T O P I C
STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
Editors Note: In Israel Yad Vashem records the Holocaust and Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Palestinian refugees who left Israel, after Israel’s War of Independence are remembered because the Arab League decided to use them as a political weapon against Israel refusing them resettlement status in other Arab countries. The Jews who fled from Arab countries at the same time are largely forgotten because they ceased being refugees within a short time after their arrival at their destination.
This page tells about current actions to remember them.
Besides Moroccan Jews, who can visit Morocco no Jews are allowed to visit Arab countries, live there or purchase property.
Anyone given an exit visa, becames a refugee can’t claim it back as your country. Returning to Libya, would probably result in arrest.
(Editors Note -check with Israeli embassy before departure to an Arab country as regulations change)
LETTER FROM A FORGOTTEN JEW
Adapted and updated from an essay originally written in 2003.
Huffington Post, David Harris, THE BLOG 10/06/2010, Updated May 25, 2011
AJC Chief Executive Officer, Edward and Sandra Meyer Office of the CEO;
Senior Associate, St. Antony’s College, Oxford (2009-11)
I AM A FORGOTTEN JEW.
My roots are nearly 2,600 years old, my ancestors made landmark contributions to world civilization, and my presence was felt from North Africa to the Fertile Crescent — but I barely exist today. You see, I am a Jew from the Arab world. No, that’s not entirely accurate. I’ve fallen into a semantic trap. I predated the Arab conquest in just about every country in which I lived. When Arab invaders conquered North Africa, for example, I had already been present there for more than six centuries.
Try seeking me out in Iraq. Remember the Babylonian exile from ancient Judea, following the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE? Remember the vibrant Jewish community that emerged there and produced the Babylonian Talmud?
Do you know that in the ninth century, under Muslim rule, we Jews in Iraq were forced to wear a distinctive yellow patch on our clothing — a precursor of the infamous Nazi yellow badge — and faced other discriminatory measures? Or that in the eleventh and fourteenth centuries, we faced onerous taxes, the destruction of several synagogues, and severe repression?
And I wonder if you have ever heard of the Farhud, the breakdown of law and order, in Baghdad in June 1941. As an AJC specialist, George Gruen, reported:
In a spasm of uncontrolled violence, between 170 and 180 Jews were killed, more than 900 were wounded, and 14,500 Jews sustained material losses through the looting or destruction of their stores and homes. Although the government eventually restored order... Jews were squeezed out of government employment, limited in schools, and subjected to imprisonment, heavy fines, or sequestration of their property on the flimsiest of charges of being connected to either or both of the two banned movements. Indeed, Communism and Zionism were frequently equated in the statutes. In Iraq the mere receipt of a letter from a Jew in Palestine [pre-1948] was sufficient to bring about arrest and loss of property.
At our peak, we were 135,000 Jews in 1948, and we were a vitally important factor in virtually every aspect of Iraqi society. To illustrate our role, here is what the Encyclopedia Judaica wrote about Iraqi Jewry: “During the 20th century, Jewish intellectuals, authors, and poets made an important contribution to the Arabic language and literature by writing books and numerous essays.”
By 1950 other Iraqi Jews and I were faced with the revocation of citizenship, seizure of assets, and, most ominously, public hangings. A year earlier, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Sa’id had told the British ambassador in Amman of a plan to expel the entire Jewish community and place us at Jordan’s doorstep. The ambassador later recounted the episode in a memoir entitled From the Wings: Amman Memoirs, 1947-1951.
Miraculously, in 1951 about 100,000 of us got out, thanks to the extraordinary help of Israel, but with little more than the clothes on our backs. The Israelis dubbed the rescue Operation Ezra and Nehemiah.
Those of us who stayed lived in perpetual fear — fear of violence and more public hangings, as occurred on January 27, 1969, when nine Jews were hanged in the center of Baghdad on trumped-up charges, while hundreds of thousands of Iraqis wildly cheered the executions. The rest of us got out one way or another, including friends of mine who found safety in Iran when it was ruled by the Shah.
Now there are no Jews left to speak of, nor are there monuments, museums, or other reminders of our presence on Iraqi soil for twenty-six centuries.
Do the textbooks used in Iraqi schools today refer to our one-time presence, to our positive contribution to the evolution of Iraqi society and culture? Not a chance. 2,600 years are erased, wiped out, as if they never happened. Can you put yourself in my shoes and feel the excruciating pain of loss and invisibility?
I AM A FORGOTTEN JEW.
I was first settled in what is present-day Libya by the Egyptian ruler Ptolemy Lagos (323-282 BCE), according to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus. My forefathers and foremothers lived continuously on this soil for more than two millennia, our numbers bolstered by Berbers who converted to Judaism, Spanish and Portuguese Jews fleeing the Inquisition, and Italian Jews crossing the Mediterranean.
I was confronted with the anti-Jewish legislation of the occupying Italian Fascists. I endured the incarceration of 2,600 fellow Jews in an Axis-run camp in 1942. I survived the deportation of 200 fellow Jews to Italy the same year. I coped with forced labor in Libya during the war. I witnessed Muslim rioting in 1945 and 1948 that left nearly 150 Libyan Jews dead, hundreds injured, and thousands homeless.
I watched with uncertainty as Libya became an independent country in 1951. I wondered what would happen to those 6,000 of us still there, the remnant of the 39,000 Jews who had formed this once-proud community — that is, until the rioting sent people packing, many headed for the newly established State of Israel.
The good news was that there were constitutional protections for minority groups in the newly established Libyan nation. The bad news was that they were completely ignored.
Within ten years of my native country’s independence, I could not vote, hold public office, serve in the army, obtain a passport, purchase new property, acquire majority ownership in any new business, or participate in the supervision of our community’s affairs.
By June 1967 the die was cast. Those of us who had remained, hoping against hope that things would improve in a land to which we were deeply attached and which, at times, had been good to us, had no choice but to flee. The Six-Day War created an explosive atmosphere in the streets. Eighteen Jews were killed, and Jewish-owned homes and shops were burned to the ground.
I and 4,000 other Jews left however we could, most of us with no more than a suitcase and the equivalent of a few dollars.
I was never allowed to return. I never recovered the assets I had left behind in Libya, despite promises by the government. In effect, it was all stolen — the homes, furniture, shops, communal institutions, you name it. Still worse, I was never able to visit the grave sites of my relatives. That hurt especially deeply. In fact, I was told that, under Colonel Qaddhafi, who seized power in 1969, the Jewish cemeteries were bulldozed and the headstones used for road building.
I AM A FORGOTTEN JEW.
My experience — the good and the bad — lives on in my memory, and I’ll do my best to transmit it to my children and grandchildren, but how much can they absorb? How much can they identify with a culture that seems like a relic of a distant past that appears increasingly remote and intangible? True, a few books and articles on my history have been written, but— and here I’m being generous — they are far from best-sellers.
In any case, can these books compete with the systematic attempt by Libyan leaders to expunge any trace of my presence over two millennia? Can these books compete with a world that paid virtually no attention to the end of my existence?
Take a look at The New York Times index for 1967, and you’ll see for yourself how the newspaper of record covered the tragic demise of an ancient community. I can save you the trouble of looking — just a few paltry lines were all the story got.
I AM A FORGOTTEN JEW.
I am one of hundreds of thousands of Jews who once lived in countries like Iraq and Libya. All told, we numbered close to 900,000 in 1948. Today we are fewer than 5,000, mostly concentrated in two moderate countries—Morocco and Tunisia.
We were once vibrant communities in Aden, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and other nations, with roots dating back literally 2,000 years and more. Now we are next to none.
Why does no one speak of us and our story? Why does the world relentlessly, obsessively speak of the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars in the Middle East — who, not unimportantly, were displaced by wars launched by their own Arab brethren — but totally ignore the Jewish refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars?
Why is the world left with the impression that there’s only one refugee population from the Arab-Israeli conflict, or, more precisely, the Arab conflict with Israel, when, in fact, there are two refugee populations, and our numbers were somewhat larger than the Palestinians?
I’ve spent many sleepless nights trying to understand this injustice.
SHOULD I BLAME MYSELF?
Perhaps we Jews from Arab countries accepted our fate too passively. Perhaps we failed to seize the opportunity to tell our story. Look at the Jews of Europe. They turned to articles, books, poems, plays, paintings, and film to recount their story. They depicted the periods of joy and the periods of tragedy, and they did it in a way that captured the imagination of many non-Jews. Perhaps I was too fatalistic, too shell-shocked, too uncertain of my artistic or literary talents.
But that can’t be the only reason for my unsought status as a forgotten Jew. It’s not that I haven’t tried to make at least some noise; I have. I’ve organized gatherings and petitions, arranged exhibitions, appealed to the United Nations, and met with officials from just about every Western government. But somehow it all seems to add up to less than the sum of its parts. No, that’s still being too kind. The truth is, it has pretty much fallen on deaf ears.
You know that acronym — MEGO? It means “My eyes glazed over.” That’s the impression I often have when I’ve tried raising the subject of the Jews from Arab lands with diplomats, elected officials, and journalists — their eyes glaze over (TEGO).
No, I shouldn’t be blaming myself, though I could always be doing more for the sake of history and justice.
THERE’S ACTUALLY A FAR MORE IMPORTANT EXPLANATORY FACTOR.
We Jews from the Arab world picked up the pieces of our shattered lives after our hurried departures — in the wake of intimidation, violence, and discrimination — and moved on.
Most of us went to Israel, where we were welcomed. The years following our arrival weren’t always easy — we started at the bottom and had to work our way up. We came with varying levels of education and little in the way of tangible assets. But we had something more to sustain us through the difficult process of adjustment and acculturation: our immeasurable pride as Jews, our deeply rooted faith, our cherished rabbis and customs, and our commitment to Israel’s survival and well-being.
Some of us — somewhere between one-fourth and one-third of the total — chose to go elsewhere.
Jews from the French-speaking Arab countries gravitated toward France and Quebec. Jews from Libya created communities in Rome and Milan. Egyptian and Lebanese Jews were sprinkled throughout Europe and North America, and a few resettled in Brazil. Syrian Jews immigrated to the United States, especially New York, as well as to Mexico City and Panama City. And on it went.
Wherever we settled, we put our shoulder to the wheel and created new lives. We learned the local language if we didn’t already know it, found jobs, sent our children to school, and, as soon as we could, built our own congregations to preserve the rites and rituals that were distinctive to our tradition.
I would never underestimate the difficulties or overlook those who, for reasons of age or ill health or poverty, couldn’t make it, but, by and large, in a short time we have taken giant steps, whether in Israel or elsewhere.
I may be a forgotten Jew, but my voice will not remain silent. It cannot, for if it does, it becomes an accomplice to historical denial and revisionism.
I will speak out because I will not allow the Arab conflict with Israel to be defined unfairly through the prism of one refugee population only, the Palestinian.
I will speak out because what happened to me is now being done, with eerie familiarity, to another minority group in the region, the Christians, and once again I see the world averting its eyes, as if denial ever solved anything.
I WILL SPEAK OUT BECAUSE I REFUSE TO BE A FORGOTTEN JEW.
TEXT OF THE JEWISH LAW DRAFTED BY
THE POLITICAL COMMITTEE OF THE ARAB LEAGUE
This document is at Zionism and Israel Information Center -
Historical Documents and References
In 1947, the Political Committee of the Arab League (League of Arab States) drafted a law which was to govern the legal status of Jewish residents in all Arab League countries. This law had already been approved by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, provided that,
“beginning with a specified date, all Jews – with the exception of citizens of non-Arab countries – were to be considered members of the Jewish ‘minority state of Palestine,’ and that their bank account be frozen and used to finance resistance to ‘Zionist ambitions in Palestine.’
Jews believed to be active Zionists would be interned as political prisoners and their assets confiscated. Only Jews who accept active service in Arab armies or place themselves at the disposal of these armies
would be considered ‘Arabs.’” 1
EXCERPTS OF DIRECT QUOTES OF THE LAW
DRAFTED BY THE POLITICAL COMMITTEE OF THE ARAB LEAGUE
• “All Jewish citizens…will be considered as members of the Jewish minority of the State of Palestine and will have to register [“within 7 days”] with the authorities of the region wherein they reside, giving their names, the exact number of members in their families, their addresses, the names of their banks and the amounts of their deposits
in these banks…”2
• “Bank accounts of Jews will be frozen. These funds will be utilized in part or in full to finance the movement of resistance to Zionist ambitions in Palestine.”3
• “Only Jews who are subjects of foreign countries will be considered ‘neutrals.’ These will be compelled either to return to their countries, with a minimum of delay, or be considered Arabs and obliged to accept active service in the Arab army.”4
• “Every Jew whose activities reveal that he is an active Zionist will be considered as a political prisoner and will be interned in places specifically designated for that purpose by police authorities or by the Government. His financial resources, instead of being frozen, will be confiscated.”5
• “Any Jew who will be able to prove that his activities are anti-Zionist will be free to act as he likes, provided that he declares his readiness to join the Arab armies.”6
• “The foregoing…does not mean that those Jews will not be submitted to paragraphs 1 and 2 of this law.”7
1 Memorandum Submitted to the U.N. Economic and Social Council by the World Jewish Congress. (Jan. 19, 1948) Section I. (2) a. June 2, 1948. [ZIIC - This reference is in the document prepared by JJAC and is probably incorrect]
2 Text of the Law drafted by the Political Committee of the Arab League. Paragraph 1.
3 ibid. Paragraph 2.
4 ibid. Paragraph 3.
5 ibid. Paragraph 5.
6 ibid. Paragraph 6.
7 ibid. Paragraph 7. (Paragraph 1 & 2 indicate all Jews must register and disclose personal and banking information and
that bank accounts will be frozen and utilized for anti-Zionist resistance.)
JEWS IN GRAVE DANGER IN ALL MOSLEM LANDS
New York Times, Mallory Browne, May 16 1948
LAKE SUCCESS, N. Y., May 15 -- For nearly four months, the United Nations has had before it: an appeal for "immediate and urgent" consideration of the case of the Jewish populations in Arab and Muslim countries stretching front Morocco to India.
Even four months ago, it was the Zionist view that Jews residing in the Near and Middle East were in extreme and imminent danger. Now that the end of the ,mandate has precipitated civil war or even worse developments in Palestine, it is feared that the repercussions' of this in Moslem countries will put the Jewish populations in many of these states in mortal peril.
Reports from the Middle East: make it clear that there is serious tension in all Arab countries. The Jewish populations there are gravely worried at the prospect that an Arab-Jewish war may break out suddenly at any moment.
FEELING RUNS HIGH
Already in some Moslem states such as Syria and Lebanon there is a tendency to regard all Jews as Zionist agents and "fifth columnists." There have been violent incidents with feeling running high. There are indications that the stage is being set for a tragedy of incalculable proportions.
Nearly 900,000 Jews live in these Moslem and Arab countries stretching from the Atlantic along the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean. Zionist leaders today are convinced that their position is perilous in the extreme.
When the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations meets in Geneva next July, this matter will come before it.
On Jan. 19. 1948, the World Jewish Congress submitted a memorandum on the whole problem to the Economic and Social Council, asking for urgent action during the spring session of the Council.
This plea arose to some extent from statements, made by Arab spokesmen during the General Assembly session last autumn, to the effect that if the partition resolution was put into, effect, they would not be able to guarantee the safety of the Jews in any Arab land.
The memorandum of the World Jewish Congress went into considerable detail on this danger. It cited the text of a law .drafted by the Political Committee of the Arab League which was intended, to govern the legal status of Jewish residents in all Arab League countries.
It provides that beginning on an, unspecified date all Jews except citizens of non-Arab states, would be considered "members of the Jewish minority state of Palestine." Their bank accounts would he frozen and used to finance resistance to "Zionist ambitions in Palestine." Jews believed to be active Zionists would be interned and their assets confiscated.
The memorandum gave many details of instances of persecution' of Jewish individuals and whole communities. It listed the following tabulation of the Jewish residents in Arab countries:
French Morocco ……………………………………………..190,000
Spanish Morocco and Tangier ……………………………30,000
Aden (including refugees from Yemen) ……………….8,000
Afghanistan (including refugees in India) ……………5,000
Other countries (Hadramuth, Sudan, Bahrein) ……3,000
Later information submitted to the Economic and Social Council was to the effect that:
Giving many other details of persecution. this report declares that "the very survival of the Jewish communities in certain Arab and Moslem countries is in serious danger unless preventative action is taken without delay."
Today, with the Jewish State an established fact, Jewish spokesmen at Lake Success do not conceal their anxiety that this danger to the survival of the Jewish populations of the Arab countries is even more imminent, and that the only effective solution would be to facilitate their quick transfer, in so far as is possible and practicable, to the new Jewish State.
Conditions vary in the Moslem countries. They are worst in Yemen and Afghanistan, whence many Jews have fled in terror to India. Conditions in most of the countries have deteriorated in recent months, this being particularly true of Lebanon, Iran and Egypt. In the countries farther west along the Mediterranean coast, conditions are not so bad. It is feared, however, that if a full-scale war breaks out, the repercussions will be grave for Jews all the way from Casablanca to Karachi.
A Canadian professor is recording the memories of 5,000 Mizrahi Jews who experienced both joy and persecution in Arab lands.
Steven Spielberg took pains to record the memories of Holocaust survivors. Now someone is doing that for Mizrahi Jews
— Jews with roots in the Middle East and North Africa.
Haaretz Ofer Aderet Jul 08, 2014
The man behind the project is a Canadian who’s actually an Ashkenazi Jew — one with European roots. Prof. Henry Green, a historian and sociologist at the University of Miami, has been gathering the testimony of Jews from Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria.
Green, who hails from a religious family in Ottawa, says he decided to collect the stories of Mizrahi Jews — also known as Sephardi Jews — because the Ashkenazi story was so much better documented. “If I don’t document them now, it will be too late,” he told Haaretz on a recent trip to Israel.
Since Green launched his Sephardi Voices project in 2009, he has filmed around 300 Mizrahi Jews who immigrated to Britain, Canada, France, the United States and Israel. They have told him about their prosperity living in Arab lands as well as the persecution and expulsion.
Until the establishment of Israel in 1948, 1 million Jews were living in Arab countries, most from ancient communities. After 1948 the persecution worsened until most were forced to leave their property behind. Many moved to Europe and North America; most came to Israel. Green estimates that about 70 percent are no longer alive.
Green has interviewed people describing pogroms and other atrocities: 150 Iraqi Jews killed in June 1941, 130 Libyan Jews killed in Tripol in 1945, and dozens of Jews killed in Egypt in 1948.
In the 1970s Green studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, when he heard about the travails of Mizrahi Jews — in Israel, where they protesting injustices at the hands of the Ashkenazi establishment. If Green meets his goal, within a few years he will have filmed interviews with around 5,000 people.
In the countries involved, Sephardi Voices is being carried about by local staff. Most participants are volunteers who take donations that pay for the film crews. The project joins a number of others around the world over the past two decades that have documented the lives of witnesses to Jewish history.
“None of these projects have dealt with the experiences of the displaced Jews from North Africa, the Middle East and Iran who left their homes,” says the Sephardic Voices website. “By recording the stories of the Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews, the memories of individuals who grew up in communities which often no longer exist will be passed on to the next generations and create a sense of pride and continuity.”
In Israel there are two projects documenting the War of Independence and its veterans. Holocaust survivors have been recorded by Yad Vashem and Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.
Tens of thousands of people have been interviewed, most of them Ashkenazi. Green’s efforts represent a different Zionist story that expands the Jewish identity that we’re familiar with, he says.
Green is in contact with the National Library about the possibility of making his work available to the public. In the meantime, the testimonies can be viewed at the British Library in London. They are not available on the Internet.
Only five Israelis have been interviewed for the project so far. The project in Israel will now include cooperation with the Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University’s Division of Oral History and the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center.
Linda Hakim left Iraq for London in 1970. But she has never been able to shake off the fear she had felt growing up as a Jew.
HuffPost, Lyn Julius, Contributor, 11/23/2015, Updated Nov 22, 2016
Founder of Harif,
the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and N Africa
She heard mobs in Baghdad, after Israel’s Six Day War victory, screaming ‘death to Israel, death to the Jews.”
She escaped a lynch mob only when her fast-thinking headmaster bundled her and a group of Jewish students into his VW Beetle.
She will never forget the TV spectacle of nine innocent Jews — some only teenagers — swinging from the gallows in Baghdad’s main square in 1969 as hundreds of thousands sang and danced under the bodies.
Even when her family had boarded the plane bound for London having abandoned their home and possessions, they could not let down their guard. The Iraqi police arrested a classmate of Linda’s and escorted him off the plane. Even today, every time she sees a police uniform, Linda’s heart races.
Linda found a haven in England, and her children have grown up in freedom, tolerance and acceptance. But in its obsession with Palestinian refugees, the world has never recognised the trauma that a greater number of Jewish refugees from 10 Arab lands and post-1979 Iran went through — human rights violations, wholesale robbery, seizure of property, internment, even execution. The ethnic cleansing of the Arab world’s Jews preceded the persecution of its Christians, its Yazidis and others.
On 23 June 2014, the Israeli Knesset passed a law designating 30 November as an official date in the calendar to remember the uprooting of almost one million Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran in the last 60 years.
The date chosen was 30 November - to recall the day after the UN passed the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine. Violence, following bloodcurdling threats by Arab leaders, erupted against Jewish communities. The riots resulted in the mass exodus of Jews from the Arab world, the seizure of their property and assets and the destruction of their millennarian, pre-Islamic communities. In 1979, the Islamic revolution resulted in the exodus of four-fifths of the Iranian-Jewish community.
Refugees are much in the news these days. Until the mass population displacement caused by wars in Iraq and Syria, however, the world thought that ‘Middle Eastern refugee’ was synonymous with ‘Palestinian refugee.’ Yet there were more Jews displaced from Arab countries than Palestinians (850,000, as against 711,000 according to UN figures.)
The majority of Jewish refugees found a haven in Israel. For peace, it is important that all bona fide refugees be treated equally, yet Jewish refugee rights have never adequately been addressed. The 30 November commemoration is first and foremost a call for truth and reconciliation.
The Jewish refugee issue is more than simply a question to be resolved at the negotiating table. It is a symptom of the Arab and Muslim world’s deep psychosis - an inability to tolerate the non-Arab, non-Muslim Other.
Today, both Muslim sects and non-Muslim minorities are being persecuted in the Middle East, but people are apt to forget that the Jews were one of the first. As the saying goes, ‘First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.’ And it does not stop there. A state that devours its minorities ends up devouring itself.
This Arab/Muslim psychosis is the product of fundamentalist ideologies, many of them Nazi-inspired, which took root in the first half of 20th century. These ideological forces left a legacy of state-sanctioned bigotry and religiously-motivated terrorism. That legacy is with us today, in the atrocities in Paris, in Mali and in the stabbings on Israel’s streets.
There are no Jewish refugees today - they have been successfully absorbed in Israel and the West. They have rebuilt their lives without fuss. They don’t expect much in the way of compensation. But former refugees do demand their place in memory and history.
The Israeli government is telling the Jewish refugee story at the UN on 1 December. From Amsterdam to Sydney, Toronto to Geneva, Liverpool to New York, San Francisco to London, Jewish organisations worldwide - my own (Harif) included - are organising lectures, film screening and discussions.
It is the least we can do for Linda.
A handful of scholars are creating a multimedia resource to give Mizrahi Jews the same platforms to tell their stories
as Ashkenazim who suffered in the Holocaust
The Times of Israel, CATHRYN J. PRINCE 2 September 2017
NEW YORK — Although Oded Halahmy left Iraq in 1951, Iraq has never left him.
“Every aspect of my life has been influenced by my first home, the ‘Land of Milk and Honey’ I remember from my childhood. Palm and pomegranate trees dance in the wind,” said Halahmy, 79. “I can visualize the narrow alleyways, the houses built of ancient stones with beautifully sculpted doors, circular windows of exquisitely colored glass. My memories of Iraq are real and alive, and my attachment to Iraq is very strong. My Baghdad is the most beautiful place on earth, the Garden of Eden.”
Halahmy was 13 when he, his parents, his siblings as well as hundreds of other relatives left for Israel. Now, as his generation ages, first-person stories like Halahmy’s are slipping into the shadows of history.
“These are the very last years to capture firsthand accounts of Jewish life in Iraq. There will be no witnesses left and so there is an urgency to get the stories. It’s a last grasp. Mizrahi Jews account for half the world’s Jewry, yet their stories remain virtually untold,” said Tamar Morad, a writer and editor living in Israel.
That’s where The Iraqi Jewish Voices Project, IJVP, comes in. Using black and white portraits, interviews, and scanned historical documents, the multi-media project records the stories of the last Jews of Iraq and what it was like for them to immigrate to Israel, France, the United States and beyond.
Oded Halahmy for the Iraqi Jewish Voices Project. (Liam Sharp)
The project aims to shift the meta-narrative of world Jewry in the 20th Century, which has almost always revolved around the history of European Jewry. The bold initiative might just be the thread that stitches the Jews of the Mideast’s past to the future.
Morad, who grew up in Boston, is of Ashkenazi descent. Her husband’s family came from Iraq. In no time she realized the more she asked her father-in-law, as well as her husband’s 105-year-old grandfather, about what life was like in Iraq before they left, the more she wanted to know.
She found others wanted to share their stories as well. “You see the eagerness of people to tell their stories. It’s the first time some of them have told their stories in full,” Morad said. “It’s time the world should know it. To progress we need to be educated about the past.”
Morad co-manages the project with Henry Green, executive director of the NGO Sephardi Voices, and professor of Judaic and Religious Studies at the University of Miami.
Morad is basing the project on the book, “Iraq’s Last Jews: Stories of Daily Life, Upheaval, and Escape from Modern Babylon” — an oral history collection co-edited by Morad with Dennis and Robert Shasha — and plans to revisit and expand on some of the people and places featured in it.
The Iraqi Jewish Voices Project comes under the auspices of the nonprofit Sephardi Voices (SV), which aims to collect thousands of interviews of Jews who lived in Arab and Muslim lands. It wants to do for the Jews of Arab lands what the Shoah Foundation did for Holocaust survivors in collecting and preserving their testimony about life before, during and after World War II, Green said.
Iraqi Jewish Voices Project backers Robert Shasha, Tamar Morad, Dennis Shasha, and Henry Green. (David Langer)
SV has so far conducted hundreds of interviews of Jews from 10 countries including Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and Syria. Interviews are conducted in English, French and Hebrew as well as Judeo-Arabic, Ladino and Haquetia, an endangered Jewish Romance language.
“It will empower a population that has largely been invisible. It will make it so the children and grandchildren of these men and women will take pride in their heritage. If Jews are to understand their collective history then the story of Mizrahi Jews must be told,” Green said.
The long, rich history of Mizrahi Jews
The history of Mizrahi Jews is interwoven into the earliest chapters of the United States. Congregation Shearith Israel, established in 1654, is the oldest Jewish congregation in the US. It’s often called The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. And there’s the famous Floridian, David Levy Yulee, of Moroccan origin: In 1845 he became the first Jewish senator to serve in the US Congress, representing his home state of Florida.
Across the Middle East, North Africa and Iran, Judaism predates Christianity by 500 years and Islam by 1,300 years. Now less than a handful of Jews remain in most Arab countries, or, as is the case in Algeria and Libya, none at all.
The stories of interviewees often recall rich and colorful lives in their birth countries, “full of friendships, partnerships and political alliances with their Muslim and Christian compatriots,” said Dennis Shasha.
There was a time when Jews accounted for one third of the population of Baghdad and numbered 150,000 across Iraq. Representing doctors and lawyers, teachers and scientists, musicians and politicians — Jews were integral to Iraqi life.
Then in the 1930s and 1940s political persecution and anti-Semitism swept across the region like a sandstorm and destroyed the vibrant community. With the birth of the State of Israel in 1948 the situation grew ever more precarious.
“Ambitious tyrants in their countries, using Israel as a bogeyman, made Jews a scapegoat for those tyrants’ own mismanagement and corruption. So the Jews had to leave,” Shasha said.
And so between 1949 and 1952 nearly the entire Jewish community, about 120,000 people, was airlifted to Israel in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah. It was the largest air migration of refugees in history. The remaining population left in the 1960s and 1970s because of the brutal persecution it faced under Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.
JVP will also include new black and white portraiture. When complete, the project will be included with the SV archive, which will eventually be available free of charge on an Internet portal at the National Library of Israel.
Indeed, as well as collecting new stories, Morad, Green and producer David Langer will revisit those who are still alive today among the book’s original interviewees.
TESTIMONIES FROM NORTH AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
USC Shoah Foundation
The Institute has launched a campaign to record at least 50 testimonies from the North Africa and Middle East region, where the Nazi regime had gained a foothold during World War II.
USC Shoah Foundation collected the first four testimonies in May of 2014 and is raising funds to begin phase two, in which it plans to record 20 more.
These audiovisual testimonies, once collected, will be digitized, indexed and made accessible to people around the world through the Institute’s Visual History Archive.
The Testimonies from North Africa and the Middle East collection includes the life stories of Jews who were living in North Africa and the Middle East during World War II and witnessed the destruction created there by Nazi occupiers or governments that were Nazi sympathizers.
Though far from the Holocaust in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East were an important part of Hitler’s Final Solution. Hitler intended to exterminate all Jews, not just those in Europe, and according to Holocaust scholar Sir Martin Gilbert, the persecution of the Jews in French North Africa was an integral part of the Holocaust in France. For example, Nazis occupied Tunisia from November 1942 until May 1943, and Jews throughout this part of the world were subjected to deportation, imprisonment in concentration camps, and the destruction of their homes, as well as severe anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish laws from their own governments.
In the first phase of the project in spring 2014, program director Jacqueline Gmach interviewed Armand Abecassis, Andre Nahum, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji and Albert Memmi, who are each highly respected scholars and/or authors living in Paris. She was accompanied by interviewer Serge Moati, a French artist, journalist, film director and writer, and videographer Olivier Raffet. Ruth Pearl, mother of the late journalist Daniel Pearl, also gave her testimony about growing up in Iraq during the Farhud of 1941.
For the second phase, Gmach is working on identifying 20 new interviewees who lived in North Africa and the Middle East during World War II. The collection may expand to include people of different faiths and cultures, and those who lived in non-Arab countries. Testimonies will be in English, French and Farsi, and potential interviewees currently live in Montreal, Paris, New York, Los Angeles and San Diego.
Because of the advanced age of many potential interviewees, Gmach said that time is of the essence for embarking on the second phase.
NEW DIMENSIONS IN TESTIMONY
USC Shoah Foundation has also partnered with USC Institute for Creative Technologies and Conscience Display to conceive and design a cutting-edge technology called New Dimensions in Testimony, which enables people to interact with a projected image of a real Holocaust survivor, who responds to questions asked in real time.
With this endeavor, a handful of Holocaust survivors who have already sat before a camera for USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive are giving testimony again. This time, however, they sit before 50 cameras arranged in a rig to capture a three-dimensional recording of them telling their stories in a new way, by answering questions that people are most likely to ask. Funding for New Dimensions in Testimony was provided in part by Pears Foundation and Louis. F. Smith.
Project will interview Jews who immigrated to Israel from Arab lands or Iran, and descendants of Jews expelled from Spain.
Haaretz Ofer Aderet Dec 13, 2016
The stories, heritage and history of Jews who immigrated to Israel from Arab lands and Spain will be documented as part of a new national project, approved Sunday by the cabinet.
The project will collect personal testimonies, both filmed and written, from Jews of Sephardi and Mizrahi origins, referring to Jews who were displaced from the Iberian Peninsula following the Spanish Inquisition, and those of Middle Eastern or North African descent.
The subjects will document their lives before they made aliyah, their situations when they left, fled or were expelled from their countries, and the tales of their absorption in Israel.
The Social Equality Ministry, headed by Minister Gila Gamliel, will allocate 10 million shekels ($2.6 million) to the project, which Gamliel initiated. “This is not a uniquely Mizrahi interest but a national, Jewish and Zionist interest,” she said, after the project was approved. “From now on, the Jewish story will be more complete and Israeli citizens young and old will get to hear, study and become familiar with both the Eastern and Western sides of the glorious heritage of the Jewish people.”
The Government Press Office will run the project, after investigating options for cooperating with Beit Hatfutsot – the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, or Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, two institutions with long experience in documenting the life of Diaspora Jewry.
In recent years, there have been several projects producing video documentation of the history of various populations. Some are private initiatives, while others are under the auspices of public or government agencies.
One of the most prominent is the “Israel History” project, which has taken video testimonies from 1,100 people who lived through the founding of the state in 1948. That project began as a private initiative but was later taken under the wing of the Jewish National and University Library.
A parallel project called “Documenting the 1948 Generation,” which interviewed 930 people, was conducted by the World Zionist Organization and the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive. Those interviews are currently available for viewing on YouTube, and in the future will be featured on the website of the National Library.
A project similar to the one the government approved Sunday was previously pursued as a private initiative called “Sephardi Voices.” This was overseen by an American historian and sociologist, who documented hundreds of Jews who originated in Arab countries and moved to Britain, Canada, France, the United States and Israel.
This new government initiative is one of a series of moves the government has made “to correct an injustice” – in the government’s words – by shining a light on parts of the Jewish people’s history that have been absent from textbooks, national ceremonies and other public remembrances.
“The initiative is part of a comprehensive national effort to deepen public knowledge and awareness about the story and legacy of Eastern Jewry, after long years in which they were pushed aside from public discussion and Israeli consciousness,” Gamliel said on Sunday.
Other steps taken by the government include establishing a memorial day to mark the departure and expulsion of Jews from Arab lands and Iran. This has been marked since 2014 on November 30, the day after the United Nations approved the partition that led to the establishment of the State of Israel – after which the situation of Jews in Arab countries worsened.
The Education Ministry set up the Biton Committee, which this summer recommended changes to the school and university curricula to include more content about Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews. And last month, the ministry announced it was creating a database of speakers to “perpetuate the heritage of the Jews of the East and Spain,” who will come to schools to tell their personal stories.
Gamliel claimed Sunday that “the chapter on Eastern Jewry is starting to be written today.” This is an exaggeration, though, since institutions like Yad Ben-Zvi have spent decades writing “the chapter on Eastern Jewry” and have published hundreds of books, pamphlets and articles on the Jewish communities in Spain and the East.
The Documentation Center for North Africa Jewry during World War II,
the Ben Zvi Institute,
International Institute for Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem April 5, 2016
From the time they assumed power – and even beforehand – the Nazi regime's policy towards the Jews drew responses from both the Jewish and the non-Jewish world. Many aspects of the Nazi influence outside the areas over which they ruled have been addressed by scholars, but very little attention has been given to aspects related to the Middle East (aside from the Jewish settlement in the land of Israel and the Mufti of Jerusalem). The aim of this conference is to address various aspects of this neglected issue.
Jacqueline Semha Gmach, born in Tunisia during WWII, is a Holocaust educator and is serving as the Project Director of USC Shoah Foundation's Testimonies from North Africa and the Middle East collection. At the conference, she will give a lecture on "Four Iraqi Jews' Testimonies - Their Life Stories Prior, During and After World War II."
TESTIMONIES FROM NORTH AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST is a project documenting testimonies from survivors and eye-witnesses who lived through the events of over 70 years ago in North Africa and the Middle East, and the destruction created there by Nazi occupiers or governments that were Nazi sympathizers. These experiences are crucial for understanding the global impact and scale of Nazi ideology and its' policies. After the war, many of these individuals experienced continued anti-Semitic persecution in their home countries and were forced to flee.
As part of our continual effort to stand in solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people, CUFI’s Diversity Outreach presents a new initiative called, The Mizrahi Project (TMP) — telling the story of the more than 850,000 Jewish refugees expelled from North Africa and the Middle East. This Jewish community is often referred to as the “forgotten refugees” as their story is unknown to most people.
The Mizrahi Project is a series of short films that features a member of the Mizrahi Jewish community telling that story to the world. There will be new stories and films added consistently.
Founded in 2006, Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States. It has more than 4 million members, spanning all fifty states. Since its inception, CUFI has held more than 2,500 pro-Israel events in cities and towns across the country, including more than 300 Nights to Honor Israel. CUFI’s mission is winning the long-term battle for hearts and minds so that Christian support for Israel will survive for generations to come.
CUFI On Campus leaders are committed to standing in solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people, and remember the Jewish refugees of North Africa & the Middle East by helping the The Mizrahi Project bring the story of the "forgotten refugees" to their campuses.
FROM EXILE TO MARGINALIZATION
In the early 20th century one million Jews from nine Arab countries and Iran were forced to flee lands their ancestors lived in for over 2,500 years. UN House Resolution 242 stated that Jews fleeing Arab countries were ‘bona fide’ refugees, yet the international political community, the media, and North American academic, human rights, and mainstream Jewish institutions have continuously ignored the Mizrahi refugee experience. The culture and spiritual contributions of Mizrahi Jews has also been left out of mainstream Jewish communal life and consciousness in North America.
The marginalization of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews from mainstream American Jewish life has left American Jews with a narrow view of what Jewishness looks like, what countries it comes from, what traditions it follows, what languages it speaks, how it engages with other Middle Eastern communities, and how it experiences Israel.
More over, revisionist history of the Middle East excludes the fact that over half of Israel’s Jewish population live there not because European atrocities during World War II, but because of Anti-Semitic Arab governments who, under the color of law, dispossessed and displaced their native Jewish populations following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Adopted narratives of the Arab-Israeli conflict fail to address the fact that Israel was the largest refugee camp in the Middle East, providing safe haven to some 650,000 Middle Eastern and North African Jewish refugees whose ancestors had a continuous presence in the region for over 3,000 years.
JIMENA IS BORN
JIMENA was created in 2002 by former Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa who desired to share their personal stories and rich culture with college students, policy makers and North American Jewish communal and lay leaders throughout North America. JIMENA speakers have shared personal testimonies with government agencies all over the world, more than 80 Universities in North America and hundreds of organizations. As the only organization in North America exclusively focused on educating and advocating on behalf of Jewish refugees and Mizrahi Jews from Arab countries, we remain a thought-leader and resource center for multiple institutions advancing the history, heritage and culture of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews. Each month, the JIMENA website receives over 600,000 hits from around the world attesting to international interest in the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran
After 18 months of research, first claims being finalized for reported $35b from Tunisia, $15b from Libya, for assets Jews
left behind when kicked out after establishment of Israel
Times of Israel, Staff, 5 January 2019
Israel is preparing to demand compensation totaling a reported $250 billion from seven Arab countries and Iran for property and assets left behind by Jews who were forced to flee those countries following the establishment of the State of Israel.
“The time has come to correct the historic injustice of the pogroms (against Jews) in seven Arab countries and Iran, and to restore, to hundreds of thousands of Jews who lost their property, what is rightfully theirs,” Israel’s Minister for Social Equality, Gila Gamliel, who is coordinating the Israeli government’s handling of the issue, said Saturday.
According to figures cited Saturday night by Israel’s Hadashot TV news, compensation demands are now being finalized with regards to the first two of the eight countries involved, with Israel set to seek $35 billion dollars in compensation for lost Jewish assets from Tunisia, and $15 billion dollars from Libya.
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In total, the TV report said Israel will seek over $250 billion from those two countries plus Morocco, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Iran.
Yemenite Jews walking to Aden, the site of a reception camp, ahead of their emigration to Israel, 1949. (Kluger Zoltan/Israeli National Photo Archive/public domain)
Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), an international umbrella group of Jewish community organizations, has estimated that some 856,000 Jews from 10 Arab countries — the other two were Algeria and Lebanon — fled or were expelled in 1948 and after, while violent Arab riots left many Jews dead or injured.
For the past 18 months, utilizing the services of an international accountancy firm, the Israeli government has quietly been researching the value of property and assets that these Jews were forced to leave behind, the TV report said.
Immigrants from Iraq soon after landing at Lod Airport, summer 1951 (Teddy Brauner, GPO)
It is now moving toward finalizing claims as the Trump Administration prepares for the possible unveiling of its much-anticipated Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal. A 2010 Israeli law provides that any peace deal must provide for compensation for assets of Jewish communities and individual Jews forced out of Arab countries and Iran.
“One cannot talk about the Middle East without taking into consideration the rights of the Jews who were forced to leave their thriving communities amid violence,” said Gamliel, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
“All the crimes that were carried out against those Jewish communities must be recognized.”
The Palestinian Authority has sought over $100 billion in compensation from Israel for assets left behind by Arab residents of what is today Israel who fled or were forced to leave at the time of the establishment of the Jewish state, and presented documentation to that effect to the United States a decade ago, the TV report said.
The Palestinians have also always demanded a “right of return” to what is today’s Israel for the few tens of thousands of surviving refugees and for their millions of descendants. This demand would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state and has been dismissed by successive Israeli governments. Israel argues that Palestinian refugees would become citizens of a Palestinian state under a permanent peace accord, just as Jewish refugees from Arab lands became citizens of Israel. It also argues that by extending refugee status to Palestinian descendants, the relevant UN agencies artificially inflate the issue, complicating peace efforts. The latter view is shared by the Trump administration, which last year announced it was halting funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA.
Israel has never formally demanded compensation for Jews forced out of Arab lands and Iran, and although many of those Jews arrived in Israel with next to nothing, they did not seek formal refugee status from the international community.
At the time, the newly established Jewish state was struggling to attract migration from the world’s Jews and to project its legitimacy as a sovereign state, able to care for its own people. Its first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, would not have wanted Jews returning to their “historic homeland” classed as refugees, according to Meir Kahlon, chairman of the Central Organization for Jews from Arab Countries and Iran.
Monies obtained from the eight countries would not be allocated to individual families, the TV report said, but would rather be distributed by the state via a special fund. Gamliel is coordinating the process, together with Israel’s National Security Council, which works out of the Prime Minister’s Office.
In 2014, Israel passed a law making each November 30 a day commemorating the exit and deportation of Jews from Arab and Iranian lands, which involves educational programming and diplomatic events aimed to increase international awareness of the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran, and of their right to compensation.
That year, at the first such events, Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin issued calls for financial reparations.
President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a ceremony marking the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries. November 30, 2014. (photo credit: Courtesy)
“It is not for nothing that this day is marked on the day after the 29th of November,” Netanyahu said on November 30, 2014, in reference to the anniversary of the UN adoption of the Palestine partition plan in 1947. “The Arab countries, which never accepted the UN declaration on the establishment of a Jewish state, compelled the Jews living in their territories to leave their homes while leaving their assets behind… We have acted – and will continue to act – so that they and their claims are not forgotten.”
In his address at that first ceremony, Rivlin appealed for greater Sephardic representation in Israeli society, as well as for compensation for their suffering. He acknowledged that the troubles of Middle Eastern Jews were not mitigated upon their arrival in Israel, where European Jews were firmly entrenched in power.
“Their voices were muted, but the words were in their mouths all along, even if they were said in Hebrew with a Persian or Arabic accent, which in Israel were thought of as enemy languages and viewed as a source of shame,” he said.
“The voice of Jews from Arab countries and Iran must be heard within the education system, in the media, in the arts, and in the country’s official institutions, as it needs to be heard in the international arena as well, in order to mend the historical injustice, and to ensure financial reparations,” Rivlin said.
Kahlon said that “nearly 800,000 came here (in the years after the establishment of the state) and the rest (around 56,000) went to the United States, France, Italy and elsewhere.”
Kahlon himself came to Israel as a child from Libya and spent his first years in the Jewish state in one of the tent camps set up to shelter the flood of newcomers.
Barber Rachamim Azar, a new immigrant from Baghdad, carries out his trade in the tent he shares with his wife and two children at a maabara (immigrant camp) in central Israel in summer 1951. He told a Government Press Office photographer that he intended to move to a kibbutz (Teddy Brauner, GPO)
In March 2014, Canada formally recognized the refugee status of the Jewish emigres who fled or were expelled from Arab countries after Israel’s founding.
Some of the migrants to Israel say privately that the issue is being promoted to give Israel a bargaining card in negotiations with the Palestinians, to set against Palestinian compensation claims for property and assets left behind in what is now Israel.
Wikipedia Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries
Remember Baghdad Conversation (Gina Waldman) Times of Israel, Oct 9 2018
Sephardi Voices Sephardi Voices is the first comprehensive digital audio-visual archive that documents and preserves the life stories and photographs of Jews who lived in Islamic lands.
Jerusalem Post, August 27 2017 Operation Michaeltsberg’s Iraqui Immigrants Mark 70th Anniversary.
Middle East Quarterly, Why Jews Fled the Arab Countries, Ya’akov Meron, September 1995, Volume 2: Number 3
NY Times Are Jews Who Fled Arab Lands to Israel Refugees, Too? Samuel G Freedman,
Oct 11, 2003
WHY ARE THERE STILL
Prager Ubiversity 20!6 (4.23)
THE FORGOTTEN JEWS