Jewish scribes in the 1930s at the ancient tomb of Ezekiel in Iraq
For perhaps the first time in their lives, the good citizens of Belfast were introduced to the concept of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, when Malcolm Jaffa took columnist Eamonn McCann to task in the Belfast Telegraph (30 November):
"Eamonn McCann, in his recent column 'How the destruction of Gaza was
planned over six decades ago', mentions 700,000 Palestinians who were
displaced. But he fails to mention the 700,000 (actually 850,000 - ed) Jews who were forced out from surrounding Arab countries in the aftermath of the war.
"My relatives lived in Iraq as Jews for more than 2,000 years. By the 1950s, they were living as refugees in Israel. In 1948, there were more than a quarter-of-a-million Jews in Iraq. Today, there are fewer than 10 individuals.
"There is a similar story of ethnic-cleansing of Jewish communities from across North Africa and the Middle East. The
Jewish refugees from Arab lands are forgotten refugees. Eamonn should
be interested in justice for all people who have been displaced - Jews
as well as Palestinians."
Martin Stern followed up with this letter (Belfast Telegraph, 4 December):
"I read with great interest Malcolm Jaffa's article (Comment, November 30
in which he wrote: "My relatives lived in Iraq as Jews for more than
2,000 years [actually more like 2,500]. "By the 1950s, they were living as refugees in Israel."
"This would have given them a far more legitimate right to have been
classified as natives of Iraq than the Arabs, who only settled there a
millennium later. It would certainly show them to be more indigenous to
that country than the Arabs in Palestine, whom most people mistakenly
consider the quintessential refugees - even though most of them are
descended from those who infiltrated its highly porous land borders
during the British Mandate (1918-48) in response to the opportunities
resulting from Jewish economic activity. As regards the Gaza strip, the
vast majority of its population are the descendants of Egyptian fellahin
from the Nile delta."