THE SILENT EXODUS
film online | Return to films page
Silent Exodus was selected at the International
Human Rights Film Festival of Paris (2004) and presented at
the UN Geneva Human Rights Annual Convention (2004)
In 1948 nearly one million Jews lived in
Arab lands. But In barely twenty years, they have become
forgotten fugitives, expelled from their native lands, forgotten
by history and where the victims themselves have hidden their
fate under a cloak of silence.
A people whom legend have always associated
with "wandering" many of these Jews from Arab lands
had lived there for thousands of years and accepted their
fate, through good times and bad times.
But 1948, the beginning of their exodus,
also saw the birth of the State of Israel.
And, while the Arab armies were preparing
to invade the young refugee-country, the survivors of the
Shoah were piling up in rickety boats. Meanwhile a few hundred
thousand Arabs from Palestine were getting ready to flee their
homes, convinced that they would return as winners and conquerors.
Soon - by a terrible twist of fate they,
as well, began to fill up refugee camps and passed on their
refugee status to new generations.
The Jews, however, did not receive refugee
They had just rediscovered the land of
And if they came from Morocco, Algeria,
Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq or from Yemen, if they
had lost everything, even their relatives and their cemeteries,
they were ready to rebuild their lives in the West and for
many - in Israel - and try to forget their past.
Without ever asking for compensation or
the right of return, or even wishing that their story be told...
THE ARABS WITHOUT THE JEWS: ROOTS OF
by MAGDI ALLAM
(translated from Italian by Lyn and
Israel is the keeper of a mutilated Arab
identity, the repository for the guilty consciences of the
Arab peoples, the living witness to a true history of the
Arab countries, continuously denied, falsified and ignored.
Seeing Pierre Rehov's documentary film 'The
Silent Exodus' about the expulsion and flight of a million
Sephardi Jews helped me gain a better understanding of the
tragedy of a community that was integral and fundamental to
Arab society. Above all it has revealed to me the very essence
of the catastrophe that befell it, a catastrophe which the
mythical Arab nation has never once called into question.
In a flash of insight I could see that the tragedy of the
Jews and the catastrophe of the Arabs are two facets of the
same coin. By expelling the Jews who were settled on the southern
and eastern shores of the Mediterranean centuries before they
were arabised and islamised, the Arabs have in fact begun
the lethal process of mutilating their own identity and despoiling
their own history. By losing their Jews the Arabs have lost
their roots and have ended up by losing themselves.
As has often happened in history, the Jews
were the first victims of hatred and intolerance. All the
"others" had their turn soon enough, specifically
the Christians and other religious minorities, heretical and
secular Muslims and finally, those Muslims who do not fit
exactly into the ideological framework of the extreme nationalists
and Islamists. There has not been a single instance in this
murky period of our history when the Arab states have been
ready to condemn the steady exodus of Christians, ethnic-religious
minorities, enlightened and ordinary Muslims, while Muslims
plain and simple have become the primary victims of Islamic
Underlying the Arab 'malaise' is an identity
crisis that neither Nasserist nor Ba'athist pan-Arabism, nor
the Islamism of the Saudi Wahabis, the Muslim Brotherhood,
Khomeini and Bin Laden has been able to solve. It's a contagious
identity crisis, spreading to and taking hold of the Arab
and Muslim communities in the West.
I remember that around the mid-1970s the
Arab exam in civic education taken in both state and public
schools in Egypt defined Arab identity thus: "the Arabs
are a nation united by race, blood, history, geography, religion
and destiny." This was a falsification of an historical
truth based on ethno-religious pluralism, an ideological deception
aimed at erasing all differences and promoting the theory
of one race overlapping with a phantom Arab nation in thrall
to unchallengeable leaders. It was directly inspired by Nazi
and fascist theories of racial purity and supremacy which
appealed to the leadership and ideologues of pan-Arabism and
Islamism. It is no wonder that in this context Manichean Israel
is perceived as a foreign body to be rejected, a cancer produced
by American imperialism to divide and subjugate the Arab world.
The historical truth is that the Middle
Eastern peoples, in spite of their arabisation and islamisation
from the 7th century onward, continued to maintain a specific
identity reflecting their indigenous and millenarian ethnic
roots - cultural, linguistic, religious and national. The
Berbers, for example, who constitute half the population of
Morocco and a third of that of Algeria, have nothing or very
little in common with the Bedouin tribes at the heart of Saudi
or Jordanian society. When in 1979 Egypt was sidelined from
the Arab League for signing a peace treaty with Israel President
Sadat restored its Pharaonic Egyptian identity which he proudly
contrasted with its Arabness. Here was an isolated but significant
attempt to recapture an indigenous identity - advertising
historical honesty and political liberation while saying 'enough
is enough' to rampant lies and demagogy. Before the screening
of the 'Silent Exodus' in the Congress Hall in Milan, a gentleman
in his Seventies came up to me and said, in perfect Egyptian
dialect: "I am a Jew from Alexandria. I have recently
been in Tunisia and Algeria. I have to say that people there
are not like us, they don't have the sense of irony that distinguishes
us Egyptians." I smiled and replied that indeed, the
Egyptians have a reputation as jokers. They are capable of
laughing at anything, including themselves.
What struck me was the "us" -
"us Egyptians": even if we were both Italian citizens,
he a Jew and I a Muslim. It reminded me that just after the
1967 defeat, I discovered by complete accident that the girl
I was in love with - we both were 15 - was Jewish. For me
she was a girl like any other. But for the police who submitted
me to intensive interrogation she was a 'spy for Israel' and
I was her accomplice.
In fact 'the Silent Exodus' testifies that
anti-Semitism and the pogroms against the Jews of the Middle
East preceded the birth of the state of Israel and the advent
of ideological pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism. It infers that
hatred and violence against the Jews could originate in an
ideological interpretation of the Koran and the life of the
prophet Muhammed taken out of context.
It would be a mistake to generalise and
not to take into account that for long periods coexistence
was possible between the Muslims, Christians and Jews of the
Middle East, at a time when in Europe the Catholic Inquisition
was repressing the Jews and when the Nazi Holocaust was trying
to exterminate them. In the same way, one cannot ignore Israel's
responsibility together with Arab leaders in the emergence
of the drama of millions of Palestinian refugees and the unresolved
question of a Palestinian state.
The fact remains that of the million Jews
who at the end of 1945 were an integral part of the Arab population,
only 5,000 remain. These Arab Jews, expelled or who fled at
a moment's notice, have become an integral part of the Israeli
population. They continue to represent a human injustice and
an historical tragedy. Above all, they are indicative of an
Arab civil and identity catastrophe. That is why to recognise
the wrongs committed towards the Arab Jews - as the maverick
Libyan leader colonel Gaddafi has recently done - by objectively
rediscovering their past and millenarian roots, by finding
again their tolerant and plural history and by totally and
sincerely reconciling themselves with themselves, the Arabs
could free themselves from the ideological obscurantism which
has relegated them to the most basic level of human development
and has changed the region into the most problematic and confict-ridden
the original Corriere della Sera article in online in Italian
"Rehov continues to make documentaries
about the shocking reality he uncovers in the Middle East
because no one else does"
(Joseph Farah - World
"Provocative films about the
combat between Palestinian militants and Israeli army"
(Greg Myre -
The New York Times)
"The most shocking moments of
Rehov's films involve blatant Palestinian efforts to manipulate
(Hanna Brown - Jerusalem
"The information that Rehov does
provide is based on interviewees who use bona fide images
and documents to substantiate their claim"
(Tamar Stenhal - Camera)
"There is only one filmaker who
has presented the truth in the matter of the Palestinian-Israeli
conflict, and his nom de guerre is Pierre Rehov"
(Phyllis Chesler - Author of "The
"In his documentaries, Pierre
Rehov demonstrates how our version of the middle east conflict
has been corrupted by the Arab use of reporters as propagandists"
(Jack Engelheard - Author of "Indecent
"Seeing Pierre Rehov's documentary
film 'The Silent Exodus' about the expulsion and flight of
a million Sephardi Jews helped me gain a better understanding
of the tragedy of a community that was integral and fundamental
to Arab society."
(Magdi Allam - Il
Corriere Della Serra)