Forgetting the Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries

My wife and I just attended a tour at the National Archives of the exhibit of Iraqi-Jewish documents that were rescued and preserved from the flooded basement of the Iraqi intelligence headquarters in 2003.  My Iraqi-Jewish wife, along with many others, is very upset that these documents, having been stolen from the Jewish community, are being returned to Iraq. I wonder whether there is some law dealing with looted artifacts that can be invoked by a plaintiff (maybe someone who had owned one of the documents) to enjoin the documents’ return.

Meanwhile, in a book review today of a book about Israel, Thomas Friedman writes, “[The author] then weaves in the next waves of immigrants, the broken survivors of World War II who joined up with the idealistic Zionists to rebuild the Jewish commonwealth in its ancient homeland.” As in unfortunately often par for the course in discussions of Israel and Zionism, Friedman casually treats Israel in its early year as a conglomeration of early European Zionist immigrants and later European Holocaust refugees and survivors, neglecting the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to flee Arab countries and make their way to Israel, including my parents-in-law. It’s perhaps relatively easy to forget them, because unlike Arab refugees from the Israeli War of Independence they weren’t herded into refugee camps and denied citizenship to better serve as political bargaining chips and human fodder for war and terrorism. But they and their descendants also constitute around half of Israel’s population, and are, for obvious reasons, on average rather more suspicious of peace deals that rely on the Arabs’ good will then are their Ashkenazi fellow citizens. The consistent neglect–even often in Israel–of their collective refugee trauma isn’t conducive to peace. After all, how would you feel about, for example, proposed massive compensation to descendants of Palestinian refugees, when you have (as my in-laws do), a worthless deed to your estate in Baghdad sitting in your bank vault, along with your memories of living in a tent camp for several years until permanent housing become available?

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