There is more than one “Middle East Refugee” problem. Along with the Palestinian refugees who were begged to stay in Israel, there were the Jews in Arab nations some 850,000 of them that were thrown out of Arab countries. Those are the refugees that no one talks about, until now. There is a bill pending in both the US House of Representatives and the Senate that asks that any resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue, must include a similarly explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish, Christian, and other refugees from Arab countries.”
Congress Considers Plight of Jewish Refugees From Arab Countries By Julie Stahl CNSNews.com Jerusalem Bureau Chief May 14, 2007 Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Congress is looking into the issue of “the other Middle East refugees” — Jews in Arab countries who were forced through violence or discriminatory decrees to flee when the State of Israel was established 59 years ago. The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia held a hearing on the subject last week, and “sense of Congress” resolutions are being considered in the House and Senate. In 1948, 856,000 Jews lived in 10 Arab countries. Today, there are some 8,000. U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), who chairs the subcommittee, said 850,000 Jews were expelled from Middle Eastern and North African countries. Israel managed to absorb about 600,000 of them during the first years of its existence, which may be why “their claims and misfortune have been largely ignored,” he told the hearing. A non-binding resolution before the House urges the president to instruct U.S. officials to use all means available to “ensure that any resolution relating to the issue of Middle East refugees, and which includes a reference to the required resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue, must include a similarly explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish, Christian, and other refugees from Arab countries.” A similar non-binding resolution is before the Senate. In recent years a U.S.-based advocacy group called Justice for Jews from Arab Countries has been trying to raise awareness about the issue, while also recording the history of the largely forgotten communities. Executive Director Stanley Urman said the matter should not be ignored at a time when the Palestinian refugee issue is likely to feature strongly in any future discussions on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unlike the case with Palestinian refugees, Urman said by telephone, for former Jewish refugees and their descendants now settled in Israel and elsewhere, the issue is not one of the “right of return.” More than 50 percent of Israelis are descendents of Jews from Arab nations, he noted. While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad refers to Israel as an interloper state planted into the region by white Europeans, Urman said, the truth is that there was a Jewish presence in the Middle East for 3,500 years – more than 1,500 years longer than Islam has existed. Urman hopes that raising the awareness of the Jewish refugee issue will offset the demands of Palestinian refugees in any future peace agreement. ‘Terror or edict drove flight’ The issue of Palestinian refugees is one of the thorniest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs living in territory that became Israel fled their homes around the time of the 1948 war of independence, which erupted after Arab nations attacked the nascent Jewish state. They fled as a result of the fighting and also because Arab leaders in surrounding countries urged them to leave until Israel could be defeated. But Israel won the war, and an estimated 750,000 Arabs left. When the United Nations Relief Works Agency was formed in 1950 as a body tasked solely to deal with the Palestinian refugee issue, it said there were 914,000 registered Palestinian refugees. Because their descendants are also classified as refugees, the number grew to more than 4.4 million by 2005. About one-third of them still reside in 58 camps in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and – despite the area having been under partial or full Palestinian Authority control for more than a decade – in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Backed by the Arab-Islamic world, the Palestinians want the “right of return” to territory inside Israel. Israeli politicians across the spectrum agree that such a step would demographically swamp the country. Far less is known about the almost equal number of Jews, some of whom had been living in Arab countries and Iran for many generations, who were expelled or fled after Israel attained statehood. Between 1948 and the 1967 Six-Day War, the Jews of Iran and the Arab world faced “terror or government edict to forfeit not just their jobs, but entire businesses; not just their personal assets, but the property of entire communities; and most painful of all, not only did they lose their personal dignity and security, but their entire national identity,” Ackerman told the hearing.