Why I am So Angry
The refugees nobody talks about

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Why I am So Angry
The refugees nobody talks about

Introduction by Zionism on the Web - After the creation of Israel, over 600,000 Sephardi Jews became refugees from Arab countries and from locations in mandatory Palestine that were conquered by Jordan and Egypt. While the UN and the world has made a cause of the plight of Arab refugees from Palestine, Jewish refugees are hardly mentioned. The dispossessed Jewish refugees in most countries were deliberately robbed of their property - not only real-estate property but bank accounts and valuables. They were often forced to leave in humiliating circumstances. In Egypt, almost the entire Jewish community was forced to leave and deprived of their property in 1954 or 1967, collectively punished for the Israeli intelligence fiasco known as the "Lavon Affair" and for the 1967 6-day war.  They did not remain in camps. They made their own way or were helped to new homes by the State of Israel and Jewish communities around the world. Cynical anti-Zionist propaganda spread libelous accounts insinuating that Zionists were responsible for burning synagogues and other outrages committed against Jews in Arab countries, and played up real and imagined persecution of Sephardi Jews by the Israeli European majority. They also insisted that Sephardi Jews were not Zionists, and yet at the same time they also claimed that those who fled Arab countries to Israel did so of their own free will. The tragedy and suffering of Jews dispossessed from Arab countries is no less real than that of Palestinian Arab refugees, and justice demands restitution for them no less than for Arabs, if not more. The Jews of Arab countries did not make war on their home countries, did not seek to drive anyone into the sea. Nonetheless they were expelled. Israel Bonan, a Jewish refugee from Egypt, gives voice to their plea for justice.

Why I Am So Angry?

By  Israel Bonan

I am perplexed, to say the least. So please help me out here.

It took me over 37 years before I cared to share my story with my own family and my own children; the Story of My Exodus from Egypt after the '67 war with Israel. It was not a pretty story, but then it was not the worst either, some of my closest friends remained incarcerated under worst conditions in Egyptian jails for over 3 years, I was spared such fate, my jail experience was only for 6 days.

I asked myself, why I kept quiet about it for so long? Was I ashamed of the experience, well at some level I must have been. I am sure a lot of us do not wish to share episodes of physical abuse with others, or the experiencing of a terrifying moment or two, where losing one's life may have been at stake. But that was not it.

Was I so absorbed in making a life for myself and my family, instead of cogitating, and looking at my own belly button, so to speak, and dwell on the negative and forget that to be alive is to experience such life to its fullest? Well, may be some of that too, we were refugees, we got help, we moved on, we succeeded in our careers, so what's the problem? Let’s forgive and forget. I say no again to that, it was not enough of an excuse.

May be it is the irony of it. Here is a terrorist of the worst kind, Chairman Arafat who saw to it, to put the Palestinian problem front and center in the world's eyes and attention, and gave the Palestinians a "cause celebre", while in the background kept them in tatters and in tents. He, made sure that his own family and cronies lived high on the hog and yet it is only the Palestinians and what they lost that still is front and center in the Middle East narrative. Theirs is the only story of suffering; theirs is the only story worth being told. Are we being punished because we succeeded, and the world cannot empathize with people's success?

The irony does not stop there. A lot of organizations now are cropping up advocating reconciliation with Egypt, a noble and necessary step to advance the cause of Peace in the Middle East. I too, am a peace advocate and will cherish the day when that event comes to be, so what's the problem then?

It came as a surprise to me, during the past year, that the aging Jewish community from Egypt is not of one mind on the subject of our history in Egypt. It is not that they were totally unaware of it, I was mostly surprised that for some they wished to deny it. Why bring it up? What purpose will it serve? We need to mute it out? And I ask myself why?

I do not wish for anger, but anger is the only emotion I currently experience. When I referred to our community as an 'aging' one, it was supposed to imply, the maturity and experience, the enhanced ability to reflect and measure our responses and finally our generation will gradually fade from the scene. So what do we want, to disappear without our stories being told? Do we have and need Six million of us dead before we react to what happened to us? Of course our miseries dwarfs by comparison to the Holocaust experience, but it was a tragic one nonetheless. How can we fathom reconciling without Egypt and her Government apologize to us, at a minimum, for what they did to us and our parents before us?

Are our sensibilities so jarred, by the stories, that we chose to ignore them? It's only Palestinians and the Chairman that do that sort of thing, and not us? What will get you angry, with me? More than 3 years in jail, losing more than our self respect, more than abandoning our hard-earned fortunes?

I ask you, what have we learned from old age? Some of us I am sure are married, maybe with their second or third mate; what have we learned from relationships? That we can slap each other, go to bed and forget about it the next morning? NO, we learned, to confront the problems, talk about them and apologize when apology is called for, and here we are, we were blissfully wedded to Egypt, only she slapped us silly, stomped on our human rights and took all our community property without even a judicial review; and now we go to bed and wake up in the morning and let's forgive and forget? What kind of logic is that? Please get angry, with me.

True reconciliation that is so one sided, is abhorrent to me. I beg you to get angry with me, it is our right to ask for an apology, it is our right to ask for restitution and it is our right to ask for our self respect back. It is Egypt's turn to recognize what she did to a community that participated fully in her well being, only to be wronged in return.

It is a two way street, reconciliation is. I crave it, but I also crave my self respect, I also crave my dignity and I also crave leaving a clean legacy to our children after us. I need to be able to tell my sons, looking them up in the eye, that we were wronged but did not accept it or rolled over and played dead. I ask you to join me in doing the right thing for our community, because I sincerely believe it is the right thing.

Slightly adapted from the original at HSJE The Historical Society of Jews from Egypt  at http://www.hsje.org/WhyIamangry.htm. Also excerpted at Hopeways.

Republished by permission of the author and the Web sites.

More about Egyptian Jews by Israel Bonan:

My Personal Exodus 

Zionism for the Ages


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