Skip to main content

jewish refugees from arab countries

The Untold Story of the Middle East: Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries

ICJW representatives attended an event on November 21, 2013, at the United Nations in New York hosted by Israeli MK Silvan Shalom, Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water, with the Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN, Ambassador Ron Prosor.  

The opening speaker was Malcom Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.  He set the tone for the meeting by reminding the audience that we cannot continue to ignore half the refugee problem in the Middle East.  During the years from 1947 through the 1960s, one million Jews were expelled from Arab countries and Iran, their ancient communities were demolished and a complete ethnic cleansing was achieved. 
 
Over half the current population of the State of Israel are these people and their descendants.  To date, the UN has done nothing; not one dollar was spent as these refugees were absorbed and became successful citizens of Israel.  In the meantime, 650,000 Palestinian refugees became “victims” and remain wards of the UN into the third generation.
 
Millions have been spent on Palestinian refugees; not one dollar on these one million Jews many of whom spent years in temporary housing and even in tents in Israel while the infant nation struggled to absorb numbers greater than its own population. 
 
Minister Shalom opened by telling the audience that his grandfather was a leader of the Jewish community in Tunisia.  This story of the one million Jews is the greatest untold story of the Middle East.  In 1948, a New York Times headline read “Jews in Great Danger in all Muslim Lands”.  As the 1948 war was being fought to ensure a homeland for all Jews, violence broke out from Basra to Tripoli and 2500 year old communities were destroyed.  40,000 square miles of Jewish-owned land was confiscated and one million Jews fled for their lives.  The Arab countries need to take responsibility for these crimes.  To date, the suffering and human rights of these Jews have been ignored by the world and the UN while countless resolutions have been passed on behalf of Palestinian refugees.
 
Ambassador Prosor followed with his usual vocal and eloquent presentation.  Quoting Orwell: “In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. 
 
The Jewish communities which enriched the Arab world with art and culture are now gone.  This all began with the partition by the UN in 1947.  The Jews rejoiced while the Arabs vowed to destroy them:
·         Arab spokesmen told the GA that the lives of one million Jews in their countries were now in danger.
·         In Egypt there were bombings and in Syria, financial hardship.
·         The Arab League told its members to declare Jews enemies of the state.
·         The Jews left without resources and Israel took them in without hesitation despite the ongoing war of Independence and economic difficulties.
 
At the same time the attitude of the Arab states toward the Palestinians was NIMBY – not in my back yard.
 
The Arab – Israeli conflict has generated 687 resolutions; not one of these mentions the Jewish refugees.  There is a special UN agency for Palestine but nothing for the Jews.  It is time to right this injustice.
 
Ron Lauder of WJC spoke next and emphasized that the current peace process must bring justice to all refugees.  He has called on Ban Ki Moon to recognize Jewish refugee rights.  (Canada has already declared that the one million must be part of mid-East peace negotiations and a NY Congressman, Nadler, has stated that any reference to Palestinian refugees in the peace negotiations must be matched by reference to Jewish refugees.)
 
These talks were followed by a film clip and personal testimonies by Jewish refugees from Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq and Syria.


Reported by Joan Lurie Goldberg and Judy Mintz