|Ethnically cleansed Iraqi jews waiting for transfer to a tent camp after arrival in Israel 1950|
When searching on the internet it is not easy to find information relating to the jewish refugees from arab lands. Search results come up mainly with references to the 'naqba', the self-inflicted disaster created when arabs living in Israel rejected the UN Partition Resolution to divide the country beetween jews and arabs on November 30th 1947 and immediately began their war against the jews (The next morning jews were taken off buses and killed in the Jaffa and coastal area, a pogrom happened in Jerusalem).
So are arabs really worried about the welfare of sepharadim, around a million of whom were expelled from arab countries? This interest in the welfare of jews is the sasme as that shown towards christians presently fleeing from Egypt, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the middle east.
I'm sure that the suffering of sepharadi newcomers to Israel was not imagined despite being reflected and magnified through the distorting lens of arab propaganda. But essential to understanding this suffering is to know about the context in which this suffering happened. And of course the suffering was directly linked to the ethnic cleansing of a million jews from arab countries. Of course the same thing is happening now to christians with barely a hoot of protest from the established churches (they are usually too busy attacking Israel and obsessing about gays to worry overly much about christians being accused and murdered because of their religion)
The government chronically occupied with security and the business of surviving economically into the next day meant that the reception of unending waves of newcomers often proceeded with little planning. Immigrants were thrown together higgledy piggeldy in all parts of the country and communities were often mixed. The living conditions were at first often atrocious with people needing to live in tents until more permanent accommodation could be built.
The suffering of sepharadim in the early years in Israel does not however mean that they were discriminated against. That they suffered greatly also does not necessarily point to this. Most of the population of Israel suffered greatly.
So there is need to understand the context firstly of a population of approximately 700,00 Israelis in a state that had just been founded having to absorb a million refugees from arab lands. Within a few short years Israel more than doubled its population. This was after having fought a brutal war in which 1% of the population had been killed (10% of the army died in 1948). No other country has ever faced this problem let alone deal with it. Western countries such as the UK have had strong reactions by their peoples to large influxes of immigrants, with extreme racism and even violence shown to those immigrants in the 1970's. The British National Front/BNP or the French Front Nationale come to mind. But the percentage influxes of immigrants to those countries were as nothing compared to what Israel dealt with successfully in 1948 until the early 1950's.
The Israeli economy burdened by a heavy defence commitment had to find shelter, food and accommodation for all these immigrants and at first there was no money available to build shelters and also employ the immigrants. Golda Meir recounts travelling to the USA to ask jews there to find the means to help the jews thrown out of arab lands. You will see from her writing that she cared for these people, tried her utmost to find the means to help absorb them, find them shelter and work. And those Israelis who were living in the country suffered rationing in order to feed the newcomers.
I'm sure it is possible to find stories of resentment and of rejection, Golda Meir's account sounds sincere.
Likewise personal stories recounted in Deborah Dayan's 'Pioneer' which I will also quote from paint a picture of the life of immigrants from someone who was involved in helping them as a sort of voluntary social worker.
There is a need to rebalance the accounts of discrimination made by those who suffered. They were so deep in the forest they were unable to see the bigger picture. Sepharadim suffered just as did ashkenazi immigrants recently arrived because of the fact that they left their countries penniless and were usually uneducated. The educated sepharadim and those with means, when thrown out of arab countries made their way to western countries, France, the USA and Britain.
The impoverished sepharadim arrived in a new country that they didn't always want to be in (with the exception of Yemenites), a country which had just fought against arabs intent on genocide. That war forced on Israel by local arabs who shot up the roads already from November 1947 whilst the British were still ruling the country became an invasion of five arab countries on 15th May 1948. The war was supported, armed and even led by the British who left Israel by one door and attempted to return to a country defeated by the armies of puppet arab governments.
And when the war ended arab terrorists made the whole country unsafe.
In his autobiography “Warrior” Ariel Sharon recounted that in the evening all life stopped. People barricaded themselves in their homes. Arab terror gangs ruled the night in the early years of the state and until 'unit 101' was formed Israel had no answer.
It must be remembered that the immigrants, sepharadim as well as holocaust survivors from europe were victims of an extremely difficult situation in the early years of the israeli state.
Arab propagandists still like to play up the supposed splits in Israeli society, most notably of the so-called 'Ashkenazi-sepharadi' split, with ashkenazim taking the role of the bogeyman. The BBC even managed recently to distort the awarding of a national singing competition to an arab woman as emblematic of the discrimination allegedly suffered by arabs. Upon this hook was hung the imagined sufferings of sepharadim at the hands of ashkenazim nowadays. The BBC will always manage to twist positive news about Israel into an example of Israel's nefariousness.
Of course if it ever was a real problem, the Ashkenazi-sepharadi division is a thing of the past. Intermarriage, education together in schools and universities as well as serving together in the army has relegated this problem to history.
That arabs still obsess over a supposed Ashkenazi-sepharadi division and derive pleasure from the thought of an Israel that will implode is not necessarily a bad thing. A distorted understanding of Israel by its enemies lessens their ability to harm it.
As I don't possess a working OCR scanner i'll need to type up the relevant extracts from the following two books over coming days/weeks:
- My Life – Golda Meir
- Pioneer – Deborah Dayan
If you are able to get them these books offer an excellent insight into the early development of Israel, of the trials and tribulations, of buying and settling the land in the face of a corrupt and murderous turkish administration, of the often good relations between jews and arabs living side by side in villages, but also of arab marauding, of grazing cattle in the fields of kibbutzim as a provocation (being repeated nowadays by Negev beduin in the south and also in the galilee), of how the country was developed out of virtually nothing in the face of great natural and man made adversity without reading the autobiographies of people such as Rabin, Begin and Allon.
I must admit not having a great interest in a problem I believe was more manufactured than real (I'm not saying that the perception of discrimination was not a potent factor in the election of the Likud in 1979 because it was) but if you have any interesting sources i'll be happy to read and review them.
To be Continued