On November 30, Remember the Jewish Refugees Expelled from Arab Lands
Linda Hakim left Iraq for London in 1970. But she has never been able to shake off the fear that she felt growing up as a Jew.
After Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, she heard mobs in Baghdad 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 their 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 recognized 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 June 23, 2014, the Israeli Knesset passed a law designating November 30 as an official date in the calendar to remember the uprooting of almost one million Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran.
The date was chosen to recall the day after the UN passed the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine. Following bloodcurdling threats by Arab leaders, violence erupted against Jewish communities all across the Mideast. 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 the 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 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 that have 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 December 1. From Amsterdam to Sydney, Toronto to Geneva, Liverpool to New York, San Francisco to London, Jewish organisations worldwide — my own, Harif, included — are organizing lectures, film screening, and discussions.
It is the least we can do for Linda.