Friday, October 07, 2011

Why are refugees still Israel's best-kept secret?

Such a message could win hearts and minds, but Israel has not been putting it over strongly enough: half Israel's Jewish population descend from refugees from Arab and Muslim states. Arab and Muslim antisemitism and xenophobia have not only forced out and oppressed the region's ethnic and religious minorities, but are the driving force behind the conflict with Israel, says Michelle Huberman in her Jerusalem Post blog, Clash of Cultures.

Alan Franck was one of the bystanders I gave a leaflet to when I was at the Forgotten Refugees Rally in Trafalgar Square in London last week, organised by Harif and the British Israel Coalition. Timed to coincide with the UN Durban lll travesty, the rally’s purpose was to bring attention to real racism - the ethnic cleansing and intolerance of non-Arabs and non-Muslims in Arab countries - Jews, Berbers, Kurds, Copts, Baha’is, Assyrian Christians and other minorities.

Alan used to be a sympathiser with the Palestinian cause. As he was swept into their campaign, he started searching for more information on the Internet. But what he discovered shocked him. He wrote to me after the rally: "My own experience has been that when confronted with the hard evidence from Harif, the Barnabas Fund (and other sources) of the extent of Muslim ethnic cleansing, the majority of people I discuss these issues with change from a pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli bias (usually caused by the one-sided reporting of the mainstream media) to a more measured and even-handed stance."

Protesters at the Rally (Photo: Adrian Korsner)

Another American woman I gave a leaflet to said to me "I had no idea that half the Israeli population descended from Jews that fled Arab countries, I thought they were all European originally". She asked me, "Why are we not told this?"

The Israeli government is still not putting this message over strongly enough. The stories of the Sephardi and Mizrahi refugees are Israel's best kept secret. This is the information that changes people’s views on Israel. In fact the Arabs’ 63-year-old conflict with Israel itself arises from the same Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism which compelled Jews in Arab and Muslim lands to flee.

Bibi Netanyahu mentioned the 850,000 Jews who fled Arab countries when he gave his famous speech at Congress last year. Why could he not have added it again to his emotional speech at the UN two weeks ago? He should have reminded the world how the Arab nations forced out their Jews and confiscated their properties. More Jews than Arabs were refugees, and they lost more assets and property. There was an exchange of refugee populations, but Netanyahu should have asked why Arab hospitality wasn't offered to their Palestinian Muslim brothers who passed on their refugee status to successive generations. Why was citizenship not given to the Palestinians in neighbouring countries when Israel gave it to the Jews from Arab countries? The Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon has said very clearly that even after UN recognition, a new Palestinian state will not grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees. (This link is essential reading).

Antisemitism in Arab and Muslim lands predated the creation of Israel. Ari Soffer spoke about the terrible 1941 pogrom which killed hundreds of Iraqi Jews exactly 70 years ago. His family fled Baghdad after his Grandfather was murdered. He told the crowds, "My father would be heartened to see everyone here. He has always felt betrayed by the UN. When he left Iraq, the only country that would accept us was Israel. If I were a Palestinian, I would be considered a refugee myself, even though I was not born in Iraq. No other nationality has that status."
Kurdish writer Azad Miran also attended the protest in support of refugee rights. He said: "We have suffered for a long time, but the UN is mostly concerned with Palestinian people. We have been labelled terrorists when we fight for our freedom." He gave his Kurdish flag to Daniel Levy, who described to the assembled crowd the massacre of thousands of Kurds at Halabja by Saddam Hussein.

As I chatted to the young Algerian pavement artist who was busy drawing various flags of the world in colourful chalks, he looked at the sign listing all the Arab countries that had deported their Jews and shouted angrily at me: "those are lies, no Jews were expelled from Algeria". Well, Ghislaine Levy soon came over and was able to tell him about her family – the Guedj’s - from Constantine who left with only a suitcase. They left behind their textile shops and their renowned cafĂ© in rue de France. The Muslims rampaged through Constantine, killing 25 Jews and injuring many more. Ghislaine's family have never received compensation. The Algerian listened in disbelief and didn’t want to acknowledge the facts. His government has totally erased the true history of how they ethnically- cleansed their Jews from a country they had lived in from pre-Islamic times.

There are so many stories to tell and so little time. Everyone must speak out.

Read post in full

More about the Harif rally here

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