Saturday October 10, 2015
Israel Hayom
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Minister Gila Gamliel

Leveling the refugee playing field

Immediately following the establishment of the State of Israel, on the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Arab countries and Iran launched a semi-systematic purging of the Jewish presence in their midst. Many Jews were forced to leave their homes due to Arab governments' rejection of the Zionist movement in Israel.

An international conference on the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab countries was held this month. This conference, and the issue itself, possess profound national significance for Israel. It is Israel's historic and moral duty to spearhead a strategic plan to ensure that justice is done. International recognition of these Jews' historic rights is a prerequisite for true peace with the Palestinians, because a distorted, one-sided approach to the issue of refugees can never produce a true, just solution to this conflict. Let us recall that Security Council Resolution 242 refers to "a just settlement of the refugee problem" without specifying the ethnicity of the refugees.

The guiding principle for this strategic plan should rest on gathering data and documentation of private and communal property that belonged to Arab and Iranian Jews. This way the value of this property can be evaluated. To that end, an independent, international body must be established. This documentation process is extremely time sensitive because it would be largely based on the testimonies of the refugees, who are, unfortunately, due to their advanced age, rapidly diminishing.

Another important element of this plan should be the establishment of an international foundation — similar to the Saudi initiative — that would lead to the dismantling of the 58 Palestinian refugee camps and naturalization of their inhabitants in their respective countries while simultaneously procuring compensation for the Jews' lost property and mental anguish, which far exceeded that of the Palestinian refugees.

Furthermore, a museum should be erected to perpetuate the memory of the hundreds of Jewish communities that existed across Northern Africa, the Middle East and in the Persian Gulf for over 2,000 years, long before Islam and Arab countries came to be. Every foreign leader that visits Israel will be able to visit this museum and better understand the Jews in general, as will Israeli schoolchildren.

As part of the commemoration process, a national day of remembrance must be initiated, to remind us of the terrible suffering of the Jewish refugees for generations. We must also promote research into the subject at institutions like the Ben-Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities of the East, national universities, Beit Hatfutsot Museum of the Jewish People, and others.

Yet another important aspect of this endeavor is creating a balance in the education system between the story of European Jews and Jews from Arab countries and Iran. Why is it that almost every Israeli child is taught about the Kishinev pogrom, in which 49 Jews were killed, but nothing about the Farhud in Baghdad, or the pogroms in Aden, Tripoli or Morocco or any other persecution of Jews in the Muslim world?

Public diplomacy also plays a key role, and that is where the Foreign Ministry comes in. The ministry must raise awareness of the Jewish refugee issue on a national and an international scale. Commemoration and determination to defend the rights of the Jewish people could play an important role in combating the delegitimization efforts currently underway against Israel. It will bolster our right to the Land of Israel and improve the chances of true regional peace.

Gila Gamliel is an Israeli politician who currently serves as a member of the Knesset for Likud and Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

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