In the middle of the Twentieth Century, the situation of Jews in Arab countries markedly deteriorated. Upon publication of the UN partition plan in 1947, dramatic pogroms started – first in Yemen. Following those pogroms, the Jewish community in Yemen, Aden, Eritrea and Djibouti practically lost its livelihood. Under the name „Operation Flying Carpet“, around 50,000 displaced persons were brought to Israel between 1949 and 1950. In order to make those transports possible, secret negotiations took place, and Britain and America supplied transport planes.
On May 16, 1948, Mallory Brown published a stirring article in the NY Times: „Jews in grave danger in all Muslim lands“. The fears could not have been more evident. Not only could prevailing tensions turn into a wave of violence against Jews at any time, it speaks also of the payment of security bonds, of leaving all property behind. A total of almost 900,000 Jews were sitting in a trap on the day the State of Israel was founded. And they went on their way, alone and without prospects. Nothing had helped; the apparent integration into Muslim society had only been a short-lived interlude. They left on foot, or if they were lucky, by boat or airplane.
In any case, it was the way to an uncertain future.
And the Exodus is not yet over. Between 2003 and 2016, in a secret operation, some 220 Jews were brought from Yemen to Israel. With the exception of 40 people residing in a special protected area belonging to the US Embassy in the capital city Saana, there are no longer any Jews there. With the last flight in March 2015, the community rabbi came as well, carrying a Tora Scroll over 500 years old.
In Iran however, the country that time and again threatens that it will destroy Israel, between 10,000 and 25,000 Jews are still living. The number depends on who prepared the statistic. They live under the Regime’s protection, enjoy religious freedom and are a recognized minority. Nevertheless, they are second-class citizens. Climbing to upper echelons in public service is closed to them. During elections they can vote for Jews or Muslims whereas Muslims may not vote for Jewish candidates. Iran on the one hand needs them as proof for its pretended liberal policy, and on the other hand also as a bargaining chip. Should Israel at any time attack the theocracy, these Jewish citizens would certainly be the first victims. The modern form of Dhimmitude.
Today, when the forgotten refugees of the Middle East are mentioned, it is the Palestinian refugees that are spoken of, those who had left their homes, for the main part on instructions from their own clan chiefs. They left, hoping that after a short time they would come back as victors. Their hope proved to be false. They became the victims of misguided propaganda.
The UN has adopted over 600 resolutions on the subject of „Israel-Palestine“, 101 of which deal with „Palestinian refugees“. However, there is not even one resolution dealing with Jewish refugees from Arab countries, although their number is almost twice that of the Palestinians. The estimated value of the assets left behind when they fled is meaningful as well.
During the early 1950s, Sir John Measham Berncastle, who for a long time had been assessing the value of real property in Palestine, was asked by the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) to prepare an estimate of the assets left by Arab refugees when they fled. He concluded that the total value of land, houses, jewelry, cash and last, but not least, the bank accounts frozen in Israeli banks, would be about 4,4 billion US$ (value 2012). Those amounts were the result of the waves of flights around the time of the State’s foundation and the period after the Six Days War. That sounds dramatic.
However, let us not forget that through the UN’s pampering force, UNWRA, which was especially and uniquely created for a certain group of refugees, never-ending amounts of money are being collected. A small compensation. The more is the pity that the simple Palestinian does not get to enjoy any of it.
The Jewish refugees either had to sell their possessions for ridiculously low prices, or they fled with only the clothes on their backs. Their losses are estimated to amount to 6,7 billion US$. Lost for all eternity since there is no one, no NGO, no UN coddling entity, to defend those people’s interests. They fled leaving everything behind and reached Israel with nothing.
The young, only recently established State of Israel, was soon burdened to its limits by the enormous waves of refugees. Within a short time, its population was doubled; sometimes it seemed that it would be impossible to supply sufficient food for everyone. But the miracle succeeded, the refugees – who often had to spend years in transit camps – were eventually integrated into Israeli society.
At this stage, I dare to use an accounting example. The original number of around 700,000 Palestinian refugees increased to become 5 million by the year 2017, i.e. seven-fold. That is not the case with Jewish refugees. Their „refugee status“ was cancelled immediately upon their registration as immigrants in Israel.
On the occasion of the New Year 5778, statistics mention 6,5 million Jewish Israelis. About 50% of them are descendants of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, i.e. 3,25 million, 3 times as many, which is rather realistic over a period of 70 years.
So why now the forgotten refugees?
The film „The Forgotten Refugees“, regrettably available only in English, sheds light on the subject of the million forgotten refugees by means of reports by sons and daughters of those who fled, but also by means of historic documents. When asked why they call themselves „forgotten refugees“, one woman answers: „We have been completely cut out of the history of the Near East“, confidently adding: „We are the image of Israel“. Another says: „Nobody took any notice of us, we were not even seen. We felt the big injustice to which we were exposed. But what could we have done? So we swallowed our sufferings and went on with our lives. Today I believe that this also helped our faster integration into Israeli society. The Egyptian government took away everything we owned. We shall never go back. But we shall never give up fighting for justice“. There must be a fight against forgetfulness: „We want to speak, we want to tell our stories. We do not want our history, our rich heritage, older than three thousand years, to be forgotten“.
The Knesset adopted a small though significant step in this direction in the summer of 2015. November 30 is to be National Remembrance Day for Jews who fled Arab countries. The date marks the day on which the UN Division plan was made public in 1947. The day representing the birth date of the Jewish State of Israel.
On November 30th 1947, „spontaneous“ attacks and aggressions against Jewish communities took place in many Arab countries, causing the start of the big Exodus.
It is infinitely hard for any person to become a refugee or to have to live with the stigma of refugee status. Therefore, it is amoral to compare one misery with that of another group of refugees. As I said before, there is only one group, the Palestinian refugees, who are well cared for and „marketed“ not only by the UN. The media focus is repeatedly turned to them, the exaggerated numbers are published time and again so as to justify the enormous media, political and economic efforts invested around them.
One of the basic tenets of Roman law, „audiatur et altera pars“ (let the other side be heard), is not being applied by the UN where Jewish refugees are concerned. Their existence is simply being ignored there.
It is my intention to focus on the group of refugees that is so seldom mentioned – the Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
©esther scheiner, Israel
©Translated by: Translations International, Herzliya