Jews From Muslim Lands: The Forgotten Refugees

Noah Beck is the author of The Last Israelis, a doomsday thriller about the Iranian nuclear threat and current geopolitical issues in the Middle East.


jewishrefugeesJune 20 was World Refugee Day, dedicated to nearly 60 million people worldwide who were forcibly displaced by conflict or persecution. One group of refugees rarely acknowledged is the Jews who were indigenous to Muslim lands but compelled to flee around the time that the State of Israel was established.

A Google search for “1948 refugees” produces about 6 million results. All but a few (at least through page six) are about the Palestinian Arab refugees, as if they were the only refugees of 1948. But it is estimated that from the beginning of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War through the early 1970s, up to 1,000,000 Jews fled or were expelled from their ancestral homes in Muslim countries. 260,000 of those refugees reached Israel between 1948 and 1951 and comprised 56% of all immigration to the fledgling state. By 1972, their numbers had reached 600,000.

In 1948, Middle East and North African countries had considerable Jewish populations: Morocco (250,000), Algeria (140,000), Iraq (140,000), Iran (120,000), Egypt (75,000), Tunisia (50,000), Yemen (50,000), Libya (35,000), and Syria (20,000). Today, the indigenous Jews of those countries are virtually extinct (although Morocco and Iran each still has under 10,000 Jews). In most cases, the Jewish population had lived there for millennia.

Few know this history because the Jewish refugees of 1948 were granted citizenship by the countries to which they fled, including Israel. By contrast, many Muslim countries refused to integrate the Palestinian refugees, preferring to leave them as second-class citizens in order to maintain a domestic demographic balance and/or a political problem for Israel.

Media bias also explains why so few people know about the 1948 Jewish refugees from Muslim lands. A search for “1948 refugees” on the BBC news site generates 41 articles (going back to 1999); 40 discuss the Palestinian Arab refugees of 1948. Only three of those 40 (dated 9/22/11, 9/2/10, and 4/15/04) even mention the Jewish refugees from Muslim lands, and two do so only in a single, superficial sentence that presents the issue as a claim rather than a historical fact.

A search for “1948 refugees Jews from Arab lands” on the New York Times site produces 497 results (replacing “Arab” with “Muslim” halves the results), while “1948 Palestinian refugees” yields 1,050 results. Consider a comparison using Sri Lanka, another war-torn, multi-ethnic country that gained its independence from Britain in 1948. The nearly 26-year ethnic conflict there began in 1983 and claimed 80,000–100,000 lives, many multiples of the total casualties from the nearly 100-year Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sri Lanka’s conflict also produced hundreds of thousands of refugees, including at least 200,000 Tamil refugees in Western Europe alone. Yet a search for “Tamil refugees” generates only 531 articles – less than 5% of the 11,300 results for “Palestinian Arab refugees.”

Institutionalized favoritism at the UN has also enabled the Palestinians to monopolize the refugee issue, which undoubtedly reinforces the media’s bias. All non-Palestinian refugees around the world (nearly 55 million) are cared for by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, which works under the guidelines of the Convention on Refugees of 1951. But Palestinian refugees (whose original population was under one million) have a UN agency dedicated exclusively to them (UNRWA).

UNRWA’s unique definition of “refugee” includes anyone “whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.” So, in addition to families who lived in the area for generations, UNRWA’s definition includes any migrants who arrived as recently as 1946 but were then displaced. And because the definition includes “descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition,” UNRWA’s refugee population has grown from 750,000 in 1950 to 5,300,000 today (making resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue even harder). Despite these problems, the United States continues to support UNRWA (with over 4.1 billion dollars since 1950).

The rest of the world’s refugees are assisted by the High Commission, which is mandated to help refugees rapidly rebuild their lives, usually outside the countries that they fled. Jewish refugees from Muslim lands did just that: they rebuilt their lives in Israel and elsewhere. But the fact that they quietly adapted and Israel granted them full citizenship doesn’t lessen the wrongs committed by their countries of origin. These Jewish refugees from Muslim lands suffered legal and often violent persecution that resulted in immeasurable emotional and physical loss. They lost billions in property and endured huge socioeconomic disadvantages when forced to rebuild their lives from scratch. Israel was unfairly burdened with the colossal social and economic cost of suddenly absorbing so many refugees. So any suggestion that Jewish refugees from Muslim lands don’t deserve compensation is resoundingly wrong.

On the recent World Refugee Day, the Israeli Knesset member Shimon Ohayon, whose family fled Morocco in 1956, called on the Arab League to “accept their great responsibility for driving out almost a million Jews from lands [in] which they had lived for millennia.” He explained that “In 1947, the Political Committee of the Arab League drafted a law that…called for the freezing of bank accounts of Jews, their internment and [the confiscation of their assets]. Various other discriminatory measures were taken by Arab nations and subsequent meetings reportedly called for the expulsion of Jews from member states of the Arab League.” Ohayon challenged the League to accept responsibility for “the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish population from most of the Middle East and North Africa…[and] to provide redress to the Jewish refugees.”

A just and comprehensive Mideast peace is possible only when Muslim states recognize their role in two historic wrongs: 1) displacing one million indigenous people only because they were Jews, and 2) perpetuating the plight of Palestinian refugees by denying them citizenship. The first wrong requires financial compensation to the families of Jewish refugees from Muslim lands, which reparation can be administered by the states that absorbed them. The second wrong should be remedied by granting full citizenship to Palestinian refugees (and their descendants) who have resettled in Muslim lands. Both wrongs have festered for too many decades.

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  • Cliff Jackson

    Before all y’all shabbas goys on here show your sympathy for these jews, watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43WJ4AlOI2Y THIS is what the average jew thinks of non-jews. THIS is what the average jew is doing to America. The BIGGEST threat we face isn’t Muslims but jewish supremacists. These mentally ill inbred people are pulling the strings. NO WAY OUT BUT THREW THE JEW.

    • ZionProud

      “NO WAY OUT BUT THREW [sic] THE JEW.” Uh huh. That tells us about as much as we need to know about you and your white supremacist, pro-Jihadi ilk. Get lost.

    • UCSPanther

      Try to expel the Jews now, It’s your funeral, loser.

    • Guy Fromage

      You choose as an example of an “average Jew,” a homosexual atheist?

      That pretty much says it all, right there.

    • Aizino Smith

      1st of all we don’t know if this guy is Jewish, cultural Jewish (i.e. Jewish is name only), a rightwing nut pretending to be a leftist, or gay atheist who was born Jewish but knows naught of Judaism.

      If this guy is a leftist, then he cannot be a Jew. Just as al Qutb argued that Islam was incompatible with communism, a person could argue that Judaism & Christianity is incompatible with communism/socialism.

      As an aside, the barefoot actor performing street theatre sure has a lot of faith in the Streets and Sanitation Department.

    • Aizino Smith

      Cliff has all of 5 recent comments. Seems to be some new push to sow dissension and discord. I smell desperation. :)

  • Poupic

    That truth should be screamed loud and clear day and night. The Jewish refugees from Arab lands became citizens upon landing in Israel with zero support from the UN. They came with exactly nothing having to have left everything behind. Arab refugees descendants are still called refugees and are still supported by tax Dollars by a UN organization, UNWRA. No other group of refugees ever had their own UN organization and all had to settle where they ended up. The only exception The Arab refugees are still refugees because “hospitable” Arab reputation is a lie. They refuse to absorb their “brothers” to maintain them as a weapon against Israel.

    The UN is controlled by Arabs and other Muslim making this inequity possible. It is time to get rid of the UN, their tool.

    • Jack_Wisdom

      A tremendously revealing comment by any standard. Thanks Poupic.

  • Bamaguje

    Actually some of those Jews populations expelled from ‘Arab lands’ predated Muslim Arab invasion and conquest of those lands.

    In other words just like Palestine, Jews had a stronger historical connection to those lands than Muslim Arab invaders.

    • bj affordable

      Actually most, if not all, Jewish populations expelled by the servants of Satan predate their tormentors.

      Maybe Arabs should be expelled back to… Arabia.

    • defcon 4

      I believe the prosperous Jewish tribes that lived in Saudi Barbaria lived there before Islam even existed.

  • Naram-Sin

    Many of the Arabs “refugees” were not even refugees. The UN had to create a special definition for the “Palestinians” so they could be counted. Many of
    these people had moved to the British run Palestinian Mandate to take advantage of jobs created by the Jews who paid higher wages. They left when the Arabs promised to exterminate their Jewish benefactor and give them stolen Jewish property. When they left, most went back to the countries they came from to wait out the slaughter, and often traveled less than 50 miles. As a result,
    they were not refugees at all and the UN had to create a special definition for
    them in order to create a myth of “Palestinian Refugees”.

    The Jewish refugees numbered about the same and the “Arab refugees”, but they absorbed into the tiny Jewish state, while the “Arab refugees” were never assimilated into countries many times the size of Israel and much more capable of absorbing the refugees, and populations who were racially and culturally identical to the “Arab refugees”. At worst, this was simply an exchange of populations.

    • Gee

      And absolutely no UN aid was given for the Jewish Refugees

  • 1AmericanThinker

    Spot on. Thank you. This article should be one of your handy pamphlets.