The #Spanish government saved 1,500 Egyptian Jews after the Six Day War. Made well known, but little publicized, it deserves a memorial on the fiftieth anniversary of this crucial Arab Israeli contest.
At the outbreak of hostilities (June 1967), Spain was discreetly required from various Jewish organizations to mediate for the Hebrews of belligerent Arab nations. The move made sense: to go to a country close to the Muslim and that did not recognize the State of Israel, but contrary to the Soviet Union and in which the situation of the Jews evolved favorably.
Thus, Franco temporized. And while declaring himself in favor of the Arab position and the return of the Palestinian refugees, he instructed his embassies in the area to assist the Jews who demanded protection from them, as well as providing them with documentation to expatriate upon request. Solidarity not restricted to Spanish Jews, as in the 1956 Suez conflict, but open to any Israelite.
A strictly humanitarian aid, which would be agreed with the local authorities. Spain did not alter its policy. And the refugees would use it as a transit point, with a visa for two years and with the commitment not to travel to Israel immediately.
The operation was especially successful in Egypt, the most affected place of this crisis. Since President Nasser, the leader of Pan-Arabism, was leading the offensive against Israel. But the Spanish ambassador in Cairo, Angel Sagaz, honored his name and surname.
Sagaz succeeded in improving the conditions of many Jewish returnees, and permission to leave the country of all those who requested it; Hundreds of these, after being released from prison thanks to their efforts.
More than six hundred and fifteen Jewish families left Egypt. Bureaucracy and transport were initially financed by Spain. And when Sagaz saw that the expatriates were forced to discard even their jewels, he offered the embassy as a depository of personal effects, then invoiced them by diplomatic pouch.
Even some local synagogue objects were sent to Madrid with the help of the embassy; Although Sagaz declined the request to take refuge of certain pieces of singular historical value, to avoid a patrimonial litigation with the Egyptian government.
The gesture was grateful for Jewish organizations around the world, and recognized by the US administration. And although the intervention had to be reserved, it was glossed in the main headlines of the Yankee press; Whose echo picked up in Spain the ABC.
It was not the first time that the Jews were aided by the Franco regime. That after the independence of Morocco it even favored the Zionist cause unexpectedly through Operation Yakhin, by which 25,000 Moroccan Hebrew were received in Spain way of Israel.
History, as we see, has its folds. Same as the fifty years of headlines who still carry those six days of war. Today Israel celebrates its resounding victory, and with it the “50th Anniversary of the Liberation and Reunification of Jerusalem”. But they know full well that this was a triumph as imperative as it was poisoned.
In 1967, the Israelites moved from persecuted people to an imperialist state, with a million pariahs in their new territories. This made military success a political stigma. So reasonable is the euphoric memorial documentary In Our Hands, like the self-critical Censored Voices of two years ago.
Reasonable would also be a good film about Sagaz, Angel of Cairo; Although his help started from the Franco regime. Would it breach the Law of Historical Memory? Let us listen, meanwhile, to the interview with historian Isidro González on the subject. And let’s read the monograph by Professor Raanan Rein. Or to Jacobo Israel Garzón, who in 2005 signed:
“As in the case of the transit of Moroccan Jews through Spain, it is necessary to study in detail the important role played by the Spanish Government in improving the situation of Jews in the Arab countries. Within the context of the Franco regime’s controversial relations with the Jews over forty years, the role of the Spanish Government in saving or improving the living conditions of Jews in Egypt, Iraq or Libya is a positive and demonstrable”.
And if, since the Spanish dictatorship, more could be done, the Western democracies did less to their shame. Something of what still must have hurt, as Ortega bravely grieved in 1910 for not having defended the old Jewish watchmaker on that train to Berlin.
Anti-Semitism, Ortega recalls, is a serious scourge of history. Because everything, in fact, has the right to be what it is: the Jew with his Bible, the Moor with his Koran, we are something else and even the Syrian refugees who embarrass us today with his ordeal. Even Spain has the right to be what it is. let’s have #Hatikvah.