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Babylon & Beyond

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ISRAEL: Recognition for Jews displaced from Arab countries

A year and a half ago, M., an Iranian-born Israeli, walked into the Iranian Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, and bribed his way into obtaining Iranian ID papers. He then traveled to his native city in Iran where he met with local businessmen in an attempt to sell his considerable property before it got nationalized. Shortly after his arrival, Iranian intelligence took him to Tehran, where he was questioned. He was no one big, knew nothing important and they let him go about his business. Returning, the Israeli police and security services picked him up too and charged him with visiting an enemy state. Last week news media reported he was sentenced to four months of community service and a token fine.

There is more traffic between Israel and Iran than people think. Family and the fierce tug of nostalgia pulls people back and forth on trips that some might think could be asking for trouble but are usually all right.

And there the business and property to take care of.

Jews who migrated to Israel left property everywhere from North Africa to the Persian Gulf. Some research estimates that about $1 billion worth of personal and community assets were left behind by 850,000 Jews who forfeited all when they left their old countries for the new one. After Israel's establishment, the Jews' standing in many countries deteriorated and the choice for most was clear: offer or not, they were in no place to refuse. 

A few months ago, work began on Israeli legislation to protect the rights of Jewish migrants from Arab countries. The bill, submitted by legislator Nissim Zeev and supported by the government, proposes that Israel secure the right of these Jews' to compensation within the framework of the peace process. Supporters say these Jews are every bit as refugees as the Palestinians displaced with Israel's establishment and should be an equally important issue in the peace process. Critics say taking such a stand will hamper the peace process.

A conference on the subject is being held at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, on Monday, with international guests and supporters attending such as Stanley Urman, chairman of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), Prof. Irwin Cotler, Canadian lawmaker and human rights lawyer, U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, supporter of the congressional resolution on Jewish refugees from Arab countries and others.  

The JJAC issued a comprehensive report in 2007 on Jews displaced from Arab countries, writing that there was no legal doubt that they were bona fide refugees. The report aims to assert their rights and rightful place on the international agenda in the context of a peace process but also to claim these Jews' rightful place in the Middle East narrative, from which they say their "forgotten exodus" has been "expunged."

The JJAC says its campaign is not against Palestinian refugees, nor is it anti-Arab, about money or compensation. "Let there be no doubt about it: where there is no remembrance, there is no truth; where there is no truth, there will be no justice; where there is no justice, there will be no reconciliation; and where there is no reconciliation, there will be no peace," wrote Cotler in the report. 

It's not only financial assets that get nationalized.

Before Babylon was a blog, it was the home to an ancient Jewish community in what is now Iraq. And before Al-Kuwaiti Brothers was a street in Tel Aviv, Saleh and Daoud were among Iraq's greatest musicians. They wrote for Umm Kulthum, collaborated with Abdel Wahab and shaped the nation's classical music. They were also Jewish and left Iraq without their considerable assets. The musicians are now known as "traditional" or "popular," as the music itself was "nationalized" under Saddam Hussein, who obliterated the names but kept the music. Israeli singer Dudu Tassa is their grandson; he honors them in Iraq'n'roll

Those who had property lament its loss. Many had little to begin with. But the sentimental, historic, cultural legacies are the real treasures. These, though bruised, mostly survived the journey. (For extra credit, read anything  by Israeli novelist Eli Amir.)

— Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem.

Comments () | Archives (8)

smhh4's opinion that Jews lived peacefully in Arab countries before 1948 is a fantasy.

E.g., during the 1930s, Iraqi Jews were increasingly subject to discrimination and harsh laws. On August 27, 1934, Jews were dismissed from public service, and quotas were set up in colleges and universities. Following the collapse of Rashid Ali's pro-Axis coup in June 1941, there was a pogrom in Baghdad in which approximately 200 Jews were murdered and up to 2,000 injured.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Sa'id had this to say: ”The Jews have always been a source of evil and harm to Iraq. They are spies. They have sold their property in Iraq, they have no land among us that they can cultivate. How therefore can they live? What will they do if they stay in Iraq? No, no my friend, it is better for us to be rid of them as long as we are able to do so” (A. al-'Arif, An-Nakba, 1947-1955, vol. 4, p. 893).

Before the creation of apartheid Israel in 1948,Jews had lived quite peacefully in many Arab countries with full rights of citizenship and full respect.All Jews in the middle East then enjoyed the same rights of other citizens without any kind of descrimination,contrary to the wicked way Jews were treated in many European countries. Jews who decided to flock to the Arab East ,invade Palestine with the assistance of the British rule then,Kick indigenous Palestinians out into refugee camps and expropriate all their properties can never be considered refugees.They were miltary gangs invading a small peaceful country named Palestine,but never refugees.

As a Lebanese guy living in Beirut, what the JJAC is doing is important work. I am surprised there is not that much importance paid to this issue. Maybe many Jews gave up on their lives in other ME countries such as Lebanon? Understandably, there may not be welcome but that should not mean ME Jews give up on their rights (especially as land owners).

In Beirut, I live near an area (Wadi Abu Jamil) that is /was owned by Jewish Lebanese and I am not sure how they are being compensated for it since it is now the site of new glitzy residences. At least they did not change the name!

"Let there be no doubt about it: where there is no remembrance, there is no truth; where there is no truth, there will be no justice; where there is no justice, there will be no reconciliation; and where there is no reconciliation, there will be no peace,"
well said,now apply it to the Palestinian refugees TOO.

Islamic Religious Apartheid has been suppressing the religion and culture of Jews, Berbers, Christians, Kurds, and others across the Middle East and North Africa since the onset of Arab invasions and colonization. Is it not publicized because of a fear of cultural violence and the withholding of oil? The world should be aware of organizations such as the Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and corresponding organizations from other victim groups of Islamic/Arab/Persian supremacy theology. While peace enforced by force lasts only as long as force exists, peace based on justice can endure.

The UN officially recognized the 850,000 Jews forced or fled from Arab lands between 1948 and 1960 as refugees--having the same status as Palestinian refugees.

Honest Arab commentators, who are nevertheless few and far between, recognize what happened: see the interview with the Iraqi scholar Rashid al-Khayoun: "Iraqi Jews Were Driven Out of the Country," on Al-Arabiya TV, Dec. 4, 2009.

The jews were never forced out of Persia and Arabia. Even Hitlers Germany couldn't accomplish such a feat. They left willingly after their eastern european fellow jews reeled them into the palestinian lands. They gave up their land and property because life was hard at that time, for everyone, not just jews. They were promised a better life. Most of the jews sold everything and moved to Israel, Europe or America and established that better life. They left behind their muslim nighbors to succomb to the aftermath of WWII chaos. The middle east was worth nothing to them before the discovery of the vast amounts of oil. It is kind of ironic how the only nation in the middle east without an oil feild is the only non-muslim nation.
As an arab, I welcome the jews back to arab lands for as long as they welcome palestinian refugees back into their lands.

Iranians aren't Arabs!


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