"The first internet database of more than half a million pieces of property lost by Holocaust victims has gone online to begin another chapter of restitution... The project, a... global campaign of the Jewish Agency (JA), a quasi-governmental [Israeli] body, has set up offices in Milwaukee and Brussels. This is the first worldwide list of property confiscated, looted or forcibly sold during the Holocaust era to be made available to survivors and their heirs. Compiled from hundreds of European archives, including tax records and voter registries, it includes real estate and land, moveable property such as art and jewellery, and intangible personal property such as stocks, bonds and savings accounts... Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the JA, said the Holocaust 'was not only genocide but it was also the greatest theft in history'." (Hunt for Holocaust loot goes online, AP/Sydney Morning Herald, 4/5/11)
What a sterling idea! What was forcibly taken or stolen should be returned. No ifs or buts, no exceptions.
But wait on, where's this initiative coming from? Oh, yes, Israel. Slight problem there, I'm afraid.
You see, after the expulsion of the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people from their ancestral homeland in 1948, Israel, as most of Palestine came to be called, simply took possession of everything they'd ever owned, real estate and land, moveable property such as art and jewellery, and intangible personal property such as stocks, bonds and savings accounts, and kept it.
Of course, the Israelis didn't call it stolen property. No, they spun a little euphemism. They declared its owners absentees, and their property absentee property. And they passed a nifty little law called the Absentees' Property Law (1950), which said that if the property owner happened to be away from home for even one day after 29 November 1947 - and this included not only those folk who'd been sent packing into a permanent exile somewhere across the border, but even many who'd somehow managed to avoid that fate (dubbed present absentees) - then tough titties, all he'd sweated a lifetime for passed to a body known as the Custodian of Absentee Property which divvied it up among the existing Jewish population and whoever (Jewish, of course) could be prevailed upon to migrate to the shiny new, largely Arabrein, Jewish state.
Sort of puts a whole new perspective on Mr Sharansky's little project, doesn't it?