Jews from Arab Lands

December 1, 2014 by J-Wire Staff
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The president of Israel has spoken at a ceremony commemorating the First Exit and Deportation of Jews from Arab Lands and Iran Day…an event also remembered in Sydney.

President Reuven Rivlin        Photo: Henry BEnjamin

President Reuven Rivlin Photo: Henry BEnjamin

President Reuven Rivlin said: “We have come together today to make amends for an historical injustice, against a million Jews, immigrants from Arab countries and Iran, whose stories were pushed to the margins of the Zionist narrative.  Indeed, this comes too late, on too small a scale, and no longer has an impact on the public consciousness.  And yet still, it is important to seek the correction, which should not be underestimated.  This is the nature of healing consciousness, it has the power to dissolve the residue, change the future, and establish a new consciousness, which will illuminate the past with the light of historic justice.  Throughout the years, refugees from the Arab communities felt that the establishment itself, was pushing them into a corner.  The establishment itself blurred the trace of their tracks from the pages of official history.  As if the immigrants from the Arab countries did not march proudly along the routes of ‘the pillar of fire and smoke’, of the history of our people.

Jews in Arab countries were born Zionists of Zion.  There was no need to promote the idea within their communities or convince them of the importance of returning the people to its land, the establishment of the state or building the country.  They did not dare to conceive the ‘Uganda’ plan, after all, Uganda, was for them exile, not salvation. The love of Zion was and remains in their blood.  They fed on it along with their mother’s milk, from the verses of prayer, and the stories of their fathers.

Even before the announcement of the establishment of the state, and especially following, Jews in Arab countries and Iran, found themselves imprisoned in their own countries, subjected to restrictions and harassment, exposed without protection, to massacres and looting – from riots in Tripoli to Eden.  Many were expelled.  Others couldn’t face the harassment, and were forced to leave their countries, leaving behind entire lifetimes, memories, their parents’ tombs, a language, culture and property.”

The President added, “For years, their voices weren’t heard, and their loss wasn’t expressed.  The horrific tragedies that happened to our people caught most of the attention.  Many immigrants were sent far away from the positions of power, to face the challenges of the periphery, in Dimona, Beit She’an and Hatzor Haglilit.  They were required to develop cities out of nothing, to process the parched desert soil, and to deal, on a daily basis with protecting the borders of the State of Israel.  It was not malice that led to their exclusion from the front-lines of the leadership of the young state, but exclusion did cause frustration and rightful pain.  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.  It took time, too long a time, until the tales of the Jewish immigrants from Arab countries and Iran made it into conciseness of the Israeli public.  And today we are fortunate to hear their story in a loud, proud and eloquent voice, from the mouths of their sons and daughters.  This voice, this story, 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 internationally arena as well, in order to mend the historical injustice, and to ensure financial reparations.

Even today, Tehran and Haled, Baghdad, Sana’a and Tripoli, are still places prohibited to Israeli Jews, and cultural treasures and property left there have been vandalized and looted, more than once by the hateful regimes.  This day, for the expulsion and exile from the Arab countries and Iran, is an opportunity to do an historical justice.  With a refreshed and considered viewpoint, which does not ignore the problems of the past.  But more than that, this day asks us to remember and embrace in our hearts the cultural treasures created in these Jewish communities from the Arab countries and Iran, and get to know the important part they played, in creating the joint future woven here today, as part of the history of the State of Israel.”

The President concluded, “The President’s Residence does not belong to the President.  I was elected to serve all the citizens of Israel.  Now and always, I have objected to boycotts and I do not boycott anyone. Of course, an artist needs nobody’s permission to express themselves, within the limits of freedom of expression.  However, the President Residence, as the home of all the citizens of Israel, must and should be careful to show care and respect to all citizens of Israel, Furthermore, it must be sensitive to public trends and opinions, and the atmosphere on the street, especially during such tense and sensitive times as these.”

In Sydney an event to commemorate the day was held at the Sydney Jewish Museum and addressed by Joe and Dr Racheline Barda and Shmuel ben-Shmuel, Israel’s ambassador to Australia.

Joe Barda, Racheline Barda and Ambassador Shmuel ben-Shmuel

Joe Barda, Racheline Barda and Ambassador Shmuel ben-Shmuel

Organiser of the event Joseph Barda was born and raised in Alexandria leaving Egypt at the age of 22 ahead of the 1956 Suez War.

He said in his address: “In the aftermath of the Arab/Israel conflict more than 850,000 Jews were forcibly displaced from Arab countries.

This is about 200,000 more than the number of Palestinian refugees at the time, according to the United Nations’ own figures.

These numbers are indisputable, as you will see in the documentary we will project tonight.

As far as I am concerned this documentary is very important for at least two reasons:

The first is that Israel’s opponents argue that Israel is a western implant in the Middle East, created as a consequence of the Holocaust.

260,000 Jews from Arab countries immigrated to Israel between 1948 and 1951 representing 56% of the newly founded state.

Together with their descendants they represent the single largest group in Israel’s population today.

These Mizrahi Jews from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco had all lived in their respective countries for centuries.

Many of them well before the advent of Islam and the Arab invasion. They were truly indigenous to the Middle East.

It is irrefutable that israel has a genuine place in the Middle East and the arab nations that got rid of their Jewish population unwittingly contributed to Israel’s Middle Eastern legitimacy.

Jewish refugees from Arab countries have now become an integral part of Israel’s population.

The second reason for this film’s importance is a more personal one:

The suffering of my parents

And thousands of others of their generation.

More than 80,000 Jews lived in Egypt before Gamal Abdel Nasser undertook his vicious campaign against them. There are today less than 20 Jews living in the whole of Egypt.

In our many trips abroad to reconnect with our relatives and lost friends, Racheline and I found that the Jewish refugees from Egypt of my generation (who were in their twenties and thirties at the time) integrated well and many achieved brilliant careers in their host countries.

We often say “thanks to Nasser” for forcing us to leave the “false paradise” that was Alexandria.

But for most of those of my parents’ generation, the exodus was a traumatic and painful experience.

They had enormous difficulties in adapting to their new host country, to a new language, a different climate, customs, food and culture and above all, the cruel loss of all they and their families had worked for in Egypt.

They are the ones for whom leaving Egypt was a tragedy and it’s in their memory that we are here today remembering, on November 30th.”

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