On June 1, Iraqi Jews commemorated the 70th anniversary of the farhud –
anti-Jewish riots that took place on Shavuot, 1941. In the riots, reminiscent of
Krystallnacht in Germany, at least 137 Jews – men, women and children – were
murdered, hundreds more were injured, and much Jewish property was looted. The
memory of the riots remains fresh in the minds of Iraqi Jews.
occurred without any provocation. The Jews, who had lived in Arab lands for
thousands of years, did not declare war on their hosts. They never fought
against them, as the Arabs in Mandatory Palestine fought against Jewish
settlements and afterward against the nascent Jewish state.
The world has
heard a great deal about the injustice that happened to the Palestinians, under
the code name nakba, but knows almost nothing about the wrongs committed against
the Jews of Arab lands. What happened in the Arab countries was in effect an
While the Palestinian nakba is marked every year with
demonstrations and wide media coverage, the “Jewish nakba” merits little notice.
This, despite the fact that the human and physical dimensions of the disaster
were larger. The number of Jews forced out of their homes with nothing but the
clothes on their backs was about 856,000, while the Arabs who left Mandatory
Palestine numbered about 650,000. The UN, in Resolution 302 adopted in December
1949, established UNRWA – an agency in charge of relief and education only; not
of rehabilitation. This policy did not diminish the number of Palestinian
refugees, which has reached 4.8 million (including two million who became
ISRAEL, FOR unclear reasons, did not raise the
tragedy of the Jews from Arab countries on its political and public
Only on February 22, 2010, was the issue placed on the Israeli
agenda with the enactment of “The Law for Preservation of the Rights to
Compensation of Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries and Iran,” which states that
any negotiation for the achievement of peace in the Middle East must include
compensation for said Jews.
The attacks against the Jews of Arab lands
occurred even before the establishment of Israel. In Iraq, they began with
discrimination in the economy, education and public life.
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nationalism ignited the fires of rioting against the Jews, which came to a peak
in the farhud of 1941. Similar tragedies happened to the Jews of Libya and Aden.
In a wave of pogroms in Libya in November 1945, 133 Jews were killed and 400
wounded; synagogues, businesses and homes were looted and destroyed. In Aden,
even though it was under British rule, 100 Jews were murdered in November 1947
and many more wounded; hundreds of homes were destroyed.
occurred in Egypt, in Syria and the rest of the Arab countries, since they
achieved independence during the 20th century.
The combination of
xenophobic Sunni nationalism – which is intolerant of all others, including
Shi’ites, Christians and Kurds – and anti-Semitism produced a powerful hatred of
the Jews. This hatred was abetted by Nazis such as the German envoy to Baghdad,
Dr. Fritz Grobba, and pseudo-religious leaders such as Haj Amin al-Husseini (who
fled from Mandatory Palestine and found in Iraq a convenient venue for his
anti-Jewish activities). The Jews were left with no choice but to flee from the
Arab countries that they had helped to found and to bring into the modern era
with their contributions to government, the economy, medicine, education,
literature, poetry and music.
The threatening anti-Jewish climate that
prevailed in every Arab land was accompanied by inflamed anti-Jewish
declarations, even from the podium of the United Nations.
Eliyahu Nawi, a
commentator on Israel’s Arabic-language radio station, testified that following
the 1947 Partition Resolution at the UN, Arabic radio stations constantly
broadcast the song “Halu a-Saif Ygul” – “Let the sword speak... to thin out the
cousins [the Jews].”
Government harassment and popular attacks drove the
Jews of the Arab world to migrate en masse, (mostly to Israel, where they were
given citizenship and successfully integrated into society). In Egypt, a mass
expulsion took place in the dead of night; the Jews were forced to leave their
personal and communal property – including schools, ancient synagogues and
cemeteries, prophets’ graves and hospitals. The Arab authorities confiscated the
property and used it for their own needs.
There were certainly Muslims in
the Arab countries who did not support these attacks, but their voices were not
heard. The Jews were the scapegoats in internecine power struggles between the
Sunnis and the Shi’ites, just as today Israel is at the center of the struggle
between Shi’ite Iran and the Sunni states, with Turkey at the fore.
recent years, a process of awakening can be discerned in the Arab world,
especially among intellectuals, who recognize that it was not only the
Palestinian Arabs who suffered a nakba; the Jews of the Arab world had their own
Arab leaders – Palestinians and others – would do well to
stop parroting the slogan “the right of return” and deluding their people,
because there is no turning back time.
As more and more Arabs recognize
that they are not the only victims of the Middle East conflict, the dialogue
with Israel can take place on a more genuine basis of justice.
a commemoration ceremony will held on June 6 at the Babylonian Jewish Center in
Or Yehuda.The writer is a former ambassador and deputy director general
of the Foreign Ministry.
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