While serving as a Canadian delegate to the annual inter-parliamentary hearing at the United Nations, I came across an exhibit marking the annual International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The central theme of the exhibit is the Nakba – catastrophe – suffered by the Palestinian people, due to the establishment of the State of Israel.
Once again, the United Nations commemorated the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on November 29 – the 64th anniversary of the Partition Resolution – by continuing to ignore the plight of Jewish refugees. Turning history and law on its head, the world body once again failed to note that the Arab countries not only rejected a Palestinian state and went to war to extinguish the nascent Jewish state, but also targeted the Jewish nationals living in their respective countries.
Two refugee populations were created by that decision – the Palestinian refugee population resulting from the Arab war against Israel, and the Jewish refugees resulting from the Arab war against its own Jewish nationals.
Indeed, evidence contained in a report titled “Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries: The Case for Rights And Redress” documents a pattern of state-sanctioned repression and persecution in Arab countries – including Nuremberg-like laws – that targeted its Jewish populations, resulting in denationalization, forced expulsions, illegal sequestration of property, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and murder – namely, anti-Jewish pogroms.
And while the internal Jewish narrative has often referred to pogroms as European attacks on their Jewish nationals, it has often ignored Arab-Muslim attacks on their Jewish nationals.
Moreover, as the report also documents, these massive human rights violations were not only the result of state-sanctioned patterns of oppression in each of the Arab countries, but they were reflective of a collusive blueprint, as embodied in the Draft Law of the Political Committee of the League of Arab States.
This is a story that needs to be heard. It is a truth that must now be acknowledged.
Regrettably, the United Nations also bears express and continuing responsibility for this distorted Middle East and peace narrative. Since 1948, there have been more than 150 UN resolutions that have specifically dealt with the Palestinian refugee plight. Yet not one of these resolutions makes any reference to, nor is there any expression of concern for, the plight of the 850,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries.
Nor have any of the Arab countries involved – or the Palestinian leadership involved – expressed any acknowledgement, let alone regret, for this pain and suffering, or for their respective responsibility for the pain and suffering.
How do we rectify this historical – and ongoing – injustice? What are the rights and remedies available under international human rights and humanitarian law? And what are the corresponding duties and obligations incumbent upon the United Nations, Arab countries and members of the international community?
To answer these questions, I propose a nine-point international human rights action agenda.
• First, it must be appreciated that while justice has long been delayed, it must no longer be denied. The time has come to rectify this historical injustice, and to restore the plight and truth of the “forgotten exodus” of Jews from Arab countries to the Middle East narrative from which they have been expunged and eclipsed these 64 years.
• Second, remedies for victim refugee groups – including rights of remembrance, truth, justice and redress, as mandated under human rights and humanitarian law – 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, which has played a protective role in Libyan and Syrian aggressions – must acknowledge their role and responsibility in their double aggression of launching an aggressive war against Israel and the perpetration of human rights violations against their respective Jewish nationals. The culture of impunity must end.
• Fourth, the Arab League Peace Plan of 2002 – still held out as a blueprint for an Arab-Israeli peace – should incorporate the question of Jewish refugees from Arab countries as part of its narrative for an Israeli-Arab peace, just as the Israeli narrative now incorporates the issue of Palestinian refugees in its vision of an Israeli-Arab peace.
• Fifth, on the international level, the UN General Assembly – whose theme in the session in which I participated this past week was “political accountability” – and in the interests of justice and equity – 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; UN agencies dealing with compensatory efforts for Palestinian refugees should also address Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
• Sixth, the annual November 29 commemoration by the United Nations of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People should finally be transformed into an International Day of Solidarity for a Two-Peoples Two-State Solution – as the initial 1947 Partition Resolution intended – including solidarity with all refugees created by the Israeli-Arab conflict.
• Seventh, 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 that body is itself compromised by its incitement to hatred, as well as its revisionist teaching of the Middle East peace and justice narrative.
• Eighth, any bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – which one hopes will presage a just and lasting peace – should include Jewish refugees as well as Palestinian refugees in an inclusive joinder of discussion.
• Ninth, during any and all discussions on the Middle East by the Quartet and others, any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees should be paralleled by a reference to Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
The continuing exclusion and denial of rights and redress to Jewish refugees from Arab countries will only prejudice authentic negotiations between the parties and undermine the justice and legitimacy of any agreement.
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.
The writer, an international human rights lawyer, is a Canadian MP and former justice minister.