Uprooting of Jews from Arab countries, an answer to modern antisemitism

To be able to reach a peaceful solution, the forced migration of Jews from Arab countries must be acknowledged as one of the tragedies of this long and painful conflict.

April 24, 2018 21:16
3 minute read.
Uprooting of Jews from Arab countries, an answer to modern antisemitism

JEWISH AGENCY representatives meet Yemenite immigrants arriving at Lod Airport in 1949. (Wikimedia Commons). (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

One of the major recognized causes of the current wave of antisemitism in Europe and other places is Palestinian propaganda. This sweeping brainwashing effort has succeeded in producing an anti-Jewish climate in many parts of the world. One of the ways to combat this basic source of lies is to reveal the truth about the banishment of the Jews from Arab countries. The world has mainly heard about the injustice experienced by Palestinian refugees, and almost nothing about the plight of the Jews from Arab countries, mainly Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Let us compare the uprooting of the Palestinians with the uprooting of the Jews.

Whereas the Palestinians refugees numbered 650,000 in 1948, the Jewish refugees from Arab countries numbered 850,000 (UNRWA statistics). The Jewish property, both private and communal, sequestered by Arab governments when the Jews were forced to leave was much vaster than that left behind by the Palestinians in Israel (documented by the International Court at The Hague).

There was practically an ethnic cleansing of Jews in Arab countries. Very few Jews are left in these countries today. Egyptian Jewry, for instance, numbered 100,000 in 1948, but there are only 28 Jews in the whole of Egypt today, and only 22 Jews remain in the whole of Iraq of the 1948 population of 160,000. In Syria and Lebanon there are no Jews left.

On the other hand, there was no ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Israel; there are a million Arab/Palestinian citizens living in Israel today, constituting 20% of Israel’s citizens.

It is important to spread these crucial historical facts as widely as possible, as they contradict the evil and distorted image presented by anti-Israel propaganda. In addition to the possible turning of public opinion in Europe and other places, telling the story of the banishment and uprooting of the Jews from Arab countries has additional potential advantages.

The realization that they are not the only ones who have suffered, and that the Jews from Arab countries have suffered just as much as the Palestinians when they were thrown out of the lands of their birth with only their shirts on their backs and were made so miserably destitute at the hands of Arabs, may cause Palestinians to become more conciliatory and less intransigent regarding peace with Israel.

Second, seeing that their history, narrative and cultural heritage is taken into account as a crucial and integral part of the Arab-Israeli conflict may make the Jews from Arab countries and their descendants – who today constitute almost half of Israel’s Jewish population – more inclined to make concessions for the sake of peace.

The neglect of their story and narrative makes some Jews from Arab countries intransigent regarding any reconciliation that does not include their own history. Yet, these uprooted Jews could become major contributors to reconciliation because they understand Middle East culture and mentality, the Arabic language, and the rituals of reconciliation.

The “Nakba” (catastrophe) of Jews from Arab countries, the cruel displacement of 850,000 Jews who were born and grew up in their ancient communities in Arab lands, and the hardships and misery accompanying their forced migration and emigration to Israel or other Western countries, and the loss of all their assets and property constitute an aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict which should be thoroughly researched by serious academics.

As almost half of the Jewish citizens of Israel (together with their descendants) are from Arab countries, any peace effort must acknowledge this crucial facet of the history of the conflict. To be able to reach a peaceful solution, the forced migration of Jews from Arab countries must be acknowledged as one of the tragedies of this long and painful conflict. It would also constitute a strong barrage against the dangerous antisemitic “tsunami” flooding us today.

The author is a researcher and a cultural sociologist. Her research at the Neaman Institute at the Technion in Haifa: Israel Institute of Technology (Funded by the Boren Foundation) has focused on the uprooting of Jews from Arab countries in the mid-twentieth century. She has published 33 books to date, and more than 120 articles. She founded the International Forum for the Culture of Peace, IFLAC. She was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt and now lives in Haifa.

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