Before 1948, there were close to one million Jews living in the Arab world, while today only a few thousand still remain. During the four years following the establishment of the state of Israel, violent anti-Semitic riots broke out across the Middle East and restrictive government measures were put in place, which forced ancient Jewish communities, some thousands of years old, to dissolve. Driven from their homes and properties, 856,000 Jews were expelled from Arab countries and Iran, fleeing mostly to Israel but also to the United States, Europe, Canada, and elsewhere.
The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has launched a new campaign to mark this tragedy in cooperation with the World Jewish Congress and the Ministry of Pensioner Affairs. Called ‘I Am a Refugee,’ the international campaign seeks to bring the forgotten and often overlooked stories of Jewish refugees from Arab countries to both Israel and the international community.
The campaign, led by Deputy Foreign Minister, Daniel Ayalon, whose own father’s family was forced to flee Algeria, aims to highlight the injustices that were done to the Jewish refugees, via Facebook and online sources. “The time has come to correct an ongoing historical injustice that has affected half of the population of Israel,” said Deputy FM Ayalon on the MFA website.
Jews living in Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, Iraq, Iran, Morocco, Egypt, Yemen and Syria lost their legal status, properties and homes, which in many cases were seized by the government. On the I Am a Refugee Facebook campaign page, personal stories, photos, video documentaries, and documents have been uploaded of Jewish life and escape from these different Middle Eastern countries. In one pre-World War II photo, a class of Jewish youngsters can be seen in a Benghazi synagogue, while another photo depicts a Jewish wedding in Aleppo, Syria in 1914. In others, Iraqi and Kurdish Jewish refugees are seen arriving to Israel in the 1950s, while other photos show life in the Israeli transit camps that absorbed these refugees. An uploaded video documentary tells the story of a Jewish family’s exodus from Egypt.
According to MFA website, the personal stories that appear on the Facebook page will be presented at a conference in New York when the United National General Assembly convenes at the end of September.
Ayalon has asked Jewish refugees and their families to take an active part of this campaign via Facebook, to “tell the world your personal story, which is an inseparable part of the Jewish people and the story of the re-establishment of the State of Israel.”
This past June, the United Nations marked World Refugee Day, where only one group of refugees—the Jewish refugees from Arab countries– was noticeably absent, according to a recent Huffington Post article written by Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Proser. “The historic Jewish presence in the Arab World must be recognized. The grave injustices inflicted upon them must be acknowledged,” Prosor wrote in response to the UN oversight.
The I Am a Refugee campaign aims to open the way to international acknowledgement and recognition of the Jewish refugee issue. This coming Monday, an international conference of jurists and experts on the refugee matter will be held in Jerusalem, to continue to advance this campaign.