The Palestinian Arab Position on Jewish Refugees
The Palestinian Arab Position on Jewish Refugees

Last October Palestinian spokesmen and apologists were frantically mobilising  to put out a fire. The conflagration started when the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the World Jewish Congress sponsored a conference on the issue of Justice for 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

It was the most high-profile event yet launched on the Jewish refugees' behalf, but  the Palestinians  were seriously worried. They saw this unexpected focus on a second set of refugees produced by the Arab-Israeli conflict as the biggest threat yet to their monopoly on refugee victimhood.

In its effort to pour water on the issue, the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights produced a 'position paper'. If the latest peace talks get anywhere between Israelis and Palestinians, we might expect Palestinians to toe the BADIL line.

Unlike PA spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi and MK Ahmed Tibi,  BADIL does not attempt to deny that Jews from Arab countries were refugees.

"All refugees are entitled to, amongst other things, voluntary repatriation, property restitution and financial compensation", says BADIL.

introducing a second set of refugees into the picture dents Palestinian Arab exceptionalism.
By voluntary repatriation BADIL means a 'right of return' for Palestinian refugees to Israel proper, based on the December 1948 UNGA resolution 194. But the resolution, which is actually only a recommendation,  stipulates a crucial rider: the refugees, returning 'at the earliest opportunity' have to be ready to live in peace with their neighbours. (The resolution does not set a time limit for refugee return, but its drafters would never have imagined that refugees would wish to return after 60 years or more. )

Presumably, resolution 194 would also apply to Jewish refugees returning to their Arab countries of birth.

The BADIL paper states:

"All reputable refugee-centered campaigns should acknowledge that the rights of all refugees are enshrined in international law. As such, the State of Israel must, in initiating this new campaign, recognize not just the rights of Arab Jewish refugees (sic), but also those of all other refugee groups, including Palestinians."

Translation: we are happy to see Jewish refugees return, as long as Arab refugees can do so too.

Naturally, introducing a second set of refugees into the picture dents Palestinian Arab exceptionalism. The last thing Jewish refugees want is to return to countries which persecuted them - states that are still today hostile and dangerous to Jews. Israel has of course stated over and over again that the mass return of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants will destroy the Jewish state.

Palestinian Arab and Jewish refugees exchanged places in the Middle East in similar numbers, as had happened in other war situations.
It so happens that the Palestinian Arab and Jewish refugees exchanged places in the Middle East in similar numbers, as had happened in other war situations (Greece/Turkey; India/Pakistan). A peace settlement stipulating that neither set of refugees should return to their countries of birth, but should receive compensation, becomes the most likely solution.

 Not only would neither set of refugees be able to return, people will be tempted to make comparisons between Palestinians, who are in the exclusive care of the UN agency UNWRA, and allowed to pass on their refugee status in perpetuity; and the Jewish refugees, who enjoy no such privilege.

 That's why BADIL views the Jewish refugees campaign as cynical and politically-motivated, 'demonstrating a clear Israeli disregard for the rights of Palestinian refugees.'

Next, BADIL denies any linkage between the two sets of refugees. It says: take your grievances to Arab states, not to us:

Refugee claims to be made against offending states only: Claims made by, or on behalf of refugees should be filed with the state(s) whose actions are said to have created the individual's refugee status.

It further affirms: "No group of refugees should have their fate tied to that of a separate, unrelated group."

But the Jewish refugees are not an unrelated group. Their exodus began at more or less the same time as the Palestinian exodus, after the Arab League drafted a series of discriminatory measures in 1948 targeting their Jewish citizens as 'members of the minority of Palestine'.

The Arab side enthusiastically linked the two groups, embracing the idea of an exchange of populations between Palestinian Arabs and Iraqi Jews, for instance. There is another link: Palestinian Arabs themselves, under the leadership of the Mufti of Jerusalem, were active in inciting the ethnic cleansing of the Jews of the Middle East.

According to BADIL, Arab states have no responsibility for creating the Palestinian Arab refugee crisis. Only Israel does.

For Israel to draw Arab states into the Palestinian refugee crisis, claims BADIL, is to use refugees as political capital, and is a deeply cynical attempt to achieve wider strategic aims.

So it is Israel drawing Arab states into the Palestinian refugee issue? This is a clear rewriting of history. Who rejected the 1947 UN Partition plan and started the 1948 war? Who denied citizenship to Palestinian refugees, in an attempt to use 'refugees as political capital'?

BADIL assets that Israel cannot divest itself of its obligations: Regardless of whether Arab states have, through their past actions, created Arab Jewish refugee populations, the State of Israel has created - and continues to create - a Palestinian Arab refugee and displaced population which now numbers in excess of 7.4m individuals. 

It is an astonishing thought that there were about 6 - 700, 000 Palestinian refugees in 1948, but Israel 'continues to create' a virtual displaced population of millions! Meanwhile, between 2 - 300, 000 Palestinians have been displaced in Syria, but no UN resolutions have been passed, and no position papers produced.

Full text of BADIL Position Paper - October 2012

Round-up of articles published in September/October 2012 on Jewish refugees