Does the BBC not care about Jews expelled from Arab countries?

The Beeb's new documentary on Israel is missing an important part of the story


The Holy Land & Us - Our Untold Stories,21/03/2023,2,Munir Sabanekh (L) Nicola Sabanekh (M) Joanna Carolan,Wall to Wall,Tom Hayward

March 21, 2023 22:00

In its latest attempt to examine the history of the Israel/ Palestine conflict, the famously neutral *cough* BBC has at least allowed some Zionist voices on and for that, I suppose, we should be grateful. 

Rob Rinder, exploring the story of his grandfather’s brother who went from Holocaust death camp prisoner to a fighter for the fledgling Israeli state is inspiring and emotional. Similarly moving is the loss felt by fellow presenter Sarah Agha whose Palestinian father’s family were forced to flee during the 1948 conflict. Her anger too is palpable. 

Those perspectives are important and sad, but also well-trodden. The second episode of The Holy Land and Us: Our Untold Stories promises to cover a story that genuinely is often untold even among British Jews; that of the Mizrahi Jews who were thrown out of Arab lands.

Unfortunately, many may consider that the episode, not only fails to examine that story but, insultingly, almost entirely ignores the discrimination Jewish people faced in Arab lands while also blaming it on the establishment of the State of Israel. In the episode, we do meet a British Mizrahi Jew, the engaging cookery writer Viviane Bowell whose family were thrown out of Egypt in 1956 along with half of the country’s Jewish population – they were given just two weeks to leave the country and were allowed to take only clothes with them. Astonishingly, her story is not mentioned; instead, we are simply told,‘Viviane’s family left Egypt in 1956 to start a new life in the UK.’ 

The episode focuses instead on how Viviane’s adored aunts Suzanne and Esther Chouchan fled Cairo to start a new life in Israel. We are given vague – ridiculously vague – reasons for why. We are made to feel that Jewish people wanted to go to Israel because it was there (which is, of course, true too) and not because they felt they had to (which is the main reason they did). In fact, the impression appears to be that they moved there because they wanted to find Jewish husbands. 

The history of anti-Jewish pogroms in Egypt during World War II, inspired by the Nazis – is not deemed worthy of being reported in the show. While the rising violence against Jews in Egypt as antisemitism and antizionism ramped up following the establishment of the State of Israel gets a single mention. 

In this second episode, we once again hear a lot through the lens of the British descendants of Palestinians about the Nakba and how about 700,000 Palestinians who were forced to leave during the 1948 war weren’t allowed to return. This story is one that no one is denying should be told. 

But the parallel story - that more than 800,000 Jews were forced to flee Arab lands gets – astonishingly – only a single mention. ‘Suzanne and Esther were in the first wave of Jews to leave Arab lands,’ says a voiceover. ‘But in the decades that followed the creation of the State of Israel more than 800,000 immigrated from the Middle East or North Africa or were forced to leave.’

Arab lands were the homeland of millions of Jews for thousands of years; now they house almost none. This is never mentioned. 

This two-part series has, in many ways, been edited by omission. While Jews and Palestinians may have had equal time on air, their stories are not told equally. The first episode highlighted the massacre of Arabs of Deir Yassin but the massacre of Jews in Gush Etzion a month later is never mentioned. It creates an uneven story that really does nothing to explore the complexity of this intractable war; in fact, it paints the Jews as the bloodthirsty thieves and oppressors, the Palestinians of innocent victims. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. 

March 21, 2023 22:00

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