Even though the Palestinian governments in Gaza and Ramallah truly don’t have the financial resources to take on refugees, the refusal to help their brothers in a time of great danger is still strange.
On the one hand, the Palestinians in Gaza and Ramallah constantly ask UNWRA for help for themselves, but on the other they refuse help to their people who see themselves as refugees as well.
Sixty years ago, Israel didn’t have the financial resources to take on refugees either, but over 600,000 fleeing Jews were welcomed with open arms and given a place in the country.
The Palestinian narrative of victimhood, emphasizing the pitiful condition of Palestinian refugees, and portraying them as the world’s major refugee problem, has convinced many in the international community to accept this version of their unfortunate plight and the injustices done to them.
That narrative, however, essentially one of historical revisionism, denies the truth that the Jews who left, fled, or were expelled from Arab countries can really be regarded as refugees, as well.
The story of these Jewish refugees has been much less well known than that of the Palestinian refugees, about whose fate international resolutions have been passed, and on whose behalf thirteen UN agencies and organizations have provided aid. The issue of the legitimate rights of the Jewish refugees, and the individual and collective loss of their assets, have not yet been seriously addressed; nor have there been any real attempts in international forums at the restitution of their rights and assets.
In general, Jews in Arab countries living under Islamic rule, were treated as dhimmis, barely tolerated second class citizens, often obliged to pay a tithe, or tax, called a jizya, to remain in the country. In some places, they were allowed limited religious, educational, and business, opportunities, but in other places, they were denied civil and human rights; suffered legal discrimination; had property taken, and were deprived of citizenship.
In the 20th century, both before and after the creation of Israel, in a number of Arab countries Jews were threatened — physically, economically, and socially. Jews there experienced riots, mass arrests, confiscation of property, economic boycotts, and limits on employment in many occupations. They also endured limits on admission to colleges, and on personal movement, as well as pogroms which occurred in Libya, Syria, Morocco, and especially Iraq, where in the space of two days in June 1941, in Baghdad, a pogrom, known as the Farhud, took place: under the pro-Nazi regime of Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, 179 Jews were murdered and 600 injured by rioters.
In Libya, in 1945, rioters in Tripoli killed more than 140 Jews. A number of other Arab countries saw Jews murdered, kidnapped, and in general encounter discrimination, expulsion, and exclusion from citizenship.
The Arab League countries decided to take away the citizenship of their Jews. Iraq deprived its Jews of their citizenship in 1950, and of their property in 1951. Egypt and Libya issued laws that “Zionists” were not nationals. They disregarded Jews having lived in those countries for more than a thousand years before the birth of Muhammad in 570, and the emergence of Islam in the 7th century.
On the global “Palestinian refugee” issue, Ayalon was adamant, stating that the Palestinian refugee issue is a greater obstacle to peace than Jerusalem, and is growing worse day by day because of the special UNWRA definition of a “Palestinian Refugee” which includes descendants of refugees, at total variance to the non-Palestinian UNHCR’s definition of “refugee”.
The Israel-Arab conflict is the only conflict in the world where the descendants of refugees remain defined as “refugees.” Israel’s integration of Jewish refugees should be the model for the Palestinian refugees to settle in Arab countries, Danon said.
In 1950, UNRWA defined a refugee as someone who had “lost his home and his means of livelihood” during the war launched by Arab/Muslim countries in response to Israel’s declaration of independent statehood. Fifteen years later, UNRWA decided — against objections from the United States — to include as refugees the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of those who left Israel. And in 1982, UNRWA further extended eligibility to all subsequent generations of descendants — forever.
Under UNRWA’s rules, even if the descendant of a Palestinian refugee has become a citizen of another state, he’s still a refugee. For example, of the 2 million refugees registered in Jordan, all but 167,000 hold Jordanian citizenship. (In fact, approximately 80 percent of Jordan’s population is Palestinian — not surprising, since Jordan occupies more than three-fourths of the area historically referred to as Palestine.) By adopting such a policy, UNRWA is flagrantly violating the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which states clearly that a person shall cease to be considered a refugee if he has “acquired a new nationality, and enjoys the protection of the country of his new nationality.”
Several years ago, a trend started of African refugees crossing the Egyptian border from Sinai into Israel to seek asylum from the atrocities in Darfur. What started out as a small number of men, women and children fleeing from the machetes of the Janjaweed and violent fundamentalists toseek a better life elsewhere, turned into an organized industry of human trafficking. In return for huge sums of money, sometimes entire life savings paid to Bedouin “guides,” these refugees are promised to betransported from Sudan , Eritrea , and other African countries through Egypt and the Sinai desert, into the safe haven of Israel.
We increasingly hear horror stories of the atrocities these refugees suffer on their way to freedom. They are subject to, and victims of extortion, rape, murder, and even organ theft, their bodies left to rot in the desert. Then, if lucky, after surviving this gruesome experience whose prize is freedom, when only a barbed wire fence separates them from Israel and their goal, they must go through the final death run and try to evade the bullets of the Egyptian soldiers stationed along the border.
Egypt’s soldiers are ordered to shoot to kill anyone trying to cross the border OUT of Egypt and into Israel. It’s an almost nightly event.
For those who finally get across the border, the first people they encounter are Israeli soldiers, people like me and those in my unit, who are tasked with a primary mission of defending the lives of the Israeli people. On one side of the border soldiers shoot to kill. On the other side, they know they will be treated with more respect than in any of the countries they crossed to get to this point.
Some years ago, a daughter of the wealthy Jewish Castro family from Egypt heard Anwar Sadat’s widow Jehan deliver a talk in New York. Congratulating her afterwards, the Egyptian Jewess exchanged pleasantries with Mrs. Sadat. “But you must come back to visit [Egypt] and to show it to your children,” Mrs. Sadat said, adding the traditional Egyptian courtesy, beti betak – “my house is your house.”
Little did she appreciate the irony, but Jehan Sadat’s presidential villa had literally belonged to the Castro family, which was expelled by Nasser in 1956. Observers of the Middle East conflict frequently talk of trampled Palestinian rights, but suffer from a blind spot when it comes to the mass dispossession of a greater number of Jews across 10 Arab countries.
Few Jews lived as opulently as the Castros, but all over the Middle East and North Africa, Jewish homes, shops and businesses were seized or sold for well under market value as fearful Jews fled or were forced out. Communities predating the Islamic conquest by 1,000 years have been driven to extinction.
Economist Sidney Zabludoff estimates that there were 50 percent more Jewish refugees than Palestinian Arab refugees, and that they almost certainly lost 50% more in assets and property. While the world is fixated by Israeli building in a (Jewish-owned) Jerusalem suburb, nobody reproaches Arab states for seizing Jewish land and property in Baghdad, Cairo, Tripoli and Damascus, estimated by the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries at five times the size of Israel itself.
Some Jews were forced to move their belongings to a public park in Tel Aviv:
Here is a refugee camp near Rishon LeZion for the Jews who lost their homes during the riots.
All these photos were done by Zoltan Kluger.
I found them at this Israeli photo archive website that just became public - although the website was created in 1998, and it shows.
Durban is a perfect example of bad faith because Durban is way of saying Israelis are racist and they are our problem. Durban really is a way of saying I am not free. I am still a victim. That is the real purpose of Durban. The Palestinian unilateral claim for recognition from the UN is also a perfect example of bad faith. If Palestinians proceed to the Security Council, they will very likely be turned down, and will respond by saying: “I told you we were victims. I told you the West is racist,” and so on. It refuels the same sad identity.
The irony and the tragedy of all this is that it keeps these groups in a bubble where they never encounter or deal with the truth. This becomes a second oppression for all these groups. They have been oppressed once, now they are free and yet they create a poetic truth that then oppresses them all over again.
How are you going to have good faith if you are raised being told that the society in which you are trying to compete is against you, is racist? It is always the Palestinians who suffer, and will continue to suffer, because all of their energy is going into the avoidance of their situation rather than into being challenged by it and facing into it.
The strength of our argument is that it gives the Palestinians a way out. Development is the way out. The West can help you to compete. It may take a little while. But the alternative is a cycle of violence and hatred and poetic truths about constant victimhood.
Entitled “In Israel, No Welcome Mat For African Migrants,” the Dec. 30 piece focuses almost entirely on criticism of Israeli policy. The broadcast opens with a reference to the migrants’ long and costly trek before reporter Sheera Frankel coolly introduces the antagonist: “Israel, however, is far from laying down the welcoming mat.”
NPR’s Sheera Frenkel: The last step [of an Israeli politician’s plan] is the repatriation of refugees who are already in Israel. A step Israel took - for the first time - earlier this month when it removed 150 South Sudanese who agreed to leave voluntarily in exchange for some pocket money and a flight home in time to vote in the upcoming referendum on the region’s independence.
Olivier, however, questions just how voluntary their removal was.
Congolese migrant Oscar Olivier: They’ve been pushed into corner. They’ve been put in the situation where that one was the only solution to them.
It is not clear why NPR chose Olivier to be its authoritative source on the Sudanese repatriation while neglecting to expose listeners to officials familiar with the case, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Israel who has made clear the “removal” was indeed voluntary. A Dec. 14 Associated Press story about the 150 migrants notes:
The Sudanese left willingly, according to officials.
“We are aware that people expressed interest to go back,” said William Tall, an official from the UN refugee agency. “I can confirm that no coercion was involved in their going back.”
Hundreds of African refugees have been released from captivity in the Sinai Peninsula and allowed to cross from Egypt into Israel, shortly after a CNN documentary aired detailing the horrendous conditions the migrants face.
The report, “Death in the Desert,” which was first broadcast on CNN International on November 5, showed evidence that African refugees, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, were being held captive by Bedouin human traffickers in Sinai, who try to extort massive sums of money from the refugees’ families for their release.
While in captivity the refugees are enslaved, many of the women raped and some even killed. The CNN crew even found evidence that some victims had organs extracted, a practice known as organ harvesting, and were later found dead in the desert.
Shortly after the documentary aired, more than 600 African refugees were released in Sinai, says Hamdi al Azzazy, an activist for the New Generation Foundation for Human Rights who has worked for years in the region, fighting to improve the plight of the African refugees.
His account was backed up by a press release from the EveryOne Group, an Italian non-governmental organization, which has also been raising public awareness about the refugees.
It said that after the CNN documentary aired “many chief-traffickers were afraid of being pursued by the authorities and on Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 decided to release most of the groups of refugees they were holding prisoner.”
The Sinai Desert is a vast and lawless area where the Egyptian state has virtually no presence and it is nearly impossible to fully verify the accounts.
CNN has contacted a chief of the Sawarka Bedouin tribe. Some rogue members of this tribe have been implicated in the imprisonment of African refugees and in the organ harvesting scheme.
The chief, who has asked not to be named said: “I heard the Sawarka’s members involved in this dirty business released more than 600 Africans without them having to pay the ransoms and sent them to the Israeli border due to pressure from the intelligence service, including hundreds who were freed from the house of the assassinated dealer in Nekhel. He has been selling their organs and they found lots of weapons.”