Jewish refugees from A
Jewish refugees from AIsrael news screenshot: Foreign Ministry

The Knesset’s State Control Committee held a session Wednesday on the subject of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who came to Israel in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

From 1948 to 1956 an estimated 856,000 Jews came to Israel from the Arab world. Of those, around 600,000 were refugees who had been expelled from their homes in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt.

Activist Meir Kachlon credited MK Nissim Zev (Shas) with promoting refugees’ affairs, but warned, “There are excellent intentions, but the state is not giving the right tools. The Arab world is destroying any trace of Jewish presence, we must hurry, because people are elderly and are passing on.”

Itzik Dabash, who was expelled from Libya with his family, told the Knesset that Israel’s refugees have been overlooked for too long. “If we want peace, we must have truth. There were tragedies on both the Jewish and Palestinian sides, all caused by the Arab-Palestinian decision to reject the division of the land… In order to have peace we need to understand them, but they also need to understand us.”

“This isn’t about rejecting Palestinian rights,” he said, “but about standing up for our own rights.”

Arab MK Taleb A-Sana caused upset when he suggested that Jews fleeing Arab lands were not actually refugees. “The definition of a refugee is someone who was expelled from his country,” he argued. “Should a Jewish refugee from Egypt go back to Egypt?”

“The Zionist movement’s aim was for Arab Jews to leave their countries and return to the land,” he continued. “That’s part of the historic debate, and it can’t be compared to Palestinians who were forced to leave against their will.”

Committee head MK Uri Ariel (Ichud Leumi) called to reject Sana’s statements. Legal Ministry representative Jean-Claude Nidam said Sana was in error. The definition of a refugee is not a person who was forced out of their country, he said, but rather, a person who is unprotected by his or her country.

“The Jews not only did not get protection, they were tortured and their property was confiscated,” he said. “We recently got documents from Iraq testifying to the extent to which Jews were tortured and forcibly expelled.”

MK Zev called to not only record Jewish claims, but act to restore Jewish property. He noted that many families, including his wife’s family, left considerable property behind when they fled to Israel as penniless refugees.