Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries
(Updated January 2013)
Although much is heard about the plight of the Palestinian refugees from the aftermath of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence and the 1967 Six Day War, little is said about the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were forced to flee from Arab states before and after the creation of Israel. In fact, these refugees were largely forgotten because they were assimilated into their new homes, most in Israel, and neither the United Nations nor any other international agency took up their cause or demanded restitution for the property and money taken from them.
Yemenite Jews flee during Operation Magic Carpet
In 1945, roughly 1 million Jews lived peacefully in the various Arab
states of the Middle East, many of them in communities that had existed for thousands of years. After the Arabs
rejected the United Nations decision to partition Palestine and create a Jewish state, however, the Jews of the Arab lands became targets of their
own governments’ anti-Zionist fervor. As Egypt’s
delegate to the UN in 1947 chillingly told the General Assembly: “The lives of one million
Jews in Muslim countries will be jeopardized by partition.” The dire warning quickly became the brutal reality.
1947 and 1948, Jews in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Syria, and Yemen (Aden) were persecuted, their property and belongings
were confiscated, and they were subjected to severe anti-Jewish riots instigated by the governments. In Iraq, Zionism was made a capital crime. In Syria,
anti-Jewish pogroms erupted in Aleppo and the government froze all Jewish bank accounts. In Egypt, bombs were detonated in the Jewish quarter, killing dozens. In Algeria, anti-Jewish decrees were swiftly instituted and in Yemen, bloody pogroms led to the death of nearly 100 Jews.
In January 1948, the president of the World Jewish
Congress, Dr. Stephen Wise,
appealed to U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall: “Between 800,000
and a million Jews in the Middle East and North Africa, exclusive of
Palestine, are in 'the greatest danger of destruction' at the hands
of Moslems being incited to holy war over the Partition of Palestine ... Acts of violence already perpetrated, together with those contemplated,
being clearly aimed at the total destruction of the Jews, constitute
genocide, which under the resolutions of the General Assembly is a crime
against humanity." In May 1948, the New York Times echoed Wise's appeal, and ran an article headlined,
"Jews in Grave Danger in all Muslim
Lands: Nine Hundred Thousand in Africa and
Asia face wrath of their foes."
With their lives in danger and the situation growing ever more perilous, the Jews of the Arab World fled their homes as refugees.
Of the 820,000 Jewish refugees between 1948 and 1972, more than 200,000 found refuge
in Europe and North America while 586,000 were resettled in Israel - at great expense to the Israeli government, and without any compensation from the Arab governments who had confiscated their possessions. The majority of the Jewish refugees left their homes penniless and destitute and with nothing more than the shirts on their backs. These Jews, however, had no desire to be repatriated in the Arab World and little is heard about them because they did not remain refugees for long.
In Israel, a newly independent country that was still facing existential threats to its survival, the influx of immigrants nearly doubled the population and a put a great strain on an economy struggling to just meet the needs of its existing population. The Jewish State, however, never considered turning away the refugees and, over the years, worked to absorb them into society.
Iraqi Jews flee as refugees to Israel
Overall, the number of Jews fleeing Arab countries for Israel in the years following Israel’s independence was nearly double the number of Arabs leaving Palestine. The contrast between the Jewish refugees and the Palestinian refugees grows even starker considering the difference in cultural and geographic dislocation - most of the Jewish refugees traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to a tiny country whose inhabitants spoke a different language and lived with a vastly different culture. Most Palestinian refugees traveled but a few miles to the other side of the 1949 armistice lines while remaining inside a linguistically, culturally and ethnically similar society.
Moreover, the value of Jewish property left behind and confiscated by the Arab governments is estimated to be at least 50 percent higher than the total value of assets lost by the Palestinian refugees. In the 1950's, John Measham Berncastle, under the aegis of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, estimated that total assets lost by Palestinian refugees from 1948 - including land, buildings, movable property, and frozen bank accounts - amounted to roughly $350 million ($650 per refugee). Adding in an additional $100 million for assets lost by Palestinian refugees as a result of the Six Day War, an approximate total is $450 million - $4.4 billion in 2012 prices. By contrast, the value of assets lost by the Jewish refugees - compiled by a similar methodology - is estimated at $700 million - roughly $6.7 billion today.
To date, more than 100 UN resolutions have been passed referring explicitly to the fate of the Palestinian refugees. Not one has specifically addressed Jewish refugees. Additionally, the United Nations created a organization, UNRWA, to solely handle Palestinian refugees while all other refugees are handled collectively by UNHRC. The UN even defines Palestinian refugees differently than every other refugee population, setting distinctions that have allowed their numbers to grow exponentially so that nearly 5 million are now considered refugees despite the fact that the number estimated to have fled their homes is only approximately 400-700,000.
Today, nearly half of Israel's native population descends from the Jewish refugees of the Arab world and their rights must be recognized alongside any discussion of the rights for Palestinian refugees and their descendants. In Israel, the issue of the Jewish refugees has been of preeminent importance during all peace negotiations with the Palestinians, including the 1993 Oslo Accords and the 2000 Camp David summit. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, Israel is now calling on United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to hold a summit specifically the issue of the Jewish refugees.
In the United States, led by Congressman Jerrold Nadler, efforts are also being made to ensure the world recognizes the plight of these Jewish refugees. In July 2012, Nadler led a bipartisan group of six congressmen in sponsoring H.R. 6242, legislation that would require the President to submit a regular report to Congress on actions taken relating to the resolution of the Jewish refugee issue. Nadler's latest effort comes more than four years after he successfully passed H.R. 185, a non-binding resolution asking the President to ensure that explicit reference is made to the Jewish refugees in any international forum discussing Middle East or Palestinian refugees.
Use the resource below to learn more about
the Jewish Refugees from the Arab World:
Algeria -- Egypt -- Iraq -- Libya -- Morocco -- Syria -- Tunisia -- Yemen (Aden)
Jews in the Arab World
Jews in 1948: 140,000. Jews in 2011: 1,500.
Jewish settlement in Algeria can be traced back to the first centuries of the Common Era. In the 14th century, with the deterioration of conditions in Spain, many Spanish Jews moved to Algeria, among them a number of outstanding scholars including Rav Yitzchak ben Sheshet Perfet (the Ribash) and Rav Shimon ben Zemah Duran (the Rashbatz). After the French occupation of the country in 1830, Jews gradually adopted French culture and were granted French citizenship.
On the eve of WWII, there were around 120,000 Jews in Algeria. In 1934, incited by events in Nazi Germany, Muslims rampaged in Constantine, killing 25 Jews and injuring many more. Starting in 1940, under Vichy rule, Algerian Jews were persecuted socially and economically. In 1948, at the time of Israel's independence and on the eve of the Algerian Civil War, there were approximately 140,000 Jews living in Algeria, of whom roughly 30,000 lived in the capital.
Nearly all of the Algerian
Jews fled the country shortly after it gained independence from France in 1962. The newly established Algerian government
harassed the Jewish community, confiscated Jewish property, and deprived Jews of their principle economic
rights. As a result, almost 130,000 Algerian Jews immigrated to France and, since 1948, 25,681 Algerian Jews have immigrated to Israel.
According to the State Department, there is now fewer than 2,000 Jews in Algeria and there are no functioning synagogues in the country.
Jews in 1948: 75,000. Jews in 2011: 100.
Jews have lived in Egypt since Biblical times. Israelite tribes first moved to the land of Goshen,
the northeastern edge of the Nile Delta, during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep IV (1375-1358
BCE). By 1897, there were more than 25,000 Jews in Egypt, concentrated
in Cairo and Alexandria.
The first Nationality Code was promulgated
by Egypt in May 1926 and said that only those "who belonged racially to the majority of
the population of a country whose language is Arabic or whose religion
is Islam" were entitle to Egyptian
nationality. This provision served as the official pretext for expelling
many Jews from Egypt.
In 1937, the Jewish population was 63,500 but by 1945, with
the rise of Egyptian nationalism and the cultivation of anti-Jewish sentiment, violence erupted against the peaceful Jewish community. That year, 10 Jews were killed, more than 300 injured, and a synagogue, a Jewish hospital, and an old-age home were destroyed. In July 1947, an amendment to Egyptian law stipulated that companies must employ a minimum of 90% Egyptian nationals. This decree resulted in the loss of livelihood for many Jews.
Israel's establishment led to further anti-Jewish sentiments. Between
June and November 1948, bombs set off in the Jewish Quarter of Cairo killed more
than 70 Jews and wounded nearly 200, while another 2,000 Jews were arrested and
had their property confiscated. Rioting over the following months resulted
in more Jewish deaths. In 1956, the Egyptian government used the Sinai Campaign as a pretext for expelling almost 25,000 Jews and confiscating their property while approximately 1,000 more Jews were sent to prisons and detention camps. In November 1956, a government proclamation declared that "all Jews are Zionists and enemies of the state," and promised that they would be soon expelled. Thousands of Jews were ordered to leave the country, allowed to take only one suitcase, a small sum of cash, and forced to sign declarations "donating" their property to the Egyptian government.
By 1957 the Jewish population had fallen to 15,000 and in 1967, after the Six-Day War,
there was a renewed wave of persecution and the community dwindled to
2,500. By the 1970's, after the remaining Jews were given permission
to leave the country, the number of Jews feel to just a few hundred. Today,
the community is on the
verge of extinction with fewer than 100 Jews remaining in Egypt, the majority elderly.
Jews in 1948: 135,000. Jews in 2011: 7.
Jews have lived in modern-day Iraq since before the common era and prospered in what was then called Babylonia until the Muslim conquest in 634 AD. Under Muslim rule, the situation
of the Jewish community fluctuated yet at the same time,
Jews were subjected to special taxes and restrictions on their professional
activity. Under British rule, which began in 1917, Jews fared well economically,
but this changed when Iraq gained independence.
In June 1941, the Mufti-inspired, pro-Nazi coup of Rashid Ali sparked rioting and a pogrom in Baghdad. Armed mobs, with the complicity
of the police and the army, murdered 180 Jews and wounded almost 1,000.
Although emigration was prohibited, many Jews made their way to Mandate Palestine with the aid of an underground movement.
outbreaks of anti-Jewish rioting occurred between 1946 and 1949, and following
the establishment of Israel in 1948, Zionism was made a capital crime.
In 1950, the Iraqi parliament legalized emigration to Israel,
provided that Iraqi Jews forfeited their citizenship before leaving. Between May 1950 and
August 1951, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government succeeded
in airlifting approximately 110,000 Jews to Israel in Operation
Ezra & Nehemiah. At the same time, 20,000 Jews were smuggled out
of Iraq through Iran. A year
later the property of Jews who emigrated from Iraq was frozen, and economic
restrictions were placed on Jews who remained in the country.
Iraq's government barred Jews from emigrating, and publicly hanged two
Jews after falsely charging them with hurling a bomb at the Baghdad
office of the U.S. Information Agency. A community that had reached
a peak of 150,000 in 1947, dwindled to a mere 6,000 after 1951. Persecutions continued, especially after the Six Day
War in 1967, when 3,000 Jews were arrested, dismissed
from their jobs, and some hanged in the public
square of Baghdad. In one instance, on January 27, 1969, Baghdad Radio called upon Iraqis to “come and enjoy the feast” and some 500,000 people paraded and danced past the scaffolds where the bodies of the hanged Jews swung; the mob rhythmically chanting “Death to Israel” and “Death to all traitors.”
As of 2008, the Jewish Agency for Israel estimated that there were only seven Jews remaining in Iraq while Baghdad's Meir Tweig synagogue, the last synagogue in use, was closed in 2003 after it became too dangerous to gather openly. The State Department reported in 2011 that anti-Semitism is still widespread in both state-owned and private media outlets and Holocaust denial is often glorified.
Jews in 1948: 38,000. Jews in 2011: 0.
The Jewish community of Libya traces its origin back some 2,500 years to the time of Hellenistic rule under Ptolemy Lagos in 323 B.C.E. in Cyrene. Once home to a very large and thriving Jewish community, Libya is now completely empty of Jews due to anti-Jewish pogroms that spurred immigration to Israel.
At the time of the Italian occupation in 1911, there were approximately
21,000 Jews in the country, the majority in the capital Tripoli. By the late 1930s,
fascist anti-Jewish laws were gradually being enforced and the Jewish community was subject
to terrible repression. Yet, in 1941, the Jews still accounted for a quarter
of Tripoli's population and maintained 44 synagogues.
the Germans occupied the
Jewish quarter of Benghazi, plundered shops, and deported more than
2,000 Jews across the desert, where more than one-fifth of them perished.
Many Jews from Tripoli were also sent to forced labor camps.
did not greatly improve following liberation and under the British occupation there were a series of brutal pogroms. One savage pogrom occurred
in Tripoli on November 5, 1945, when more than 140 Jews were massacred
and almost every synagogue in the city was looted. In June 1948, rioters
murdered another 12 Jews and destroyed 280 Jewish homes. When the British
legalized emigration in 1949, more than 30,000 Jews fled Libya.
Thousands more Jews fled to Israel after Libya became independent in
1951 and was granted membership in the Arab League. A law passed in December 1958 ordered for the dissolution of the
Jewish Community Council. In 1961, a special permit was needed to
show proof of being a "true Libyan" and all but six Jews were
denied this document.
After the Six-Day War, the Jewish population - numbering roughly 7,000 - was again subjected
to pogroms in which 18 people were killed and many more injured; the riots also sparked
a near-total exodus from the Jewish community, leaving fewer than 100 Jews in Libya. When Muammar
Gaddafi came to power in 1969, all Jewish property was confiscated and
all debts to Jews cancelled. Although emigration was illegal, more than
3,000 Jews succeeded in leaving for Israel.
By 1974, there were no more
than 20 Jews in the country, and it is believed that Esmeralda Meghnagi, who died in February 2002, was the last Jew to live in Libya. In October 2011, protests in Tripoli called for the deportation of a Jewish activist who had returned to Libya with the intent of restoring Tripoli’s synagogue. Some protesters’ signs read, “There is no place for the Jews in Libya,” and “We don’t have a place for Zionism.”
Jews in 1948: 265,000. Jews in 2011: 4,000.
Jews have been living in Morocco since the time of Antiquity, traveling there two millennia ago with Phoenician traders, and the first substantial Jewish settlements developed in 586 BCE
after Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and exiled the Jews.
Prior to World War II, the Jewish population of Morocco reached its height of approximately 265,000, and though Nazi deportations did not occur the Jewish community still suffered great humiliation under the Vichy French government. Following the war, the situation became even more perilous.
In June 1948, bloody riots in Oujda and Djerada killed
44 Jews while wounding scores more. That same year, an unofficial economic
boycott was instigated against the Moroccan Jewish community. By 1959 Zionist
activities were made illegal and in 1963, at least 100,000 Moroccan Jews
were forced out from their homes.
Nearly 150,000 Jews sought refuge in Israel, France and the Americas.
In 1965, Moroccan writer Said Ghallab described the attitude of Moroccan Muslims toward their Jewish neighbors when he wrote:
"The worst insult that a Moroccan could possibly offer was to treat someone as a Jew ... The massacres of the Jews by Hitler are exalted ecstatically. It is even credited that Hitler is not dead, but alive and well, and his arrival is awaited to deliver the Arabs from Israel."
In early 2004, Marrakech had a small Jewish population of about 260 people, most over the age of 60, while Casablanca had the largest community, about 3,000 people. There are still synagogues in use today in Casablanca, Fez, Marrakech, Mogador, Rabat, Tetuan and Tangier.
The Jewish community now numbers between 4,000 and 5,500 and while the government is one of the most friendly towards Israel, the Jewish community is still the target of sporadic violence. On a Saturday in May 2003, for example, a series of suicide bombers attacked four Jewish targets in Casablanca, though fortunately no Jews were killed. In a show of kindness, the government subsequently organized a large rally in the streets of Casablanca to demonstrate support for the Jewish community and the king reasserted his family's traditional protection for the country's Jews.
Jews in 1948: 30,000. Jews in 2011: 100.
Jews had lived in Syria since biblical times and the Jewish population increased significantly
after the Spanish expulsion in 1492. Throughout
the generations, the main Jewish communities were to be found in Damascus and Aleppo.
By 1943, the Jewish community of Syria had approximately 30,000 members but In 1944, after Syria gained independence from France, the new Arab government prohibited Jewish immigration to Palestine, severely restricted the teaching of Hebrew in Jewish schools, called boycotts against Jewish businesses, and sat idle as attacks against Jews escalated. In 1945, in an attempt to thwart international efforts to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine,
the Syrian government fully restricted Jewish emigration, burned, looted and confiscated Jewish property, and froze
Jewish bank accounts.
When partition was declared in 1947, Arab mobs in Aleppo devastated the 2,500-year-old Jewish community and left it in ruins. Scores of Jews were killed and more than 200 homes, shops and synagogues were destroyed. Thousands of Jews illegally fled as refugees, 10,000 going to the United States and 5,000 to Israel. All of their property were taken
over by the local Muslims.
Over the next few decades, those Syrian Jews that remained
were in effect hostages of a hostile regime as the government intensified its persecution of the Jewish population. Jews were stripped of their citizenship and experienced employment
discrimination. They had their assets frozen and property confiscated.
The community lived under constant surveillance by the
secret police. Freedom of movement was also severely restricted and any Jew who attempted to flee faced either the death penalty or imprisonment at hard labor. Jews could not acquire telephones or driver's licenses and were barred from buying property. An airport road was paved over the Jewish cemetery in Damascus; Jewish schools were closed and handed over to Muslims.
The last Jews to leave Syria departed with the chief rabbi in October 1994. By the middle of 2001, Rabbi Huder Shahada Kabariti estimated that 150 Jews were living in Damascus, 30 in Haleb and 20 in Kamashili. while two synagogues remained open in Damascus. According to the US State Department, there were about 100 Jews left in country as 2011, concentrated in Damascus and Aleppo. Contact between the Syrian Jewish community is Israel is prohibited.
Jews in 1948: 105,000. Jews in 2011: 1,500.
The first documented evidence of Jews living in Tunisia dates back to 200 CE. By 1948, the Tunisian Jewish
community had numbered 105,000, with 65,000 living in the capital Tunis.
Tunisia was the only Arab country to come under direct German occupation during World War II and, according to Robert Satloff, “From November 1942 to May 1943, the Germans ... implemented a forced-labor regime, confiscations of property, hostage-taking, mass extortion, deportations, and executions. They required thousands of Jews in the countryside to wear the Star of David.”
When Tunisia gained independence in 1956, the new government passed a series of discriminatory anti-Jewish decrees. In 1957, the
rabbinical tribunal was abolished and a year later the Jewish
community councils were dissolved. The government also destroyed ancient synagogues, cemeteries, and even Tunis' Jewish quarter for "urban renewal" projects.
During the Six-Day War, Jews were attacked by rioting Arab mobs, while businesses were burned and the Great
Synagogue of Tunis was destroyed. The government actually denounced the violence and appealed to the Jewish population to stay, but did not bar them from leaving.
The increasingly unstable situation caused more than 40,000 Tunisian Jews to immigrate to Israel and at least 7,000 more to France. By 1968, the country's Jewish population had shrunk to around 10,000.
Today, the US State Department estimates that there are 1,500 Jews remaining in Tunisia, with one-third living in and around the capital and the remainder living on the island of Djerba. The Tunisian government now provides the Jewish community freedom of worship and also provided security and renovation subsidies for the synagogues.
Jews in 1948: 63,000. Jews in 2011: 250.
The first historical record of Jews in Yemen is from the third century CE.
In 1922, the government of Yemen reintroduced an ancient Islamic law decreeing that Jewish orphans
under age 12 were to be converted to Islam.
In 1947, after the partition
vote on Palestine, the police forces joined Muslim rioters in a bloody pogrom in Aden, killing 82 Jews and destroying hundreds of
Jewish homes. The pogrom left Aden's Jewish community economically paralyzed, as
most of the stores and businesses were destroyed.
Early in 1948,
looting occurred after six Jews were falsely accused of murdering two
Arab girls and the government began to forcefully evict the Jews. Between June 1949 and September 1950, Israel ran Operation "Magic Carpet" and brought virtually the entire Yemenite Jewish community - almost 50,000 people - to Israel as refugees.
In 1959, another
3,000 Jews from Aden emigrated to Israel while many more fled as refugees to the US and
England. A smaller, continuous migration was allowed to continue into 1962, when a civil war put an abrupt halt to any further Jewish exodus.
Today, there are no Jews in Aden and there are an estimated 250
Jews in Yemen. The Jews are the only indigenous non-Muslim religious minority and the small community that remains in the northern area of Yemen is tolerated and allowed to practice Judaism. However, the community is still treated as second-class citizens and cannot serve in the army or be elected to political positions. Jews are traditionally restricted to living in one section of a city and are often confined to a limited choice of employment.
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Exodus from Arab Lands," Jerusalem
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(September 10, 2012).
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Littman, David. “The Forgotten Refugees: An Exchange of Population.“
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Case for Rights and Redress.“ Justice
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Books, 1984), p. 276.
Jerusalem Post, (December 4, 2003).
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Freedom Reports (2011); Human
Rights Reports (2011)
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A Neglected Issue. WOJAC, 1983
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1988, 2001. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America
American Sephardi Federation
of no return: Information and links about the Middle East's forgotten
to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA)
Association of Jews from
the Middle East and North Africa (HARIF)
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Algemeiner, (August 27, 2012).
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Sheva, (February 4, 2008).
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Populations in the Middle East," GovTrack.
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the Issue of Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries," GovTrack.