The Arab-Israeli conflict has many aspects but none is uglier and more despairing than the issue of refugees. I have argued for a basic reconceptualization of the term refugee as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) applies the term to Palestinians: "By falsely attaching a refugee status to these Palestinians who never fled anywhere," I argued, a creative and entrepreneurial people is condemned "to lives of exclusion, self-pity and nihilism."
There's another change needed too, which is to recognize that Palestinians were only half the refugee population, the other half being made up of a comparable number of Jews who fled their homes in the Arabic-speaking countries. The Israeli government has long been reticent to raise this issue but today, in a bold effort to break the silence, Senator Rick Santorum (Republican of Pennsylvania) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (Democrat of New York) introduced a "sense of Congress" resolution urging the president to
- instruct the United States Representative to the United Nations and all United States representatives in bilateral and multilateral fora that, when the United States considers or addresses resolutions that allude to the issue of Middle East refugees, the United States delegation should ensure that--
- the relevant text refers to the fact that multiple refugee populations have been caused by the Arab-Israeli conflict; and
- any explicit reference to the required resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue is matched by a similar explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries; and
- make clear that the United States Government supports the position that, as an integral part of any comprehensive peace, the issue of refugees and the mass violations of human rights of minorities in Arab countries must be resolved in a manner that includes--
- redress for the legitimate rights of all refugees displaced from Arab countries; and
- recognition of the fact that Jewish and Christian property, schools, and community property was lost as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Comment: This major step forward owes much to the efforts of Justice for Jews in Arab Countries, a new organization founded dedicated to securing justice for the forgotten refugees of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Its executive director, Stanley Urman, hailed the resolution as an attempt to rectify a historical injustice, namely "the cynical neglect of the international community to the plight of more than 850,000 Jewish refugees." (March 29, 2004)