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December 2, 2014 7:55 am

The UN and Unequal Justice: The Case for Jewish Refugees From Arab Countries

avatar by Irwin Cotler

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UN headquarters in New York. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The UN marked the 67th anniversary of the UN Partition Resolution of November 29, 1947, with an International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Indeed, the UN has declared the whole of 2014 as a year of solidarity with the Palestinian people. It is sometimes forgotten – and often not even known – that the UN partition resolution was the first-ever blueprint for a “two states for two peoples” solution. Regrettably, while Jewish leaders accepted the resolution, Arab and Palestinian leaders did not, and by their own acknowledgment, launched a war of aggression against the nascent Jewish state as well as a war against the Jewish nationals living in their respective countries.

Indeed, the documentary evidence demonstrates a series of repressive measures against Jews including denationalization, dispossession, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and murder, and forced expulsion.

This double aggression resulted in two sets of refugees: Palestinian refugees resulting from the Arab war against the Jewish State, and Jewish refugees resulting from the Arab war against their own Jewish nationals.

Yet the false Middle East narrative – prejudicial to authentic reconciliation and peace between peoples as well as between states – continues to hold that there was only one victim population, Palestinian refugees; that Israel was responsible for the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe) of 1947-8; and that, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has put it, as long as the crime of dispossession and refugeehood that was committed against the Palestinian people in 1947-48 is not redressed . . . there can be no peace.

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This revisionist view of history ignores the fundamental fact that had the UN Partition Resolution been accepted, there would have been no 1948 Arab- Israeli war, no refugees, and none of the pain and suffering of these past 67 years. Indeed, the annual November 29 UN-organized International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People might well have been a day commemorating the 67th anniversary of the establishment of both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine.

Regrettably, as a result of this false narrative, the pain and plight of 850,000 Jews uprooted and displaced from Arab countries – the forced yet “forgotten exodus” as it has been called – has been expunged and eclipsed from both the Middle East peace and justice agenda for 67 years. It is a truth that must now be affirmed, acknowledged, and acted upon in the interests of peace, justice, and history.

The United Nations also bears express and continuing responsibility for this distorted Middle East narrative. In a word, since 1948, there have been more than 180 UN General Assembly resolutions that have specifically dealt with the Palestinian refugee plight. Yet not one of these resolutions makes any reference to the plight of Jewish refugees.

There are ten major UN agencies expending billions of dollars on behalf of Palestinian refugees. But there is not one UN agency – nor any money expended – on behalf of Jewish refugees. The entire year 2014 has been established as an International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People – but not one day for the Jewish People. So much for equal justice.

Thus the question: How do we rectify this historical – and ongoing – injustice?

First, the time has come – indeed it is long past – to restore the plight and truth of this forgotten – and forced – exodus of Jewish refugees to the Middle East peace and justice narrative. Indeed, the UN should take the lead in establishing a center of documentation and research to tell the 850,000 untold stories of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Second, remedies for victim refugee groups – including rights of remembrance, truth, justice and redress, as mandated under human rights and humanitarian law – and referenced in UN World Refugee Day and especially for Palestinian refugees – must now be invoked for Jews displaced from Arab countries.

Third, in the manner of duties and responsibilities, each of the Arab countries – and the Arab League – must acknowledge their role and responsibility in their double aggression of launching a war against Israel and their human rights violations against their respective Jewish nationals. The culture of impunity must end.

Fourth, on the international level, the UN General Assembly – in the interests of peace, justice, and equality before the law – should include reference to Jewish refugees as well as Palestinian refugees in its annual resolutions; the UN Human Rights Council should address, as it has yet to do, the issue of Jewish as well as Palestinian refugees; and UN agencies dealing with compensatory efforts for Palestinian refugees should also address compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Fifth, the annual November 29 commemoration by the United Nations of the international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people should be transformed into an international day of solidarity for a “two states for two peoples day” – as the initial 1947 UN partition resolution intended – and including solidarity with all refugees created by the Israeli conflict.

Sixth, jurisdiction over Palestinian refugees should be transferred from UNRWA to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There was no justification then – and still less today – for the establishment of a separate body to deal only with Palestinian refugees, particularly when UNRWA has been itself compromised by its revisionist teaching of the Middle East peace and justice narrative.

Seventh, any bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – and any and all discussions on the Middle East by the European Union, the Quartet, or any U.S.-proposed framework for peace agreements – which one hopes will presage a just and lasting peace – must include Jewish refugees as well as Palestinian refugees in an inclusive joinder of discussion.

Significantly, some Governments and Parliaments have made welcome progress on this question, such as the U.S. Congress in adopting legislation recognizing the plight of Jewish refugees and requiring that the issue be raised in any and all talks on Middle East peace. Recently, the Canadian government affirmed the Canadian Parliament’s recommendation for the recognition of the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Democratic parliaments should hold hearings on the issue to ensure public awareness and action, to allow for victims’ testimony, and to right the historical record.

The exclusion and denial of rights and redress to Jewish refugees from Arab countries continues to prejudice authentic negotiations between the parties and a just and lasting peace between them. Let there be no mistake about it: Where there is no remembrance, there is no truth; where there is no truth, there will be no justice; where there is no justice, there will be no reconciliation; and where there is no reconciliation, there will be no peace – which we all seek.

Irwin Cotler is a member of the Canadian Parliament and the former Minister of Justice and Attorney of Canada. He is a Professor of Law (Emeritus) at McGill University and co-author of Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands: The Case for Rights and Redress.

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  • Joseph Daniel

    I was lucky.

    In 1969, well after most of the Iraqi Jews left leaving their belongings, money and properties behind, a lot of the Jewish men including my late father were rounded up and imprisoned. They picked few, charged them with espionage for Israel and hung them in the main ‘Liberation Square’ of Baghdad. Come enjoy the feast, that was the invitation to the citizens by Baghdad Radio, half a million turned up for this celebration. I was 6 years old and was lucky as my father wasn’t one the ones they decided to hang. Other children were not as lucky as myself.

    See link https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1969_Baghdad_hangings

  • The Interfaith Encounter Association is dedicated to promoting peace in the Middle East through interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural study. We believe that, rather than being a cause of the problem, religion can and should be a source of the solution for conflicts that exist in the region and beyond.
    http://interfaithencounter.wordpress.com/

  • Sara D

    Excellent points.

    What can be done to get the UN, the center of this problem, to change its ways?

  • shut down the UN. It is $40 billion that is 40,000,000,000 dollar abomination that does not contribute a single soldier for peace anywhere in the world and never has. Its programs for food, poverty and health could all be covered by international cooperation for a tenth of the price because the UN is no more than a corrupt, vicious, antisemitic behemoth.

  • kRIS kRISTIAN

    The UN (useless nothing) has always been anti Semitic,
    The majority of the UN members are either Arab or Islamic states. They have convinced the world that the only real refugees are the Arabs who (here is the biggest lie) were forced by Israel to “get out” to make way for Jews. That is nothing further from the truth. The Arabs were asked to stay, But the Arabs told them to leave, so that they can ATTACK THE SMALL JEWISH STATE, AND DRIVE THE JEWS INTO THE SEA, AND THAT THE ARABS CAN RETURN AND TAKE OVER ALL THE JEWISH PROPERTY. 5 ARAB ARMIES ATTACKED THE NEW REBORN JEWISH STATE,.
    WITH GOD’S HELP, THE ARAB ARMIES WERE DEFEATED. THEY HAVE NEVER FORGIVEN THE JEWS BECAUSE THEY “LOST FACE” to a country without any army, navy, air force.

    BUT THE UN HAS NEVER SPOKEN ABOUT THE 850 000 JEWS WHO WERE FORCED OUT OF THEIR HOMES ETC, BY THE ARAB STATES WHERE THEY HAD LIVED FOR CENTURIES.
    so, the world has spent hundreds of billions to support the “Palestinian refugees” and created the biggest terror religion in history.

    THE RESULT IS THAT THE ENTIRE WORLD HAS FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE JEWISH REFUGEES. IT IS AS THOUGH THERE NEVER WERE JEWISH REFUGEES, ONLY THOSE “POOR” ARABS WHO WERE”DRIVEN OUT BY THE JEWS” SO THE WORLD HATES ISRAEL AND THE JEWS, AND ARE SUPPORTING THE TERRORISTS AGAINST ISRAEL.

    MAYBE ISRAEL IS TO BLAME
    WHY HAS ISRAEL NEVER MADE A BIG ISSUE OF THIS FACT?

    Now Britain, France, Sweden, USA etc have allowed hundred of million Muslims into their countries without worrying about the consequences that their Christian countries will, within 20 years, become Islamic states.

    And the only people to suffer, will be those Christians who hate Jews and Israel.

  • estie ash

    please stop calling the arab refugees from 1948 “palestinian” refugees. it is that word which gives the world the wrong impression of who lived in palestine. There were Jews and arabs there. NO PALESTINIANS…. and, if there were palestinians, they were Jewish as well as moslem with no national distinction. the name palestinian is a misnomer and is the single largest cause of negative world opinion. The palestinian nation was created at the oslo accords by rabin.

  • Bella

    My admiration for Irwin Cotler is huge, but he has made a huge error in his above article by stating that if Partition had been accepted: been accepted, ‘there would have been no 1948 Arab- Israeli war, no refugees, and none of the pain and suffering of these past 67 years.’

    Though Arabs would not have become refugees, the pain and sorrow of 850,000 Jews evicted from Israel’s neighbours would probably still have occurred.

    Allowing the sad story of these people to remain obscure is one of the greatest contributions to perpetuating the mythology surrounding ‘Palestinian history’.

  • MR.RANDY DOUGLAS MILLER

    OUR SOVEREIGN,COVENANT STATE/REPUBLIC OF YISRAEL NEEDS TO STOP GIVING A DAMN ABOUT AMERICAN AND INTERNATIONAL OPINION OF HERSELF.AND START SEEKING PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH AND ABSOLUTE MERCILESS POWER TOWARDS HER ENEMIES.IT’S MORE IMPORTANT TO BE HATED AND RESPECTED THAN LOVED.MERCILESS AGGRESSIVE STRENGTH IS THE “TRUE” WAY TO PEACE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Alan Kennedy

    Not to mention what went on across the region from the early 1900s …

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    Professor Cotler’s article demonstrates a respectable comprehension of the human record regarding the plight of the Jewish refugees in and from Arab countries in consequence of the November 29, 1947 UN resolution. It is the perspective, though, of a Jew, an expert on international law, a citizen of Canada, a country pro Israel in the Free World. His very lucid, sane, coherent, reasonable, pragmatic dissertation here falls on deaf ears in the vast majority of the Islamic extremist world, a world which decency, humanity, and sanity are not present.

  • judithg

    the stench that comes out of the UN building is truly abhorrent. it comes from that UN toilet that is way overstuffed. the UN slime must needs a mercy flush.

  • Marshall E. Schwartz

    Some important statistics:

    Mauritania: 0 Jews in recorded history
    Algeria: 140,000 in 1948, today 28
    Morocco: 285,000 in 1948, 6500 today
    Tunisia: 110,000 in 1948, 1700
    Lybia: 32,000 in 1948, 0 today
    Egypt: 100,000 in 1948, 150 today
    Sudan: 350 in 1948, 0 today
    Lebanon: 20,000 in 1948, 50 today
    Syria: 35,000 in 1948, 0 today
    Yemen: 63,000 in 1948, 100 today
    Saudi Arabia: 0 Jews since the middle ages
    Somalia: 0 Jews in recorded history
    Iraq: 150,000 in 1948, 0 today
    Bahrain: 600 in 1938, 37 today
    UAE: 0 Jews since the Middle Ages
    Muscat (Oman): 0 Jews since the 19th century
    Jordan: 0 Jews since the Middle Ages
    Iran: 100,000 in 1979, 20,000 today

    Israel: 150,000 Arabs in 1948, 1,640,000 today

    • Vibeke Streeval

      Thank you for this information. It is astounding.

    • Avi Katz

      And yet it is the Israeli Jews who are so absurdly accused of ethnic cleansing the Arabs in Israel!

    • Pierre Elie Mamou

      great text. No added literature is needed

  • Philip Greenberg

    A comprehensive analysis leading to a concrete and feasible action plan. We have learned not to expect any less from Professor Cotler.

  • Bill Channon

    This is the first article I have read that has shown optimism and hope for the future of Israel and global Jewry . Excellent article.

  • Ivan Gur-Arie

    The UN can go to hell with such states as France, Belgium, Norway, Denamrk etc etc. The good God has visited a plague of ignorance, incompetence. hypocracy on this western world.

    • kRIS kRISTIAN

      Those haters will be cursed by God, They will have their plagues, earth quakes, famin and floods, with millions (maybe billions) perishing) and Israel will survive

  • Bernard Ross

    Double standards is a good indicator of anti semitism

  • Davies Samuel

    An excellent article straight forward and to the point.I would like to call attention to the fact that the media in general never talks of the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries. Palestinian refugees might number in millions, but so are Jewish refugees.Stripped of their belongings, they were forced to leave their countries of birth and settled elsewhere. Families and friends were scattered all over the world. It was just as traumatic and heart breaking for them as for the Palestinians. They adapted to their new countries making a successful life without ever asking or getting help. All the while Palestinians refugees with the complicity of the Arab world were only too happy to settle down in refugee camps and taken care financially by UNRWA since 1948 to the present time.

  • This is one of the best films explaining our history and sacrifices in Eretz Yisrael.

    • JLW

      M. Rosenberg, could you clarify which FILM you are referring to? I am interested.

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