by Lyn JuliusOn 30 November 1947, Jews in the Syrian city of Aleppo peered between the slats of wooden shutters at a horrendous spectacle. The city, which Jews had inhabited since Biblical times, was ablaze. A mob burnt down 50 Jewish stores, 18 synagogues, five schools, the Jewish orphanage, a youth club and 150 homes.
Within two years, half of the city's 10, 000 Jews had fled. A wave of rioting spread across the Arab world, marking the beginning of the end of the Jewish presence in 10 Arab states.
The Knesset chose 30 November when it passed a law in June designating a Day in the calendar to commemorate the exodus of 856, 000 Jews from Arab countries.
For my association Harif, the 30 November commemoration marks a breakthrough. We are joining Jewish organisations around the world and Israeli ministries, embassies and schools in marking the Day.
November is the month when the UN traditionally expresses its solidarity with Palestinian refugees. It has passed more than 100 resolutions holding Israel responsible for the flight of 711, 000 refugees. Not one mentions the greater number of Jewish refugees. This year, however, a Jewish refugees programme at UN Headquarters will challenge the Palestinian monopoly on victimhood.
Like Holocaust Memorial Day, Jewish Refugee Day will provide a focus, and a corrective. If we are to fully understand the Israel-Arab conflict, the memory of these refugees and their exodus must be acknowledged. Over 50% Jews are in Israel not because of the Nazis, but the Arabs. Contradicting the myth that Israel is a colonialist entity composed of white Europeans, these Jews came from ancient communities predating Islam by 1, 000 years. Their presence cements Israel's legitimacy as the sovereign state of an indigenous Middle Eastern people.
In retrospect, the exodus was a blessing, saving Jews from the fate now befalling the Yazidis and Christians of the Middle East. But the world has never recognised the injustice of their displacement. If you do not learn about an injustice, you cannot correct it. Hence the importance of a Commemorative Day.
Lest the violence that rocked Aleppo be seen as a reaction to the 29 November UN decision to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, hundreds of Jews had already been murdered during the preceding decade. The soon-to-be declared Jewish state would offer a safe haven to 600, 000 traumatised Jews from Arab lands, doubling its population overnight.
Far from a spontaneous backlash, the riots unleashed on 30 November were the culmination of months of bloodcurdling threats by Arab leaders, rousing their people to fever pitch.
As early as February 1947, Syrian UN representative Faris Al-Khuri proclaimed: "Unless the Palestinian problem is settled, we shall have difficulty in protecting the Jews in the Arab world."
Prefacing his address to the UN with talk of 'massacre', 'riots' and 'war between two races', the Egyptian delegate, Heykal Pasha, was already warning on 24 November 1947 that establishing a Jewish state in Palestine might endanger a million Jews living in Muslim countries...creating anti-Semitism in those countries even more difficult to root out than the anti-Semitism… in Germany.”
Just two days after the State of Israel was proclaimed, the New York Times headline on 16 May 1948 declared :“"Jews in Grave Danger in All Moslem Lands, Nine hundred thousand in Africa and Asia face wrath of their foes.”
The article revealed the existence of a plan drafted by the Political Committee of the Arab League (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen) to treat Jews as ‘members of the Jewish minority state of Palestine.’ Their bank accounts would be frozen and used to finance resistance to ‘Zionist ambitions in Palestine.’ Zionists would be interned and their assets confiscated.
What is remarkable about this 'smoking gun' is that, even before Israel was established, and before the flight of Palestinian refugees was properly underway, it shows prior collusion by the Arab League to victimise their non-combatant Jewish citizens and steal their land and property.It is high time that we added the story of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and the imperative for justice to the Jewish communal and international agenda. Starting on 30 November.