Month: December 2011

‘Jews want to go back to Libya’ – Jewish leader in Israel

The leader of the Libyan Jewish Association in Israel, Meir Kahlon, is trying to give the most positive spin possible on regime change in Libya. Jews of Libyan origin in Europe,want to go back, he says. But not Jews from Israel – they only want to visit. Report in Israel National News:

The fall of former Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi (pictured) has caused Libyan Jews to wish to return to their homeland and resume the great heritage they established there, a Libyan Jewish leader told Arutz Sheva on Tuesday.

Meir Kachlon, Chairman of the World Organization of Libyan Jews, said that his organization has created an excellent relationship with the opposition leaders who took power instead of Qaddafi.

“We sent Dr. David Gerbi, who is a psychologist by profession, to help those who were affected by the civil war in the country,” Kachlon said. “We received a letter from opposition leader Abdul Jalil who asked us to provide humanitarian assistance. We have contacts all over the world and we told him that we are happy to help him.”

The World Organization of Libyan Jews last summer formally recognized the National Transitional Council, headed by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, as the country’s new regime. The organization is comprised of some 200,000 former refugees, many of whom fled to Israel.

Kachlon said on Tuesday that there are Jews who currently live in Europe and who left considerable property in Libya and that those Jews wish to go back to their place of birth.

“We hope they establish a democratic government and those Jews can return to Libya,” he said. “Recently the only synagogue in Tripoli that was not destroyed was cleaned up. There is a large percentage of Libyan Jews who fled to Europe and want to go back. We in Israel have no interest to go live there, but we would be happy to visit.”

Read article in full

New booklet launched on Jewish refugees


In association with Harif, StandWithUs has just launchedits booklet ‘Jewish refugees of the Middle East – an unresolved human rights issue’. The A5 booklet sets out the facts about the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, now largely resettled in Israel.

The 870,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, whose ancient communities have been liquidated in the last 60 years, outnumber Palestinian Arab refugees, but their claims for recognition and compensation have been ignored by the UN and the world.

Acknowledging the terrible injustices committed against these Jews, however, can help bring about reconciliation and peace between Israel and the Arab states.

Click to see new booklet on Jewish Refugees(PDF)- also available from Harif in handy A6 size.

Peace project critique gets positive feedback


An article calling for a sea-change in the way peace and coexistence projects treat Jewish suffering and rights has provoked an overwhelmingly positive response among Middle East peace activists.

The Jerusalem Post piece, by Lyn Julius, focused on the almost complete absence of discussion in peace projects of the trauma suffered by Jews from Arab countries:

“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.”

The article then goes on to suggest that an acknowledgement of Jewish suffering by Arabs can help achieve sulha – reconciliation.

Janet Dallal circulated the article amongst her fellow peace activists and found the response to be overwhelmingly positive. Most asked for more information. Only one person asked to be taken off Janet’s email list.

The extraordinary piece of feedback below came from a member of a Middle Eastern minority living in an Arab country, whom Janet had got to know at a peace conference in Amman:
“I just read the article…and suddenly I wish (once more) I was there, at the (Neve Shalom) conference!!!!! “And it comes where it should be! recognizing all the hurt! yes! the hurt done by Arabs towards Jews!

We’ve heard similar sad stories in Amman during July conference… And, those stories were among the ones that moved me most. We tend to take our story and victimize ourselves. We need to see the whole picture, the whole history. These people where dehumanized in the lands that were considered “home” for centuries!!!! They were forced to leave everything behind. Expelled! They too, need to hear that what has been done to them was wrong. They need to hear their perpetrators admit what they did was pure hatred.

“That’s what transitional trauma is all about! When victims don’t get recognition, they carry their fears for centuries, and hate can easily drag them (us) to violence. “But it’s hard to work on transitional justice, on healing wounds… That’s what I’m talking about… We need to point ALL wrong actions/reactions. Tell who is the perpetrator and who’s the victim. Who killed and who was killed, how much have been killed and how many innocent, who expelled and who was expelled… if we want to move forward.

“I love this article! I can only imagine the dynamics that were moving this discussion…and I’d love to share this article with Arab friends! Can I forward the link?”

For her part, Janet will not rest until all Israeli peace projects feature the trauma of Jews from Arab countries on their agendas.

For those coming for the first time to the subject of Jewish trauma in Arab countries, we suggest the following material:

In Ishmael’s House by Martin Gilbert
Arabs without Jews: roots of a tragedy by Magdi Allam
Who is an Arab Jew? by Albert Memmi
The Forgotten Refugees film by the David Project
JJAC bibliography
Any books by Norman Stillman, Maurice Roumani, Shmuel Trigano, Andre Aciman, Eli Amir.

Crunchtime for Jewish refugees issue

The Israeli government has decided to tackle head-on the Arab refugees issue by renewing efforts for compensation for Jewish victims of Arab pogroms. In the next two weeks it will decide whether to counter the ‘right of return’ with the issue of the Jewish refugees, reports Arutz Sheva:

Estimates of property losses range from $16 billion to $300 billion in Arab countries where Arab leaders seized their property or took it over after Jews were expelled or forced to flee because of anti-Jewish violence and harassment.

Dr. Avi Bitzur, director-general of the Pensioners’ Affairs Ministry, told Voice of Israel government radio it has created a new department to try to collect claims for more than 850,000 Jews from Iran and other Arab countries (in fact there are 970,000 if you include Iran and other non-Arab Muslim countries – ed). Approximately 80 percent of them moved to Israel.

Most of the refugees fled or were expelled after the violent Arab reaction to the re-establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, six months after it was recognized by the United Nations under the Partition Plan that the Arab world rejected.

“Israel has talked about this on and off for 60 years. Now we’re going to deal with it as we should have all along,” said Bitzur.

He added that the Cabinet is scheduled to decide in the next two weeks to raise the issue of Jewish refugees whenever the Palestinian Authority brings up the “right of return,” referring to nearly five million Arabs living in Arab countries but for whom the United Nations considers Israel as their home. The designation is a result of a unique policy by UNRWA towards Arabs who fled Israel in 1948 at the behest of Arab countries, who promised them they would return quickly after their expected annihilation of the Jewish State.

The policy of the United Nations does not allow the status of “refugee” to be transferred from generation to generation, but it makes an exception for Arabs from Israel.

Read article in full

Israel relaunches effort to register Jewish losses

The Souery family in Cairo, 1933 (courtesy: Suzy Vidal)

The Israeli government appears to be renewing its efforts to register losses suffered by Jews whose property and assets were seized or abandoned in Arab countries. Dr Avi Bitzur, director-general of the Pensioners’ Affairs Ministry, told Pirlee Shahar yesterday on Israeli radio that he wanted to do a complete inventory of losses. He re-stated much of what he said in this Jerusalem Post article from 2009. Let’s hope that this time, the campaign really takes off (with thanks: Sylvia):

The Pensioners’ Affairs Ministry has created a new department over the past two weeks that will begin to collect specific claims by Jews who lost their property when they left Arab countries during the 20th century. More than 850,000 Jews fled or were expelled from Arab lands and Iran, most after Israel’s founding in 1948. Estimates of the value of the property they were forced to leave behind are hard to come by, ranging from as low as $16 billion in known assets to as high as $300b. when estimates of the value of their abandoned real estate are included. “Israel has talked about this on and off for 60 years. Now we’re going to deal with it as we should have all along,” said Dr. Avi Bitzur, director-general of the Pensioners Affairs Ministry.

The ministry established a department with an initial staff of five to begin to collect the claims of the Jewish refugees, about 80 percent of whom settled in Israel. Bitzur will host a panel on the issue at next week’s Herzliya Conference, and over the next two weeks hopes to pass a decision through the cabinet mandating discussion of Jewish refugees whenever the question of Arab refugees are raised in peace negotiations.

According to Bitzur, who is also a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University, the new effort comes to fill a gap in awareness both in Israel and abroad. “The UN has dealt at least 700 times with Arab refugees and their property, but not once with the issue of Jewish property,” he says. It’s also time for Israelis to get to know better the history of the Jews of Arab lands, who make up some 60% of the ethnic ancestry of Israeli Jews.

“It’s time to deal with this amongst ourselves,” says Bitzur. “I say that as a citizen, as a father and as an academic. We should know the history of the pogrom in Baghdad in 1941, of the Libyan Jews who ended up in Bergen Belsen. It’s time for people to know that there was this part of the Jewish people and its history was brought to an end.”

In late 2007, Baghdad-born American Jew Heskel M. Haddad, representing the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, called on the Israeli government to begin to seriously examine the issue of Jewish property left behind in Arab lands. At the time, Haddad told The Jerusalem Postthat WOJAC had a staggering 100,000 square kilometers in property deeds.

To hear the
Israel Radio interview (Hebrew) with Dr Bitzur scroll down to ‘Yuman Ezrahi’ on 25.12.11 at 00.12.21

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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.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.