The story of the Jews in Arab lands still forms a major gap in most of the world's knowledge of the history of the Middle East. Jewish presence in what are now Arab lands long predates Islam and the Arab conquest of the Middle East and goes back to Biblical times. In 1945, there were approximately 866,000 Jews living in communities throughout the Arab world. Today, there are fewer than 7,000. In many Arab states, once thriving Jewish communities have all but disappeared. According to official statistics, 856,000 Jews , persecuted and under duress, were exiled from their homes in Arab countries between 1948 and the early 1970s leaving behind substantial property and other assets.
In April 2008, the US House of Representatives unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the recognition of Jewish, Christian, and other refugees from Arab lands. The resolution states that any agreement between Israelis and Palestinians must include recognition of Jewish refugees as well. The resolution makes it clear that the subject should be brought before the UN General Assembly again, to have it recognize the plight of the Arabic Jews. In March of 2014, Canada accepted the recommendation of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development that “Canada officially recognizes the experience of Jewish refugees who were displaced from states in the Middle East and North Africa after 1948.”
Much work has been done by the World Jewish Congress over the years in order to raise awareness of this issue among Jewish communities, elected officials and governmental dignitaries in North America, Europe, and in the United Nations. We have held conferences, special events, lectures, panels, and parliamentary hearings, and so that more people would know about it. We have come a long way and while the issue is better known, there is still too much ignorance. The plight of Jews who fled from, or still live in, Arab lands and their specific concerns are not yet well-known and still needs to be raised with governments and international organizations. To that end, the WJC, in cooperation with organized Jewish community, has urged the United States House of Representatives to propose and pass legislation to mandate that the issue of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands be raised in all relevant talks concerning the Middle East peace process, and reported on to the Congress.
The WJC has acted in accordance with following principles:
- Actions taken on behalf of those communities still residing in Arab lands must be done in concert with the communal leadership lest such interventions create further problems and dangers for the resident Jewish community.
- Illegal seizure of assets that took place should remain on record, to preserve the right of restitution claims by former owners and their heirs.
- Jewish communal and sacred sites in Arab countries must be preserved and respected and must receive the same care and attention presently shown to similar sites by Jewish communities in the rest of the world.