Rights Caucus Focuses on Middle East Refugees

Posted July 23, 2007 at 5:48pm

According to the United Nations, from 1940 to 1970, 856,000 mostly Jewish refugees were displaced from Arab countries because of religious persecution. In another report, the U.N. states that around 726,000 Palestinian refugees were displaced as a result of the 1948 Israeli war of independence.

Yet out of 681 resolutions on the Arab- Israeli conflict passed by the U.N. General Assembly, 101 related to the plight of Palestinian refugees, and zero resolutions even recognized the existence of Jews or other individuals who became refugees as a result of the conflict, according to Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries, a Jewish activist group.

On Thursday, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, an eight-member panel chaired by Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), took action to try to rectify the discrepancy. Specifically, two pieces of legislation, H. Res. 185 and S. Res. 85, would mandate that any Middle East peace agreement address the fate of “all refugees in the Middle East, including Jews, Christians, and other populations displaced from countries in the region.” In addition, it would mandate that a mention of Jewish and other refugees be made when resolutions are created regarding Palestinian refugees.

The caucus hearing on Thursday “was intended to draw attention to the two resolutions,” said Stanley Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, one of the organizations hosting of the event. The two resolutions were introduced in February and referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

“We’re optimistic,” Urman said of the bills’ prospects. “We have some very solid sponsors,” including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who used her status as a Cuban-American immigrant as an example of the importance of refugees being awarded recognition.

A timetable for the resolution has not been set.

“We’re hopeful that [the House resolution] will get out of committee and move to the floor,” Urman said.

“The point is to emphasize the plight of refugees no matter where they are, both Jewish, Arab and Palestinian, and as we do that America becomes more sensitive and tolerant towards immigration and other issues in front of them,” said Henry Green, a professor of religious studies and sociology at the University of Miami and an expert witness at Thursday’s hearing. “From this perspective, I think the bills have a possibility of moving forwards, because the conversation goes like this: ‘You have refugees, then you have immigrants, and what do you do with them.’”

The CHRC hearing included a screening of “The Forgotten Refugees,” produced by The David Project Center for Jewish Leadership, a Jewish advocacy organization. The film gave a visual image of Jews whose family lives had been shattered as a result of forced expulsion, violence and asset seizure.

But an even more vivid image was given through the live testimony of two refugees who recounted horrific experiences in Libya and Algeria.

“Airport officials spat on us and strip-searched us, before allowing us to board the plane to Italy,” said Regina Bublil Waldman, one of the refugees who testified. “It was a one-way ticket out of the country, never to be allowed to return.”

Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa and B’nai B’rith International were the two other sponsors of the event.