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Redress, Justice?
by Judy Lash Balint
June 25, 2003

Linda Abdul Aziz Menuhin could hardly get the words out. At a news conference here in Jerusalem this morning, she haltingly told the story of how she escaped from Iraq in 1970 at the age of twenty.

They ran to escape the increasing government-inspired violence against the oldest Jewish diaspora community in the world. Her father, a prominent attorney, stayed behind and was abducted by government authorities. He died in prison in 1972.

Menuhin's story illustrates an issue coming to the fore in the Middle East debate. Her appearance was sponsored by Justice for Jews From Arab Countries, a high-powered group that plans to raise the profile of the 850,000 Jews who were forced to leave Arab countries in the 1940s and 50s.

Two thirds of the fleeing Jews made their way to israel, where they were successfully absorbed and integrated and today form almost half of the Jewish population of Israel. The remaining one third dispersed all over the world--mainly to the US, Canada and the UK.

In effect, what occured was a population exchange--600,000 Arabs who were made refugees by the 1948 War of Independence and the 850,000 Jews whom Arab governments expelled around the same time.

Today, not one of those Jews considers him/herself a "refugee." Israel absorbed more than 600,000 Jews from Arab countries at a time when the existing Jewish population of the country stood at only 650,000.

One of the prime sticking points in negotiations with Arab leaders today, is the so-called Right of Return, demanded by descendants of the 600,000 Arabs who fled. Many of these people live today just a few miles from their original homes, yet still claim the status of refugee.

One alternate peace plan, the Elon Plan proposed by Minister of Tourism Benny Elon, calls for a completion of the population exchange begun in 1948. (see

As part of a regional solution, Elon proposes, the world should allocate resources to relocate and rehabilitate the Arab refugees to complete this population exchange. The result will be the emergence of countries where the majority of their populations will share a common nationality and culture.

Such a solution won't help ease Linda Menuhin's pain over the fate of her family, but it just may result in a little more justice as Jews are left in peace and Arabs gain citizenship and the potential for economic betterment in an Arab country.