Linda Hakim left Iraq for London in 1970. But she has never been able to shake off the fear she had felt growing up as a Jew.
She heard mobs in Baghdad, after Israel’s Six Day War victory, screaming ‘death to Israel, death to the Jews.”
She escaped a lynch mob only when her fast-thinking headmaster bundled her and a group of Jewish students into his VW Beetle.
She will never forget the TV spectacle of nine innocent Jews — some only teenagers — swinging from the gallows in Baghdad’s main square in 1969 as hundreds of thousands sang and danced under the bodies.
Even when her family had boarded the plane bound for London having abandoned their home and possessions, they could not let down their guard. The Iraqi police arrested a classmate of Linda’s and escorted him off the plane. Even today, every time she sees a police uniform, Linda’s heart races.
Linda found a haven in England, and her children have grown up in freedom, tolerance and acceptance. But in its obsession with Palestinian refugees, the world has never recognised the trauma that a greater number of Jewish refugees from 10 Arab lands and post-1979 Iran went through — human rights violations, wholesale robbery, seizure of property, internment, even execution. The ethnic cleansing of the Arab world’s Jews preceded the persecution of its Christians, its Yazidis and others.
On 23 June 2014, the government of Israel adopted a law to designate 30 November the annual national Day of Commemoration for the 850,000 Jewish refugees who were displaced from Arab countries and Iran in the 20th century. This year, Jewish organisations, schools and Israeli embassies around the world will be observing the Day — from San Francisco to Toronto, Liverpool to Geneva, Tel Aviv to Amsterdam, Lisbon to New York — with conferences, film screenings, lectures.
The UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa — Harif — was founded ten years ago in order to remember the Middle East and North Africa’s Jewish history and heritage.
To mark ‘Jewish Refugee Day’ we in London are staging the UK premiere of the award-winning documentary ‘Arab Movie’ by Eyal Sagui Bisawi at 1 pm on Sunday 29 November. Our official commemoration is on 30 November at a central London synagogue and is being organised in partnership with the S&P Sephardi community and the Israeli embassy.
Refugees like Linda and their descendants make up more than half Israel’s Jews. To-date, their voices have been muffled, their stories unheard, their rights trampled on.
The anti-Semitism they suffered in Arab lands is still with us today. It has morphed into religious jihad — whether in the stabbings on Israel’s streets or in an attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris.
The story of Jewish refugees like Linda has been expunged from the history of the Middle East and North Africa. We owe it to truth and justice not to let that story be forgotten.