Tent camp set up in Israel for Jewish Refugees from Iraq, 1950 (Photo: Robert Capa)
In London next Sunday, a group representing Jews from the Middle East and North Africa is preparing to counter pro-Palestinian ‘Nakba‘ demonstrations by remembering the ‘Jewish Nakba’ – the exodus of almost a million Jews from Arab lands. Pro-Israel advocacy is still not bringing this vital issue into the argument – and it should, argues Michelle Huberman in her Jerusalem Post blog, Clash of cultures:
As the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign gathers pace for the 15th of May, with demonstrations worldwide timed to coincide with Israel’s 63rd anniversary, here in London we will be commemorating the ‘Jewish Nakba’ – the ‘Disaster,’ that saw nearly a million Jews forced to flee their homes in Arab countries.
Jews were persecuted, interned and even executed. Some 100,000 square kilometers of Jewish-owned land was seized or abandoned – four times the size of Israel; hundreds of communities destroyed. Billions of dollars of assets were lost.
Of course, the ‘Jewish Nakba’ had a happy ending. Most of the refugees were absorbed into Israel where today they are full and free citizens. Jews from Arab and Muslim countries are now the face of Israel. Virtually none would choose to return to an Arab country. But many families struggled long and hard to rebuild their lives from nothing in Israel and the West.
It would be nice to believe the myths that they left their homes in pursuit of the Zionist dream, but 95% of my encounters have been with elderly people who have told me the horrors of escaping raging mobs with nothing but a single suitcase in their hand. On May 15th their testimonies will be heard.
Matti Haron will be telling us how his grandfather lived as a Muslim in Iran and even went on pilgrimage to Mecca to hide his Jewish identity. For centuries, Jews were dhimmis, a subjugated minority who could only achieve true equality if they converted to Islam. Many of my North African Muslim friends have told me about having Jewish grandparents. One wonders what percentage of Muslims had Jewish ancestors who chose or were forced to convert to Islam to have an easier life?
Why don’t we know any of these stories? We are told that Jews and Muslims coexisted happily together through the ages. Here in London trying to tell the truth through film showings and testimonies at Jewish events is an uphill struggle. A blogger friend was told by one of our Israel advocacy organizations – “Jews from Arab countries are not sexy news.” She was stunned. “By ‘sexy’ I suppose he meant topical” she told me, “yet hardly a day goes by without some Palestinian, somewhere, telling how his land was ‘stolen by the Zionists’, as recently as… 63 years ago. Hardly topical, and yet the news media lap it up.”
It is too late to save the Jewish communities of the Arab world. Hardly any Jews are left. But the turmoil in the Arab world gives us a golden opportunity to press for the rights of all non-Muslim minorities, and to insist on the legitimacy of Israel, which gave safe haven to the beleaguered Jews of the region. As far as the Israel-Arab conflict is concerned, acknowledging that there was suffering on both sides is the key to reconciliation.
The current Israeli government is now making efforts to put Jewish refugees on the peace agenda. Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon, whose father was a refugee from Algeria, has personally tried to raise awareness of the Jewish refugee issue in speeches and articles. But the knock-on effects are not felt yet in the mainstream European or US media, despite the valiant efforts of organizations like Harif and JIMENA.
An Israel advocacy event in London this month will boast a diverse selection of workshops, and many sessions are duplicated so that you can have a second or third chance to see the same event. The speakers’ list is very impressive, but one wonders why there is nothing on the agenda about the Mizrahi and Sephardi communities that make up nearly 50% of Israel’s population? The best advocacy tool I know is Michael Grynszpan’s film: The Forgotten Refugees which I showed to a hostile crowd at SOAS. In 20 minutes you can change a pro-Palestinian crowd to one that is sympathetic to the diversity of Israel; they demand why they were never told these facts before. Should this film not be on the event’s agenda?
Pro-Israel advocacy is simply not bringing Jews from Arab countries into the argument. Whilst this is the case, the Palestinians will continue to dominate the moral high ground and Israel will continue to be delegitimized. Until the international community addresses Jewish losses in Arab Lands as well as Palestinian losses, I can’t believe that the Middle East peace process can ever progress.
Press and guests who come to the ‘Jewish Nakba’ event in London on May 15th will have the opportunity to make up their own minds. They will meet and listen to Jewish refugees from Arab countries and the first 50 guests to register will receive a free copy of the film: The Forgotten Refugees. Please contact the author for more information: [email protected]