Ever since the Muslim conquest, occupation and colonization of the Middle East and North Africa in the seventh century, the region’s Jews, among others, lived under a dhimmi status. While the Arabic term dhimmi has been translated as “tolerated,” the actual meaning is far more sinister.
Under Islamic law, Jews were less than second-class citizens. They were a brutally oppressed minority, forced to pay special taxes called jizya, frequently forced to place distinctive signs on their houses and clothing and sometimes brutally humiliated in other ways.
The Egyptian-born British author Bat Ye’or wrote that the dhimmi status was a “relationship between conqueror and conquered,” and that “the dhimmi peoples bore the role of victim, vanquished by force; and indeed, it is after a war, a jihad, and after a defeat, that a nation becomes a dhimmi people.”
The Jewish people had lived in the region for millennia before being expelled and forced to flee by Arab leaders in the 20th century. Almost a million Jews had lived in the Middle East and North Africa before their status turned from perilous to entirely unwanted around the middle of the past century, most fleeing to the nascent State of Israel.
On Nov. 30, we will remember them on the Day of Commemoration for the Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries and Iran. We will remember their history, culture and tradition, maintained under difficult circumstances, and also their ethnic cleansing.
However, there are also lessons we need to learn.
Those of us whose origins are in lands now known as Arab countries and whose families were dhimmis understand well this history of defeat.
Perhaps this is why, according to numerous surveys, Jews whose origins are in the Middle East and North Africa are disproportionately more hawkish than others—they understand, better than most, that in this region there are only two types of people: the conquerors and the conquered.
They lived as the conquered for far too long, and that is why they push harder for Israel to defeat its enemies and those who seek to turn us once again into a stateless people.
We have seen in recent years how the stateless are treated, whether it is the Kurds in Turkey, Syria or Iraq, the Christians in Egypt or the Yazidis in Iraq, among others.
This was the lot of the Jewish people for 1,300 years in the region.
When Islamist terrorist organizations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, and Islamist regimes like that of the Islamic Republic of Iran, talk about destroying Israel, their goal is to undo what they see as the unnatural emergence of Jewish sovereignty on territory previously conquered by Islam.
They see Israel as dar al-harb (literally, “land of war”), territory ruled by non-Muslims that was previously governed by Muslims and which must be reclaimed in battle. A cursory examination of the Hamas Charter, or the comments of leaders like Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, prove that for them, this is a very real religious obligation.
For Israel to survive in such a region, with such enemies, it unfortunately must prove itself on the battlefield by defeating its foes.
The only reason Islamist extremists do not try to reclaim Spain or parts of the Balkans that were also once under Islamic rule is that they do not believe they can.
Sadly, for many regimes and Islamist organizations in the region this is not true of Israel; they believe Israel can and will be defeated.
Iranian leaders have repeatedly stated that Israel will be “wiped off the map” as they move towards building a nuclear arsenal capable of accomplishing this genocidal task. Hezbollah leader Nasrallah regularly states that Israel will be “defeated” and ultimately “vanish.”
Even Palestinian Authority officials, who are deemed more secular than their Hamas counterparts, claim that like the Crusader state, Israel is a foreign implant in the Middle East that must be gradually constricted and finally expunged.
The expression—popular on European streets and university campuses today—khaybar, khaybar, ya yahud, jaish muhammad saya’ud (“Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, Mohammed’s army will return”) is a thinly veiled call to kill Jews today, as it refers to a battle in which Mohammed slaughtered scores of Jews.
The world wishes to see the Israel-Palestinian conflict as being about land and Palestinian statehood, whose resolution can be negotiated in foreign capitals.
The Jews whose origins are in the Middle East and North Africa know that is a massive oversimplification and, based on Israel’s past far-reaching concessions and generous offers to the Palestinian leadership stretching back almost a century, grossly incorrect.
The State of Israel continues to survive because we defeated those who sought our annihilation. Peace will only come when it is clearly understood that Israel will not be defeated and will not vanish. Then, when Israel’s enemies grasp this and are ready for peace, negotiations can begin in earnest.
An Israeli victory is good for the chances of peace, security and prosperity for all peoples of the region, because once our enemies cease seeking our destruction, they can redirect their energies and resources to social welfare, education, health and building a healthy democratic polity.
Only a sovereign people who are seen as invincible and indestructible are secure in this region. One doesn’t have to look at the many ethnic and religious minorities suffering in our region, either—just ask the Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.
Nave Dromi is the director of the Middle East Forum in Israel. She previously served as the manager of the Blue and White Human Rights movement, founded by the Institute for Zionist Strategies. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. Prior to joining the Zionist Strategy Institute, Dromi was a Hillel fellow of the Jewish Agency to the University of Pennsylvania.