Muslims like to pretend that they treated Jews in their lands well throughout history. In some cases the Jews were treated reasonably, in others they were treated horribly.
Ali Bey al Abbasi was a pseudonym of a European traveler who disguised himself as a Muslim prince in order to explore the Muslim world from Morocco to Mecca between 1803 and 1807.
Here is his eye witness account of the Jews of Morocco, from Travels of Ali Bey: In Morocco, Tripoli, Cyprus, Egypt, Arabia, Syria and Turkey: Between the Years 1803 and 1807:
THE Jews in Morocco are in the most abject state of slavery; but at Tangier it is remarkable that they live intermingled with the Moors, without having any separate quarter, which is the case in all other places where the Mahometan religion prevails. This distinction occasions perpetual disagreements; it excites disputes, in which, if the Jew is wrong, the Moor takes his own satisfaction; and if the Jew is right, he lodges a complaint with the judge, who always decides in favour of the Mussulman.
This shocking partiality in the dispensation of justice between individuals of different sects begins from the cradle; so that a Mussulman child will insult and strike a Jew, whatever be his age and infirmities, without his being allowed to complain, or even to defend himself. This inequality prevails even among the children of these different religions; so that I have seen the Mahometan children amuse themselves with beating little Jews, without these daring to defend themselves.
The Jews are obliged, by order of the Government, to wear a particular dress composed of large drawers, of a tunic, which descends to their knees, Of a kind of burnous or cloak thrown on one side, slippers, and a very small cap; every part of their dress is black except the shirt, of which the sleeves are extremely wide, open, and hanging down very low.
When a Jew passes before a mosque, he is obliged to take off his slippers, or sandals; he must do the same when he passes before the house of the Kaid, the Kadi, or of any Mussulman of distinction. At Fez and in some other towns they are obliged to walk barefoot.
When they meet a Mussulman of high rank they are obliged to turn away hastily to a certain distance on the left of the road, to leave their sandals on the ground several paces off, and to put themselves into a most humble posture, their body intirely bent forward, till the Mussulman has passed to a great distance; if they hesitate to do this, or to dismount from their horse when they meet a Mahometan, they are severely punished. I have often been obliged to restrain my soldiers or servants from beating these poor wretches, when they were not active enough in placing themselves in the humble attitude prescribed on them by the Mahometan tyranny.
Notwithstanding these inconveniencies, the Jews carry on a considerable trade at Morocco, and have even several times farmed the custom-house; but it happens almost always that in the end they are plundered by the Moors, or by the Government. On my arrival, I had two Jews amongst my servants: when I saw that they were so ill treated and vexed in different ways, I asked them why they did not go to another country; they answered me, that they could not do so because they were slaves of the sultan.
History was made, when for the first time in the annals of the state, official recognition was given to Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran. Legislation was passed by the Knesset in June 2014 designating November 30 as the national day of commemoration of the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran. The date was significant in that it commemorates the day after the anniversary of the November 29, 1947 UN resolution on the partition of Palestine, which led to an immediate flare up of anti-Zionist action and policy among Arab states, resulting in the killing, persecution, humiliation, oppression and expulsion of Jews, the sequestration of Jewish property and a war against the nascent State of Israel. In 1948, close to a million Jews were living in Arab lands. Some were massacred in pogroms. Most fled or were expelled between 1948 and 1967.
There are several things wrong with this reading of history.
Thirdly, violent riots against defenseless Jews in Arab countries preceded the outbreak of war in Palestine and the resulting flight of several hundred thousand Arab refugees.
In 1947, the Political Committee of the UN General Assembly debated the proposed Partition of Palestine.
The Egyptian delegate, Heykal Pasha, made the following remarks: “The United Nations…should not lose sight of the fact that the proposed solution might endanger a million Jews living in the Muslim countries. Partition of Palestine might create antisemitism in those countries even more difficult to root out than the antisemitism which the Allies tried to eradicate in Germany…If a Jewish state is established, nobody could prevent disorders. Riots would break out in Palestine, would spread through all the Arab states and might lead to a war between two races.”
Sure enough, a wave of violence spread in Egypt following the vote in favour of Partition on 29 November 1947. Demonstrations were called for 2 – 5 December. It was only because the police prevented the mob from attacking the Cairo Jewish quarter that lives were spared.
In Bahrain, beginning on 5 December, crowds began looting Jewish homes and shops and destroyed the synagogue. Two elderly ladies were killed.
In Aleppo, Syria, the Jewish community was devastated by a mob led by the Muslim Brotherhood. At least 150 homes, 50 shops, all 18 synagogues, five schools, an orphanage and a youth club were destroyed. Many people were killed, but the exact figure is not known. Over half the city’s 10,000 Jews fled into Turkey, Lebanon and Palestine.
In Aden, the police could not contain the rioting. By the time order was restored on 4 December, 82 Jews had been killed. Of 170 Jewish-owned shops, 106 were destroyed. The synagogue and two schools were among the Jewish institutions burnt down.
Arab statesmen were making threats against their Jewish citizens six months before Ben Gurion declared Israel established. More alarming still, Jews had been targeted for violence years earlier.
In Iraq in 1941, 179 Jews were murdered in a Nazi-style pogrom, the Farhud, seven years before Israel was created.
In November 1945, two years before Israel was declared, and before the UN Partition Plan vote, a series of anti-Jewish riots broke out in several Arab countries on the anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
In Egypt, anti-Zionist demonstrations were called by the Muslim Brotherhood, Misr al-Fatat and the Young Men”s Muslim Association. Mass demonstrations took place on Balfour Day (2 November) in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities. Jewish businesses in Cairo and in the Jewish Quarter were looted and the Ashkenazi synagogue ransacked. The disturbances soon spilled over into anti-dhimmi violence, with Coptic, Greek Orthodox and Catholic institutions also attacked. Of 500 businesses looted, 109 belonged to Jews.
Far worse was the pogrom in Libya which began on 4 November 1945 in Tripoli when thousands went on the rampage in the Jewish quarter and bazaar. Jewish homes and businesses had been marked out beforehand for exclusive attack.
The violence spread to other towns. Over three days of rioting, the police stood by and British and US servicemen on the outskirts waited until three days later to impose a curfew. By then 130 Jews were dead including 36 children. Women were raped, some 4,000 Jews were left homeless and nine synagogues destroyed.
In Syria a mob broke into the great synagogue in Aleppo and beat up two elderly men. In Iraq, the government avoided a repeat of the 1941 Farhud by banning public demonstrations.
But in November 1947, the bloodcurdling threats coming from Arab officials were none other than state-sanctioned incitement. The Palestine Post ran an editorial entitled “Unwilling hostages” on 11 December 1947. It quoted an editorial in the Manchester Guardian the day before, entitled ”Hostages”. This article deplored inflammatory statements made by Arab leaders which could be interpreted as threats against the Jewish minorities.
Both in Syria and Iraq “pressure has been put on the Jews to denounce Zionism and support the Arab cause. One cannot help wonder what threats have been made to bring this about.” The riots of the previous week had been attributed by Arab governments to the ”fury of the people”. The editorial charged that “the governments concerned, if they do not activate or instigate them, look upon them with a benevolent eye.” As well as approving or instigating violence against their Jewish minorities, the member states of the Arab League drafted a plan to victimize their Jewish citizens ‘as the Jewish minority of Palestine.”
By the time Israel was established on 15 May 1948, the Jewish communities in Arab countries had been rocked to their very foundations. As the historian Norman Stillman writes, the Palestine issue was a major contributing factor, but it was not the only one – it was more of a catalyst. Arab and Islamic nationalism could find no room for ethnic and religious groups that deviated from the norm, and Jews found themselves alienated and isolated from society at large.
The most reliable estimate of the value of property and other assets abandoned by Jews fleeing or being expelled from Arab countries and Iran has probably been made by The World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC). WOJAC bases its estimate on detailed information provided by individuals. In 2006, WOJAC estimated that Jewish property both Jewish community assets and individual ones abandoned in Arab countries would be valued at more than $100 billion, later revising their estimate in 2007 to $300 billion. They also estimated Jewish-owned real-estate left behind in Arab lands at 100,000 square kilometers (four times the size of the state of Israel).
We now take a look at the history of, and violence against, Jews in Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Algeria. In Iraq, Tunisia, Libya and Syria, the riots took place well before there was any thought of a Jewish State.
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept…” – Psalm 137
The people of Jacob have dwelt by the rivers of Babylon ever since the destruction of the First Temple, a continuous period exceeding 2,500 years. The Jewish community of Iraq had existed for more than 2,500 years and were a cultural centre of Judaism where the Babylonian Talmud was written and compiled.
The Jewish community of Babylon started along the same path the other peoples of the region had trodden, that of captivity, assimilation and absorption of the other peoples into the ancient Babylonian culture, and finally their disappearance. But unlike the others, Jews remained steadfast in their faith and firm in upholding the traditions of their ancestors. The light of Judaism remained lit and their faith produced prophets and sages.
A substantial change and marked deterioration, however, occurred in the situation of Jews during the period between the two world wars. The achievement of independence by the Arab countries was accompanied by a blind hatred directed toward all minorities, including the Armenians, the Assyrian Christians and the Kurds in Northern Iraq.
The Jews had secured a special place in the economic, administrative and cultural life of Iraq. They were superior to their neighbors in education and knowledge, they were outstanding in commerce and many were employed in government administration and in private clerical practice, which fact made the Arabs jealous. What made matters worse was that the Jews found an honored position among the British administration that needed senior officials and local agents proficient in English and Arabic.
When Hitler came to power in Germany, Goebbel’s agent arrived in Iraq and began to disseminate propaganda against the Jewish domination of government institutions and the economy. He incited the Muslims against the Jews, and in l935 Arab hatred found expression in crowded meetings which terminated in murderous pogroms. The Golden Age was over. Arab hatred of the English was transferred to the Jews, and the brunt of the war declared on Britain was diverted to a campaign against the unfortunate, defenseless Jews of Iraq. Many were imprisoned and tortured, and an enormous amount of money was extorted.
ONE SUNDAY, June 1, 1941, the first day of Shavuot, at 10:00 a.m. youths who had gathered to greet the crown prince Abd al-Ilah came to the airport. Meanwhile, Jews dressed in festive attire went out into the streets in a markedly happy atmosphere. All of them were pleased at the return of the crown prince and at the restoration of order to the capital, Baghdad.
Suddenly, however, hooligans began to stone the Jews. A panic-stricken fight began. Large numbers of Jews fled into the side streets. There were sounds of shooting, cries, the flash of knives. That was the beginning of an unforgettable pogrom called the “farhud.” 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. Babies were killed in the arms of their mothers. Young children were forced to murder their parents and parents were made to slaughter their own offspring.
More on the “Farhud”. Farhud refers to the pogrom or “violent dispossession” carried out against the Jewish population of Baghdad, Iraq, on June 1–2, 1941, immediately following the British victory in the Anglo-Iraqi War. The riots occurred in a power vacuum following the collapse of the pro-Nazi government of Rashid Ali while the city was in a state of instability. Over 180 Jews were killed and 1,000 injured. Looting of Jewish property took place and 900 Jewish homes were destroyed. The violence came immediately after the rapid defeat by the British of Rashid Ali, whose earlier coup had generated a short period of national euphoria, and was charged by allegations that Iraqi Jews had aided the British. The pogrom inflicted mortal wounds on the Jewish community. Arab voices could be heard everywhere in Baghdad: “The small feast is over, now you [the Jews] prepare for the great feast !” The Jews began to organize themselves and to whisper about self defense. The future of the community lay in the hands of youths and younger men and girls. With a sort of unexpected enthusiasm a movement arose clandestinely.
After the second round of the pogrom many of those who had escaped death wished to leave Iraq, but were not allowed to. The Jews remained silent and organized themselves clandestinely. The Underground Movement was organized, turning all Jewish eyes to Zion. The news of the establishment of a new state, the State of Israel, in 1948 aroused great joy that was celebrated in silence behind closed doors. In police circles it was whispered that if the mobs burst into the Jewish quarters of the capital in a pogrom like that which occurred in June 1941, this time it would not be so easy to control the situation, since a change had occurred in the spirit of the Jews. The police knew that many Jews had armed themselves and decided to fight for their lives at all costs. The “chalutz,” or pioneer, movement, and all the clandestine underground movements, mobilized and set up barricades to defend the Jewish quarters at strategic points. Radio communication was established between these points. Secret broadcasting stations were also set up, and Molotov cocktails were prepared in each Jewish house under the guidance of the young chalutzim (“pioneers”).
After the establishment of the State of Israel , the Jews of Iraq became hostages in the land of their birth. Children 14 years of age joined the young Underground Zionist Movement, and wanted to flee the country through the desert or by any other route. About 20,000 young people, boys and girls, left Iraq by impossible and dangerous routes. There was no Jewish home without some member of the family missing. The graves of those who couldn’t make it are to be found on the mountains, in the desert or by the sea. Three years after the establishment of the State of Israel, Iraqi Jews were given an opportunity to leave Iraq en masse provided that they gave up their citizenship and all their property. So began Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, when an airlift – the most daring ever organized in peacetime – transferred over 120,000 Jews from Iraq to Israel – see item on Alaska Airlines below. The Jews of Iraq left behind them not only a continuous history of 2,500 years, but all that was holy and precious to them, both spiritually and materially. Tombstones of prophets stood on the banks of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and in the Kurdish areas. But in Israel there was no apartment with a key ready to welcome them. All they were given was an iron bedstead, and a leaky tent in a transition camp they called a “ma’abara.” Immediately the Six Day War began, the Iraqi authorities began to persecute the remaining small Jewish community.
‘Shadow in Baghdad’ reviewed
The film is a documentary of the story of Linda Menuhin who fled the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein in Dec 1970 when she was 20 years old to go to Israel awaiting the rest of the family to follow, which they did some 5 months later except for her father Yacoob Abdul Aziz, a well-respected lawyer who stayed awaiting the right moment.
In 1969 the Ba’ath party staged a mass execution of nine Jews and displayed their bodies in the main square amongst cheering fans. They were scapegoats to make up for the loss of the 1967 war and the writing was on the wall for the remaining few Jews of Iraq.
In 1970 and 1971 many Jews fled through Kurdistan in small groups arriving in Iran passing over precipitous mountains and dangerous terrain to avoid border police patrols. It was indeed a risky adventure requiring a lot of courage for, if caught, they would be subjected to the horrors and torture as Saddam’s prisoners but such was the level of despair that some 2300 out of 3000 people took that route.
So ended 2500 years of Jewish history in Iraq.