by Erik Arnold


     "Arab aggression has created not one but two groups of refugees

in the Middle East. The world has not been allowed to forget the

first but has remained largely unaware of the second. The first

group comprises those Arabs who abandoned their homes in Palestine

during the 1947-1949 fighting. They numbered 587,000... The second

group encompasses the Jews who, between 1947 and 1963, were uprooted

from African and Middle Eastern countries where their ancestors had

lived for generations and where they were full fledged citizens

until they suddenly became anathema. They numbered about 650,000 {

Note:The numbers are actually much higher than this, being closer to

800,000. E.A.}... The overwhelming majority were poor people, but

they collectively left behind property valued in the hundreds of

millions of dollars... The world has not overly concerned itself

about the Jews who were constrained by forces beyond their control -

discriminatory laws, persecutions, physical violence, and purposeful

exclusion from Arab societies- to flee "to a place of safety," thus

meeting Webster's definition of refugees. Attention has been

concentrated instead on the plight of the Arabs who left Palestine

voluntarily - persuaded  by their own military commanders and

politicians that the war against the Jews would be short and and

their victorious return would be sweet with booty - hence might be

categorized more properly as "fugitives" rather than as "refugees."

(Frank Gervasi, The Case for Israel, Viking Press, New York, 1967,

pgs. 108-109).


    The above paragraph makes succinctly clear a problem long ignored

by the world's governments: the history of the persecution and

expulsion of the large Jewish population of the Middle East and

North Africa. The story of the Arab refugees has occasioned much

gnashing of teeth and beating of breasts among the collective court

of international opinion, while the same sentiment has not been

granted to their more numerous Hebrew counterparts.


    Contrary to popular opinion, Jewish existence was never better in

essence among the Sons of Ishmael than amid the Christian peoples of

Europe. The writer Albert Memmi, born in Tunisia, champion of anti -

colonialism and self described "left - wing Zionist," once wrote the

following: ... "the supposed "idyllic life" led by Jews in the Arab

countries is all a myth! The truth... is that we were, first of all,

a minority in hostile surroundings and, as such, we had all the

fears of the overly weak, their constant feeling of

precariousness... Never, I repeat, never... have the Jews lived in

the Arab countries otherwise than as diminished people in an exposed

position, periodically overcome and massacred so thet they would be

acutely conscious of their position." (Albert Memmi, Jews and Arabs,

trans. Eleanor Levieux, J. Philip O'Hara Inc., Chicago, 1975, pgs.

20-22). He further states: "But if we leave out the crematoria and

the murders committed in Russia, from Kichinev to Stalin, the sum

total of the Jewish victims of the Christian world is probably no

greater than the total number of victims of the successive pogroms,

both big and small, perpetrated in the Moslem countries." (ibid pg.



      In fact, during Islam's golden age Jews were restricted as to

their choice of occupation, mode of dress, forms of worship, and

even access to specific parts of some cities. These discriminatory

attitudes were enshrined in the Pact of Omar, the name for the

collective body of legislation directed at both Jew and Christian in

the Islamic world. On certain occasions the followers of Mohammed

even introduced prejudicial measures later adopted by the Christian

West, such as the "Jewish badge," as a mark of identification for

"unbelievers." And while Muslim tolerance varied greatly with both

time and location, it could be revoked anytime with disastrous

consequnces. Jews were expected to know their place within the

hierarchical scheme laid out in the Koran and subsequent laws.

Success was always accompanied by a sword of Damocles. For instance,

in 1066, the ibn Nagrela family, prominent courtiers at the Muslim

court of Granada, were deposed and the ghetto destroyed by mobs

incensed at the haughty behaviour of the "infidels." This pogrom was

preceded by a vitriolic attack launched by the theologian Ibn Hazm

and the writer Abu Ishaq, both of whom castigated King Badis for his

relative leniancy in letting Jews rise to influential positions in

contradistinction to their degraded station in Islamic



      The internicine warfare among the petty Moorish states which

succeeded the Caliphate of Cordoba led to the invasion of the

Iberian Penninsula by the Almoravides and Almohades in the eleventh

and twelfth centuries, respectively. These Berber marabouts, warrior

clerics similar in certain respects to the Teutonic Knights,

streamed from their forts in the North African wastelands and with

their intolerance put the nail in the coffin for Jewish life in

Muslim Spain. By offering the choice of conversion or death to all

"non-believers," a stance contrary to general Islamic practice, they

gave the death knell to the relative tolerance of the the "Iberian



      The Jewish condition tended to worsen with the decline of Islamic

power (with Turkey being the main exception), reaching its nadir in

Iran and Yemen from the seventeenth century onwards. In those

countries, the Jews were subjected to particularly humiliating forms

of discrimination. In Shiite Persia, for example, with its stringent

"sanitary" religious prohibitions, food or items handled by Jews

were considered unclean and polluting to the faithful, a situation

analogous in some respects to that of the Hindu caste of

untouchables in India. Iran even created its own Marranos by

forcibly converting the Jews of Meshed in 1839. In Yemen a royal

decree instituted in 1673 and continuing until that country was

conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1872 forced Jews to go bareheaded,

something particularly gaulling to the pious.



       Yemen's treatment of its Jews varied little with the passage of

time, which can be seen in the following description made by the

German explorer Hans Helfritz in the ninteen thirties: "The Southern

Arabians regard the Jews as people of a lower grade, and despise

them utterly, although both belong to the same Semitic race.

Accordingly the Jew has very limited privileges and is subject to

strict regulations. Evidently there is a desire to prevent him from

climbing upwards. An indication of the inferiority of his position

is in the fact that he is not allowed to ride a camel or a mule, but

has to rely on donkeys for his transport. Further, he is not

permitted to carry arms or to serve in the army; on the other hand

he is required to pay a high sum to the Imam, who then condescends

to see to his protection. He is called upon to perform the most

servile tasks, and though he is allowed to trade in the Arab city {

The Arab section of San'a}, he may never settle among Mohammedans.



       The houses in the ghetto, the Ka'a el Jahud (City of the Jews),

may only have two floors, and the synagogues are allowed in no wise

to differ from the ordinary living houses. Consequently the streets

in the ghetto, in contrast to those in the Arab city, make a

monotonous and unattractive impression..."The Jews must pay

tribute," a distinguished Saidi told me, "in order that they may not

forget their racial origin. It is also a reminder to them of the

Prophet's tolerance and benevolence."... The Imam is not willing to

allow his Jews to leave the country; nor may they establish any

communications with their compatriots in Palestine, or with the

Zionist Movement; nor may they receive teachers or propagandists

from abroad. Many of them have escaped over the frontier; in such

cases their whole property has been confiscated by the Imam." (Hans

Helfritz, Land Without Shade, trans. Kenneth Kirkness, New York,

Robert M. McBride and Co., 1936, pgs. 252 - 254).


       This predicament was repeated throughout the Mohammedan world. A

late ninteenth century European traveler wrote the following similar

observations about North Africa: "It has lasted long enough before

the Jews enjoyed in those countries {i.e. Morocco and Tunisia} an

existence worthy of human dignity...  The oppression to which the

latter {the Jews} are exposed, even to this day, are almost

incredible... they had to live in a certain quarter, and were not

allowed to appear in the streets after sunset... If it was a dark

night, they were not allowed to carry a lantern like the Moors and

Turks, but a candle, which the wind extinguished every minute. They

were neither allowed to ride on horseback nor on a mule, and even to

ride on a donkey was forbidden them except outside the town; they

had then to dismount at the gates, and walk in the middle of the

street, so as not to be in the way of Arabs. If they had to pass the

"Kasba," they had first to fall on their knees as a sign of

submission, and then to walk on with lowered head; before coming to

a mosque they were obliged to take the slippers off their feet, and

had to pass the holy edifice without looking at it... It was worse

even in their intercourse with Mussulmans; if one of these fancied

himself insulted by a Jew, he stabbed him at once, and had only to

pay a fine to the state, by way of punishment... The Prime Minister

down to the common soldier, took every opportunity to oppress and

rob the Jews. They need only hear that this one or the other

possessed great wealth to be after him at once for the purpose of

confiscating his fortune for the paltriest of reasons, or to extort

as many thousand piastres as they thought he was worth." (Chevalier

de Hesse - Wartegg, Tunis: The Land and People, new edition, London

1899, pgs 115 -128. Quoted in Norman A. Stillman, The Jews in Arab

Lands, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1979, pgs. 416 -

417, 420).


      The late ninteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed the

importation of such Western ideas as socialism, capitalism,

secularism, and the idea of the modern nation state into what was

basically an agrarian, religiously oriented, clan - based, and

feudal society. The concomitant rise of Zionism among the despised

Jews served to further aggravate the dislocation felt in much of the

Arabo - Islamic world and served as a lightning rod to galvanize the

Muslim masses. Vicious attacks were launched against all Jews,

incluiding those of non or even anti - Zionist feeling. The

ferocious Hebron pogrom of 1929, in which the mostly Orthodox

community was slaughtered to a man, accompanied by savage

mutilations of both the living and the dead, was an extreme example

of the new Arab behaviour.


     The rise of Italian fascism and German National Socialism was

greeted with applause by many Arab intellectuals, who felt an accute

kinship with both ideologies for their anti - British and anti -

Semitic elements. Copies of both the Czarist - era forgery The

protocols of the Elders of Zion and Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf were

issued in numerous Arabic language editions. Hajj  Amin al -

Husseini, the British appointed grand mufti of Jerusalem, became a

prominent Muslim activist on behalf of the Axis cause. After fleeing

the Middle East for Berlin, he broadcast rabidly anti - Semitic

propaganda for the Nazis' Arabic radio service as well as organizing

Bosnian Muslim SS units for active use on the battlefront. Future

Egyptian president Anwar al - Sadat was a strong admirer of Hitler

and kept a portrait of the Fuhrer in his private office as late as

the early fifties. The Egyptian "Green Shirts" attempted to emulate

their radical European counterparts by instituting an economic

boycott of Jewish businesses and committing random bombings of

private homes of wealthy Jews. In 1941 Yunis al - Sabawi, the head

of Iraq's fascist influenced militias, ordered all Jews to remain in

their homes in preparation for a secret massacre planned to occur

during the two days of Shavuoth. While Sabawi was deported to the

Iranian border and hence unable to follow through with his project,

a more or less spontaneous mass slaughter did take place in Baghdad

under the watchful eyes of the British army.


    The post World War II period witnessed the end of the millenia -

old history of Jewish life in the Near East. Across this huge area


arose who emphasised the purely Arab character of their countries, thus

automatically excluding the Jews from the nation

building process. The growth of Zionism and the subsequent battle

for Palestine were used to stress the alieness and the

subversiveness of the Israelite population. The persecution,

despoliation, and expulsion of whole communities proceeded apace,

ending only with the beggering and ejection of the Jews of Libya

following the Qaddafi coup of 1969. Yet when the issue of refugees

is discussed, the group in question is always Arab.


       The implications of this one - sided emphasis for the Israel -

Arab problem have been profound. While Arabs and thier supporters

loudly declaim the unconditional demand that Israel open its doors

to a flood of emigrants and thier descendents, no Muslim country is

expected to do the same for Jews. Indeed, in many instances the

Jewish presence in certain areas antedates that of both Arabs (North

Africa), and Islam (Yemen), by several thousand years, yet there is

no large scale effort to make restitution to these shattered



       A visit to any library will reveal a large amount of works

devoted to the dilemma of the Arab runaways. In fact a whole "Palestine

industry" has arisen dedicated to the articulation of this group's

point of view while systematically ignoring that of the Jews. The

Israeli government, rather than making a case for its own victimized

citizens and their progeny, simply allows the black silence to

engulf the memory of the destroyed Levantine communities of the

world's oldest diaspora.





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