Month: October 2006

Coverage of Jewish refugees meeting in Jerusalem

As the selection of articles below shows, the Jerusalem meeting launching the campaign for rights and redress of Jewish refugees attracted much interest in the mainstream Israeli press, TV and radio. Also covering the story were Reuters, Associated Press, Agence France Presse, Russian National TV, Norwegian Dag Tid, Guysen News, the (New York) Jewish Week and the (London) Jewish Chronicle, Israel News Agency, All Headline News, Israel Hasbara Committee,

Here’s a TV clip from Reuters.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is that the London-based Arabic language Asharq-al Awsat picked up the issue and al-Arabiyareprinted the Reuters piece. Radio Free Iraq broadcast this.

Blog coverage: Zionation,
Crif report (French)

The notable flight of Jews from Iraq

This letter(scroll down) appeared in today’s Independent. A pity Mr Treeby used the term ‘migration’ rather than ‘exodus’.

Sir: In your article of 23 October, you refer to the Iraqi exodus as one of the largest since the Palestinian refugee crisis of 1948. You missed the smaller, but no less notable, flight of Jews from Iraq that followed. A 150,000-strong community dating back 2,700 years was reduced to a tiny handful. This was just part of the migration of hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern and North African Jews during the postwar period.

ALEXIS ROSOFF TREEBY

LONDON N3

Libyan Jew fled in terror after 1967

The Jerusalem Post continues to play its part in raising awareness of the Jewish refugees issue. Interview of Regina Bublil Waldman by Hilary Leila Krieger.

Tripoli, Libya, was ablaze for weeks after the start of the Six Day War in June 1967 as Muslim mobs terrorized Jews, destroying property and claiming lives.

The Libyan government finally allowed – or forced – the Jews to leave the country, but anti-Jewish anger remained high.

Regina Bublil and her family were on a bus that was supposed to bring them to freedom, but she didn’t believe they were safe in the hands of the driver. When he pulled over well before they reached the airport, saying the bus had “broken down,” her suspicions became stronger.

Bublil, 19, asked the driver’s helper to call a cab for her family from a nearby gas station and then followed him. She overheard him telling someone that the situation was “under control” and decided to make her own call for help.

Bublil wrestled with him for the phone and then called the British engineer she had worked for that summer until the violence forced her to take secret refuge in his house. Her parents and siblings survived because their upstairs neighbor, a Muslim, hid them and convinced the mob surrounding their home that they were out of the country. Meanwhile they burned her father’s factory and real estate.

Clutching the phone with shaking hands and speaking English so she wouldn’t be understood, Bublil explained to her boss where the bus was stopped and told him to hurry. When she got back to the bus, she found the driver holding a match to the gas-drenched vehicle in order to set it ablaze with her family inside. But just in time, her boss pulled up and helped her and her family escape.

When they got to the airport, they found that they weren’t expected. “Bublil family?” the airport attendant asked with surprise. “You’re not supposed to be here.”

Their reservations presumably canceled because the plot against them was expected to succeed, the British engineer contacted a friend who worked at the airport. The friend removed seven British passengers from a flight departing right then for Malta so that the Bublils could escape.

She also said that Israel, by successfully resettling the refugees without asking for international funds, hadn’t brought attention to the issue.

But she added that when it came to international forums such as the United Nations – where the Palestinian refugee issue has been addressed in hundreds of resolutions while none have been devoted to the Jewish refugees – anti-Semitism was at play.

“There wasn’t sympathy toward [us]. People really didn’t care,” she said. “The war in the Middle East created two populations of refugees, and it’s a mistake to think, like the international community does, that there’s only one group of refugees – the Palestinians.”

Bublil said Palestinian refugees’ grievances needed to be addressed as part of the process of creating two states, just as those of Jews would.

She also said she hoped that until that happened, the Palestinians would learn from her example.

“Instead of feeling victimized, I never felt I was a victim,” she said. Instead she crusaded for the rights of Soviet Jews, victims of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and Bosnian Muslim refugees.

“I have forgiven the perpetrators [in Libya],” she said. “Hate is a weapon of mass destruction. And what I think is really sad in the case of Palestinians is that these are people who deserve a better life. They have been victimized by their own leaders, and caught in a web.”

“So long as the Arab leaders keep on perpetuating the hatred in the Palestinian territories and in Gaza, they will keep the Palestinian people perpetually walking the path of death and destruction,” she said.

In Malta, doctors and stretchers met them at the plane. They were so traumatized, she recalled, that “we couldn’t talk.”

But now, Bublil isn’t afraid to speak out. The problem today, she said, was that not enough people knew what she and other Jews driven out of Arab countries endured.

“The Jews from the Arab countries wanted to let bygones be bygones and just get on with their lives. It wasn’t until the next generation came to haunt us that [we realized] this story is not being told, that our heritage is gone, that we’re extinct,” she said.

Bublil, now known by her married name, Waldman, heads the San Francisco-based advocacy group Jimena: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North America. On Monday she was in Israel to participate in a conference launching an “International Rights and Redress Campaign” on behalf of the estimated 850,000 Jews who fled from Arab states after the creation of the State of Israel.

According to Jimena, less than 10,000 are now left in these countries; the Jews who lived for more than 2,000 years in Libya are entirely gone.

Part of the campaign examines the issue of restitution for Jews who had to leave everything behind at a moment’s notice, but its overall focus is on raising awareness. “We want to be part of history,” Bublil said. “We don’t want to be called the forgotten refugees anymore.”

She acknowledged that Mizrahi Jews hadn’t done enough to raise the issue within the Jewish community. “We have to look in the mirror and say, ‘What have we done to tell our story?'”

She also said that Israel, by successfully resettling the refugees without asking for international funds, hadn’t brought attention to the issue.

But she added that when it came to international forums such as the United Nations – where the Palestinian refugee issue has been addressed in hundreds of resolutions while none have been devoted to the Jewish refugees – anti-Semitism was at play.

“There wasn’t sympathy toward [us]. People really didn’t care,” she said. “The war in the Middle East created two populations of refugees, and it’s a mistake to think, like the international community does, that there’s only one group of refugees – the Palestinians.”

Bublil said Palestinian refugees’ grievances needed to be addressed as part of the process of creating two states, just as those of Jews would.

She also said she hoped that until that happened, the Palestinians would learn from her example.

“Instead of feeling victimized, I never felt I was a victim,” she said. Instead she crusaded for the rights of Soviet Jews, victims of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and Bosnian Muslim refugees.

“I have forgiven the perpetrators [in Libya],” she said. “Hate is a weapon of mass destruction. And what I think is really sad in the case of Palestinians is that these are people who deserve a better life. They have been victimized by their own leaders, and caught in a web.”

“So long as the Arab leaders keep on perpetuating the hatred in the Palestinian territories and in Gaza, they will keep the Palestinian people perpetually walking the path of death and destruction,” she said.

Read article in full

Article in JTA News

Minister calls on Oriental Jews to claim reparations

Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit is planning to counter Palestinian claims of refugees by placing counter-claims of Jews from Arab countries, reports Y-net News.

Could the Jews who left countries such as Morocco, Iraq, Egypt and other Arab and Muslim states get reparations for the lost property they left behind? Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit, himself a former refugee from Morocco, has announced the renewal of a campaign to document the legacies of those who came from Arab countries and record their claims. The claims refer to property and other belongings that were left behind at the country of origin. Sheetrit explains that “we are talking about hundreds of thousands of claims that could be used as a balance to the claims of Palestinian refugees asking to return to Israel.” During his first stint as justice minister, Sheetrit established a special committee within the ministry designed to build a database for the documentation of the public and private legacies and properties of Jews who left Arab countries and to record the culture and heritage of Jews in those countries.

Upon his return to the post as the acting justice minister, Sheetrit reintroduced the committee and was even able to raise the necessary budget for its operation. Sheetrit emphasized the importance of these actions at this time saying that “If the State of Israel will not work on this project, it will never happen. If we wait for years, Israel may find itself in a position where the task cannot be completed.”

Sheetrit explained that “the Palestinians are using the refugees as ammunition against Israel. When the time will ripen for peace talks, Israel could present this data as a balancing factor to the claims of the Palestinians.” According to him, “about 600,000 Jews left Arab countries (870,000 – ed), where the vast majority of them arrived in Israel, a country which absorbed them and led them to full integration in the Israeli society. On the other hand, about 200,000 Palestinians left Israel and have not assimilated into the rich Arab countries where they live. In addition, the hundreds of millions of dollars which were given to them by the UNRWA did not bring to an improvement in their position. They still live in refugee camps in Israel and in the Arab countries including the West Bank and Gaza.” Minister Sheetrit appointed Jean-Claude Niddam to head the effort of documenting the properties of Jews who left Arab countries who live in Israel and abroad. The effort will be assisted by more than 60 Jewish communities around the world which have already announced their participation in the campaign.

Read article in full

See comment by Gaza Arab:

“It’s about accountability, a topic the Arab world has never fully understood. When the Arab world chose war instead of peace in 1948, they should have accepted the results of their decision. The Arab world should have been held to account. We should not have put the Arabs that fled the war zone for the safety of the surrounding Arab countries into refugee camps and kept them there. Instead we should have absorbed them as the Israelis did absorb the hundreds of thousands of Jews that we expelled from our Arab countries.

“You do realize that if the Arabs are given the right to return to live inside Israel….then the Arabs must return 40% of Baghdad to the jews, large parts of Cairo and Alexandria to the Jews, entire cities to the Jews that fled Yemen, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya ……fair is fair. Or have you always held the Jews to a higher level of accountability than the Arabs? Is it because you believe that we Arabs are incapable of being accountable?”

AHAMAD AHABAL, GAZA

Israeli Justice Minister is committed to refugees

Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit pledged Monday to reestablish his ministry’s unit for managing compensation claims of Jews forced out of Arab countries and to reinvigorate the effort to make their case to the world, reports Hilary Leila Krieger of the Jerusalem Post.

Sheetrit addressed a conference on “rights and redress” for this population held in Jerusalem Monday, which launched a campaign to register all the families who lost assets when Jews fled Arab countries after the creation of the State of Israel.

Sheetrit, like many at the conference, stressed that the goal wasn’t to get financial compensation.

“The campaign is not for money,” the minister said. “The idea is to put on the table, on a parallel level, the claims of Jewish refugees with the claims of the Palestinians,” the latter of whom he described as having successfully garnered world attention.

Sheetrit originally established the unit under his first term as justice minister more than three years ago, but admitted that it was neglected once he left office and its duties were transferred to someone already responsible for pursuing Holocaust compensation claims.

“It was a mistake” to have made such a switch, he said, and his promise to make it a separate unit once again garnered cheers from the 50 or so conference participants.

So far, only some 13,000 Israelis have been registered, though the conference organizers estimate that about 850,000 Jews were made refugees from Arab lands after the founding of Israel.

Now it is estimated that less than 10,000 remain in these areas. A conference co-organizer, The World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, has suggested that $100 billion of assets were lost or confiscated, though specific calculations are difficult.

A draft declaration from Monday’s conference declared that “no just, comprehensive Middle East peace can be reached without recognition of, and redress for, the uprooting of centuries-old Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa.”

It urged the government of Israel to incorporate the issue into its negotiations with the Palestinians and Arab states and pressed Diaspora communities to help collect the stories of these Jewish refugees and advocate on their behalf.

Stanley Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, another co-sponsor of Monday’s event, also said the “international rights and redress campaign” was intended to heighten awareness of the history and culture of these Jews.

“This is a campaign to document Jewish history,” he said to applause, “to record the personal narratives of these families and their displacement, to make sure that the 2,500-year history of Mizrahi Jewry in Arab countries will not be lost to the pages of history.”

Sheetrit, whose own family is originally from Morocco, urged speedy action: ‘If we wait another 10 or 20 years there will be nobody to make any claims.”

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.