(...) Despite the many talents that the Mizrahi Jewish community possessed and their contributions to Arab society, almost all of them were compelled to leave their homes following waves of anti-semitism. From 1947 to 1948, anti-Jewish pogroms and riots erupted, Jews were systematically persecuted, and much Jewish property was confiscated. Official expulsion edicts would be issued in some Arab countries like Egypt and Iraq.
Ruins of Central Synagogue in Aleppo, Syria after 1947 pogrom Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons
Mazal Elijah, a Jewish refugee from Iraq, told the Jewish Press: “Right around Israel’s declaration of independence, continuous massacres against Jews occurred in Iraq and during these massacres, Arabs broke into Jews' homes, stole whatever they wanted, and then they flooded the homes, so that Jews would not be able to live there any more. Furthermore, Iraqi Jewish women used to make preserved foods so that certain types of vegetables would be available in the winter months. The Arab thieves would eat up all of the preserves that the Iraqi Jewish women worked very hard to prepare, thus leaving Iraqi Jewish families with nothing. Rapes occurred all the time and if an Arab barged into your home and demanded to marry your daughter, it was impossible to refuse them.”
Flora Cohen, a Jewish refugee from Morocco, told the Jewish Press: “It was a common practice in Morocco for some Muslims to abduct young virgin Jewish girls, forcefully convert them to Islam, and to make them marry Muslims.” She stated that one of her relatives suffered this fate. In addition, both her grandfather and his brother were murdered by Arabs, leaving her grandmother a widow with two children. “In June 1948, bloody riots erupted in Oujda and Djerada, resulting in the death of 44 Moroccan Jews while many more were wounded. An unofficial boycott was initiated against the Moroccan Jewish community that same year,” Cohen emphasized.
Nevertheless, despite all of this, Cohen insisted that the situation was still tolerable as long as the French were still controlling Morocco. However, Cohen stressed that once the Moroccan people rose up against the French, the situation dramatically deteriorated for the Jews. “Terrorism was widespread within the country and Jews were also the victims of such violence, not just the French, since the Jews supported the French,” Cohen stated. She professed that her brother was almost murdered by Arabs and it was soon after this incident that her entire family moved to Israel.
Levana Zamir, a Jewish refugee from Egypt, reported that 10 Egyptian Army officers came to her family home the day that Israel was declared to be a state. Her uncle was arrested and taken to prison, under the charge of being a Zionist, and was forced to remain there a year and a half. “They confiscated our businesses. After three months, they had an auction. My family had one of the biggest printing businesses in Cairo. And suddenly, we had nothing. They came one day and did an auction of my house. I started to cry when I saw them selling my piano,” she stated. “They told us that if we want to be free, we have to leave Egypt. We left our home in the middle of the night, like thieves.”
The life stories of Mazal Elijah, Flora Cohen and Levana Zamir is also that of numerous other Jews who hailed from numerous other Arabic speaking countries such as Syria, Yemen, Libya, etc. Close to one million Mizrahi Jews became refugees, a number which some studies claim is twice as high as the number of Palestinian refugees, who according to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, consistituted 550,000 people. The academic Benny Morris claims there were 750,000 Palestinian refugees, a number still significantly less than the number of Jewish refugees from Arabic speaking countries. These Jews arrived in Israel with virtually nothing and were forced to live in refugee camps. In many cases, they gave up property and possessions that amounted to significantly more money than what the Palestinian refugees left behind.
According to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine appraised that Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war lost $350 million. If Palestinian losses from the 1967 war are added into the equation, Palestinian refugees accumulatively lost $450 million, which in 2012 prices adds up to $4.4 billion. Jewish refugees, to the contrary, lost $700 million in 1948 prices, which amounts to $6.7 billion in 2012 prices. If the Arab world is serious about making peace with Israel, then they need to recognize the injustices they committed against Mizrahi Jewry, to pay compensation to Jewish refugees from Arabic countries, and consent to the lack of a Palestinian right of return to Israel proper, since it isn’t a feasible solution and such demands ignore that the suffering was two-way rather than one-way.
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