The publication by Reuters of Jonathan Saul's article about compensation to the Jews of Libya led to reaction in the Arabic and Libyan press and websites. One of Saul's interviewees, Raphael Luzon - chairman of Jews of Libya UK - then decided to set out his personal viewpoint in his own words. The reaction was incredible: he received 65 emails and calls from Libyan Muslims - almost all of them empathising with him. Here is what Luzon wrote:
My position is based on historical, verifiable facts, which can only be distorted by fabricating the past.
1. The existence of the Jews of Libya goes back 2,400 years, or 1,300 years before the arrival of the Arabs there.
2. Jews always lived in harmony with the nations of the Middle East and the Islamic World. Although forcibly evicted from their homeland – at times by compulsory emigration or escaping with little but their lives - the Jews of Arab countries clung to their traditions, heritage, Arabic language, native music and food and they tried to pass them on to their children. Witnessing Iraqi Jews enthusiastically participating in the recent election in Iraq from overseas is proof that the Jew is not ready to let go of his roots and still feels a strong attachment.
3. Jews took an active and important part in administering the different countries conquered by the Arab armies during the Islamic conquests as well as under the Ottoman Empire and participated in the economical, commercial, social & cultural development of the area.
4. When the Italians and the Fascists occupied Libya in the 19th century, Jews fought side by side with the Libyan heroes against the fascists. My grandfather, Raphael Luzon, fought with the hero Ramadhan Al-Shteui in Musrata.
5. No Libyan Jew wanted to leave his homeland until 1945, when bloody street demonstrations against the Jews took place for no obvious reason. This incident led to loss of trust by some members of the Jewish community. The second wave of demonstrations in 1948 only confirmed their doubts. The number of fatalities soared to 400 people with many more injured. Shops, houses and other properties were looted and burnt down.
6. As a result, fear descended over the vast majority of the 38,000-strong Jewish population, which led to mass immigration to Italy and Israel - the only countries willing to offer asylum. Had these harmful events not taken place, I doubt that 10% of the Jews would have emigrated from their homeland. The vast majority of Jews who left Libya did so out of fear and not out of ideology.
7. Following Libya’s independence, the number of Jews in Tripoli and Benghazi hovered around the 7,000 mark. These were honest, decent, hardworking citizens who wanted nothing other than to be able to earn a living and discharge their duties and responsibilities (such as paying taxes) with honesty. In reality they were denied several human rights, including the right to vote or to stand for election, the right of application to work in the Public Services or Governmental posts and the right to serve in the army.
8. There are those who seek to imply that the matter of compensation to the Jews of Libya is connected to the Palestinian matter. I do not understand this logic: two wrongs do not make a right.
9. The Jewish Libyan community stayed close to their roots despite everything they went through. The community that numbered approximately 7,000 people, suffered again in 1967 with another wave of atrocities. Houses and other properties were burnt down, and 16 people - including 8 members of my own family (among them a woman and her 6 children) - were killed in cold blood and without any provocation by a Libyan officer heading a unit of the Royal Libyan Army. Soon after that, a law was passed to deport all the Jews (each person was allowed to take a small suitcase and 20 Libyan pounds only). They were forced to leave all their properties and monies - everything they had worked so hard to accumulate over the years and it was all then confiscated.
10. The Jews of Libya avoided involvement in any political activities or support of any political party, because their loyalty is purely to the homeland - Libya - and not to any ruling body. The proof of this is that when the Embargo was imposed on Libya, no Jew supported it; on the contrary. Unfortunately, Libyan activists in Human Rights matters never included the case of the Jews of Libya. I hope this is only an oversight and not a deliberate policy. As an optimist, I can see a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel with the announcements of Mr. Saef Al-Islam (Ghaddafi’s son) regarding the rights of the Jews of Libya and I am hopeful that I will, one day, be allowed to visit my homeland, Libya. In spite of these declarations, I have already applied twice for permission to visit but have been refused. I am eagerly waiting to do so again.
11. I am asking for my Libyan and Arabic identity to be recognised, and I see no conflict with the fact that I am a Jew. Just as an Arab who lives in Israel carries an Israeli passport and follows Islam or Christianity, or a Druze. My wish is to be able to visit my place of birth accompanied by my octogenarian mother, to fulfil her dream to visit Libya, just like many Libyans (Muslim, Christian and Jews) who are longing for the day of return. I also wish to accompany my daughter in whom I instilled a love of Libya through my childhood memories and my mother’s tales; I want my daughter to see with her own eyes the places where I and her ancestors were born and lived and to know more about Libya besides its location on the map.
12. I am not asking for compensations for me personally or only for Jews but I ask for justice for all my Libyan brothers, without any racial or religious discrimination, and for my murdered family.
13. As a person who is very interested in History, I do not deny that throughout many centuries the Jews lived under the umbrella of Islam. They prospered and contributed to many fields such as culture, science, commerce and economics. They were always proud of their Arabic roots and of their Judaism. I would like to add that Western Jews suffered much more under the Crusades and Nazism.
I hope there are Arab Muslims and Arab Jews who, like me, believe that we have to reach an understanding between us. In order to become closer, we must emphasise what we have in common NOT what sets us apart.
Let us look forward with optimism to a beautiful future for our beloved Libya.
Peace upon you all.
Chairman of Jews of Libya- UK