Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Acknowledging the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab countries

It's a fantastic feeling when headlines for almost 4 days in a row talk about our very own Exodus from Arab countries! They are paying attention and it's about time. This article was written by Lyn Julius, author of "Point of No Return", a blog about the Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands. Her own parents fled Iraq in 1950. In her article, she focuses on the testimony of an 80 year-old refugee from Egypt called Sarah who spoke in front of Britain's house of Lords.

Though Lyn and I don't always agree on the events and consequences of the formation of the state of Israel, I'd like to quote the part of the article which interested me.

"This week, before an audience of peers and MPs, an 80-year-old Jewish refugee named Sarah told the story of her traumatic departure in 1956 in the wake of the Suez crisis. Her husband lost his job. Taken ill, she had remained behind in Egypt with her new baby, while he left to look for work in Europe. She departed with nothing – along with 25,000 other Jews expelled by Nasser and forced to sign a document pledging that they would never return. In a final act of spite, the customs officers ransacked her suitcase and even her baby's carrycot.

Sarah was speaking at a House of Lords briefing as part of the Justice for Jews from Arab Countries congress. JJAC, an international coalition of 77 organisations, is holding its inaugural congress in London, and aims to highlight the neglected rights of (according to indisputable UN figures) 856,000 Jewish refugees like Sarah."

Further down in the article is more factual evidence:

"The Jewish "Nakba" - Arabic for "catastrophe" – not only emptied cities like Baghdad (a third Jewish); it tore apart the cultural, social and economic fabric in Arab lands. Jews lost homes, synagogues, hospitals, schools, shrines and deeded land five times the size of Israel. Their ancient heritage - predating Islam by 1,000 years – was destroyed. The Jewish state, which struggled to take in 600,000, many of them stateless, is both a response to Arab antisemitism, and the legitimate political expression of an indigenous Middle Eastern people. Half Israel's Jewish population is descended from refugees from Arab and Muslim lands." more>>

I don't agree that half of Israel's Jewish population is descended from refugees from Arab and Muslim lands. In fact, at the time of the hostilities, Israel was horrified at the fact of having to absorb "any" Jews from Arab countries, as they considered them "primitive" and "uneducated" (see Golda Meir's famous quote: bring them, and we will educate them). More than 50% of the exiled Jews left for lands other than Israel out of their own volition. The beginnings were hard for all of them, no matter where they went, but they did not suffer the "marginalization" of living in tents on the outskirts of Israel's major cities. Nor did they suffer the bias of non-Sephardim wherever they settled.

I am not fond of borrowing the word "Nakba" to describe the plight of our Jews; let's leave that for the folks who coined it, and also ensure that the word "Holocaust" stays rightly where it belongs. Just as the words Zionism and Judaism are not interchangeable.

No comments: