A panel discussion, "The untold story of the Middle East: Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries," hosted by Dep FM Ayalon and Ambassador Prosor was held at the UN on Friday, September 21.
Ambassador Prosor: "Our purpose is clear: plain and simple justice for nearly one million Jewish refugees, whose stories have been hidden – whose history has been left untold."
Remarks by Israel Ambassador Ron Prosor
Ladies and Gentleman: Today’s event is about the past, but more importantly, it is about the future.
Our purpose is clear: plain and simple justice for nearly one million Jewish refugees, whose stories have been hidden – whose history has been left untold.
Every year, the United Nations hosts World Refugee Day. Events take place in all corners of the world. Millions participate. Celebrities flood the airwaves to raise awareness about refugee populations. They speak about Africans, Asians, South Americans, Europeans and, of course, Palestinians.
One group never makes the cut: the Jews who were torn from their homes in Arab lands.
Today we say with one voice: the international community can no longer ignore these 850,000 people. Their history is no less real. Their stories are no less painful. And the time has come to make absolutely clear why these Jews from Arab countries were forced to leave their homes.
This was not an accident. Arab leaders launched a war of terror, incitement, and expulsion to decimate and destroy their Jewish communities. Their effort was systematic. It was deliberate. It was planned.
Less than ywo years after the horrors of the Nazi atrocities, in the very halls that were built to prevent another Holocaust, Arab leaders explicitly threatened the massacre of their Jewish communities.
On November 14, 1947, just fifteen days before the UN voted to partition British-Mandate Palestine, an Arab Representative stood in these halls of the United Nations and said, "The partition of Palestine might create…an anti-Semitism even more difficult to root out than the anti-Semitism which the allies were trying to eradicate in Germany." And he threatened, "if the United Nations decides to partition Palestine, it might be responsible for the massacre of a large number of Jews."
In the days leading up to partition, the halls of the United Nations were filled with these implicit and explicit threats of violence from Arab delegates. Arab countries felt very comfortable telling the world exactly how they would treat their Jewish communities if the ancient Jewish homeland was re-established in Israel. And then the world stood idle as Arab leaders followed through with these threats of violence.
Anti-Jewish violence erupted across the Middle East. Bombings targeted Jewish institutions. Mobs destroyed synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. State-sponsored pogroms killed thousands.
Yet, some Arab delegates still have the audacity to stand in these halls and speak about the supposed harmony that existed between Jews and Muslims in their countries. This is their idea of harmony.
In 1947, the Arab League instructed its members to freeze Jewish assets and declare Jews as enemies of the state. New draconian laws prevented Jews from public worship and forced them to carry Jewish identity cards. Billions of dollars of their property and assets were seized. Think about this. The total area of land confiscated from Jews in Arab countries amounts to nearly 40,000 square miles. That is five times the size of Israel.
For 64 years, this history has been distorted and whitewashed in the United Nations. Arab Countries have never been held accountable for their actions. The UN has never recognized their responsibility for creating 850,000 Jewish refugees.
The pages that the UN has written about the Palestinian refugees could fill up football stadiums. Yet, not a single syllable about the Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries can be found in any of the 1088 UN resolutions on the Middle East or the 172 UN resolutions dedicated to Palestinian refugees. The Palestinian refugees have their own UN agency, their own information program, and their own department within the United Nations. None exist for the Jewish refugees.
Since 1947, the UN and its agencies have spent tens of billions of dollars – and counting – on Palestinian refugees – and not a cent on the Jewish refugees.
It is time for the UN to recognize that this double-standard is a troubled-standard. It is time for the UN to recognize that 64 years of lip service to objectivity has been a huge disservice to justice.
Ladies and Gentleman,
I am very proud to come from a nation that immediately embraced some 600,000 of these Jewish refugees with full citizenship rights. They nearly doubled Israel’s population at the time.
Most Jewish refugees entered the Land of Milk and Honey with no milk, no honey, and no money.
Our country was still in its infancy. We were a developing nation with few resources and huge challenges. Our tiny state budget strained to feed them, to house them, and to integrate them into society. Yet, we came together as one people – a small nation of immigrants with a big vision of what we could accomplish together.
As these refugees from Arab countries rose to the highest levels of society, they lifted the State of Israel to new heights. They became some of our greatest statesmen; our leading doctors, lawyers and in especially the Iraqis, our accountants; our most brilliant minds in art, science, and commerce. Their remarkable contributions to Israel reflect the rich culture and vibrant communities that they left behind.
Today my mind is filled with images of the great Jewish institutions that once dotted the landscape of the Arab World. Today I think of the 2,000 year old Jobar Synagogue near Damascus, built on the site where the prophet Elijah concealed himself to avoid persecution. I think of the Jewish cemetery in Basra, where the great minds that devised the Babylonian Talmud now rest. I think of the Jewish Quarter in Beirut, where Jewish businesses, synagogues, and homes once teemed with life.
The members of these communities preserved the treasures of antiquity into modernity. They produced some of the holiest books in Judaism. They enriched the Arab communities where they lived – with art, culture, and commerce for generation after generation. Little by little, one by one, these ancient Jewish communities of Arab countries are disappearing. The hands of time threaten to dim their memory forever.
Yet, there is still time for us to speak with truth – to bring the history of these refugees to the world’s attention. Today I look across this stage – and out into this crowd – and see many who lived through that painful history. I see their children and their grandchildren.
I see many whose happy childhoods came to an abrupt end at the hands of a mob; whose family businesses were stolen in the span of a moment; whose lives were changed forever just because of their faith.
Yet, all of you managed to rebuild. You managed to endure. You managed to succeed – with your courage, your brainpower, and your willpower.
On behalf of the Jewish State, I extend a promise to each and every one of you. Your journey from the riverbanks of Baghdad and the hills of Damascus to these halls of the United Nations will not be forgotten. Your history will not be lost. Your plight will not be ignored any longer.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At the outset I said that today is about the future, not just about the past. I believe with all my heart that the road to peace will be much clearer when the cloud of distorted history is lifted from our path. A peace between Israel and its neighbors must be based on honesty, candor, and respect for the truth.
And this morning I call on Arab leaders to take up their moral responsibility for the historic injustice that they inflicted on 850,000 Jewish refugees.
Authentic and meaningful reconciliation will only come when we have a well of truth to water the seeds of peace. A peaceful future must be built on a truthful past. And it is high time for meaningful, truthful, and comprehensive education on this issue throughout the Arab World to begin changing hearts and minds.
We are here in these halls of the United Nations today. The United Nations also has a clear duty to breathe life into its founding ideals by taking responsibility for this historic wrong. It must take the first step in the right direction today. Open the doors of this institution to the Jewish refugees. Listen to their firsthand accounts. Collect the evidence to preserve their history.
Today – from this podium – I call on the UN to establish a center of documentation and research to tell the 850,000 untold stories of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries. These refugees deserve the truth. They deserve recognition. They deserve justice.
The Jewish refugees have been waiting for six decades for plain and simple justice. They cannot wait any longer. And neither can Israel.