Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Jewish claims in relation to Arabic Countries

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/10/2006

mizrahiHaaretz pubished a couple of days ago an article on Jews from Arab States campaigning for recognition… as refugees. This article had unfortunately escaped my attention. Luckily taltalk reproduced it on his blog and this enabled me to read it. Its main focus was a campaign spearheaded by two groups for the recognition of Jews from Arab countries as refugees in the Middle East conflict. Their other motives are reperations and, with the help of the Israeli Justice department, these two groups are collecting and registering testimonials, affidavits and property claims for future claims.
These two groups are:
The World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC)
Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC)

I hope the Justice department isn’t forwarding this issue in order to support the idea that there was an exchange of population between the Arab world and the Jewish state, and then argue that the losses on both sides are equivalent. The Israeli government would probably then argue that they are even larger on the Jewish side. The WOJAC evaluates Jewish losses to mount to over $100 billion in personal and community assets. Could the Palestinians top that? Would the Arab countries accept these claims and pay reparations? Almost certainly not, they’d rather settle for a deal, and so would the Israeli government. In other words they are likelier to sacrifice the individual rights of their citizens and refugees then risk any measure that could hurt their interests.

This would be scandalous, because loss and suffering are not simple equations that could annul each others and that they could be subtracted from one another. When they are put together they can only add up. And they should be put together because they are linked, nevertheless one doesn’t make the other less of a victim. News of these claims will probably inspire anger in the Arab countries. People would object to them, say that the departure of their Jewish communities was voluntary, that it was organised by the Israeli government, that there was no anti-Semitism in the Arab World… Some of their arguments would be false, other short-sighted and some even right. But hopefully that will remind them that there was a time when their were thriving Jewish communities in their countries, a time when that community was considered to be the oldest (as in Alexandria) or one of the largest (it seems that in the 19th century, a third of the population of Baghdad was Jewish).

This campaign is obviously based on grievances, which is absolutely normal and expected. Their departure from Arab countries was quite traumatic. They were facing growing hostility in their countries because of their religious faith which linked them to Israel; they left very hastily abandoning a lot (not only their belongings, their livelihoods, but their history, their language, their heritage). And they had to start anew, in a country that was foreign to them, designed by European Jews and where anything Arab had to become alien (except for the food).
Here is Linda Abdel Aziz’s testimony, she fled in 1971 at the age of 21: “We did not interfere in politics but we were persecuted. We are all haunted”. Her father, Jacob, who stayed behind in Iraq disappeared in 1972, and family members believe he was executed by the ruling Baath party regime for being a Jew.
One could only imagine her suffering and her rancour. Through her testimony and claim she’s expressing her pain, she’s able to make her voice heard.

There is a positive aspect in these campaigns. They recreate a connection between the Mizrahim and the Arab states they originated from. It is true that the connection here built is based on legal claims and grievances. But it is a link nevertheless. They will have to put forward their past identity, plunge back to an earlier period where they were Arabic speaking Jews interacting with other Arabic speaking groups. That will awaken the curiosity of the third generation Israelis of Arab origin, to their specific heritage, to these ancient lands that their forefathers lived in for centuries and sometimes millennia.

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