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Between Palestinian refugees and Jewish migrants

January 25, 2014 at 3:15 am

Successive Israeli governments have not hesitated to manipulate the international community in order to evade their legal, political and ethical responsibilities towards the people they expelled from historic Palestine sixty four years ago. The same governments have carried out the worst forms of ethnic cleansing and displacement against the Palestinians, seizing their land by force so that they can replace them with another people.

The Israeli occupation government is now seeking to get the UN to issue a resolution that calls for compensating Jews from Arab countries who moved to the state of Israel. The move will take place on September 21 at the United Nations in New York, in conjunction with the General Assembly session.

The Israelis are preparing a major international campaign, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, to recognise the rights of Jews who emigrated from Arab countries after the 1948 catastrophe (Nakba). These Jews, claims Israel, should be acknowledged as “refugees” prior to negotiation with some of the Arab countries to get compensation for the property which Jews left behind when they moved to Israel.

At the same time, Israel continues to work to empty UN Resolution 194 of its content relating to the rights of Palestinian refugees, or replace it with another UN resolution. It has targeted, in cooperation with the United States of America represented by Congress, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which embodies the legal and physical evidence of the issue of Palestinian refugees. And in a clear violation of international law, Congress also tried to legalise a proposal made by Republican Senator Mark Kirk which calls for reducing the number of Palestinian refugees by removing refugee status from the children and grandchildren of those victims of ethnic cleansing in the late 40s.

Israel’s attempt to get a UN resolution in this regard is the first of its kind at the international level. Nobody before now has ever tried to erase the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their land, a right put onto the international statute book sixty years ago.

In support of this international campaign, the Israeli Knesset (parliament) passed into law the requirement for all future Israeli governments to finalise the “rights of Jewish refugees in Arab countries” before signing any peace agreement.

Interestingly, this racially-based legislation, and the term “Jewish refugee” which Israel is trying to impose on political and international discourse, is an attempt to complete the efforts of the US House of Representatives. The American legislature worked years ago to plant the so-called “Jewish refugees issue” on the political solution to the Palestinian issue. Former President Bill Clinton and other world figures have played a part in this.

This law lacks any legal and moral foundation; it is a purely political move to help to cement the Jewish identity of the state of Israel, for which Netanyahu’s government has demanded recognition as a key requirement to re-enter into negotiations to end the conflict. It is also an attempt to impose a political solution that does not include the issue of Palestinian refugees.

It is useful to look at the facts about the migration of Jews from Arab countries in order to be objective about this issue. Arab Jews were part of the framework of their respective countries, but they began to migrate to Israel after its establishment in 1948, in accordance with a thoroughly thought out scheme of the Jewish Agency, which called for Jews from all over the world to migrate to and build “the state of Israel”. Some Arab countries at that time were ruled by authoritarian regimes; all citizens suffered under them regardless of their religion or ethnicity, the Jews were not targeted. Although there were some individual incidents of persecution or violence, these are suspect with regards to who was responsible, as they encouraged the Jews to migrate. However, the migration of Jews to Israel was thus largely voluntarily and influenced by various factors, including pressure and inducements from the Zionist movement and the Jewish Agency.

The supposedly democratic state of Israel has discriminated against Arab Jews and Sephardic Jews (those from the Iberian Peninsula), locating them in isolated places and depriving them of opportunities to mix with other Israeli nationals. They have generally been treated with contempt on the cultural and social levels in comparison with Western and European Jews.

Thus, the claim that those Jews who migrated to Israel are “refugees” uprooted from their home, which is supposed in any case to be “Israel”, hence their “return”, is deceitful. If Israel is their ancestral home then they are not “refugees” at all but migrants who have “returned” either through a political decision or of their own free will. In international law, a refugee is defined as someone who was expelled from his or her homeland for reasons related to war, outside aggression, danger, persecution or poverty, and resorting to various places, and not vice versa.

In the same context, the international community, represented by the General Assembly of the United Nations, did not announce cases of Jewish refugees. On the contrary, in the light of the plight of the Palestinians in 1948 it issued a very important decision for Palestinian refugees, Resolution 194, paragraph (11) of which stipulates explicitly the need for Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and villages, from which they were expelled, as a people, not as a group of individuals affected by the wars. Not only did the resolution confirm the right of return for Palestinian refugees, but it also went beyond that to find an integrated means to implement this right and the actual return of the refugees.

Therein lies the Israeli-American deception, skirting around the forced displacement by Zionist gangs of the Palestinians who were stable in their land for thousands of years. There also lies the difference between the Palestinian refugees who were uprooted from their land, sent into exile and exposed to the harshest types of ethnic cleansing, and the voluntary migration of Jews en masse during the same period.

Let’s not overlook that, legally, the first right of refugees, before compensation, is to return to their native country; some Arab states, such as Iraq and Morocco, have already expressed their readiness to welcome back the Jews. We expect other Arab countries to do likewise within democratic systems which respect pluralism.

The latest manoeuvres through which the Israeli occupation authorities try to deceive the international community reveal a deliberate policy to falsify and distort facts, and emphasise that Palestine is not their land. We express our full support for and welcome of the return of Arab Jews to their places of origin before 1948. What remains is the right of our Palestinian refugees who have tasted the bitterness of asylum and exile, and paid the price for international complicity against them, to return to their original homeland of Palestine. This is an inalienable individual right with no time limit, based on decisions of international legitimacy and UN Resolution 194, and it cannot be bartered away or compromised by Tel Aviv or Washington as they seek to negate it with the non-issue of “Jewish refugee rights”.

The author is a Palestinian academic. This article is a translation of the original Arabic from Al-Quds Al-Arabi 30/08/12.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.