Soon after my arrival to Israel as a stateless person, i.e. refugee, from Iraq, in 1951, I met with Israeli ministers and politicians, even I had interview with the late Mr. Ben Gurion, the prime minister then, the minister of health, and the late Mr. Begin the leader of Herut. I also spoke with Mr. Shlomo Hillel, the person most active in the exodus of the Jews from Iraq. I tried to convince them that the Jews of Arab countries, almost one million of them, who arrived to Israel penniless, were refugees. The response was NO, they were Zionists. I challenged that assertion time and again, by asking audiences whom I addressed, if any of them would leave all their properties and assets and go to Israel because of the Zionist ideal.
Not a single person ever responded affirmatively.
WOJAC was established as an organization, by Mr. Mordekhai Ben Porat, then minister without portfolio, in the early seventies. I was one of the principal organizers, as I represented WOJAC in the USA. As such, I tried to block the PLO from appearing before the UN Security Council, when Israel boycotted that meeting, I served to save Jews from hanging in Iraq and to get Jews out of Iraq of the Ammash-Baker regime, by the help of the High Commissioner of Refugees, the late Prince Sadrudin Agha Khan, and UN Secretary General Mr. U Thant and his successor Mr. Waldheim, and the Canadian government with the wheat deal. All this was done without fanfares and publicity. WOJAC was instrumental in blocking Israel from offsetting the oil Israel used from Sinai by the property and assets of Egyptian Jews.
I pressed the issue of the rights of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries before the UN Security Council after the Six Day War, with Judge Goldberg, and then US representative at the UN, to include, though indirectly, the issue of the Jewish refugees in resolution 242, by mentioning refugees and not Palestinian refugees, thus indirectly including the Jewish refugees.
Arab leaders and diplomats repeat the lie of the Israeli government that the Jews left of their own volition and will. As a matter of fact President Sadat told me “the Jews came to us and wanted to leave and we told them they are free to leave,” the same I heard from the Moroccan foreign minister. Yet when you confront them with the history of their persecution of the Jews they nod their head. Besides the Farhood (pogrom) of June 2, 1941 in Baghdad, Iraq, there were 27 major pogroms in the major Arab cities, in Casablanca, Rabat, Marakish and Fass in Morocco, in Constantine in Algeria, in Jerba and Tunis in Tunisia, in Tripoli and Bengazi in King Sanusi’s Libya, in Cairo and Ismailia of Egypt, in Allepo, Damascus and Kamishli of Syria and of course Baghdad, Mosul and Basra of “Royal pro- Western” Iraq.
The turning point for the Jews in Iraq was not the Farhood, as it is wrongly assumed. It was May 15, 1948 after Israel’s declaration of independence. A dark curtain fell on the Jewish community of Iraq, because military rule was imposed: 10,000 Jews were jailed and another 10,000 were interned in detention camps in Amara. All Jewish government employees were fired. Jewish merchants could not do business without a Muslin partner. A tax to ‘liberate Palestine’ was imposed on the Jews. The real turning point for Iraqi Jewry was the hanging of the late Mr. Shafik Adas in the summer of 1948, after a sham trial. This sole event created the greatest of fear among the Jews of Iraq that their lives were in danger in Iraq, because there was no Jew wealthier and more ingratiated by the Iraqi royalty and politicians than Mr. Adas. Just few days before he was arrested, I met with him with my father, who was the contractor to build Mr. Adas’ palace in Basra. He voiced his opposition to the creation of Israel, because he feared it will just a ghetto of Jews and can be easily annihilated. He was no Zionist.
Thus my answer to Israel’s governments and to the Arab leaders and diplomats is ‘when your house is on fire you try to escape at all costs’. Besides, the Arab League had a resolution of 1949 ‘to facilitate the exodus of the Jews from the Arab countries,’ an aphorism for their expulsion.
I pressed the issue with President Sadat before the Camp David and the peace agreements between Israel and Egypt, when President Sadat invited me to meet with him in Ismaelia as what I was called ‘president of the Arab Jews’ (“Raees El Yahood El Arab”). This resulted in the special item of the peace agreement dealing with compensation issues.
I pressed with the Arab League, meeting with Mr. Ismat Abd el Mageed, when he was secretary general of the league, and most recently with Mr. Amr Musa, to rescind the Arab League’s resolution, of 1949 prohibiting Arab governments from granting citizenship to the Palestinian Arab refugees. I was told that I was trying to dilute the Palestinian problem. Of course my main purpose was to facilitate peace by reducing the impact of the Arab refugees and their demand of return, which has blocked every effort to make peace, whether the Oslo accords, the River Wei agreement and camp David II. Now the Israeli government, through the Israeli foreign office, and supported by the World Jewish Congress and JJAC an organization seeking so called justice for the Jews from Arab countries, is trying to rename these Jews from Arab countries as refugees, no longer Zionists, for its own purposes of ‘kizzuz,’ i.e. offsetting the demands of the Arab refugees with the rights of the Jewish refugees in terms of reparations.
Yet the same government not only refuses to cooperate with me and WOJAC, but blocking every effort I am working on to recover some of the Jewish assets which were frozen in the banks, usually foreign banks, which functioned in the various Arab countries. Two prominent Israel lawyers and I have communicated with officials of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Retirees, the Prime Minister’s office, etc. etc. with no avail.
The Israeli government with the help of the WJC and JJAC is trying to cheat the Jews of Arab countries of their legitimate rights, by falsely championing their cause.
Prof. Heskel M. Haddad, M.D
President and UN Representative