It is a sad reflection on humanity that genocide and ethnic cleansing have been around for almost as long as human societies have. And Jewish history is replete with massacres great and small, expulsions great and small:
But in 4,000 years of Jewish history, eight instances of ethnic cleansing of Jews stand out above all others:
In 4,000 years of Jewish history, eight instances of ethnic cleansing of Jews stand out above all others.
- The conquest and destruction of the Kingdom of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) by the Assyrian Empire, circa 720 B.C.E., and the subsequent expulsion of almost all the Ten Tribes who lived therein;
- The conquest and destruction of the Kingdom of Judea (the Southern Kingdom) by the Babylonian Empire, circa 586 B.C.E., and the subsequent expulsion of almost all the Jews who lived therein;
- The conquest and destruction of the Second Jewish Commonwealth by the Roman Empire, and the subsequent expulsion of almost all the Jews who lived therein;
- The murder and expulsion of all Jews in the Hejaz (Arabia), beginning under Mohammed with the Battle of the Trench in 627, continuing with his succeeding campaigns and conquests of Arabia, and continuing with subsequent Moslem rulers;
- The expulsion of the Jews from Spain, 1492;
- The Chmielnicki massacres in Ukraine and Poland, 1648-1649;
- The genocide of European Jewry by the Nazis y”sh and their collaborators, 1933-1945;
- The expulsion of virtually all Jews from Arab and Moslem countries in the Middle East, 1948-1970.
Let us analyse these briefly:
1 & 2. How many Israelites died when Assyria conquered Israel, and how many Judeans died when Babylon conquered Judea, is impossible to ascertain.
3. The Roman conquest of Israel was a more complex sequence of events. Roman influence began after Queen Sh’lom-Zion (Salome Alexander) died, and her two sons, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, both claimed the throne of Judea. Hyrcanus was the firstborn, and therefore claimed the right of succession, but Aristobulus was the more popular with the masses. The result was a bitter civil war between the two brothers and their respective supporters.
The civil war was resolved when Hyrcanus invoked an alliance with the Roman Empire: the Roman General Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey) entered Jerusalem in 63 B.C.E. in support of Hyrcanus, who then became High Priest and vassal king of Judæa (the Latinised spelling).
Roman support for the [legitimate] Judæan monarchy rapidly devolved into ever-growing Roman interference, and within a few years Roman “advisors” were in control of Judæa.
The first major Jewish revolt against Roman rule lasted from 66 to 73 C.E., and included the best-known events – the destruction of the Second Temple and the siege on Masada in the Judean Desert, on the shores of the Dead Sea.
The second major Jewish revolt was the מֶרֶד הַגָּלֻיּוֹת, Mered ha-Galuyot (Revolt of the Exiles), often called the Kitos War. Lasting from 115-117 C.E., it was fought mainly by Jewish denizens of the Roman Empire outside of Israel.
And the third major Jewish revolt was the Bar Kochba Revolt, 132-135 C.E., which ended with the final destruction of Jewish independence in the Land of Israel.
In the first war, well over a million Jews were killed; in the second, some half-a-million; and in the third, some 580,000 Jews killed.
All told, more than 2,000,000 Jews were killed, and uncountable more exiled and enslaved, in the Roman defeat and ethnic cleansing of Judæa.
4. No one knows for sure exactly when or why the Jewish community in Arabia was founded. What is certain is that it was greatly expanded and strengthened in the second century by Jews escaping Roman persecution in occupied Israel by fleeing eastwards.
For centuries, Jews lived in tranquillity and prosperity among the Christian and pagan tribes of Arabia.
When Mohammed began his ministry in the year 610, his attitude towards the Jews was initially very positive.
But when the Jews of Arabia refused to accept Mohammed as a prophet, the early alliance rapidly turned sour, and Mohammed’s Moslem armies massacred the three biggest Jewish tribes in Arabia. The few survivors were reduced to slavery, the women given to the Moslem conquerors for their pleasure.
5. By 1492 there were almost a quarter-of-a-million Jews in Spain. When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella decreed the expulsion or baptism of all Jews, some 50,000 chose baptism and remained in Spain (often living as crypto-Jews, continuing to keep Judaism in secret); 160,000 emigrated; and 20,000 Jews died.
6. The Cossack forces of Bogdan Chmielnicki y”sh massacred more than 120,000 Jews in Ukraine and Poland in 1648-1649.
7. When Hitler y”sh became Chancellor of Germany on 30th January 1933, there were an estimated 9,500,000 Jews in Europe – almost two-thirds of the global Jewish population, approximately 15,500,000.
The biggest Jewish community in Europe was Poland, with slightly over 3,000,000 Jews (almost 10% of the overall population), followed by the European part of the Soviet Union (slightly over 2,500,000), Romania (756,000), and Germany (almost 550,000).
Over the next six years, with rapidly growing persecution, more than 300,000 Jews fled Germany. By the time the Second World War began (September 1939), 90,000 Jews had fled to the USA, almost 85,000 to Latin America, 60,000 to Palestine, 40,000 to Britain, and close to 20,000 to Shanghai. Those were the Jews who survived the Shoah.
And there were others – those who fled Germany but remained in Europe, the 38,000 who fled to France, the 30,000 who fled to Holland, the 30,000 who fled to Belgium, who were exterminated by the Nazis when they invaded those countries.
Of some 9,000,000 Jews still in Europe when the Second World War began, two-thirds were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. That statistic, however, is misleading, because the original 9,000,000 includes Jews who never came within the grip of the Nazis (Jews in Britain, Switzerland, and Spain, for example).
Of the Jews who fell under Nazi rule, some 90% were slaughtered.
8. In 1948 there were almost a million Jews in the Arab and Moslem countries of the Middle East: 285,000 in Morocco, 150,000 in Iraq, 140,000 in Algeria, 110,000 in Tunisia, 100,000 in Egypt, 63,000 in the Yemen, 35,000 in Syria, 20,000 in Lebanon.
By 1970, almost none of these great and ancient communities remained. They had very different ends:
- Almost all the Jews of the Yemen were rescued and airlifted to Israel in Operation Magic Carpet (1949-1950).
- Most of Morocco’s Jews fled in the years shortly before and after Morocco achieved independence from the French Empire (1956).
- The Jews of Egypt faced growing persecution, and nearly half fled in the years 1948-1955. Almost all the rest were expelled in the late 1950’s – after being forced to sign declarations that they were leaving voluntarily and relinquishing all their property they left behind of their own free will.
- The Jews of Iraq were viciously persecuted, and then suddenly allowed to leave in 1950 – on condition that they left all their property behind. In 1952 they were once again forbidden to leave Iraq (though thousands continued to flee illegally).
All in all, several thousand Jews died en route to Israel, or were murdered on the way, or murdered in their “home” countries, or hanged “legally” by the various Arab governments.
This means that of all the eight severest ethnic cleansing of Jews in history, the elimination of the Jews of the Arab countries 1948-1970 was the least deadly of them all.
There is a simple reason for this:
When the Assyrian Empire conquered Israel, when the Babylonian Empire conquered Judea, when the Roman Empire conquered Israel, when the Moslem Arabs in Arabia attacked the Jews, when Spain expelled the Jews, when Chmielnicki and his Cossack forces massacred the Jews in the Ukraine and Poland, and when the Nazis implemented the Endlösung, the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”, there was nowhere for the Jews to find refuge, no place of their own to call home, no Jewish soldiers and no Jewish army to defend them.
When the Jews of the Arab-Moslem Middle East faced persecution and expulsion, there was an independent Israel to defend and protect them. There was an independent Jewish State, with an army powerful enough to defeat all the Arab armies combined, protecting Jews all over the Middle East.
Also, of course, beyond the Middle East – as the rescue of the Jews of Ethiopia, beginning in the mid-1980’s demonstrated.
No one could prevent the Arab states from persecuting and expelling “their” Jews. But an independent State of Israel could prevent that persecution and mass expulsion from becoming actual genocide.
And ultimately, this is the reason that of the eight most horrible instances of ethnic cleansing of Jews, the final one – the extermination of virtually all Jewish life in the Arab/Moslem Middle East within living memory – is the sole one without a massive death-toll.
And the State of Israel is also the reason that every Jewish community – and indeed every individual Jew – throughout the world is far, far safer than would have been conceivable a century ago.