This is the version of events that I've been given countless times by Arabs and Muslims. 'Israel is the only thing that ruined Jewish-Arab relations', they insist.
Is it true?
Well, not exactly...
Take SYRIA. Jews had lived there since biblical times. And after the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, the Jewish population in Syria increased.They were mostly to be found in Damascus and Aleppo; combined, we're talking about roughly 30,000 people. But in 1945, in a bid to stop the creation of Israel, the Syrian government banned Jews from leaving the country, and Jewish property was burned and looted. The government then froze Jewish bank accounts, and confiscated their property.
And a year later, in 1946, following Syrian independence from France, again attacks on Jews and their property increased. This violence reached its' zenith in the pogroms of 1947, which left all shops, homes and synagogues in Aleppo in ruins. Thousands of Jews fled Syria at this point. The minute they left, their homes and property were taken over by their Muslim neighbours.
Over the next few decades, the remaining Jews in Syria found they were virtually hostages. They were only permitted to leave Syria if they left family members behind, as a guarantee they would return. Citizenship was taken away from them, and they found a lot of discrimination when searching for work. The Jewish community was also under constant surveillance of the Syrian secret police.
The last Jews to leave Syria departed in 1994.
Did Jews fare any better in EGYPT?
Jews have lived there since biblical times. By 1897, there were more than 25,000 Jews, mainly in Cairo and Alexandria. But in 1926 came the first Nationality Code, which stated that the only people entitled to Egyptian nationality were those 'who belonged ractially to the majority of the population of a country whose language is Arabic or whose religion is ISLAM.' This led to the expulsion of many Jews.
In 1945, with the rise of Egyptian nationalism and a big increase in anti-western and anti-Jewish sentiment, riots erupted. Ten Jews were murdered, 350 injured, and a synagogue, a Jewish hospital and an old age home burned down.
In July 1947, a clause was introduced to Egyptian Companies Law, making it compulsory for 90% of the employees to be Egyptian nationals. This led to the loss of livelihood for many Jews. Then, when Israel was established in 1948, there were yet more anti Jewish riots. Between June and November 1948, bombs detonated in the Jewish quarter killed more than 70 Jews and wounded nearly 200. 2000 Jews were arrested and most had their property confiscated. Rioting over the next few months led to many more Jewish fatalities.
And in 1956, the Egyptian government expelled almost 25,000 Egyptian Jews, taking their property as well. Around 1000 Jews were also sent to prisons and detention camps. On November 23, 1956, a declaration signed by the Minister of Religious Affairs, and read aloud in mosques throughout Egypt, stated that 'all Jews are zionists and enemies of the state.'
Thousands more Jews were ordered to leave the country. They were permitted to take only one suitcase and a small sum of money, and were forced to sign papers 'donating' their property to the Egyptian government. Foreign observers noted that members of Jewish families were taken hostage, apparently to ensure that those forced to leave did not speak out publicly against the Egyptian government.
By 1957, the Jewish population stood at 15,000. In 1967, after the SIX DAY WAR with Israel, there was another wave of aggression against the Jews, and the community now fell to 2.500. By the 1970s, the community was nothing more than a handful of families. Today, the Jewish community in Egypt is all but extinct.
And how about IRAQ?
Jews had flourished in what was Babylonia for 1200 years before the Muslim conquest in 634 AD. Under Islamic rule, the Jews' position was never secure. Some Jews did hold good positions in the government, and did well in trade. But at the same time, Jews were subjected to special taxed, and restrictions on their professional activities. And when Iraq gained independence, things only got worse.
In June 1941, the Mufti-inspired, Pro Nazi coup of Rashid Ali incited riots and a pogrom in Baghdad. Armed Iraqi mobs, murdered 180 Jews and wounded almost 1000. Although emigration was forbidden, many Jews made their way to Israel (then still Palestine) with the help of an underground organisation.
There was yet more anti Jewish rioting between 1946 and 1949. And after the creation of Israel in 1948, zionism became a capital crime. In 1950, the Iraqi parliament finally permitted emigration to Israel - on the condition that Iraqi Jews gave up citizenship and all other rights. Between May 1950 and August 1951, the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency airlifted around 110,000 Jews to Israel in OPERATION EZRA AND NEHEMIAH. At the same time, 20,000 Jews were smuggled out of Iraq via Iran.
One year later, the property of any Jews who had emigrated was frozen, and severe economic restrictions placed on the Jews remaining in Iraq.
In 1952, Iraq's government banned any more Jews from leaving - and publicly hanged two Jews after falsely accusing them of attacking the Baghdad office of the U.S. Information Agency.
In 1967, the remaining 3000 Jews were arrested and fired from their jobs. Of those who were arrested many were then hung in the public square of Baghdad. Others died of torture.
Let's look now at MOROCCO.
Jews first settled in Morocco more than two millenia ago. The first substantial Jewish communities developed in 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem.
In June 1948, terrible riots in Oujda and Djerada killed 44 Jews and wounded countless more. That same year, an economic boycott was initiated against Moroccan Jews. In 1956, Morocco declared independence and three years later, any support of Israel by Moroccan Jews was officially illegal. In 1963, more than 100,000 Jews were forced from their homes. They emigrated to Israel, France and America.
Were things any better in YEMEN?
In 1922, the Yemen government decreed that Jewish orphans below 12 years old were to be converted to Islam.
In 1947, after Partition was approved, Muslim rioters, joined by the local police force, launched a terrible pogrom in Aden that killed 82 Jews and destroyed hundreds of Jewish homes. Aden's Jewish community was economically ruined, as most of the Jewish stores and businesses were also destroyed.
In 1948, 50,000 Jews were forced to leave. By 1959, over 3000 Jews from Aden arrived in Israel, and more fled to the USA and the UK.
And what of the Jews and Arabs living side by side in PALESTINE, prior to 1948 when a small part of it became Israel?
There were periods of peaceful co existance - but sadly these never seemed to last.
And then, there were the 1920 Nebi Musa Riots; these were terrible Arab attacks against the Jews of Jerusalem on April 4th and April 7th, in and around the Old City.
The riots are named after the Nebi Musa holiday during which they occurred; the attacks followed serious tensions between Arabs and Jews, and also a series of attacks against the Jews.
The annual Nebi Musa spring festival was intended to ensure there was a big Muslim presence in Jerusalem during the arrival of Christian pilgrims, who were there for Easter. Arab educator and writer Khalil al-Sakakini described how caravans and tribes would arrive bearing weapons and banners.
By ten a.m. on April 4th, almost 70,000 Arabs were in the city square. Already, Arab gangs had been attacking Jews in the Old City. Hate filled anti Jewish rhetoric was being shouted from the balcony of the Arab Club. The man responsible for much of this was Haj Amin al-Husayni, while his uncle, the mayor, spoke from the municipal building's balcony.
At the same time, the editor of Arab newspaper Suriya al-Janubia, Aref al-Aref, gave his speech while on horseback. The crowd began screaming: 'Independence! Palestine is our land! The Jews are our dogs!'
The Arab police also joined in, and then the violence began.
One Arab mob fell upon the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, attacking anyone they could find, ransacking shops and homes as well. The Toras Chaim yeshiva was raided, the Torah scrolls torn and thrown to the floor - and then the building was set on fire. During the following three hours, 160 Jews were seriously injured.
Khalil al-Sakakini describes it:
'A riot broke out... and stones were thrown at the Jews... I saw a zionist soldier covered in blood and dust.... Afterwards I saw one Hebronite (Hebron Arab) approach a Jewish boy, who tried to hide by the Jaffa Gate... the Hebronite took his box and beat him over the head. The boy screamed and began to run, his head bleeding. The riot reached its' zenith. Everyone shouted: 'Muhammed's religion was born with the sword'. I walked to the municipal garden... my soul is nauseated and depressed by the madness...'
And what did the British do while all this was going on?
The British response was less than impressive. After the riots began, Jewish leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky met Governor Storrs and asked if his Jewish volunteers could help support the Jews in the Old City. His request was denied. Worse, Storrs confiscated his pistol and wanted to arrest Jabotinisky for possession of a firearm.
That night, the British imposed a curfew but the following morning, the Arabs they'd arrested were permitted to attend morning prayers, and were then released. The Arab gangs carried on attacking Jews and breaking into their homes.
On the Monday, the violence intensified. The Old City was sealed off by the army. Jews attempting to escape were stopped. Martial law was declared but burglary, rape and murder continued unabated. Several homes were burned down, and gravestones attacked and destroyed. British soldiers discovered the vast majority of illicit weapons hidden on the bodies of Arab women.
On that Monday night, British soldiers were ordered to evacuate. This left the Jews in the Old City with no weapons, and no protection. Meanwhile Jabotinsky had positioned some of his men outside the city. Two of his volunteers managed to get in, disguised as doctors. They helped some Jews to flee and swiftly tried to organise some makeshift 'weapons' for those that remained, in the form of rocks and boiling water. But later, the Palestinian Arab leaders pressured the British to go and search for those Jews that had escaped, and Jabotinsky and his team were arrested.
It then took the British FOUR DAYS to calm the riots.
216 Jews were seriously hurt, 18 of them critical. Five Jews were killed. Seven British soldiers were beaten up by an Arab mob. And some 300 Jews had to leave Jerusalem for their own safety.
And then, in 1929 came the HEBRON MASSACRE
Hebron is the second holiest site for Jews; it is one of the four 'Holy Cities'. It is here you will find the Cave of Machpelah, holding the Tomb of the Patriarchs where Abraham was buried, and where David was anointed King of Israel. Hebron, which is 30km south of Jerusalem, is revered by Muslims also.
In Hebron, in the early 1920s, the Jews and Arabs got on pretty well - thus proving that it is possible for them to be neighbours and friends. There were patches of Arab harassment, involving rocks being chucked through the windows of Jewish homes, and the occasional physical assault, but that aside, all was well. But in the late 1920s, the Arab nationalist Muslim-Christian Association began spreading racist propoganda about the Jews and stirring up trouble.
Every member of the Hebron civil administration was an Arab. Of the forty policemen, one was Jewish. Raymond Cafferata was the Assistant District Superintendent of the Palestine Police Force. On the Friday afternoon of 23rd August, hearing that there was trouble in Jerusalem, Cafferata asked headquarters for reinforcements in Hebron.
While on patrol, he met Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Slonim, who pleaded with him for protection, since he had just been attacked by an Arab crowd who had thrown stones at him.
At 4pm, an Arab crowd gathered by the Hebron Yeshiva, chucking stones through the windows. Inside were a student and a sexton. When the student was injured, and tried to leave, he found himself surrounded by an Arab mob, who stabbed him to death.
Hours later, a group of mukhtars came to speak to Cafferata; he tried to get them to calm the Arab mob. But the mukhtars explained that the Mufti of Jerusalem had told them to take action or be fined. Cafferata persuaded them to leave.
But the next morning, an Arab crowd armed with axes appeared in the streets and killed two Jewish boys; one was stoned to death, the other stabbed. Cafferata shot two of the mob, but he slipped and fell and at this point, the mob set about attacking Jewish homes.
Reinforcements from Jerusalem, Jaffa and Gaza did not arrive in time. Both Jewish and Arab businesses in the Bazaar were looted. Many of the Jews survived by hiding in their Arab neighbours' houses. The surviving Jews were later evacuated to Jerusalem. One third of those killed were young students from the Hebron yeshiva.
67 Jews were murdered in Hebron, and a further 59 died later. Several cases of rape, mutilation and torture were also reported. After the Jews were evacuated, the Arabs seized their property.
Death sentences were handed down to 17 Arabs; these were later commuted to long prison terms except in the case of 3 Arabs who were hanged.
A few dozen Jewish families returned to Hebron in 1931, but again had to be evacuated during the 1936-39 Arab revolt in Palestine. The city had no Jews living in it for 37 years, until 1967 and the Six Day War, when the Jews returned to Hebron.
for eyewitness accounts: http://www.professors.org.il/docs/eye.htm
for photos : http://www.hebron.org.il/hebrew/gallery.php?id=189
Thomas A Idinopulos: Weathered by Miracles: A History Of Palestine from Bonaparte and Muhammad Ali to Ben-Gurion and the Mufti. ISBN 1-56663-189-0
Tom Segev (2001) One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under The British Mandate. ISBN 0805065873
Isabel Kershner: 'The Other Refugees', JERUSALEM REPORT, January 12, 2004
David Littman, 'The Forgotten Refugees: An Exchange Of Population' THE NATION REVIEW (December 3, 2002)
David Matas 'Jews from Arab Countries: The Case For Rights and Redress' JUSTICE FOR JEWS FROM ARAB COUNTRIES (June 23, 2003)