1939?
Justice for Jews from Arab Countries will hold another conference entitled "The Untold Story of the Middle East" on Friday September 21st at the United Nations in New York City. The event will feature Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Israel's Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations Richard Stone, Executive Vice President of the Conference of Presidents Malcolm Hoenline, Professor Alan Dershowitz, former Justice Minister of Canada Irwin Cotler, and personal testimonies by former Jewish residents of Arab countries.
For excepts from the conference as well as Walter's commentary, download Walter's World by clicking here.
Arutz Sheva staff wrter Ben Bresky contributed to this article.
Walter Bingham was born in Germany. Just days before the outbreak of WWII, with the help of a Zionist youth movement he was selected for a place on the ‘Kindertransport’ to Great Britain. He currently resides in Israel. Walter's World broadcasts every Sunday from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. For podcast archives click here.