So if they are not refugees, Hanan, what are these? (Israel National Archive)
The official Arab backlash to the Israeli foreign ministry's forthcoming campaign for recognition of Jewish refugees begins - as Hana Ashrawi, the PLO 's Christian spokeswoman, places an article in several Arab media outlets denying that Jews were refugees at all. This blog is, of course, one long refutation of Ashrawi's remarks. One interesting development, however, is her call for a 'right of return' for Jews to Arab countries, a desperate attempt to cling on to the Palestinian 'right of return' to Israel and an inadvertent linking of the two populations' plight. Report in the Jerusalem Post:
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, 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 an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said that the "claim that Jews who emigrated 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 (this month - ed) month.
The Foreign Ministry - together with the World Jewish Congress and 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 currently finalizing plans to institute a national day of recognition for the Jewish refugees. It is also planning 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 emigrating to Israel after its establishment," Ashrawi, 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 have welcomed the return of Jews. (Show me the thousands who have returned to Iraq - ed)
"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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