Month: November 2007

The refugee from Cairo who works for peace

Photo: Wendy Blumfeld

The inveterate peace campaigner and champion of the rights of Jews from Arab countries, Professor Ada Aharoni, is profiled in
The Jerusalem Post:from Cairo to Haifa – 1949.

“In spite of her experiences of exile and displacement, the theme of Ada Aharoni’s work has been building bridges for peace. She is also fiercely proud of the culture of the Jews of Egypt and, as organizer of an international conference on conserving their history, culture and literature, she also relives the coexistence between Muslims and Jews that thrived prior to 1948. In her biography of the amazing Jewish German nurse Thea Wolfe, who headed the Jewish hospital in Cairo during World War II, she highlights the efforts of the Muslim police and customs authorities to cooperate in the rescue of Jewish refugees who escaped to Egypt.

“Aharoni lived in comfort with her family in Cairo. Her father sent her to the English convent school for girls because he wanted her to be his secretary, but she so thrived in the language that she soon declared that she wanted a career in English literature. “At the age of 10 I was going to be a writer, not a secretary.” she reminisces. At 13 she co-edited the school magazine with an Arab student and their motto was: Abolish wars forever. At 15 she was a counselor in the Maccabi Zionist Youth movement, but when she was 16 her father’s work permit was rescinded because he was Jewish and the family prepared to leave for France.

“We arrived in Marseille to find that the Egyptian authorities had confiscated the money that my father had transferred to a Swiss bank and we were left penniless and without financial resources, apart from land he had bought in Herzliya,” she says.

“They moved to Paris and her father then suffered a heart attack and was unable to work again. Her mother, who was a piano teacher, went to work punching tickets on the Metro but later succeeded in business after taking a cashiers’ course.

“Nevertheless, her parents wanted her to take up a place offered at the Sorbonne. By this time, Aharoni was concerned about the rising anti-Semitism in France and enrolled for a year’s agricultural training in Israel, promising to return after that to study in Paris.

“She did not return to France to study because as a 17-year old coming to Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’emek, she fell in love with the land and with Haim, also of Egyptian origin. (…)

“Aharoni believes in starting from one’s own neighborhood. She and Ruth Lys, the co-founder of The Bridge: Jewish and Arab Women for Peace in the Middle East, knocked on doors in the Arab neighborhoods of Haifa inviting women to the first meeting. At the same time, they corresponded with Jehan Sadat and roused interest for the group throughout the region. Lys, herself a prime example of the bravery of these women, was a Holocaust survivor who lost her husband and four children. She remarried in Israel and her only son was killed in the Yom Kippur War.

“It is through the mothers that we will make peace,” she declares. In 1999 she founded IFLAC: Pave Peace, the International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace, of which she is still president.

“In this context grew the idea of organizing a conference this year at the University of Haifa jointly sponsored by the World Congress of Egyptian Jews and the Herzl Institute on Conserving the History, Culture and Literature of the Jews from Egypt. “There is so little awareness of the life of the Jews in Egypt prior to 1948,” she says, explaining why in 1983 she wrote her historical novel The Second Exodus, describing the forced exile of Jews from Egypt. “We do not expect any material benefit but we want to recapture our cultural heritage.”

She believes that the stories on both sides should be told. “This was our nakba – disaster,” she says. “We lost everything, but I never had any hatred for anybody. I never took a gun and tried to kill anyone. We just started over again.” Unlike so many refugees who fester in hatred and revenge, Ada has used her experiences to work for peace.

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The forgotten exodus – by Irwin Cotler

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the UN Partition Resolution of Nov. 29, 1947. It is sometimes forgotten that this was the first ever blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution. Regrettably, while Jewish leaders accepted the resolution, Arab leaders did not, and by their own acknowledgement, declared war on the nascent Jewish state. Now it is time for a sea change in the conflict’s narrative, writes Irwin Cotler, human rights lawyer and ex-Canadian minister of justice in the Canadian National Post (with thanks: Jerusalem Posts):

Had the Partition Resolution been accepted, there would have been no Arab-Israeli war, no refugees and none of the pain of these last 60 years. Annapolis could now be the site of the celebration of the 60th anniversary of an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Yet the revisionist Mid-East narrative continues to hold that there was only one victim population, Palestinian refugees, and that Israel was responsible for the Palestinian naqba (catastrophe) of 1947.

The result was that the pain and plight of 850,000 Jews uprooted and displaced from Arab countries — the forgotten exodus — has been expunged from the historical narrative these past 60 years. Moreover, the revisionist narrative has not only eclipsed the forgotten exodus, but denies that it was also a forced exodus, for the Arab countries not only went to war to extinguish the fledgling Jewish state, but also targeted the Jewish nationals living in their respective countries. The United Nations is preparing, yet again, to commemorate the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People on this 60th anniversary of the UN Partition Resolution, but will ignore the plight of Jewish refugees.

Indeed, evidence contained in a recent report, Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries: The Case for Rights And Redress, documents for the first time a pattern of state-sanctioned repression and persecution in Arab countries — including Nuremberg-like laws — that targeted Jews, and resulted in denationalization, forced expulsions, illegal sequestration of property, arbitrary arrest and detention and the like.

These massive human rights violations were reflective of a collusive blueprint, as embodied in the Draft Law of the Political Committee of the League of Arab States. This is a story that has not been heard. It is a truth that must now be acknowledged.

The UN also bears express responsibility for this distorted narrative. Since 1947, there have been 126 UN resolutions that have specifically dealt with the Palestinian refugee plight. Not one of these resolutions makes any reference to the plight of the 850,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries. Nor have any of the Arab countries involved expressed any acknowledgement, let alone regret. What, then, is to be done?

The time has come to rectify this historical injustice, and to restore the “forgotten exodus” to the Middle East narrative. Remedies for victim refugee groups — including rights of remembrance, truth, justice and redress — must now be invoked for Jews displaced from Arab countries, as mandated under human rights and humanitarian law. In particular, each of the Arab countries and the League of Arab States must acknowledge their role in the perpetration of human rights violations against their respective Jewish nationals.

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‘The two refugee situations are incomparable’

In the wake of the deathly silence surrounding the issue at Annapolis, Ashley Perry of The Sephardi Perspective blog tackles the Jewish refugees. Of course the two sets of refugees – Arab and Jewish – were produced in quite different circumstances, the Jewish case being the more egregious. But I would argue that it is not disingenuous for Israel to use the resulting ‘de facto exchange of populations’ to quash Palestinian claims of ‘a right of return’, once and for all :

“The meeting taking place in Annapolis between the Israelis and Palestinians is one that hardly anyone from the left or the right is holding much hope for. There has been little agreement on any of the major issues, and as Israel provides more and more ‘confidence-building measures’, the Palestinians become entrenched in their positions.

“The Jew who was driven out from an Arab land before and after the State of Israel was proclaimed can only look on in wonder at the Palestinian position on their refugees. The Palestinians fictitiously created ‘right of return’ (a right is a legal term, and there is no binding legal apparatus for such a return) and it has now become a sacred cow that dare not be rejected or ignored.

“The Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh declared succinctly recently “No one is authorized to compromise the right of return.” Even members of Fatah will not talk of negotiation without the refugee issue being addressed. Abdullah Abdullah, a senior Fatah official in the West Bank, recently described the right of return as sacred. “The right of return cannot be ignored or surrendered,” he said.

“UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which is the main source for the Palestinian ‘right’, never mentions who the refugees are and does not make a distinction between the nationality and ethnicity of the refugee. That Jews who fled Arab lands were also considered refugees by the UN is beyond question.

“The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees recognized the refugee status of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries in the report of the UNREF Executive Committee, Fourth Session – ‎Geneva 29 January to 4 February, 1957. Likewise, Dr. E. Jahn, Office of the UN High Commissioner, United Nations High ‎Commissioner for Refugees, Document No. 7/2/3/Libya, July 6, 1967, recognized the refugee status of these Jews.

“So why has the issue of the Jewish refugees never been brought to the attention of the world by the Israeli government?

“Many reasons and no easy answer. The first is the idea that all Jews arrived in Israel because of Zionism and a yearning to live in the Land of Israel. These Jews were returning to Israel as citizens and not as refugees became the official line.

“Even in the early years of the state the survivors of the Holocaust did not receive acknowledgment of their suffering as the myth of the ‘new Jew’ set about disassociating itself with the old Diaspora Jew who was persecuted. The Eichmann trial that began in 1961 changed all of that, as the true horrors of the Holocaust permeated every transistor radio in many households.

“The Israeli sabra now understood the true horrors of Diaspora persecution, but still few knew or cared to find out about the persecution of the Jews from Arab lands.

“Another major reason the Israeli government never addressed the issue is to make an unstated gesture to the Palestinians; if you forget about your refugees, we will forget about ours. This reason, coupled with those who now expose the Jewish refugee story for political gain as a trade-off with the Palestinians, are being both disingenuous and inaccurate.

“Of course, not all Palestinian Arabs were involved in bellicose actions against the Jews and a few were indeed pushed out by the Israel Defense Forces. However, this was war and it was started and declared by the Arabs themselves. History has shown that those nations or people which start a war and lose do not warrant concessions or a return to the status quo.

“The situation of the Jewish refugees was markedly different. None of the Jewish refugees were in the theater of war when they fled or were forced out. Although many had allegiances to Israel and belonged to Zionist movements, none were involved in aggression towards the local population or their leadership.

“Thus, the two refugee situations are incomparable and the Jewish refugee issue cannot be used as a bargaining chip with the Arab refugees who were part of a war. (my emphasis – ed)

“The Israeli leadership has refrained from even mentioning the issue of the Jewish refugees in the lead up to the Annapolis meeting. Even when Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni referred to the Arab refugee issue she did not mention the Jewish refugees. (This is not strictly true – ed)

“Silvan Shalom, a prominent Sephardi political leader who served as Israeli foreign minister from 2003 to 2006, said he believes the Olmert government is “not committed” to the issue.

“To counter the ignorance or lack of commitment to the issue in the lead up to Annapolis, the JJAC organization (Justice for Jews from Arab Countries) organized a two day conference of some 40 delegates from 10 different countries to focus on the Right of Redress campaign for Jews from Arab countries.

Read post in full

Iranian TV Holocaust drama IS antisemitic

The BBC’s Today* programme became the latest of the western media to fall for the lie that the Iranian TV soap opera ‘Zero Degree Turn’ represents an about-turn on official antisemitism. Iranian-Jewish journalist Karmel Melamed puts the record straight:

“The Christian Science Monitor in its article today regarding the Iranian Television Series “Zero Degree Turn” became the latest U.S. publication to inaccurately report on this fictional drama on Iranian state-run television with the Holocaust as its back drop. The show has been hailed by reporters at the AP, Wall Street Journal, and NPR as sympathetic to the issue of Holocaust– a supposed change of rhetoric coming from Iran in light of the anti-Semitic comments spewed by Iran’s president in the last few years. But as a responsible journalist who has covered this story before, I’m here to say that these news media outlets have totally been inaccurate in their coverage of this TV program!

“To the contrary, my own accurate article last month in the L.A. Jewish Journal revealed that “Zero Degree Turn” in no way sends a positive message about the Shoah or Jews. It is clear that the AP, Wall Street Journal, NPR and other reputable news outlets failed to properly review and translate the program with the help of experts. My investigation of the new Iranian program revealed that “Zero Degree Turn” is nothing more than the same old anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda put out by the Iranian government. The following is the truth indicated in my article about this TV show that the Monitor and AP failed to pick up on:

“This TV program lists in its credits a man named Abdollah Shabazi, who was an ideological strategist for the Iranian government, and he gave this idea to make this propaganda film to show that Iranians are ‘good with the Jews,'” said Bijan Khalili, a Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish activist and Persian-language book publisher. “But in reality, this man is the author of many anti-Semitic and anti-Bahai [Persian-language] books.”

“One of the objectives of this program is to show that Jews are corrupt, because they are shown as both giving bribes and accepting bribes,” Khalili said. “The story includes a character called Homayoun Talab, an Iranian diplomat, who accepts bribes in order to provide false papers to Jews.”

Talab, Khalili said, is loosely based on Abdol Hossein Sardari, Iranian ambassador to German-controlled France during World War II, who forestalled the deportation of 200 Iranian Jews living in Paris at the time.

Fariborz Mokhtari, a professor of Eastern studies at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., recently completed a book on Sardari’s life. He said “Zero Degree Turn” egregiously misrepresents Sardari, who never accepted money for giving Jews in France Iranian passports.

“Sardari was duty-bound to look after the interests of Iranians. Whether they were Zoroastrian, Christian, Jewish or Muslim was not very important to him,” said Mokhtari, who is Muslim and has been researching Sardari since 2002. “As he was quoted having told his inquiring nephew, ‘It was his duty to his country and to God.'”

Khalili also said that other episodes of “Zero Degree Turn” make repeated references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which are historically out of place, because the issue was not prevalent in the 1940s. Likewise the Jewish characters in the series are shown in a poor light, because they speak an improper form of the Persian language, as compared to the Muslim characters, Khalili said.

“We have a responsibility as Iranian Jews living outside of Iran to reveal to the rest of the world how anti-Israel and anti-Semitic the Iranian government is through this program and others like it,” Khalili said.

“Shame on the Monitor’s editors and shame on the reporter Scott Peterson for failing to do better research to expose the REAL TRUTH about “Zero Degree Turn”. Instead, Peterson and the Monitor in this story continued to spread the one-sided propaganda feed to them by the Iranian government concerning this show! Supposedly the Iranian leaders are now “good people” after producing this show that does not deny the Holocaust. What a bunch of hog wash! When articles like these fail to expose the “spin” put out by Iran’s radical leaders this is a discredit to journalism and in a way helps the Iranian regime continue to help cover up their President’s anti-Semitic comments about the Holocaust. While reporters in Iran cannot freely cover the news in Iran without being imprisoned, tortured or executed by the regime’s leaders, U.S. and western journalists have a duty to expose the truth of what is going on in Iran and not help to cover it up.

“If you don’t believe me about the anti-Semitic nature of “Zero Degree Turn“, just view this clip accurately translated by The Middle East Media Research Institute!

Read post in full

*See 7.40 slot, Thurs 29 November

Update: the story is now on the BBC website

Jews should claim right of return to Mecca, Medina

Applying UN and Palestinian logic to the refugee problem, Jews would be within their rights to demand to return to Mecca and Medina, argues Joseph Klein in Front Page magazine:

“Several key facts are left out of this fictional Palestinian narrative. First and foremost, the very essence of the Jewish state – based on reason, openness and a democratic system of government that believes in freedom of conscience – stands in sharp contrast to the absolutist, repressive strains that permeate the closed societies of its Islamic neighbors.

“Then there is the history of the conflict that the Palestinian narrative so conveniently ignores. The Palestinians could have had their own independent state sixty years ago if the neighboring Arab countries had not forcibly rejected the UN’s original plan for partition of the British Mandate territory of Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state and a small internationally administered zone including the religiously significant towns of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Palestinians are still refusing any such solution today.

“In the days after the General Assembly vote approving the partition plan, various Arab attacks left Jews dead and wounded. There were shootings, stonings, bombings, arson and rioting, including attacks on the consulates of Poland and Sweden who had voted for partition. Little has changed. If the Palestinians do not get everything they ask for, they immediately resort to violence.

“The Palestinian narrative on the refugee situation is also misleading. As documented by eyewitnesses and by statements of Palestinian and other Arab leaders themselves at the time, most Palestinians who left their homes in 1948 did so voluntarily. They were following the advice of the Arab leaders who promised that they would only have to be away from their homes a few days until the Jews were driven into the sea. For example, the Jordanian newspaper Falastin wrote on February 19, 1949:

“The Arab States encouraged the Palestine Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies.”

“As one refugee was quoted as saying, “The Arab governments told us: Get out so that we can get in. So we got out, but they did not get in.”

“The 156,000 Palestinians who did stay behind and their offspring became full Israeli citizens, with voting rights and representation in the government irrespective of their minority non-Jewish status. Arabs have been elected to the Knesset, served on the Israeli Supreme Court and held other high government positions. If their rights are violated, they have recourse to the Israeli courts to seek redress. Arab citizens living in Israel share nothing in common with the blacks who lived in apartheid South Africa, no matter how hard the Palestinian propagandists insist otherwise. The blacks living in apartheid South Africa were excluded altogether from any participation in governing the country in which they made up the majority of the population. They lived and worked under strictly segregated conditions with no legal recourse for the wrongs that were inflicted on them daily.

“As for the refugee situation, there were more Jewish refugees who were forcibly expelled from the Arab countries than there were Palestinian refugees who had left behind their homes in Israel. According to United Nations statistics, 856,000 Jewish residents fled their Arab homes in 1948 as compared to an estimated 711,000 Palestinian refugees who fled Israel in 1948. Many more Jews were forced out of Arab lands since. In Egypt, for example, there were around 75,000 Jews living there in 1948. Today, there are no more than 100. There were around 135,000 Jews living in Iraq in 1948. Today there are around 15. There were about 35,000 Jews living in Libya in 1948. Today there are none. The United Nations has not spent a dime on Jewish refugees from the Arab countries, while the annual budget for taking care of Palestinian refugees through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency is approaching a half billion dollars a year.

“Few of the estimated 711,000 Palestinian refugees who fled in 1948 are still alive. Yet, in an exception to the normal definition of who qualifies to be considered a refugee, the United Nations has characterized all of the descendants of these refugees as refugees themselves. This redefinition has swelled the total number of Palestinian refugees to more than 4 million. Rather than be accepted as full citizens by their Arab ‘brothers’ in the surrounding Arab states, they live on the UN dole as stage props for the Palestinians’ melodramatic narrative of suffering at the hands of the Israelis.

“All we hear about in the Palestinian narrative is the right of return for these descendants to move back to the homes of their parents, grandparents or great grandparents in Israel proper. We hear nothing about the right of Jewish refugees and their descendants to return to their centuries-old Jewish homes in Egypt, Iraq, Libya and other Arab countries. Indeed, if we were to apply the UN’s open-ended definition of a Palestinian refugee to the Jews forced out of Arab lands, the descendants of Jews whom Mohammed forcibly expelled from the Saudi peninsula should be allowed the right of return to their ancestral homelands in Mecca and Medina.”

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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.

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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.