By November 8, 2007 Read More →

The Jewish Exodus from the Arab Countries, and the Arab Refugees, Israel Ministry for Foreign Affairs Information Division, Jerusalem, 1961.

yemenite_jews_awaiting_airliftAnd they shall come that were lost in the land of Assyria,

And they that were dispersed in the land of Egypt.

Isaiah, 27/13

During the first decade of its independence, Israel gave home and shelter to approximately half a million Jews who were formerly resident in the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa–about the same number as immigrated from Europe and other continents in that period. This vast transfer of population–whose initial phase coincided with the departure of the Arab refugees from Palestine–represents the climax of a migration which began long before the re-emergence of the State of Israel. Ever since the last decades of the nineteenth century Jews from Iraq and Yemen, Egypt and Syria, Algeria and Morocco had come in growing numbers to settle in the Holy Land, and had been among the pioneer builders of its new villages and towns.

The period of the British Mandate witnessed a continuous growth of this immigration. Between 1919 and 1948 about 170,000 Oriental Jews entered Palestine. The motives prompting this immigration were essentially the same as inspired the Jewish exodus to Palestine from Eastern Europe. It was rooted, first and foremost, in the spiritual attachment of the Jews to their ancient Homeland, which had been kept alive during all the centuries of their dispersion and had given birth throughout that time to significant movements of return. In these, the Jews of the Middle East and of North Africa had played a notable part.

The Position of the Jews in the Arab Countries

External pressures had added urgency to these motives. The history of the Jews in the Arab countries was by no means a record of blissful peace and security, as it is presented by modern Arab propaganda. For hundreds of years the Jews living there were treated as second-class citizens. They were subject to various forms of discrimination. Their lives and property were assured to them only on the payment of a poll tax (“jizyah”). Any political change or disturbance in the country of their sojourn was liable to aggravate their insecure condition.

In the less advanced Arab countries, their status was one of marked inferiority. In Yemen they had always been subjected to degrading laws and practices. A Jew was not permitted to walk on the pavement or ride a horse. In the courts, his evidence was not accepted against that of a Moslem. The most distressing of the anti-Jewish practices was that providing for the compulsory conversion of Jewish orphans to Islam; anyone who helped such children to escape did so at the risk of his life. For a time all emigration of Jews was rigorously forbidden. Shortage of food subsequently induced a relaxation of the ban, but the Government confiscated the property of all those who left the country.

The nineteenth century witnessed a progressive rise of the Arab countries, which culminated after the First and Second World Wars in their attainment of political independence. The Jews had hoped that the new era would bring them social and political emancipation, but in the struggle for independence a chauvinistic Arab nationalism emerged which, fused with the old religious fanaticism, produced new forms of intolerance and oppression. The Jews were gradually driven out of their principal occupations in trade, handicraft and the liberal professions. They were not able to find employment in other walks of life. State-controlled banks and industries employed only Moslems; government posts were closed to Jews. In the secondary schools and universities an unofficial numerus clausus operated against them. Their defenceless position rendered them an ever ready target of administrative and social discrimination and, in times of political tension, of physical attack. The rise of the Zionist movement provided the anti-Jewish agitation with an additional slogan. Arab leaders frequently emphasized that their opposition was directed only against Zionism and not against Jews generally, but the anti-Jewish riots which broke out during periods of internal political unrest in these countries and the economic and social disabilities imposed on the Jews by the new nationalist regimes disprove these specious pleas.

The advent of the Nazi regime and the later establishment of the Arab League led to an intensification of anti-Jewish propaganda in the Arab countries. During the Second World War serious anti-Jewish outbreaks occurred in Baghdad, in which many Jews were killed. After the war, there were similar disturbances in Egypt and in Libya. At the same time, emigration to Palestine was prohibited and the Jewish communities in the Arab countries were treated as hostages, Jewish leaders everywhere being coerced into making anti-Zionist declarations.

When the State of Israel was established in 1948, the position of the Jews in the countries of the Arab Middle East and North Africa worsened. During the debates in the United Nations General Assembly in 1947, the head of the Egyptian delegation did not hesitate to warn that international body that “the lives of a million Jews in Moslem countries will be jeopardized by the establishment of the Jewish State.” Jamal al-Husseini, Chairman of the Palestine Arab Higher Executive, spoke in similar vein. “If a Jewish State were established in Palestine”, he said, “the position of the Jews in the Arab countries would become very precarious”, adding the ominous warning that “Governments have always been unable to prevent mob excitement and violence.” Mob violence became a certainty when it was deliberately fomented by the Arab Governments following the Resolution of the United Nations of 29 November, 1947, and when those Governments sent their armies to invade the State of Israel in an attempt to prevent the implementation of the Resolution by force. The threats which had been uttered by the Arab leaders in the General Assembly were carried out to the letter. The Jews in the Arab countries of the Middle East became practically outlaws. Many sought to escape by emigration. Multitudes made their way to Israel. The most spectacular evacuations were those of the Jewish communities of Iraq and Yemen. Over 125,000 Jews left Iraq and settled in Israel. The Jews of Yemen migrated almost in their entirety to the Holy Land.

How the Jews of Iraq Became Refugees

An eye-witness account, written by a visitor from overseas early in 1949 shortly after the conclusion of the Arab war against Israel, presents a graphic picture of the position of Iraqi Jewry at that time- “The Jews of Iraq” it stated, “are in a state of panic. They have been attacked in the streets, have had their businesses broken into and an alarming number have been murdered in cold blood. They have been dismissed from all branches of public and civil service, must submit to a curfew every evening and have been barred from most of the general amenities available to the ordinary citizen. Many have made desperate attempts to escape, but without success.”

When the United Nations Economic Survey Commission for the Middle East visited Baghdad in October 1949, the then Iraqi Premier was reported to have proposed that 100,000 Iraqi Jews out of some 160,000 to 180,000 be sent to Israel in exchange for 100,000 Palestine Arab refugees. The Jews were to leave their property in Iraq and take over the property in Israel of 100,000 Arabs. If this suggestion of a population transfer and mutual financial compensation was really made, it was soon dropped by the Iraqi Government. It was apparently found easier to terrorize the Jews into leaving by fixing a time limit for their departure and enacting legislation to seize their possessions for the benefit of the Iraqi exchequer.

In the third week of December 1949, a second wave of anti-Jewish pogroms began. Thousands were imprisoned on charges of “Zionism” or taken into “protective custody.” When, as expected, large numbers thereupon applied for exit permits to Israel, legislation was rushed through freezing Jewish accounts in the banks and forbidding the sale of property without special permit. Jews were permitted to leave with only 50 kgs of luggage per person. On 10 March, 1950, the Iraqi Government issued a decree blocking the property of all Jews who, on leaving the country, “had relinquished their nationality.” A special custodian of Jewish property was appointed, who began immediately to sell it by public auction.

To speed up the departure of the Jewish community, the Iraqi Government set a time limit for it, fixing 21 June as the final date. As a further incentive a series of laws was enacted designed to make the position of the Jews in the country untenable. Restrictions were imposed on their movements. They were barred from schools, hospitals and other public institutions. They were refused import and export licences for carrying on their business. At the same time the arrests continued. So effective were these oppressive measures that by mid-July 1950 over 110,000 Iraqi Jews had registered for emigration and by June 1951 had left for Israel. By the end of 1951, the number of Iraqi Jews transferred to Israel amounted approximately to 125,000. Most of them were brought over by chartered aircraft. They arrived utterly destitute, carrying small bags which held all their belongings. Such was the end of what had been for centuries the most prosperous and cultured Jewish community of the East–a community which could trace its history back for more than 2,000 years, centuries before the Arabs had come to Iraq.

Operation “Magic Carpet”

The mass transfer of the Jews of Yemen to Israel differed in significant aspects from that of Iraqi Jewry. The modern immigration of Yemenite Jews had begun in the eighteen-eighties, when about 2,500 of them made their homes in Jerusalem and Jaffa. During the last few years before the First World War another 1,500 entered the country and settled in the villages of Judaea, Samaria and Galilee. The outbreak of the war interrupted this movement. When, after the First World War, Yemen became fully independent, the degrading anti-Jewish decrees were re-enacted, in particular that which required the compulsory conversion of Jewish orphans to Islam. There was a renewal of immigration to the Holy Land, though this involved the confiscation of the property of those who left.

After the Palestine Arab riots of 1929, the Imam of Yemen forbade the emigration of Jews to the Holy Land, so they had to escape secretly to the British-held port of Aden. There they lived for years in utter penury. In the final phase of the Second World War, when Jewish immigration from Europe was blocked, about 4,000 Yemenite Jews who had so escaped to Aden were admitted to Palestine. Altogether 17,000 Jews entered the country by way of Aden from 1923 to 1945, bringing the total of Yemenite Jews in Palestine in that year to approximately 22,000.

At the end of the Second World War, the trek to the Holy Land was resumed. Thousands of Jews streamed to Aden, but the Palestine immigration restrictions hindered their transfer, and they languished for several years in Aden, their number steadily increased by newcomers from the interior. After the UN decision of November, 1947, to partition Palestine, serious riots broke out in Aden itself. Many Jews were killed and the Jewish quarter was burned down. It was only in September 1948, five months after the establishment of the State of Israel, that the authorities in Aden permitted the refugees to proceed to their destination. As the sea passage was closed to these immigrants because the Egyptians controlled the Suez Canal and the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, they had to be brought over by plane. By March 1949, all the Yemenite refugees in Aden had been transferred to Israel.

In the meantime, there had been a palace revolution in Yemen. The aged Imam Yahya had been murdered and two of his sons contested the throne. Anarchy prevailed and the Jews were the prime sufferers by it, robbed left and right by the troops of either side. After lengthy negotiations, the British authorities in Aden agreed to permit the departure of Jewish emigrants from that port, whereupon the Sultans under their protection who controlled the route from Yemen to Aden gave permission for departing Jews to pass through the Protectorate.

It was now that the total exodus of the Jews of Yemen began. Thousands managed to reach Aden, traversing an uncharted desert, leaving their homes and chattels, taking away little more than the Scrolls of the Law from their synagogues, to bring with them to the Holy Land. Most of them, men, women and children, came on foot. Many fell sick on the way. There were no doctors, no medicines, no food supplies. Malaria was rampant. Notwithstanding all this, the great venture succeeded and approximately 45,000 Jews were flown from Aden to Israel in what came to be known as “Operation Magic Carpet.”

That was the end of yet another great Jewish community in the Arab world whose origins went back to the days of the Bible. “In spite of all the difficulties encountered,” wrote a visitor from Israel, “it was a very different liquidation from that in the countries under Nazi control. No graves were dug, no doxology was sung. A whole living community with their Holy Books were saved from peril and degradation and brought over to Israel ‘on the wings of eagles’, as they themselves termed it in biblical phrase.”

Syria and Lebanon

At the time of the last census in 1943, the Jewish community of Syria numbered approximately 29,000, of whom 11,000 lived in Damascus and 17,000 in Aleppo. Four years later, the total had dwindled to 13,000. By 1960, only slightly more than 6,000 remained. The majority of those who had left the country proceeded to Israel.

It had been very difficult for them to obtain exit permits, the fees and taxes exacted by the authorities being far beyond their capacity. The Syrian frontier guards had instructions to fire on any Jew attempting to cross the border. If caught, the escaping Jews were liable to heavy fines and imprisonment. In spite of this, thousands took the risk and fled to Israel. Many Syrian Jews were arrested on charges of having helped others to leave. Arab policemen, detectives and informers are reported to have taken advantage of the situation and to have blackmailed well-to-do Jews, threatening to denounce them as having been involved in illegal emigration.

In the meantime, all kinds of restrictions had been imposed on the Syrian Jews. They were no longer permitted to buy and sell property, and their bank accounts were frozen. Some of these restrictions have now been lifted, but anyone desiring to leave the country is still required to turn over his immovable property to the Government. The economic condition of the small Jewish remnant is such that it has to rely on assistance from abroad to maintain its communal institutions.

Arab smugglers sometimes cruelly exploited the Jews who put their fate into their hands. In November 1950, 30 Syrian Jews were smuggled out of Syria by a band of Arab seamen who promised to bring them to Israel. Halfway between Beirut and Haifa, the Arabs turned on their passengers, stripped them of their valuables, murdered them in cold blood and threw their bodies overboard.


Iraq and Yemen were not the only Arab countries from which the Jewish communities had to be transferred.

In Libya there lived about 35,000 Jews, of whom two-thirds were resident in Tripoli and the remainder in Benghazi and the smaller towns. They had suffered terribly during the war years, when the country was under Axis control, many of them having died in the concentration camp at Giado from ill-treatment and disease. After its liberation, Libya came under British occupation, but the anti-Jewish propaganda conducted by the Arab League created new frictions and dangers for the Jews. A leading part in this campaign of incitement was taken by the Egyptian teachers and businessmen who came to Tripoli as officials of the British occupying authorities. When, in November 1945, anti-Jewish riots broke out in Egypt, organized Moslem mobs also attacked the Jewish quarter in Tripoli. In a pogrom which lasted three days, from 4 to 7 November, 130 Jews, women and children among them, were brutally murdered. Many were compelled to abjure their faith and embrace Islam in order to save their lives. Houses, shops and cinemas were looted and burnt down. In the wake of this savagery more than 31,000 Jews left for Israel. Since then, another 2,000 have come to settle here. Like the Jewish communities of Iraq and Yemen, Libyan Jewry has practically ceased to exist.


At the time of the last Egyptian census held in 1947, 65,639 Jews were reported to be resident there. Unofficial estimates put the number as high as 90,000, which included Jews possessing British, French, Greek or Italian citizenship. The figure has now dwindled to 14,000, When, in 1948, Egypt joined the other Arab countries in invading Israel, it promulgated a series of anti-Jewish decrees and took severe measures against those suspected of “Zionist” activities. Much Jewish property was confiscated. Hundreds of Jewish families were driven out of their homes. Bombs were thrown into Jewish houses, causing heavy casualties in dead or wounded. On several occasions there were mob invasions of the Jewish quarter of Cairo, in which a number of Jews were killed and their houses and shops pillaged. The Jews of Egypt have since lived in a state of constant terror. A precipitate night began. By October-November 1950, approximately 27,000 had left the country. Of these, over 21,000 found sanctuary in Israel.

In November 1956, following the Sinai crisis, a ruthless expulsion of the Jewish community began. Hundreds were arrested and imprisoned under wretched conditions in Cairo and other cities. They included practically every leader in Egyptian-Jewish communal life. In the approved Nazi fashion they were led through the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, stoned and vilified by Arab hooligans. During the first three days of internment the men were kept without food. At the same time, a mass eviction of Jews began; thousands were notified that they had to go or face imprisonment. In the beginning, these measures were confined to the families of foreign Jews, many of whom had been resident in Egypt for generations past but had not been granted Egyptian citizenship. Gradually, however, the Egyptian Government began to enlarge its target. At the end of November 1956, its Minister for Religious Affairs caused an order of the Government to be read out in every mosque, stating that all Jews in Egypt were regarded as enemies of the country who would soon be expelled, and urging the population to refrain from any contact with them. Many Jews were interned and released only after signing formal declarations to the effect that they were ready to leave the country and would never return to it. They were also required to renounce all financial claims and to transfer to the Egyptian Government all assets they had left behind. Many of them were forced at gun-point to sign these declarations or beaten up till they agreed to do so. Those fortunate enough to get a passage were allowed to take with them only one suitcase of clothing and twenty Egyptian pounds. Following these steps, a whole complex of anti-Jewish measures was enforced; bank accounts were blocked, private and commercial property was confiscated, business firms were liquidated and Jewish employees dismissed. Jewish department stores, banks and other firms of long standing were sequestered. The value of the Jewish assets so confiscated or frozen ran into hundreds of millions of dollars. A special proclamation authorized the appointment of an administrator of the sequestered business firms with power to dispose of their claims and assets. The proclamation prohibited all direct or indirect transactions with any establishment whose property had been sequestered, and barred the execution of any contract concluded by them or for their benefit. These decrees were drastically enforced. The bulk of Jewish property in Egypt thus passed into Government hands.

The Jewish community was stripped of its communal assets as well. Jewish hospitals were taken over by the Egyptian army. The famous old synagogue in Cairo ceased to be an institution for religious worship and was turned into a Government-sponsored tourist attraction. Most of the smaller synagogues were closed. The activities of the Rabbinate were reduced to a minimum because of the lack of funds and the continued departure of large numbers of the community. Jewish lawyers who were Egyptian nationals were expelled from the bar. Jewish engineers were denied the right to exercise their profession. The Egyptian populace was directed by the Medical Association of Egypt not to consult Jewish physicians or surgeons. Many of the Jews who went abroad left behind large fortunes, apartment houses, land and commercial enterprises. Before departing they were searched and had to surrender all their personal belongings. Of those who went out of Egypt as a result of these official measures, 15,000 Jews came to settle in Israel. All in all, some 36,000 Jews from Egypt have come to live in Israel since the establishment of the State.

The Maghreb

In the three Moslem countries of Northwest Africa known as the Maghreb–Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco–populous Jewish communities had been settled for many centuries. Their total number, according to recent official estimates, was approximately 400,000. For centuries they were exposed to every form of arbitrary oppression and ill-treatment.1 The majority of them lived in circumstances of great poverty, many of them below the subsistence minimum. In some of the cities of Morocco they were herded together in overcrowded and shut-in quarters, the so-called Mellahs. “The squalor, decay and hopelessness of these quarters,” writes a recent eye-witness, “defy description. Heaps of refuse and dirt cover the whole area, in which thousands of human beings, men, women and children, are crammed together. Trachoma, tuberculosis, leprosy, and other skin diseases are endemic. Emaciated women surrounded by sick children lead half-blind men down narrow alleys. At Casablanca, about 50,000 Jews out of a total of 85,000 live in the Mellah; at Marrakesh over 17,000. Of an aggregate Jewish community of 220,000 in Morocco, over 100,000 are beggars living in conditions of utter destitution.”2

The spread of Arab nationalism to the countries of North Africa has further aggravated the position of the Jewish communities there. The legal status and economic position they had enjoyed under French rule became imperilled. According to official estimates, the Jews of Algeria until recently had numbered between 120,000 and 130,000. The prolonged conflict between the French authorities and the “Front de la Liberation Nationale” rendered their situation most difficult and led to a progressive exodus from the country. Wedged in between the extremists on both sides, the Jews suffered many fatalities at the hands of terrorists. Since synagogues and Jewish schools were often located in Arab neighbourhoods, access to them became unsafe. In Algiers, the Great Synagogue had to be closed. During the anti-French outbreaks which occurred at the time of President de Gaulle’s visit to Algiers in December 1960, that ancient House of Prayer was invaded by Arab mobs who tore the Holy Scrolls to pieces, broke the memorial stones for the dead off the walls and turned the whole place into a shambles. What the future may hold in store for the Jews of Algeria was indicated by a statement made on 27 January, 1961, by a spokesman of the “Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic” in Tunisia, in which he declared that the FLN was opposed to the emigration of Jews to Israel. In the light of the present position of the Jews in Morocco and other Arab countries which have attained independence, this statement strikes an ominous note.

The crisis in Algeria had disastrous consequences also for the Jews of Morocco. They live in constant fear of what the next day may bring. Whoever could, tried to get away. Altogether 150,000 Jews from Morocco settled in Israel between 1948 and 1957. During the last few years their emigration has been rendered ever more difficult. The recent tragedy of a boat full of Jewish refugees from Morocco which capsized off Gibraltar and in which about 40 men, women and children were drowned, illustrates to what straits Moroccan Jewry has come. As the Israel Minister for Foreign Affairs recently stated- “Basic civil rights which are granted to every man are arbitrarily denied to the Jews of Morocco, in contravention of the solemn undertakings given by that State when it attained independence and was admitted to the United Nations Organization. Freedom of movement and emigration does not exist for Jews. Postal and telegraphic communications between the Jews who live in Morocco and their families in Israel have been severed by the Government of Morocco. Jewish schools are being progressively taken over. Jewish families live in constant dread of detention and assault, of kidnapping and violence. An atmosphere of terror and insecurity, both physical and mental, prevails among the quarter of a million Jews of Morocco, and it is no wonder that they seek to flee for their lives and join their near and dear ones in Israel. They take flight in the full knowledge of the dangers that lie in wait for them, but the authorities of Morocco leave them no choice.”

How Israel Absorbed the Newcomers

Of the approximately half a million Jews from the countries of the Middle East and North Africa who entered Israel since 1948, the great majority arrived practically without any means of their own. The newcomers had to be provided with housing and employment, schools and medical services, many of them also with welfare assistance. No immigration restrictions were imposed by Israel on account of age, health, or physical defects. Many of them were “hard-core” cases–chronic invalids, blind people, backward children. A great many were of advanced age. Their arrival coincided with the transfer to Israel of another half million Jews from Central and Eastern Europe, among them the exhausted survivors of the concentration and DP camps. They all arrived at a time when the State was still in its infancy, struggling for its political and economic survival, and the country was suffering from a great dearth of food, equipment and buildings. The administrative, educational, social and health services of the new State were still in the process of being built up. The rehabilitation and integration of the newcomers constituted a major charge on the financial resources of the country. In fact, the entire economic and fiscal policy of the State was geared to the overriding task of providing them with homes and work. It has involved heavy sacrifices, lengthy periods of unemployment and a regime of severe austerity for the entire population. The integration was assisted by the generous financial support of the Jewish communities throughout the world, in particular of American Jewry, and by the economic aid of friendly Governments, but the brunt of this unprecedented challenge inevitably had to be borne by the people of Israel themselves.

Refugee settlement in Israel has not been the work of a select group of philanthropists and social workers. It has been a national effort. It could not have succeeded if it had not been so. The refugees were accepted from the moment of their arrival as free and equal members of society. They were not, as elsewhere, confined in camps. They were allowed to go freely to work.

During the initial phase they were temporarily housed on the outskirts of the towns and in rural areas, where they remained until work and permanent housing could be found for them. No less than 80% of the 125,000 Jews who came from Iraq, for instance, were at first so accommodated. The remaining 20% were either fixed up provisionally with relatives and friends in towns and villages or, if they were social cases, taken to hospitals and institutions. The same procedure was followed in the case of the immigrants from the Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt and other Moslem countries. Until work could be found for them, the Jewish Agency bore the expenses of their maintenance, but as the rural development and public works schemes of the Government matured, they had little difficulty in securing employment.

The second stage was the provision of permanent housing. Since 1948, more than 150,000 homes have been constructed and allotted to newcomers on rental or easy purchase terms. To prevent overcrowding in the cities and to create new openings of employment, 20 new towns have been built. By the grant of loans on easy terms, by tax exemption and other measures of relief, the Government has diverted industry into these new urban centres.

A plan for speedier absorption was launched in the autumn of 1954, when a “ship to settlement” scheme was put into operation. Under this scheme, villages were laid out, houses built and fields marked off prior to the arrival of the immigrants, who were taken directly from the docks to their new homes and lands.

Vocational Switch-Over

For the bulk of the newcomers, settlement in Israel meant a profound change in their standards of life. Difficult problems of adaptation were involved. It also necessitated for many of them a change in vocation. In Iraq, for example, the majority had been merchants, shopkeepers, clerks and other non-manual workers. In Israel today, a substantial number of them are engaged in agricultural and industrial vocations, in the building trade and in handicrafts. Only a minority has entered the professions and middle-class occupations. Even more striking has been the integration of the immigrants from Yemen, the majority of whom had formerly been artisans. Many of them have gone into farming, others have become welders, fitters and turners in factories and workshops. To give a typical example- Among the new immigrant villages in the Jerusalem Corridor one of the largest and most flourishing is Eshtaol. Its population consists of Yemenite Jews. In the beginning they lived in pre-fabricated wooden or tin shacks and worked as hired labourers at tree planting in the neighbourhood. Now they have their own farms, occupy concrete cottages and earn a livelihood by growing vegetables and other agricultural produce which they market in Jerusalem. In the same area lies Beit Shemesh, a new town. Many of its inhabitants are former Iraqi merchants and clerks. They are working as industrial labourers in factories or doing farm work at hand.

In general, approximately 15% of the immigrants from the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa have gone into farming- there are, indeed, few regions in Israel today–whether in Galilee, the Negev, the Coastal Plain or the Jerusalem Corridor–where there are not to be found new villages populated largely by newcomers from those countries. Many of them have also found employment as electricians, carpenters, stone masons and building workers. On the whole, it may be said that this large and diversified group of immigrants has been productively absorbed.

Training and Guidance

A major problem in connection with the integration of the newcomers was presented by the fact that few of them had previously had any experience in farming or industry. Technical training and vocational guidance had, therefore, to be instituted. In rural areas this took the form of guided group settlements. Each village has a resident agricultural instructor, generally a veteran farmer who volunteered for the purpose. He teaches the villagers their new professions, advises them what to grow and how to grow it and guides their first steps. There is also a social counsellor who helps them in setting up the public services of the village, in particular cooperative purchasing and marketing, organizes the village committee and establishes its contacts with the regional authorities responsible for water supply, education and health services.

The Vocational Education Division of the Israel Ministry of Labour maintains twenty training centres, where courses are given, free of charge, in 200 different trades. During the last eleven years, over 100,000 adult immigrants have benefited from these courses. Where pressure was very great, special courses were arranged for the newcomers at their places of work. The Ministry of Education supervises and subsidizes 62 vocational high schools with about 9,600 students, operated for the most part by public bodies.

Social Services

Housing and employment were not the only problems facing the settlement authorities. As previously stated, a substantial number of those admitted were social cases. This imposed a heavy financial burden on the health, education and social services of the country. Many immigrants from the countries of the Middle East and North Africa brought with them the endemic diseases of those areas–malaria, trachoma, tuberculosis and skin infections. With the assistance of the American Joint Distribution Committee, a special organization called “Malben” was set up to care for them. It established TB hospitals, rehabilitation centres for patients afflicted by chronic diseases and for retarded youngsters, special wards for the treatment of mental cases and hostels for discharged mental patients. It provided help for the sightless and the deaf-mute. It furnished artificial limbs and invalid vehicles and started job-training in “sheltered workshops.” It also granted constructive loans to enable invalids to establish small private business enterprises in the new development towns. Through physiotherapy, hundreds of patients who were regarded as incurable have been restored to a productive life. Finally, there was the great effort of “Youth Aliya”–the reception, education and vocational training of some fifty thousand refugee children, many of them parentless, who were brought safely to Israel’s shores from the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

Cost of Integration

The expenditure involved in this great effort of integration and rehabilitation, affecting close on half a million people, was formidable. The average fare of an immigrant from the Middle East and North Africa and the cost of his accommodation in a transit camp outside Israel amount to 180 dollars. In several instances the transport had to be effected by air, in particular in the case of the Jews from Iraq, whose Government had imposed a time limit upon their departure. The Iraq airlift involved an expenditure of over 22 million dollars. The transport of the Yemenite immigrants from Aden was also a very expensive undertaking. From North Africa most of the immigrants travelled by sea, although in some cases, where these Jews were fleeing from riots and pogroms, as in Tripoli, they had to be rushed over by aeroplane.

The second major item of expenditure was the provision of rural homesteads. The settlement of a family on the land cost an average of 15,000 dollars. This included the provision of housing and furniture, water, electricity, irrigation pipes, livestock, seeds, agricultural implements and instruction, and medical and educational services, as well as the construction of feeder roads. It also covered the grant of financial assistance to the new settlers until the village became self-supporting.

Urban settlement involved an outlay of about 10,000 dollars for each family. In the case of the immigrants from Iraq, of whom the greater part went to the towns, this represented an aggregate expenditure of 112 million dollars. Here again, the total includes housing, medical and educational services, the construction of roads and other ancillary provisions. As many of these immigrants were in poor health, the bill for hospitalisation and other curative services was very heavy. Among the expenditure for education and vocational training, special significance attaches to the effort of the “Youth Aliya” Department of the Jewish Agency. Under this scheme nearly 50,000 boys and girls from these countries were installed in farms, homes and training centres, which entailed a total outlay of some 55 million dollars.

The vast cost of this comprehensive programme of re-settlement and rehabilitation would have been beyond Israel’s capacity had it not been for the assistance rendered by Jewish communities abroad and by friendly Governments. Jewish communities all over the world, large and small, have spared no effort in raising funds to enable the resettlement of their homeless brethren in the land of Israel. Even so, their integration has imposed heavy burdens on the people of Israel, who for years had to put up with a regime of austerity and whose standard of living was considerably affected by the absorption of this mass influx of destitute refugees. Their settlement has inevitably presented complex questions of social adjustment which it took years to solve. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this singular effort of integration has been the psychological transformation that sanctuary in Israel has wrought among these long-suffering and persecuted people. It has given them a new confidence and self-respect. It has taught them to lift their heads and square their shoulders. It has offered them and their children the prospect of a free and meaningful life among their own kith and kin.

1 “When the Sultan’s empty treasury made it difficult for him to pay his soldiers, the solution was simple- the troops were given a Mellah (Jewish Quarter) to sack . . . As late as the end of the last century, Budgett Meakin (Life in Morocco, 1889) remarked on the practice he found there of seizing Jewish women and children and having them flogged with the object of extorting ransom from their relatives.”

S. Landshut, Jewish Communities in the Muslim Countries, London, 1950.

2 J. Zerubavel in Problems of Oriental Jewry. (Jerusalem, 1951), p. 11.

The Arab Refugee Problem

Israel’s great effort of population transfer brings to mind the problem of the Arabs who left Palestine in 1948 and raises the question whether the experience gained in that effort holds some lesson for the solution of the Arab refugee problem. According to a recent exhaustive investigation, the number of these Arabs corresponds approximately to that of the Jews who came to settle in Israel from the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa.1 The contrast between the circumstances which marked the departure of the two groups and the treatment meted out to them by their respective co-nationals is striking enough.

The exodus of the hundreds of thousands of Arabs who left Palestine before and after the military invasion of the country by the neighbouring Arab States in the spring of 1948, was the direct outcome of that war, which cost Israel thousands of lives.2 In preparation of the invasion “brotherly advice was given to the Arabs of Palestine urging them to leave their lands, homes and property, and to go to stay temporarily in neighbouring, brotherly states, lest the guns of the invading armies mow them down.”3 The refugees crossed the frontiers in the definite expectation, fostered by their leaders, that they would return shortly after the generally expected defeat of Israel. As fear and mass hysteria mounted following the unforeseen debacle of the Arab armies, a panicky flight developed.4 “Many Arabs committed atrocities, and the population going by their own ethical code expected retaliation.”5 The first to leave were the well-to-do merchants, landlords, lawyers, mayors and village elders, who were able to take many of their possessions with them and thereby re-establish themselves in the neighbouring countries.6

In contradistinction, the Jewish refugees who came to Israel from the Middle East and North Africa left for the most part under the direct impact of official threats and persecution. They were not permitted to take anything of value with them. Many of them travelled with little more than what they could carry in their satchels. While, however, they were received in Israel as brothers and their care and integration became the immediate and major concern of the State, the Arab refugees were treated with a barely veiled dislike, sometimes even with contempt, by the very Arab States to which their own leaders and the heads of those same States had directed them.7

From the very beginning, the Arab League insisted that it was for the United Nations and other international organisations and charitable agencies, but not for the Arab States, to provide for the wants of the refugees. Year after year, the United Nations, its General Assembly and its Specialized Agencies were occupied with the problem. A special body, the “United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East,” was set up in 1949 and a total of more than 300 million dollars has been expended to date through that Agency by the United Nations–the bulk of it contributed by the United States–in providing food and housing as well as health, education and social services for the inmates of the camps and for those who, though they had found gainful employment in the host countries, continued to draw rations from the UN and international philanthropic bodies. It has never occurred to anyone to suggest that the United Nations should take a hand in rendering assistance to the hundreds of thousands of despoiled and destitute Jews who arrived in Israel as the victims of Arab intolerance and oppression. And none of the Arab States which fleeced their Jewish citizens of their possessions before they left has allocated even the smallest fraction of the confiscated Jewish wealth for the care of the Palestine Arab refugees locked up in their midst.

Israel has released all the bank accounts of the Arab refugees who left Palestine, and these were paid out to them abroad in foreign currency, though this in effect meant the transfer of hard currency to the very Arab Governments that are waging economic war against the State of Israel and continue their belligerency against it in every other form. By contrast, not one penny of the funds left by the Jewish emigrants from the Arab States in the banks of their countries of origin has ever been returned to them. It has all been swallowed up by the exchequers of these States. The Palestine Conciliation Commission set up by the United Nations has for years been engaged in identifying and evaluating abandoned Arab property in Israel. No corresponding attempt has been made–or even suggested–to establish the value of the Jewish property confiscated by the Arab States from their Jewish citizens when they had to leave.

Seen in their total effect, the departure of some half a million Jews from the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa for Israel and the parallel exodus of some half a million Arabs from Palestine, of whom about 40,000 were subsequently readmitted to Israel under the Government’s family reunion scheme or by special permission, constitute a vast population exchange similar to that arranged in 1923 between Greece and Turkey and that which took place after the Second World War between Pakistan and India. The major difference–and a very material one–is that in the case of the Jews who came to Israel the financial burden was borne mainly by the State of Israel and the Jewish people, while in the case of the Arab refugees it has fallen upon the United Nations and the international relief agencies. The plight of these refugees has been turned by Arab propaganda into a great international issue, but the outside world has hardly become aware of the mass exodus of the Jews from the Arab countries.

In recent years, the Arab States have entirely prohibited the departure of Jews from their countries, because they apprehend that their immigration might strengthen the State of Israel. They have reduced their remaining Jewish citizens to a status of practical alienage–if not worse–living in conditions of chronic insecurity and danger. That the State of Israel was able, in the critical days of its birth and in the difficult years that followed, to offer a home in freedom and security to the downtrodden Jewries of the Middle East and North Africa represents perhaps one of its most significant and beneficent achievements. It has, incidentally, relieved the international community of one of the most pressing and poignant of refugee problems.

1 Walter Pinner, How Many Arab Refugees? Macgibbon & Kee, London, 1959.

2 “The fact that there are these refugees is the direct consequence of the action of the Arab States in opposing partition and the Jewish State.” Statement made on 6 September, 1948, by Mr. Emile Ghoury, Secretary of the Arab Higher Executive, to a representative of the Beirut Telegraph.

3 Al Huda, a Lebanese paper published in the USA, 6 June, 1951.

4 “The Arab onslaught on the Jews of Palestine was conducted with a savagery not easily comprehensible to the civilized mind. Killing was indiscriminate, and neither civilians nor prisoners were spared. Bodies were stripped and mutilated and these scenes, recorded in photographs, proudly peddled in the streets. Captured Jewish localities were razed . . . 180,000 Arabs live in Israel today, but in all the areas which came under Arab occupation, not a single Jew survived” (The Arab Refugee–A Study in Frustration, by Mizra Khan, “Midstream,” New York, Spring 1956.)

5 The Arab Refugee Problem in the Middle East, by F. Th. Witkamp, Bulletin of the Research Group for European Migration Problems, The Hague, vol. V, 1, Jan./March 1957.

6 In a report on “Conversations with Palestine Refugees” published in the Neue Zuercher Zeitung of 19 September, 1958, its Beirut Correspondent wrote-

“The group that has taken up politics . . . belongs, nearly exclusively, to the wealthy stratum of the refugee population. They are, first and foremost, those Palestinians who have acquired a comfortable existence in the Arab host countries- businessmen, journalists, contractors, shopkeepers, etc. Many of them had managed to salvage a part of their wealth and have multiplied this wealth in their new homeland. Very often these rich Palestinians show a profound contempt for their impoverished countrymen. When one asked- “Why is it that you do nothing for the refugees ? . .’ the reply given by a Palestinian businessman in a Damascus hotel was- ‘Because we don’t want them to live well! They don’t deserve anything better . . . I was clever enough to save part of my capital before I fled. Today I am the owner of the agency of an American automobile factory in Amman. Whoever was too stupid to salvage his property . . . can go hungry; we are certainly not going to help him.’”

7 In At-Tahrir, the official Egyptian military journal, there appeared on 25 March, 1953, the following description of the camps in the Gaza area from the pen of an Egyptian officer-

“I spent three days in that uncomfortable country where I came to recognise as such all the lies that we read in the newspapers about refugees, disease, cold, hunger, misery and injustice. In the refugee camps there is security and plenty. I visited seven of them- Al Bureiga, Al Nusseirat, Deir el Balah, Khan Yunis, Gabalia, Gaza, Rafah, Al Bughazi. In all of them I saw the people eating their fill, drinking milk and living in comfort . . . Happy women carried their pink-cheeked babies, not the pale sickly babies which you see in our villages, where there are no refugees . . . Do our weakly children drink milk? Have you ever heard of an Egyptian fellah wearing shoes?”

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