Historical Facts and Figures: the Forgotten Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries
1. On 29 November 1947 the UN General Assembly adopted its Resolution 181. Called the
‘Partition Plan,’ it delineated the land west of the Jordan river into two parts: an Arab State and a
Jewish State, with an international corpus separatum for Jerusalem. It comprised about 22 percent of
the roughly 120,000 km² of the original 1922 League of Nations area of Palestine. All the land east
of the Jordan river— 78 percent, about 94,000 km² of the entire mandatory area — had been
transferred to the Emir Abdullah of Arabia by Britain, thus creating the de facto Emirate of Trans-
Jordan, later to be renamed in 1949 the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
2. This 1947 Partition Plan was categorically refused by all the Arab League States and also by
the Arab-Palestinian leadership, still nominally headed by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-
Husayni, who found refuge in Egypt in 1946 (he moved to Beirut in 1962). Recently praised by
Yasser Arafat in an interview, Husayni was declared a war criminal in 1945 after his sojourn in
Germany during the Second World War, where he participated in the creation of a Bosnian and an
Arab brigade to fight alongside Nazi S.S. units. He was received officially by Hitler on 28
November 1941 “to discuss the Arab-Nazi alliance and the methods to exterminate the Jews”(1).
Known for his “ominous role in the extermination of European Jewry”(2), he broadcast genocidal
appeals to the Arab world on Radio Berlin, even three months before D-Day: “Kill the Jews
wherever you find them. This pleases Allah, history, and religion. This saves your honour. Allah is
with you.” (1 March 1944) (3)
3. On 24 November 1947, when addressing the Political Committee of the UN General
Assembly, Egyptian delegate Heykal Pasha warned about the Partition Plan for Palestine: “The
United Nations (...) should not lose sight of the fact that the proposed solution might endanger a
million Jews living in the Muslim countries. (...) If the United Nations decides to partition Palestine,
it might be responsible for very grave disorders and for the massacre of a large number of Jews (...)
if a Jewish state were established, nobody could prevent disorders. Riots would spread through all
the Arab states and might lead to a war between the two races.” (4)
4. Seven weeks later, the President of the World Jewish Congress, Dr. Stephen S. Wise,
appealed to U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall to intervene, and his political director, Dr.
Robert S. Marcus, referred to al-Husayni’s involvement in the June 1941 Baghdad pogrom (farhud),
warning about the menacing situation for Jews in Arab countries: “This conspiracy is inspired by the
Mufti, notorious war criminal, who participated in the Nazi plans to exterminate the Jews of Europe
(...) Acts of violence already perpetrated, together with those contemplated, being clearly aimed at
the total destruction of the Jews, constitute genocide which under the resolutions of the General
Assembly is a crime against humanity.” (5)
5. The title of a detailed article in the New York Times of 16 May 1948 — a day after Israel
declared its independence — echoed this dire official warning: "Jews in Grave Danger in all Moslem
Lands. Nine Hundred Thousand in Africa and Asia Face Wrath of Their Foes.”
The indigenous Jews from Arab countries before 1948 and why they fled or chose exile
6. During the first half of the 20th century thousands of Jewish men, women, and children, the
young and the old, were brutally massacred in Arab countries in North Africa, Iraq, Syria, Egypt,
Libya, and Aden — even under French and British colonial rule — and also in Palestine by lawless
gangs soon after the British conquest in 1918, and throughout the Mandate period.
7. Already in Iraq (1936, and especially the Baghdad farhud of 1941), Syria (1944, 1945), Egypt
and Libya (1945), and Aden (1947), murderous attacks had killed and wounded thousands. All these
events occurred before Israel’s independence. Here is a description from the official first-hand report
in 1945 by Tripoli’s Jewish community president Zachino Habib on what happened to Libyan Jews
in Tripoli, Zanzur, Zawiya, Casabat, Zitlin on 4-5 Nov. 1945: “The Arabs attacked Jews in obedience
to mysterious orders. Their outburst of bestial violence had no plausible motive. For fifty hours they
hunted men down, attacked houses and shops, killed men, women, old and young, horribly tortured
and dismembered Jews isolated in the interior.... In order to carry out the slaughter, the attackers
used various weapons: knives, daggers, sticks, clubs, iron bars, revolvers, and even hand grenades.”
8. A recent example of such terrorist acts was perpetrated on 11 April 2002 when the jihadist
bombing of the ancient al-Ghariba synagogue of Djerba in Tunisia killed 17 and badly wounded
many others, most of them elderly German tourists. A spokesman for Al-Qaeda claimed
responsibility for the bombing. Tunisia’s remaining Jewish community of about 1,000 — a remnant
of an indigenous community with roots in the country’s Phoenician past — will probably soon seek
security in Israel and elsewhere, as have 99 percent of their co-religionists since the late 1940s.
9. In 1945 about 140,000 Jews lived in Iraq; 60,000 in Yemen and Aden; 35,000 in Syria; 5,000
in Lebanon; 90,000 in Egypt; 40,000 in Libya; 150,000 in Algeria; 120,000 in Tunisia; 300,000 in
Morocco, including Tangiers – a total of roughly 940,000 (and approximately 200,000 more in
Iran and Turkey). Of these indigenous communities, less than 50,000 Jews remain today – and in
the Arab world their number is barely 5,000, one-half of one percent of the overall total at the end
of the Second World War.
10. Pogroms and persecutions — and grave fears for their future — regularly preceded the mass
expulsions and exoduses of these indigenous Jews, whose ancestors had inhabited these regions from
time immemorial, over a millenium before the successive jihad waves of Arab invaders from the
seventh century. Beginning in 1948-49, more than 650,000 of these Oriental Jewish refugees,
stripped of everything, were integrated into Israel's sparse area of 20,000 km2 – even as the new
State was being threatened with extinction by neighbouring Arab States. A further 300,000 or so
Jewish refugees found asylum elsewhere, in Europe and the Americas.
11. About half of Israel's 5.2 million Jews — from a population of about 6.5 million, of whom
roughly 20% are Arab, Druze, and Bedouin Israelis — is composed of these forgotten refugees and
their descendants, who received no humanitarian aid from the United Nations and did not ask for it. It
was Israel alone, with the help of Jewish communities just emerging from the Shoah, which achieved
their humanitarian survival and integration into a nascent society.
12. No parallel political commitment was made for the integration of the less numerous
Arab refugees from Palestine (numbering about 550,000 in 1949, although an inexact figure of
750,000 and above is often claimed – rising to 4 or even 6 million today in the world’s media). The
Arab League countries cover 15 million km2 — about 10% of the world's land surface — and many
States possess immense oil and gas reserves, yet little was done to alleviate the plight of their Arab
brethren. But the full moral responsibility lies exclusively with the Arab League and the Arab
Palestinian leadership, which defied international legality, beginning in 1947 – a ‘refusal’ clearly
echoed by Farouq Al-Qaddoumi, head of the PLO political bureau and the secretary-general of
Fatah’s Central Committee, when he stated in 2003: “The [Palestinian] problem was created by the
United Nations when it decided on a partition resolution.” (7).
13. George Orwell's saying about everyone being equal, but some being more equal
than others, could also be applied to refugees in general since the 1940s. Some refugees are, indeed,
considered more equal than others. The forgotten million Jewish refugees from Arab lands were not
helped by the United Nations, nor were they kept — as were the Palestinian Arabs — for over half a
century in ‘refugee camps’, breeding hopelessness, frustration, and also a religious-inspired culture
of hate and death in which jihadist bombers are thriving.
14. The transfer of populations on a large scale, a consequence of war or for political
reasons, has been a characteristic of human history, particularly in the Islamic Orient. Deportations,
expropriations and expulsions of the dhimmis — Jews, Christians, and other indigenous peoples —
were recurrent throughout the long history of dhimmitude, after Arab jihad-wars of conquest,
expropriation, and occupation, including Palestine. (8) One should question the real motivation of a
selective, historically-flawed memory that systematically spotlights Arab refugees from a part of
Palestine during an Arab League war to destroy Israel.
15. UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967 was also rejected by the
Khartoum Arab League Summit Conference, with the unchanging: “No peace with Israel, no
recognition of Israel, no negotiation with Israel, no concessions on the questions of Palestinian
national rights.” Yet resolution 242 also referred to “a just solution to the refugee problem” – a term
that included the Jewish refugees from Arab countries (dixit President Carter in 1978).
16. The dire hardships endured by the great majority of these indigenous Jewish refugees
from Arab countries have never been examined — and certainly not at the United Nations — nor has
the loss of their inestimable collective heritage dating back from two to three millenium, and their
vast personal property rights. This great injustice should be addressed at the UN, within the context of
an equitable global solution to the ongoing Middle East tragedy, and as a just contribution to the
current ‘Road Map’ of peace and mutual recognition.
17. The question of these forgotten Jewish refugees from Arab countries — now over three
million — has often been raised by the WUPJ at the Commission and at the Sub-Commission.At the
58th session of the Commission (24 April 2002), speaking in ‘reply,’ a representative of Iraq, Saad
Hussain — after the usual ad hominem attack against the speaker — declared: “The Arab history, the
Arab and Islamic history for fourteen centuries, has not witnessed any harm to the Jews – quite the
contrary. The Jews have lived, and continue to live in peace, and their sacred places and their
property have been protected until today. (...) They live in Arab countries today in perfect safety,
despite the events – the horrible events in Palestine.” (9)
18. Such gross official denials contrast with the irrefutable historical facts that Jews have been
forbidden to reside in Arabia since the advent of Islam (except for Yemen and a part of the Gulf
region) – and in Jordan since 1922. Today, there are no Jews in Libya, less than 100 in Egypt and
Syria, and scarcely 5,000 in the Arab world. Before the Arab conquest, Iraq was only populated by
Christians and Jews, with smaller communities of Zoastrians. When Iraq’s representative addressed
the Commission, only 33 elderly Jews remained in Iraq from a 1948 population of over 140,000. All
their ancient Scrolls of the Law (Sifrei Torah) had been confiscated in the 1960s and stacked one
against another in a locked room at the Medressa Al-Moustansariyya, near the souk al-haraj in
Baghdad (10). The survival of these ancient sacred scrolls and other libraries is still uncertain.
19. The major stumbling block to peace in the Middle East remains the necessary establishment
of democratic institutions and, above all, the acceptance by all Arab States, including the
Palestinian Authority and Hamas, of the inalienable and legitimate de jure rights and existence of
the State of Israel within a part of its historic homeland.
20. There is also the divisive question of a return of, or compensation for, Arab refugees as a
result of two Arab wars to destroy Israel. The refusal in 1947 — and for 40 years, and more, by
Arab Palestinian leaders and the Arab League — of Israel’s existence in any part of the biblical
‘Land of Israel’ is the fundamental reason for a double refugee tragedy. But the deliberately
targeted victims — far from any war zone — were, indisputably, the totally innocent and
indigenous Jewish communities from ten Arab countries, which have now become virtually
Judenrein (‘cleansed’ of all Jews). These facts can no longer be denied.
21. The World Union for Progressive Judaism solemnly calls on the High Commissioner
for Human Rights, the High Commissioner for Refugees, all competent UN bodies, and
particularly the Commission on Human Rights and its Sub-Commission — as well as the Arab
League — to recognise formally the fundamental and equal human rights of these Jewish
minorities, those forgotten millions – indigenous Jewish refugees from their former countries. (11)
This key recognition of a great historic injustice could usefully be addressed in the future work of
the Working Group on Minorities , and especially “on peaceful and constructive approaches to
situations involving minorities”; and the Sub-Commission’s work on: “The return of refugees’ or
displaced persons’ property” under item 4. (12)
1 Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude. Where Civilizations Collide (Cranbury, NJ: AUP, 2002/2003), p. 172.
2 Lucasz Hirszowicz, The Third Reich and the Arab East (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966), p. 26,
quoted in Bat Ye’or; Islam and Dhimmitude, p. 300.
3. Maurice Perlman, Mufti of Jerusalem. The Story of Haj Amin el Husseini (London: Gollancz, 1947), p.
quoted in Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude, p. 283.
4. UN Official Records of the Second Session of the General Assembly, Ad Hoc Committee on the
Palestinian Question. SR., 25 September to 25 November 1947, p. 185.
5. Full details in a full page article by Richard A. Yaffe, ‘Arab Pogroms Endanger 800,000 Outside
Jews Slain, Homes and Synagogues Burned Down,’ PM (New York: World Jewish Congress), 18 January
6. Renzo di Felici, Jews in an Arab Land: Libya, 1835-1970 Trans. from Italian by Judith Roumani (Austin:
University of Texas Press, 1985), pp. 193-94, p. 365, n. 19 ). See the recent testimony by Giulia Boukhobza,
(born in Libya in 1951), ‘Justice for Jews from Arab nations,’ International Herald Tribune, 1 July 2003, p. 9.
7. Interview with Qaddoumi , published in Kul Al-Arab (Israeli Arab newspaper), 3 January 2003.
8. For documentation, see Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians under Islam (Cranbury, NJ:
AUP, 1985/2003); idem, The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam. From Jihad to Dhimitude: 7th to
20th century (Cranbury, NJ: AUP, 1996/2003); idem, Islam and Dhimmitude. Where Civilizations Collide.
9. UN English interpretation as recorded verbatim from statement delivered in Arabic
10. Photograph by Yossef Yinnon (1972) on the back cover of an 8-page publication: Bat Ye’or, ‘Oriental
Jewry and the Dhimmi image in contemporary Arab nationalism’ (lecture, Jews College, London; organised
on 5 Sept. 1978 by The Jews in Arab Lands Committee; chairman: former British Prime Minister Harold
Wilson), World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries/ WOJAC (Editions de l’Avenir: Geneva, 5 April
11. Malka Hillel Shulewitz (ed. coll. ), The Forgotten Millions. The Modern Jewish Exodus from Arab
(Cassell: London / New York, 1999/Continuum, London / New York, 2000); Shmuel Trigano (sous la
direction, coll.), L’exclusion des Juifs des pays arabes. Aux sources du conflit israélo-arabe (IN PRESS
EDITIONS, France, 2003)
12. Cf. Working Group on Minorities, 9th session, 12-16 May 2003, under item 4: the update reports
by Mr. Asbjorne Eide; and under item 4 of the Sub-Commission, the reports undertaken by Mr. Paulo
With the author’s permission, this written statement — with several modifications and many enlargements by him
— is based on The Forgotten Refugees. An Exchange of populations by David G. Littman, in The National Review
Online, New York, 3 December 2002: www.nationalreview.com/script/asp?ref=/comment/commentlittman120302.
(David G. Littman is a representative of the World Union for Progressive Judaism to the United Nations in