How coexistence projects can hinder peace

Jewish refugee from Iraq arriving in Israel, 1951

The peace agenda is seriously skewed when Arab antisemitism is ignored or exonerated, writes Lyn Julius in The Jerusalem Post. We need a sea-change in the way peace and coexistence projects treat Jewish suffering and rights:

When a mob broke into the Baghdad house of Reuben Qashqoush, a Jewish spareparts dealer, in April, 1973, the incident was just one horrific incident in a catalogue of arrests, hangings, persecution and death which the Saddam Hussein regime inflicted on the remnant of the Iraqi-Jewish community. Reuben, his wife and three of his four children were murdered in the assault.

The murder of the Qashqoush family still haunts Janet Dallal, a classmate of the late Joyce Qashqoush, who was just 16 at the time of the murder. Janet fled Iraq in 1975 and is now a Tel Aviv mother of three and yoga instructor with a keen interest in binational peace projects.

But when she attended a recent conference at the Jewish-Arab village Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, Janet was shocked that one session examining the “healing of communal wounds to achieve reconciliation” did not recognize the trauma of Iraqi Jews – nor indeed the trauma suffered by any Jews from Arab countries.

“All they wanted to talk about was the Holocaust and the Arab Nakba [catastrophe],” she complains.

After introducing the subject, the session moderator said: “the most important step for healing is acknowledgement.” Janet could contain herself no longer and improvised a passionate speech.

“This is a crazy attitude. People lost their lives, others were hanged or slaughtered like sheep!” she exclaimed.

The moderator promised that the issue would be included in future sessions, but it isn’t enough. The peace agenda is seriously skewed when a trauma afflicting more than half the Israeli population – those who descend from refugees from Arab and Muslim countries – has been airbrushed off the agenda of dialogue and coexistence projects.

There are several explanations that this phenomenon is allowed to continue. These initiatives involve a disproportionate number of Ashkenazim, mostly on the political Left. Peaceniks generally see Israel as the guilty party and the Palestinians as innocent victims. Many may be genuinely ignorant of the plight of Jews who fled Arab countries with their lives and a suitcase.

They may not know that the destroyed Jewish communities of the Middle East were indigenous; that there were more Jewish than Palestinian refugees; that they were dispossessed of assets and four times as much Jewish-owned land as Israel itself; and that a sizeable proportion of these Jewish refugees merely moved from one corner of the region to another – Israel.

On the far Left, discriminated-against Sephardic Jews are useful as an instrument to bludgeon the Zionist establishment. A tiny minority of Mizrahi [another common term for Sephardim] communists lend credibility to the myth that Jews from Arab countries are “Arab Jews with false consciousness,” torn from their “Arab heritage” by white European Zionists.

Some guilt-ridden activists have swallowed the propaganda trope that Jews are white colonialists who have come to steal the land from the brown natives. Consequently “native rights” trump Jewish rights.

Jewish rights are an embarrassing spanner thrown in the peace works.

In the rare cases where Jews from Arab countries are recognized as genuine refugees, the disaster which befell them is rationalized as an “understandable backlash.”

The conventional wisdom is: if you want justice for Mizrahi Jews, address your grievances to the Arab states who drove them out.

Nowadays it is almost politically incorrect to say that the Palestinian leadership, complicit with the Nazis, played a significant role in inciting violence against Jews in Arab countries – the 1941 Farhud, for example, in which 180 Iraqi Jews were murdered – and dragged the Arab League into war against Israel. The drive for “Palestinian statehood” has tended to obscure the fact that the Palestinian cause is ultimately pan-Arab, and increasingly pan-Islamic.

The “Jewish Nakba” – for wont of a better expression – is still on the margins of public debate. Ashkenazim still dominate the Israeli government, academia and opinion-forming class, whose natural frame of reference is to European anti- Semitism and the Holocaust. The “Jewish Nakba” has not been taught systematically in schools, it has rarely been raised by officialdom and has only recently attracted political backing with the passing of a 2010 Knesset law insisting on compensation for Jews from Arab countries in any future peace deal.

However, a genuine appreciation of the suffering of the Jews from Arab countries can help achieve reconciliation, as Professor Ada Aharoni discovered when she taught a courseat the University of Pennsylvania entitled “The Nakba of the Jews of Egypt and Arab Countries.”

Over half the 50 students in the class, she recalls, were Arabs. They all expressed great anger when she presented her subject, and claimed that “Nakba” refers only to the tragic events experienced by the Palestinians in 1948.

However, she says that toward the end of the course one Palestinian participant got up and said in amazement: “I’m surprised that you Jews, who are known to be intelligent, enlightened and smart, haven’t publicized this important and interesting story.”

Aharoni was curious to know why it was so important to him that the story be publicized.

“Because it rescues my honor and that of my people,” he replied. “It makes us Palestinians realize that we’re not the only ones who suffered from the Arab-Israeli conflict.

It makes things much easier for us. This information enables us to stand erect and opens opportunities for a sulha [reconciliation].”

Curiously, Janet Dallal, too, found more empathy among Palestinians than her fellow Jews when she mentioned the trauma of the Iraqi Jews at the Neve Shalom conference.

Such projects may be hindering the search for peace by ignoring and exonerating Arab anti-Semitism.

“In the name of Joyce Qashqoush z”l [of blessed memory] and all the people we lost in that hell, we need to take serious action,” Janet says.

We need a sea-change in the way coexistence and peace projects treat Jewish suffering and rights. Reconciliation cannot be based on a partial understanding of the truth.

Read article in full

Cross-posted at Harry’s Place

Update: There were actually six Qashqoush children but only four in Baghdad, three of whom were killed. One son, Eddy, had left Iraq few months earlier (perhaps to Lebanon) and he and a daughter now live in the US. So does the surviving daughter Dora. On that day Dora had left for the University early in the morning – thus she stayed alive. When she returned home later she was traumatically shocked to find blood on the shoes and the floor around the house and no family there ! She was urgently taken to a neighbour’s house to stay there until she was able to travel away from Iraq. A brother of the murdered father Reuben and his wife were also killed. At the time, several other Jews disappeared without trace.


  • The point the anonymous commenter made shows how the Arabs are further trying to conflate their narrative in 1948 with the Nazi genocide. You say you agree, but you are still using such a word.

    I do not believe we need a buzz word, why would we need a 'word'? We are simply talking about the ethnic cleansing of Jews. That is what it is, and that is all it is.

  • The Palestinians first used the word Nakba to protest against the forcible separation of south syria (Palestine ) from Syria in the 1920s! So the word is a lot more flexible than Shoah.

  • It is interesting, was the term Nakba first used by the Palestinians after the term Shoah was used to describe the Holocaust? They both mean catastrophe of course. It would make sense to use the term "Shoah" but adding on top of it a term to describe Jews from Arab countries.

    Also, can we please differentiate between Arabs and Muslims.

    Lastly, Eliyahu – coexistence projects are funded by more than the US and Western governments and foundations, there are plenty of Jews around the world who give funds directly to coexistence projects in Israel and not through New Israel Fund.

  • The "Nakba" represents our survival in Arab war of genocide that was declared on us, a war which we did not want to fight and were loudly trying to stop (see declaration of independece). Using this word is an attempt to ligitimise false grieveinces and false claims that the Jews were agressors and ethnically clensed Arabs in 1948. This is further underlined by your ridiculous use of the term "Jewish Nakba", which conflats the true story of ethnic clensing of Jews throughout the Arab world with the false story of the ethnic clensing of Arabs by Israel in the 1948 war. Shame, shame, shame on you.

  • Sylvia and Levana, you are both very clear minded and see things as they are and not as they seem to be!!!
    If one day ARabs accept us as their equals,and no longer say el Yahoud, then it will get better. But the older generation will be long gone!!! and yes, it will take several generations for both peace and mutual respect
    sultana latifa
    Shabbat Salom
    once, I lived in Egypt

  • Anonymous

    Making peace in the Middle East takes different forms and is called different names depending who is the other partner (the first partner always being a Muslim, or a Muslim-dominated group).
    1. "Sulha" takes place only between equals. Muslims do not consider anyone from another faith an equal.There can be "sulha" between 2 warrying Muslim families (in Abu Gosh for example) or between 2 Bedouin tribes.

    2. All you can have between Israelis and Palestinians is "tahdyia" which is a temporary truce lasting a maximum of 10 years or sometimes longer if the Muslim side still doesn't feel strong enough.

    3. The rules that governed (and still govern in countries where there are Jews still living) the relations between Jews and the Muslim dominant society are much more complex. The only way coexistence was possible was if NONE of the sides mentioned the last horror ever again.
    First, that would be depicting Islam in a negative way.
    Second, contrary to the Western way where you tend to discuss that about which you do not agree, in Muslim society the way to peaceful dialogue is to NOT mention that which divides. And how can you agree to anything in those circumstances?

    I believe – and I wrote this here more than once – that we are still in a psychologically induced state of voluntary servitude in relation to our former countries, although the bout of rage might just be one insult away. I think it'll take a few generations.

  • Il n'y a pas de pire aveugles que ceux qui ne veulent pas voir. Israel ne veut pas reconnaitre que les Juifs des Pays arabes sont des refugies. Nous sommes des Olims Hadashim, de nouveaux emigrants… Le Holauste, a part la tragedie humaine, est pour l'Etat d'Israel une VACHE LAITIERE a perpetuite. Ils en sont deja a la troisieme generation…et qui aurait dit ? Ils reconnaissent maintenant les juifs du Maroc, de Tunisie, de la Lybie. Donc patience, car un jour cette vache laitiere n'aura plus de lait, et c'est alors que viendra notre tour, celui des Refugies Juifs des pays Arabes… Inshallah !
    Levana – Israel

  • There's a lot to say about this essay. To start, we ought to realize that most of these "peace-cum-reconciliation" exercises are sponsored by Western govts and Western instituions, directly or indirectly. One channel for funding such "peace and love" meetings is the New Israel Fund, funded in turn by the Ford Foundation, and financing all sorts of "peace" groups, "human rights" groups, etc. The European Union is another source of funding as are many of the EU member states, working through a long series of "non-profit" organizations and NGOs based in Israel. The various goody goody groups operating in the name of peace and human rights etc. basically follow the agenda of their Western sponsors, although the rhetoric may seem very bold and radical, indeed extreme. Not what you would usually think of as bourgeois. Yet these NGOs work for the purposes of Western states and bodies [inc. the EU]. These same Western states –shall we say simply, "the West"?– has a nearly 2000 year history of Judeophobia and persecution and oppression of Jews. So it is only natural for their "peace and human rights" agencies in Israel to reflect their traditional prejudices, however disguised in radical rhetoric. Hence, the palestinian Arabs must be seen as innocent, just as Jesus, allegedly crucified by Jews, according to Western tradition, is seen as innocent. The palestinian Arabs are widely seen as or felt to be a collective Jesus for many in the West. By the way, the new president of Ireland seems to think like that.

    So it would be highly unlikely that the agenda of "peace and human rights" groups funded by Western bodies would ever change as Lyn Julius would like to see them change. They are part of the problem.

  • I do not think the Jewish "dismembering" will ever be recognised by Arabs because then it would mean that they have to pay compensation!!!

    Furthermore as we are dispersed all over the globe it is certainly not easy to unite and act coherently

    third : we are now white-haired and getting older
    all we long for is a quiet life.

    I, for my part, can never forgive what was done to us.
    sultana latifa

  • You seem to worry that the rights of Jews from Arab countries will be bargained away in a peace deal. I don't think this will happen – the thinking now is that claims on both sides will not cancel each other out, but an international fund will compensate ALL individual refugees.
    From the discussions we've had a number of times on this blog, I know a lot of people are unhappy with the word Nakba as applied to the Jewish catastrophe, but it is used here, as the author says, 'for want of a better expression'.

  • I am in full agreement with the author that these important facts should not be brushed under the carpet, but to aim the problem at coexistence projects, seems to be pushing solely a political angle.

    The conversation is not part of coexistence projects simply because this information is not accorded significance by the mainstream Jewish establishment (including both right and left).

    It is true that the right has focussed on this only in recent years seemingly to counterbalance Palestinian refugee want of "right of return", but while it is imperative for this to be part of the conversation, do we want this important history to be merely used for political gains? What is needed, as the young Palestinian suggests is a "sulha" not only between the Israelis and Palestinians, but also between the Arab world and Jews from Arab countries, no matter where they are and what their Middle East stance.

    It also seems the term Jewish "naqba", is so politically loaded that it does disservice to the cause. While some might argue it is a word, it is a word that has been appropriated by Palestinians.
    By using "their" word, we discredit their own difficult history.


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