Photo Credit: Courtesy DC

What really happened to the million Jews who lived in Arab lands? Unfortunately, so many people spread lies about what happened to those Jews – chiefly as a way of propping up a false Palestinian narrative – that most people have no idea of the truth or the scale of the disaster. They see the lies spreading online, but simply do not have the material they need to counter the disinformation campaign.

The ‘Jewish problem’ in the Arab lands

A simple fact: in the 20th century almost a million Jews resided in ancient Jewish communities spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa.


Another simple fact: at the end of the 20th century, there was almost nothing left.

So what happened?

At the root, although there is no ‘catch-all’ that tells the story of every single Jew in all of the Arab lands – it was belief in the supremacy of Islam, rising Arab nationalism and Islamic antisemitism that all played their role. Whilst it is true that Jewish history in the MENA region was better than the Jewish experience in Europe, this is hardly a difficult benchmark to pass.

Peaceful co-existence’ involved the subordination and degradation of the Jews. The status of Jews as Dhimmi (second class citizens) meant that life was unpredictable; sometimes calm – sometimes violent – but the Jewish experience was always left to the whims of the local rulers.

The 19th century brought about the partial collapse of the Ottoman Empire – and this signalled dark times for the Jews. Pogroms – violent riots against Jews – began to reappear with alarming frequency. The Arab response to the vacuum of power left from the weakness in the Ottoman regime, resulted in power struggles – and both rising Arab nationalism and religious extremism left Jewish blood flowing down city streets. All this upheaval started occurring long before modern Zionism entered the equation.

A key point must be made. The idea that before Zionism, Jews had lived in peace in Arab lands is an absolute myth. For a full history it is worth reading the Lyn Julius book ‘Uprooted’ .

The need for the whitewash

By the early 20th century, the attacks on these Jewish communities were brutal. Much of it was government driven, with increasing anti-Jewish legislation appearing throughout the region. But there was also a lot of anti-Jewish violence on the street. This all spiked dramatically when Israel was founded but had started long before. The growing hostility was to drive the ethnic cleansing of every major Jewish community inside Arab lands. The creation of nearly a million Jewish refugees.

For those pushing an anti-Israel agenda – and whose entire narrative is built around the non-necessity of Zionism and the tragic existence of Palestinian refugees, the true history surrounding Jewish refugees creates five key problems:

  1. The image of co-existence is a myth
  2. There were more Jewish refugees created than Arab refugees
  3. The value of what the Jewish refugees had stolen from them was many times greater than anything the Arab refugees can claim they lost
  4. The attack on the Jewish communities was unprovoked and on an innocent civilian population. The same is not true of much of the Arab population in the mandate, with many Arab villages choosing a violent confrontation that fuelled a civil conflict
  5. Like it or not, many Arab families in the mandate area had simply moved into the area as the Ottoman empire collapsed – or as Zionist investment created opportunity. This means many of the Arab refugees had no real roots in the mandate area (one example – the ‘Palestinian’ hero of the 1930s, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam – was born in Northern Syria.) The same could not be said of the ancient Jewish roots in places such as Egypt, Iraq or Yemen.

All of these factors create a huge problem for anti-Israel activists. In real terms, the unprovoked destruction of the Jewish communities in the MENA region was far worse than the destruction of the Arab communities engaged in civil conflict in the mandate area.

Another *key difference* between the two – was what followed their respective departures. While Israel looked after Jewish refugees and absorbed them – so today they no longer exist – the Arabs disgracefully *CHOSE* to weaponise the refugees. Instead of absorbing them, they locked them into camps and deliberately perpetuated their suffering. Many of the grandchildren of these Arab refugees still live in camps today, solely because the Arab nations wanted to keep them that way.

There is even mind-numbing hypocrisy in the way these people are treated. People still refer to a Jordanian whose ancestors fled the mandate area in 1948 as a ‘refugee’ – but nobody would dream of doing the same to an Israeli whose ancestors were expelled from Egypt. Both of these families have new nationalities – but are treated very differently.

But even all this misdirection wasn’t enough. Even with the UN, UNHRC, Amnesty, HRW and media outlets like the BBC – all playing along with the gross deception. The anti-Israel propaganda machine needed more.

The birth of an antisemitic conspiracy theory

What the anti-Israel activists did was simple. They looked at the million Jews wiped out from Arab lands and just blamed the Zionists (Jews). Like most Jew-haters – they simply hid the truth behind an antisemitic conspiracy theory. For them it does not matter than 50 years before modern Zionism, Jews of the region were begging the French and British for protection from Islamic persecution. Nor is it relevant that anti-Jewish laws were set in place throughout the area.

The revisionists just airbrushed all this out of history. Instead, they created a world in which Jews and Muslims lived peacefully together and then pointed all the blame at the Zionists. In this distorted world, Jews didn’t leave of their own accord at all – nor did Muslims chase them out. Instead in this conspiracy – the Zionists ‘forced’ Jews’ out of their homes and into Israel:

The tweet above is not an oddity. Check the timeline of any anti-Israel activist – they are all pushing exactly the same myth. See for example the lies contained within the book ‘State of Terror’ by Tom Suarez, which relies heavily on these myths. A denial of horrific crimes which places the blame on the victims (today, over 50% of Jewish people in Israel – the ‘Zionists’ they are attacking – are the victims of the ethnic cleansing of which they are being accused).

The classic line goes like this: Jews had lived peacefully in Arab lands for millennia. Then the ‘white’ European Zionists, who wanted ‘non-white’ cheap labour, came and unsettled the Arab-Jewish communities by conducting a string of false flag terrorist attacks. The Zionist / Nazi cooperation conspiracy is another strand of the same demonisation campaign. The key example antisemites use is a false history of the experience of Jews in Iraq. Mainly because Zionist activists were arrested, tortured and executed for the ‘crime’ following a sham trial.

It is not difficult to dismantle the entire conspiracy because every piece of available evidence suggests that it is simply not true. Iraq had been awash with anti-Jewish violence for decades. Files in the National Archives at Kew contain examples of bombing attacks on Jewish communities predating even the Farhud (the 1941 slaughter of 179 Jews). Such as this attack on a Jewish club in Baghdad in 1938:

By the mid 1930s, Nazi ideology was widely spreading through Iraq (and much of the MENA region). The idea that Israel, which at the time was overrun with refugees flooding into the country, would be agitating for more makes no sense at all. The Jews of Iraqi left because the people and government of Iraq turned on them. By the time Iraq finally gave permission for the Jews to leave in March 1950 (and they were forced to leave all their property behind) – most Jews registered to go.

The idea that this was a Zionist plot is nothing more than victim blaming by building an antisemitic conspiracy theory.

In order to counter all these lies, we need to arm ourselves with the truth. So what happened to all the Jews in Arab lands really? The truth is an escalating anti-Jewish pogrom that engulfed the entire MENA region and led to the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish Communities from Morocco to Yemen. This is a nation-by-nation breakdown:

The real story of the Arab Lands

These are *just some* of the key events that took place across the region (approximate figures):

Libya – Jewish population 38000 Today 0

  • 1785 Jews who refuse to convert are massacred
  • 1897 Looting of Jewish areas
  • 1938 Italian racial laws applied to Libya
  • 1942 Nazi occupation of Benghazi
  • 1945 Pogrom – 130 Jews killed
  • 1948 Pogrom – 14 Jews killed
  • 1951 Libyan PM says Jews have no future in Libya
  • 1950s various anti-Jewish legislation
  • 1961 Jewish assets seized

Algeria – Jewish population 140000 Today 0

  • 1805 500 Jews massacred
  • 1815 Jews burnt at stake
  • 1830 Massacre of Jews
  • 1929-1933 anti-Jewish clashes
  • 1934 anti-Jewish riots 25 Jews killed
  • 1940 Vichy anti-Jewish laws
  • 1956 Anti-Jewish attacks
  • 1960 Great Synagogue ransacked
  • 1961 Oran cemetery vandalised
  • 1963 Muslim only nationality imposed

Tunisia – Jewish population 105000 Today 0

  • 1898 anti-Jewish riots
  • 1917 anti-Jewish riots
  • 1940 Vichy anti-Jewish laws
  • 1942 Nazi occupation
  • 1952 nationalist riots
  • 1958-1960 anti-Jewish legislation
  • 1962 Jewish firms nationalised
  • 1967 anti-Jewish riots

Egypt – Jewish population 90,000 Today: 5

  • 1929 – Nationality law passed – most Jews rendered stateless
  • 1945 Anti-Jewish riots
  • 1948 Jews interned – bombing attacks against Jewish premises, riots against Jews
  • 1956 25000 Jews expelled

Morocco – Jewish population 265000 Today 3000

  • 1790 Sultan orders murder and rape of Jews
  • 1864-1880 several pogroms in Marrachech
  • 1912 Pogrom in Fez
  • 1930s rise of nationalist antisemitism
  • 1937 Pogrom in Meknes
  • 1940 Vichy regime statutes
  • 1941 Jews banned from banking, property, law
  • 1948 anti-Jewish riots 44 Jews slaughtered
  • 1954 Petit Jean massacre

Trans-Jordan (including Jerusalem) Jewish population? Today 0

  • 1948 Trans-Jordan expelled every last Jew and destroyed synagogues

Syria and Lebanon – Jewish population 50,000 Today 15.

  • 1840 Damascus blood libel – pogrom
  • 1909 Jews flee Ottoman conscription
  • 1930s anti-Jewish laws introduced
  • 1947 Pogrom in Aleppo
  • 1948 Jews murdered in Beirut
  • 1950 Jewish property seized
  • 1958 Jews held hostage – ransom to free them

Iraq – Jewish population 135000 Today 10.

  • 1828 Massacre of Jews in Baghdad
  • 1934 Jews dismissed from government roles
  • 1935 Schools place quota on Jewish students
  • 1936 Jewish business must have Muslim partner
  • 1936 -1939 Bombing campaign against Jewish targets
  • 1941 Farhud. 179 Jews slaughtered
  • 1947 Iraqi FM threatens to expel Iraqi Jews
  • 1948 1000 Jews dismissed from public service
  • 1948 show trial of Shafiq Ades, who was publicly hanged in Basra,
  • 1948 Anti-Jewish legislation
  • 1950-52 Jews allowed to leave / property seized
  • 1963 Jews forced to carry yellow identity cards

Yemen Jewish population 1946: 55000 Today: 0 Fled persecution from rising Islamic extremism

  • 1881 Jews flee forced conversions
  • 1911 Sharia law declared
  • 1922 Forced conversion of Jewish orphans
  • 1947 Anti-Jewish riots in Aden – 82 Jews killed

From Morocco to Yemen there was clear, consistent, and undeniable persecution. Zionism did not send all this over the edge – the Arabs did this all by themselves. Zionism, thankfully, left the fleeing Jews with a safe haven.

{Reposted from the author’s site}

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David Collier has been writing on the subject of Israel for years and is currently researching anti-Zionist forces on the university campus. During the Oslo years, he coordinated projects between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority and published his own newspaper which was printed in Ramallah.