by Dr. Edy Cohen
While the Palestinian refugee problem is well-known to everyone, few in Israel are aware of the Jewish refugee problem. The experiences of Jewish people who immigrated to Israel from Arab countries are diverse -- some chose to move because of Zionism, but others fled or were expelled from their home countries under threat to their lives.
Every year, from Israeli Independence Day until May 15, extreme left-wing organizations in Israel hold events commemorating "Palestinian Nakba Day," while my family's real tragedy -- and that of a million other Jews -- remains forgotten. The time has come to make a fundamental change regarding the rights and property of Jews from Arab countries and their descendents, who make up more than 55 percent of Jewish residents in Israel today.
While the Palestinian refugee problem is well-known to everyone, few in Israel are aware of the Jewish refugee problem. The experiences of Jewish people who immigrated to Israel from Arab countries are diverse -- some chose to move because of Zionism, but others fled or were expelled from their home countries under threat to their lives. Overall, some 900,000 Jews from Arab countries left their homes between 1948 and 1970. In Morocco, Jews were treated relatively well. In Syria, they were not allowed to sell their property. In Egypt and Iraq, Jews were expelled, forbidden to return and their money and property were taken from them in accordance with laws set by Arab governments.
There are those who claim there is no link between the Jewish refugees and the Palestinian refugee problem. However, people who make those claims are not up to date on the details of history. The uprooting of Jews from Arab lands is the direct continuation of the violent actions of the then-grand mufti of Jerusalem and leader of the Palestinian nationalist movement, Haj Amin al-Husseini. This streak of violence began with the 1929 massacres and continued to the 1936 Arab revolt, as the mufti himself oversaw and gave orders to the rioters.
And yet, the crimes in Palestine weren't enough for the mufti. When he arrived in Iraq, he undermined the British and established his own secret party, the predecessor to the Iraqi Independence Party, which worked to expel the British and the Jews from the Arab world. The party's platform made its goals explicit: The expulsion of Jews from Arab lands and the struggle against global Jewry and its related organizations.
The mufti arrived in Berlin on Nov. 5, 1941. Hitler appointed him head of Arabic propaganda and opened an office for him in the city. During his entire stay there, and especially on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the mufti incited against Jews in Arab lands and called for their expulsion. And he also did exactly that in one of his speeches on March 19, 1943: "It is up to the Arabs particularly, and to Muslims in general, to see before them a goal and to chase it, to work to achieve it with all their might -- that goal is expelling all the Jews from every Arab and Muslim country. That is the only effective cure, and that is what the messenger of Allah did, peace be upon him, 1,300 years ago."
The mufti's industry of hate and anti-Semitism led to harm for Jews in most Arab countries. It is no coincidence that a few months after the defeat of Nazi Germany, on Nov. 2, 1945, on the anniversary the Balfour Declaration, many synagogues were burned in Egypt and in Libya. And in the incidents that followed, dozens of Jews were killed, synagogues desecrated and homes lit on fire. The stores and businesses owned by Jews were looted and burned. These riots were without a doubt the consequence of the mufti's intention and the result of his influence on the Arab world.
It is the responsibility of Israeli politicians to know this history well and to understand the direct connection between the Palestinian nakba and the Jewish nakba. It is the responsibility of the Israeli government to continue the project of documenting the property of Jews from Arab lands and to establish a parallel between the Palestinian refugees and Jewish refugees, so that in any future round of negotiations, when there are demands for a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, their recognition and compensation -- there will be a fair and equal theoretical and practical solution for Jewish refugees and Palestinian refugees. The Jewish refugee issue is an important and strategic one for the State of Israel, and so it should be placed on the public and international agenda at every opportunity.
Dr. Edy Cohen is a senior researcher in the Middle Eastern Studies Department at Bar-Ilan University.
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