Jewish World Review August 5, 2003/7 Menachem-Av, 5763
Richard Z. Chesnoff
A refugee has lessons for Arabs
Twenty-eight other elderly, ailing Iraqi Jews remain behind for now, the final remnant of a great community that thrived in Mesopotamia - now known as Iraq - for more than 2,500 years.
Jews first came there as slaves, captured by the Assyrians when they destroyed the biblical temple of Jerusalem. The psalms say they wept by the rivers of Babylon when they remembered Zion. But they soon developed a rich community of religious scholars, scientists and merchants. Some even became advisers to caliphs and kings.
By the 19th century, more than a quarter of Baghdad's population was Jewish. Then, in 1941, Iraqi nationalists found common cause with the Nazis. Pogroms and anti-Jewish legislation grew worse when Israel was born. With help from Jews everywhere, Israel organized a mammoth airlift. Iraq's price for freedom: Its Jews would have to leave behind everything they owned.
When I first visited Baghdad in 1989, fewer than 300 Jews remained in the city, gathering every Sabbath in a synagogue discreetly hidden behind a yellow brick wall just blocks from where Saddam Hussein's statue recently was toppled. Soon there will be none.
Iraq's Jewish community was not the only one to disappear from the Islamic world after 1948. Some 600,000 Jews fled homes in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Afghanistan and Iran.
You won't find any of these Arab Jews in refugee camps today. Most were almost immediately resettled in tiny Israel, where they've become part of the nation's life. When was the last time you heard of an Arab-born Jew getting on a Palestinian bus with a suicide bomb?
I say that because at about the time Jews left Arab lands, some 600,000 Palestinians fled the war the Arabs had launched against the newborn state of Israel. Rather than being resettled, most have been forced by their Arab brethren to fester in refugee camps around the Mideast. Palestinians say there are as many as 4 million such refugees today.
The answer to their woes is not a right of return to Israel, where they would
destroy its character as a Jewish state. The answer is to learn from the
Jews: Care for your brethren, resettle them, improve their lives, live in
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