Important Event Commemorating Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries and Iran

In the early 20th Century, nearly 1-million Jews were expelled from nine Arab countries and Iran, where their ancestors had lived for more than 2,500 years. Their assets, businesses and properties were seized and they were frequently subjected to pogroms, systemic violence and religious persecution.

Today, while stories abound of many Arab refugees, few are aware or even acknowledge this forgotten mass forced exodus of Jewish refugees. Only in Israel has Nov. 30, called Yom Plitim, been marked to commemorate their plight. 

Yom Plitim (Day of Refugees) – Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands and from Iran

Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs

30 Nov 2017

​This memorial day commemorates the tragedy of people who were forced to flee from their homes and to leave the countries where they had lived for millennia, solely because of their Jewish identity. ​
The lost Jewish communities of the Arab world

  The lost Jewish communities of the Arab world

​On 30 November, Israel and the Jewish world remember the fate of more than 850,000 Jews who were forced out of Arab countries and Iran in the 20th century.

This memorial day commemorates the tragedy of people who were forced to flee from their homes and to leave the countries where they had lived for millennia, solely because of their Jewish identity. Many were deprived of their belongings and many suffered from violence and persecution.

The story of the expulsion of entire Jewish communities from Arab lands is an important part of modern Jewish history that profoundly affected the Jewish nation as a whole as well as the demographic composition of the Middle East and North Africa. This is a story that has to be told.

Current research estimates that the number of Jews living in Arab countries and Iran totaled more than 850,000 at the time of Israel’s independence. Some scholars even think the number is closer to one million. In the North African region, 259,000 Jews fled from Morocco, 140,000 from Algeria, 100,000 from Tunisia, 75,000 from Egypt, and another 38,000 from Libya. In the Middle East, 135,000 Jews were exiled from Iraq, 55,000 from Yemen, 34,000 from Turkey, 20,000 from Lebanon and 18,000 from Syria. Iran forced out 25,000 Jews.

In the North African region: 612,000
259,000 Jews fled from Morocco,
140,000 from Algeria,
100,000 from Tunisia,
75,000 from Egypt, and another
38,000 from Libya.
In the Middle East: 262,000
135,000 Jews were exiled from Iraq,
55,000 from Yemen,
34,000 from Turkey,
20,000 from Lebanon and
18,000 from Syria.
Iran forced out 25,000 Jews.
TOTAL Displaced Jewish Population 899,000

The following descriptions typify what Jews living in Arab countries and Iran went through in the 1940s and following Israel’s declaration of independence up to the second half of the 20th century.


In Iraq, where a large community of Jews lived for 2600 years, violent riots known as the Farhud erupted in June 1941, targeting the Jewish population, mainly in Bagdad.  Dejected soldiers of a failed coup took advantage of a power vacuum and swarmed into Jewish communities together with a bloodthirsty mob, killing 179 innocent people, injuring more than 2,100, and leaving 242 children orphans. This act of violence was celebrated across the Arab world and in Nazi Germany.

In 1948 as a response to UNGA Resolution 181 (“the Partition Plan”) and Israel’s independence, laws were passed making Zionism a criminal offense, allowing the police to raid and search thousands of Jewish homes for any evidence of Zionism. Jews were removed from thousands of government positions and their homes were valued at 80% less than those of their Arab neighbors.

In the years 1948-1951, over 120,000 Iraqi Jews immigrated to Israel to forge a new life. In doing so, they forfeited their citizenship and (after March 1951) their property. The ancient Jewish community in Iraq (which at one time constituted nearly one-third of the total population of Baghdad) is now non-existent.


The story of the Jewish population of Egypt is similar. In the 1940s, hostility against the Egyptian Jewish community, which numbered around 80,000 people, increased. Laws were passed setting limitations for employing Egyptians of Jewish descent, as well as requiring majority shareholders of companies to be Egyptian nationals. Since Jews were denied citizenship as a rule, many Jews lost their jobs and businesses.

During the 1948 War of Independence, thousands of Egyptian Jews were put into internment camps, forced from their jobs, and arrested for supposed collaboration with an enemy state, Jewish synagogues, homes, and businesses were bombed; many Jews were killed and wounded. More than 14,000 Jews immigrated to Israel during this time seeking safety. Between 1948 and 1958, more than 35,000 Jews fled Egypt. While much of this immigration was due to systematic oppression, another contribution factor was Zionism and the desire to live in the newly reestablished Jewish homeland in Israel.

Between 1956 and 1968 another 38,000 Jews fled Egypt, mostly to Israel, to escape systematic injustices such as government expropriation of their homes and businesses and arbitrary arrests of Jewish citizens.


The Yemeni Jews faced some of the worst persecution. At the end of November 1947, the Arab population of Aden in Yemen decided to hold a 3-day strike in protest against UNGA Resolution 181 (the Partition Plan). The protest quickly turned violent. Over 80 innocent Yemeni Jews were slaughtered, over 100 Jewish-owned businesses were completely looted, and homes, schools, and synagogues were burnt to the ground. This was one of the most violent attacks on any Jewish population in the Arab world.

A unique and creative solution was found for saving the persecuted Yemeni Jews. From 1949 to 1950, the Israeli government enacted Operation Magic Carpet (known in Hebrew as “On the Wings of Eagles”). The operation was implemented by US and British aircraft, which flew to Aden and airlifted the Jews from Yemen to Israel. By the end of the operation, over 47,000 Yemeni Jews were rescued from persecution and taken to their new home in the State of Israel.


Jews had lived in Libya for more than 2,300 years, and had a thriving culture, with a population of over 37,000. During World War II, The Libyan regime implemented their own Nazi-inspired holocaust, where more than 2,000 Jews were transported to desert concentration camps, and hundreds of them died. In post-war Libya, Arab nationalism grew in popularity, resulting in violent pogroms against the Jewish community. In 1945, in the city of Tripoli, more than 140 Jews were killed in a violent antisemitic riot, and a few years later in 1948, another pogrom erupted, resulting in 12 Jewish deaths and the destruction of over 280 Jewish homes. In the three years between 1948 and 1951, 30,972 Jews fled to Israel due to the hostile Arab government of Libya.

Remembering their stories

The descendants of these immigrants from Arab countries now account for a majority of Israel’s Jewish population. The Jewish exiles who were forced to flee their homes overcame personal and communal tragedy and not only persevered, but thrived; many have risen to important positions in the national government and in the public and private sectors. They have made an invaluable contribution to the fabric of Israeli society, and their vibrant cultures are an integral part of the colorful mosaic of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. It is time for the world to hear their story.

Jews Expelled from Arab Countries Call on UN to Recognize their Plight

Bnai Brith Canada – Yom Plitim (Day of Refugees)

A monument in Ramat Gan, Israel, serves as a memorial for the Iraqi Jews who were killed during the Farhud (“violent dispossession”) of 1941 (Photo Credit: PikiWiki Israel)

Nov. 28, 2018

By Ariel Kahana

This article was originally published on

Some 70 years after the exodus and expulsion of as many as 850,000 Jews from Arab states and Iran, the heads of communities of Jews from Arab countries are demanding that the United Nations officially recognize the suffering they were forced to endure.

In a letter to UN Secretary General António Guterres, community leaders, among them Dr. Shimon Ohayon, director of Bar-Ilan University’s Dahan Center and chairman of the Alliance of Moroccan Immigrants wrote, “While the UN organizes events to mark the departure of 450,000 Palestinians from Israel upon the establishment of the state, following a war imposed on Israel, we do not see recognition of the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries.”

“We believe the UN strives for justice for all refugees around the world, including Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab lands. We therefore seek to establish a memorial day for the Jews’ expulsion from Arab lands,” the letter said.

Bari-Ilan University was set to host a symposium on Tuesday on the subject to educate members of the younger generation on the subject.

The State of Israel is set to commemorate the expulsion on Nov. 30.

Comment: Remembering the ethnic cleansing of the Middle East’s Jews

Jpost Opinion

This is the untold story of the Jewish forgotten refugees. These Jews, who survived ethnic cleansing and were systematically expelled, were now forgotten.

November 29, 2017 11:57

The Forgotten Refugees (YouTube / 4IL) The Forgotten Refugees (YouTube / 4IL)

My family was expelled from Iraq in 1951. My grandfather Haim owned a successful business with several trucks, while my grandmother Gazelle ran the home. They lived in a spacious three-story house while maintaining a simple life. For years my grandparents tried to maintain a good relationship with their Arab neighbors while practing the same Jewish traditions that had been passed down in Iraq for centuries.

All this came crashing down within weeks. With the creation of Israel, the Iraqi government declared that all of their property was to be stripped from them and nationalized while the local Jewish population was to be expelled. The authorities let these soon-to-be refugees leave with only one suitcase each after it had been carefully searched to ensure no gold or jewelry was taken with them. My 4-year-old mother took her favorite rag doll, which served as a solemn reminder for decades to come of our family’s storied past in Iraq.

Just like my family, hundreds of thousands of Jews were expelled from many other Arab countries and Iran. They had to leave everything they cared for behind, their homes, loved ones and possessions, while making their way to Israel.

They ventured into the unknown to come to a new country struggling for its survival. They lived in tents and tin shacks, lived with food rationing, were given new names and began their new lives. With nothing but a suitcase and a rag doll, my family was expelled from a country they had resided in for hundreds of years.

In 1948, the year Israel was declared a state, 265,000 Jews lived in Morocco, 150,000 in Iraq, 140,000 in Algeria, 100,000 in Egypt, 100,000 in Tunisia, 55,000 in Lebanon, 40,000 in Libya, 30,000 in Syria and thousands more throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa, for a grand total of 880,000. Shortly thereafter, over 850,000 Jews were expelled from the very countries they called home. The Arab League rejected the establishment of the State of Israel and ultimately decided in forcing out the absolute majority of Jews from their countries.

My family’s expulsion happened overnight but not before being preceded by years of persecution against Iraq’s local Jewish population. My grandmother would tell my siblings and me about how her family had to hide in June 1941 during the “Farhud”, a two day pogrom of mass murder, looting and terror against Iraq’s Jewish population. 179 were killed, 2,100 were wounded, 242 children were orphaned and more than 50,000 households and businesses were ransacked.

Then, in 1947, the demonstrations against the UN resolution on the establishment of a Jewish state brought up memories of the Farhud and led the Jewish population to go into hiding once again. Hundreds of kilometers away in the city of Aleppo in Syria the situation and results were all too familiar: 75 Jews were murdered, a fifth-century synagogue was destroyed and hundreds of homes were devastated.

This is the untold story of the Jewish forgotten refugees. In the Palestinian struggle to preserve the narrative of refugees, it was all too easy to conceal the fact that nearly one million Jews were forcibly banished their homes. These Jews, who survived ethnic cleansing and were systematically expelled, were now forgotten.

It is precisely because of this that the US House of Representatives decided in 2008, with House Resolution 185, to recognize the importance of the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries and Iran. And precisely because of this, the government of Israel recognized their rights and dedicated November 30th as a day marking “Jews who were forced to flee Arab countries”.

This date is not coincidental. The day after November 29 1947, when the United Nations General Assembly decided to establish a Jewish state in British Mandate Palestine, many Jewish communities in Arab countries immediately began feeling the pressure to leave. There was looting, riots and laws enacted against them and the Zionist movement.

The young State of Israel, while fighting for its very existence, absorbed hundreds of thousands of Jews from surrounding countries. Under conditions of extreme poverty, a severe lack of resources, being housed in transit camps, without knowing the language and regardless of their relatives left behind, these refugees started over.

Seventy years after the United Nations established a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran are still living in Israel. Many of them, including my mother, remember the exact moment they became refugees and how hard it was in the beginning to start from scratch. But they decided to build again, to give up their refugee narrative, to understand that the years following World War II created a new reality for not only themselves, but tens of millions of others as well.

The Jewish refugees from the Arab countries and Iran, together with hundreds of thousands of other Jewish refugees from Europe, built, created and persisted in order to establish a family, a state and a future for their people.

On the other hand, the preservation of the seven decade old narrative of Palestinian refugees is still in full force. It continues to serve political goals and is used as a tool to delegitimize Israel and not recognize it as the homeland of the Jewish people. The call for the return of millions of Palestinian refugees to Israel is just another means in the quest to destroy the Jewish state.

On this day, the story of the forgotten refugees needs to be told. Fortunately, these refugees had Israel as a home to take them in. Many of them never survived the deadly pogroms suffered at the hands of Arab regimes. It is for this reason it is so important to learn their story, for any injustice somewhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.

The author is the Director of the National Campaign for Countering De-Legitimization & Deputy Director General at the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy. The Video was produced by the Minisrty’s 4IL campaign