Several Jews testified about conditions for Jews in Arab countries during hearings of the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), held at the YMCA in Jerusalem, July 15, 1947: Eliahu Eliachar, a founder of the World Sephardi Foundation and representative of the Sephardi community of Jerusalem and Palestine; Mr. Elmaleh the head of the Moroccan community in Palestine, and Mr. Sassoon, the President of the Iraqi-Jewish Community in Palestine, and the chief rabbi recognized as the highest religious authority of the Sephardi Jewish world. Note they used the word “Sepharadi.”
Mr. ELIACHAR: Mr. Chairman and honourable Members of the Committee:
We thank you for granting us this hearing in camera. Not that we have anything to say that we would not like everybody to know, but for fear that this may endanger the position of our brethren in the Arab countries, as we shall explain further.
The Sepharadi and the Oriental Jews are an integral part of the Jewish People. The differences are those created by different environments, habits and the use of slightly different Prayer Books and rituals,
“Sepharadi” means a descendant of Jews from Spain and Portugal, as against Ashkenazi, a descendant from Jews of Germany and Central Europe. The denomination Sepharadi includes all Jews using the same Prayer Books and following the same rituals; therefore it includes all Jews of the Oriental and Middle Eastern countries.
In Palestine, with the revival of Hebrew, these differences are gradually disappearing and one nation, with one religion and the same ideals and aspirations is growing.
As you have been told already, gentlemen, Jews resided in Palestine without interruption ever since the dispersion by the Romans. The most ancient community is that of the Oriental Jews who never left Palestine or the Middle Eastern countries, and they were followed by the Spanish Jews returning here after the expulsion from Spain in 1492. Our Community, which we have the honour to represent today, was organised and has continued to exist since 1276, without interruption. We number, in Jerusalem, over 50,000 Jews of the Oriental Communities. Our number exceeds 160,000, or probably more than one-quarter of the entire Jewish Yishuv. Jerusalem has always had a majority of Jews. We would like to stress this point. Before the British and allied occupation of the Middle East, this entire area was under Turkish rule and domination. It appears that this point has not been made clear to you. We want to insist on this point; that this was a territory, together with all the other Middle Eastern countries which are now called Arab countries, Arab independent states, which for hundreds of years was under Turkish domination, and there were no so-called independent states before the occupation of the Middle East by the British and their Allies sometime in 1916 and afterwards. Jew and Arab alike were subjected to the iron fist of the Turk. None had any advantage over the other, except the advantages granted by Moslem law to Moslems over the infidels. Jews of Turkish nationality were allowed to move about freely, to settle anywhere they liked, to buy land wherever they pleased. Immigration from outside the Turkish Empire was regulated, but illegal immigration was flourishing. The only difference with present times was that no immigrant was expelled once he had entered Palestine and no British fleet or Turkish fleet took them to British concentration camps in Cyprus, with all the ensuing misery and suffering.
Arab-Jewish relations were good in the social and economic fields. They traded freely together, they met socially, and Jewish schools were attended by the upper classes of the Arabs. I have myself studied with many of the present day Arab leaders in Palestine and abroad, and many are still my best friends. We were comrades in arms during the first war, and better friends it is difficult to find.
The Turks did not tolerate any disorder. Allow us, gentlemen, to stress this point with all our might. No disorder prevailed for centuries in this country. What is the cause? We leave it to you to consider. A special system granted foreign protection to certain Christians, Jews, and even Moslems. Without both these preventives, the Arab masses, who are generally of a peaceful character, are, due to their illiteracy and fanaticism, easily aroused to bloodshed.
Arab nationalism was non-existent, or at least dormant before the occupation of Palestine. The Balfour Declaration was accepted tacitly by the Arabs of Palestine. Only outside intriguers aroused opposition. The word of King Hussein and that of his son, Emir Feisal, was taken by the Arab world and the Arabs of Palestine at the time as the final law and the final word of law. But gradually opposition was organised by the Christian-Moslem Association founded for this specific purpose in Palestine. The masses of the Arabs were inflated on religious grounds, which resulted in the terrible massacres of Jaffa, Hebron, Jerusalem, Safad, Mosca and so forth. These massacres were perpetrated by the Arabs against their erstwhile friends, neighbours, partners. The Community of Hebron, the most ancient Jewish settlement in Palestine, was thus destroyed and evacuated. It remains so until today. A town, a whole Jewish community in Jerusalem, which had existed for over eight or nine centuries without interruption, has been wiped out under British rule. Such a destruction could not have happened to the Jews under the Turks, particularly since the Government was aware that the Arab masses were being incited and encouraged by their leaders to believe that the Government supported these deeds. “Al Dole Maana” was the password in those days.
Many Arabs condemned these murders. Many have resumed their friendly relations with the Jews, but the fact remains that no longer can Jews inter-mingle freely in Arab towns and villages, even if they be of the Oriental Communities and of the oldest inhabitants.
On the strength of our experience of generations past and of recent events, we cannot visualize our dependence on an Arab State. Our bare lives will be in danger, and the fate of the Hebron Community may be ours too.
Without going into the causes which have brought the change of attitude, we cannot but deplore that present day Arab leadership is most extremist and most outspoken as to their intentions. No Jew can depend on the Mufti’s goodwill or that of his lieutenants. Using his religious position and prestige, he has been calling for massacres of the Jews ever since he fled to Germany.
May I quote to you a few words from Mr. Crum’s book on this subject. I imagine all of you have read it, but I would like to quote from it.
CHAIRMAN: Not too long a quotation,
Mr. ELIACHAR: No, sir. You can stop me any time you like.
“In 1941, the Mufti fled to Germany for refuge. He immediately set to work with all his influence to agitate against ghettoization of the Jews and for a final solution: extermination. The result was the third stage of Nazi Policy, the planned destruction of the Jewish race… Instead, he said, they should be sent to a place in which they would be ‘under stringent control as, for instance, Poland’. The Mufti’s protest was successful. No children’s transport left Bulgaria after July, 1943.
A few weeks later he dispatched a similar letter to the Foreign Minister of Rumania, concerning eighteen hundred Jewish children. This time he again suggested Poland, pointing out that they would be under what he called ‘active supervision’, a euphemism for the gas chambers…
This ‘common enemy,’ of course, was Britain. He went on to say, ‘But most of all they have definitely solved the Jewish problem.’”
We therefore proclaim before the great nations of the world that no Jew in Palestine of sound mind will ever accept being in a minority any longer in Palestine,
The Arabs of Palestine are not organised democratically. Their present-day leaders have never been elected. Self-appointed, they have destroyed and continue to destroy any opposition by gun and dagger. Recent murders are an indication of what may be the fate of the Arab opposition unless the authorities put an end to it.
I would like very much to quote from a little booklet I have here, published by one of the leaders of the opposition, who was murdered in Baghdad, Fakhri Nashashibi. It may take some time, but I would not like to have you escape from hearing this, so that you may realize our position. I have the booklet here and I will present it to the Committee. In the memorandum which Fakhri Nashashibi presented to the High Commissioner, he declares that the Mufti does not represent the Arabs of Palestine. “It will not be an exaggeration if I state that the leaders who oppose Haj Amin el Husseini and his destructive ideology represent seventy-five per cent of Arabs with special interests in Palestine, and those supporting them and their views exceed half of the Arabs of Palestine. In order to eliminate all opposition within the Arab Community, Haj Amin destroyed them. During 1937-1938, a hundred Arab leaders and heads of families were murdered under his direction. Those who remained alive fled the country. The numbers of heads of families, tribal chiefs and leaders who were destroyed or left the country reached 150.” He names here the best, the flower of the youth of the Arabs of Palestine, who were killed. I shall read only a very few names: Hassan Sidki Dajani, members of the R’sheyid Family, Farid El-Hamdallah, Abdel Salam e-Barkawi, Haj Khalil Taha, Haj El-Huneidi, Haj Ali El-Karzoun, Nasr Ed-Din, Vice-Mayor of Hebron. This is what he contends at the time was called a democratic imposition of the views of the present day leaders of the Arabs.
This, coupled with the statements by Crum, gives you a correct view of our reasons for objecting to any minority regime in Palestine.
We have not touched upon the Jewish case as a whole. This has been submitted to you by the Jewish Agency, of which we form part and parcel. We summarized our position in Palestine before the British occupation:
About one million Jews reside in the various Arab or countries. Their position is one that requires all your attention. Their case has been linked to the Palestine problem by the force of events and of the acts of their rulers.
Whilst we deplore the fact that you have not as yet visited the D.P. camps in Europe, which would have enlightened our problem more than any reports and speeches — too many speeches have been given to you, too many reports have been submitted to you — nothing, absolutely nothing will convince you of the imminence of the danger unless you have seen, as I have, one miserable day last year, a glimpse of what is happening in the D.P. camps in Europe. To come to Palestine, to discuss the Palestine problem, to approach it through books, through reports and speeches will have only tired you, will have only made you probably so tired that you will not be able to digest the real issue of the problem. The real issue of the problem, Gentlemen, is in the D.P. Camps. I have had a glimpse of it. And, Gentlemen, Members of the greatest nations representing the entire united world, you cannot talk about, you cannot understand the Palestine problem until you devote a few more days of your time — all the trash that has been going on in Palestine, submitting to you words and words will have disappeared and you will see the problem as it is. What is Palestine? What is Zionism? What does it mean? Thousands and thousands are looking to you to settle their means of life, to give a verdict, to approach the problem from the real point of view. Gentlemen, do not rely on any speeches. Do not rely on any report reading. You cannot possibly have had the time even to read the hundreds of pages which were submitted to you. We cannot believe that you can digest them all. You can digest the whole problem in twenty-four hours, in one single day, by passing through any concentration camp in Europe. I have had the unpleasant position of being there. I myself have never had to suffer. I was born a free man in Palestine. For over six hundred years, my family has resided here. All the time we realized one thing; that the Jewish problem, even as a Jew could see it — whether he lives in Washington, London, the Argentine, Palestine, or anywhere else — is totally different from what you will see for yourselves in one day in the D.P. Camps.
There is another thing which you have to see if you want to appreciate the problem that is facing you, that is demanding a solution. These are the ghettoes of the Arab States, of those independent, sovereign, democratic Members of the United Nations. The ghettoes in these Arab States, in the Yemen, in Iraq, in Damascus — if you will visit any of them, all the reports, all our speeches, all our proofs as to whether such and such a prophet was born on such and such a day, all that will have vanished and you will face the problem of humanity in the raw demanding a solution.
It is through you that we are in duty bound to sound the alarm, and call upon the human conscience of the world to take stock before it is too late. What has happened under the Nazi regime in the West may happen under the rule of certain Governments, Members of the United Nations Organization. Many hundreds of thousands of Jews look up to you, Honourable Gentlemen, to prevent a repetition of massacres such as those in Baghdad under Rashid Ali, when hundreds were killed, or in Tripolitania under the British flag of occupation, where 120 men, women and children were brutally butchered. It is an open secret that the Arab League and the Arab Government consider the Jews in their realms as hostages for the Palestine problem. They have declared this openly. If you require any evidence, we have the evidence with us. We do not want to take too much of your time, but if you want any evidence on these statements made by the Arab League, made by various governments, made by Dr. Jamali, the Foreign Minister of Iraq, we are ready to give them. Jew-hatred and Jew-baiting is growing daily in almost all Arab countries. What has happened once in Baghdad, Tripolitania, Urfa, the boundary of Syria and Turkey where a whole family was massacred overnight, in Egypt, what happened on 2nd November, 1945, Balfour Declaration Day, may happen again with increased violence.
So-called democratic countries, members of the United Nations, sitting with you are indulging in racial discrimination bearing the seeds of unrest, maltreatment and eventual massacres.
Gradually and methodically the Jews in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Egypt, are being subjected to a special treatment which is enforced administratively but cannot be traced in legal documentation.
Threats to individuals are a daily occurrence.
A strait-jacket is tightening on Jews there in their economic life. Any Jewish-Hebrew culture is objected to. Any connection with Jewish Palestine is discouraged. Obstacles and difficulties are placed in the way of all Jews desirous to visit Palestine for any reason. Passports are marked “Not valid for Palestine”. All Iraqian Jews are held prisoners and may seldom leave Iraq and only against heavy cash deposits. Jews of all nationalities — American, British or any other — cannot cross Iraq even in transit and no transit visas are granted to Jews by any State Members of the Arab League except under great pressure. Recently all transit of goods to Iraq via Palestine has been officially prohibited, so as to tighten the boycott against Palestine Jews.
Racial economic boycott, supposed to be condemned by the Atlantic Charter, is openly declared and enforced by all Arab States against Jewish Palestine. Notices to this effect can be seen exhibited at certain customs stations. It is a continual cause of amazement that this continues to be tolerated to this day by the Mandatory who is supposed to protect our interests, and by the United Nations, who have accepted the Four Freedoms.
Heavy penalties are imposed upon Jews trying to leave Syria for Palestine, and should anyone succeed in escaping, his relatives left behind are persecuted and imprisoned. That these anti-Jewish campaigns have reached alarming proportions is evidenced by the recent broadcasts of Premier Nokrashy of Egypt and Dr. Recep Peker, Premier of Turkey, appealing to their peoples for moderation. We have referred to Iraq, Syria and Egypt . Conditions in the Yemen, Afghanistan, Tripolitania and elsewhere are incomparably worse. In Afghanistan there is terror.
Mr. Chairman, at this point I want to make a special appeal to one of the members of the Committee. Over 280 refugees from Afghanistan are living in India. They have run away for their skins and lives. They are not permitted to remain in India for longer than six months at a time. Thanks to all sorts of intervention, India granted them an extra six months. These six months are nearly over. May we appeal to the Indian representative that to this small case of 280 Jews, human beings — if you tickle them, they laugh, if you prick them, they cry — who are sitting there in India waiting for a decision as to where to go. In India they cannot remain; to Afghanistan they will not return because if they return to Afghanistan they will be murdered. To Palestine they cannot come. We do not know where to send our brethren from Afghanistan. May I appeal to you, Sir Abdur Rahman, to appeal to your Government to be lenient, to retain them there and not force them to go hack to their territory, to their own country of origin where their lives are endangered, until such time as we may have an opportunity to find a refuge for them, in the only place and the only country in the world which is ready, as far as their co-religionists are concerned, to receive them.
About Yemen I am not going to speak. This is something from the Middle Ages. I advise the members of this Committee only to note the Arab-Christian writer’s book, Amin El Rihani. If you read only a few pages of that book, I do not think that any man who believes that he was born a man can stand and tolerate, in the twentieth century, such treatment of man by man.
Conditions in Morocco, Algeria and Tunis are now deteriorating due to anti-French feelings growing high, and as usual the Jew is the first to suffer. In many countries, such as Egypt, xenophobia is the basis of all these events and moods, but the Jews — the usual scapegoats — with no power to back them, will have to pay for the lot.
Religious Fanaticism, coupled with national chauvinism and mass ignorance, are fraught with dangers, particularly since an anti-Jewish campaign is kept ablaze everywhere under anti-Zionist pretences.
If the Jewish communities in all the countries referred to cannot come forward and make their own statements to you, if those communities denounce all our evidence, we rely on your judgment to realize that they cannot do otherwise. It is sufficient to read Crum’s statement about the evidence given by the Damascan Jews before the Anglo-American Committee. They were granted twenty-five minutes. They spoke for forty-five seconds. That was enough.
We are entitled to speak for them because of our direct connection and kinship as well as our relative security. Furthermore, the presence of His Eminence, the Chief Rabbi — the recognized highest religious authority of Sepharadi Jewry throughout the world, as his title FIRST IN ZION denotes — may suffice to bear evidence of our grave forebodings. Our numbers in Palestine are gradually and regularly increasing by immigration from those countries in the face of all obstacles, dangers and risks for the immigrants themselves and for their relatives and friends remaining behind. Suffice it to note that the Community of. Damascus, which numbered about 20,000 before the First World War, now numbers not more than 2,000 souls, most of them having reached Palestine.
Another illustration is the ‘illegal boat’, among so many illegal boats, named after our great Zionist of 700 years ago from Spain, the famous recognized writer-poet and philosopher of the Arab world as well as the Jewish world, Yehouda Halavi. That boat carried 350 passengers from North Africa, from Tripolitania and Tunisian soil. There are no persecutions yet in North Africa, but if 350 souls, 350 men dare risk and venture all the difficulties entailed to sail, packed in those small boats and leave that country when they know they will be intercepted by the strongest fleet in Europe and they will be sent to concentration camps in Cyprus, when they know that in Cyprus they will not know how long they will remain there, you cannot find in any country 350 men, of any religion, ready to leave and embark upon such a dreadful adventure unless they fear that their lives and skin are in danger. This is not propaganda. You have to see them to realize that it is not propaganda paid by the Jewish agency or anyone else. If people dare risk sailing in an unseaworthy ship, crowded as they are, and finishing in Cyprus, it is because they are afraid that what happened in Tripolitania will happen to them tomorrow. And they are ready to leave anywhere, naked, leaving everything behind, provided their brethren sympathize here, where they can live as men, as other men under the sun-,
Having been born in Oriental countries, knowing their customs and languages, their mode of life and their ethics, the Sepharadim are called upon to play a greater role in the establishment of harmony and peace throughout the Eastern countries, provided the United Nations Organization is strong enough to impose upon all their members to enforce the tenets .of real and true democracy, the tenets of the Atlantic Charter and the practice of the Four Freedoms.
Most of the Arab countries, with the exception of Egypt, are underpopulated. No Arab country is in a position alone to put to good use the extensive areas allocated to them so very generously by the victors of the First World War.
It is high time that the wrongs done to Judaism in the West be somewhat repaired by the assistance required to establish a haven of refuge for them in their national and historical cradle. The more so, before more and irreparable wrong is done to the Jews of the East by the Arab rulers.
For these and many more reasons given to you by the official spokesmen of the Jewish people, it is imperative that the gates of Palestine be thrown open to receive not only those who escaped the Hitlerite crematoria, but for those in imminent danger for their lives in certain countries of the Middle East. Oriental Jewish Immigration into Palestine will not alter the number of Jews in the Middle East. To believe Fadil Jamali, the present Foreign Minister of Iraq, any satisfactory solution in Palestine will he revenged upon the Jews in the Arab countries. We shall produce evidence to you on this if it is required.
Our present position in Palestine is degrading. From free citizens we were turned — I am speaking of the Jewish population of this country — into second-rate citizens by the White Paper of 1939, and this, against all provisions of the Mandate and contrary to our own status under Turkish law. There are closed zones established by the Mandatory; these were open to us before the British occupation. Such is Transjordan, such are other zones in Palestine itself, details of which were given to you by our official spokesmen
Against such discriminations we protest. Against discrimination in taxation we protest. We are not rich. Someone in this Committee mentioned that we are rich. We are not rich. This is a fallacy. May I venture to invite you to visit some of our quarters a few hundred yards from Kadimah, your present residence.
CHAIRMAN: I must remind you that our time is rather short, and I would request you to omit things which are not of primary importance if such an expression has been used, I do not think you need to refute it.
Mr. ELIACHAR: May I invite you to visit these quarters to give you an idea of our street urchins, our slums, our overcrowded families, which are a flat denial of the myth of our riches.
The Mandate declared a Commonwealth for the Jews. May I ask that you glance over this booklet containing the signatures of twenty-two Members of the Privy Council, seventy-four Members of Parliament and scores of other dignitaries, all of whom concorded in 1919 that a Jewish Commonwealth shall be established in Palestine.
Allow me to make a parenthesis: whilst political rights of the Jews in Palestine are to be protected under the Preamble of the Mandate, only civil and religious rights of the non-Jews in Palestine are safeguarded. This certainly is no omission, and clearly establishes the intentions of the Members of the League of Nations in this matter.
Summarising the picture, we now see with grave apprehension that with the tacit consent of the Governments that could prevent it, men such as the Mufti in Cairo, Yunis El Bahri in Transjordan, Raschid Ali in Baghdad, Anton Saade in the Lebanon, Kawkaji in Syria, Drause in Damascus re helping to shape the future. Does it surprise you if we are worried?
We therefore appeal to you for an equitable solution on the lines claimed by our official spokesmen.
As the indigenous population of Palestine, we demand the restitution of our rights, the abolition of the White Paper of 1939 and all it stands for and the opening of the gates to all Jews in need of a home, whether from East or West. Not wanted anywhere — undesirables everywhere — this germ of restlessness and despair is eating us up root and branch.
To impose upon Palestine a permanent Jewish minority is to add insult to injury. Knowing what we have to expect under Arab rule, we cannot declare to you that, one and all, we shall be faced with Samson’s desperation.
The courageous establishment of a haven of refuge for the most persecuted people since man was created may bring peace to this country, to the Middle East and to the world, in collaboration with all our Semite and Arab brethren.
Honourable members of this Committee, representatives of great nations, millions upon millions are awaiting your verdict; for the sake of humanity, do not let us despair of humanity.
CHAIRMAN: I thank you. I suppose you have given us the general picture now, and that the following gentlemen can be quite short? We were supposed to begin our public hearing already at 10:30, and therefore we shall have to limit the time of speech for the following gentlemen at the most to five minutes for each.
Mr. ELIACHAR: There is only Mr. Elmaleh to speak in French, just a few words, and Mr. Sasson.
(Mr. Elmaleh spoke in French, of which the following is a translation).
Mr. ELMALEH: Mr. Chairman, I shall request your permission to speak in French as I have a better knowledge of that language than of English.
I have not much to add to the brilliant statement delivered by my friend, Mr. Eliachar. Perhaps some may consider the picture he has drawn somewhat exaggerated and yet believe that he has not told all there is to be told.
There is a proverb which says: “All that glitters is not gold”. As you examine the situation of our coreligionists in the Arab countries he has described, you may perhaps think they are living in countries with a constitution. Unfortunately, the constitution applies only to some of the people. In these countries the Jews are considered an inferior race.
In these countries, our coreligionists live like “marane”. No doubt you know what “marane” are: they are people who have certain convictions but are obliged to show other sentiments. Such is the case with our coreligionists in all these countries which Mr. Eliachar has described to you, and concerning which I shall not say anything further.
No doubt the Governments of the countries in question will tell you that the Isrealites enjoy full rights. That is not true. You need only take a look at these countries, and if you visit them you will be able to see the true situation for yourselves. The Isrealites of the Yemen are slaves. The orphan children are taken by the Government and brought up according to a law which is not their own.
All these Isrealites are devoted to Zion and all those who may tell you that there is a difference between Jews and Zionists are not telling the truth. A devout parson prays three times a day, saying: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.”
In 1920, I was deputed to help my friends the Isrealites of Syria when the Crane delegation went to that country. As an indication of the feelings of these Isrealites, I shall just read you a short memorandum which the Isrealites of Syria submitted to that Commission. The Isrealites of Aleppo said:
“In our daily prayers, in every manifestation of our life, in regard to all the happy and unhappy events of our existence, we repeat these significant words, which are sacred to us, which are full of bitterness but at the same time pregnant with hope: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.”
“This prescription, which is almost a ritual, instituted by our ancestors in the days when they were torn from the soil which they had sprinkled with their blood, has been transmitted from father to son. We piously preserve it and repeat it in every circumstance of life.
Our profound love for this promised land, our unswerving devotion to Palestine — I am quoting the Isrealites of Syria — our hope of returning to the land of our fathers, which is so dear to us: all these feelings are alive in our hearts. Yes, Palestine is the country of our ancestors; history is there to prove it.
To attain this happiness for which we have longed without ceasing and which we have never ceased to claim as our right, we are waiting for the Messiah who will come to reestablish in this dear country.”
Is the Messiah in this instance incarnate in the person of Lord Balfour, President Wilson or Mr. Pichon? We believe so, or rather circumstances lead us to think so.
Our aspirations are not unknown to you. Permit us to remind you of them.
After the triumph of justice, right and liberty over force, violence and barbarism, the Entente restored freedom to the whole world, and especially to the oppressed nations, thus permitting their unrestricted political, civil and economic development. Amongst the oppressed nations we may cite the nation which has undergone the greatest trial in its valiant past and its heroic history: the Jewish people who for two thousand years have been obliged to wander homeless throughout the whole world, seeking refuge everywhere and but rarely finding a country which would open its doors to them.
There is only one way to make reparation for these thousands of years of injustice: to grant the Israelites a national home where they can develop all their moral and intellectual faculties.
There was general rejoicing amongst the Jews throughout the world at the announcement of Lord Balfour’s declaration on 2 November 1917, which promised the Israelites a home in Palestine.
I do not wish to dilate on this matter. Since then, there has not been any change in the situation; the Israelites throughout the whole world long for Palestine, as my colleague Mr. Eliachar has said.
The Community of Damascus, which numbered eight thousand several years ago, now numbers only two thousand. They have all come to Palestine, for here dwell their future and their hopes; here their national life will be revived and here a nation will be reborn. Here and only here will the Israelite who has bowed beneath the yoke of captivity and of the Diaspora raise his head and body again, to live as a free Israelite and to rebuild his national home, as all the other nations have done.
It is for you, Mr. Chairman, and you, Gentlemen, the representatives of the United Nations, to make the final decision. You will then have done this nation a great service. To a nation without a country you will restore a country without a nation.
CHAIRMAN: I now call upon Mr. Sasson:
Mr. SASSON: I will try to be very short. I am going to speak to you about something that is a historical miracle. There is no parallel to it in our civilisation, that is, our Western civilisation, but there may be a parallel to it in India and in China, and so on. In our civilisation there is no parallel to the community to which I have the honour to belong, and that is the Babylonian community. Now, among the concentration camps that you have no doubt been told about, there is one very big omission, and that concentration camp is the City of the Arabian Nights, Baghdad. It is one big concentration camp, Mr. Chairman. No Jew can come out of there and no Jew can go into it unless a huge sum of money is either deposited or paid in various ways. If you do not believe me, send your secretary to the Iraqian Consulate, a stone’s throw away, and say that a Jew wants to go to Iraq, or that a Jew wants to come out of Iraq, and then you will see the answer. Now, you will say, no doubt, there are Jews from Iraq, everywhere you go you see them. There are a few Jews who can afford to pay the enormous deposits in money, thousands of pounds — I think that if you have the same amount of thousands of pounds, any Jew from any concentration camp can get out of Europe and find his way to Palestine.
I would ask you or one of your colleagues or one of your secretaries to go disguised like Haroun Al Raschid to his old capital, that is, Baghdad, and you will see for yourself.
Now, who are these Babylonian Jews? Who are they? Mr. Eliachar told us that his connection with Palestine is some 600 to 700 years old. Our connection with Iraq is 4,000 years old. We know, we claim, and our Arab friends admit, that we are descended from Abraham. Sir Abdur Rahman made that quite clear. And Abraham? Who is Abraham? Abraham was a prince, and he came from the Land of Ur, Where is the Land of Ur? It is on the fringe of the desert between the present Arabia and the Persian Gulf. And he answered what he considered to be the Call. He was respected, and he took his wife and fondly and came to what he considered to be the Country of Promise, and he came here. So that we originate in this part of the world. We are not here in sufferance. We do not thank anybody for being here, and we do not have to apologize to anybody for being in this part of the world. We were born here 4,000 years ago
Now in due course Abraham settled here. The Almighty blessed him, and you know it all from the glorious pages of the Bible, what happened. In due course a kingdom was established here, and about 600 BC the Babylonians, that is, the predecessors of the Persian Empire, the Babylonian Empire came during this struggle[MISSED] Egypt and destroyed [MISSED] and took the King and the Princes and the people captive to Babylon. They were stunned, and of this you have been told. But certain prophets came and gave them heart. They said “that is the will of God. Build cities and live in them”. And they took the prophets’ words and built the city of Tel-Aviv — not the Tel-Aviv we have here near Jaffa, but the first Tel-Aviv, and that is in Iraq. That was 2,500 years ago. These people have remained there ever since; of that there is no question. Look up any history book written by anyone and you will see that it is a fact. For 2,500 years this community has continued absolutely uninterruptedly, without any change in either religion or morals or in outlook. I do not believe that in our Western civilization there is such a community; I do not know of such a one. They have continued for those years and they remained there until the Moslem conquest. When that great Moslem warrior, Maroun-el-Rashid, came and conquered Iraq for the Moslems, he was met by a community, all of whom had older descent than the oldest family in England today — those people who pride themselves on having come over with William the Conqueror. Even the family of Mr. Churchill has not been a thousand years in England. But the Jews who were in Iraq when the Moslems came were there over a thousand years, and I think that entitled the Jews to believe they were in the country as of right,
But what happened? The Arab conquerors said, you acknowledge our supremacy and we will confirm you in your rights. And the Jews had no choice but to say: All right, you are the conquerors; we give you fealty; we bow the knee; you make the terms. And they did. As a result of that I may have to go back a little.
During this thousand years before the Arab conquest, the Jews of Abraham, of Iraq, produced marvellous prophets, who have written poetry which you, Mr. Chairman, and your friends round the table from time to time read, and they pledged themselves in these immortal words: “If I forget Thee, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning.” That is not only said three times a day; it is said six times a day — three times at prayers, and every time we eat a piece of bread and take a glass of water we pray for the peace and prosperity of Jerusalem. This community having been there for so many years, they do the same thing to this day.
And when they die, how do they get buried? They get buried facing Jerusalem, so that if they cannot be buried in Jerusalem, they will be ready.
What I want to tell you is this, that this community which is so old has still remained loyal to its own ideals and to its own ideas, and has remained so continuously, without interruption until the last few years. It is a question of tens of years. As you know, the Babylonian Empire gave way to the Persian Empire, and the Persian Empire to the Greek Empire, and the Greek Empire to the Roman Empire, and in due course, to the Arab Empire and to the Turkish Empire. And then in the course of time, in God’s good day, the British came, and, together with the Arabs, both Christian and Moslem, the Jews of Iraq welcomed the British because by that time the echoes of the French Revolution, with its message of liberty, fraternity, equality, had begun to come in, and they thought and believed that the British brought these three qualities with their Army. As a matter of fact, everything was very nice, and because the Jews had always given a great deal of their time to learning, they were the literate part of the population; and you will find until this day that they know how to read and write — the most ignorant of them; the men, that is. Naturally, the British made good use of them and they were the cadre, the beginning of the administration of Iraq. A marvellous constitution was given to Iraq by liberal-minded Englishmen who thought they were giving a constitution to some European people.
In Iraq as in the rest of the East, you have only a very thin crust — a very, very thin crust — of people who can read and write; the rest are ignorant, fanatical, and most miserable. But you have this thin crust of people who take it as their natural right that the common rabble are theirs to use as they please. So long as that great Prince was alive — King Feisal all was well; and as a matter of fact after the first reception that the Jews of Iraq gave to King Feisal he said — and it is recorded in the Letters of Gertrude Bell — “I cannot understand why you Jews are nervous. You are our cousins; you can rely on us. What will be for us, will be for you.”
I would ask you, Mr. Chairman, to look at that letter of Gertrude Bell’s. King Feisal saw the Jews as his cousins, as people who had been in the country long before his own people had arrived there, and people whose rights had been continuously respected. Later on, unfortunately, King Feisal died and a new Pharaoh arose which knew not Joseph. And the new people who wanted to use the country for their own purposes resented the fact that in every department there were Jews who were members of the minorities, and they began throwing them out of the Government service. I do not complain about that. They are a minority; they should be a minority in the Government service. But what I complain about in this — and I do ask your assistance — that this very ancient community, which has always had its own universities and its schools, has now begun to be interfered with. The schools are no longer permitted to teach the Hebrew language. The Hebrew language has been taught there for 2,500 years, and now the present Government says, no, you cannot learn the Hebrew language. And then the present Government says, you cannot learn your own history from your own teachers. If you want to learn your history we will get some Arab teacher to teach it to you. I think that is wrong. An ancient community of such tradition should be entitled to its own schools and its own teachers, and to its own freedom, and I ask you really to take the position of the Jews of Iraq into consideration when you come to your report; to see that this ancient community is not wiped out from the face of the earth, because this is what is going to happen.
I do not know if you came across the Babylonian community. There is a miserable remnant there. And this glorious community of Babylonian Jews had given the world famous prophets, universities — even more famous than Oxford and Cambridge today — until the Moslem conquest destroyed them and dispersed their conquerors, as happened at Alexandria and Constantinople and other places. This community is now in danger of disintegrating, and they feel themselves shut in with nowhere to go. They have only two alternatives: either to brook the dangers of crossing the desert — and some of them have done it and done it by foot; some of them have succeeded in reaching this country through all this desert; many of them have died by the wayside; or to go to the other alternative: and the only alternative party which is holding up to them a message of hope is the Communist Party. Unless something radical is going to happen, and happen quickly to this community, it is going to disappear. I would ask you, Mr. Chairman, as a civilised being, to see that this ancient community, for the sake of history, should not disappear from the face of the earth. It has existed so long it should not be allowed to disappear,
One more word and I am finished. I was born in Iraq. My family has been there, we claim — and it is acknowledged by the scholars — for many years. I studied at Oxford with their Princes, and believe me, on a footing of equality because I will admit no superior except him who is more virtuous or cleverer than myself. And when we were at Oxford we took it as an axiom that there was now going to be established a Jewish Commonwealth and it used to be a joke between us as to which ministerial post I was going to fill when I came back to this new Jewish Commonwealth.
What I want to tell you is that in the beginning it was accepted by all, and I do say knowing the Arabs here, and I do know them and like them; I am very happy to be with them; I understand their language, and I do know them — that the rank and file, the man in the street, has no objection at all. If you do not believe me, all you have to do is to ask the people who know this country if this country is claimed as Arab, which is the Arab town that they have built? As far as I know, there are only two Arab towns of Arab origin and name. I do not know if you would call them towns. That is, Ramleh, which used to be the capital of Palestine at one time, and Tulkarm. Every other town is either of Jewish origin, or Greek, or Crusader, or something else. And the common people understand that. And they understand something more. There is nothing nobler than the law of maintenance, as Sir Abdur Rahman will agree, which says that if you have a poor relative, and you are richer than him, you are bound to maintain him. That is the law. And this can be verified. We are their cousins and we have been born here. We have sprung from this part of the world. We do not come as conquerors. We are entitled, according to their own ideas, to this little place. What I want to say is that the man in the street knows the elements of his own law and knows that as of right we are entitled to a certain refuge. I say that there is in the man in the street no objection, but there is an objection among the leaders who look upon Palestine as something for them, as their own natural right, to exploit as their cousins and friends in Syria and in Iraq do, to use for their own purposes.
I think I have overstepped my time, but I have a great deal in my mind and it is a great subject and I would ask you, when making your report, to remember this very ancient community and its claim on you, as representing humanity.
Thank you very much for listening to me.
Source: “Hearings of the Custodian of the Holy Land, representatives of the Sephardic Community – 31st UNSCOP meeting – Verbatim Record,” UN, (July 15, 1947)