by Doris Strub Epstein
Gina Malaka Bubli-Waldman was born in Tripoli to a family that had lived in Libya for over 2,000 years. In 1967, she was violently persecuted, nearly murdered and expelled. She and her family fled, as stateless refugees to Italy. From l948 to 1970, she and almost one million other Jews from Arab countries, some of them from communities that predate Christianity and Islam, fled for their lives. Jailed, forced out of jobs, businesses confiscated, physically threatened, the UN never recognized them as refugees and provided absolutely no support. This is in stark contrast to the Arab refugees who had a refugee agency, UNRWA, created just for them and have been and are still, the recipients of millions of dollars.
“My ancient community was destroyed. One hundred and forty five Jews were murdered, and never any financial help from the UN. Not a nickel!” Waldman told the audience at Darchei Noam who sponsored a series on the Jewish exodus from Arab lands, 1947 – 1967. “The Sephardic and Mizrahi refugees continue to be marginalized and ignored.”
While Arab countries refuse to integrate the Arab refugees, many of whom live in squalid refugee camps ,are excluded socially , not allowed to become citizens or use social services, Israel welcomed and integrated all Jewish refugees. Today, 52 per cent of the population in Israel are Mizrahi Jews or their descendants, Waldman said.
“The most common narrative is about the plight of the Palestinian Arabs who left, some of their own accord, most because of Arab League orders and some because there was a war, ” said Andria Spindel of Darchei Noam in her introduction to Waldman. “But what of the greater number of Jews who were dispossessed, persecuted and deprived of all rights? How is this narrative not considered as part of the equation in finding a peaceful and fair solution to the conflict in the Middle East.
Gina Waldman founded JIMENA, Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, in 2002, to bear witness to the suffering of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, collectively known as Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. She has testified as an eye witness Mizrahi refugee in front of the UN Human Rights Council, US Congress, British House of Lords, the Italian Parliament the Israeli Knesset and the Canadian Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee. Tireless, relentless, courageous, she has been threatened numerous times. She has spoken at universities where she was heckled so aggressively – “I told my husband to go shopping so he wouldn’t get upset.”
In addition to a Speakers Bureau, composed of 20 former Jewish refugees, JIMENA collects oral histories, the personal testimonies of Jews who fled North African and Middle Eastern countries and now live in North America. These testimonies will help preserve their heritage and history.
In November 2013, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development of the Government of Canada, tabled a report recommending that the Government of Canada officially recognize the experience of Jewish refugees who were expelled from the Middle East and North Africa after l948. It passed in the House of Parliament by all parties. The second recommendation, encouraging the inclusion in the negotiations of the Arab Israeli conflict of all refugee populations in the Arab Israeli conflict, has not yet passed.
Jewish populations by country and year:
|Israel||150,000 Arabs||1,164,000 Arabs|