As soon as the State of Israel began to seek redress for the nearly a million Jews born in Arab countries who came to Israel in 1948, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian National Council, claimed that these Jews were never refugees. For her, a refugee is a person who has left their country of origin under external pressure, and Jews from Arab countries do not correspond to this definition.

While her motivation for making this absurd claim is clearly to reserve the term “refugee” exclusively for the Arabs who fled Palestine in 1948, let’s play along. A million Jews were forced to leave Arab countries against their will in the ‘50s and ‘60s, under the pressure of Arab nationalism. So what term would she use to describe these people? Exiles? Fugitives? Expatriots? Why not UFOs? In its eagerness to respond to Israel on this matter, the Palestinian leadership has opened the door to an issue that has as yet not had enough attention paid to it, namely the hidden face of Arab (and Palestinian) nationalism: xenophobia.

Consider Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ incredible statement that the future Palestinian state would not contain a single Jew. A true Judenrein state.

Abbas, of course, did not mention the 500,000 Jews from North Africa who had to leave from their homeland, or the over 100,000 Jews of Egypt, or those of Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, etc.

The UN has never even acknowledged this mass exodus, which resulted in the total, or near-total de-judaization of these countries.

Yet it gave the Arabs who fled Palestine the status of “refugee.” The Muslim worlds depopulation of Jews has also been ignored by the media and history books, as well as by international bodies. A hush fell over this chapter of history, allowing the Palestinian mythology to flourish freely.

IN ALGERIA, there was a real ethnic cleansing in 1962. In July of that year, 150,000 Jews were forced to leave the country suddenly and en masse after the National Liberation Front (FLN) took power there. The Jews of Algeria had no choice; the Algerian nationalists gave them (and the Christians community, as well) two options: “the suitcase or the coffin.”

However, it was not all systematic ethnic cleansing. In Tunisia, for example, there was a first wave starting at independence (1956).

Tunisian Jews left their homeland en masse in 1967 after the riots that led to the burning of the Great Synagogue of Tunis. Again, the Tunisian crowd’s frenzy of hate proved that no one but the Muslims had a place in the land of Islam. Again, this xenophobia of Arab nationalism was the cause of an exodus.

Enumerating all the forms of pressure exerted on the Jews of the Arab Middle East would make too long a list. But whatever form it took, whether red tape, murder or arbitrary detention, as occurred in Egypt in 1948, the Arab countries’ policies all shared one goal: to force the Jews to leave. And they did – they left naked, forced to leave everything behind. Thousands of years of Jewish history was swept aside by tyrants such as Ben Bella, Gamal Abdel Nasser and others.

ASHRAWI ARGUES that although there were a few “incidents,” a few murders or anti-Semitic pogroms, and although at the time many Arab countries were brutal dictatorships, the real culprit for the exodus of the Jews is... the Jewish Agency.

It is true that the Jewish Agency scoured the Arab countries to bring the Jews in Israel. But the vast majority of North African Jews emigrated to France, not Israel. Ashrawi is dead wrong on this point of history, but she’s also contradicted by the collective memory of the Jews in these regions.

Until the arrival of the French in the middle of the 19th century, the Jews of North Africa were dhimmis or second-class citizens, inferior in rights to Muslim citizens. France gave them equality, freedom and dignity. When France abandoned its colonial empire, the Jews did not want to return to their former dhimmi status. It was not the Jewish Agency that instilled this fear of social decline; this political and civic fear of losing one’s freedom.

If the Jewish Agency was responsible for the mass exodus of the Jews from the Arab world, as Hanan Ashrawi asserts, then why was the Arab Christian community also affected, to the extent that many of these countries also became dechristianized? These expressions of Ashrawi and the leaders of the Palestinian Authority exhibit only their hollow thinking and xenophobia. Peace will come through mutual recognition of wrongs that the parties have caused.

The author is a France-based writer.

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