Remembering the other refugees

Recalling the 850,000 Jewish refugees who were forced out of the Arab world and Iran with the founding of the State of Israel.

December 19, 2015 21:35
2 minute read.
Jewish refugees

A PHOTO of displaced Iraqi Jews in 1951. The government hopes to give a voice to the story of the millions of Jewish refugees. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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‘The palest ink lasts longer than the most retentive memory,” as a Chinese proverb goes.

This thought comes to mind while recalling the 850,000 Jewish refugees who were forced out of the Arab world and Iran with the founding of the State of Israel.

My mother is from Libya and my father is from Yemen. I think of them and of so many others like them whose story has long been overshadowed or left untold.

They and nearly a million other Jews from Arab countries came to the newborn state in the 1950s and lived in the most basic and squalid of conditions in camps similar to refugee camps.

Across the Middle East, from Baghdad to Cairo to Tripoli, Jewish businesses and properties were confiscated.

Jewish quarters were destroyed. Synagogues were looted, graveyards desecrated and thousands of Jewish people killed – this after living peacefully in these countries for centuries.

The total area of land taken from Jews in Arab countries amounts to almost 100,000 km². That is five times the size of Israel or 85 times the size of New York City.

It is time for the Arab countries to understand the suffering of these Jews who never declared war against anyone and lost their homes in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Iran. Despite their vast contribution to these countries, less than 2 percent of these Jews remained in Arab countries.

It is time for the Arab countries to accept responsibility – for the billions of dollars of property they took; for the hundreds of thousands of Jews who had no choice but to flee for their lives.

Talk about memory lapse.

In the international community, at the UN, we almost never hear about the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees forced to flee from Arab countries and Iran.

Over the last 65 years, the UN and its agencies have spent tens of billions of dollars on Palestinian refugees, but not a cent on the Jewish refugees. And since 1949 the United Nations has passed more than a hundred resolutions on Palestinian refugees and not a single one on Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

We in Israel are finally giving voice to this untold story. Recently, my ministry, the Social Equality Ministry, hosted a major event in Jerusalem’s biggest stadium marking the exodus and expulsion of the Jews from the Arab world and Iran. Israel’s mission to the UN marked the date with a special conference at the UN, while the Israeli Consulate in New York held a community-wide event at the city’s Safra Synagogue.

The prime minister is launching an initiative offering a prize for research on this subject. We are also seeking an international company’s estimate for the amount of private and public property left behind in these countries.

The Jewish people have been persecuted like no other people in history – but we endured through pogroms and expulsions and blood libels and finally the Holocaust. Yet we always look forward and not backward. We are determined to provide a better future for our children and grandchildren. We taught them hope and not hate.

The history of the Jewish refugees is an almost untold chapter of the Middle East. We need to let their voice be heard.

The writer is the social equality minister.

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