The following was recently published in New York in the Fall 2003 issue of EMUNA MAGAZINE.


by Malka Hillel Shulewitz

On the eve of a festival, the Jewish Quarter of Baghdad would be filled with the excited bustle of a community preparing to celebrate. This was not the case on Shavuoth of the second and third of June, l941. A fierce pogrom - known as the farhud - was unleashed on the Jews of that city. Some 200 Jews were killed, at least a thousand injured. After the looting, 900 Jewish houses were destroyed by the fanatic crowds of Moslem Arabs. The farhud reverberated like an earthquake throughout the community, undermining its allegiance to a country that had played such a pivotal role in Jewish history. The Illegal escapes of tens or hundreds developed into a mass airlift to Israel in 1951. The most recent count put the number of Jews in Iraq at seventeen.

Similar crowds seething with hate, ready to kill and destroy, rioted throughout Egypt in 1945 and 1948. Shops and synagogues were looted, Torah scrolls burned in the streets. Ten Jews were killed and 350 injured. A racist amendment to the Egyptian Companies Law was introduced in July 1947. It became mandatory for at least 75 per cent of the administrative employees of a company to be Egyptian nationals and 90 per cent of employees in general. Since only 15 per cent of Egyptian Jews had been granted citizenship, the majority of Jews lost their livelihood. Only a handful of elderly Jews remain in Egypt today. In 1945, the Jews of Libya, caught between the anvil of the British Military Administration's ambivalence - or connivance, as the Jews of Tripoli claimed - and the hammer of burgeoning radical Arab nationalism, became the victims of a wave of savage pogroms. Further riots hit the community in 1948. There are no Jews in Libya today. "We left with two suitcases, twenty pounds sterling and 2,500 years of history," were the parting words of the community's final president, who was one of the last to leave, like the captain of a sinking ship.

This bloodthirsty, savage picture repeated itself all over the Arab world. The worst attacks in North Africa occurred in the early fifties. In most of the Arab states Zionist activity in general and the declaration of the State of Israel in particular led not only to the intensification of anti-Jewish measures but also to their legitimation. Paradoxically, these developments also served as an opportunity to tacitly let the Jews go. How could they have remained under such circumstances of hate and havoc? They left behind vast communal and private property. But for Israel, most of them would have become the victims of further excesses against them in the wake of the Western powers' withdrawal and the rising tide of radical Arab nationalism.

At best, the majority who came to Israel and who today, with their progeny, comprise some 43 per cent of its population (not including Jews from Iran) would have taken up the staff of the perpetually wandering Jew. Israel was a very poor country at that time. It had just fought a war that brought tragedy but, with God's help, staved off a worse one. Food, clothing and housing were scarce.

Ma'abarot (transit camps) were established wherever tents and makeshift huts could be accommodated. Israel probably set a world record when it doubled its population of 650,000 in three years. In his fascinating book Operation Babylon, Former Knesset Speaker Shlomo Hillel -- who together with Mordechai Ben Porath headed the l951 "Operation Ezra and Nechemia" that brought the majority of Iraqi Jews to Israel -- describes a meeting he had with the late Levi Eshkol, who then headed the Jewish Agency. Eshkol, a warm-hearted, practical Jew begged Hillel to temporarily hold up the operation. In desperation he explained that there were not even any tents left!

In equal desperation, knowing that the doors of Iraq could be as suddenly closed to Jews as they were opened, Hillel took his case to David Ben Gurion, who told him to continue bringing in as many Jews as possible, they would be accommodated somehow. Such stories should be remembered by those who criticize Israel for the years of deprivation in the ma'abarot. At the time, the country was too busy with the task of rehabilitation to deal with the political implications of the uprooting and transfer of entire communities and the enormous sums of money represented by the vast personal and communal properties left behind, as well as demanding compensation and apology for the resulting trauma suffered from persecution and dislocation. But that time has long passed.

Had these facts been repeatedly recalled during, say, the last 35 years at least, would the Arabs be so brazenly demanding the illegal right of return of the Palestinians who fled in 1948? Would the "enlightened world" allow them to put it on the agenda of the "peace talks" -- even now at Aqaba as these lines are being written? How many Palestinians fled anyway? An estimated 1,200,000 Arabs lived west of the Jordan in 1948. Some 600,000 of them were in Judea and Samaria (not then under Israel's rule), and they remained in the area, later to be illegally annexed to the Kingdom of Jordan until the Six Day War . A further 140,000 stayed inside Israel's borders. Simply deducting 740,000 from 1,200,000 shows that there could not have been more than 460,000 refugees -- some 200,000 less than the number of Jews who landed on Israel's shores from Arab lands. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) gave the number of Palestinian Arabs uprooted as 540,000. However, since this organisation that has become a vested interest in the Middle East, also reported that 20 per cent soon found permanent homes and resettlement in the Arab world, the number of refugees remains below 500,000.

With these figures in mind and granted that the inflation of the number of refugees, the vast black market in UNWRA ration cards that has been going on since the early fifties and the use of the refugees as political pawns in the Arab war against the Jewish State, is all known and well documented, it is still pertinent to review some facts about refugees in general and Arab refugees in particular to better prepare for a long-delayed Jewish offensive in the "war of words".

As far back as 1960 US Senators G. McGee and Al Gore reported the surfeit of "ration cards [which] have become chattels for sale, for rent or bargain by any Jordanian, whether refugee or not, needy or wealthy." The honourable senators were preceded by St Aubin who, in 1949 was Director of Field Operations for the UN Disaster Relief Project, wrote: "It is believed that some local [Arab] welfare cases are included in the refugee figures." While Henry Labouisse, an UNWRA Director, said on 20 July 1955 that "there are refugees who hold as many as 500 UNWRA ration cards, and there are dealers in [UNWRA] clothing. ration cards...[who] make small fortunes...generally emigrating with the proceeds."

Some 50,000 have indeed emigrated, mainly to Western countries, while about 110,000 chose to return to Israel under the Family Reunification Scheme. All these figures and declarations notwithstanding, in the year 2003 an organisation run by Hanan Ashrawi despatched press releases claiming that "five and a half decades ago Israel forcibly and illegally expelled...900,000 Palestinians." Today "there are more than five million Palestinian refugees."

She could do that because of the support given this abomination by the "enlightened" Western nations who subsidize UNWRA with their citizens' tax money, led by the United States. Never has a refugee condition been allowed to fester in this manner: Some five million Germans were refugees from former German areas in 1945. About four million Muslims left India in l947, while about three million Hindus fled the newly established Moslem state of Pakistan. From 1948.three million Germans left East Germany. Sudeten Germans transferred from Czechoslovakia in 1945 numbered one and a half million souls - the same number as the Roumanians that left Besserabia in that year when, in another part of Europe, half a million Finns fled eastern Finland.

The full list is much longer and, although the figures are only approximate, they give some indication of the scale of refugee movements in the twentieth century. All the above peoples fled or were driven from their homes, and few were allowed to take with them either money or possessions, or to retain any property rights, however ancient. Most of them, but not the Arabs from Palestine, were resettled permanently in their new lands, accepted a new statehood, and encouraged their children to take on a new nationality. For the Arabs it would have been simpler, for thelands of their brethren stretch over an area larger than either the United States or Europe and include some 78 per cent of Mandatory Palestine on the east bank of the Jordan River.

This did not happen. All that is left is for Israel to steadfastly refuse to play the Arab "numbers game" and to counteract with the number of Jews who fled Arab lands: what they suffered, the property they left behind and the cost of absorption when they arrived as penniless refugees.

Israel will need the cooperation of Jews in the diaspora and their Christian friends. The subject of Jews from Arab countries must become a political weapon in the hands of every organization that fights for Israel's right to be. It should become mandatory for every speaker to refer to the injustices committed by Moslem Arabs to Jews long before there were "territories". The greater the truth, the more it is repeated, the more it will influence public and political discourse. It is late; but not too late. The tragedies that befell both Jews (and Christians) in the Middle East in the 20th century reflect the dangers that face the West in general and Jews in particular in the 21st century.

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