Yuli Edelstein
Yuli EdelsteinHadas Parush/Flash 90

The Knesset held a special session Tuesday to mark the day honoring Jews who fled the Arab countries and Iran. The day is an official one, thanks to a law passed in the previous Knesset by MKs Shimon Ohayon and Nissim Ze'ev.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said at the start of the session that "despite the subject's great importance in the ongoing debate on the Israeli-Arab conflict, it has usually been pushed to the sidelines, and maybe this is not a coincidence."

"In almost every debate on the proper way to settle the dispute between us and the Arab or Palestinian population in Israel, the element of refugees keeps coming up: those Arabs who lives in cities and villages inside Israel in the past, mostly before the War of Independence, and ran away or were driven out."

"The Palestinian leadership does not let go of its demand that they be recognized – a demand that has made all negotiation impossible until now, even when governments were in place that made very far-reaching offers. Exaggerated as it may be, this demand is also unjust in that it ignores the other side of the equation – the Jewish refugees who lived in the Arab countries and were driven out of there."

Edelstein presented data according to which over 850,000 Jews lived in the Arab counties of the Middle East and north Africa in 1948, and by 1967, these communities were all but gone.

"Most Jewish refugees were uprooted, therefore, from the homelands in which they had lived for hundreds of years – before the Muslim conquest. That is, before the Arabs came to these places in the 7th century CE."

"When we set forth on a serious and wide-ranging discussion about historical and natural rights, when we speak of displacement and refugees, this cannot come from just one side. The Palestinians are not the only ones with refugees."