Britain pledges to highlight cause of “forgotten” Jewish refugees


In the midst of all the international attention being paid to the “plight” of the Palestinian refugees, the forgotten refugees are the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were driven out of Arab countries. Various groups and individuals, including Montrealer and Federal MP Irwin Cotler, have been fighting to educate people about them and to achieve recognition. Now, Britain has pledged to take up their cause:

British officials have promised to make “every effort” to highlight the cause of Jewish refugees from Arab countries within the European Union.

[ . . . ]

The JJAC report, entitled “The Middle East’s Forgotten Jewish Refugees,” notes that just 8,000 Jews now live in Arab countries, down from 900,000 in 1947.

It is seeking international recognition of the “de facto population exchange” of Jews and Palestinians, which “refutes the Arab claim for a ‘physical’ right of return.”

The difference between the two refugee groups – which numbered roughly the same – was that the Palestinians were sent to live in refugee camps behind barbed wire and left to rot in squalid conditions by their Arab brethren, so that their hatred and resentment could build and they could be used as political pawns against Israel.

In contrast, Israel accepted all of the Jewish refugees who wished to enter with open arms, housing them, educating them, and integrating them into Israeli society. Today their families are second- and third-generation Israeli citizens. And Israel resettled them with far less land, money, and resources than the Arab countries had available. Israel managed this because compassion for the plight of fellow Jews demanded as much.

So today, while the world moans about the stateless Palestinian refugees, nobody seems to remember that Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, all had an influx of refugees and all denied them citizenship, rights, or anything resembling a life. And now these countries are asking Israel to pay, while at the same time lobbying to deny any kind of compensation or even recognition of the 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

The recognition of the issue by the British government is a good start. If more EU states took notice, that would be even better.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ikram Saeed 07.03.03 at 4:09 AM

Sari, this is silly.

The gvts of Lebanon, Egypt, Japan or Australia do not owe Palestinian refugees any right of employment, or citizenship.

Israel was a state designed for diaspora Jews. Like Pakistan accepting muslim migrants from India, Israel accepted jewish migrants from Iraq, etc. But there is no reason for Lebanon (with its precarious communal balance) to accept permanently the Palestinian refugees from Jaffa, etc.

They are bound, by convention and human decency, to provide a minimum standards of care. But beyond that, the refugees are aliens, who will go home once the conflict ends. Or find somewhere else to go, like Canada.

Lebanon or Syria (or Iraq) are like Iran or Pakistan, countries that have accepted a tremendous number of Afghan refugees. The Afghans are not owed the right of citizenship (though some can receive it), and are expected to return when conditions in their homeland improve.

I think those arguing for equal treatment of Arabs Jewish refugees and Palestinian refugees are being disingenous. If post-Saddam Iraq suddenly declared that Iraqi Jews were welcome to return to Baghdad, would Israel suddenly decide to admit several hundred thousand Palestinina refgees to Jaffa? Somehow, I doubt it.

Palestinian refugees are Palestine and Israel’s ultimate problem. Israel will pay compensation. No-one else.


2 David H 07.03.03 at 5:23 AM

An interesting article I read about this just today…

I hope it works so you can click on it, otherwise cut and paste.


3 Nanook 07.03.03 at 7:13 PM

Sari, this is silly.

The gvts of Lebanon, Egypt, Japan or Australia do not owe Palestinian refugees any right of employment, or citizenship. (…) the refugees are aliens, who will go home once the conflict ends. Or find somewhere else to go, like Canada.

I certainly hope that Canada never adopts the sort of racist refugee policies which has Lebanon, among others. Ikram’s point is valid: unlike the other Arab League members which deny refugee rights — and, it goes without saying, the greater protections of citizenship — to Palestinian refugees, Lebanon itself has an, erm, “fragile” relationship of ethnic communities.

To deal with that relationship, Lebanon has entrenched the relationship of these ethnic communities in its governance in ways that Israel has never even dared to contemplate. But that does not make the country exempt from the same responsibility as other Palestinian refugee camp host countries have for the human rights violations — and, technically, war crimes, since many of these countries continue to be officially at war with Israel — that they continue to commit against Palestinian refugees.

The special treatment of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, and other countries amounts to a series of apartheid regimes which actually put into practice what Israel is often falsely accused of doing. (For those reading alone at home: no, the occupied Palestinian Territories are not part of Israel, and the military regime there is quite particular. another debate.)

To learn more, you might start with the Euro-Med Human Rights Network’s report entitled “Refugees Also Have Rights!” (at

Tellingly, it notes at the outset: “Palestinian refugees have a legal status that is very particular. Most of the international
legal instruments applied for other refugees, determining the rights and obligations of States towards them, do not apply to Palestinian refugees; as a result, they do not come under the general system of legal protection in the way that other refugees do.”

An apartheid regime indeed exists. It is in Lebanon, in Syria, in Jordan. And, through the successful interventions of representatives of the Arab League and its member states, it exists in the United Nations. Pointing this out is silly?


4 Hanthala 07.04.03 at 11:32 PM

Now maybe Cotler can show he is a real human rights activist and talk about Israeli human rights issues also, if not, he’s a partisan liar.


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