Frequently Asked Questions

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries: Main Fact Sheet

I) The Issue

" When the issue of 'refugees' is raised within the context of the Middle East, people invariably refer to Palestinian refugees, virtually never to Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

II) The Facts

  • For over 2,500 years, Jews in substantial numbers resided in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf region - fully 1,000 years before the advent of Islam.
  • Following the Muslim conquest of the region, under Islamic rule, Jews were considered second-class citizens but were, for a period of time, permitted limited religious, educational, professional and business opportunities.
  • This changed in the 20th century, as witnessed by a wide-spread pattern of persecution and the mass violations of the human rights of Jewish minorities in many Arab countries. Official decrees and legislation enacted by Arab regimes denied human and civil rights to Jews, expropriated their property, stripped them of their citizenship, and other means of livelihood. Jews were often victims of murder, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and expulsions.
  • Upon the declaration of the State of Israel's independence in 1948, the status of Jews in Arab countries worsened as many Arab states declared war or backed the war to destroy Israel. These events triggered a dramatic surge in a longstanding pattern of discrimination and abuse that made the lives of Jews in Arab countries simply untenable. Jews were uprooted from their countries of birth and in virtually all cases, as they fled, individual and communal properties were seized and/or confiscated without any compensation provided by Arab governments.
  • The result - from an estimated 1,000,000 Jews resident in North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf region at the turn of the century, today less than 4,500 Jews remain in Arab countries.
  • Yet, when referring to Middle East refugees, the international community refers only to Palestinians. In fact, there were more Jews displaced from Arab countries (856,000)[1] than there were Palestinians who became refugees as a result of the 1948 Arab Israeli war (726,000)[2].
  • The international definition of a refugee clearly applies to Jews who had "a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion…" (The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
  • On two separate occasions the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ruled that Jews fleeing from Arab countries were indeed 'bona fide' refugees who "fall under the mandate of my (UNHCR) office".[3]
  • In reality, there were two refugee populations created as a result of the longstanding dispute in the Middle East - Palestinians and Jews displaced from Arab countries. Yet, since 1947, the United Nations' predominant focus has been on Palestinians:

    i) 1088 resolutions on the Middle East, including 172 resolutions on Palestinian refugees;

    ii) Thirteen UN agencies and organizations mandated or newly created to provide protection and relief to Palestinian refugees; and

    iii) Over the last 58 years, tens of billions of dollars have been disbursed by the international community to provide services and assistance to Palestinian refugees.
  • During that same period, there were no UN resolutions; no support provided by UN agencies; nor any financial assistance forthcoming from the international community to ameliorate the plight of Jewish and other refugees from Arab countries.
  • In all relevant international bilateral or multilateral agreements, (i.e. UN Resolution 242, The Road Map, The Madrid Conference, etc.), the reference to 'refugees' is generic, allowing for the recognition and inclusion of all Middle East refugees - Jews, Christians and others.
  • The legitimate call to secure rights and redress for Jews displaced from Arab countries is not a campaign against Palestinian refugees. In any Middle East peace proposals, the rights and claims of Palestinian refugees will be up for negotiation. It is important to ensure that the rights of hundreds of thousands of Jews displaced from Arab countries be similarly recognized and addressed.
  • It would constitute an injustice, were the international community to recognize rights for one victim population - Palestinians - without recognizing equal rights for other victims of that very same Middle East conflict - former Jewish, Christian and other refugees from Arab countries
  • Recognizing rights for Jews displaced from Arab countries is a call for truth and reconciliation. For any peace process to be credible and enduring, it must ensure that all bone fide refugees receive equal rights and treatment under international law.

Sources Cited

[1] Roumani, The Case 2; WOJAC'S Voice Vol.1, No.1

[2] United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, P. 18; United Nations. Annual Report of the Director Genera of UNWRA, Doc. 5224/5223. 25 November 1952

[3] Mr. Auguste Lindt, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Report of the UNREF Executive Committee, Fourth Session - Geneva 29 January to 4 February, 1957; and Dr. E. Jahn, Office of the UN High Commissioner, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Document No. 7/2/3/Libya, July 6, 1967.

Country Narratives

There has been an uninterrupted presence of large Jewish communities in the Middle East from time immemorial. The ancient Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa (including in the Land of Israel) has existed for over 2,500 years before the birth of the modern Arab states.

Algeria 1st-2nd century CE
Egypt 1300 BCE
Iraq 6th century BCE
Lebanon 1st century BCE
Libya 3rd century BCE
Morocco 1st century CE
Syria 1st century CE
Tunisia 200 CE
Yemen 3rd century BCE

One thousand years before the advent of Islam, Jews in substantial numbers resided in what are today Arab countries. For centuries under Islamic rule, following the Moslem conquest of the region, Jews were considered "dhimmis", or second-class citizens. But they were nonetheless permitted limited religious, educational, professional, and business opportunities.

It is within the last 55 years that the world witnessed the mass displacement of over 850,000 long-time Jewish residents from the totalitarian regimes, the brutal dictatorships and monarchies of Syria, Trans-Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.

The rise of pan-Arabism and independence movements in the 20th century resulted in an orchestrated, multi-state campaign against Zionism. These states vehemently opposed the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people. Hundreds of thousands of Jews resident in Arab countries were ensnared in this struggle.

Immediately before and after its declaration of statehood, the Arab world sought to destroy the newly created State of Israel between 1948-49. The rights and security of Jews resident in Arab countries came under legal and physical assault by governments and the general populations. In Syria, anti-Jewish pogroms erupted in Aleppo in 1947. Of the town’s 10,000 Jews 7,000 fled in terror. In Iraq, "Zionism" became a capital crime. More than 70 Jews were killed by bombs in the Jewish Quarter of Cairo, Egypt. After the French left Algeria, the authorities issued a variety of anti-Jewish decrees that prompted nearly all of the 160,000 Jews to flee the country. After the 1947 United Nations General Assembly Resolution on the Partition Plan, Muslim rioters engaged in bloody pogroms in Aden and Yemen, which killed 82 Jews. In numerous countries, Jews were expelled or had their citizenship revoked (e.g. Libya). Varying numbers of Jews fled from 10 Arab countries. They became refugees in a region overwhelmingly hostile to Jews.

State-sanctioned restraints, often coupled with violence and repression, precipitated a mass displacement of Jews. While the results were similar, life became untenable and Jews were displaced from some 10 countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa. This caused the Jewish refugee problem in the Middle East.

The result: over 850,000 Jews were uprooted from the lands where they and their ancestors had lived for generations.