How many Jews lived in Arab countries? How long had they been in the Middle East?
Jews had been living in what are today Arab countries for over 2,500 years – fully one thousand or more years before the advent of Islam. In 1948, the population of Jews totalled nearly 900,000. Today, less than 5,000 remain. For a country-by-country summary see the Jewish Virtual Library.
Country (or modern
day equivalent), *Earliest Jewish Presence **Population 1948 ***Population 2001
Morocco *1st century CE** 285,000*** 2,700
Tunisia *2nd century CE ** 111,000 ***1,500
Algeria *1-2nd century CE **140,000 ***Less than 100
Egypt *4th century BCE **75,000 *** Less than 100
Syria *1st century BCE **30,000*** Less than 100
Lebanon *1st century BCE 10,000*** Less than 100
Libya *3rd century BCE** 40,000*** None
Iraq *6th century BCE **150,000*** Less than 25
Yemen *3rd century BCE ** 50,000 ***800
**Total 891,000 ***Less than 5000
What was the status of the Jews?
Their condition varied from country and country and era to era. Under Islamic law Jews were considered second class (dhimmis) but were given limited religious, professional and business opportunities. In some cases, their condition improved temporarily with the advent of Western influence on the Arab countries.
What made the Jews leave?
When Arab states acquired their independence , the Jews, along with other minorities, were marginalised. The Jews’ situation took a dramatic turn for the worse as virtually all Arab countries backed or took part in war against Israel in 1948. This triggered a surge in mob violence and a pattern of legalised discrimination and state-sanctioned repression. The similarity of actions against the Jews, coupled with statements and records from the time, suggest that the conduct of ethnic cleansing was co-ordinated between the Arab governments. Those who did not flee became hostages to the Arab-Israeli conflict. No compensation was ever provided to those who fled.
Where did the Jewish refugees go?
Israel struggled to resettle some 600,000 at great cost. Some 300,000 others built new lives in France, Britain, Italy, Australia, Latin America, Canada and the US.
Why has little been heard about these Jewish refugees?
The reasons are complex. Principally, because they did not remain refugees for long, but were successfully integrated into their host countries.
Do the Jews wish to ‘return’ ?
There was an exchange of almost equal numbers of Arab and Jewish refugees between Israel and the Arab world. To ‘return’ would be a retrograde step. The Jewish refugees are living proof that all refugees can start afresh provided their host countries have the will to resettle them.
Why is the issue of the Jewish refugees central?
History: the truth about the Jewish refugees needs to be told. Too many people view the Middle East conflict through a distorted prism which expunges the Jewish refugee narrative.
Morality and legality: the plight of the Jewish refugees is an unresolved human rights issue. There is a moral imperative that justice be done and that the Jewish refugees from Arab countries issue assume its rightful place on the international agenda.
Peace: for a peace process to be credible and enduring and for all parties to be reconciled, all outstanding issues must be addressed and all claims finalised.
What did the UN do for Jewish refugees?
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees recognised displaced Jews as bona fide refugees but offered no help. The UN General Assembly has not passed a single resolution in their favour, whilst it has passed l0l resolutions about the Palestinian Arab refugees and dedicated an agency, UNWRA, to their exclusive care.
Do the Jewish refugees feature in blueprints for Middle East peace?
UN security council resolution 242, the Madrid peace conference, the Road Map and the bilateral agreements between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians all refer to a just solution of the ‘refugee problem’– never distinguishing between Jews and Arabs.
Is the campaign for Jewish refugees a “tit-for-tat” response to Palestinian claims?
The legitimate call to secure rights and redress for former Jews displaced from Arab countries is not a campaign against Palestinian refugees. It is a “stand alone” campaign. It would be inaccurate and counterproductive to link the legitimacy of the rights for Jews displaced from Arab countries to the issues concerning Palestinian refugees. They are neither identical, nor symmetrical.