With thanks for his research to Eliyahu and acknowledgements to The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times by Norman Stillman
It was in November 1945 that a series of anti-Jewish riots broke out in several Arab countries. In Egypt, anti-Zionist demonstrations were called by the Muslim Brotherhood, Misr al-Fatat and the Young Men’s Muslim Association. Mass demonstrations took place on Balfour Day (2 November) in Cairo, Alexandra and other cities. Jewish businesses in Cairo and in the Jewish Quarter were looted and the Ashkenazi synagogue ransacked. The disturbances soon spilled over into anti-dhimmi violence, with Coptic, Greek Orthodox and Catholic institutions also attacked. Of 500 businesses looted, 109 belonged to Jews. Amazingly only one policeman was killed in Cairo. Five Jews were among six killed in Alexandria.
Far worse was the pogrom in Libya which began on 4 November in Tripoli when thousands went on the rampage in the Jewish quarter and bazaar. Jewish homes and businesses had been marked out beforehand for exclusive attack. The violence spread to other towns. Over three days of rioting, the police stood by and British and US servicemen on the outskirts waited until three days later to impose a curfew. By then 130 Jews were dead including 36 children. Women were raped, some 4,000 Jews were left homeless and nine synagogues destroyed.
In Syria a mob broke into the great synagogue in Aleppo and beat up two elderly men. In Iraq, the government avoided a repeat of the 1941 Farhud by banning public demonstrations.
Arab-Jewish tensions reached new heights in the autumn of 1947 as the UN debated Palestine. Dr Muhammad Husein Heykal, chairman of the Egyptian delegation warned that one million Jews in Arab countries would be endangered by partition.
A new wave of violence spread following the vote in favour of Partition on 29 November 1947. Demonstrations were called for 2 – 5 December. It was only because the police prevented the mob from attacking the Cairo Jewish quarter that lives were spared.
In Bahrain, beginning on 5 December, crowds began looting Jewish homes and shops and destroyed the synagogue. Two elderly ladies were killed.
In Aleppo, Syria, the Jewish community was devastated by a mob led by the Muslim Brotherhood. At least 150 homes, 50 shops, all 18 synagogues, five schools, an orphanage and a youth club were destroyed. Many people were killed, but the exact figure is not known. Over half the city’s 10,000 Jews fled into Turkey, Lebanon and Palestine.
In Aden, the police could not contain the rioting. By the time order was restored on 4 December, 82 Jews had been killed. Of 170 Jewish-owned shops, 106 were destroyed. The synagogue and two schools were among the Jewish institutions burnt down.
In the Maghreb the French still kept tight control of the population. Morale was better there than among the Jews of the Middle East: these were desperate to leave but had nowhere to go. However, rioting in Morocco six months later was to claim 48 Jewish lives.
The Palestine Post ran an editorial entitled “Unwilling hostages” on 11 December 1947. It quoted an editorial in the Manchester Guardian the day before, entitled ‘Hostages’. This deplored inflammatory statements made by Arab leaders which could be interpreted as threats against the Jewish minorities. Both in Syria and Iraq “pressure has been put on the Jews to denounce Zionism and support the Arab cause. One cannot help wonder what threats have been made to bring this about.”
The riots of the previous week had been attributed by Arab governments to the ‘fury of the people’. The editorial charged that ” the governments concerned, if they do not activate or instigate them, look upon them with a benevolent eye.”
The Lebanese government issued orders of expulsion against Palestinian Jews in Lebanon. The Palestine Post of 22 December 1947 carried a report about harsh measures that the Arab League was considering taking against Jews in Arab lands. They would first be denaturalised, their property confiscated, their bank accounts frozen, and they would be treated as enemy aliens.
‘While there is no news of the acceptance of this resolution by the Arab League, it is significant and tragic that such a document should have been drafted,” the editorial lamented. “It is easy for them to play the bully and to keep a sword hanging over the heads of many hundreds of thousands of Jews who are at their mercy.”
Although it was not passed, aspects of the Arab League draft resolution were adopted by individual Arab governments. The human rights lawyers and ex-Canadian Justice minister Irwin Cotler has called them ‘Nuremberg-style measures.’
By the time Israel was established on 15 May 1948, the Jewish communities in Arab countries had been rocked to their very foundations. As Norman Stillman says, the Palestine issue was a major contributing factor, but it was not the only one – it was more of a catalyst. Arab and Islamic nationalism could find no room for ethnic and religious groups that deviated from the norm, and Jews found themselves alienated and isolated from society at large.