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Allow me to briefly introduce myself. My name is Israel Bonan, I am a Mizrahi Jew. I was born in Cairo, Egypt in the mid 1940s. I was expelled from Egypt in 1967, and left with a torn shirt on my back, and a pair of mangled glasses, broken intentionally, on my face, and with very little else.
I am considered by any descriptive measure, a bona fide "refugee", a designation echoed by the United Nation High Commissioner of Refugees UNHCR, on behalf of the more than 800,000 displaced Mizrahi Jews fleeing the Arab countries (expressed twice, in 1957 and subsequently in 1967). I currently reside in the Boston area in the US.
I have been familiar with Mr. Shasha's views for quite sometimes now, and I find it disquieting that his positions, which run contrary to the factual history of the era and the conventional wisdom of the Mizrahi community, or as he prefers to call us "the Arab Jews", are taken as representative, when they are not.
It never ceases to amaze me, that Mr. Shasha who likes to refer to himself as an Arab Jew, though born in the US, has such a meager understanding, of the history of the era and about what constitutes a refugee or to dwell with any depth about their lot. Be that as it may.
I find that Mr. Shasha's logic and the common thread in his writings, have always consisted of three major assertions; making his discourse monotonously predictable and invariably repetitive.
One, life was always rosy for the Jews living in Arab lands and Israel's creation, as a cataclysmic watershed event, is the only cause for disrupting such an idyllic life.
Two, Israel as a product of an Ashkenazi culture, that is European by nature, has always suppressed, repressed and maligned the Mizrahi community and treated them as second class citizens; though they do represent, according to Shasha, the most effective group to undertake any peace initiative and dialog with the Arabs, having shared their culture, albeit without the author postulating any specific ideas as to the who, the why, the what, the when or for that matter, the how.
Finally, and he shares that notion with his counterpart (and much quoted resource in his writings) Professor Yehuda Shenhav; that it is unconscionable nay, immoral, to compare the plight of the Mizrahi Jews with that of the Palestinian Refugees.
Once again in the cited article, he did not disappoint, neither did he deviate from his usual template, but merely continued his revisionist approach to the Mizrahi historical narrative.
Extremism by its very nature does not allow for a tempered view of events or for cogent reflective analysis. The end result is always black or white; so regardless of how carefully and temperately Mr. Shasha seems to preface his views, the end result is always the same … black or white, all or nothing.
It is strange to note that in Mr. Shasha's attempt at historical fairness and balance, he used the following 26 words, in an article of more than 3300 words: :
Some arrived of their own free will; others arrived against their will. Some lived comfortably and securely in Arab lands; others suffered from fear and oppression.
That was the extent of defining what really happened to the Mizrahi Jews in an article titled: "Why the Jews left Arab lands," and you know what, Mr. Shasha is right!! Now if we can only take those 26 words and flesh them out a bit more with the historical facts of the matter, we get a totally different unfolding narrative that is not steeped in demonizing a country or a refugee class, or in cataclysmically defining some watershed events while glossing over others.
I took pains to chronicle my own personal Exodus ordeal, in "A Personal Exodus Story" after more than 35 years of silence. Shasha wrote:
It is curious that in a world that has largely ignored the voices of Arab Jews, the few we hear are filled with anger, resentment and hostility toward Arabs.
I invite Mr. Shasha to read it and to tell me, how much hate he can attribute to me vis-à-vis my Egyptian tormentors or Arabs in general, after reading it. By my accounting, none; yet I will let him be the judge. It is not hate, nor rancor or anger that motivates us to speak out as the "Forgotten Refugees". It is done out of fairness not retribution, it is about justice after having our human rights trampled upon and above all to record our own history that should not be denied us.
In a co-authored article with Dr. Rami Mangoubi titled: "Zionism for the ages", we rebutted the first two of Shasha's stated positions and in my article titled: "The Banana Jews" I took Professor Shenhav to task in rebuttal to his article "Hitching a ride on the magic carpet" about the third topic you both share.
In a nutshell, and again I happen to agree with Mr. Shasha, the Jews of Egypt participated fully and in greater proportion to their numbers in all aspects of life in Egypt; they more than made their mark on the cultural and economic landscape of the country. Where we disagreed with David Shasha, is that he chose the watershed event of the creation of the State of Israel as the turning point without which life in Egypt (and ergo the rest of the Arab countries) would have remained idyllic.
Idyllic indeed, when law after law (as far back as 1869), before even Zionism was spoken of, was enacted to limit access to citizenship for the Jews of Egypt in the country of our birth, through successive Nationality decrees and laws (of 1929).
>> Continued here: The Mizrahi Jews: The Forgotten Refugees
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