Jews in Arab Lands

CHARLES CHI HALEVI

March 31, 1993|By CHARLES CHI HALEVI

CHICAGO — Chicago.--"We are the forgotten, robbed of property, citizenship and often life itself. We are the other Mideast refugees -- Jews who were expelled or terrorized out of our homes in Arab countries.'' The speaker, Nabih Mangoubi, an Egyptian Jew, found refuge in the U.S.

Now, when Americans believe all Mideast hostages have long ago been released; when the world equates the word ''refugee'' solely with Palestinians; when peace talks center only on Palestinian claims of land and property, Jews from Arab lands also demand to be heard.

Their agenda is simple, but explosive. They seek freedom of emigration for all Jews held hostage by such dictators as Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Hafez el Assad of Syria. And they want compensation for the billions of dollars of property that was stolen from them when they were expelled from the lands of their birth.

In 1945 more than 800,000 Jews were living in the Arab world. Even before the birth of Muhammed Jews had dwelled there uninterruptedly.

Today fewer than 25,000 Jews live in Arab lands. Many are prisoners, unable to leave or even move freely within the land of their birth. They exist in fear, their lives and property forfeit to the whims of dictators and mobs. But their worst fear is the world will continue to forget them.

In 1948, when the modern state of Israel was formally established, there were 75,000 Jews living in Egypt, Nabih Mangoubi's birth land. Today there are about 200. As did other Jews living in Arab lands, the Jews of Egypt left because of terrorism directed at them. Bombs in the Jewish Quarter killed more than 70 people and wounded almost 200 in 1948.

Often the government itself was the instrument of this repression. In 1956 the Egyptian government expelled 25,000 Jews and confiscated their property. About 1,000 more were sent to detention camps.

Mr. Mangoubi's father, who in 38 years at Cairo's Bank Misr had worked his way up to head the accounting and review department, was forced to resign two years before retirement, costing him his pension. For the following 10 years his family had no income. They slowly sold their possessions to buy sustenance -- and time. In 1966, when they finally emigrated, they left behind their property, being allowed to take only the equivalent of $20 and some clothing.

Other Egyptian Jews fared worse. In 1967 all Jewish men between 18 and 55 were imprisoned and tortured. A few years later the survivors were deported.

Elsewhere life for Jews was, if possible, even more brutal. Aden today is devoid of Jews: The serpent of hatred led authorities to declare in 1946 that the 8,000 Jews there were not entitled to live like humans. In 1947, 82 Aden Jews were massacred, 76 wounded. Two thirds of the shops owned by Jews then living in Aden were looted and burned.

Iraq, which had 135,000-150,000 Jews in 1948, today has about 150 whose fates are controlled by Saddam Hussein. Eleven Jews were hanged in Iraq's central square in 1969. Half a million Iraqis, who had been urged by Baghdad Radio to ''come and enjoy the feast,'' paraded and danced past the scaffolds. Between 1970 and 1972 more Jews were hanged, and others forced to collect funds for the Palestine Liberation Organization. The sole crime of all these victims was being Jewish.

Syria had 30,000-45,000 Jews in 1948. Less than 4,500 survive there today, terrorized by the secret po- lice. For a while last year it looked as if the Syrian dictator, Hafez el Assad, would finally free the Jews locked in his land. But the small flow has ceased, and those who remain behind know the next knock on the door could signal their last breath.

Jordan, often cited as an example of a ''moderate'' Arab country, has a constitution which specifically bars Jews from citizenship.

Jews forced to leave Arab lands since the 1940s now number about 1.5 million out of the 3.5 million comprising Israel's Jewish population -- more than the number of Palestinians who left Israel.

In spite of the ills endured by his family, Nabih Mangoubi today is not bitter and does not seek revenge.

''But Jewish tradition tells us that justice is the foundation of the world,'' Mr. Mangoubi notes, ''and that is what we ask for.''

Charles Chi Halevi is a free-lance writer.

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