Fleeing or Flying?

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by Ruth Tenne

Having witnessed as a child the heady days of the creation of the State of Israel, I wholeheartedly concur with the insightful article of Hanan Ashrawi (7th September 2012) which argues forcefully against Zionist attempts to equate Palestinian refugees of the 1948 Naqba with Jewish immigrants who arrived in Israel as result of the Jewish Agency's special mission of transporting Jewish communities from Arab countries to the newly-established Israeli state.

I believe that my submission, which was published on the website of Jews Sans Frontiers ( July 2008) in response to Lyn Julius's letter in the Guardian (25 June 2008), is providing further support to Hanan Ashrawi's truthful and incisive article:

Lyn Julius's account of the alleged ethnic cleansing of Jewish people by Arab countries (Comment is Free , Guardian 25 June ) seems to be a sheer prevarication. As an Israeli born and bred I remember vividly the well-planed operations which aimed to strengthen the size of the Jewish population in the fledgling Israeli state by flying en masse Jewish communities from Arab countries. Needless to say that in Israel those Arab-originated communities suffered from well-documented discrimination in terms of housing ,education, social mobility and access to the the media, the judiciary system and elitist echelons of the Israel society - indeed this form of discrimination continues to the present day (though in a much less overt way).

The Jewish Virtual Library has documented two of the most prominent 1951 operations which were instigated and organised by the Jewish Agency with the full cooperation of the involved Arab governments. Thus, perhaps the so-called "Jewish Nakba" was no more than a well-planned Aliyah operation of ascendance/immigration to Israel - as the documents below proudly acknowledge.

Operations Ezra & Nechemia: The Aliyah of Iraqi Jews

Some 130,000 Jews arrived in Israel in Operation Ezra and Nechemia. Flying the Iraqi Jews to Israel lasted several months, and started after the Iraqi Government passed a special bill permitting their emigration in 1951. The Iraqi Jews were mostly wealthy and the local authorities gave them special privileges. When the Jews learned about the special permit they had been given, thousands arrived in Baghdad and gathered in registration centers where they registered for immigration to Israel.

According to Iraqi law, the Jews had to sell their property and liquidate their businesses before they could leave. Many sold large properties for ridiculous sums in order to win the right to immigrate.

Waiting in Baghdad was a tense and difficult period. Some 50,000 Jews signed up in one month, and two months later there were 90,000 on the list. This mass movement stunned the Iraqi Government, which had not expected the number of immigrants to exceed 8,000, and feared that administrative institutions run by Jews might collapse. At the same time, the Zionist movement issued a manifesto calling on the Jews to sign up for immigration. It started with the following: "O, Zion, flee, daughter of Babylon," and concluded thus: "Jews! Israel is calling you — come out of Babylon!"

The first planes flew to Israel via Cyprus in mid-May 1951. Several months later, a giant airlift operated directly from Baghdad to Lod airport. Operation Ezra and Nechemia ended at the beginning of 1952, leaving only about 6,000 Jews in Iraq. Most of the 2,500-year-old Jewish community immigrated to Israel.

Operation “Magic Carpet”

In May 1949, when the Imam of Yemen agreed to let 45,000 of the 46,000 Jews in his country leave, Israeli transport planes flew them "home" in Operation Magic Carpet. The Yemenite Jews, mostly children, were brought to Israel on some 380 flights. This was one of the most wonderful and complex immigration operations the state has ever known. British and American planes airlifted the Jews from Aden, the capital of Yemen, when they reached the city from all over Yemen after extremely dangerous and risky journeys. The operation was secret and was released to the media only several months after its completion.

The year 1949 saw massive waves of immigration to Israel. Some 250,000 Jews who arrived that year alone were placed in military barracks and tent camps, and were later moved to ma'abarot [transit camps]. The state nearly collapsed under the burden. Calculations made that year showed that the state needed some $3,000 for the absorption of each immigrant, which meant that the state required about $700,000 for the whole campaign; the entire state budget was less than that. Yet, despite everything, the young state was more than willing to do all that was necessary to absorb the immigrants, believing that this was the reason for its establishment in the first place.

*Ruth Tenne is an Israeli peace activist living in London. She is a member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

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