Search our events
- This event has passed.
Why Middle Eastern Jewish Refugees Are Key to Understanding and Resolving the Israel-Palestine Conflict
27th November 2018 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Jews lived continuously in the Middle East and North Africa for almost 3,000 years. But in just 50 years, indigenous communities outside Palestine almost totally disappeared as more than 99 percent of the Jewish population fled. Until the mass exodus of Christians and Yazidis, the post-1948 displacement of more than 850,000 Jewish refugees was the largest movement of non-Muslims from the Arab Middle East and North Africa. Yet, it is denied, falsified or dismissed.
The issue of the Jewish refugees also foreshadowed the flight of other non-Muslim minorities from the region. Does this point to dysfunction in Arab society and an inability to tolerate the ‘other’? And as Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands and their descendants now form over half the Jews of Israel, what implications does this important factor hold for a future peace settlement with the Palestinians?
On the 27th November, The Henry Jackson Society was delighted to host Lyn Julius for a discussion on her latest book, ‘Uprooted: How 3000 Years of Jewish Civilisation in the Arab World Vanished Overnight’. Lyn is a journalist specialising in Jews from Arab lands and the British-born daughter of Iraqi-Jewish refugees. She founded Harif, the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, in 2005 in order to raise awareness of the history and culture of these Jewish people. The talk centered around the forced exile of the Middle East’s Jewish Community
Lyn begun her talk by describing her personal motivations for writing her latest book. Being of Mizrahi origin, numerous members of her family had resided in Bagdad up until the early 1940s. However, facing significant persecution from the Iraqi government which included the termination of jobs, state organized and sponsored violence, confiscation of private property and regular attacks, her family, like many others, was forced to flee Iraq. Lyn went on to draw attention to the fact that the phenomenon of Jewish expulsion from Middle East has received little attention in the academic world.
Lyn developed her talk by describing the destruction of Jewish heritage following the Jewish expulsions which functioned as a form of cultural eraser. Lyn described how cemeteries were bulldozed, synagogues converted to Mosques and the Jewish quarters of various cities were looted and burned. The sole exception to this being Morocco, where Lyn claimed the primary motivation for the preservation of the Jewish quarter is to boost Morocco’s ever important tourism industry.
Reverting to the treatment of Jews preceding their expulsion, Lyn made the important point that co-habitation between Jews and Muslims did not entail co-existence. Jews were a Dhimmi status by which they faced severe religious, legal and theological discrimination. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, this discrimination emanated from two major movements – Arab Nationalism and Islamism. Arab nationalism perceived Jews as alien to the creation of their new state. This being a nationalism of blood and soil which marginalized minorities and excluded non-Muslims. Similarly, Islamism perceived the Jews as a relic from the past, a group defeated by the prophet Muhammed at Khaybar who were too stubborn to convert. Islamism also sought to re-establish the caliphate which clashed with the Zionist movement’s goal of establishing a Jewish State.
Furthermore, the driver of the Islamist movement was the Palestinian leader Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The Mufti openly supported the Nazis, appearing on German radio to propagate anti-Semitism and demanded a holocaust in the Middle East upon Hitler’s victory in Europe. He even helped create a division of Bosnian Muslim’s for the SS. He was found guilty of war crimes following the conclusion of World War 2, but escaped to Egypt where he continued to stoke tension and anti-Semitism.
Finally, Lyn explained why her book made such an important contribution to peace. She highlighted the difficulty of achieving peace with the “right of return” being a key stipulation demanded by Palestinian negotiators. This return, by which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lost their homes following the creation of Israel demand a right to return to their properties, would involve the cessation of Israel as a Jewish state and likely lead to civil war. Yet, the fact that exponentially larger numbers of Jews were ethnically cleansed throughout the Middle East, highlights that the occurrence should be considered a “population transfer” – an event which occurred in at least five separate states at that time. As such, the “right of return” should not be accepted or be allowed to use as a bargaining chip. Moreover, the mass expulsion of Jews and their successful integration in Israel provides an important for such an event. A fact of which many Arab states would do well to employ for their Palestinian minorities.