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Special Interview Problem of Jews in Arab Lands Must Be Part of Mideast Peace Settlement

March 23, 1984
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Israel’s socio-economic problems, including the ethnic gap between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, are to a large degree, a ramification of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The problems can be solved, therefore, only in the framework of a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement that would include dealing with the problem of Jews in Arab lands, Jews who comprise the largest segment of the Sephardic community in Israel.

This is the view of Heskel Haddad, an eye surgeon at the New York Medical College who is also a scholar in the field of Arab Jewish history and the author of the just-published book, “Jews of Arab and Islamic Countries” (Shengold Publishers, New York, $12.95). He contends that one of the reasons for the poverty of the Jews from Arab countries is their expulsion from Arab countries shortly after the State of Israel was established.

“When most Sephardic Jews immigrated to Israel, in 1949 and 1950, following the decision of the Arab League to expel the Jews in retaliation against Israel for the emergence of Palestinian refugees, they arrived in Israel penniless because they were forced to leave all their assets behind in Arab countries,” Haddad said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Their properties were either confiscated outright, as in Iraq, or were abandoned when they received one-way exit visas from Arab governments, as in Morocco.”


Haddad, who was born in Iraq 56 years ago, pointed out that Ashkenazic Jews, who suffered persecution in Europe under the Nazis, were awarded reparations from Germany after the war, while Jews from Arab lands did not receive reparations from any Arab government. “The reparations from Germany were a contributing factor for the increasing socio-economic gap between Sephardim and Ashkenazim in Israel,” he said.

Haddad said he believes, therefore, that “it is imperative that in any peace negotiations, the rights of Jews from Arab countries be a major item on the agenda of those negotiations, with particular emphasis on reparations for lost property and assets of these Jews. I believe that this will help to reverse, in part, the process of induced poverty in the Sephardic segment of Israeli society.”

According to Haddad, the “trauma” of the expulsion is still fresh in the minds of almost one million Jewish refugees from Arab countries. He said despite the fact that Jews in Arab countries were “second class citizens,” most of them led comfortable lives and many were well to do. “Despite all the restrictions against them as non-Moslems, Jews, generally, speaking, had flourished in Arab countries,” he said. “I want the Arab world to recognize the injustice they have done to their Jews and to understand that as the Palestinians were victims of war, we, the Jews of Arab lands, were victims of persecution,” he said.

Haddad argued that when Israel was established, the one million Jews in Arab countries amounted to two percent of the total Arab population of 50 million in the Mideast. “It can be said, therefore, that two percent of the Mideast belongs to us,” Haddad declared. He noted that the size of Israel today is about 30,000 square kilometers, including the West Bank and the Gaza District, while at the time of their expulsion, the Jews owned some 100,000 square kilometers in the Arab world.

“I believe that the Jews of Arab lands who live in Israel today can serve as a bridge to the Arab world, a bridge to peace,” Haddad said. “I believe, too, that Israel must be a part of the Mideast, psychologically and culturally, before peace with the Arabs can be obtained.”

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