Jews seek Libyan compensation in test case (REUTERS) By Jonathan Saul JERUSALEM, ISRAEL Additional reporting by Lamine Ghanmi in Tunis 05/10/05 11:10 AM ET)
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The day Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in
the 1967 Middle East war is burned deep in the memory of Libyan-born
Jew Raphael Luzon.
His uncle, aunt and six cousins were killed on the edge of the
capital Tripoli by Libyan soldiers out for vengeance. Luzon fled
Libya soon after.
With Libya emerging from diplomatic isolation and holding out the
possibility of compensation to Jews who fled abroad, Luzon hopes
that he might be able to get back the remains of his family.
"I am not seeking revenge, only justice. I want to have the
opportunity to take their bones and give them a proper Jewish
burial," says Luzon, who led a campaign for compensation long before
Libya´s Muammar Gaddafi suggested it.
Jews also see Gaddafi´s talk of reparations as a possible test case
for other Arab countries, whose centuries-old Jewish populations
left or were forced out after the founding of Israel in 1948.
The history of Libya´s Jewish community, once 40,000 strong,
stretches back 2,500 years. Jews lived comfortably for centuries,
their numbers boosted by expulsions from Spain and Portugal in the
But pogroms were triggered by the war of Israel´s creation with Arab
neighbors, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs also fled
or were driven from homes in what became the Jewish state.
Laws stripped Libyan Jews of rights and property and only 300
remained by the time Gaddafi seized power in 1969. He confiscated
remaining Jewish assets and canceled all debts to Jews.
Most of the community now lives in Israel and few expected to have
contact again with the country of their birth.
JEWS PUT TOTAL LOSSES AT $600 MILLION
But that has changed since Gaddafi ended Libya´s diplomatic
isolation in 2003, announcing that it would give up the search for
weapons of mass destruction and agreeing to pay victims of the 1988
Lockerbie airliner bombing.
At the same time, Gaddafi became the first Arab leader to say he
could compensate Jews who were forced from their homes after 1948.
Libyan Jewish groups estimate the value of private assets lost at
around $500 million with a further $100 million for public assets
such as synagogues and cemeteries.
A small delegation of Jews living in Rome met Libyan officials in
Tripoli last year as part of the emerging dialogue.
"I believe regarding Libya there will be positive developments in
the coming year," says Moshe Kahlon, the deputy speaker of Israel´s
parliament whose family is from Libya and who recently met Libyan
representatives in London.
"(Compensation) will start with Libyan Jews in Italy and should
develop in the direction of Israel," said Kahlon.
Libyan officials declined further comment on the compensation issue.
Jewish groups hope that if they get compensation from Libya then it
may be possible to take the idea further in the Arab world, from
where an estimated 850,000 Jews emigrated or were driven out, many
settling in Israel.
There is no suggestion yet, though, that the Arab world might pick
up on the ideas of the maverick Gaddafi.
Claims are also complicated by the fact that the departure of Jews
from Arab states happened alongside the flight of hundreds of
thousands of Palestinians.
Millions of Palestinians who fled themselves or are descended from
those who demanded a "right of return" to land in what is now Israel
or at least compensation for their losses. Most live in Arab states
"Paying compensation to the Jews of the Arab world can only be seen
by Palestinian refugees as a sell-out and an unjust formula while
their rights are being simultaneously denied," says Abbas Shiblak, a
British-based Palestinian writer on refugee issues and author of a
book on the Jews of Iraq.
Some Jewish groups have called for Jews who fled Arab countries to
be recognized as refugees in the same way that Palestinians have
been. They also propose tying any compensation for Palestinians with
that for Jews.
Palestinians argue that they are not responsible for the suffering
of the Jewish communities.
The refugee issue remains one of the trickiest issues for any final
Middle East peace talks, which still look a long way off despite an
Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire which has strengthened hopes for
Gaddafi´s son Seif al-Islam, a driving force behind the policy
shift, emphasized recently that Libyan Jews who moved to Israel
would need to prove that they had not taken Palestinian assets if
they were to get compensation.
"They have to return the homes and properties they confiscated from
Palestinians to the Palestinians before negotiations over getting
back their assets and properties in Libya," he said. (Additional
reporting by Lamine Ghanmi in Tunis) (© Reuters 2005. 05/10/05)
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