On November 30, the “Day commemorating the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries and Iran” is marked in Israel and throughout the Jewish world. This day has been designated by decree of the Government of Israel to honor the 850,000 Jewish refugees who were expelled or forced to flee their homes in Arab countries during the second half of the 20th century.
It is not free to commemorate this tragedy one day after November 29. On that day the Arab countries and the Arabs of the British Mandate of Palestine rejected the United Nations partition resolution for the establishment of two states – one Jewish and one Arab – and forced their Jewish citizens to leave their homes.
Since 1948, prosperous Jewish communities that existed a thousand years before the rise of Islam and more than 2,500 years before the birth of modern Arab nations, were persecuted and expelled from various countries from Morocco to Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. The Jews of the Arab countries were uprooted from their lands and most of the Jewish communities of these countries disappeared.
Even before the United Nations Plan for the partition of Palestine in November 1947, the Arab nations, led by the Arab League, took increasingly hostile measures against their Jewish communities. After the adoption of the plan they began to confiscate Jewish properties. Simultaneously riots and massacres broke out against these communities throughout the Arab world. Shops and synagogues were looted and burned, hundreds of Jews were killed and thousands were imprisoned.
By establishing Israel as an independent state in May 1948, the Political Committee of the Arab League convened and drafted a series of recommendations for all Arab and Muslim countries on how to take action against Jews in their countries. Among these, the citizenship of the Jews was revoked, their assets were confiscated, their bank accounts frozen and properties of millions of dollars nationalized. Jews were excluded from government ministries, their entry into the civil service was severely restricted and many lost their means of subsistence. The anti-Jewish tendency only increased with time, putting into practice an organized plan of oppression and persecution against the Jews in these countries.
In Syria, violent attacks by non-Jewish populations against Jews strongly punished Aleppo and the Government froze all bank accounts of Jewish citizens; the same happened in Yemen. In Egypt, there were bombings in Jewish neighborhoods. In Morocco, the pogroms of Oujda and Yerada caused the instantaneous emigration of 8,000 Jews.
In Iraq, the harassment of Jews began in 1941 with a pro-Nazi government that instigated the pogrom known as Farhud. There, almost 300 people were murdered. Between 1948-1951, more than 120,000 Iraqi Jews emigrated to Israel to forge a new life. In doing so, they lost their citizenship and their assets. The old Jewish community in Iraq (which at one time constituted almost one third of the total population of Baghdad) is now non-existent.
In Libya, the attacks against began three years before the establishment of the State of Israel. In November 1945, more than 130 Jews, including 36 children, were killed, hundreds were injured, 4,000 were displaced and 2,400 were left homeless. Five synagogues in Tripoli and four in provincial cities were destroyed and more than 1,000 residences and Jewish shops were looted. In 1948 there were around 38,000 Jews in Libya; today, not one.
The vast majority of these refugees were absorbed by Israel where they were granted citizenship. None of them received any compensation from the countries that confiscated their property and expelled them. For the Jewish state this massive immigration, numerically equivalent to the local Jewish population of that time, represented a huge challenge and required much effort and patience, as well as economic assistance from the Jewish diaspora.
Unlike the Palestinian refugees, exploited by their leaders and by the Arab countries in order to continue an unwavering hostility towards Israel, the Israeli leadership integrated the Jews of Arab countries into their society. That’s why today the world does not hear about Jewish refugees.
The descendants of these immigrants now represent the majority of Israel’s Jewish population. The Jewish exiles who were forced to flee their homes overcame personal and community tragedy and not only persevered, but thrived. They have made an invaluable contribution to the fabric of Israeli society and their vibrant cultures are an integral part of the colorful mosaic of the Jewish people in the land of Israel.
It must be recognized that the war waged by the Arab countries against the newly born Jewish State, and at the same time against their own citizens of Jewish origin, initiated a two-way migration of populations along with the creation of two different groups of refugees. The Arab nations were then responsible for causing both groups of refugees, Arabs and Jews.
It should be noted that the ratio between the two groups of refugees was 2: 3, with the Palestinian group numbered around 600,000, as opposed to the Jewish refugees. Another important aspect is regarding lost property. A 2008 study estimated that the proportion of lost property remains at a ratio of almost 1: 2, Palestinian refugees lost assets for a total of approximately 450 million dollars (about 3,900 million today), while refugees Jews lost property for 700 million dollars (approximately 6,000 million dollars today).
But the international community recognized the rights only of a population without recognizing equal rights for the other victims of that same conflict in the Middle East – former Jewish refugees, Christians and others from Arab countries – which constitutes an injustice. These forced displacements of the Jewish population have been ignored in the United Nations and in international forums.
Since 1947, the predominant focus of the UN has been exclusively on the Palestinians: more than 180 resolutions on Palestinian refugees; 13 agencies or organizations commissioned or newly created from the UN to provide protection and relief to Palestinian refugees; and trillions of dollars disbursed by the international community to provide services and assistance to Palestinian refugees. During that same period, nothing for Jewish refugees from Arab countries, no resolution of the General Assembly, no support from UN agencies, nor any financial aid from the international community.
The legitimate call to guarantee the rights and reparation of displaced Jews from Arab countries is not a campaign against Palestinian refugees.
In the peace proposals of the Middle East, the rights and demands of the Palestinian refugees will be the subject of negotiation. It is important to make sure that the rights of hundreds of thousands of Jews displaced from Arab countries should be recognized and treated in a similar way.
We must be aware that recognizing the rights of displaced Jews from Arab countries is a call to truth and reconciliation. For any peace process to be credible and lasting, it must ensure that all refugees receive the same rights and treatment as international law. A real solution to the refugee problem will only be possible when our Arab neighbors take historical responsibility for their role in creating the problem of Jewish refugees in addition to the Palestinians, as documented. It is time for the world to hear the story of the Jews expelled from the Arab countries.