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The "Forgotten" Refugees Of The Middle East
No, not the Palestinians, but the Jews who were run out of Arab lands. A woman named Giulietta Boukhobza writes a letter to the editor to The Wall Street Journal inspired by WSJ reporter Lucette Lagnado's piece ($) on how Lagnado and her family were forced out of Egypt. Boukhobza writes of her own experience:

I could recount a remarkably similar story about Libya, my native country. It was exactly 40 years ago this month that more than 2,000 years of the Jewish presence on what is today Libyan soil came to an end. That presence, incidentally, predated by centuries the Arab conquest and occupation. At its peak, the Jewish community numbered 40,000 and was particularly active in the country's thriving commercial life. Most left after deadly attacks against Jews in 1945 and 1948, but several thousand remained, including my family, hoping against hope that the 1951 constitution, which formally protected the minority rights of Jews, Italians, Maltese and Greeks, would ensure our well being. But we were wrong. Jews could not vote, hold public office, obtain Libyan passports, acquire majority ownership in any new business or even supervise their own communal affairs.

In the wake of the 1967 Six Day War, when Jews once again became targets of locally inspired violence, we were compelled to leave, never to return. We, and hundreds of thousands like us in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, became the "forgotten" refugees of the Middle East. Unlike generations of Palestinians who have languished in camps that are incubators of hatred and violence, we moved on and established new lives in Israel, Europe and North America. But the scars have not healed. How could they? Our properties were seized. But more importantly, our presence was extinguished. There is no trace today of the rich legacy of Jewish life in Libya. Cemeteries have been destroyed, synagogues converted to other purposes. It is as if we never existed in a country that we called home for two millennia.

To understand the current deficits of political, economic and cultural dynamism in much of the Arab world, it is critically important to grasp the patterns of discrimination and exclusion against non-Arab, non-Muslim minorities and the outflow of these groups to this very day. But alas, apart from Ms. Lagnado's superb article, far too little attention has been paid to this critically important dimension of the region.

Here's an excerpt from Lagnado's piece:

In January 1952, in what became known as "Black Saturday," angry crowds rushed through the streets of fashionable downtown Cairo torching all the symbols of luxury and foreign excess: department stores, cinemas, airline offices, banks, restaurants, private clubs and hotels. Among the victims: Shepheard's, Groppi's and Cinema Metro. They had made the average Cairene feel like stranger in his own land, because for those who were neither foreign nor rich nor Jewish much of the city -- even a patisserie like Groppi's -- was off limits. The vast majority of Egyptians never felt welcome and most couldn't afford it.

The anger against British dominance and government corruption culminated with the overthrow of King Farouk in July, 1952 by a group of military officers. Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, a leader of the coup, took over in 1954 and set out to remake Egypt. Neither foreigners nor Jews were welcome -- even those who were born there or had lived there for decades. They were forced out as Nasser nationalized industries, sequestered businesses and put military people in charge. Driven in part by idealism, he instituted land reforms that took land away from the rich and imposed rent control laws to protect the poor. Positioning himself as leader of the Arab world, he allied himself with the Soviets, socialized Egypt's economy and waged several wars against Israel.

Within a space of 19 years, nearly all of Egypt's 80,000 Jews left. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans also fled -- British and French who were ordered out, as well as others who held foreign passports and had no choice but to leave because they had been stripped of their businesses and livelihood.

Here are a few more words on Jewish uprooting in the Middle East, by professor Ada Aharoni, from the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology:

The various efforts for peace between Israelis and Palestinians have overlooked an important factor concerning the Arab - Israeli Conflict. The displacement of 850.000 Jews from Arab countries, the loss of all their assets and property, and the hardships accompanying their migration and emigration to Israel, constitute an aspect of the Middle East refugee problem which has been neglected. As almost half of the Jewish citizens of Israel, together with their descendants, are from Arab countries, peace research and future peace efforts should take this important part of the history of the conflict into account, and to address it, in all its complex aspects.

To be able to reach a peaceful solution to the Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, this neglected part of history should be amply researched and duly addressed. The uprooted Jews from Arab countries in Israel feel that although the displacement of Palestinians is well documented and relatively well known, their own forced migration from Arab countries has been overlooked and this fact makes them rather intransigent toward a possible solution of the conflict that does not include their own heritage and history. Taking into account the forced migration of the Jews from the Arab countries as part of the tragedies incurred during this long and painful conflict, would give a better chance to peace.

Starting in 1948, 856.000 Jewish refugees were uprooted in their hundreds of thousands from the lands of their birth in which they had dwelled for centuries prior to the Muslim conquest, that is, before the Arabs came from the Arabian desert to these regions in the 7th century A.D. Until the 10th century A.D., 90 percent of world Jewry lived in regions now known as the Arab countries.

Hey, where are the Jewish suicide bombers? Those cells of angry Jewish orthodontists throwing firebombs into Arab embassies? And where are the Jewish children being taught that Arabs are apes and pigs who should be killed?

In the words of Golda Meir about the Arab/Israeli conflict, "Peace will come to the Middle East when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us."

Posted by aalkon at July 10, 2007 9:09 AM


"Taking into account the forced migration of the Jews from the Arab countries as part of the tragedies incurred during this long and painful conflict, would give a better chance to peace."

I doubt it. The Arabs are saying, "We won, you lost. Ha ha ha. Soon we'll have all of Europe and Africa, then the rest of the Middle East, eventually Southwest Asia, too. Then we can marginalize the rest of the world. Hahahahahahahahahahahaha. Allah Akbar."

Posted by: doombuggy at July 10, 2007 9:15 AM

Surely the only consistent and humane position to take on this is to find both expulsions equally depplorable.

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at July 10, 2007 9:23 AM

The people who are always going on about the plight of the poor Palestinian people are probably less inclined to worry about the Jews because of their nasty habit of successfully adapting to circumstances and not wallowing in all sorts of self-destructive behaviors.

Posted by: justin case at July 10, 2007 10:05 AM

Well, it is a typical tactic used by Muslim extremists to target other religious minorities. It is also a leading indicator of the start of a major resurgence of violence in the particular region.

My time in Egypt during the mid 1990s... the various militant Islamist factions would target various Coptic Christian leaders in Cairo and Alexandria. Personally, I witnessed the bombing of a Coptic leader’s place of business in April, 1996. Actually, I was having lunch with a friend 80 yards away with my back towards the area of the bombing. A few days later on the 28th of April, 18 Greek tourists (they were mistaken as Jews) were gunned down in front of the Europa Hotel in Cairo with random killings of people looking like Westerners in Alexandria.

Also, the Islamists in Egypt view the Coptics as Mubarak's pet religion, because he recognized some of their religious holidays as national ones along with the Islamic high holidays. So the killing of Egyptian Christians is seen as a public slight to Mubarak’s government. The other popular view among Islamists is the Christian minority are agents for Israel and the West.

Remember, the Iraqi insurgents targeted the Chaldeans (Chaldean Catholic Church) after the fall of Saddam Hussein. How about the Lebanese Civil War, before the Israeli invasion was between the Christian and Muslim militias? Prior to the open civil war… there were a series of murders of Lebanese Christian leaders by Muslim insurgents.

Posted by: Joe at July 10, 2007 11:52 AM

Thank you for these comments -- I've always wondered why there was so little notice taken of the numbers of Jewish refugees, which seemed to be equal to or greater than the number of Palestinian refugees, at the time of the '48 war, and since.

Well, actually, I've not really wondered about it, since the reason notice was not taken is readily apparent. I just wondered about the ongoing moral abtuseness of critics of Israel.

But I've always felt that Israel should really make a point of this. That anytime a European diplomat starts going on about the right of return and compensation for Palestinians, these facts should be brought up and a demand for compensation made by the Israelis.


Posted by: Timothy Wright at July 10, 2007 12:12 PM

Great post. I suppose I must backhandedly credit those PC types who sneer about the stupidity of not teaching more cultures that appear more tangential to the USA than Europe. The primary problem is it leaves a wide-open field of ignorance which they may exploit to the gullible, particularly "the educated," who have training enough to understand and appreciate the vocabulary but have no understanding at all of the matters asserted. "Orientalism," of course, is intellectual disease #1 in this regard. Left only with the authors that Said excoriates we would have a far more accurate, frank, and clear representation of the societies we are so suddenly embroiled with than we are in simply adopting his moral contumly as official policy. The fact is the Arabs, as a culture, are probably uniquely parasitic, chauvanistic, aggressive and unproductive among the widely-influential societies that I am aware of. I'm sorry that's offensive to some soft-headed people, but someone must be last; it's not my fault if that's the way things are. The first order of intellectual business in this new game is simply to acknowledge such naked-emperor observations as naturally as they present themselves to us. Second order of business: incorporating Byzantine civilization into the high school history curriculum between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance. Now THAT would be a nice subversive thing to do in the name of achieving a citizenry with a reasonable historical perspective. Wait - does this curriculum even exist anymore, or is everyone too busy learning about slavery and suffregettes and labor movements and the evil Nixon? Man, I guess I don't know. But now that I think about it, I' mnot hopeful.

Posted by: Dan at July 10, 2007 1:25 PM

You wrote;
Surely the only consistent and humane position to take on this is to find both expulsions equally deplorable.
Actually population trades have worked well in the past. Consider the trade the Greeks/Armenians, did with Turkey. Most scholars point to that as an appropriate solution.
By the way, that was also a slaughter of Christians at the hands of Muslims. As the Gates of Vienna blog says in it’s tile, “At the siege of Vienna in 1683 Islam seemed poised to overrun Christian Europe. We are in a new phase of a very old war.”

Posted by: rusty wilson at July 10, 2007 2:14 PM

I am trying to contact Libyian Jews. I was stationed in Libya in 1962 at Wheelus AB I befriended the Buhtnik family. They lived on Istatklal street. There were three daughters and two sons. One wazas named Rahmin.

If you know there wherabouts or how I can contact therm email me at


Posted by: Raphael at July 10, 2007 2:38 PM

I am one of these forgotten refugees. Luckily, I didn't face expulsion first hand (both my parents did). My wife, unfortunately, was not as lucky as her family was forced to leave under penalty of death. Both our families lost money, homes, memories. I wife has only a handful of baby pictures left.

If we were Palestinian we would still be getting hand-outs from UNRWA, as would our kids for that matter. But instead our families built a new life for ourselves in new lands. I consider us the lucky ones.

Posted by: Daniel at July 10, 2007 3:14 PM


Try these groups:

Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA)

The second group will be in the second post.

Both groups have refugee sources. You may inquire further on the re-locations of various families.

Posted by: Joe at July 10, 2007 7:18 PM

The second group is Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) at:

Posted by: Joe at July 10, 2007 7:19 PM

Joe, you're the best.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 10, 2007 11:15 PM

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