A couple of days ago I came across this fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal. It’s about the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands around the same time as the expulsion of Arabs from the new state of Israel and how the Israelis have finally gotten around to bringing this issue up in negotiations. Among the excerpts:
Within 25 years [of the establishment of Israel], the Arab world lost nearly all its Jewish population. Some faced expulsion, while others suffered such economic and social hardships they had no choice but to go. Others left voluntarily because they longed to settle in Israel. Only about 4,300 Jews remain there today, mostly in Morocco and Tunisia [...]
Many of the Palestinians who fled Israel wound up stranded in refugee camps. Multiple U.N. agencies were created to help them, and billions of dollars in aid flowed their way. The Arab Jews, by contrast, were quietly absorbed by their new homes. “The Arab Jews became phantoms” whose stories were “edited out” of Arab consciousness [...]
I think that the Israelis were right to bring these expulsions to the forefront of the debates with the Palestinians. A lot of people on both sides have suffered and it is a good thing that the plight of the Arab world’s Jews is now being highlighted. But now that this historical fact is being highlighted by the Israeli state in its negotiations with the Palestinians, will it do any good for the peace process?
The reaction by one of the Palestinian negotiators is telling:
Palestinians bristle at the effort to equate the displacement of Arab Jews with their own grievances. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, says Mr. Ayalon “opened up a can of worms for political purposes” with the U.N. conference. She says that Israeli officials are trying to use a “forced and false analogy…to negate or question Palestinian refugee rights.” The Palestinians, she says, “have nothing to do with the plight of the Jews or other minorities who left the Arab world.” Still, Dr. Ashrawi recently proposed that Arab Jews should also have a “right of return” to the countries they left.
And, of course, the Israeli side is no more generous:
At the U.N. conference, Mr. Ayalon called Dr. Ashrawi’s suggestion to have Jews return to Arab countries “totally ridiculous.” Mr. Ayalon and the Israeli government are pushing ahead with efforts to raise the profile of Arab Jews. Israel has pledged to establish a national day in honor of Arab Jews and build a museum about their lost cultures. Mr. Ayalon has decided to make the Arab-Jewish refugees part of any negotiations, which has never been the case before. Looking ahead to a settlement, he would like to see both Palestinian and Jewish refugees compensated by an international fund.
If there is one thing that both can agree to in the here and now, it is, of course, that international funds (i.e. the American taxpayer) should be used for each side’s pet projects. Still, I like where this tactic might lead in the future, and I, for once (and once), am hopeful for peace in this part of the world. It seems I’m not alone:
Mr. Cohen, who left Egypt in 1957,grew up to become a pioneer in European venture capital and private equity. In recent years, he has worked to develop the Palestinian private sector. He believes that the focus on Jewish-Arab refugees could spur the Arabs and Israelis toward peace. “There are refugees on both sides, so that evens the scales, and I think that it will be helpful to the process,” he says. “It shows that both sides suffered the same fate.”