This November will mark the 65th anniversary of the UN Partition Resolution of
November 29, 1947. It is sometimes forgotten – and often not even known – that
this was the first-ever blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian “two states for two
peoples” solution. Regrettably, while Jewish leaders accepted the resolution,
Arab and Palestinian leaders did not, and by their own acknowledgment, declared
war on the nascent Jewish state while also targeting the Jewish nationals living
in their respective countries.
Indeed, 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 65 years. The annual November 29
UN-organized International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People might
well have been a day commemorating a Middle East peace, and the establishment of
both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine.
Yet the revisionist
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, and that Israel was
responsible for the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe) of 1948.
is that the pain and plight of 850,000 Jews uprooted and displaced from Arab
countries – the forgotten exodus – has been both expunged and eclipsed from both
the Middle East peace and justice narratives these past 65 years.
the upcoming United Nations commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity
with the Palestinian People – celebrated on the anniversary of the Partition
Resolution – will likely ignore, yet again, the plight of Jewish refugees,
thereby indulging and encouraging this Middle East revisionism.
this revisionist narrative has not only eclipsed – and erased – the forgotten
exodus from memory and remembrance, but it also denies that it was a forced
exodus, and one that resulted from both double rejectionism and double
aggression. This is the real nakba – the real double catastrophe.
put, the Arab countries not only rejected a proposed Palestinian state and went
to war to extinguish the nascent Jewish state, but also targeted the Jewish
nationals living in their respective countries, thereby creating two refugee
populations – 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 the report entitled
“Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries: The Case for Rights And Redress” documents
in detail the 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 in 1947.
a story whose voices are only now being heard by many for the first time. It is
a story whose painful testimony has been shared too often only among the victims
themselves. It is a truth that must now be affirmed, acknowledged, and acted
upon in the interests of justice and history.
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 acknowledgment, let alone regret, for this
pain and suffering, or for their respective responsibility for the pain and
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? What follows is a nine-point international human rights
justice and 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 this
forgotten – and forced – exodus of Jews from Arab countries to the Middle East
narrative from which they have been expunged and eclipsed these 65
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
Third, in the manner of duties and responsibilities, each of
the Arab countries – and the League of Arab States – 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.
the Arab League Peace Plan of 2002 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 – 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 be transformed into an International Day of
Solidarity for a Two-State – Two-Peoples Solution, as the initial 1947 Partition
Resolution intended, including solidarity with all refugees created by the
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 has been itself compromised by its incitement to
hatred and violence, 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 – must
include Jewish refugees as well as Palestinian refugees in an inclusive joinder
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.
GOVERNMENTS have made welcome progress on this question, such as the US Congress
in recently adopting legislation recognizing the plight of Jewish refugees and
requiring that the issue be raised in any and all talks on Middle East peace. I
have a motion before the Canadian Parliament in this regard which I hope will
soon be adopted. Legislatures around the world should hold hearings on the issue
to ensure public awareness and action, to allow for victims’ testimony, and to
right the historical record – an effort in which I trust that Canada will be
engaged this fall.
In sum, 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 – as I have said before and will continue to
affirm: 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.
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The writer is a Canadian member of parliament and the
former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada. He is a
professor of law (emeritus) at McGill University. He has testified on
this issue before parliaments in the US, the UK and Italy.