House set on fire during the December 1947 Aden riots, in which 82 Jews were murdered (via Daphne Anson)
Sixty-five years ago almost to the day, as attacks escalatedagainst the Jews of Palestine, the Arab states launched a war against their defenceless Jewish citizens. The Arabs went for their Jews BEFORE a single Palestinian Arab refugee had fled what was to become Israel. I am re-posting extracts from ‘November is the cruellest month’, a summary of the events that followed the Arab rejection of UN General Assembly resolution 181 on 29 November 1947 partitioning Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state.
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.
Bahrain, beginning on 5 December, crowds began looting Jewish homes and
shops and destroyed the synagogue. Two elderly ladies were killed.
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
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.”
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.
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
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.