The bicameral Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC) is scheduled to hold a landmark hearing today regarding the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to flee their communities in the Arab Muslim nations as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Oriental Jews suffered profound violations of their basic human rights under the Islamic regimes throughout North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf Region. This persecution—including pogroms and expropriations—caused their subsequent flight despite longtime residences in these countries. The Congressional Human Rights Caucus, under the auspices of its Chairman, Congressman Tom Lantos, will hear testimony from legal experts on the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries as well as from “living witnesses'”—Oriental Jews who will testify as to their plight in, and flight from, the Arab countries where they were born.
The July 19, 2007 congressional hearing on Jewish refugees has an immediate, practical goal of providing US legislators with preliminary information before voting on House Resolution 185 and Senate Resolution 85. Under the proposed legislation, the US president would be required to instruct all official representatives of the United States that “explicit reference to Palestinian refugees be matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees, as a matter of law and equity.” The historical legacy of this mass Jewish exodus elucidates the bare minimum equity provided in these resolutions.
From Minority Protection to Minority Sacrifice
The two decades following World War II witnessed a rapid dissolution of the major Jewish communities in the Arab Muslim world (and beyond, including Afghanistan, as well as the significant attrition of the Jewish population in Turkey). Even the first decade after World War II saw a reduction by half in the overall Jewish population of the Arab countries. The decline was far greater in several countries. Iraq, Yemen, and Libya had lost over 90 percent of their Jews, and Syria 75 percent, by the end of 1953. At this time, the French-ruled Maghreb contained most of the Jews who remained in the Arab world. Not long afterward, however, the three countries of that region (i.e., Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria) achieved their independence. And within little more than two decades after the end of World War II, most of the North African Jews were gone as well.
Although the Arab-Israeli conflict, combined with the end of French colonial rule in North Africa, may have served as catalysts for this mass exodus, these phenomena were antedated by a more powerful underlying dynamic set in motion during the 19th century era of Western colonization. Historians Bat Ye’or and Norman Stillman have highlighted the profound political and psychosocial impact of the West’s penetration into the Islamic world through the 19th and 20th centuries, which undermined (at least temporarily, and in part) the prevailing system of dhimmitude:
(Bat Ye’or) They were no longer forbidden to have a position that might give them equality or superiority over a Muslim. They could revive their prohibited language, as well as their history and their culture. They were no longer dehumanized dhimmis, deprived of the right to speak, to defend themselves and to preserve their own history…The national liberation of a dhimmi people [i.e., the Jews of Israel] meant the abolition of the laws of dhimmitude…[in] their historical homeland
(Norman Stillman) …the Jews and most native Christians…viewed it [European colonial governance] as a liberation from their traditional subordinate dhimmi status, which since the later Middle Ages [at least] had been rigorously imposed upon them. The Jews and Christians of the Muslim world were quick to see that increased European interference and penetration into the affairs of their region meant a weakening of the traditional Islamic norms of society and could only better their own position, which was one of religiously and legally defined inferiority.
Jewish and Christian dhimmi populations availed themselves eagerly of the modern educational programs provided by an array of Western religious and cultural representatives inundating the Middle East and North Africa. From the 1860s onward, the Alliance Israelite Universelle, for Jews, specifically, was the chief provider of modern education in the major cities and towns of most Arab countries. Concomitantly, French, rather than Arabic or Turkish, became the primary language of high culture for tens of thousands of Jews. The Alliance also instilled in its Jewish pupils an improved self-image, which fostered new expectations within them.
Jews (and Christians, who benefited from missionary schools) took advantage of these educational opportunities, which produced cadres of westernized native non-Muslims who now had a distinct advantage over the largely uneducated Muslim masses, arousing the ire of the latter. The Western acculturation and economic success of the Jewish and Christian minorities, as well as their foreign ties, were deeply resented by the Muslim Arab majority. Conspicuous overachievement by some Jews and Christians would contribute to their undoing in the twentieth century, as decolonization lead to the recrudescence of dhimmitude—an inevitable consequence when the aroused jihadist forces (whether traditional, or thinly veiled under the guise of “secular Arab nationalism”) helped end Western colonial rule. For Jews, traditional Islamic antisemitism accompanied this dhimmitude, intensified by a furious anti-Zionism, seamlessly interwoven with both Islamic and modern European antisemitism, especially Nazism. This predictable course of events was foreshadowed during the waning years of European colonialism when the policy of protecting non-Muslim minority rights was sacrificed in order to appease the restive majority Muslim populations. The unleashing of this powerful tide through appeasing, or at least not offending the sensibilities of the Muslim majorities, eventually engulfed and destroyed the Jewish, and some of the Christian communities, in the Arab world.
Pogroms, Persecutions, Expropriations, and Mass Exodus: 1941-1973
Addressing the Political Committee of the U.N. General Assembly with regard to the proposed Partition Plan for Palestine (Resolution 181), on November 24, 1947, Egyptian delegate Heykal Pasha, a “well-known liberal” threatened,
The United Nations…should not lose sight of the fact that the proposed solution might endanger a million Jews living in the Muslim countries. Partition of Palestine might create Antisemitism in those countries even more difficult to root out than the Antisemitism which the Allies tried to eradicate in Germany…If the United Nations decides to partition Palestine, it might be responsible for very grave disorders and for the massacre of the large number of Jews…A million Jews live in peace in Egypt [and the other Muslim states] and enjoy all rights of citizenship. They have no desire to emigrate to Palestine. However, if a Jewish state were established, nobody could prevent disorders. Riots would break out in Palestine, would spread through all the Arab states and might lead to a war between two races.
Five days later on November 29, 1947 the U.N. General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, known as the “Partition Plan.” David Littman has summarized Resolution 181, its relationship to the 1922 League of Nations Mandate, and reception by the Arab League:
Called the “Partition Plan”, it [divided] the land west of the Jordan River into two parts: an Arab state and a Jewish state, with an international corpus separatum for Jerusalem. It comprised about 22 percent of the roughly 120,000 km2 of the original 1922 League of Nations area of Palestine. All the land east of the Jordan River—78 percent, about 94,000 km2 of the entire mandatory area—had been transferred to the Emir Abdullah of Arabia by Britain, thus creating the de facto Emirate of Trans-Jordan, later to be re-named in 1949 the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This 1947 Partition Plan was categorically refused by all the Arab League States and also by the Arab-Palestinian leadership, still nominally headed by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin el-Husseini, who found refuge in Egypt in 1946 (he moved to Beirut in 1962).
Heykal Pasha’s speech provides a useful benchmark for delineating three phases of pogroms and persecutions which caused the exodus of Jews from Arab Muslim nations: the decade prior to his speech; in the immediate aftermath of the speech and the U.N. Partition vote on November 29, 1947; and, the Arab-Israeli War of May-June 1948, and ensuing two decades.
The Baghdad pogrom (the “Farhud”) of June,1941—fomented by Hajj Amin el-Husseini, during his WW II sojourn in Iraq—was followed by three outbursts of anti-Jewish violence in November, 1945—in Egypt, Libya, and Syria. Baghdad (1941) and Libya (Tripolitania, 1945) experienced major pogroms: hundreds of Jews were killed and thousands wounded, accompanied by widespread devastation to Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses. During the Farhud, Stillman maintains 179 Jews (including women and children) were murdered, 242 children orphaned, 586 businesses looted, and 911 buildings housing 12,000 individuals were pillaged. Estimates for property damage ranged from 680,000 to 2,700,000 pounds. Naim Kattan, an Iraqi Jew, described the Farhud in this eyewitness account from his autobiographical Farewell Babylon:
The Jews would bare the cost of this repressed hunger, this devouring thirst. Two days and a night. We could hear shots in the distance. They came closer and gradually grew clearer. The conflagration invaded new grounds. Soon it would swallow up everything. They advanced. Armed with picks, daggers, sometimes with rifles, they unfurled in waves, surrounded the city, beleaguered it. As they passed through, they brought along Muslims, spared the Christians. Only the Jews were being pursued. As they advanced, their ranks swelled, teeming with women, children, and adolescents who ululated as they did on great occasions such as weddings and feasts. They reached the target. It was the poorest part of town, Abou Sifain. They pushed down the gates and moved in. What could not be carried away was demolished. Then a second wave entered the devastated site. The men were sent away. Those who put up the slightest resistance had their throats cut on the spot. And the women were made to submit to the will of the men…The Chief Rabbi published a notice of mourning: the community had lost three hundred members. People laughed in his face. Only three hundred! Was he in league with the government? Or perhaps he only wanted to lessen the horror…The dead were entitled to a prayer and the repose of their souls. And what of the hundreds of girls who had been savagely raped? At best they hoped to keep their misfortune secret.
Elie Kedourie has written that 600 Jews were murdered during the May, 1941 Baghdad Farhud, (in support of Kattan’s implication that many more than 300 had been killed), noting, the figure of 600 “…is the official figure which was kept confidential at the time.”
Recurrent anti-Zionist/Antisemitic incitement from 1943 to 1945 culminated in a series of anti-Jewish riots during November of 1945. Egypt was the sight of the first of these riots—in both Cairo and Alexandra—fomented by Islamic groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Young Men’s Muslim Association. Hundreds were injured during the rioting and looting of some 110 Jewish businesses in Cairo, while the disturbances in Alexandria claimed the lives of 5 Jews. Thomas Mayer has observed, “the critics of the riots did nothing to prevent the distribution of anti-Jewish propaganda in Egypt,” and “the Egyptian Jews continued to be harassed by Pan-Arab and Islamic societies, as well as by Government officials, and pressed to make anti-Zionist declarations.” Thus in the aftermath of the riots, neither the Egyptian Chief Rabbi’s protestations of loyalty, nor the expressions of regret and sympathy by Egyptian government officials could restore Egyptian Jewry’s sense of security, as the general atmosphere of hostility towards Jews remained unchanged.
One day after the rioting in Egypt subsided much more extensive and devastating anti-Jewish violence erupted in Libya. A minor altercation between Arabs and Jews near the electric power station outside the Jewish quarter of Tripoli was followed the next day (November 5th) by an anti-Jewish pogrom, as characterized by Norman Stillman,
…mobs numbering in the thousands poured into the Jewish quarter and the Suq al-Turk (the bazaar where many Jewish shops were located) and went on a rampage of looting, beating, and killing. According to one confidential report, weapons were distributed to the rioters at certain command centers, one of which was the shop of Ahmad Krawi, a leading Arab merchant…only Jews and Jewish property were attacked. The rioters had no difficulty in distinguishing Jewish homes and businesses because prior to the attack, doors had been marked with chalk in Arabic indicating “Jew,” “Italian,” or “Arab.” Mob passions reached a fever pitch when a rumor spread that the Chief Qadi of Tripoli had been murdered by Jews and the Shari’a Court burned. The terror then spread to the nearby towns of Amrus, Tagiura, Zawia, Zanzur, and Qusabat.
Zachino Habib, Tripoli’s Jewish community president, provided this eyewitness account of what transpired in Tripoli, Zanzur, Zawia, Qusabat, and Zitlin on November 4-5, 1945:
…the Arabs attacked the Jews in obedience to mysterious orders. Their outbursts of violence had no plausible motive. For fifty hours they hunted men down, attacked houses and shops, killed men, women, old and young, horribly tortured and dismembered Jews isolated in the interior…In order to carry out the slaughter, the attackers used various weapons: knives, daggers, sticks, clubs, iron bars, revolvers, and even hand grenades
Stillman assessed the toll of the pogrom in lives and property, as well as its psychosocial impact:
When the pogroms—for that is what the riots essentially were—were over, 130 Jews were dead, including thirty-six children. Some entire families were wiped out. Hundreds were injured, and approximately 4,000 people were left homeless. An additional 4,200 were reduced to poverty. There were many instances of rape, especially in the provincial town of Qusabat, where many individuals embraced Islam to save themselves. Nine synagogues—five in Tripoli, four in the provincial towns—had been desecrated and destroyed. More than 1,000 residential buildings and businesses had been plundered in Tripoli alone. Damage claims totaled more than one quarter of a billion lire (over half a million pounds sterling). The Tripolitanian pogroms dealt, in the words one one observer [Haim Abravanel, director of Alliance schools in Tripoli], “an unprecedented blow…to the Jews sense of security.” Many leading Arab notables condemned the atrocities, but as the British Military Administration’s Annual Report for 1945 noted, “no general, deep-felt sense of guilt seems to animate the Arab community at large; nor has it been too active in offering help to the victims.”...