Updated with stories from JPost and Reuters
From Today’s JPOST
By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
Tripoli, Libya, was ablaze for weeks after the start of the Six Day War in June 1967 as Muslim mobs terrorized Jews, destroying property and claiming lives.
The Libyan government finally allowed – or forced – the Jews to leave the country, but anti-Jewish anger remained high.
Regina Bublil and her family were on a bus that was supposed to bring them to freedom, but she didn’t believe they were safe in the hands of the driver. When he pulled over well before they reached the airport, saying the bus had “broken down,” her suspicions became stronger.
Bublil, 19, asked the driver’s helper to call a cab for her family from a nearby gas station and then followed him. She overheard him telling someone that the situation was “under control” and decided to make her own call for help.
Bublil wrestled with him for the phone and then called the British engineer she had worked for that summer until the violence forced her to take secret refuge in his house. Her parents and siblings survived because their upstairs neighbor, a Muslim, hid them and convinced the mob surrounding their home that they were out of the country. Meanwhile they burned her father’s factory and real estate.
Clutching the phone with shaking hands and speaking English so she wouldn’t be understood, Bublil explained to her boss where the bus was stopped and told him to hurry. When she got back to the bus, she found the driver holding a match to the gas-drenched vehicle in order to set it ablaze with her family inside. But just in time, her boss pulled up and helped her and her family escape.
When they got to the airport, they found that they weren’t expected. “Bublil family?” the airport attendant asked with surprise. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
Their reservations presumably canceled because the plot against them was expected to succeed, the British engineer contacted a friend who worked at the airport. The friend removed seven British passengers from a flight departing right then for Malta so that the Bublils could escape.
In Malta, doctors and stretchers met them at the plane. They were so traumatized, she recalled, that “we couldn’t talk.”
But now, Bublil isn’t afraid to speak out. The problem today, she said, was that not enough people knew what she and other Jews driven out of Arab countries endured.
“The Jews from the Arab countries wanted to let bygones be bygones and just get on with their lives. It wasn’t until the next generation came to haunt us that [we realized] this story is not being told, that our heritage is gone, that we’re extinct,” she said.
Bublil, now known by her married name, Waldman, heads the San Francisco-based advocacy group Jimena: Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North America. On Monday she was in Israel to participate in a conference launching an “International Rights and Redress Campaign” on behalf of the estimated 850,000 Jews who fled from Arab states after the creation of the State of Israel.
According to Jimena, less than 10,000 are now left in these countries; the Jews who lived for more than 2,000 years in Libya are entirely gone.
Part of the campaign examines the issue of restitution for Jews who had to leave everything behind at a moment’s notice, but its overall focus is on raising awareness. “We want to be part of history,” Bublil said. “We don’t want to be called the forgotten refugees anymore.”
She acknowledged that Mizrahi Jews hadn’t done enough to raise the issue within the Jewish community. “We have to look in the mirror and say, ‘What have we done to tell our story
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Update Reuters Covers story Also (with their Anti-Israel spin at the end)
FEATURE-Mideast Jewish refugees campaign for recognition
By Jonathan Saul
JERUSALEM, Oct 22 (Reuters) – World Jewish groups began a global campaign on Sunday calling for recognition of Jews from Arab countries as refugees in the Middle East conflict.
“The world sees the plight of Palestinian refugees, and not withstanding their plight, there must be recognition that Jews from Arab countries are also victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” said Stanley Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC).
JJAC, a U.S.-based coalition of Jewish organisations, is one of the groups coordinating the campaign which aims to record testimonies of Jews who fled in the face of persecution, list asset losses and lobby foreign governments on their behalf.
Jewish groups have estimated that since 1948 at least 900,000 Jews have been forced to leave their homes in Arab countries such as Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
At least 600,000 went to Israel. The rest sought sanctuary in France, Britain, the United States and other countries.
A meeting of Jewish groups in Jerusalem on Sunday marked the first concerted effort to put the issue on the world agenda.
Linda Abdel Aziz, who fled to Israel in 1971, is one of many thousands of Jews born in Iraq who left or were expelled as conditions deteriorated due to discriminatory legislation, pogroms and public executions.
Abdel Aziz has recorded her testimony in the campaign. Her father, Jacob, who stayed behind in Iraq, disappeared in 1972, and family members believe he was executed by the ruling Baath party regime for being a Jew.
“We did not interfere in politics but we were persecuted. We are all haunted,” said Abdel Aziz, 56.
Jewish communities in the Middle East stretch back over 2,500 years.
But anti-Jewish violence, fanned by Arab nationalism, swept through the region in the early 1940s. A wave of pogroms against Jews was triggered by the establishment of Israel in 1948 and a war in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes in what became the Jewish state.
After 1948, conditions deteriorated for Jews in many Arab countries, including property confiscation by Arab governments.
The World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, another body spearheading the new campaign, has estimated that Jews lost more than $100 billion in personal and community assets through confiscations by various Arab governments.
While some individuals have tried to file suits for lost property particularly in Libya and Iraq, there has so far not been a concerted effort by Jewish groups to seek reparations.
JJAC is working in tandem with Israel’s Ministry of Justice which is collecting and registering testimonials, affidavits and property claims. The ministry has already received thousands of claims to date.
“With memories fading, and elderly people passing on each day, this will be our last, best chance to obtain this important record of Jewish history and the evidence for future claims,” Urman said.
Any future claims are complicated by the fact that the departure of Jews from Arab states happened alongside the flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
Millions of Palestinians who fled themselves or are descended from those who left their homes behind demand a “right of return” to what is now Israel or at least compensation for their losses. Most live in Arab states neighbouring Israel.
“If there will be compensation for Palestinian refugees, there must be compensation for Jewish refugees,” Urman said.
Abbas Shiblak, a British-based Palestinian writer and author of a book on the Jews of Iraq, said their plight should not be compared with the Palestinian refugee issue.
“Their (Middle Eastern Jews’) rights should be addressed and discussed with each of the concerned Arab states with the help of the international community and only after a comprehensive peace settlement is agreed,” Shiblak said.