Remembering the ‘Farhud’


The Jerusalem Post

06/06/2011

Zvi Gabay

On June 1, Iraqi Jews commemorated the 70th anniversary of the farhud – anti-Jewish riots that took place on Shavuot, 1941.

 The attacks occurred without any provocation. The Jews, who had lived in Arab lands for thousands of years, did not declare war on their hosts. They never fought against them, as the Arabs in Mandatory Palestine fought against Jewish settlements and afterward against the nascent Jewish state.

The world has heard a great deal about the injustice that happened to the Palestinians, under the code name nakba, but knows almost nothing about the wrongs committed against the Jews of Arab lands. What happened in the Arab countries was in effect an ethnic cleansing.

While the Palestinian nakba is marked every year with demonstrations and wide media coverage, the “Jewish nakba” merits little notice. This, despite the fact that the human and physical dimensions of the disaster were larger. The number of Jews forced out of their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs was about 856,000, while the Arabs who left Mandatory Palestine numbered about 650,000. The UN, in Resolution 302 adopted in December 1949, established UNRWA – an agency in charge of relief and education only; not of rehabilitation. This policy did not diminish the number of Palestinian refugees, which has reached 4.8 million (including two million who became Jordanian citizens).

ISRAEL, FOR unclear reasons, did not raise the tragedy of the Jews from Arab countries on its political and public agendas.

Only on February 22, 2010, was the issue placed on the Israeli agenda with the enactment of “The Law for Preservation of the Rights to Compensation of Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries and Iran,” which states that any negotiation for the achievement of peace in the Middle East must include compensation for said Jews.

The attacks against the Jews of Arab lands occurred even before the establishment of Israel. In Iraq, they began with discrimination in the economy, education and public life.

Afterward, Arab nationalism ignited the fires of rioting against the Jews, which came to a peak in the farhud of 1941. Similar tragedies happened to the Jews of Libya and Aden. In a wave of pogroms in Libya in November 1945, 133 Jews were killed and 400 wounded; synagogues, businesses and homes were looted and destroyed. In Aden, even though it was under British rule, 100 Jews were murdered in November 1947 and many more wounded; hundreds of homes were destroyed.

Similar pogroms occurred in Egypt, in Syria and the rest of the Arab countries, since they achieved independence during the 20th century.

The combination of xenophobic Sunni nationalism – which is intolerant of all others, including Shi’ites, Christians and Kurds – and anti-Semitism produced a powerful hatred of the Jews. This hatred was abetted by Nazis such as the German envoy to Baghdad, Dr. Fritz Grobba, and pseudo-religious leaders such as Haj Amin al-Husseini (who fled from Mandatory Palestine and found in Iraq a convenient venue for his anti-Jewish activities). The Jews were left with no choice but to flee from the Arab countries that they had helped to found and to bring into the modern era with their contributions to government, the economy, medicine, education, literature, poetry and music.

The threatening anti-Jewish climate that prevailed in every Arab land was accompanied by inflamed anti-Jewish declarations, even from the podium of the United Nations.

Eliyahu Nawi, a commentator on Israel’s Arabic-language radio station, testified that following the 1947 Partition Resolution at the UN, Arabic radio stations constantly broadcast the song “Halu a-Saif Ygul” – “Let the sword speak... to thin out the cousins [the Jews].”

Government harassment and popular attacks drove the Jews of the Arab world to migrate en masse, (mostly to Israel, where they were given citizenship and successfully integrated into society). In Egypt, a mass expulsion took place in the dead of night; the Jews were forced to leave their personal and communal property – including schools, ancient synagogues and cemeteries, prophets’ graves and hospitals. The Arab authorities confiscated the property and used it for their own needs.

There were certainly Muslims in the Arab countries who did not support these attacks, but their voices were not heard. The Jews were the scapegoats in internecine power struggles between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, just as today Israel is at the center of the struggle between Shi’ite Iran and the Sunni states, with Turkey at the fore.

In recent years, a process of awakening can be discerned in the Arab world, especially among intellectuals, who recognize that it was not only the Palestinian Arabs who suffered a nakba; the Jews of the Arab world had their own catastrophe.

Arab leaders – Palestinians and others – would do well to stop parroting the slogan “the right of return” and deluding their people, because there is no turning back time.

As more and more Arabs recognize that they are not the only victims of the Middle East conflict, the dialogue with Israel can take place on a more genuine basis of justice.

In Israel, a commemoration ceremony will held on June 6 at the Babylonian Jewish Center in Or Yehuda.

The writer is a former ambassador and deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry.