Peace With Syria Must Include Compensation for Jewish Refugees

by Gedalyah Reback

Any peace agreement between Israel and Syria needs to consider compensation for Syrian Jews who lost their property upon leaving the country since the founding of the State of Israel.. Laws restricting Jewish emigration forced refugees to flee the country and abandon their property. Even in 1992, when Syria finally granted visas to the remainder embattled community, emigrants had to surrender their estates. Today, 75,000 Syrian Jews live in Israel, and many thousand of former refugees have come to extant Syrian Jewish communities in the United States and Latin America.
Since Israel’s creation, over 1.5 million Jews have come from Muslim countries, most under circumstances of duress. They were burdened with pogroms in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Egypt, among others. Reactions against the war with Israel spilled over into anti-Jewish rage. To speak of only the Jews of Syria, the communities of Aleppo and Damascus are among those that had to abandon their property in order to emigrate.
Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewish activists have pushed their cause for years. Last year, the Orthodox Sephardic party in Israel, Shas, made part of its platform the pursuit of compensation of Sephardic Jews and the initiation of an effort to take an accounting of Jewish property lost. The Israeli Parliament has been pushing forward a bill to make compensation a goal of any peace negotiations with the Arab League.
The State of Israel does not merely represent the interests of Israelis, but Jews the world over. Mounting military operations to protect and evacuate Jews is one of the recognized duties of the Israeli Defense Forces, such as the massive military operation that evacuated 14,000 Ethiopian Jews during Operation Solomon in 1991. It would be totally within the purview of the Israeli government to demand compensation for Syrian Jews now living in Israel who lost property, but even those living in the United States or Latin America.
Compensation could be restoration of the property itself, and the invitation of former Syrian Jews to reopen businesses and invest in Syria. True peace goes beyond merely not shooting at each other. The few hundred Jews currently living in Syria do not have political rights, however limited they are in that country. Those laws have to be repealed. Anything less than Jewish freedom within Syrian territory would not be worth the peace.

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