Israeli lawmakers passed a bill last Monday stipulating that compensation for Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries and Iran after 1948 must be a component of any future Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. According to the bill, a Jewish refugee is an Israeli citizen who fled either an Arab state or Iran as a result of religious persecution.
The bill follows a 2008 resolution passed in the US House of Representatives recognizing Jewish refugees from Arab countries who were dispelled after 1948. According to the resolution, US officials involved in Middle East peace negotiations which reference Palestinian refugees are to “include a similarly explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.”
“Not many are aware that the Palestinians are the only group of refugees, out of more than 100 million displaced in World War II, who came under a special UN umbrella,” says Linda Menuhim. “In the eyes of the Jews from Arab countries and their descendants, the bill aims first at introducing justice both locally and internationally for the nakba – catastrophe – that befell them.” Indeed, out of over 160 UN resolutions on the matter of refugees, all deal exclusively with Palestinian refugees.
According to the World Organization of Jews from Arab countries, an estimated 1 million Jews were displaced from their homes throughout North Africa and the Middle East in the years following Israel’s creation. While their monetary loss was undoubtedly great, and the loss of their culture and heritage dating back almost 3,000 years is even greater, perhaps the most disturbing to Jewish refugees is that they have yet to receive recognition or justice on an international level. The Knesset’s passing of this latest bill is just the first step. Israel, along with the United States, must now advocate for the rights of Jewish refugees in the international arena.