Month: March 2008

Congress to vote on Jewish refugees today

It has been sixty years since 850,000 Jews were victims of “ethnic cleansing” in 10 Arab lands, where some Jewish communities had existed for 2,500 years, reports The American Thinker. Today the US House of representatives votes to give them the recognition they deserve:

The number of Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands exceeds Arab refugees from Israel by more than 100,000 (United Nations Conciliation Commission, October 23, 1950). Yet, the claims of these forgotten refugees, who were never compensated for their loss of land, homes, businesses and personal property, are rarely part of the narrative.

The issue of refugees is the centerpiece to most discussions of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with the sole focus being on Arab refugees, who have the unique honor of being the longest standing refugee population in modern history. The Jewish refugees were absorbed into Israel while the Arab refugees, who were denied entry to Arab countries, are dependent on UNRWA welfare, which allocates over $300 million annually to house, educate and provide social services to 4 million Palestinian refugees, with over one million still living in refugee camps. In political discourse, Palestinians exploit their refugee status by claiming a “Right to Return” to Israel and thereby demographically destroying the Jewish state of Israel. The argument, which is based on a spurious international right, is further diminished if there are other refugees to consider in a final settlement.

The U.S. Congress is poised to expand the issue of refugees to acknowledge, “Jews living in Arab countries suffered human rights violations and were made refugees.” On February 27, 2008, in a unanimous bi-partisan decision, the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved H.Res 185, recognizing the plight and flight of over 850,000 Jews from Arab countries. The legislation, co-sponsored by House of Representatives by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Rep. Michael Ferguson (R-NJ), and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY). states in part that “any resolutions relating to the issue of Middle East refugees, and which include a reference to the required resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue, must also include a similarly explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish, Christian, and other refugees from Arab countries.”

On March 31, 2008, the House Resolution 185 is going for a full and final vote in the House of Representatives. The resolution urges the international community to treat all refugees in the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf equally and opens the public dialogue to include Jewish refugees who until now have been forgotten.

Justice for Jews telephone press conference, 4 pm EST. Congressional Dial-in number is (866) 914-0429, Access code: 863143#.

Moroccan film focuses on mass Jewish exodus

The director Hassan Benjelloun had wanted to call his film My brother the Jew, but the Moroccan authorities would not allow him to. At least they were open-minded enough to allow Benjalloun to make the film – now titled Ou vas-tu Moshe? – currentlyshowing at a Moroccan festival in Toronto. The film is proof that there are Moroccan Muslims for whom the mass exodus of the Jews in the 1960s still rankles. Report in the Globe and Mail:

“When Moroccan filmmaker Hassan Benjelloun was a boy, he went out in the street one day to discover that half his neighbours had disappeared. Their doors were all shuttered. “I ran to my mother and asked, ‘Why are the doors shut?’ ” he recalled in a recent interview, in French, from Casablanca. “She told me, ‘They have all gone to Palestine.’ It was the first time I had ever heard of Palestine.”

“The Jewish exodus from Morocco in the 1960s, which decimated an ancient community, and separated friends, neighbours and business partners, has rankled Benjelloun ever since. As Morocco became increasingly liberalized in the 1990s, the filmmaker worked his way through the sore spots of his country’s recent history, making feature films about the brutal political repression of the 1970s and the subjugation of women.

“Inevitably, he turned to the subject of the exodus. The result, surprisingly, is a bittersweet comedy entitled Où vas-tu Moshé? (Where Are You Going, Moshe?), a Moroccan-Canadian co-production. It is one of four Moroccan films in the French-language festival CinéFranco now under way in Toronto, and it will also enjoy a wider release in late April.

“The film suggests that both the government of Morocco, independent since 1956, and the young state of Israel were complicit in getting all but a few thousand of Morocco’s 260,000 Jews to immigrate clandestinely in the early 1960s. But its story focuses on the little people buffeted by forces larger than themselves: If all the Jews of Bejjad leave town, and the local council succeeds in its program of Islamification, poor Mustapha will lose his bar licence. Luckily for him, the old watchmaker and musician Shlomo can’t make up his mind to go, and he soon finds himself courted by the devout and the drinkers alike.

“The film portrays Moroccan Jews and Muslims living side by side, all speaking the mix of Arabic and French that is characteristic of North Africa. In one scene that surely owes much to Benjelloun’s childhood memories, a young boy whose family is sneaking away at night runs back upstairs, bursts into the neighbouring apartment, and throws himself into the arms of the little Muslim friend from whom he cannot bear to be parted. “I wanted to remove the confusion of Jew and Zionist,” says the filmmaker. “Today, if you say Jewish [in the Arab world], you mean Zionist. … They were our friends and our neighbours.”

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Goodbye mothers film

Jewish asylum-seekers in Scotland tell their story

Leon Symons of The Jewish Chronicle tells the unlikely story of a Jewish family from Iran who ended up living on a tough council estate in Scotland. Why Scotland? Because Glasgow is a designated dispersal centre for asylum-seekers who come to the UK. The Jewish asylum-seekers are taken under the wing of Jewish Care in Scotland.

In the past eight years, 10 families officially identified as Jewish have sought asylum in the UK. These families have fled persecution and fear of death in countries such as Iran, Iraq and the former Soviet Union. They arrive here typically having made perilous journeys of thousands of miles. They are afraid, confused, disorientated. And then they get sent to Glasgow.(..)

Parham is a 50-year-old former samovar manufacturer from Tehran. He brought his wife Leila, who is 43, and their two young daughters to Britain in 2002 to avoid being arrested by the Iranian authorities for helping to smuggle fellow Jews out of the country.

The family were granted residents status by the Home Office last summer and can remain in Britain. Parham says their lives have changed dramatically — for good and bad — since they made it over the border to Turkey, the first step on the road that has taken them to Scotland.

“Glasgow is certainly very different from when we were in Iran,” says Parham. “We had a good life economically there, but there was no freedom. Here there is democracy and freedom. That is the good side. But there is another side which is not so good, because this is not my homeland and my family is not here, so that makes it much harder.

“After we escaped, my father was taken in several times for questioning by the police, and they kept him for half a day. He was 86 years old, and after one visit he had a heart attack and died. But we were here, and there was nothing I could do. It was also very difficult because for five years I could not work.

“I used to go to the library to read, or do exercise, because I could not do anything else until we had the right permission to stay here. Now we have been allowed to stay, and I am trying to get a qualification so that I can work for myself. I want to train as an electrician.”

Parham assumed the family would be housed in London, and was “surprised” when they were made to settle north of the border. “We knew nothing about Scotland apart from one thing — it was the place where whisky came from. But we have been here for over five years, and we have made some friends, so we would not want to go anywhere else.”

Now they have been granted leave to remain, they are relieved they can now move out of the “high flats”, the local term for the tower blocks where asylum-seekers are placed. “It was not a very nice place to live, compared to our life in Iran. I had a mezuzah on the door, and once someone tried to burn it off, but it was made of stone so they could not do it.”

For Leila, who is taking English and computer studies at a local college, the fear that surrounded their life in Iran still lingers. “Even here, I tell my children who go to school here not to say they are Jewish; we cannot say we are Jewish because there are many refugees and many of them are Muslims. I worry about it more than my husband. He tells everyone he is Jewish, but I am still nervous about it.”
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Israel: stop downplaying Jewish refugees issue

Writing in InFocus magazine (Spring 2008) Robert Ivker makes the point that the closest the Israeli government has ever come to putting the case for the Jewish refugees was in 1979 in the Camp David Accords with Egypt. The time has come for Israel to stop downplaying the issue, and use it to undercut the Palestinian ‘right of return’: (with thanks: Jerusalem Posts)

In February 2008, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were discussing “core issues” of the Middle East conflict: the status of Jerusalem, the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. Absent from those discussions, however, was talk of the 900,000 Jews displaced from their ancestral homelands throughout North Africa and the Middle East since Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. As Israel’s 60th anniversary approaches, renewed attention must be paid to these “forgotten refugees.” This would recognize the suffering of the Arab Jews who were forced from their homes, and also provide Israel with more leverage at the negotiating table.

Jews of Arab lands: The Palestinian narrative of “dispossession” is filled with falsified stories of Israeli “atrocities” in which Arabs were forced from their homes at gunpoint during the Israeli War of Independence, or the 1967 Six-Day War. The Palestinians often accuse Israel of having devised a plan to that effect, which essentially amounts to charges of ethnic cleansing. Most of these charges have been proven false by historians, yet the allegations continue, in a sustained effort to vilify Israel on the world stage.

Often referred to as “Jews from Arab Lands,” nearly two-thirds of the 900,000 men, women, and children who were displaced from their homes made their way to Israel from the time of the 1948 war. While the circumstances surrounding the treatment of these Jews varied from country to country, the end result was nearly always the same. For example:

  • The Jews of Libya, numbering nearly 40,000, left because of mob violence and anti-Jewish riots. There are no Jews left there today.

  • The Jews of Iraq, perhaps the most historic Jewish community outside of Israel, were subject to government edicts that allowed emigration only after forfeiting their homes and businesses. Iraqi Jews, now numbering in the single digits, were more than 135,000 strong in 1948.

  • Yemenite Jews, who traced their community back to the time of the First Temple, had for years been subjected to anti-Semitic laws. Once the creation of Israel appeared imminent, the Yemenis burned businesses to the ground, and Jews were subjected to waves of violence. In order to save this community under siege, Israel airlifted nearly the entire Yemenite Jewish community to Israel in 1949 and 1950 in what was known as “Operation Magic Carpet.”

Proof of Arab Plans: Libya, Iraq, and other Arab states that expelled their Jews have attempted to sweep this ignominious period of history under the rug. These governments often claim that the Arab Jews who left did so because they sought to make aliyah, and not because of the policies that forced them to leave. It is also asserted that these ancient Jewish communities were forced to leave for fear of the spontaneous rage of “the Arab street” in response to the creation of Israel.

A new report by the New York-based Justice for Jews from Arab Countries provides incontrovertible evidence, for the first time, that these Arab states orchestrated the expulsion and persecution of their Jews. Indeed, documents reveal a well-planned, organized effort on the part of Arab countries to demonize and strip their own Jewish citizens of their wealth as punishment for Israel’s declaration of independence.

A document entitled “Text of Law drafted by Political Committee of Arab League” proposes that Jews be required to “register with the authorities” in their own countries, and that their bank accounts be frozen. Thus, it has become clear that Jews were not the victims of an unplanned rage by the Arab citizenry. Rather, these and other documents demonstrate that stripping the Arab Jews of their rights and belongings was all part of a calculated plan on the part of nearly a dozen Arab states.

In January 1948, the World Jewish Congress brought the Arab League document before the United Nations in an appeal for assistance. However, the president of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, Dr. Charles H. Malik, a representative of Lebanon to the U.N., refused to bring it to the floor.

Were it not for the efforts of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and other like-minded organizations, the story of the Arab League’s plans would almost certainly remain unknown to the world.

The International Response: The response from the world community to the Jewish refugee problem in the Arab world was mixed. There was no doubt that these Jews qualified under the 1951 Convention of the United Nations. According to the convention, a refugee is someone “persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality,” and who is unable “to avail himself of the protection of that country.” By 1957, the U.N. officially determined that Arab Jews qualified.

Ten years later, following the Six- Day War, when more Jews were displaced from their Arab homes, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees released an official statement based upon “recent discussion concerning Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries in consequence of recent events.” The commissioner determined that they fell “within the mandate of this Office.”

After the 1967 war, the United Nations released the carefully worded Resolution 242, which called for “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” It is often noted that the resolution calls for Israel to leave territories, but does not say all territories. Similarly, Resolution 242 calls for “achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem.” However, it does not state which refugees. Palestinians typically claim ownership of this clause, claiming that it refers to those Arabs displaced by the 1948 and 1967 wars. Nonetheless, the ambiguity of this statement makes it applicable to the Jewish refugee problem.

However, any potential support from the United Nations about the Jewish refugee problem ended with resolution 242. Over 60 years, there have been no less than 126 United Nations resolutions expressing support for the Palestinian refugees, without even once specifically mentioning their Jewish counterparts. Countless U.N. agencies have doled out untold millions of dollars to Palestinian refugees and their heirs, but no serious discussion has ever taken place about compensating the Jews.

Redressing the Problem: More than 4 million Palestinians today claim refugee status. The status of many of them is questionable, given that many are the children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren of the original Palestinian refugees who have long since passed. These Palestinians have become living symbols of a grievance that remains one of the greatest stumbling blocks to the Palestinian-Israeli peace. Many insist upon nothing less than the “right of return.”The Jewish refugees, by stark contrast, have integrated into Israeli society or other countries, and have rebuilt their lives. Most of these refugees have invested in the future of their families, rather than dwell in a painful past.

Most of the Jewish refugees take their cue from the Israeli government, which has traditionally downplayed the issue. At different periods throughout Israel’s 60-year history, the government has issued communiqu⁄s expressing their support for the refugees. The closest that Israel ever came to making demands on behalf of the refugees came in 1979. As part of the Camp David Accords with Egypt, Article 8 stated that, “the Parties agree to establish a claims commission for the mutual settlement of all financial claims.” However, no such committee has ever been formed.

Only a handful of Jewish refugees and their families have decided to pursue justice for the wrongs they suffered decades ago. A recent high profile example is a case involving the Bigio family of Egypt. With land and factories just twenty minutes away from Cairo in the town of Heliopolis, the Bigio family enjoyed wealth and prominence in Egypt dating back to the 1930’s. One of their businesses was a bottle-capping factory that they leased to Coca-Cola. After Israel’s independence, the Egyptian regime stripped the Bigios of their citizenship and confiscated their wealth. They eventually left Egypt without any money, and without a home.

Their attempts to find justice through the Egyptian courts have proved futile. The family has since filed suit against Coca-Cola. The family has received death threats since taking their struggle public.

Repatriation: For a variety of reasons, the Jewish refugees seeking justice are typically careful not to demand repatriation to the Arab countries where they lived. For one, Arab countries will more than likely be happy to invite their Jewish compatriots to return. In doing so, they would open the door for Palestinians to expect the same from Israel. (…)

Moreover, as Professor Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland explained to the U.S. Congress in May 2000, the Palestinians had one country with whom they sought to settle their grievances – Israel. Jews, by contrast, were victimized by at least 10 Arab states, making theirs a multilateral rather than bilateral negotiation.

Finally, and most importantly, few Jews would ever want to return to the Arab countries that ejected them. Living in Yemen, Egypt, or Libya as a Jew would mean a life of hardship. In those three countries, religious freedom is virtually non-existent, and the state-controlled media can be virulently anti-Semitic.

Toward A Settlement: In 2000, President Bill Clinton stated on Israeli television that he sought to explore “a fund which compensates the Israelis who were made refugees by the war, which occurred after the birth of the State of Israel. Israel is full of people, Jewish people, who lived in predominantly Arab countries who came to Israel because they were made refugees in their own land.”

The concept of an international fund for all the refugees of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, to which all parties (including Israel) would contribute, has gained some traction over the years. However, successive Israeli governments have failed to make the solution to the Jewish refugee problem a priority.The Jewish refugees, for their part, appear to be more interested in having their story told than receiving compensation. But this does not mean that the Israeli government should place less of a priority on the issue.

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Yemenite Jewish flight led to loss of dress heritage

When the Jews left Yemen, they also abandoned part of their identity – their opulent, traditional bridal garments and jewellery whose style varied from community to community. Ofri Ilani writes in Haaretz:

“In 1949, tens of thousands of Jews from all over Yemen gathered in the southern city of Aden and waited there two months for planes that would take them to Israel as part of Operation Magic Carpet. Many of them brought with them from their homes their families’ traditional bridal garments and valuable jewelry. But as they were about to board the plane, many found that they could not bring these items to Israel due to their weight. And so when the Yemenite Jews came to Israel, they left behind their local traditional garments.

“People said they just took off the garments, left them in bath houses and were left wearing lighter garments,” says Dr. Carmela Abder, a folklore researcher who specializes in the culture of Yemenite Jewry. “But even if the reasons for removing the garments were technical, I see it as a kind of stripping of identity. A woman in Yemen had a very deep attachment to this garb, and she was familiar with each and every detail of her jewelry and clothing. And suddenly they were willing to part with the dresses and jewels that they were so attached to.”

None of this prevented Yemenite bridal jewelry from becoming a kind of Israeli brand, one of the symbols of the fulfillment of the ideology of the ingathering of the exiles. Yemenite embroidery and jewelry went through a process of preservation and change at the hands of commercial and ideological groups, and of the Yemenite community as well. According to Dr. Abder, in the Israeli melting pot, the variety of regional traditions was replaced by a uniform item that became most identified with the community: the splendid bridal garb of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.

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The photo shows the famous Yemenite singer Ofra Haza in traditional bridal garb


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

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forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.