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PLO's Ashrawi: No such thing as Jewish refugees
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
09/01/2012
Member of PLO Executive C'tee says Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries came voluntarily, pressured by Zionist groups.
 
Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries are not refugees, because they left their homes voluntarily and under pressure from Zionist groups and the Jewish Agency, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said over the weekend.

In an article published in a number of Arab media outlets, Ashrawi, who is also a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said the “claim that Jews who migrated to Israel, which is supposed to be their homeland, are ‘refugees’ who were uprooted from their homelands... is a form of deception and delusion.”

She explained: “If Israel is their homeland, then they are not ‘refugees;’ they are emigrants who returned either voluntarily or due to a political decision.”

Ashrawi’s comments came in response to Israeli efforts to hold a summit on the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries next month.

The Foreign Ministry – together with the World Jewish Congress and the Senior Citizens Ministry (formerly the Pensioners Affairs Ministry) – is stepping up its campaign to bring the issue of Jewish refugees to public and diplomatic attention.

The Foreign Ministry says more than 850,000 Jews from Arab countries fled their homes following persecution that ensued after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post last week that the government was finalizing plans to institute a national day of recognition for the Jewish refugees. It also plans to build a museum to document the historical events of these communities, as well as their cultural heritage; collate testimony from thousands of refugees; and bring the issue front and center on the diplomatic stage.

Ashrawi, however, rejected the assertion that Jews left their countries of birth because of persecution.

“Arab Jews were part of the Arab region, but they began migrating to Israel after its establishment,” she argued. “They did so in accordance with a forethought plan by the Jewish Agency to bring Jews from all around the world to build the State of Israel.”

Ashrawi did, nonetheless, acknowledge that “some Arab countries at that time were ruled by tyrannical regimes.”

But, she noted, “all citizens, regardless of their religion, were subjected to suffering.

Jews were not singled out, although there had been some suspicious incidents of persecution or individual violence [against Jews] to encourage them to emigrate [to Israel]. The emigration of Jews was a voluntary act that was influenced by factors of pressure and temptation by Zionist movements and the Jewish Agency.”

Ashrawi called for drawing a distinction between Arab and Jewish refugees.

Zionist gangs, she said, “forced Palestinians out of the land that had belonged to the Palestinian people for thousands of years, while Jews voluntarily and collectively left.”

Ashrawi also voiced hope that Jews would be allowed to return to Arab countries.

She claimed that Iraq and Morocco had welcomed the return of Jews.

“We expect the Arab countries to welcome the return of their Jewish citizens in the context of democratic regimes that respect pluralism,” Ashrawi stressed.

“From a legal perspective, the first right – before compensation – is the right of return of the refugee to his/her original homeland.
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