Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement that “those Jews were not refugees as they claim. They were actually responsible for the displacement of the Palestinian people after they secretly migrated from Arab countries to Palestine before they expelled the Palestinians from their lands to build a Jewish state at their expense.”
He added: “Those Jews are criminals rather than refugees. They are the ones who turned the Palestinian people into refugees, and for that reason, the Hamas movement views this conference as a dangerous, unprecedented move which contributes to the falsification of history and reversing of facts.”
The conference, to discuss recognizing as refugees Middle Eastern Jews who immigrated, was denounced by Arab envoys at the UN who lodged unsuccessful protests to call it off.
But Israeli leaders considered it a victory for a population that is increasingly being linked to the peace process with the Palestinians.
“Between the walls of the UN we are starting to bring justice to the Jewish refugees who were tortured, persecuted and driven away, and whose rights were revoked,” said Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, according to Israeli media.
“We are 64 years late, but it’s never too late to bring justice and discuss the historic facts.”
Hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern Jews left predominantly Arab countries amid growing hostility following the establishment of Israel in the late 1940s.
Israel had also drafted a “Law of Return” that granted instant citizenship to anyone who can claim Jewish lineage. Most immigrants had no modern ties to the land.
At the same time, over 700,000 Palestinians were driven from or fled historic Palestine and today make up the largest refugee population on earth.
Israeli media reported a week earlier that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was preparing to add compensations for Jews who came from Arab and Muslim countries as a condition for any future peace deal.
PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said in response that there was no connection between Palestinian refugees and Israelis whose families are from Arab countries, but he supported their right of return.
“We are not against any Jew who wants to return to Morocco, Iraq, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere. I believe no Arab state rejects the Jewish right of returning to their native lands,” he said.