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Israel Seeks Justice for Jewish Refugees

Samara Greenberg

A new department established by Israel’s Ministry of Pensioners Affairs has begun collecting information on the more than one million Israeli Jews of Middle Eastern descent in order to manage their legal claims to compensation over property they lost after leaving their homes following the 1948 War of Independence. Once all evidence is collected, the ministry will prepare a legal case for each Jewish Israeli individual to demand compensation through a process of indirect negotiations with the relevant countries. Algeria has already said it will not honor restitution requests.

This new initiative comes as Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) bring five rounds of U.S.-brokered indirect talks to an end. And, although the United States is pressuring the PA to enter into direct negotiations by September, PA President Mahmoud Abbas continues to hold out, saying Israel must concede to certain demands prior to entering into negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is ready to begin immediately, and would prefer to discuss Palestinian demands at the negotiating table.

Jewish refugees from Iraq at Lod airport, 1950

The initiative also comes only a few months after the Knesset passed a bill stating that the Israeli government will include the issue of compensation for Jewish refugees in all future peace negotiations. Indeed, while the issue of Palestinian refugees is often front-and-center, the one million-plus Jewish refugees that were forced to leave their homes or flee out of fear since 1948 is rarely discussed.

For example, over the last 60 years, the United Nations has passed at least 126 resolutions expressing support for the Palestinian refugees, never mentioning their Jewish counterparts. In addition, countless U.N. agencies and countries have donated millions of dollars to Palestinian refugees and their heirs, but no serious discussion has taken place about compensating the Jews.

While there are various reasons as to why this is the case – one being that Israel accepted the Jewish refugees as citizens while Arab states subjected Palestinian refugees to live as second rate visitors – what’s more important is that this historical pattern of ignoring Jewish refugees is reversed. After downplaying the rights of Jewish refugees for most of its history, Israel is now taking steps to bring justice to Israeli Jews of Middle Eastern descent. The United States, for its part, as it pushes for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to commence, should also stress the importance of justice for all involved.