Fact Sheet: Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries

Jewish Virtual Library.org

Although much is heard about the plight of the Palestinian refugees from the aftermath of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence and the 1967 Six Day War, little is said about the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were forced to flee from Arab states before and after the creation of Israel. In fact, these refugees were largely forgotten because they were assimilated into their new homes, most in Israel, and neither the United Nations nor any other international agency took up their cause or demanded restitution for the property and money taken from them.

Legislation passed in the Knesset during 2015 designated November 30 as a day of recognition for Jewish refugees from Arab countries. In 1945, roughly 1 million Jews lived peacefully in the various Arab states of the Middle East, many of them in communities that had existed for thousands of years.

After the Arabs rejected the United Nations decision to partition Palestine and create a Jewish state, however, the Jews of the Arab lands became targets of their own governments’ anti-Zionist fervor. As Egypt’s delegate to the UN in 1947 chillingly told the General Assembly: “The lives of one million Jews in Muslim countries will be jeopardized by partition.”

The dire warning quickly became the brutal reality. Throughout 1947 and 1948, Jews in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Syria, and Yemen (Aden) were persecuted, their property and belongings were confiscated, and they were subjected to severe anti-Jewish riots instigated by the governments. In Iraq, Zionism was made a capital crime. In Syria, anti-Jewish pogroms erupted in Aleppo and the government froze all Jewish bank accounts.

In Egypt, bombs were detonated in the Jewish quarter, killing dozens. In Algeria, anti-Jewish decrees were swiftly instituted and in Yemen, bloody pogroms led to the death of nearly 100 Jews. In January 1948, the president of the World Jewish Congress, Dr. Stephen Wise, appealed to U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall: “Between 800,000 and a million Jews in the Middle East and North Africa, exclusive of Palestine, are in ‘the greatest danger of destruction’ at the hands of Moslems being incited to holy war over the Partition of Palestine … Acts of violence already perpetrated, together with those contemplated, being clearly aimed at the total destruction of the Jews, constitute genocide, which under the resolutions of the General Assembly is a crime against humanity.”

In May 1948, the New York Times echoed Wise’s appeal, and ran an article headlined, “Jews in Grave Danger in all Muslim Lands: Nine Hundred Thousand in Africa and Asia face wrath of their foes.”

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