The inconvenient truth about refugees / Sephardic Film Festival reveals Arab hypocrisy on ´right of return´ (NEW YORK DAILY NEWS OP-ED) BY RICHARD Z. CHESNOFF 03/14/12)
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New York’s Sephardic Jewish Film Festival — which opens on Thursday
at the Center for Jewish History on E. 16th St. — provides more than
just a delicious array of cinematic creations.
Yes, it tells tales of the exotic life and rich history of those
hundreds of thousand of Jews who fled the Inquisitions of Iberia for
forced exile in the Americas, North Africa and the Arab world — and
even China and the Philippines — with many eventually reaching Israel.
But the festival also teaches us valuable lessons about radically
different ways to either solve — or dangerously prolong — one of the
most threatening problems haunting the Middle East: refugees.
Some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled their homes during the war that
Arab armies launched to prevent Israel’s birth in 1947-48. Some were
forced from their homes and villages by Israel’s young army. Many
more simply fled in fear of war or because they had been convinced it
would soon end with total Arab victory.
It never worked out that way. More than 60 years and several
generations later, Palestinian refugees now number close to 4 million.
And throughout the Arab world, because nations have systematically
ignored their plight, they remain refugees.
With the limited exception of Jordan, no single Arab state has ever
granted citizenship, or even normal residence and job rights, to
Palestinian refugees. As a result, the vast majority of these
Palestinian Arabs remain in refugee camps (not literal “camps”
anymore), living on the international dole. Even on the West Bank and
in Gaza, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are still caged in
Compare that with the fate of the 800,000 Sephardic Jews who in the
years that followed 1948 were either deported or forced by anti-
Jewish law and pogroms to flee the Arab world. They and their
millions of descendants were not indefinitely kept in refugee camps
as political pawns.
Rather, with Jewish communal helping hands, most Sephardic Jewish
refugees soon managed to build full new lives in Israel, the U.S.,
Canada, South America and Europe.
Not that their new lives were problem-free. Many of the films in
this, the 16th annual Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, tell just that
type of tale. One of the finest is “Mabul” (“Flood”), which stars one
of Israeli and French cinemas’ most popular femme fatales, Ronit
Elkabetz — herself the daughter of Moroccan Jewish immigrants to
Israel’s Negev city of Beersheba.
Elkabetz plays the wife of an Israeli airline engineer. The two
struggle with a deeply troubled marriage amid plans for their
youngest son’s bar mitzvah. The sudden return home of an elder,
severely autistic son merely adds to the approaching deluge.
“Tinghir” retraces the Judeo-Berber cultural ties between Jews and
Muslims who once lived together in the Moroccan mountains and have
begun to rediscover each other.
“The Last Jews of Libya” is a striking documentary by New York
filmmaker Vivienne Roumani-Denn, whose own family was among the final
36,000 Jews forced to leave Libya after 2,300 years of Libyan Jewish
Palestinian leaders who complain constantly about Israel and demand
the “right to return” to parts of Palestine that are not theirs to
return to might learn a few things from New York’s Sephardic Jewish
Chesnoff, formerly of Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report, has been
covering the Mideast for more than 40 years. (© Copyright 2012
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