Israel remembers plight of Jews who fled Arab world

Israel on Sunday marked the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.  

Jerusalem: Israel on Sunday marked the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

In a bid to draw attention to their plight, Israel formally marked the event with a state ceremony under a new law naming November 30 as the anniversary.

"Nearly 800,000 came here and the rest (around 56,000) went to the United States, France, Italy and elsewhere," said Meir Kahlon, chairman of the Central Organisation for Jews from Arab Countries and Iran.

Kahlon himself came to Israel as a child from Libya and spent his first years in the Jewish state in one of the tent camps set up to shelter the flood of newcomers.

At the state ceremony, President Reuven Rivlin acknowledged that for Jews from the Middle East, their troubles were not over when they reached Israel, where European Jews had a chokehold on power.

"Their voices were muted, but the words were in their mouths all along, even if they were said in Hebrew with a Persian or Arabic accent, which in Israel were thought of as enemy languages and viewed as a source of shame."

According to Palestinian and United Nations figures, more than 760,000 Palestinians -- estimated today to number 4.8 million with their descendants -- fled or were driven from their homes in 1948.

Finding a "just solution" for the Palestinians who fled during the 1948 war is a key item on the Palestinian agenda and one of the most sensitive issues in final negotiations with Israel.

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), an international umbrella group of Jewish community organisations, says 856,000 Jews from 10 Arab countries, among them Morocco, Iraq, Tunisia and Algeria, fled or were expelled in 1948 and after, while violent Arab riots left many Jews dead or injured.

Arab historians say Zionist agents encouraged Jews to abandon their Arab homelands to populate the new state.

Although many migrants arrived with meagre belongings packed in a single suitcase, they did not seek formal refugee status from the international community.

At the time, newly-established Israel was struggling to attract migration from the world's Jews and to project its legitimacy as a sovereign state, able to care for its own people.

Its prime minister, David Ben Gurion, would not have wanted Jews returning to their "historic homeland" classed as refugees, Kahlon said.

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