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January 31, 2003

The Jewish Dispossessed

"A major obstacle to peace in the Middle East is the Palestinian refugee problem. Yet, a key component to understanding it has been overlooked and obscured in the current dialogue. What is this elusive component? The exodus of Jews from Arab countries. These Arab Jews now constitute more than 40 percent of Israel’s population.

These Jews fled their homes under threats of persecution and death. For example, in 1951, when they were permitted to leave, more than 100,000 Jews left Iraq. They fled as stateless citizens, having given up their possessions, property and the only homeland they had known for 2,500 years.

Iraqi Jews were fortunate to escape with their lives since Prime Minister Nuri Said recommended a final solution in a meeting with Jordan’s prime minister and Sir Alec Kirkbride, the British ambassador to Jordan. Said proposed the Jews should be forcibly evicted "in army lorries escorted by armored cars ... to the Jordanian-Israeli frontier," according to Kirkbride. There, they would be ordered to "cross the line," then, in all probability massacred.

The reason so many Iraqi Jews left in 1951 was fear. Even with a remnant of Jews remaining in Iraq, hangings continued. The most infamous ones occurred Jan. 27, 1969, when nine Jews were hung in Baghdad’s public square for being alleged "American and Israeli spies." Baghdad Radio called upon all Iraqis to "come and enjoy the feast" and declared a national holiday. Some 500,000 paraded and danced past the scaffolds where the bodies hung. Today, less than 50 Jews remain in Baghdad—out of a community of more than 200,000. Who kept the Jews’ property? The Iraqi government, including attempts to expropriate more than $200 million in community property alone.

This pattern was repeated throughout Arab lands, where 1948 Jewish populations have been decreased to next to nothing. To where did these Jewish refugees vanish? The majority went to Israel, often living in tent camps for up to 12 years, just as the Palestinian refugees. However, they got citizenship in Israel and did not remain permanent refugees."