Why do the Jewish refugees still matter?

For years the story of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands was not told by those Jewish organisations in the forefront of fighting for a truthful account of all aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict. That’s why this background article by Pesach Benson of Honestreporting is welcome.

Why do the Jewish refugees from Arab countries still matter? Why is
their story still relevant for today, rather than relegated to history

The number of Jews who fled their Arab homelands during Israel’s
founding and early years amounts to a population exchange with the
Palestinian refugees who fled their homes during the wars of 1948 and
1967. A peace agreement addressing compensating Palestinian refugees
would also have to take into account Arab compensation for dispossessed

Some background is necessary to understand why.

An Iraqi immigrant working as a shoemaker at the Holon maabara in 1952.

Under Arab rule, Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims were considered dhimmis,
or second-class citizens. This status meant Jews had to pay a special
yearly tax, could not build synagogues or too openly practice their
religion. To further reinforce their lower status, dhimmis could not
build homes as tall as the Muslims, were required to dress differently,
and weren’t allowed to ride horses — only donkeys. Jewish orphans were
frequently removed from the community and forcibly converted to Islam.
In North Africa, Jewish communities had to live in a ghetto (mellah). For better (and sometimes for worse), Arab rulers weren’t consistent on enforcing these rules.

Demonstrating the precariousness of Jews in the Arab world was the Damascus blood libel
of 1840. When a Capuchin friar and his Muslim servant disappeared, a
rumor began that the two had been murdered by Jews who wanted to use
their blood for Passover. Several Jews were arrested, some of whom died
under torture while others “confessed.” The remaining detainees were
saved thanks to the intervention of Sir Moses Montefiore and others.
However, Mitchell Bard explains, the affair left behind a bitter, lasting legacy:

The idea that the ritual murder case had been
conclusively proved in Damascus and the prisoners only released for
political reasons or because of bribery now became a key theme repeated
at length in an extensive series of antisemitic journals and books,

Despite their “otherness,” Jews still managed to contribute to Arab
culture and politics. Some of the notable personalities included:

By the early 1900s, much of the Arab world was ruled by the European
powers. On one hand, this opened doors for Jews to advance in education,
business and government. But it also placed them between the forces of
European colonialism and restless Arab nationalism.

Although they were spared the hell of the German death camps in
Europe, Jews in Arab countries faced their own difficulties which
history has largely overlooked. The pro-Nazi Vichy French regimes of
Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia enacted discriminatory laws against the
Jews. These including revoking the French citizenship some 110,000
Algerian Jews and sending 5,000 Tunisian Jews to forced labor camps.
Nazi forces occupying Libya deported 2,000 Jews from Tripoli and
Benghazi to work camps in the Sahara Desert.

In Iraq, Nazis whipped up the locals with antisemitic propaganda that led to the most violent pogrom against Jews known as the Farhud.
On June 1–2, 1941, following Britain’s victory in the Anglo-Iraqi war
and during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, Arab rioters killed more than
180 Jews in Baghdad, injured hundreds more, looted property, and
destroyed an estimated 900 Jewish homes.

Iraqi Jewish immigrants at Lod Airport, 1951

In the time leading up to Israel’s founding, the situation of Arab
Jews further deteriorated. Arab authorities arrested Jews thought to be
active Zionists. Rioting Syrians killed dozens of Jews in Aleppo and
destroyed hundreds of homes, synagogues and shops, while 76 Jews were
similarly killed in Aden. Iraqis boycotted Jewish businesses and hung
Shafiq Ades, the Jewish community’s most prominent businessman, on
trumped up charges of selling arms to Israel. Egypt passed
discriminatory laws and 70 Jews  were killed in a wave of firebombings of
Jewish businesses and homes.

Read article in full

One Comment

  • 72 Years the Arab/Muslin govements have waged War against their Jewish communites on the Nazi model,,,The jews communites of Yemen and Iraq are dying; other Jewish communities are getting smaller through assiliation, dying or immigration..soon all Jewish communites in arab/muslin african couunities will not exist any longer..such as in Europe..Eretz Israel is the ONly PLACE for Jews to live as Jews…..


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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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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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