The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the international body dealing with Palestinian refugees, should be disbanded, MP and former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler demanded this week.
“Jurisdiction over the Palestinian refugees should be transferred from UNWRA, which, frankly, continues to engage patterns of incitement against Israel and in misrepresentation of the truth,” Cotler said at an event in Jerusalem on Monday staged by the World Jewish Congress' Israel Council on Foreign Relations. The former Canadian justice minister delivered a speech about the Jewish refugees exiled from the Arab states following the establishment of the State of Israel.
Responsibility for dealing with the Palestinians should be transferred to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which handles all other refugee populations, he said.
“There is no reason why there should be one separate body dealing with Palestinian refugees where all other refugees in the world are under the jurisdiction of the United Nations commissioner for refugees, which is where Palestinian refugees also belong,” Cotler insisted.
He added that the “Arab League should incorporate the question of Jewish refugees as part of its framework for an Israeli- Arab peace in the same way that the Jewish narrative incorporates the Palestinian refugees,” and that the government of Israel insist that in “any and all discussions between the negotiating parties, any reference to Palestinian refugees must also include express reference to Jewish refugees.”
It is “high time that the forced exodus of Jews from Arab lands be introduced to the international agenda after the unconscionable neglect of the issue for six decades,” he declared.
This is not the first time that Cotler has called for the end of UNRWA or for recognition and redress for the 850,000 Jewish refugees of the Israeli-Arab conflict; he said so in almost identical words in an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post three years ago.
Israel, Cotler insisted, must do more to raise the issue of Jewish refugees during its dealings with international bodies.
“The [UN’s} annual November 29th commemoration [of the Palestinian defeat in 1948] and the 2014 Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People must be an annual day and now a year of solidarity with the Jewish people as well as with the Palestinian.
If the UN is not going to do it, then the Jewish people, in conjunction with men and women of goodwill, must launch our own year of truth and justice and solidarity.”
In response to Cotler’s comments, MK Shimon Ohayon told the Post that he hoped to soon pass a law “to create a day of commemoration and education about the Jewish refugees from Arab countries.”
“The Foreign Ministry under Avigdor Liberman has pressed the issue on the international stage, creating a now annual event at the UN in New York devoted to the issue which is attended by foreign ambassadors, and communiques were sent to all our foreign-based representatives to raise the issue with their interlocutors where relevant,” the lawmaker said.
While a 2010 law mandates that the Jewish refugees be brought up during any negotiations with the PLO , Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is in charge of the current talks, reportedly told World Jewish Congress officials that she would not raise the issue.
Also during Monday’s meeting, Dr. Harold Rhode, the former Middle East analyst at the US Defense Department who found a large collection of documents in Baghdad confiscated from the now exiled Iraqi Jewish population, insisted that his discovery not be returned to Baghdad later this year as agreed by the US government.
“Sending the material back to Baghdad would be comparable to the US returning to the German government Jewish property that had been looted by the Nazis,” Rhode insisted.
The documents, which the Hussein regime confiscated from the Jewish community, were discovered by coalition forces in the basement of the headquarters of the Mukhabarat, or secret police, in 2003 and document centuries of life in Mesopotamia. A portion of the documents, which are being restored, are on display at the US National Archives in Washington, and are due to be returned to Iraq within months.