What Danny Ayalon’s Refugee video doesn’t tell you

Danny Ayalon’s long overdue video, ‘The truth about the refugees

While welcoming Danny Ayalon’s new video explaining that there were more Jewish Refugees than Palestinian, Michelle Huberman – blogger at the Jerusalem Post – feels he should have gone much further:

Well done Danny Ayalon. The Deputy FM used his address in Geneva at the UNHCR as an opportunity to launch his much overdue information video. This explains that entire Jewish communities were forced to flee from Arab countries.

But has it gone far enough? Whilst the video explains in an easy-to-understand format the displacement of 850,000 Jews, and confiscation of properties, etc. What it has failed to address, on the one hand, is the pre-existing anti-Semitism and Nuremberg-like persecution resulting in human rights abuses, and on the other disproportionate losses between Jewish and Arab refugees.

According to one estimate, the Jews lost fifty percent more in assets than the Palestinian Arab refugees. The World Organisation of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC) estimates that Jews abandoned 100,000 sq km of land, or five times the surface area of Israel.

“There are two key reasons for the higher value of assets for Jewish refugees,” says Sydney Zabludoff in a must-read JCPA paper. “Most important, the number of Jewish refugees from Middle Eastern and North African countries is some 50 percent higher than that of Palestinian refugees. Second, the demographic nature of the two groups varied. A higher percentage of the Jewish population was urban, mainly traders and professionals, who would tend to accumulate more assets than the Palestine population that was more rural.”

Very few Jews from Arab countries have ever received any compensation and most believe they will never will. In the UK many of our refugees from Arab countries haven’t bothered to register their claims. “What’s the point?” I always hear, “we’ll never see any compensation”.

Last week I met a Jewish lady who had escaped Iraq in 1970. She remembers that after the 1967 war, the Iraqis exacted terrible revenge for Israel’s victory from the few thousand Jews still living in Iraq. They were not allowed to work, their telephones were cut off, they were under constant surveillance and their bank accounts frozen. Eleven Jews were executed on trumped-up spying charges and dozens more disappeared without trace. Terrified Jews knew they had to leave. Very soon a corridor was opened through the Kurdish mountains to smuggle Jews into Iran. This lady remembers leaving her comfortable house, with its furniture and Persian rugs and all their personal possessions at 5am one morning. “We don’t know who took over the house, perhaps the neighbours did or the state?’

The post-Saddam government in the new ‘democratic’ Iraq pledged to compensate all those who had suffered under the Ba’ath regime from 1968 onwards through a Claims Commission. But as far is known, no Jews who bothered to register their losses have ever received compensation.

Furthermore, Danny Ayalon’s video proudly states that the Jewish refugees were immediately welcomed and absorbed by Israel. It fails to illustrate that the newly born state struggled to house these immigrants in less than hospitable ma’abarot camps, then moved them to remote development towns. These refugees were not given the key to an apartment in Tel Aviv, as some believe. Some refugees lived in temporary housing for more than a decade. This history shouldn’t be brushed aside but needs to be told.

Ma’abara Camp in 1949

Although no Jews would describe themselves as refugees today, and are full and productive Israeli citizens, their story cannot be allowed to vanish in the sand. As well as informative videos like this one, there needs to be a world day to commemorate the exodus of Jews from Arab countries. Sephardim and Mizrahim should no longer be silent but create their own ‘Jewish Nakba’ day to commemorate the trauma of their uprooting.

I call on Sephardi communities all over the world to duplicate our efforts here in London to create their own day (on 15th May, to coincide with Palestinian Nakba Day) memorialising the destruction of Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa.
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  • Given my meagre knowledge of the happenings at the time my chances to come up with a suitable word are less than nil.

    But since in Germany we object to the present everywhere attempts of our Turkish and Turkish-German neighbors to tell us that they suffer from what Jews suffered during the 3rd Reich I "suffer" from a kind of knee-jerk reaction to untrue comparisons.

    (If the "Turks" are educated they make it clear that they are talking about early 3rd Reich times but "that all the signs are there." The last one I heard telling me that did it in his last sentence when he had finished saying all the right things about his group trip to Auschwitz.)

    As to Nakba: as best I know Jewish refugees weren't leaving temporarily hoping what ever they were hoping for after having won their war of annihilation. Thus calling the events Nakba is belittling them. On the other hand since it was not one event but a number of interconnected ones it will indeed be very hard to find a catch word.

    Yes "they" have managed to make Nakba a catch word but for me that catchword includes their expectations of eventual supremacy.

  • About 'Nakba' – we always end up discussing alternatives to this word, Silke! Open to suggestions, but so far no word has quite the instant recognition of Nakba. Don't forget the Jewish refugees are playing 'catch up'here with the Palestinian refugees.

  • I am impressed by that photo –

    purely on a gut level it seems to speak to me better than the other photos I have hitherto seen.

    PS: isn't there a Hebrew word for catastrophe other than Nakba – hitherto imitating has been "their" forte.


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