‘Uprooted’ : corrective to one-sided discourse

 ‘Uprooted’ by Lyn Julius is a welcome corrective to the one-sidedness prevalent in public discourse regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, writes Brandon Marlon in his Jerusalem Report review:

The British-born daughter of Mizrahi Jewish refugees from Iraq, Julius
(co-founder of Harif, an association of Jews from the Middle East and
North Africa in the United Kingdom) compiles a series of historical
essays highlighting the plight of the lumpen and often forgotten Jewish
communities throughout the Arab world that, after many centuries of
existence, met their fateful and sudden demise variously between
1950-1980. While in 1945 as many as 856,000 Jews dwelled in the Middle
East and North Africa, today approximately 4,500 remain – an
unprecedented international dislocation of Jews.

Moroccan immigrant family, 1949

The author
depicts two competing historical narratives concerning Sephardi and
Mizrahi Jewry: the mythic Convivencia (mutual toleration during the
Golden Age), and the lachrymose conception of Jewish-Muslim history,
which sadly but evidently is the more accurate of the two. She makes
clear that only those who downplay the ubiquitous dhimmitude and Muslim
antisemitism can avoid the dolorous facts, from the massacred Jewish
community of Khaybar in Arabia under Muhammad to the collaboration of
Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and Grand Mufti of Jerusalem
Haj Amin al-Husseini with Nazi Germany, to the vicious Farhud of 1941 in
Iraq (in which 179 Jews were brutally murdered) and subsequent mass
expulsions wherein “the Jews were faced with a stark choice: suitcase or
coffin.”

The culminating period of woes following the advent of
the State of Israel, termed the “Jewish Nakba,” is portrayed as a
shortsighted and wholly avoidable upheaval: “Two victim populations
arose out of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Arab leadership bears
responsibility for needlessly causing both Nakbas – the Jewish and the
Arab.”

Moreover, the number of Jewish refugees fleeing 10 Arab
countries exceeded that of Palestinian Arab refugees fleeing what is now
Israel by more than 100,000: “Their displacement was on a larger scale
than that of the Palestinians, and their material losses were greater.
Whereas Arab refugees fled a war which Arab leaders had instigated, the
Jews were victims of unpredictable violence and a deliberate legislative
policy scapegoating them for being Jews.”

Julius decries the
West’s lack of awareness of and attention to the Jewish refugees from
Arab lands, ascribing the dearth to a warped schema: “In the fashionable
‘hierarchy of oppression’ of marginalised groups, Jews rank well down
the list. They are seen to enjoy power, despite their history as a
vulnerable minority, and ‘white privilege,’ despite their ethnic origins
in the Middle East.” She likewise laments how, even in Israel, the
suffering of Mizrahi Jewry has not received its rightful place in the
political context: “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 out
of dialogue and coexistence projects.”

Well-researched and
accessible, “Uprooted” is a modern and welcome corrective to the
one-sidedness frequently prevalent in public discourse regarding the
Arab-Jewish conflict. Julius rightly calls attention to salient points
elided by purblind post-colonialists insensible of the reality “that
Arab and Muslim rule is a colonialism that predates Western European
colonialism.” She holds to account countries bereft of their Jews who,
nonetheless, promote phantom communities for tourism’s sake, “without
the inconvenience of live Jews.” As a text, “Uprooted” joins important
predecessors including Norman Stillman’s “The Jews of Arab Lands”
(1979), Joan Peters’ “From Time Immemorial” (1984), and Martin Gilbert’s
“In Ishmael’s House” (2010), and as a historical narrative complements
the documentaries “The Forgotten Refugees” (2005, director Michael
Grynszpan) and “The Silent Exodus” (2009, director Pierre Rehov).

While
some readers may understandably prefer a single, linear narrative as
opposed to the book’s serialized articles, “Uprooted” will especially
suit piecemeal perusers. The book is generous with photographs of the
people, holy sites, historical documents, and lively culture of the
now-defunct Jewish communities across the Arab lands and includes
numerous appendices, a bibliography, and an index.

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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.

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