Amidst the flurry of international media surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since Operation Protective Edge, one crucial voice continues to be co-opted and silenced: that of indigenous Mizrahi Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.
In an August 6, 2014 interview on CNN’s “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer, Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan was questioned regarding his accusations that Jews “slaughter Christians in order to mix their blood in their holy matzoh.”
In response, Hamdan denied the Anti-Semitism in Arab countries, by painting a picture of Islamic societies as pluralistic and accepting of Jews: “The Jews lived in the Arab region and among the Muslims as normal citizens. When the Jews were kicked from Europe in the mid-ages, they came to live in peace in our countries, and they were accepted.”
President of Jews Indigenous to Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA), Gina Bublil-Waldman counters by noting that, “Jews have had a continuous presence in the Middle East for over 2,500 years – an entire millennium before the advent of Islam. Under Muslim rule, many Jewish communities in the Arab world were relegated to a subservient, second-class “dhimmi” status.”
Hamas also refuses to recognize Mizrahi refugees, instead blaming them for their own exile and the plight of the Palestinians. In a public statement published by Ma’an News Agency, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri condemned the first UN conference on Jewish refugees from Arab countries, held in New York in 2012, claiming that “those Jews are criminals rather than refugees.”
“[Jews] were actually responsible for the displacement of the Palestinian people after they secretly migrated from Arab countries to Palestine before they expelled the Palestinians from their lands to build a Jewish state at their expense,” he said.
Legal experts assert that the UN Agency for refugees (UNHCR) recognized Jews fleeing Arab countries as bona fide refugees. UN Resolution 242 which was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council officially recognized Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
In a JIMENA testimony, Iraqi-born author Emil Murad describes the long history of Anti-Semitism in Iraq and describes the massacre known as Farhud, in 1941.
“They began dragging Jews out of buses and murdering them in the road. Wild crowds and defeated soldiers who had returned with their weapons to the city, saw the pogrom as a celebration and a sort of amusement. The Jewish Quarter in the city center became a battlefield, with looting, robbery, and rape…The pogrom inflicted mortal wounds on the Jewish community.”
Bublil-Waldman relates to ethnic and religious persecution in Muslim countries today: “Mizrahi refugees can empathize and serve as great allies to minorities from Arab countries. Honoring Mizrahi history is key to understanding the suffering of Yezidis, Christians and other oppressed groups in the Middle East.”
In her article in The Propagandist on August 17, 2010, “Why Are The Palestinians Still Refugees” Bublil-Waldman asserts that “The Arab leadership sinned doubly by driving the Jews from their homes in nine Arab countries and at the same time refusing hospitality and integration to their own Palestinian brothers who sought refuge in Arab countries.”
The accounts of Murad and Bublil-Waldman are not unique. They reflect the collective experience of Jews from the Arab world. In their Global100 survey, the Anti-Defamation League found a 74% Anti-Semitism Index for the Middle East region – far higher than any other region in the world.
Amidst growing political turbulence and oppression of ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East, it is all the more imperative to uphold and validate the narratives of Mizrahi refugees. Only then can we begin to comprehend the complex scope of Arab-Israeli conflict.