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Changing Paradigms in Public Opinion Perspectives and Governmental
Policy Concerning the Jewish Refugees of North Africa and Southwest Asia

By Barry Mowell









                        For many decades the term “refugee” if used in the context of the Middle East has been used almost exclusively in reference to the Palestinian refugee population.  In diplomatic and governmental circles, any mention of refugees within the context of the Levant region invariably was a reference to the plight of displaced Palestinians.  Many Americans and other westerners have not commonly heard the term “refugee” used in reference to Jews and they (and in many cases, the leaders of their governments) are likewise unaware that hundreds of thousands of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews were expelled or otherwise fled from Arab/Muslim lands, often forfeiting their property and money in the process.  For many years the Israeli government and national political culture has consciously avoided describing the Jews expelled from North Africa and Southwest Asia as “refugee” communities, instead referring to the phenomenon as the “in-gathering of exiles”.   Not until recently had the Israeli government, or that of any other nation, undertaken formal diplomatic initiatives to focus attention and advocate compensation for the Jews formerly of Arab/Muslim lands---historically referred to among Israelis and global communities of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews as the “forgotten refugees”. 

                        However the first decade of the 21st century has been witness to a fundamental paradigm shift in terms of how these communities of Jews from North Africa and Southwest Asia are acknowledged, described and treated via governmental action and public opinion.  The Israeli government now routinely draws attention to these communities and as a matter of formal policy has begun to refer to them as “refugees”.  In 2008 legislation appeared before both the U.S. House and Senate drawing attention to the existence of the Jewish refugees from Arab/Muslim states and requiring all U.S. diplomats and government officials with responsibility for Mideast affairs to incorporate references to the Jewish refugees in any reference to refugee communities within the region.  The goal of this study was to identify the turning points and catalysts responsible in the changing public/governmental perception of Jewish refugees from Arab/Muslim lands.  Specifically, when and why did the Jews who fled or were expelled from North Africa and Southwest Asia after 1948 begin to receive increased international attention and to be publicly described and acknowledged as a refugee population? 


Historical Setting


Jewish communities significant both in terms of size and accomplishment have existed throughout the Muslim/Arab world for some 2,500 years.  Portrayals of what life was like for Jews in Muslim lands range from romanticized images of idyllic co-existence and “mutual esteem”[1] to an environment of humiliating, harsh regulation and oppression.[2]  The historical reality of life for Jewish minorities in Muslims lands very much depends upon the time period and geographical locale in question and would often lie somewhere between the two latter extremes.[3]  While not always experiencing idyllic conditions (e.g., dhimmi codes regulating dress and other aspects of material culture, and the payment of special taxes, etc.), the Jews of Muslim lands have in general experienced fewer hardships and less severe treatment than Jews of Christian-majority lands over the totality of centuries. 

The principle catalyst for the exodus of Jews from Muslim lands beginning in the mid-20th century was the creation of the modern State of Israel in 1948 and the ensuing conflicts and political climate resulting from that turning point within the Middle East.  In many nations of North Africa and Southwest Asia public anger, governmental policies of persecution or expulsion, or a combination of the two harshly impacted their Jewish minorities.[4]  For example in Egypt, Jews who had been denied Egyptian citizenship were increasingly subjected to a range of harassment and discriminatory treatment including seizure of their homes and property, detention, and even deportation in which case an exit tax of 250 Egyptian pounds per person was imposed.[5]  In 1948 Iraq, many Jews were dismissed from their jobs, Jewish-owned businesses were subject to numerous new restrictions, and advocacy of Zionism was made a crime punishable by arrest, revocation of Iraqi citizenship or even death.[6]  While such punitive treatment of the Jewish minority was not manifest in every Muslim nation, Jews in most countries of North Africa and Southwest Asia were subject to at least some forms of harassment or discrimination.  Jews who were not expelled often left voluntarily due to increasing societal discomfort and out of fear that their already precarious position may deteriorate further.[7]

The general public is often surprised to learn that large numbers of Jews lived as minorities in Arab/Muslim lands for centuries, and that the bulk of those communities fled or were expelled during the mid-20th century.  Most are also surprised to encounter references made to “Jewish refugees” from this part of the world, as media, government and academic sources have applied the term “refugee” within the context of the Holy Lands almost exclusively to the Palestinian community.  The scale of the exodus of Jews from Muslim lands, as reflected in Table 1, would seem to necessitate public awareness and acknowledgement of its etiology, but the Jewish refugees of North Africa and Southwest Asia have largely remained a minor historical footnote for many decades.

Table 1 – Estimates of Jewish Populations

in Select Arab Nations 1948-2001


                                     1948[8]                      1968[9]              2001[10]

Aden                                        8,000                            0                     0

Algeria                    140,000                     1,500                   0

Egypt                                     75,000                      1,000               100

Iraq                          135,000                      2,500               100

Lebanon                     5,000                      3,000               100

Libya                                     38,000                         100                     0

Morocco                 265,000                     50,000           5,700

Syria                                    30,000                        4,000              100

Tunisia                   105,000                     10,000          1,500

Yemen                    55,000                             500               200

TOTAL:                   856,000                     72,600           7,800


Percentage Decrease

from 1948:                                                   -92 %             -99 %

(1948 data: Roumani, 1983; 1968/2001 data: American Jewish Yearbook,



Such lack of public awareness stems in part from the past reluctance of the Israeli government and its prevailing political culture to refer to the hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled or were forced from North Africa and Southwest Asia as “refugees”.  Addressing this, some academicians contend that the politics of Zionism in the early history of Israel accounts for the initial national aversion to describe Jews as refugees.[11]  Due to cultural and ideological reasons, the Israeli government as a part of its Zionist mission did not use the term refugees in reference to the Jews who came from Muslim countries.  The concept of refugees generally implies that they are “outsiders” or “others” (not of the host group or nationality) that have been temporarily taken in by a different group due to the refugees having fled their own home territory.   Such perceptions of refugee status ran afoul of Israel’s Law of Return and the concept of the in-gathering of its people, and accordingly (and also to convey that the nation was open to Jewish immigration) the term refugee was never really used by Israel or its international supporters in reference to Jews entering Israel whether displaced from Arab/Muslim lands or from Europe in the aftermath of the Holocaust.[12]


Conflicting Perceptions:  Forgotten Refugees or Émigrés 


Do Jews who emigrated from Mideast lands to Israel or other parts of the world meet criteria for being regarded as refugees?   The manner in which they fled or were ejected from what had in many cases been their homelands for centuries, the absence of compensation for their lost lands and property, the correspondingly destitute status with which most entered the country, and the stark and often temporary (e.g., tent cities) living conditions that most endured for months or even years upon arrival in Israel are all clearly indicative of status as refugees, whether or not the latter term was officially used to describe them.  However, there is a significant distinction to potentially be made between refugees in general and the Jewish refugees from Arab/Muslim lands regarding the nature of their destination and their political and societal enfranchisement upon arrival.  Jewish refugees fleeing to Israel were unique in that they were not necessarily going to an entirely alien land/culture, but to that of their own people, one in which they were welcomed and afforded full and permanent rights as new citizens and integrated members of the state and society.[13]  A counter to the latter argument is that the Sephardic refugees from Mideast lands were arriving to an Ashkenazic-dominated Israel in which many Sephardic Jews were perceived as culturally inferior by many in the Israeli majority and concomitantly, felt like second class citizens at best.

                        Many arguments have been offered that the Jewish refugees fleeing to Israel from other Mideast nations were in fact not refugees in the most traditional sense.  Rather, as Palestinians and their supporters assert, the Jews arriving in Israel from other parts of the Mideast should more properly be regarded as settlers colonizing Palestine.  A representative of the government of Saudi Arabia, Jamil Murad, speaking to the United Nations stated that “Israel, the occupying power, was moving thousands of Jewish immigrants from all over the world to Palestine, but it refused to implement related international resolutions which granted the Palestinian people the right to return to their lands or to compensate them for it”.[14]  The Palestinian perspective contends that parallel to the ingathering and assimilating of Jewish immigrants to Israel, there has occurred a disbursement of Palestinian refugees and their descendants among refugee camps and other locales under the control of various national governments, and that the latter refugee populations should be allowed the right to return to Israel.[15]  The United Nations has historically accepted the perspective of Arab/Muslim nations as related to this issue and Arabs have sought to use the refugee issue as a vehicle to achieve, through UN diplomacy, what they had failed to attain militarily or via other international agreements.[16]


Changing Political Culture


In recent years a paradigm shift has begun to emerge wherein the displaced Jews of North Africa and Southwest Asia have received increasing amounts of acknowledgement internationally.  A successful public awareness campaign has been undertaken in recent years by both the Israeli government and numerous Jewish organizations (the World Jewish Congress in particular) around the globe, to increase awareness of the Jewish refugees of Arab/Muslim lands and acknowledgement that they should be classified as refugees in the same manner that Palestinian and other international refugees are recognized.  The Israeli and US governments among others have begun making formal reference to the Jews displaced from North Africa and Southwest Asia, and for the first time, to routinely refer to this population in official communications as “refugees”.    During US President George Bush’s visit to Israel in 2008, an official US spokesman indicated that “the President is very conscious that Jewish refugees fled to Israel from Arab lands after the 1947-49 war”, that Bush formally discussed the matter with Israeli officials while visiting the country, and that a parallel situation exists between the historical circumstances of Jewish refugees and Palestinian refugees.[17]

In terms of international momentum, the pinnacle to date of the recent paradigm shift in terms of willingness to acknowledge the population as refugees may be the passage of a US Congressional resolution, which among other things: provides official acknowledgement on the part of the US government of the Jewish refugees; perceives their historical circumstances as that of a refugee community; and as a matter of policy, requires US officials/documents to include overt references to the Jewish refugees from Arab/Muslim lands in any official communication regarding refugee issues in the Middle East.   The complete text of the House version of this resolution (House Resolution 185), which held broad bi-partisan support, is provided in Appendix A. 

The new inclination on the part of Israel and others to acknowledge the Jewish exodus from Arab/Muslim lands and to make increasingly frequent public references to the Jewish exile community as refugees, has drawn criticism.  It has been portrayed by some Arab nations and by elements within the United Nations as a political maneuver, the goal of which to associate the circumstances of Jews and Arabs who fled their respective homes due to the Arab-Israeli conflict in an apparent effort to counterbalance the contentious Palestinian refugee issue in anticipation of Middle East Peace talks.[18]  What is beyond question is that, a shift in government dialog and public awareness concerning the Jewish refugees has occurred in the first decade of the 21st century.  The key turning point in the paradigm shift was the Camp David II peace summit of 2000 and its failure to resolve several different issues including the refugee question.  Due to its importance in facilitating this shift in public attitude and policy toward Jewish refugees, the circumstances of the Camp David II summit are examined in detail relative to the issue.  


Camp David II as Catalyst for Paradigm Shift


In an effort to broker a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to leave a foreign policy legacy, outgoing US President Bill Clinton invited Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to attend a peace summit hosted by the United States at Camp David between July 11-25, 2000 in what became known as Camp David II.  The purpose of the summit was to facilitate discussion between Israel and the Palestinian leadership concerning a framework for comprehensive and lasting peace.  A variety of issues were raised at the summit including control of Jerusalem, distribution of lands (including territorial exchanges) in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian statehood, and issues as related to refugees including compensation and the right of return.    

At the beginning of the summit, the Israeli and Palestinian positions on many issues were so diametrically opposed to one another that compromise seemed difficult if not impossible to achieve.  Israel asserted that it would not withdraw completely to the pre-1967 borders, would not concede the right of return or right to compensation to Palestinian refugees, would not relinquishment of Jerusalem, and insisted that any Palestinian government in the West Bank and Gaza Strip be demilitarized.  Palestinian negotiators insisted upon complete Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza and the West Bank including East Jerusalem (which they sought as their capital), complete statehood, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes/lands in Israel and to receive financial compensation.[19]  At the opening of the summit, no reference was made to the Jewish refugees of North Africa and Southwest Asia, though it would be raised formally by Israel prior to the conclusion of the talks.   

While most issues to be discussed were complex and posed daunting challenges, the issue of control of Jerusalem and the holy sites found within the city proved to be among the most contentious, and with benefit of hindsight, it has been suggested that the issue of Jerusalem should have been negotiated later, separately after other issues related to Palestinian sovereignty had first been resolved.[20]  Barak countered Palestinian demands by offering a number of significant concessions: recognition of a demilitarized Palestinian state comprised of the entirety of the Gaza Strip and as much as 92% of the West Bank; a portion of the West Bank would be retained by Israel, but in exchange Palestine would receive lands in the Negev adjacent to Gaza; granting Palestinian sovereignty over certain neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and the Muslim Quarter of the Old City---with possible joint control over certain holy sites such as the Temple Mount.[21]

However, in the course of the subsequent negotiations, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators could not reach agreement as to the ultimate disposition of Jerusalem.  Arafat also persisted in his objection to Israeli settlements and military presence in the West Bank---which he perceived as an affront to Palestinian sovereignty; he opposed the retention of most major water aquifers in the West Bank by Israel; and he denounced the Israeli government for not accepting what Arafat saw as their responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.[22]  The importance of the refugee issue should not be understated, as it is a factor inherent in most other issues raised in the peace process (control of Jerusalem, demographic composition and future survival of the Israeli state, etc.) and was of substantial importance to Arafat and his negotiators.

By the time of the 2000 Camp David summit, academics---including many in Israel, had begun to re-examine portrayals of the historical origins of Palestinian refugees, and had come to regard Israel as sharing a portion of the responsibility for the exodus and disenfranchisement of Palestinians.  This historical perspective rejects the notion that the Palestinian refugee problem was created solely by Palestinian refusal of Israeli citizenship/statehood and the subsequent Arab invasion, and instead attributes partial responsibility to Israel.  Many scholars have suggested that the majority of Palestinians who fled Israel in the 1948-49 War of Independence did so because they were either expelled outright or as the result of Israeli pressure.[23]  Without regard to one’s opinion as to what portion of blame belongs to which source, Arafat arrived at the Camp David summit expecting some acceptance of responsibility from the Israeli government and steps taken toward what he envisioned as utilitarian solutions for the ongoing issue of Palestinian refugees.  Neither would result from the meetings.[24]   

Interestingly, a survey was conducted in Israel in July 2000 during the Camp David summit in which both Israelis and Palestinians were asked if the negotiating position of their delegates at the meeting was “just right”, “not enough of a compromise”, or “too much of a compromise”.  The survey indicated that the majority of both groups felt that no room remained for additional compromise on the key points in the conflict.  Of Israelis polled on the issue, only 25% felt that the overall position of compromise by their delegation was appropriate, while 64% of Israelis thought their delegation had offered too many concessions.[25]  Arafat and Barak were more politicians than diplomats and this was perhaps strongly reflected in the roles assumed by both at the summit.  Both were under significant domestic pressure and neither was fully willing to commit to difficult decisions that could prove unpopular among their own people.  Barak in particular was facing eroding support for his coalition government and that “he could expect to face fierce opposition if he were to come close to meeting even minimum Palestinian demands.”[26]  Before the summit would close the issue of Jewish refugees would be brought to the forefront of the politics and public opinion surrounding the peace process.

As the summit broker, Clinton began to realize that the issues related to refugee populations were more complex than his advisors had originally led him to believe.  When Palestinians indicated that any politically acceptable peace agreement must include a solution for their refugee problem, the American hosts did not have any sufficient solutions to offer and as the result, the refugee discussions were not productive.[27]  Palestinian insistence upon right of return was unacceptable to the Israeli delegation, which regarded the latter as a threat to the continuation of Israeli culture and the Israeli state.  Clinton had no compromise solution to offer.

                        Conflicting accounts of history and of responsibility led to gridlock over the issue of refugees.  When the issue of refugees and their ultimate disposition surfaced as one of the final subjects discussed at the summit, the Israeli delegation proposed allowing thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of Palestinians to return over a ten-year period through “family reunification” and “humanitarian” cases, which the Palestinian delegation viewed as inadequate.[28]  A proposal was also suggested wherein an international compensation fund for refugees of the conflict be created to which Israel, the U.S. and other nations would contribute.  The Palestinian delegation objected on the grounds that the Israeli government via its support of the creation of an “international fund” was continuing to avoid responsibility for Palestinian refugees. 

                        Then, on the final day of the summit the Israeli delegation proposed that part of the international fund must also be allocated to Jewish refugees of Arab/Muslim lands who had fled or had been expelled.  This marked one of the first occasions in decades in which the Israeli government had officially referred to the exiled Jews of Arab/Muslim lands as “refugees”, and it was among the first instances of Jewish refugees being formally discussed by the Israeli government and referenced by an Israeli delegation as a negotiating point in diplomacy.  Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews and their supporters had long contended that their exodus from Muslim nations across the Mideast constituted a refugee movement, and now for the first time, the issue was being used by Israeli government representatives to counter Palestinian claims related to compensation and right of return.[29]  

                        The Camp David Summit ended the following day as neither delegation nor their American hosts could foresee a means of overcoming the stalemate.  One of the last actions of the Palestinian delegation prior to their departure was to articulate a summary statement of their perception of the refugee problem which stressed: the right of return of all Palestinian refugees; the need for mechanisms and a timetable to facilitate their return; the implementation of a compensation system; and that the subject of Jews who left Arab countries and any claims on their part relating to compensation was not the province of the Palestinian side and would not be discussed.[30]  In response to the statement of their counterparts, the Israeli delegation offered a summary statement of their position: Israel is not responsible for the Palestinian refugee dilemma; Israel does not recognize the inherent right of return of Palestinians; Israel may allow the return of several thousand Palestinians via family unification and humanitarian reasons; and Israel is prepared to discuss an international compensation fund in the event that such a fund also provide compensation for Jews expelled from Arab countries.[31]  While the existence of Jewish refugees from Muslim-majority countries was not a recent development, the  formal discussion of them as an issue emerged as arguably the most significant development of the conference.




                        Many Israelis felt that the Barak government had offered too many concessions at Camp David.  Many were also perplexed that what they perceived to be fair terms had been rejected by Arafat, to whom western media outlets (correctly or not) generally ascribed blame for the failure of the negotiations.  These lingering public perceptions combined with the outrage and fear stemming from the emergence of the 2000-2005 Intifada ushered in a more conservative Israeli government.  The latter has to date continued to describe the exiled Jews from Arab/Muslim lands not as immigrants or settlers, but as refugees. 

                        The issue of the Jewish refugees who were displaced from North Africa and Southwest Asia is likely now to be a permanent and significant consideration in ongoing efforts to conclude a Middle East peace settlement.  The Israeli government regards this as an appropriate bargaining point given that according to United Nations statistics, there were as many or more Jews---as many as 856,000[32]--- displaced from Arab nations as there were Palestinians who became refugees---726,000[33]---stemming from the 1948-49 War of Independence which ushered in Israel as a nation.  Israel had at one point offered compensation as an alternative to return and will likely continue to raise this option in future peace negations.  As the forfeited homes, businesses, and land of the Jewish refugees of Arab/Muslim lands are estimated by many sources to as valuable (or more so) than the collective lands forfeited by Palestinian refugees, future discussions concerning the compensation issue are almost certain to address the matter of compensation relative to the Jewish refugees.  The outcomes of the peace process between Israel, Palestinians and neighboring nations cannot be foreseen, but what can be predicted with virtual certainty is that the issue of the Jewish refugees of North Africa and Southwest Asia will likely factor prominently in the arenas of diplomacy, public opinion, and political culture.  




Article Notes

Dr. Barry Mowell is a tenured Senior Professor in the Department of Social Sciences at Broward College.  He primarily teaches International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Cultural/Human Geography.  He has also taught seminars on “Contemporary International Conflicts” and “the Middle East” for the BC Honors Institute, and is the recipient of several teaching awards.  Additionally, he has served on the adjunct faculty of Florida Atlantic University, Nova Southeastern University, and Tusculum College.  Mowell edited the books, Sub-Saharan Africa in the Classroom (2010) and Teaching about the Islamic World (2006), both published by the National Council for Geographic Education, and has authored numerous other articles and book chapters.





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Beker, A. “The Forgotten Narrative: Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries.” Jewish Political Studies Review.  17: 3-4 (2005).


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Finkelstein, N. “Myths, Old and New.”  Journal of Palestine Studies.  21: 1 (1991): 66-89.


Fishbach, M. “Palestinian Refugee Compensation and Israeli Counterclaims for Jewish Property in Arab Countries.”  Journal of Palestine Studies.  38: 1 (2008): 6-24.


Gat, M. “The Connection between the Bombings in Baghdad and the Emigration of the Jews from Iraq: 1950-51.”  Middle Eastern Studies.  24:3 (1988), 312-329.


Goitein, S. Jews and Arabs: Their Contacts through the Ages.  New York: Schocken Books, 1974.


Hanieh, A.  The Camp David Papers.  Journal of Palestine Studies.  30:2 (2001), 75-97.


Huyck, E. and L. Bouvier. “The Demography of Refugees.”  Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Vol. 467 (1983), 39-61.


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Menocal, R. Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain.  Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.


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Rowley, C. and J. Taylor. “The Israel and Palestine Land Settlement Problem, 1948-2005: An Analytical History.”  Public Choice, 128:1 (2006), 77-90.


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Slater, J.  “What Went Wrong? The Collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process.”  Political Science Quarterly.  116:2 (2001), 171-199.


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Appendix A


US House of Representatives – Resolution 185

Passed by vote on April 1, 2008 (40 co-sponsors)


Whereas armed conflicts in the Middle East have created refugee populations numbering in the millions and comprised of peoples from many ethnic, religious, and national backgrounds; (Engrossed as Agreed to or Passed by House)


H. Res. 185

In the House of Representatives, U. S.,

April 1, 2008.

Whereas armed conflicts in the Middle East have created refugee populations numbering in the millions and comprised of peoples from many ethnic, religious, and national backgrounds;

Whereas Jews have lived mostly as a minority in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf region for more than 2,500 years;

Whereas the United States has long voiced its concern about the mistreatment of minorities and the violation of human rights in the Middle East and elsewhere;

Whereas the United States continues to play a pivotal role in seeking an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East and to promoting a peace that will benefit all the peoples of the region;

Whereas United States administrations historically have called for a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem;

Whereas the Palestinian refugee issue has received considerable attention from countries of the world while the issue of Jewish refugees from the Arab and Muslim worlds has received very little attention;

Whereas a comprehensive peace in the region will require the resolution of all outstanding issues through bilateral and multilateral negotiations involving all concerned parties;

Whereas approximately 850,000 Jews have been displaced from Arab countries since the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948;

Whereas the United States has demonstrated interest and concern about the mistreatment, violation of rights, forced expulsion, and expropriation of assets of minority populations in general, and in particular, former Jewish refugees displaced from Arab countries as evidenced, inter alia, by--

(1) the Memorandum of Understanding signed by President Jimmy Carter and Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan on October 4, 1977, which states that `[a] solution of the problem of Arab refugees and Jewish refugees will be discussed in accordance with rules which should be agreed';

(2) after negotiating the Camp David Accords, the Framework for Peace in the Middle East, the statement by President Jimmy Carter in a press conference on October 27, 1977, that `Palestinians have rights . . . obviously there are Jewish refugees . . . they have the same rights as others do'; and

(3) in an interview after Camp David II in July 2000, at which the issue of Jewish refugees displaced from Arab lands was discussed, the statement by President Clinton that `There will have to be some sort of international fund set up for the refugees. There is, I think, some interest, interestingly enough, on both sides, in also having a fund which compensates the Israelis who were made refugees by the war, which occurred after the birth of the State of Israel. Israel is full of people, Jewish people, who lived in predominantly Arab countries who came to Israel because they were made refugees in their own land.';

Whereas the international definition of a refugee clearly applies to Jews who fled the persecution of Arab regimes, where a refugee is a person who `owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country' (the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees);

Whereas on January 29, 1957, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), determined that Jews fleeing from Arab countries were refugees that fell within the mandate of the UNHCR;

Whereas United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967, calls for a `just settlement of the refugee problem' without distinction between Palestinian and Jewish refugees, and this is evidenced by--

(1) the Soviet Union's United Nations delegation attempt to restrict the `just settlement' mentioned in Resolution 242 solely to Palestinian refugees (S/8236, discussed by the Security Council at its 1382nd meeting of November 22, 1967, notably at paragraph 117, in the words of Ambassador Kouznetsov of the Soviet Union), but this attempt failed, signifying the international community's intention of having the resolution address the rights of all Middle East refugees; and

(2) a statement by Justice Arthur Goldberg, the United States' Chief Delegate to the United Nations at that time, who was instrumental in drafting the unanimously adopted Resolution 242, where he has pointed out that `The resolution addresses the objective of `achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem'. This language presumably refers both to Arab and Jewish refugees, for about an equal number of each abandoned their homes as a result of the several wars.';

Whereas in his opening remarks before the January 28, 1992, organizational meeting for multilateral negotiations on the Middle East in Moscow, United States Secretary of State James Baker made no distinction between Palestinian refugees and Jewish refugees in articulating the mission of the Refugee Working Group, stating that `[t]he refugee group will consider practical ways of improving the lot of people throughout the region who have been displaced from their homes';

Whereas the Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which refers in Phase III to an `agreed, just, fair, and realistic solution to the refugee issue,' uses language that is equally applicable to all persons displaced as a result of the conflict in the Middle East;

Whereas Israel's agreements with Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians have affirmed that a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict will require a just solution to the plight of all `refugees';

Whereas the initiative to secure rights and redress for Jews who were forced to flee Arab countries does not conflict with the right of Palestinian refugees to claim redress;

Whereas all countries should be aware of the plight of Jews and other minority groups displaced from countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf;

Whereas an international campaign is proceeding in some 40 countries to record the history and legacy of Jewish refugees from Arab countries;

Whereas a just, comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace cannot be reached without addressing the uprooting of centuries-old Jewish communities in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf; and

Whereas it would be inappropriate and unjust for the United States to recognize rights for Palestinian refugees without recognizing equal rights for Jewish refugees from Arab countries: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That--

(1) for any comprehensive Middle East peace agreement to be credible and enduring, the agreement must address and resolve all outstanding issues relating to the legitimate rights of all refugees, including Jews, Christians, and other populations, displaced from countries in the Middle East; and

(2) the President should instruct the United States Representative to the United Nations and all United States representatives in bilateral and multilateral fora to--

(A) use the voice, vote, and influence of the United States to ensure that any resolutions relating to the issue of Middle East refugees, and which include a reference to the required resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue, must also include a similarly explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries; and

(B) make clear that the United States Government supports the position that, as an integral part of any comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, the issue of refugees from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf must be resolved in a manner that includes recognition of the legitimate rights of and losses incurred by all refugees displaced from Arab countries, including Jews, Christians, and other groups.


[1] R. Menocal, Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 2002).

[2] S. Goitein, Jews and Arabs: Their Contacts through the Ages, (New York: Schocken Books, 1974), 67-68.

[3] B. Lewis, The Jews of Islam (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984).

[4] C. Rowley and J. Taylor, “The Israel and Palestine Land Settlement Problem, 1948-2005: An Analytical History,” Public Choice 128:1 (2006), 82.

[5] A. Silvera, “The Jews of Egypt,” Middle Eastern Studies 35:2 (1999), 174.

[6] M. Gat, “The Connection Between the Bombings in Baghdad and the Emigration of the Jews from Iraq: 1950-51,” Middle Eastern Studies 24:3 (1988), 313-314.

[7] D. Drummond, Holy Land, Who’s Land? Modern Dilemma, Ancient Roots (Terre Haute, IN: Fairhurst Press, 2004).

[8] M. Roumani, The Jews from Arab Countries: A Neglected Issue (Tel Aviv, Israel: WOJAC Books, 1983).

[9] American Jewish Yearbook. (Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969).

[10] American Jewish Yearbook. (Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 2001).

[11] A. Beker, “The Forgotten Narrative: Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries,” Jewish Political Studies Review 17: 3-4 (2005).

[12] Ibid

[13] E. Huyck and L. Bouvier, “The Demography of Refugees,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 467(1983), 47.

[14] United Nations. (1996). United Nations Press Release GA/SHC/3374 – November 1, 1996.

[15] Huyck and Bouvier, 57

[16] Beker

[17] H. Keinon, “Official: Bush Aware of Jewish Refugees’ Plight,” The Jerusalem Post. January 15, 2008.


[18] M. Perelman, “Interview with UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen,” Forward Magazine.  November 7, 2003.

[19] W. Quandt, “Clinton and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Limits of Incrementalism,” Journal of Palestine Studies 30:2 (2001), 32.

[20] J. Shamir and K. Shikaki, “Determinants of Reconciliation and Compromise among Israelis and Palestinians,” Journal of Peace Research 39:2 (2002).

[21] J. Slater, “What Went Wrong? The Collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process,” Political Science Quarterly.  116:2 (2001), 191.

[22] Slater

[23] N. Finkelstein, “Myths, Old and New,” Journal of Palestine Studies.  21: 1 (1991), 66-89; Slater

[24] A. Hanieh, “The Camp David Papers,” Journal of Palestine Studies 30:2 (2001), 75-97.; Slater

[25] Shamir and Shikaki

[26] Quandt, 35

[27] Hanieh

[28] Hanieh

[29] M. Fishbach, “Palestinian refugee compensation and Israeli counterclaims for Jewish property in Arab countries,” Journal of Palestine Studies.  38: 1 (2008), 6; Y. Shenhav, “Ethnicity and National Memory: The World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC) in the Context of the Palestinian National Struggle,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 29:1 (2002), 27.

[30] Hanieh, 79

[31] Hanieh

[32] United Nations, Trends and Characteristics of International Migration Since 1950 – Refugee Movements and Population Transfers.  UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs ST/ESA/Ser. A/64. (1952).

[33] United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, Annual Report of the Director General of the UNWRA – Doc. 5224/5223, November 25, 1952; Finkelstein, 67

Barry Mowell is a professor at American Military University, Charles Town, WV USA