Jewish exodus from Arab lands

From Academic Kids

The Jewish exodus from Arab lands is the 20th century emigration of Jews, primarily Sephardi and Mizrahi, from Arab lands. About two thirds of them moved to the modern State of Israel. The ancestors of some of these Jews had lived in Arab lands since well before the advent and spread of Islam, while the ancestors of others had immigrated in later centuries. This emigration began following the establishment of Israel in 1948, and accelerated as further Arab-Israeli wars were fought and as colonized Arab nations gained independence; the process was nearly completed by a few years after the Six Day War.


History of Jews in Arab lands

Excluding the region of Palestine, and omitting the accounts of Joseph and Moses as unverifiable, Jews have lived in what are now Arab states at least since the Babylonian captivity (597 BCE), about 2,600 years ago.

After the rise of Islam in these lands, Jews, along with Christians and Zoroastrians, typically had the legal status of dhimmis. As such, they were entitled to limited rights, tolerance, and protection, and were subject to a special jizya poll tax, which exempted them from military service, and also from payment of the Zakat alms tax required of Muslims. As dhimmis, Jews were typically subjected to several restrictions, the application of which varied by time and place: residency in segregated quarters, obligation to wear distinctive clothing, public subservience to Muslims, prohibitions against proselytizing and marrying Muslim women, and limited access to the legal systems. They sometimes attained high positions in government, notably as viziers and physicians. Jewish communities, like Christian ones, were typically constituted as semi-autonomous entities managed by their own laws and leadership, who carried the responsibility for the community towards the Muslim rulers.

In 1945 there were nearly 900,000 Jews living in communities throughout the Arab world. Today, there are fewer than 8,000. In some Arab states, such as Libya (which was once nearly 5 percent Jewish), the Jewish community no longer exists; in other Arab countries, only a few hundred Jews remain.

Jews flee Arab states

Beginning in the late 19th century, the Zionist movement led to an immigration of Jews to Ottoman-ruled Palestine, later the British Mandate of Palestine. Tensions arose between these immigrants and the Palestinian Arabs; Pan-Arabism led to the Palestinian side of this conflict being taken up by other Arabs, including (from 1945) the Arab League.

After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Palestinian exodus, the creation of the state of Israel, and the independence of Arab countries from European control, conditions for Jews in the Arab world deteriorated. Over the next few decades, most would leave the Arab world. Their departure and its motivations are covered country by country below.

Missing image
The living conditions in an Israel Maabarah -- Jewish refugee center.


Jewish communities, in Islamic times often (though not always[1] ( living in ghettos known as mellah, have existed in Morocco for at least 2,000 years. Intermittent large scale massacres (such as that of 6,000 Jews in Fez in 1033, over hundred thousand Jews in Fez and Marrakesh in 1146 and again in Marrakesh in 1232) were accompanied by systematic discrimination through the years. During the 13th through the 15th centuries Jews were appointed to a few prominent positions within the government, typically to implement decisions. A number of Jews fleeing the expulsion from Spain and Portugal settled in Morocco in the 15th century and afterwards, many moving on to the Ottoman Empire.

French colonial rule starting in 1912 alleviated much of the discrimination. While the Vichy regime during World War II passed discriminatory laws against Jews, King Muhammad prevented deportation of Jews to death camps (although Jews with French, as opposed to Moroccan, citizenship, being directly subject to Vichy law, were still deported.)

In 1948, approximately 265,000 Jews lived in Morocco. Between 5,000 and 8,000 live there now, mostly in Casablanca, but also in Fez and other cities.

In June 1948, soon after Israel was established and in the midst of the first Arab-Israeli war, riots against Jews broke out in Oujda and Djerada, killing 44 Jews. In 1948-9, 18,000 Jews left the country for Israel. After this, Jewish emigration continued (to Israel and elsewhere), but slowed to a few thousand a year. Through the early fifties, Zionist organizations encouraged emigration, particularly in the poorer south of the country, seeing Moroccan Jews as valuable contributors to the Jewish State:

...These Jews constitute the best and most suitable human element for settlement in Israel's absorption centers. There were many positive aspects which I found among them: first and foremost, they all know (their agricultural) tasks, and their transfer to agricultural work in Israel will not involve physical and mental difficulties. They are satisfied with few (material needs), which will enable them to confront their early economic problems. (Yehuda Grinker (an organizer of Jewish emigration from the Atlas), The Emigration of Atlas Jews to Israel, Tel Aviv, The Association of Moroccan Immigrants in Israel, 1973.[2] (

In 1955, Morocco attained independence. Jews occupied several political positions, including three Members of Parliament and a Minister of Posts and Telegraphs. However, emigration to Israel jumped from 8,171 in 1954 to 24,994 in 1955, increasing further in 1956. Beginning in 1956, emigration to Israel was prohibited until 1963, when it resumed.[3] ( In 1961, the government informally relaxed the laws on emigration to Israel; over the three following years, more than 80,000 Moroccan Jews emigrated there. By 1967, only 60,000 Jews remained in Morocco.

The Six-Day War in 1967 led to increased Arab-Jewish tensions worldwide, including Morocco. By 1971, the Jewish population was down to 35,000; however, most of this wave of emigration went to Europe and America rather than Israel.

Despite their current small numbers, Jews continue to play a notable role in Morocco; the king retains a Jewish senior adviser, Andre Azoulay, and Jewish schools and synagogues receive government subsidies. However, Jewish targets have sometimes been attacked (notably in Al-Qaeda's bombing of a Jewish community center in Casablanca), and there is sporadic anti-Semitic rhetoric from radical Moslem groups. King Hassan II's invitations for Jews to return have not been taken up by the people who emigrated.


In 1948, approximately 75,000 Jews lived in Egypt. About 100 remain today, mostly in Cairo. In 1948, Jewish neighborhoods in Cairo suffered bomb attacks that killed at least 70 Jews. Hundreds of Jews were arrested and had their property confiscated. The 1954 Lavon Affair, in which Israelis and Egyptian Jews were arrested for bombing Egyptian and American targets served as a pretext for further persecution of of the remaining Jewish community in Egypt. After the 1956 Suez Crisis, Egypt expelled over 25,000 Jews, confiscated their property, and about 3,000 were imprisoned. About 1,000 more were imprisoned or detained. In 1967, Jews were detained and tortured, and Jewish homes were confiscated as emigration continued.

Egypt was once home of one of the most dynamic Jewish communities in the diaspora. Caliphs in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh centuries CE exercised various repressive policies, culminating in the destruction and mass murder of the Jewish quarter in Cairo in 1012. Conditions varied between then and the advent of the Ottoman Empire in 1517, when they detoriated again. There were at least six blood libel persecutions in cities between 1870 and 1892. In more recent times, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion have been published as authentic historical records, fueling anti-Semitic sentiments in Egyptian public opinion.


See also: Jews in Tunisia.

In 1948, approximately 105,000 Jews lived in Tunisia. About 1,500 remain today, mostly in Djerba, Tunis, and Zarzis. Following Tunisia's independence in 1956, a number of anti-Jewish policies led to emigration, of which half went to Israel and the other half to France. After attacks in 1967, Jewish emigration both to Israel and France accelerated. There were also attacks in 1982, 1985, and most recently in 2002. Tunisia, as the only Middle Eastern country under direct Nazi control during World War II, was also the site of anti-Semitic activities such as prison camps, deportations, and other persecution.

Jews have lived in Tunisia for at least 2300 years. In the thirteenth century, Jews were expelled from their homes in Kairouan and were ultimately restricted to ghettos known as hara. Forced to wear distinctive clothing, several Jews earned high positions in the Tunisian government. Several prominent international traders were Tunisian Jews. From 1855 to 1864 Muhammad Bey relaxed dhimmi laws but reinstated them in the face of anti-Jewish riots that continued at least until 1869.

The Tunisian government makes an active effort to protect its Jewish minority now and visibly supports its institutions.


See also: Yemenite Jews.

Including Aden, there were about 63,000 Jews in Yemen in 1948. Today, there are about 200 left. In 1947, riots killed at least 80 Jews in Aden. Increasingly hostile conditions led to the evacuation of 50,000 Jews from Yemen to Israel in 1949 and 1950. Emigration continued until 1962, when the civil war in Yemen broke out. A small community remained unknown until 1976, but it appears that all infrastructure is lost now.

Jews in Yemen were long subject to a number of restrictions, ranging from attire, hairstyle, home ownership, marriage, etc. As late as 1922, all Jewish orphans under the age of 13 were forcibly converted to Islam. In later years, the Yemenite government has taken some steps to protect the Jewish community in their country.


In 1948, there were approximately 150,000 Jews in Iraq. In 2003, there were 100 left, though there are reports that small numbers of Jews are returning in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In 1941, following Rashid Ali's pro-Axis coup, riots known as the Farhud broke out in Baghdad in which approximately 200 Jews were murdered (some sources put the number higher), and up to 2,000 injured.

Like most Arab League states, Iraq forbad the emigration of its Jews for a few years after the 1948 war on the grounds that allowing them to go to Israel would strengthen that state. However, intense diplomatic pressure (probably combined with thoughts of plunder) brought about a change of mind. At the same time, increasing government oppression of the Jews fueled by anti-Israeli sentiment, together with public expressions of anti-semitism, created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.

In March 1950, Iraq passed a law of 1 year duration allowing Jews to emigrate on condition of relinquishing their Iraqi citizenship. Iraq apparently believed it would rid itself of those Jews it regarded as the most troublesome, especially the Zionists, but retain the wealthy minority who played an important part in the Iraqi economy. Israel mounted an operation called "Ezra and Nehemiah" to bring as many of the Iraqi Jews as possible to Israel, and sent agents to Iraq to urge the Jews to register for immigration as soon as possible.

The initial rate of registration was slow, but it accelerated after a bomb injured three Jews at a cafe. Two months before the expiry of the law, by which time about 85,000 Jews had registered, a bomb at the Masuda Shemtov Synagogue killed 3 or 5 Jews and injured many. The law expired in March 1951 but was later extended after the Iraqi government froze the assets of departing Jews (including those already left). During the next few months, all but a few thousand of the remaining Jews registered for emigration, spurred on by a sequence of bombings that caused few casualties but had great psychological impact. In total about 120,000 Jews left Iraq.

In May and June of 1951, the arms caches of the Zionist underground in Iraq, which had been supplied from Palestine/Israel since 1942, were discovered. Many Jews were arrested and two Zionist activists, Joseph Basri and Abraham Salih, were tried and hanged for three of the bombings. A secret Israeli inquiry in 1960 reported that most of the witnesses believed that Jews had been responsible the bombings, but found no evidence that they were ordered by Israel. The issue remains unresolved: Iraqi activists in Israel still regularly charge that Israel used violence to engineer the exodus, while Israeli officials of the time vehemently deny it.

The remainder of Iraq's Jews left over the next few decades, and had mostly gone by 1970.



See also: Jews in Algeria.

Almost all Jews in Algeria left upon independence in 1962. They had had French citizenship since the late 1800s, and mainly went to France, with some going to Israel.




Bahrain's tiny Jewish community, mostly the descendants of immigrants who entered the country in the early 1900's, numbered 600 in 1948. Over the next few decades, most left for other countries, especially the United States and England; some 30 remain (as of 2000.)[4] (

Absorbing Jewish refugees

Missing image
Maabarah children

Of the nearly 900,000 Jewish refugees, approximately 600,000 were absorbed by Israel; the remainder went to Europe and the Americas. Today, almost half of Israel's Jewish citizens are the original refugees and their descendants, mostly Sephardi, Mizrahi, and Temani Jews. A major political issue among Israelis is the perceived conflict between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. This issue appears to be diminishing over time, as the various groups integrate their communities with each other.

These refugees were forced to abandon virtually all of their property, especially as they fled from the most hostile countries: Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Libya.

Hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees were temporarily settled in the numerous tent cities called Maabarot in Hebrew. Their population was gradually absorbed and integrated into the Israeli society, a substantial logistical achievement, without help from the United Nations. The Maabarot existed until 1958.

Jewish refugee advocacy groups

There are a number of advocacy groups acting on behalf of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. For example, Justice for Jews from Arab countries seeks to secure rights and redress for Jews from Arab countries who suffered as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. [5] ( Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA) publicizes the history and plight of the 900,000 Jews indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa who were forced to leave their homes and abandon their property, and who were stripped of their citizenship. [6] (

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