Finance Ministry budgets NIS 3m to register claims by Jews from Arab countries

Jewish communal property abandoned by immigrants from Middle East countries is estimated to be worth $30 billion.

Minister of Finance Silvan Shalom today ordered that NIS 3 million be budgeted to register property claims by immigrants from Arab countries. The registration will be conducted by a special office to be set up at the Ministry of Justice.

The claims will be filed by immigrants from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen who immigrated to Israel since 1940. The office will collect documents and legal material pertaining to damage to Jewish property and persecution of Jews in these countries, including confiscation of property and bodily harm. The purpose is to provide a foundation for claims against these countries and international institutions to counter claims by Palestinian refugees.

A partial registration of claims, mainly by immigrants from Egypt and Iraq, was carried out in the 1950s. These claims covered about $1 billion. The registration was ordered resumed in the 1970s, but nothing was done. The current registration is based on a cabinet decision of March 2002.

“Globes” investigations in recent years discovered that the real value of confiscated Jewish property in Iraq, Egypt and Syria totals $8-10 billion. The World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC) estimates the total value of property, including communal property, at $30 billion.

The investigations also found that for years successive Israeli governments preferred to ignore the issue of property claims by immigrants from Arab countries, mostly due to the mistaken assumption that this would prevent claims by Palestinians. The Carter and Clinton administrations and the UN Security Council recognized that Jews from Arab countries had legitimate property claims.

At the Camp David summit in July 1999, President Bill Clinton proposed establishing an international fund to compensate all refugees - Jews and Arabs alike. The US, EU, Japan, Israel and Arab countries would provide the fund’s financing. The US, Israel and the Palestinians agreed in principle to the proposal.

The present decision to register claims is intended to preempt anticipated Palestinian claims, especially if there is an agreement that material compensation will replace the right of return. The Palestinians have advanced various amounts of the value of the refugees’ property, ranging from a few billion dollars to $100 billion. No registration or accurate examination of the claims has ever been carried out.

Published by Globes [online] - www.globes.co.il - on February 19, 2003

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