What really happened to the million Jews who lived in Arab lands? Unfortunately, so many people spread lies about what happened to those Jews – chiefly as a way of propping up a false Palestinian narrative – that most people have no idea of the truth or the scale of the disaster. They see the lies spreading online, but simply do not have the material they need to counter the disinformation campaign. David Collier summarises the issue in his blog:
The ‘Jewish problem’ in the Arab lands:
A simple fact: in the 20th century almost a million Jews resided in ancient Jewish communities spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Another simple fact: at the end of the 20th century, there was almost nothing left.
So what happened?
At the root, although there is no ‘catch-all’ that tells the story of every single Jew in all of the Arab lands – it was belief in the supremacy of Islam, rising Arab nationalism and Islamic antisemitism that all played their role. Whilst it is true that Jewish history in the MENA region was better than the Jewish experience in Europe, this is hardly a difficult benchmark to pass.
Peaceful co-existence’ involved the subordination and degradation of the Jews. The status of Jews as Dhimmi (second class citizens) meant that life was unpredictable; sometimes calm – sometimes violent – but the Jewish experience was always left to the whims of the local rulers.
The 19th century brought about the partial collapse of the Ottoman Empire – and this signalled dark times for the Jews. Pogroms – violent riots against Jews – began to reappear with alarming frequency. The Arab response to the vacuum of power left from the weakness in the Ottoman regime, resulted in power struggles – and both rising Arab nationalism and religious extremism left Jewish blood flowing down city streets. All this upheaval started occurring long before modern Zionism entered the equation.
A key point must be made. The idea that before Zionism, Jews had lived in peace in Arab lands is an absolute myth. For a full history it is worth reading the Lyn Julius book ‘Uprooted’ .
The need for the whitewash:
By the early 20th century, the attacks on these Jewish communities were brutal. Much of it was government driven, with increasing anti-Jewish legislation appearing throughout the region. But there was also a lot of anti-Jewish violence on the street. This all spiked dramatically when Israel was founded but had started long before. The growing hostility was to drive the ethnic cleansing of every major Jewish community inside Arab lands. The creation of nearly a million Jewish refugees.
For those pushing an anti-Israel agenda – and whose entire narrative is built around the non-necessity of Zionism and the tragic existence of Palestinian refugees, the true history surrounding Jewish refugees creates five key problems:
- The image of co-existence is a myth
- There were more Jewish refugees created than Arab refugees
- The value of what the Jewish refugees had stolen from them was many times greater than anything the Arab refugees can claim they lost
- The attack on the Jewish communities was unprovoked and on an innocent civilian population. The same is not true of much of the Arab population in the mandate, with many Arab villages choosing a violent confrontation that fuelled a civil conflict
- Like it or not, many Arab families in the mandate area had simply moved into the area as the Ottoman empire collapsed – or as Zionist investment created opportunity. This means many of the Arab refugees had no real roots in the mandate area (one example – the ‘Palestinian’ hero of the 1930s, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam – was born in Northern Syria.) The same could not be said of the ancient Jewish roots in places such as Egypt, Iraq or Yemen.
All of these factors create a huge problem for anti-Israel activists. In real terms, the unprovoked destruction of the Jewish communities in the MENA region was far worse than the destruction of the Arab communities engaged in civil conflict in the mandate area.