‘Abject failure’ on Jewish refugees from Arab-lands claims

Israeli citizens who emigrated from Arab countries and their descendants will find it difficult to claim compensation for property left behind because the government failed to properly document their claims.

This was the conclusion of State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, who delivered a scathing report last week on the government’s efforts to demand restitution for around a million Jews forced to leave their homes throughout the Middle East. Two-thirds of those refugees arrived in Israel.

The issue of restitution for Jews from Arab countries seemed a distant dream for many years but it is becoming more of a reality: the various proposals circulating for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel, the Palestinians and other Arab nations include clauses on the subject.

A law passed by the Knesset in 2010 mandated that the restitution issue must be included in any future Israel-Arab peace agreement. The homes and assets that Jews were forced to leave behind are valued at billions of pounds. The Israeli government decided a number of times — and as far back as 1969 — to register all these assets for a future claim, but according to the comptroller, only 14,000 claims forms have been completed and none have been entered into a computerised database.

The responsibility for registering the claims was transferred to the Ministry for Senior Citizens, but no specific budget was allocated by the Treasury for a comprehensive programme.

Due to the lack of funds, an appeal to the public to supply information on their assets left behind was issued only last May.

On Monday for the first time, following the Comptroller’s report, the Ministry for Senior Citizens posted on its website interactive forms enabling Israelis to register assets their families left behind in Arab countries.

Last updated: 7:45pm, February 13 2014