Today is 30 November, the date designated by the Israeli Knesset to mark the 20th century departure and exodus of Jews from Arab countries and Iran and the destruction of their communities. Many commemorative events are being held around the world at this time. We highlight three of the many articles which have appeared in the press to mark one the end of this 2,600-year old chapter in Jewish history – and the start of a new one:
Yom HaGirush: the inside story of Expulsion Day (Edwin Black – syndicated to 35 media outlets)
In June 2015, I and a group of committed communal leaders were able to do what many memory-seared families called the impossible: proclaim International Farhud Day at the United Nations in a historic event globally livestreamed by the U.N. itself.
But I always wanted to do more and give identity and homage to the mass expulsion. This month, with the support of my colleagues in many countries, on a special edition of “The Edwin Black Show,” I proclaimed Nov. 30 forever more to be a day of remembrance named “Yom HaGirush.”
That name, Yom HaGirush, marks when Jewish communities across many countries were once again dispossessed, but became repossessed in the free nation of Israel. The Jewish state now possesses these people and their descendants—and they in turn now possess their Jewish state. Possession is nine-tenths of survival. Israel has become the final stop for the Jews.
From Morocco to India, and from Yemen to Afghanistan, the lives and centuries of legacies were incinerated. It was done in broad daylight with barely a murmur from the world.
Remembering the troubled yet rich history of Jews in Arab lands (Avi Benlolo – National Post, Canada)
Despite the fact Jews were scattered in Arab-dominant lands for more than 2,000 years, their rich history has been mostly silent. However, attention to their plight has gained momentum in the past several years, culminating in the naming of Nov. 30 as an official memorial day to mark their expulsion and departure from Arab countries and Iran. The date was chosen for symbolic reasons as it was soon after the Nov. 29, 1947, United Nations announcement of a partition plan for Israel and an Arab state, that Jews in neighbouring Arab and Persian countries started to experience hostility there.
With the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel in 1948, Arab nationalism and anti-Semitism increased and Jews living in Muslim-majority nations had little choice but to flee. While German Nazism inspired and emboldened violence against Jewish communities between 1940-1945 in Arab-majority lands, the soil was fertile for Arab states to turn against their own Jewish citizens once the declaration for an independent Jewish state had been made in Tel Aviv.
Thus came about the beginning of the end of an incredible and rich history. Palestinians often claim that 1948 was the “nakba” for their descendants. But what is often ignored is that over one million Jews living in Arab lands would also experience their own “catastrophe” that has never been acknowledged or compensated. They became refugees overnight — uprooted from their homes and communities. Most found refuge in the fledgling State of Israel, while others moved to France, Canada and America.
Their communities, families and cultures were shattered into a million pieces. To put this devastation into perspective, some 265,000 Moroccan Jews left behind their homes; 140,000 Algerian and 105,000 Tunisian Jews locked up their ancient synagogues and cemeteries; 75,000 Egyptian and 135,000 Iraqi Jews closed their schools and businesses; 63,000 Yemeni Jews were airlifted to Israel; and Syrian, Lebanese, Persian, Turkish and Libyan Jews made their dangerous trek to Israel on barges and across deserts.
Despite the fact that many Jews from Arab lands were educated professionals, they faced hardship and often times discrimination in Israel. My own grandparents, having lived a modern, well-heeled cosmopolitan life in Casablanca and having been educated in the Alliance French school system, were sent to a refugee camp in the southern city of Ashkelon. In one of his last letters before passing away from an illness at the young age of 46, my grandfather, Emile Azoulay, spoke of his daily challenges adapting to his new life.
As organisations worldwide prepare to mark 30 November, the date designated to commemorate the exodus of almost a million Jews from Arab countries and Iran, a London event will focus on the expulsion of 25,000 Jews in the wake of the Suez crisis, whose 65th anniversary falls this year. Lyn Julius writes in the Jewish News (Times of Israel blogs):
On 29 October 1956, Lilian Abda was swimming in the Suez Canal when Egyptian soldiers arrested her. Abda was charged with trying to relay information to the enemy. ‘I was brought in my bathing suit to the police station,’ she recalls. ‘The next day they expelled me and my entire family from the country.’
Sixty-five years ago this autumn, Lilian Abda was one of 25,000 Jews kicked out by president Nasser following the Suez crisis. Nasser took his revenge on the 60,000 Jews –a quarter had already fled after 1948 – because Israel had colluded with Britain and France to invade the Sinai peninsula in an effort to stop terrorist raids into its territory.
Invoking emergency laws, Nasser set about expelling British and French subjects including Jews. They were expelled in two waves: the first were given 24 hours to leave. The second were ordered to leave the country within two to seven days with their families. The authorities then branded all Jews as Zionists, arrested them at random and interned them.
Edna Anzarut-Turner, who had a British passport, still has nightmares about her expulsion. Each member of the family was allowed one blanket, one suitcase and one Pound. Her cousin Myra and fiancé Benny were interned and taken in handcuffs from the “criminal Zionist” prison camp of Moascar, near Aboukir, to be married at the Nebi Daniel Synagogue in Alexandria. The rabbi refused to officiate until their handcuffs were removed. A huge argument ensued with the Arab guards. The handcuffs were taken off only during the wedding ceremony ; and Myra and Benny were driven to a ship leaving Egypt.
British and French nationals were not the only ones to be expelled. Clement Soffer recalls: “I was expelled at 24 hours’ notice at the age of 15, forced to give up my Egyptian nationality, falsely accused of being a spy for Israel, put on a plane with $5 in my pocket. They gave me a document stamped “Dangerous to Public Security” and told me that I could never return. I was not allowed to see my family.”
One day in December 1956, a knock on their front door in Heliopolis, Cairo, disturbed the Simsolo household. “Two military officers and two policemen asked my father to follow them,”says Gilbert Simsolo . “For three weeks we heard nothing from my father and did not even know where he was detained. My mother finally found him in a military camp near Cairo. We were advised that he would be released only if he travelled abroad. A few weeks later, we joined my father on a ship sailing to Italy, with no leave to return to Egypt. “
Stories of the ‘Second Exodus’ , as it is known, will be recalled on 30 November, the day designated in Israel to mark the flight, within 30 years, of almost a million Jews from Arab countries and Iran. My organisation Harif, JW3 and Sephardi Voices UK, will be focusing on the post-Suez expulsion. But we will also be celebrating the fact that most refugees found refuge in Israel; the rest were welcomed in the West. Almost no Jews regret their departure, however traumatic, from states where tolerance of the Other is not taken for granted.
It is more important than ever to record the experiences of Jewish refugees from Arab countries because history is being re-written to blame the Jews for their own exit or to downplay their suffering. A case in point is the amateur historian Dr Mohamed Aboulghar, whose revisionist history of the Jews of Egypt is apparently selling like hotcakes.
It is not enough to fight for justice, we must fight for truth, too.
On 23 June 2014, the Government of Israel adopted a law, which designates 30th November as an annual, national day of commemoration for the one million Jewish refugees who were displaced from Arab countries and Iran in the 20th century. For the seventh year running organisations, universities, synagogues and embassies will be holding special events. Here is a listing of 2021 events we know about to-date:
Online, 18 November. The Edwin Black Show, 3 pm ET: Yom Hagirush
Online 20 November. Los Angeles Beth Am Congregation, Jews of Iraq. 3:30 PST
Online 23 November. Tel Aviv. With Dana Avrish and Ben-Dror Yemini, 4 pm Israel.
Rome, 28 November – 5 December. ASTREL, Jews of Libya. Details : [email protected] tel. +39 339 8847058
Paris, 28 November . AMUSSEF, 2 pm Europe.
New York, 30 November. ASF Institute of Jewish Experience. Reclaiming Identity, 9 am ET.
New England, 30 November. Consulate General of Israel Commemoration. With Mijal Bitton
London, 30 November, JW3/ Harif/ Sephardi Voices. Also online. 7:30 pm UK.
Montreal, 30 November. The Spanish synagogue, 7 pm ET
Santiago de Chile, 30 November – 1 December. Embassy of Israel in Chile./ Oriente Medio/ JIMENA/HARIF. 12 noon Latin
Online , 2 December. Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific NW and LA.
Tel Aviv, 2 December, Dahan Centre, Israel
The UK minister for the Middle East, James Cleverly MP, has stated the need for restitution to refugees on both sides of the Middle East conflict. (With thanks: Jonathan)
James Cleverly MP: ‘Jews have experienced unacceptable suffering’
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Cleverly said“ A peaceful future for the Middle East depends on a peace agreement that offers fair restitution for both sides ….”
Mr Cleverly was replying to two questions from Stephen Crabb MP. Mr Crabb askedt
Mr Cleverly was replying to two questions from Stephen Crabb MP. Mr Crabb askedthe Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, whether it remained the UK’s position that any settlement resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should include recognition of the plight of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa as well as Palestinian refugees.
He alsoasked the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on recognition and restitution for Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.
Both questions received the same answer andreiterated the words used by the previous secretary of state responsible for Middle East affairs, Dr Andrew Murrison MP. Dr Murrison was speaking at the first discussion of its kind on Jewish refugees,held in June 2019 at Westminster.
Mr Cleverly said: “We are clear that the status of refugees must be agreed as part of any final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The United Kingdom is focused on working with international and regional partners to harness the changing Israeli-Arab relations to encourage a return to dialogue. The history of Jewish migration and displacement in the region is highly complex and cannot be ignored. We acknowledge that the Jewish community has experienced unacceptable suffering. We continue to support the aspiration for a Jewish homeland in the modern state of Israel, just as we support the objective of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. A peaceful future for the Middle East depends on a peace agreement that offers fair restitution for both sides, and a willingness on the part of all countries in the region to respect the rights of minorities and build inclusive societies which enshrine and uphold those rights.”
However, Mr Cleverly stopped short of endorsing the position of the US Congress and the Canadian Parliament, both of whom have demanded recognition for Jewish refugees.
Stephen Crabbe posed his questions in the run-up to 30 November, the official day to commemorate the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran. Harif, the UK Association of Jews from the MENA, wrote to eachof 630 MPs requesting that the Jewish refugees be recognised.
The Israel-Britain Alliance, together with ‘We Believe’ in Israel’, is asking MPs to sign a petition as follows:
“After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, 850,000
Jews living for generations in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon,
Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen were forced to leave their
homes and their property to flee persecution.
“While the plight of the original 711,000 Palestinian refugees has
been given special status by the international community, Jewish
refugees have been ignored and forgotten.
“We, the undersigned, call upon the UK government to ensure that
the public understand the full history of the Middle East and designate
30 November as a national day of awareness where we remember and
commemorate the plight of Jewish refugees.”
Anyone can add their signature to the petition for the forgotten Jewish refugees, which can be found here.
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.
Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries
One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.