Publicizing story of Jewish refugees could facilitate genuine peace process
One of the main causes of the modern wave of anti-Semitism currently sweeping through Europe is the Palestinian propaganda campaign, which created an anti-Jewish climate. In order to counter this basic element, we must present the truth about the expulsion of the Jews from Arab states.
The world only heard about the injustice causes to the Palestinian refugees, but there is almost nothing out there about the disaster suffered by the Jews expelled from Arab states, and especially from Egypt , Iraq , and Syria . A comparison between the events reveals that while the number of Palestinian refugees in 1948 totaled 650,000 people, the number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries was higher, and stood at 900,000 people (according to UNWRA.)
The property which the Jews were forced to leave behind in Arab states – both private and communal assets – was of much greater value than what the Palestinians left behind in Israel , as documented by the International Court of Justice at The Hague .
In fact, the Jews suffered “ethnic cleansing” in Arab states. Only a few Jews live there today. Egypt ’s Jewish community, for example, comprised 90,000 Jews in 1948. Today, only 38 Jews live there. On the other hand, the Arabs (who prefer to call themselves Palestinians) who live in Israel today constitute 20% of the population.
Explaining these facts would be very beneficial and allow for change, shifting from prejudice to fairness, justice, and truth. Once the Palestinians realize they were not the only ones who suffered, their sense of victimization and rejectionism will decline. Moreover, if the Jews from Arab states, who along with their descendents constitute almost half of Israel’s population today, will see that their history and their “Nakba” is being considered an integral part of the Arab-Israeli conflict, they may be willing to offer concessions for genuine peace.
Matter of dignity
During a course I taught at the University of Pennsylvania , the head of the Palestinian student group, Fouad, said with amazement: We’re surprised that you, the Jews, who are known as smart people, did not publicize this important historical affair - the Nakba of Jews in Arab states. Why do you leave it tucked away in your drawers for 60 years?
I asked him: Why do you want Israel to publicize it? And He replied: Because the Nakba narrative of Jews in Arab states salvages my dignity and that of my people! It makes us realize we are not the only ones who suffered in the conflict. Familiarity with the historical facts allows us to hold up our heads and opens up reconciliation opportunities.
Fouad added: For us, reconciliation means erasing all the hatred and ill feelings. Yet the condition for it is that the side that did the harm pay the aggrieved side for the reconciliation. The research in this course taught us that Jews from Arab states today comprise about half the Jewish people in Israel . We didn’t know that. So Israel already paid for the reconciliation, with half its population losing all its property in Arab states. People were forced to leave the countries they were born in, just like us Palestinians, and they too spread worldwide. It is so clear to us now that we are not the only refugees who suffered from this tragic conflict.
Fouad noted that should the Israeli government present this issue properly, both peoples would be able to advance towards a process of real peace. We, the Palestinians, will feel that our dignity has been salvaged, and as you know dignity is the most important thing for us, he said. I was thinking to myself: My students were able to understand what all Israeli governments have failed to grasp thus far.
Prof. Ada Aharoni is the chairman of The World Congress of the Jews from Egypt