Refugees: Jewish

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Jews who fled from Arab and Muslim countries to Israel after 1948.

Following the 29 November 1947 United Nations resolution to partition Palestine, the establishment of Israel on 14 May 1948, and its subsequent victory over the armies of five neighboring Arab countries in the 1948 war, an estimated 800,000 Jews living in Arab and Muslim countries were subjected to anti-Jewish violence, abuse, and persecution, which led most of them to seek refuge in Israel. The government of Israel, working through the Mossad le-Aliyah Bet (a clandestine state institution for immigration) and the Jewish Agency, mounted airlift operations funded by the United Jewish Appeal through its subsidiary body, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

In 1949 and 1950, 48,315 Jews were airlifted from Yemen and Aden in the Magic Carpet Operation, flying directly from Aden to Tel Aviv on chartered U.S. planes. In 1950, the Iraqi government permitted its 160,000 Jews to emigrate provided they renounced their Iraqi nationality and whatever properties and assets they could not sell. Iraq demanded total secrecy and insisted that the planes flying the Jews make a landing in Cyprus en route to Israel. Between 1950 and 1951, 123,370 Iraqi Jews were airlifted to Israel in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah (also known as Operation Ali Baba). Each was allowed 50 dinars on departure.

In 1948, some 100,000 Jews lived in Egypt; 16,000 fled to Israel between 1948 and 1951;
17,500 settled in Israel between 1952 and 1956; and the majority came after the 1956 ArabIsrael War. Following the 1967 ArabIsrael War, 2,500 Egyptian Jews fled, the majority settling in Israel. Some 33,000 Jews from Libya settled in Israel between 1948 and 1960, the rest going to Italy; 2,678 Jews fled from Syria and 235 from Lebanon to Israel between 1948 and 1951, many of them walking across the border. An additional 2,700 came from those countries between 1952 and 1960. In 1991, on the intercession of U.S. president George H. W. Bush, Syria allowed 1,400 Jews to leave for Israel.

In 1948, some 600,000 Jews lived in French-controlled Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. As the struggle for independence from France intensified, the situation of the Jews deteriorated and Israel began to evacuate them, mainly by sea via France. Between 1948 and 1971, some 235,000 out of 400,000 Moroccan Jews emigrated to Israel. The rest went to France and other countries. Most of Algeria's Jews fled after that country gained its independence from France in 1962. The majority went to France, as they were considered French nationals; 20,000 immigrated into Israel between 1948 and 1971. During the same period, some 54,000 Tunisian Jews fled to Israel.

In recent years, the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries has been registering Jewish-owned properties left behind in Arab countries in order, possibly, to make future demands for restitution or to offset Palestinian Arab demands for property left behind in Israel in 1948.

see also arabisrael war (1948); arabisrael war (1967).


Hillel, Shlomo. Operation Babylon, translated by Ina Friedman. Garden City, NY: Doubleday; London: Collins, 1987.

Laskier, Michael. North African Jewry in the Twentieth Century: The Jews of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. New York: New York University Press, 1994.

Schechtman, Joseph B. On Wings of Eagles: The Plight, Exodus, and Homecoming of Oriental Jewry. New York: T. Yoseloff, 1961.

Sicron, Moshe. Immigration to Israel 19481953. Jerusalem: Falk Project for Economic Research in Israel, 1957.

Statistical Abstract of Israel. Jerusalem: Central Bureau of Statistics, annual since 1949/50 edition.

michael m. laskier
updated by meron medzini