The Farhud heralded the decimation of Jewish communities in the Middle East

The Farhud pogrom in Iraq, 81 years ago, was not just a mortal blow to the Jewish community, it was a sign of things to come. From Libya to Syria and from Yemen to Tunisia, murderous pogroms became more and more ubiquitous. Mark Regev writes in the Jerusalem Post. (With thanks: Sandra, Imre):

Lea and Yosef Chen, Mark Regev’s in-laws, left Syria for Palestine on foot (Photo: Chen family)

The leader of the Palestinian national movement, Amin al-Husseini, living in Iraq since 1939, played a crucial role in supporting the anti-British coup that brought Rashid Ali to power and in encouraging the deadly violence against Baghdad’s Jews. With Britain’s reconquest of Iraq, al-Husseini relocated to Berlin, where he served the Nazi regime until its demise. Notwithstanding this wartime collaboration, al-Husseini was elected president of the All-Palestine Government in 1948.

Baghdad’s Jews have a rich heritage. Known as the first diaspora, the community predated the rise of Islam, tracing its roots back to the Babylonian exile of antiquity.

Over the centuries, the Jews of Mesopotamia made an immeasurable contribution to Jewish scholarship and civilization, as well as to the culture and society of the Middle East as a whole.

But the Farhud was not just a mortal blow to one historic community, it was a sign of things to come for Jews throughout the Arab world. From Libya to Syria and from Yemen to Tunisia, murderous pogroms became more and more ubiquitous. And in the aftermath of the Second World War, entire Jewish communities were decimated.

In 1948, there were 135,000 Jews left in Iraq; today, there are less than 10. In 1948, there were 75,000 Jews in Egypt; today, the total number of known Jews permanently residing is 3. In 1948, 140,000 Jews lived in Algeria; today, no community exists there at all.

In Tunisia, the Jewish population in 1948 reached 105,000; today, it numbers some 1,000. In 1948, 63,000 Jews lived in Yemen; today, only a handful remain. In 1948, Morocco had 265,000 Jewish inhabitants; today, just a residue of its former self, the community numbers a few hundred souls.

The eradication of these indigenous communities received official sanction. In 1947, the Political Committee of the Arab League drafted a law declaring all Jews in Arab countries “be considered members of the Jewish ‘minority state of Palestine’; that their bank accounts would be frozen and used to finance resistance to Zionist ambitions in Palestine; and that Jews believed to be active Zionists would be interned as political prisoners and their assets confiscated.”

At the United Nations, Egyptian delegate Heykal Pasha warned, “the proposed [partition] solution might endanger a million Jews living in the Moslem countries… If the United Nations decided to partition Palestine, they might be responsible for very grave disorders and for the massacre of a large number of Jews.”

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fadil Jamali went further, stating “Not only the uprising of the Arabs in Palestine is to be expected, but the masses in the Arab world cannot be restrained. The Arab-Jewish relationship in the Arab world will greatly deteriorate.”

Following the UN’s partition vote of 29 November 1947, some 850,000 Jews were forced to depart the Muslim Middle East – a figure that exceeds by 100,000 the recorded number of Arab refugees that exited the territory of the newly established Jewish state.

Yet, while the Palestinian narrative receives wide international acknowledgment, the experience of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries is scarcely a footnote. Maybe this is because the Jewish refugees were successfully absorbed in Israel and other countries, while for political reasons Palestinian refugees were denied resettlement in neighboring Arab countries, their refugee status deliberately perpetuated as a diplomatic weapon in the war against Israel.

Unfortunately, this self-defeating approach towards Palestinian refugees remains an orthodoxy. In April of this year, current UNRWA commissioner-general Phillipe Lazzarini proposed dealing with his agency’s ongoing financial crisis by “maximizing partnerships within the broader UN system.” Yet, despite the clear managerial logic in enlisting the help of additional UN bodies to support UNRWA’s humanitarian work, Lazzarini was attacked by the PLO for ignoring the “political dimensions.”

Perhaps because of Israel’s achievements in integrating consecutive waves of Jewish refugees, it is possible to forget that a huge proportion of Israeli citizens are either refugees themselves or the offspring thereof – my own children, being no exception, having three refugee grandparents.

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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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