Saturday, December 31, 2005
Sir, - I feel grave concern at what seems to me to be a very possible outcome resulting from the presence of a group of Israeli Jews, regardless of origin, in Iraq at this time ("'Roots' trip planned for Israel's Iraqi Jews," December 28).
In light of the many recent kidnappings of foreigners there, and their subsequently being murdered, a group of Israeli tourists in Iraq would not only be placing itself in danger, but Israel as well. The group could well become a highly sought after prize by Iraqi insurgents. After all, it is common knowledge that Israel will pay almost any price for the safe return of its citizens held by hostile forces in other lands.
I do hope our government will prevent these would-be tourists from making such a journey until it is deemed safe to travel to Iraq. If that is never, then so be it.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
"On the Tigris River: A Trip To North Iraq," read the large pink sign at the entrance to the sixth annual academic conference of the Mosul Jewry Heritage Center in Haifa. Indeed, Iraqi-Israeli Jews who were born in the now violence-plagued city of Mosul will make a trip to Iraq to 'return to their roots' this spring.
This trip, promises the sign, will include visits to the grave of Jonah the Prophet [which is in Mosul], the grave of Rabbi Nahum al-Kushi of Mt. Sinai, the cave of Abraham our Forefather, and the grave of Noah (of Noah's Ark).
The first trip is limited to 12 people, but many more have expressed interest, said Gideon Oved, 59, a member of the MJHC board, which is organizing the trip, headed by Aharon Efroni, the center's chairman.
"We might make two trips back to back," said Gideon Oved, a member of the center's board. If all goes well, say the planners, there will be many more trips in the future.
Despite the bombs, the kidnappings, and the curses on their adopted homeland - Israel is widely believed by Iraqis in Iraq to be behind the US invasion and occupation of their country - Iraqi-Israelis are rushing to sign up.
"I'm going no matter what," said Nahum Ballush, 72. "I want to go back and see the river, the Jewish quarter." His voice trailed off.
For Iraqi Jews from the North of Iraq now living in Israel, the visit to the country they have not seen since they left some 50 years ago is an opportunity not to be missed - no matter the dangers. Over 120,000 Jews left Iraq during the early 1950's. Those still alive are yearning to return to the sights, sounds, and scents of the place they loved and left before it's too late.
The group will fly to Turkey and then drive by bus across the border into the Kurdish-controlled area of Iraq. There a Kurdish guide will join them. The trip is coordinated with the Kurds, said Oved.
Like Jews of other Arab and Muslim countries, Iraqi Jews feel a strong bond with their former patria. In Israel they congregate regularly, often at parties specially-organized for Iraqi Jews, complete with Iraqi-Jewish singers singing Arabic classics
The Muslawis - the Iraqi term for people from Mosul - are particularly tight knit. They are building their own center in Haifa, which will be complete in six months, and have regular events - both academic and social.
One such event took place Tuesday. Some 50 Maslawi gathered from across Israel at the Meridien Hotel in Haifa to attend the academic conference about themselves. The lecturers spoke in the local Hebrew language but filled their talks with stories from far away Iraq.
In between, people from the audience told funny stories in Maslawi Arabic - a dialect of the Iraqi dialect of Arabic or a combination of Hebrew and Maslawi.
Every lecture was peppered with stories of someone's grandmother, the Jewish barber, or the Beit Midrash headmaster, who everyone knew.
Most of the attendants were well into their Sixties and Seventies and understood the Arabic. But some of those who attended were the children of Muslawis and had the elders translate for them.
Dr. Eilata Dalal and Shaul Oved, who discussed alternative medicine used by Maslawis, gave the key lectures.
A couple men wore knitted skullcaps but all prayed together before the lighting of the Hannukah candles at the end of the conference.
Meanwhile, it remains uncertain whether the trip to the Tigris will include a visit to Mosul, the city they want to see most. Mosul is outside of the Kurdish-controlled area.
Read article in full
Haaretz article here
President Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial is just the latest example of Islamo-Nazi revisionism. And Jews must document their presence in Arab and Muslim lands now - or find they will have been written out of Middle Eastern history altogether, argues Shelomo Alfassa of the International Society for Sephardic Progress.
"Historically, Jews and Jewish communities have existed in the Middle East,
Read article in full
"There is a moral and legal imperative to ensure Jews from Arab countries assume their rightful place on the international political and juridical agenda, and that their rights be secured as a matter of law and equity. The statement by the president of
"Because of this, international Jewish organizations such as Justice for Jews from Arab Countries is spearheading the documentation that Jews not only lived in countries governed by Islam, but that these same Jews had their possessions and fortunes confiscated. Securing rights and redress for Jews displaced from Arab countries is an issue that has not yet been adequately addressed by the international community. Many of the leaders of these countries are now on the verge of rewriting history, declaring that no Jews have lived in their countries. In fact, there were more former Jewish refugees uprooted from Arab countries (over 850,000) than there were Arab Palestinians who were said to have became refugees as a result of the 1948 war, when six Arab nations attacked the fledgling State of Israel.
Monday, December 26, 2005
"An ethos of Jew-hatred, including paroxysms of annihilationist fanaticism, has pervaded Persian/Iranian society, almost without interruption (i.e., the two major exceptions being Sunni Afghan rule from 1725-1794, and Pahlavi reign, with its Pre-Islamic revivalist efforts, from 1925-1979), since the founding of the Shi'ite theocracy in 1502 under Shah Ismail, through its present Khomeini-inspired restoration, "he writes. "Having returned their small remnant Jewish community to a state of obsequious dhimmitude, Iran's current theocratic rulers focus their obsessive anti-Jewish animus on the free-living Jews of neighboring Israel."
On the other hand, it can also be argued that the Iranian people are out of step with their mullahcracy, that Israel and Iran had excellent relations for 30 years and that many Iranians are sympathetic towards Israel.
Read article in full
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Several members of the French branch of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, which met on 19 December in Paris, said the group should focus on registering Jewish sites as historical sites with UNESCO. The group, convened under the guidance of CRIF, the umbrella group of secular French Jewish groups, outlined several broad aims: to remember the Jews who came from Arab/Muslim countries; re-establish historical truth concerning ancient Jewish communitities existing in Arab countries; and collect testimony regarding the conditions under which Jews lived in Arab countries and which led them to leave these lands.
The group will work with several other French Jewish organisations to promote the culture, history, memory and politics of Jews from these areas.
Read report (French)
Saturday, December 24, 2005
And yet, despite their notable achievements throughout the Diaspora, Sephardim have been noticeably absent from the North American Jewish music scene. (In Israel, where Sephardic Jews represent a much larger portion of the population, the situation is far different.) Until recently, you'd have been lucky to find even one Sephardic ensemble for every 10 nouveau klezmer bands on the Jewish music circuit.But that appears to be changing, thanks to the efforts of people like Erez Shudnow, aka DJ Handler.
Read article in full
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
"The main aim of the conference was to induce Arab parties to introduce the concept of the Right of Return into their platforms. According to a conference statement, "The 'Right of Return' must be incorporated into their political agenda, so that Israel is not able to extort recognition as a Jewish state from the Palestinian Authority and Arab countries.""In an opinion poll, nearly all the Arab respondents, 93%, say that Israel bears the brunt of the responsibility for finding solutions for the refugee issue. Eighty-six percent said that Israel has the sole responsibility for providing compensation for Arabs who fled during the 1948 war.
"Two-thirds of the Arabs polled also said they would be willing to provide economic and moral support to Arabs returning to live in Israel. Sixty-eight percent said they were willing to absorb the Arabs into their towns and villages. Only 18% said they would be willing to help a limited number of refugees, and 14% said they were opposed to absorbing any at all. "
Not a minute too soon to introduce the neglected rights of the Jewish refugees into the Israeli parties' electoral manifestos.
Read article in full
One Israeli did cast his vote in last week's Iraqi elections - Jackie Hoogie - the Arab Affairs correspondent of Maariv. And he brought his grandfather's passport along to prove his Iraqi origins. (With thanks: iraqijews,. Via 'Iraqi vote').
See website here (scroll down to 13 December entry)
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
The chairman of the Libyan Jewry organisation in the UK, Raphael Luzon, is amazed that the world could empathise with the Palestinians while ignoring the plight of Jews from Arab countries.
Luzon said that he would never forget Libya, his country of origin, but asked if anyone could find a single Arab country that gives equal rights to Jews and Arabs? He requested that 'Arab' Jews and Palestinian refugees be treated equally.
He also said that the Arabs had killed Jews, forced them to become Muslims, and threw them out of their homes and countries by cruel means.
He agreed that the Palestinians had lost a lot, but pointed out that tens of organisations worldwide were giving them material and humanitarian help on an almost daily basis. In spite of this, they are still called refugees after 57 years. Where do these organisations stand on the suffering of a million Jewish refugees from Arab countries who lost their land and property?
Luzon had initiated the first conference for Libyan Jews in the United Kingdom, a conference that had led to the establishment of the Association of Libyan Jews in the UK. Its purpose is to preserve the heritage of Libyan Jewry.
What was the point of the Libyan law of 1974 which talked of restitution to Libyan Jews if 30 years later nothing had been done, he asked. He added that his 80-year-old mother wished to visit Libya: it would be a symbolic act that would have echoes around the world.
In the past relations betwen Arabs and Jews in Libya were good. Luzon's father was successful in trade. He described how after 1967 conditions deterioriated in Libya and the Jewish community was expelled, leaving all their property behind. They were allowed to leave with only £20 and a small suitcase each.
Not everyone was so lucky. Luzon's uncle, aunt and six of his children were killed by a Libyan army officer.
Read article in full (Arabic)
Read full text of Luzon's speech
Sunday, December 18, 2005
"There have been more than a hundred resolutions passed in the United Nations on behalf of the Palestinian refugees. The UN is yet to pass a single resolution on behalf of the Mizrachi. It is doubtful such a resolution will ever be passed. It is immaterial. The telling of the story itself is what is important.
"The story of the Mizrachi is the story of the triumph of the human spirit. It is a story whose poignant narrative is important to anyone who wants to understand the essence of the Middle East conflict. The tragedy of Palestinians languishing generation after generation in refugee camps stands in contrast to the tragedy of the Mizrachi who passed through poverty and squalor as a way-station to a productive and vital life with precious little outside assistance.
"The human need to be able to stand in witness to the obscenity of oppression is vital to the reacquisition of a people's spirit and their culture. There is the story of an old Jewish woman in a Nazi death camp imploring a younger woman to survive if for no other reason than to bear public witness to what they experienced.
"The Mizrachi are now bearing witness, and in the San Francisco Bay Area, Public Broadcasting Station KQED is airing the "Forgotten Refugees," a documentary recounting their tragedy and triumph. In a larger sense, however, the Mizrachi's story is the story of all people that have managed to transform themselves from victims to survivors.
"It is a story of people who despite oppression, humiliation, imprisonment, murder and expulsion looked to the future and did not wallow in the past or create a cult obsessed with vengeance and death. And that is why the Mizrachi succeeded in successfully rebuilding their lives in a single generation while the Palestinians continue to lose generation after generation to a cycle of violence."
Read article in full
Friday, December 16, 2005
It's Election Day in Iraq. Inside a rundown, one-story building on a side street elderly men with thick mustaches drink small glasses of sweet tea, writes Orly Halpern in the Jerusalem Post.
They sit at cheap Formica tables and chat in Iraqi-accented Arabic as they play dumneh (dominoes) and tawleh (backgammon). The voice of Um Kulthum, the most famous Arabic singer, resonates in the background.
No, this is not a coffee shop in downtown Baghdad. And no one here has voted - nor will they.
It's Caf Ateret in a poor suburb of Petah Tikva, one of Iraqi Jews' most popular homes away from home.
More than 100,000 Iraqi Jews left Iraq for Israel in the early 1950s. Although they left behind their homes, passports and businesses, their language, music and food came with them.Read article in full
Thursday, December 15, 2005
"Well, now I'm done with the charitable explanations. A man who refuses to believe the historic truth is capable of anything. This is not an Arabic cable TV station or an obscure Egyptian newspaper. This is a head of government, the leader of a nation of 70 million - a country that aspires to lead the Muslim world. And, lest we forget, Iran has nuclear ambitions. So now it's not paranoid to worry about a president with annihilationist dreams - it's smart."
The bad news is that he blames the West for infecting the Muslim world with the virus of antisemitism, as if Islam had an unblemished record of tolerance.
This represents a menace to Jews, of course, but also a tragedy for Muslims. Theirs is a tradition that historically valued learning, and when an ignoramus like Ahmadinejad denies the overwhelming weight of historical evidence he makes a mockery of that tradition. In a period Jews still look back on as a golden age, Muslims were the people of scholarship, of science, of tolerance and coexistence - a contrast with the Crusader barbarians. Yet now many lap up the myths and lies that were once fed to the peasants of Europe, lies which endured through to the last century - and which led all the way to Treblinka.
(Pardon me? A tradition that historically valued learning? And still refuses to educate their own women?)
Freedland ignores any judeophobia in the Koran. Does he know that Muhammed massacred the Jews of Medina and virtually wiped them out from the Arabian peninsula?
He fails to explain how Yemen, which was never controlled by a western power, maintained the Jews in a state of 'dhimmi' misery and degradation, subject to periodic massacre and conversion, until the community was airlifted to Israel in 1950.
He fails to see the ties between Arab nationalism and Nazism and the part played by the Grand Mufi of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, in inciting the Arabs against the Jews. Some 1,000 Jews were massacred in Arab countries in the 15 years BEFORE the establishment of Israel.
He evokes the 'Andalusian golden age' which the great historian Bernard Lewis himself says was a myth propagated by Jewish historians to discredit western antisemites.
Has Freedland seen the light? Well, just a chink. But until Muslims cease to be treated as victims and their antisemitism blamed on anyone but themselves, we cannot make progress.
The film was repeated six more times the next day and will be seen again on Sunday. Let's hope that other broadcast networks will follow KQED's example. Hello, BBC - are you listening?
Read article in full
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Tunis, Tunisia - Patrick Sebag, the owner of the hottest disco-bar in the capital, a pig-farm and a distillery, makes for a peculiar figure in a Muslim country. That the dashing, 30-year-old with a hip hairstyle and perfectly tailored suit is a Jew makes him all the more so, writes Orly Halpern in the Jerusalem Post.
Last month, at a private dinner for visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and then Communications Minister Dalia Itzik, the stylish, soft-spoken businessman described to The Jerusalem Post what it's like to be someone in his position. "We [Jews] have a very good life here," he said, quipping, "[but] if al-Qaeda decided to make an attack in Tunisia, I think I would be the perfect target."
Among the two dozen or so Jews left in the capital, Sebag said he is "almost untouchable."
"It's as if the government decided that if anyone touches a Jew, he will be punished twice as harshly than if he touched someone else. We have protection here."
Perhaps. Yet, Sebag nevertheless expressed concern for his daughter Emma's future.
"She has a Jewish name and I'm afraid this will cause her problems," he said. "Just like those a Palestinian child could have if he went to school in Tel Aviv."
The problem, Sebag said, is what will happen down the line, since there are few Muslim countries left in which Jews still live. "My daughter's generation isn't familiar with Jews," he said, attributing the skewed sense of the Jewish people to its minuscule and dwindling population in Muslim countries.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Iraqi law doesn't bar Iraqi dual-nationals, even those holding Israeli or Iranian passports, from voting in out-of-country polling for Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections, a top Iraqi election official said Sunday, AP reports in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Lily).
Hamida al-Hussaini, director of out-of-country voting in the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, told reporters that Iraq's election law says "anyone who carries an Iraqi citizenship has the right to cast ballot in the upcoming parliamentary elections."
"The law doesn't state what could be done in the case of dual nationals," she said, answering a question on whether Israelis or Iranians of Iraqi origin can vote. She avoided specifically naming Israel and Iran.
"How would we know about a person's other nationality? We will only be checking documents verifying Iraqi nationality," al-Hussaini said.
Participation by Iraqi-Israelis _ numbering an estimated 290,000 _ is expected to be limited as there will be no polling stations in Israel and they must vote in another country, said Mordechai Ben-Porat, who led the Jewish underground in Iraq and helped organize the 1950s exodus of Iraq's Jews.
"If there had been a polling station in Israel, I would definitely go," Ben-Porat said, adding Jordan will be the closest polling station.
Two Iraqi-born Israeli journalists twice traveled to Jordan to cast votes in the last election to prove their Iraqi identity and then to vote, said Ben-Porat.
(Ed's note: AP is inaccurate in its talk of dual-nationals - Jews are entitled to vote if one parent was born in Iraq.)
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Here's what happened, in Israel Bonan's words, when his son confronted Nabil Fahmy, the Egyptian ambassador to the USA, with a question he himself had wanted to ask for 40 years:
"On 19 October 2005 at Brandeis University, Massachusetts, an Academic forum was held, to discuss what the possible next steps are for Israel and the Palestinians peace process, which was attended by a distinguished panel of Academics and Research Centers and think tanks (one notably being the Saban center in Washington, DC).
"The keynote speaker was the Egyptian Ambassador to the US in Washington, his Excellency Nabil Fahmy. Once we found out he will entertain questions, a friend of mine, myself and my son worked cooperatively to articulate a pointed question to pose to his Excellency, the tone was intentionally respectful but direct; the text of which is copied below:
Your Excellency, my father is a Jew who was born in Egypt and still possesses many fond memories of Egypt and the friends he left behind, who were protective of him and his family during years of persecution. But he is also sure you are aware that previous governments have caused many injustices to a great many of the Jews from Egypt, such as by incarcerating them, mistreating them, confiscating all of their money and property, and eventually expelling them from Egypt. My father is keenly interested in asking you whether the current Egyptian Government is ready for a rapprochement with the estranged Jewish community. And what steps ought and should be taken to acknowledge that episode in history and see to it that it is redressed. Is an apology overdue? After all, the US apologized to Japanese Americans for what it did during WWII, isn't it time, your Excellency, Egypt did the same?
Since neither I nor my friend could attend, my son took the onus of representing us. After he read the first paragraph, the moderator tried to cut him off by implying that he is making a speech, and not asking a question. And Jacques responded “My father has waited 40 years for an answer to this question."
”At this point the President of the University interceded and indicated for my son to 'go on'. So my son completed the second part of the question. The whole thing was being recorded (I hope we can get the copy to circulate it).
"The Ambassador replied that the Japanese example is different, that Egypt has paid some restitution to Jews from Egypt? And that if we are expecting President Mubarak to apologize, the answer is No. We want to move forward and nothing is to be gained by rehashing the past, or try to assess who is right and who is wrong!!
My son then attempted to follow up: “Your Excellency, we are here to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and ask ourselves where we go from this point as to how do the Israelis and Palestinians reconcile. But shouldn’t we also step back and look at the broader picture in the Middle East in order to reach a more comprehensive and conclusive settlement? That there were Jews who suffered too …"
At this point the moderator cut him off. An individual in the audience ran after the Ambassador (who was pressed to take a flight and had to leave), and reminded him that his answer negated everything he said vis-a-vis the Palestinians in his keynote speech. The rest of the audience rumbling implied that the glib answer was cheesy… and congratulated Jacques on the question.
I wanted to share with you this episode, and hope to hear from you and your reactions. I also take it as an opportunity to thank my son for stepping up to the plate and assert our cause. After all once our generation has passed on the newer generation already feels the obligation to carry that torch forward."
In the following article published on HSJE Israel Bonan explains why the analogy between the Jews in Egypt and Japanese Americans during World War ll does not stand up.
Yes, Your Excellency, I agree with you
Friday, December 09, 2005
"The film is only the latest salvo in an ongoing public-relations campaign from JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), an organization that fights to raise public awareness of those refugees and the torment they endured long ago, " writes Daniel Pine of the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California.
“This documentary will spread far and wide,” says Joseph Abdel Wahed, an Egyptian-born Jew and co-founder of JIMENA. “Finally viewers will see the other side of the story, a story that has not been told.”
The Forgotten Refugees blends personal interviews and rare period-footage to recount the long, sad story of the new Jewish exodus. Moraga resident Wahed is one of several refugees interviewed, all of whom recount similar tales of anti-Semitism and ultimate exile.
Another is San Rafael resident Regina Waldman. Born Regina Bublil in Tripoli, Libya, she is today an outspoken human rights advocate and JIMENA member. “We were indigenous to the region,” she says. “We were there over 2500 years ago. We were natives.”
(...) Wahed benefited from a Sorbonne education, becoming chief economist with Wells Fargo Bank after moving to the United States in 1962. He is now retired, but remains active with JIMENA and the Jewish Community Federation.
As successful as he has been in his adopted country, Wahed remains stung by the treatment he and so many other Jews received. “At first I went through anger,” he says. “All that’s left now is hurt. I don’t have any hate, but I hurt that my own [Egyptian] people would do this for no reason. We broke no laws, we committed no crimes.”
Waldman feels similar pain. Unlike Wahed who has visited Egypt several times over the years, she is not ready to visit Libya again. But she has worked hard to rid her heart of bitterness.
“I take a strong position against violence and hatred,” she says. “It took me several years, until I had my own children, to make peace and forgive the perpetrators..”
Wahed echoes the sentiment. Despite the hardships of youth, he is proud of his own success and of the Mizrahi Jews around the world. With the release of The Forgotten Refugees, he believes others will be, too.
“It’s a compelling story, especially when you compare it to the parallel story of the Palestinians. We weren’t showered with money from the EU or the U.N. We did it on our own. We rolled up our sleeves, tightened our belts and worked very hard wherever we went.”
Thursday, December 08, 2005
“The question is where do those who rule in Palestine as occupiers come from?" he asked his Saudi audience. "Where were they born? Where did their fathers live? They have no roots in Palestine but they have taken the fate of Palestine in their hands?”
For over two-and-a-half-million Israelis, the answer is, of course, that they were born in Israel or Muslim lands. Ask chief of staff Dan Halutz, whose parents came from Iraq and Iraq. Or go straight to the top and ask Israel's president Moshe Katsav, who was born in the Iranian city of Yazd.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
What was life like for your parents in Iraq?
They enjoyed a great deal of freedom and affluence in Iraq in the 1920s and '30s under the British, who had taken over the country from Turkey after WWI. In gratitude, many of the more well-to-do Jews emulated the Brits, dressing in the latest London fashions, speaking British English, even giving their children British names. So it was that my mother was named Violet and her sisters Madeline, Daisy, Clair, and Amy. My father, Shaul, spoke English beautifully, with a British accent, which came in handy during the years when he worked for the British Petroleum Company and also as a customs officer. He could frequently be seen riding Arabian horses across the desert landscape.
My mother and father lived a good life, a privileged life. For example, their house in Baghdad was built in the old-fashioned, oriental style, composed of two floors with a large, open-square courtyard in the middle. The cook and maids lived on the ground floor, by the kitchen; our family's quarters were on the second floor, overlooking the courtyard, though they enjoyed sleeping on the roof on hot summer nights. For leisure they loved to take boat rides on the Tigris River. They would stop at a little island where they were served fresh charcoal-grilled shibbutta, a fish similar to striped bass that can grow as much as three feet in length.
Did your parents lead a religious life?
As a child my father went to a midrash, which was like the cheder in Europe. His memories of waking up early in the morning to arrive at the midrash in the cold of winter were not very pleasant, so as a young man he vowed to lead a less restrictive life. Also, I think his travels within Iraq as well as to Turkey and Palestine led to his becoming a more secular Jew. Yet, he was deeply rooted in Jewish life. Like the community as a whole, our family observed all of the Jewish holidays and life-cycle events. Work around the house always centered on preparing foods for the next Jewish holiday. A favorite Shabbat dish was t'bit, the Iraqi version of the Ashkenazi chulent, in which pieces of chicken, beef, or lamb and rice are seasoned with turmeric, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon and simmered overnight. Eggs were placed on top of the rice and turned brown in time for Saturday brunch. A month before Passover, my parents would begin preparing silan, a dark syrup made from dates which, when mixed with chopped walnuts, created a delicious haroseth. Often on the holidays our house was full of relatives and other visitors. And when guests came for a wedding, they stayed for weeks. A famous Jewish music ensemble called Chalri Baghdad would play the ud (lute), kemenje (fiddle), dumbuk (drum), qanoon (dulcimer), and ney (flute), regaling the celebrants with popular Iraqi tunes on the theme of love. Also, groups of three to seven women would entertain the wedding party with a form of drumming called daqqaqat. The women would recite poetry and chant the names and the special qualities of the bride, the groom, and other celebrants. Extended families and friends would arrive in large groups, bringing trays of food filled with sweet pastries and popular Iraqi Jewish dishes such as kubbah--meatballs covered with farina dough and cooked in a spicy sauce with okra. So Jewish festivals were times of great feasting as well as opportunities for connecting as a community.
Was the Jewish life your family enjoyed normative for Iraqi Jewry?
Not all Iraqi Jewish families lived a comfortable life. Some lived in poverty, receiving assistance from the kehilla, the organized Jewish community, which provided charitable relief, including medical care. Our family was among the fortunate Iraqi Jews, but in time we would all become impoverished.
When did your family sense the storm that was about to engulf Iraqi Jewry?
In the 1930s, with the rise of Nazism in Europe, venomous manifestations of anti-Jewish attitudes spread throughout Iraq. In 1939 some pro-Nazi Arab activists from Syria and Palestine--chief among them Haj Amin El Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem--found a haven in Baghdad. They spread malicious propaganda against the British and instigated a hate campaign against the Jews.
Our family's idyllic life in Iraq ended during these tense years. The most devastating event took place around Shavuot on June 1, 1941. Many Iraqi Jews were getting ready to celebrate the festival, which we called Id El Ziyarah, the Holiday of the Visit. Jews would make pilgrimages to the various tombs of the prophets--particularly the tomb of Ezra the Scribe, but also the burial place of Ezekiel at Al Kifl, a village by the Euphrates near Basra; the tomb of Joshua the Priest in the northern outskirts of Baghdad; and the gravesite of Jonah in Nineveh, which is modern-day Mosul. People would set up tents outside their shrines and feast on fish, chicken, lamb, fruits, vegetables, and lots of sweets while listening to musical ensembles. For Iraqi Jewry, Id El Ziyarah was one of the high points of the Jewish calendar.
So was the Shavuot festival canceled that first day of June 1941?
Yes. Suddenly no Jew was safe. Hundreds of Jews in Baghdad were dragged from buses and beaten to death in the streets. Moslems shot the locks off doors and looted Jewish businesses. Pro-Nazi Arab bands broke into marked Jewish houses and stores, raping, kidnapping, and savagely murdering children, men, and women. They were about to do that to my in-laws' home when their courageous Moslem neighbors blocked the door with their bodies and said, "You're not entering here, leave them alone"--and that's how the family was spared. For the first time my parents and many other Jewish families considered emigrating.
Another defining event was the trial and execution of a prominent Iraqi Jew, Shafiq Ades, for allegedly doing business with Israel. In sentencing Ades to death, the president of the military court acknowledged: "I was aware that the Iraqi people were seeking a sacrifice. If Ades were not hung, they would have made pogroms against the Jews in Iraq in revenge for the many Iraqi soldiers who died fighting [the Israelis in the War of Independence]. By hanging Ades, I have saved the Jews from massacre." Ades' wife pleaded with the prime minister, who was their friend, to spare the life of her husband. He told her the matter was political and out of his hands. Ades was the Rothschild of Iraq. He had been close to the government elite. Yet all his connections did not save him. So the writing was on the wall for Iraq's Jews.
What induced your family to leave Iraq?
The persecutions intensified after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Some 15,000 Iraqi Jews escaped illegally to Israel, but most wanted to believe that order would be restored and life return to the way it was. Yet no one could be sure when the next anti-Jewish riot might erupt. Finally in 1950 my parents decided to leave and obtained the necessary laissez-passer (permit of passage). They had only about a month to get out of the country, hardly enough time to liquidate their belongings. Moslems would knock on my parents' door and say, "Bet el yahud?" meaning, "Is this the house of Jews?" and when my parents said, "Yes," the bargain hunters knew they could buy anything--from our candlesticks to our carpets--for pennies. My parents faced many tough decisions, such as what to do with my ailing grandparents, who remained behind, but later joined us in Israel. In the words of my husband, Zadok, who was 9 years old when his family left Iraq: "Uprooting is awesomely difficult, especially when the roots extend back to two and a half millennia."
Did your family encounter any sympathetic Moslems during this period?
While the authorities were able to turn many Arabs against us, some Jewish families retained strong friendships with Moslems. People in my husband's family recall that Moslems wept as their Jewish neighbors were preparing to leave.
How did your family escape Iraq?
Due to the scarcity of flights, my parents chose the perilous land route through the steep, winding mountains into Iran. As the departure time drew near, however, my father, who was very intuitive, became suspicious of the Moslem he and a few other Jewish families had hired to drive them across the border. At the same time, it was unwise to just back out of the deal because, as Jews, we were at his mercy. So when the driver arrived in a beat-up car, my father said, "How do you expect my family to go into the mountains in that! The deal is off unless you can promise me another car." "I'm sorry," he said, "I can't...." We later learned that this driver had robbed his Jewish passengers and abandoned them in the mountains; nobody knows what became of them.
At the end of June 1950, my family managed to secure seats on the fourth plane of Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, the secret Israeli airlift of Jews out of Iraq. At the time I was 15 days old, and, as my relations often remind me, I was known as "the baby in the basket" because my father carried me on his shoulders onto the plane in a white straw basket. We were flown first to Cyprus and from there to Israel, fulfilling the prophetic words in Exodus: "I bore you on eagle's wings, and brought you to myself" (Exodus 19:4).
Picture the scene at the airport in Lod. Aliyah representatives are waiting to welcome us, expecting ravaged refugees. My mother, still weak from childbirth, descends from the El Al plane in a tailored Chanel suit with black stockings and high heels--which immediately get stuck in the sand.
We were taken to the Sha'ar Aliyah absorption center near Haifa. Unlike most other Iraqi refugees, who remained for months in tents, my father tried his luck outside the camp and soon started a real estate business, matching apartment buyers with sellers. Within a few months we moved into our own apartment in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Then my father and his two brothers (who'd arrived after us) formed a construction company and began to build and sell apartments. My parents' home became the meeting place for our extended family and friends from Iraq. Every night, as immigrants do, they would gather on our balcony, drink Turkish coffee, and reminisce about the land between the two rivers and the boat rides under the moonlit Arabian sky.
As a builder, did your father have dealings with Arab workers in Israel?
Yes. He became good friends with some of the Arabs he hired from the villages in the Galilee. In odd ways he felt more akin to our Arab friends than to some Ashkenazi Jews. With his dark skin and towering presence, he looked like an Arab sheikh; and he would tell stories like an Arab, making these big gestures with his hands. So, our family would go to the Arab villages in the Galilee, eat and drink with the Arabs--the women with the women, the men with the men--and enjoy the music and the belly-dancing--it was great fun. "Finally I can drink decent coffee here," my father would say, sitting amongst his Arab friends.
So your father was trusting of Arabs.
He trusted those he knew well, but wisely he kept vigilant. One day while riding on a Haifa bus, he overheard two Arab men plotting an action against the Jews. Interrupting their conversation, he said in Arabic, "Oh my God, I'm so glad I met you. I'm from Iraq and I can't stand my life here, whatever you're planning, let me help you." He then gave them his phone number. Shortly thereafter, the plotters called to invite him to their village. Before leaving, my father arranged for the Israeli army to rescue him if he wasn't back by an agreed-upon hour. It was getting dark and late. As my father told it, he was sitting with about thirty Arab men. At first they didn't trust him, but finally they revealed their plan and my father was free to go. The army was standing by. As soon as he was safe, they went in and broke up the terrorist ring.
Did your family prosper in Israel?
Our business did well for a while, but in the mid-'60s the economy took a dive. That's when my parents started thinking about coming to America, the land of opportunity. They arrived in 1968 and settled in Queens, New York. Unfortunately, at age 60, my father was overqualified for most entry positions--nobody wanted to hire him. My mother, who'd never had a job, suddenly had to learn a profession. She secured a job in the New York garment district and eventually rose to become a clothes designer. My father died in 1984. Today we are left with his vivid stories, and savor every opportunity to hear more of them from my mother.
Does your family keep alive Iraqi Jewish traditions?
We Babylonian Jews proudly represent what had been one of the oldest Diaspora Jewish communities in existence--ever since 568 BCE, when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the First Temple in Jerusalem and deported the Jewish population to Babylon. We were an insular community, speaking a distinct Arabic dialect that included Iraqi Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Persian, and Turkish words. Today we also take great pride in our unique prayer chants--a beautiful, soulful liturgy which was passed on from one generation to another--and the fact that our community produced some of the greatest scholars, spiritual leaders, and prophets Judaism has ever known. What greater legacy can a Jewish community have than the Babylonian Talmud and the legendary academies of Jewish scholarship in Sura and Pumpadita?
A verse in an Arabic song describes my family's attitude about the past: "El'li ma andou atique, ma yijinou jdid"--"one who does not hold on to that which is ancient will not be able to have that which is new." Today, many Babylonian Jews continue to identify with this splendid Jewish culture. We are determined to enrich our new surroundings with the language, music, food, and marvelous stories bequeathed to us by our ancestors. When I sit in the Babylonian Jewish Center in Great Neck, NY and join in the chanting of the Shabbat morning liturgy, I hear the voices of the exiled Jews who wept by the rivers of Babylon; the voices of Ezekiel, Ezra, Jonah, and other prophets of Israel; the voices of students and rabbis in the great academies; the voices of dear ones in my family who are buried in the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers; and the voice of my late father, Shaul, the son of Benjamin and Salha Darwish of blessed memory.
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On Monday, to an audience exceeding 150 at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) Cairo-born Bat Ye’or, the pioneer historian of the subjugated status of Jews and Christians in the Muslim world explained the concept of Jihad, which has pitched Muslims into a state of war against non-Muslims through the ages. It was only when the Muslims were weak or Jews and Christians were too useful to them that these became ‘protected’ or ‘dhimmis’ under sharia law. Islam needs to reform its jihadist ideology if we were to see the end of the political Isalmist violence rampant today. Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, the director of the Barnabas Fund which defends persecuted Christians, emphasised that we must differentiate between individual Muslims and Islamist ideology.
On Tuesday 50 people had to be turned away from a packed Leighton House, the atmospheric home of a Victorian artist fascinated by the romance of the East. During a pre-nuptial henna ceremony organised in conjunction with Spiro Ark, Mo and his son Shalom Garson sang Moroccan wedding songs, while Bettina Caro (pictured) wore the bride-to-be's dress and headress and Katya Silver explained the symbolism of the ceremony itself. Daphna Sadeh and her Israeli group the Voyagers played exotic melodies.
On Wednesday, Sara Manasseh and her ensemble, the Rivers of Babylon performed Iraqi-Jewish music to an appreciative audience of 90. All enjoyed an oriental supper featuring dolmeh, tabbouleh and baklava.
On Thursday, Dr Irit Abramski, a specialist from Yad Yashem, revealed the little-known tribulations of the Libyan Jews during the Second World War. She explained that had the Nazis not been defeated by the allies, it was only a matter of time before North African Jewry would have suffered the same fate as European Jewry in the Holocaust. British nationals were deported to Bergen Belsen. Seven hundred Jews died of disease and starvation at Jado camp in Libya, while Tunisian Jews underwent six months of hell during the Nazi occupation of the country.
On Saturday, the Iraqi-born novelist Eli Amir held his 100-strong audience spellbound by his lecture ‘Longing and hope’ at Imperial College , interspersed with readings from Amir’s books by the Israeli Arab actor Nayef Rashed. The lecture was organised jointly with Spiro Ark. The transition from old to new home was a painful one, full of disappointments: Amir’s own father entertained the impossible dream of growing rice in the Galilee. The refugees from Iraq always longed for the land of their birth, yet hoped for a better future in Israel.
On Sunday at the Screen on the Hill Eli Amir joined David Littman, the historian and campaigner for refugee rights at a discussion chaired by Jeff Barak, managing editor of the Jewish Chronicle, to talk about the new American film, Forgotten refugees. Almost 200 watched and applauded the film, which is only second ever made to focus on the neglected stories of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
Flushed with its success the Harif Committee has plans for further events next spring, such as a food festival and a screening of films at the French Institute. See website www.harif.org for details.
Photo of Henna evening bride by Ruth Corman
Sunday, December 04, 2005
"Eli has been dead for 40 years now, and though I did not kill him, I am fully aware that my failure to disclose what I knew may have sealed his fate. Like Eli, I was a member of Israeli Intelligence, a Mossad agent, now retired. It was the intersection of our lives in that agency that led to my personal hell. I will tell you this story, but let me start closer to the beginning.
"In 1914, our father, Shaul, then 12, and his parents left their home in Aleppo, Syria and immigrated to Alexandria, Egypt. Thousands of Jews fled Aleppo that year, and our mother, Sophie, seven at the time, was among them as well. Egypt was the land where our parents met and where Eli and I were born- he in 1924 and I three years later. We were the second and the third of eight children, seven of whom who survived to adulthood.
"As Jews, we were double outcasts. Egyptian Muslims were growing increasingly hostile towards Jews, and the British who ruled Egypt until 1954, did nothing to temper the discrimination. From our earliest childhood, we knew that we were interlopers in Egypt and longed to create a place where we could truly belong."
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Saturday, December 03, 2005
"Israeli firms are carrying out military training and commercial activities in Kurdish areas of north Iraq, according to reports in an Israeli newspaper. Yedioth Ahronoth reported yesterday that dozens of former members of Israel's elite and covert forces were training Kurdish fighters in anti-terrorism techniques.
Other companies, the newspaper said, were involved in telecommunications and infrastructure projects such as the building of an airport at Irbil.Iraq and Israel are still officially at war, though since the 1960s Israel and the Iraqi Kurds have had a relationship. A spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry said his country had no relationship with the new Iraq and it remained "at war".
The article follows detailed reports in the New Yorker last year saying that Israel had become heavily involved with the Kurds from 2003. It suggested Israel had a strategic interest in supporting Kurdish forces, as a counterweight to Sunni and Shia groups in Iraq. Involvement in the region also gave Israel better access to intelligence from Syria and Iran, particularly Iran's nuclear programme.Israel supported Kurdish rebels against the Ba'ath regime in Baghdad until 1975. The Kurds, who are Muslim, have never been as anti-Israeli as many Muslims in other countries. They have felt persecuted by Sunnis and have resented Yasser Arafat's support for Saddam Hussein.A spokesman for the Kurdistan regional government said: "It is possible that people with Israeli passports visit. Many Jews from Kurdistan resettled in Israel. We do not discriminate against any nationality that wants to ... work in Kurdistan, but there are no official links."
Israel cannot officially admit its involvement in the regime because it might encourage extremist groups, such as al-Qaida in Iraq. But Israelis are regularly seen in the Kurdish towns of northern Iraq, working as security guards and trainers. It is not clear whether they work for international security firms or are doing independent work.
Israelis representing private firms were seen looking for opportunities at a recent trade fair in Irbil. Yesterday's report also stated that Israeli companies had set up a base in a remote area of Kurdistan, using it for weapons and anti-terrorism training and bringing in "dozens of motorcycles, sniffer dogs, Kalashnikov-upgrading devices, flak jackets, uniforms and helmets, all Israeli-made". It claims Israelis pose as agricultural and engineering experts.
Development and security projects in Kurdistan are undertaken by several countries, including Turkey, the US, Iran, Britain and Germany. Israel's main ally in the region is Turkey, which is concerned that the Kurds might declare independence from Iraq. Turkey, like Syria and Iran, has a substantial Kurdish minority within its population.
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For more on the Israel -Kurdish relationship read Michael Rubin's 'The other Iraq'(Jerusalem Report, 31Dec 2001)
"A middle-aged man gets up to dance, passes by the singer and nonchalantly sticks a NIS 100 bill on her forehead. She continues as if nothing has happened, performing another song or two, and then everyone applauds. A tall thin man gets up to sing in her place, wearing black pants and a red shirt. And so it goes, on and on, hour after hour. A hafla (party, celebration) the way a hafla ought to be. But there's a poignant feel to it all. Because everything is happy here. Only the people are sad.
"David trudges from one table to another, emptying ashtrays, bringing this one a can of orange soda and that one a glass of whiskey. For over 20 years now, he hasn't known any other kind of weekend. He's at Havana, always. "It's hard work," he'll tell me later, running a pudgy finger across his thin mustache. "I'm tired of it. Believe me."
"It was his idea, to open a club like this, for Iraqi haflot. Like back in Baghdad where he was born and lived until age 21. When he opened Havana, shortly after the euphoria of the Six-Day War, the place became a big hit. People came from all over the country and crammed the aisles. The crowd then was eager and lively, still umbilically connected to its cultural origins between the Tigris and the Euphrates.
"It's in my blood," David says now. "From back in Iraq, when we would sit at big haflot night after night until the wee hours. Now I'm tired. The audience is disappearing, the people are old. There's nothing we can do about it: Life doesn't get any easier with the years."
"Shlomi sits down beside me, camera on his knees. For almost a year, he has been coming here nearly every week, taking pictures, observing, getting excited, planning to mount an original exhibition: the swan song of the Iraqi aristocracy.
"Something drew me here," he tells me. "Something called me to come, to feel it from the inside. The combination of the music, the faces, the disappearing heritage of our parents' generation."
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Friday, December 02, 2005
The first recounts how the Arab States, the Palestinian elites, and the U.N. have been instrumental in keeping Palestinians festering in refugee camps since 1948; the second tells the largely forgotten story of the nearly one million Jews were forced to flee Arab States in the wake of the 1948 war. (...)
Both segments of Fighting Shadows use the technique of archival footage interspersed with contemporary interviews. A mainstay of Arab propaganda that the Jews “kicked the Arabs out of
In the portion Silent Exodus, former Jewish refugees originally from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Morocco, Libya, and Tunisia, some who speak English, others who speak Hebrew, Arabic or French describe in riveting accounts their stories of living under dhimmitude, the Muslim sanctioned permanent second class citizenship for non Muslims in Muslim countries. All experienced daily humiliations which included always holding one's tongue out of justifiable fear of physical attack; special taxes called jazira taxes - paid only by dhimmis, part of a ritualization of humiliation simply because one wasn’t a Muslim; systematic unfavorable treatment in courts; and in most instances being unable to buy and sell property unless one had an Arab partner. There were also special inhumane treatments in accordance with which country you lived in, for example, forced conversion of Jewish children to Islam in Yemen, who were taken from their homes if one of the pair of Jewish parents were no longer in the household. All these actions taken, whether it was against Jews or Christians or other marginalized dhimmi people, were supported under sharia, the law of the land.
These conditions of course predate anything having to do with the Palestinians. And there is hardly a person interviewed by Rehov who doesn’t scoff at the notion that life was fair, let alone harmonious under Arab Muslim rule. Well, actually, there is one: a representative of the Palestinian Authority, Dr. Abdel Shafi, who thinks that there were never any problems. Aside from Dr. Shafi, though, everyone insists that this is an absolute myth. These are people whose families and often they themselves lived through anti-Jewish pogroms: 1941 in Iraq; 1945 in Cairo; 1948 in Morocco (generally portrayed in the West as a tolerant country), with synagogues burned to the ground, Jews being murdered in the streets, in particular being hung in the public square in Baghdad. Many lived in specially cordoned off ghettos. By the late 30’s and early 40’s as Rehov documents, Nazism and Hitler were revered in
But one does learn about them in this stirring documentary. That one million Jews were banished from Arab lands after 1948--many whose ancestors in those lands date back millennia—and 750,000 came to Israel between 1948 and 1952 to be integrated into a country with a Jewish population of 650,000 was unknown to at least several people in the audience. During the question-and-answer session with Rehov, one young woman revealed that, despite taking a few advanced history courses in college, she was unaware of the history of the Jewish refugees. Another young woman, more informed on such matters, stated that Middle East studies programs have by and large been captured by a combination of Palestinian and left-wing activists and have robbed students of the ability to study all sides of the story.
Rehov’s decision to combine the two films into one for festivals was an inspired idea, if only to put side by side the story of how one country accepted its brethren, Israel, and 22 countries, sometimes referred to as the Arab Nation, rejected theirs. Most of the original 750,000 Jewish refugees, some of who arrived with barely the clothing on their back, (Iraq for example let each Jew take one suitcase, with no money at all), lived in tents, huts, or shacks for periods averaging about four years. Israel, obviously not the economic powerhouse it has become, didn’t have much in material goods to give them, but as former Israeli President Issak Navon stated, they were welcomed and treated “as brothers”. This was hardly the case with how the Arabs treated “their brothers”. In one particular example, Rehov’s film thoroughly documents housing developments that
Disappointingly, a prestigious festival such as Sundance seems to go out of its way to present only one side of the Israeli/Palestinian story. So despite Rehov’s record of accomplishment, which includes some international recognition, particularly with “The Road to Jenin”, Lisa Magnus, Rehov’s North American representative, fellow editor and collaborator, told me that Sundance will not even return her calls or even pay her the small courtesy of acknowledging receipt of public relations packages.
One other note which might put some pressure on Sundance: Lisa Magnus tells me that she has been in contact with the Cannes Film Festival. They’re interested in taking a look at Rehov’s new film.
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