But there are refugees whom nobody cares about: the Jewish refugees from Arab lands. From Morocco to Yemen, almost a million Jews were expelled, leaving of their own will or forced out from their homes. The expulsion began in 1948. It went on in 1956 and 1967. I am part of the second wave.
Their goods plundered, confiscated, subject to arbitrary law, there are, I repeat, almost one million of us, and no-one, except our families and Israel, has felt concerned by our fate. Neither the UN, so quick to one-sided indignation, nor Europe, partial and always wagging its finger, or media, who appear so biased.
True, the Arabs have oil.
I am a refugee from an Arab land. Our fate has not moved a soul. Israel, in spite of its troubles, has, instead of parking them in refugee camps, taken in quite a number. It is still absorbing Jews from the former Soviet bloc – another million. Other countries – Britain, France, Italy and Belgium – have taken in a number, among them the Jews of Egypt.
My story is not unusual. I was born an Egyptian in 1944. My Ottoman father was born in Cairo in 1908, and his father before him. Egypt did not then exist as an independent nation state. In 1922 when the Ottoman empire was dismantled, the Egyptian government passed a law granting Egyptian nationality to all those born in the Ottoman Empire and then resident in Egypt. My grandfather, a native of Damascus, benefited from this law and acquired Egyptian nationality, as did his sons.
In 1948, following the example of the Vichy government, the Egyptian government stripped all those Jews who were naturalised after 1922 of their nationality – amid general indifference. At 40 my father became stateless. His mother was Italian (my great grandfather died on the island of Rhodes, then under Italian occupation) and after countless twist and turns, we became Italian too.
I don't recall any international support, be it financial or moral. I don't recall any protest whatsoever, not even half-hearted, neither from Europe, so quick to stir, nor from the UN. We were helped by the Jewish communities in those countries that took us in, and by Israel for those who went there.
I pity the Palestinians. Shouldn't the Arab countries have integrated them instead of whipping them into a ferment of hatred?
I too am a refugee. Our home was sequestered, the fruits of my father's and his father's labours stolen, our graves defiles, our synagogues vandalised, my stamp collection snatched away. But I have turned the page; I had to. I feel no more hatred or bitterness towards those who kicked me out.
I am a refugee, but I did not teach my children to throw stones or Molotov cocktails.
translated by Lyn Julius
P.S. : Of the million Jews of Arab lands, only a few thousand are left – fewer than 10.000 – sometimes exposed to arbitrary rulings but more often than not tolerated and despised.
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