Were there Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands?

Overview

The Israel/Palestine conflict has created almost twice as many Jewish refugees from Muslim lands, than Palestinian refugees. This article will address to core areas:

  • Jews that were ethnically cleansed from Muslim lands
  • The treatment of Jewish and Palestinian refugees in the lands they settled

Jews ethnically cleansed from Muslim lands

In the 20th century Muslim nations reacted to the Zionist dream of a Jewish Homeland by implementing fiercely Anti-Jewish policies. Over one million Jews from the Middle East and North Africa had their property confiscated, basic human rights stripped and were systematically persecuted.

Ultimately these Jews were forced to flee their homes and surrender their nationalities, becoming the “Forgotten Refugees” of the Middle East and North Africa. UN Resolution 242 asserted that Jews fleeing Muslim countries were ‘bona fide’ refugees, and while the Palestinian refugees received billions in aid, international support and continuous media coverage. To most, the Jewish refugees from Muslim lands remained unheard of.

map-jewish-refugees-driven-from-muslim-lands

In 1948 twenty percent 1 of the world’s Jews lived in Muslim countries, by 1971 this had dropped to 1.2%. 5 Around a million Jews were displaced in one of the largest acts of ethnic cleansing in 20th century, staggeringly the Muslim states drove out their Jews in the wake of the holocaust, knowing that millions of European Jews had perished.

Most of these Jewish refugees did not want to leave the Muslim countries as they had lived their for centuries and were forced to leave behind their wealth, friends and often beautiful properties. They fled knowing that when they arrived in Israel they would live for several years in tents until enough houses could be built for them.

One of the more harrowing aspects to the cleansing of Jews from Muslim lands was that these were the most ancient Jewish communities in the world. Predating the Muslim conquest of the Middle East and Africa by many centuries. This often meant the evicted were more indigenous than the evictors.

jews-forced-to-flee-muslim-lands

1.2 million Arabs lived in the Israel/Palestine region at the time of partition, during the War of Independence between 472,000 2 and 711,000 3 of these Arabs fled Israel (despite Israel pleading with them to remain) and settled in other countries where they were awarded refugee status. 160,000 4 Arabs remained in the State of Israel and were granted full citizenship. In summary, there were almost twice as many Jewish refugees than there were Palestinian.

  • 20% of Arabs remained in Israel
  • 2.7% of Jews remained in Muslim lands
  • 0.6% of Jews remained in Arab lands

jewish-refugees-compared-to-palestinian-refugees

Treatment of Jewish and Palestinian refugees in the lands they settled

Fifty percent of Israel’s Jewish population today descend from Jewish refugees from Muslim lands. This community has not just thrived in Israel – but defined the very character of Israeli society. As a progressive democracy these Jewish refugees were economically and socially absorbed into the state.

One of the reasons these Jewish refugees were overlooked was because upon arrival in Israel they became citizens. The same was not true for Palestinian refugees who were deliberately herded into refugee camps and denied citizenship by their Muslim hosts (with the exception of Jordan). This meant they remained stateless and could retain their “refugee” status. While in these Muslim lands they experienced extreme persecution and were denied basic human rights.

  • Jordan – 1,983,733 refugees (6)
    • Most were granted citizenship as Jordan always intended to usurp the West Bank (just as it had between 1948 and 1967), so originally they saw no issue granting Palestinians citizenship.
  • Syria – 472,109 refugees (6)
    • Denied citizenship (women can become citizens if they marry a Syrian man, while Palestinian men cannot)
    • Denied the right to vote
    • Denied the right to stand for parliament or other political offices
    • Denied the right to own more than one property or farmland
    • Travel restrictions
    • Children born to Palestinians do not get citizenship
  • Lebanon – 425,640 refugees (6)
    • Amnesty International denounced the “appalling social and economic condition” of Palestinians in Lebanon.(7) While Ghassan Moukheiber, a Lebanese MP, explained in an interview with the ICG, “our official policy is to maintain Palestinians in a vulnerable, precarious situation to diminish prospects for their naturalisation or permanent settlement”
    • Need a special permit to leave their refugee camp
    • Denied access to healthcare
    • Denied the right to stand for parliament or other political offices
    • For 50 years they were denied the right to work in many professions
    • Denied the right to buy property (unless they have citizenship from a state)
    • Children born to Palestinians do not get citizenship
    • Denied the right to vote
  • Kuwait – 360,000 refugees (6)
    • Denied citizenship
    • Denied the right to vote
    • Denied the right to stand for parliament or other political offices
    • Children born to Palestinians do not get citizenship
    • Travel restrictions
  • Saudi Arabia – 240,000 refugees (6)
    • Denied citizenship (after residing in the state for 10 years they are the only people denied this right by Saudi law )
    • Denied the right to vote
    • Travel restrictions
    • Denied the right to stand for parliament or other political offices
    • Children born to Palestinians do not get citizenship
  • Egypt – 70,000 refugees (8)
    • Denied citizenship
    • Denied the right to vote
    • Denied the right to stand for parliament or other political offices
    • Children born to Palestinians do not get citizenship
    • Travel restrictions
    • Denied free education

This was the opposite of what happened to the Arabs who remained in Israel. With the creation of the state they were granted full citizenship and identical rights to any other citizen (although they are exempt from compulsory military service, despite this Druze and many Bedouin still volunteer for military service). They can vote, hold political positions, have free access to healthcare and education. Even the language of the state reflects this tolerance which is officially both Arabic and Hebrew. So while the Arab states oppressed the Palestinian Arabs, the Israeli state granted them total equality and protection.

Furthermore, the Arab nations that host the Palestinian refugees are incredibly rich. Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have a combined GDP of $1.3 trillion, while Israel has a GDP of mere $290 billion. 5 And while the Jewish refugees from Muslim countries received no financial support from the international community (their absorption was financed, to the last cent, by the Israeli government and by their Jewish brethren). The Palestinians were granted billions of dollars in aid (they even have their own exclusive United Nations Aid agency – UNRWA), there has been international political recognition for their plight and there are resolutions calling for this population to receive compensation and restitution. None of this exists for their Jewish counterparts.

Summary

The Israel/Palestine conflict created were twice as many Jewish refugees than Palestinian. These victims of ethnic cleansing remain unfunded, uncompensated and to many, unheard of. While Israel made huge efforts to absorb and integrate these refugees, the Arabs states went out of their way to oppress and persecute the Palestinians. Israel should act as beacon of justice for the Arab states to emulate, as it granted all of its citizens total equality, be they Jewish or Arab.

Also check out, JIMENA – Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa

Learn more truths about Palestinian refugees:

Sources

1. Statistics of Jews (1948-49): Jewish Population of the World – Leon Shapiro, Boris Sapir, American Jewish Committee (AJC), Jewish Publication Society (JPS), 1949
2. Ralph Bunche, assistant to the UN Special Committee on Palestine, quoted in “Palestine Betrayed, Efraim Karsh, p265″
3. General Progress Report and Supplementary Report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, Covering the Period from 11 December 1949 to 23 October 1950”. United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine. 1950.
4. Terence Prittie, “Middle East Refugees,” cited in Michael Curtis, et al, The Palestinians, (NJ: Transaction Books, 1975), p. 52.
5. Data for infographics
6. “Statistics”. UNRWA. January 2010.
7. “Lebanon Exiled and suffering: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon”. Amnesty International. Amnesty International. 2007.
8. AN IRIN report for Electronic Intifada, IRIN is part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.