Sunday, December 28, 2008

'Iran Jewish MP should have given Xmas message'

The decision of Britain's Channel Four to invite President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to deliver an Alternative Christimas message to the traditional broadcast by Her Majesty the Queen has sparked predictable furore. Why not ask Kim-il-Jong? Why not Mugabe? say the outraged critics.

Why not the sole Jewish member in the Iranian parliament? James Meek, writing a Comment Is Free piece in the Guardian, has this novel proposal:

"Channel 4's alternative Christmas message has often, in the past, been a sort of double opposition to the Queen - not just from somebody putting a counter-establishment point of view, but a non-celebrity; a wounded Afghan veteran, a 9/11 survivor, Doreen and Neville Lawrence. If Channel 4 had wanted to put up a leftfield Iranian voice to provoke thought, why not invite Maurice Motamed, the only Jewish member of the Iranian parliament, a voice of Iran's 25,000 Jews - the second largest Jewish community in the Muslim world - and someone who has spoken out against Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial?"

There are two things wrong with Meek's suggestion. First, Meek is unaware that Maurice Motamed is no longer the Jewish representative in the Iranian Majlis - his place has been taken by Ciamak Morsadegh. The Jewish community may still be the second largest in the Muslim world, but that is not saying much. It is a mere shadow of its former self: four-fifths of the Jews of Iran have already fled.

Second, the 'voice' of the Jewish representative is timid and fearful. The Jewish representative speaks under duress. He says what the regime wants to hear. Yes, Motamed did condemn Ahmedinejad's Holocaust denial, but that is as outspoken as he has dared to be. Otherwise, the Jewish community has 'no problem,' as long as it denies that part of its Jewish identity that has links to Israel. In theory, Jews could leave Iran, but in practice things are not so simple. Travel visas are not issued to all members of one family.

Of course, the Jews of Iran are not so badly off, compared to the Bahai's, for instance. Meek could have suggested that a Baha'i deliver Channel Four's Christmas message, but that too would be as candid as a Kapo's in a concentration camp. Such naivety says more about the West's ignorance of fear societies than anything else.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The whitewashing of 'dhimmitude' in Lebanon

One of the few books produced in English in recent years documenting the history of the Jews of Lebanon has been The Jews of Lebanon by Kirsten E Schulze. While the book is thoroughly researched and full of detail, it suffers from a significant flaw. It downplays the dhimmi Jewish experience prior to the 20th century, when an interconfessional system of power-sharing between 23 communities in Lebanon came into force."The pre-20th century experience of the Jews of Lebanon was characterised by centuries of safety, hospitality and tranquility," Ms Schulze gushes.

What about inequality? The Jews and the Druze both suffered as dhimmis at the hands of the sunni Muslims in Lebanon, but in her book Ms Schulze mentions the word dhimmi only cursorily. What is more, the great mass of Jews, who lived in dire poverty in Lebanon and Syria before a prosperous urban middle class emerged under the French mandate, were the object of contempt and neglect from their neighbours.

This state of affairs prevailed as late as 1902, when M Angel visited the town of Sidon (Saida). His words are quoted in The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism by Andrew Bostom (pp. 659-660).

The Jewish community of Sidon, Lebanon at the turn of the century (1902):

Formerly queen of the seas, Sidon, the flourishing city of the Phoenicians, is today nothing but a somber little town of 15,000 to 18,000 souls, a big village without commerce or industry. The great bulk of the population lives almost exclusively from the revenues of the numerous gardens that surround the town, from which the produce is exported to either Egypt or England, where the oranges of Saida1 are, apparently, particularly in demand. The inhabitants are crammed pell-mell into tiny houses, which could not be more dilapidated, made of stones gathered from the fields that it was not even necessary to quarry.

"I shall not even try to describe the maze of narrow streets, congested at practically every step by vaults supporting the houses, which are as if perched in the air, and where- without exaggeration- it is gloomy even at the height of noon. I have visited the oldest quarters of Jerusalem and Damascus, but I have never seen anything resembling the picture of desolate decay presented by Saida, a small town that knows no tourism and is still untouched by modern civilization.

"It is one of the most somber of these alleys that leads into the Jewish quarter via a low, narrow, little gate. Passing through this portal, we are in the ghetto. Imagine a long courtyard, a narrow and dark, a sort of corridor, as sinuous as can be, whose width is never more than two meters. On either side are two- and three-story houses- or rather cells cut into the walls, not receiving even a little of the dim light from the side of the narrow passage that forms the street.

It is interesting that Kirsten E Schulze quotes this last paragraph (p21). However, although Schulze does mention that the Jews of Saida were poor, she neglects to quote the following sentence:


"I asked myself more than once during my visits to the quarter whether people in Europe would be content to keep convicts in such a frightful prison where poverty is keeping a thousand of our coreligionists.


. . But continuing on our way, let us go further down this single street, which is not even paved. The unfortunate individuals who live there and to whom the street belongs (like the courtyard of a house) have asked in vain for the authorities to pave it at their own expense. The authorities are opposed to it! All the way at the end, we finally reach a small square of approximately 150 to 200 square meters, where the gay rays of sunlight are able to penetrate and where one can breathe a little more easily. it is on this square that the synagogue and Talmud Torah are to be found at the far end.


"I had just said that Saida is a town without commerce. The gardens which feed the great majority of the people belong almost exclusively to the Muslims who comprise about nine tenths of the population of Saida. The Christians, who are well protected by the consuls and by their priests who have influence with the authorities, enjoy a certain degree of ease and consideration. Only the Jews, left to themselves, stagnate in dark poverty in which the others have little share, and they are the object of contempt and disdain in the eyes of their neighbors of other faiths. Peddling is practically the only way of making a living. Saturday night, they leave their ghetto and disperse left and right throughout the countryside painfully struggling to earn a few miserable piastres, which they leave at home when they return on Friday. This occupation is certainly arduous, at times humiliating, and always thankless. It does not feed its man- as they say. But can they do any better? They know nothing else. The few Jewish carders who work at Saida do not always even earn their daily keep, which is about two piastres, or 0.35 francs! What misery for a man who has a family to feed."


This last passage too (in bold italics) is ignored by Ms Schulze in her zeal to project an idyllic picture of communities coexisting peacefully together.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Yemen president to build ghetto for Jews

The Nahari family (photo: Safrir Abayov)

Two weeks after the murder of Moshe Yaish Nahari, the brother of Yemen's Jewish community's head, the country's president Ali Abdullah Saleh pledged to build a secured Jewish ghetto in the outskirts of the capital San'a, Ynet News reports:

The new neighborhood will house the 300 Jews of the Umran province where the murder took place.

Yemen's president has informed human rights organizations and the heads of the Jewish community in the country of his decision to allocate an area in Sana's northern suburb for the construction of a residential neighborhood for Jews on the state's expense.

Any family who decides to move there from Umran will receive $10,000 in compensation.

According to President Saleh, the Jewish neighborhood will be guarded by security forces at all hours.

Since Nahari's murder dozens of Jews in Umran have reported receiving death threats and falling victim to violent harassment in the streets of the Umran province.

A Yemeni judge on Monday ordered the man accused of murdering Nahari to go for a medical checkup to determine if he was competent to stand trial.

Read article in full

Thursday, December 25, 2008

How Iran-born Israeli singer bridges the divide


Israeli singer Hanna Jahanforooz has quite a following in her native Iran. The Chicago Tribune examines how music can be a force for good, spreading harmony and goodwill between enemies (with thanks: a reader)

TEL AVIV—Israel and Iran may be sworn enemies, but Hanna Jahanforooz, an Israeli performer who sings in Persian, has fans in the Islamic Republic and among Iranian exiles abroad.

Jahanforooz, 37, was born to a Jewish family in Tehran, where Persian is the native language, and came to Israel when she was 12. It was a few years after the Islamic Revolution, and the family sneaked across the border to Pakistan and later made its way to Israel through France, joining thousands of Persian Jews who have settled here.

More than a year ago, Jahanforooz posted her music, video clips and pictures on MySpace and began attracting enthusiastic responses from some Iranian musicians and listeners.

"I love your music, and your voice is beautiful," wrote one woman from Iran. "You are a hope to the women of Iran and the Middle East."

The messages keep coming, even though Jahanforooz clearly identifies her location as Tel Aviv, Israel, on her MySpace page (myspace.com/hannajahanforooz).

"It's my pleasure to be your friend," read a recent note from an Iranian musician named Masoud, who signed off with, "peace."

And one Iranian fan who is a Web designer created a home page for Jahanforooz, while she has sent him songs over the Internet.

That is all a far cry from the call by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the map, or the drumbeat of hostility toward Israel from the Iranian government, countered by Israeli threats to strike Iran's nuclear facilities.

Music has long served as a bridge over the abyss of conflict in the region. Israeli singers who perform Middle Eastern-style music are popular among Palestinians, and Arab singing stars—such as the Lebanese diva Fairuz and the late, legendary Umm Kulthum of Egypt —have for years had a following in Israel.

Jahanforooz, whose day job is working with troubled teenagers, describes her songs as a mix of traditional Persian tunes with influences of flamenco music and opera. Her songs have been played on Israeli radio stations and a national music video channel, and she has made live appearances, though her niche of ethnic music is far from Israel's pop music mainstream.

Read article in full

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

CNN reports on Lebanon's silent Jews

Lebanon's Jewish community was the focus of this video report by CNN's Cal Perry, broadcast on 21 December. (With thanks: Pablo)

Perry speculates on whether recent plans to rebuild Beirut's synagogue - now scuppered - will revive a moribund community with no leadership or communal life to speak of.

The CNN journalist gives the (misleading) impression that the Jewish community's demise was caused by the Lebanese civil war, which broke out in 1975. Jews were indeed caught in the crossfire, but the truth is that 90 percent of the Jews of Lebanon had left before the civil war broke out as a result of the repercussions of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Jews will not move unless compensated

The Jews of Amran, living in fear and unable to work or lead normal lives following the murder of a member of their community almost three weeks ago, do not wish to accept the Yemen president's offer of relocation to the capital San'a for fear of losing their property. Meanwhile, the family of the murder suspect has threatened their lives if they hold out for his execution. Report in IRIN News, a UN human rights newsletter.

SANAA, 24 December 2008 (IRIN) - Members of the Jewish community in Amran Governorate, northern Yemen, say they fear being attacked by Muslim extremists, after Moshe Yaish Josef Nahari, a Jewish teacher, was gunned down on 11 December in Raydah District.

"We really live in fear. We fear for our lives. We are mistreated by some Muslims who are demanding that we convert to Islam or leave the area," said a Jewish community leader who preferred anonymity.

He told IRIN that the more than 250 Jews in Raydah District were unable to lead a normal life and many had stopped work after receiving death threats. Many Jewish men worked as silversmiths or carpenters.

"We now stay at home, and our life has become chaotic and unsafe. How can we live this way?" he asked.

According to him, the Jews are demanding to be moved from Amran Governorate to a safe city such as Sanaa, Ibb or Taiz, "where people are educated and men do not carry guns". However, they do not want to be relocated hastily: They fear losing their property, as happened to the Jews of Saada in 2007.

Photo: Muhammed al-Jabri/IRIN
Tribesmen carrying their guns in Raydah District

On 16 September, President Ali Abdullah Saleh met Jewish community leaders and suggested the Jews move from Amran to Sanaa city, and that each family be granted a small piece of land in the city.

"But how can we leave our homes, businesses and land and come to Sanaa? There was no talk of financial assistance. We were told to sell our property and come to live in Sanaa," said the Jewish leader.


Four days after the killing of Nahari, a grenade was thrown at the house of a Jewish man in Raydah, further raising fears. The authorities have not managed to identify the perpetrators.

On 20 December, Abdul-Aziz al-Abdi, a 39 year-old former military pilot, confessed in court to killing the Jewish teacher in order "to get closer to God".

He said he had warned the Jews a month ago to convert to Islam or leave the area, and that he had informed the authorities six months ago about his intention to commit a crime if the Jews were not deported. "The Jews are creating problems and worries in the country and have relations with Britain and Tel Aviv," he said.

Relatives of al-Abdi said he had psychological problems and had killed his wife a few years ago, prompting Nahari's relatives to ask how it was he had been allowed to carry a gun in such circumstances.

Photo: Google Maps
A map of Yemen highlighting Saada and Amran provinces

The victim's sister, Malakah, told IRIN that going to court without protection was dangerous as al-Abdi's relatives "carried guns".

"We had to take a detour to reach the court. The al-Abdi family threatened us, saying they would not allow any Jew to live safely, and would kidnap Jewish women. If their relative was executed, they would kill 20 Jews," she said.

Read article in full

Amnesty International urges Yemen government to protect the Jews

Update: victim finally buried


'Forgotten refugees' film to be shown in Tel Aviv

(IsraelNN.com) The forgotten refugees, a movie documenting the destruction of ancient Jewish communities in the Middle East will be screened Monday night (29 December) in Tel Aviv, followed by a Question-and-Answer session with the producers and participants, Arutz Sheva reports.

How is it that the Jewish population in Arab countries dwindled from 1,000,000 people in 1945 to only a few thousand today? The movie tries to answer this question, featuring scholarly analyses, personal testimonies, film clips and pictures of rescue operations and re-settlement, and more. Jewish refugees from Egypt, Yemen, Morocco, Libya and Iraq tell their stories, interspersed with chapters on the rich contribution of Jews to Middle Eastern politics, business and music.

The Forgotten Refugees” chronicles the impact of the Arab Muslim conquest, the development of Judeo-Arab culture, and the modern rise of Arab nationalism that drove out hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes and communities. The movie attempts to present a unique educational approach regarding an important but little-known aspect of Middle Eastern history.

International economist Sidney Zabludoff published research several months ago showing that the Jewish refugees of the late 1940’s suffered more and have been helped less than their Arab counterparts. He said that many more Jews were forcibly displaced or expelled from their homes around the world than Arabs, that they lost significantly more property, and were helped over the years to a much smaller extent.

The Shas Party recently declared that it would demand restitution for the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to flee Arab and Muslim states. There can be no peace with Arab countries without compensation for Jews' lost property, said Shas Cabinet Minister Yitzchak Cohen.

Read article in full

The Forgotten Refugees will be shown at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque, 2 Sprinzek St, on Monday 29 December at 7:00 pm. Contact The David Project to organize a screening and/or educational program in your community (US code - 617-428-0012 ext. 1133).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A tale of Iranian-Jewish refugees for Hanukkah

Roya Hakakian's charming tale for Hanukkah in Forbes.com tells of the disorientated newcomer from Iran saved by a stranger.

On a December afternoon in 1985, my mother and I finally parted from each other. Two Jewish refugees from Iran, we had arrived in the United States six months earlier, and, for fear of getting lost, we had gone everywhere together. But that afternoon, she had to go home to Brooklyn to prepare Hanukkah dinner while I had to stay in Manhattan for a job interview.

What most daunted me about America in those days was not its swarming sidewalks and roads, or the forbidding heights of its skyscrapers, though even the most sophisticated Americans assumed they would. (Their misperception of Tehran as a backward city whose traffic grid was designed for camels was to blame for this.) Rather, it was Americans' blithe confidence in what they flaunted as the infallibly precise gadgetry of their advanced lifestyles that worried me, though decorum prevented me from pointing it out.

Anxious about leaving my mother on her own, I deposited a token, walked through the turnstiles and escorted her to the proper platform. When a Brooklyn-bound B finally arrived, speaking like the mother to my mother, I told her to stay on 'til she saw signs for 55th Street.

"Remember Mother, 55th Street is your stop!" I kept repeating to her, exactly the way she had once drilled into me to "greet the grocer!" when she sent me on an errand.

She stood at the threshold seconds before the doors shut while I gave my final instructions: "If you run into any problems, go to the conductor!"

Then the canned order blared: "Stand clear of the closing doors!" That mechanical sentence did what 19 years had not done, sending my mother and me in separate directions. She waved and smiled reassuringly as her train took off.

I stood, keeping her in sight, as if by gazing alone I could see her all the way to her destination, when a voice on the intercom announced: Attention! Attention! This B train is now running on the R Line. Attention: the Brooklyn-bound B will be running on the Queens R line.

When we first arrived, our relatives who had come years earlier--believing themselves authorities on all matters American--took it upon themselves to instruct us.

First came a the barrage of metaphors to supply us with apt imagery to orient us to our new surroundings: "Think yourself a bird! You've migrated to where the weather is better." Or, "mankind is like a plant, and this is the finest ground for your roots!" They had me convinced that if I could only find the right analogy, everything that stood between first-world felicity and me would fall away.

After the metaphors came the unsolicited advice, whose contradictoriness never fazed their dispensers. Some days it was: "Mind your own business!" Others: "If you don't know everyone's business, you're being cheated." Yet on one matter, they were unanimous: "Beware of blacks!"

Standing on the platform that afternoon, I saw clearly we were neither birds nor plants--for neither would ever lose their way home.

I took the next train to Brooklyn. At the local police station, I stopped to report, in my broken English, that my mother was missing. The officer waved me away, treating me like a mere nuisance who had to stew for 48 hours before earning his attention.

So I rushed home to call my relatives, hoping that their wisdom would extend beyond the inutile, to include something real--a person to see, a number to dial, to help find my mother. Of everyone I contacted, the only one I reached recited a few verses about the virtues of patience. It astounded me that, even in America, poetry persisted as the universal panacea.

The sun had nearly set when the doorbell rang. Behind it stood my jubilant mother, her arm looped through the arm of an African-American woman in a New York Transit Authority uniform. The moment my mother stepped into the house, her eyes welled up. Tears and words gushed forth together:

"This woman, right here, saved me!" she said in Persian.

Read article in full

Iranian Jew fulfils his dream of coming to Israel

Heart-warming piece in Jewish News about Binyamin, the young Iranian Jew whose dream was to come to Israel and join the IDF. (With thanks: a reader)

"To this day, Private Binyamin cannot believe that he is dressed in military uniform topped off with the red Paratrooper Brigade beret. What seemed to be a distant dream just a few years ago became reality when Binyamin immigrated to Israel from Iran and joined the Israel Defense Forces.

"After surfing the IDF website, he got in touch with the Jewish Agency and made it to Israel despite all the difficulties.

"Binyamin, age 24, was born in southern Iran. The Iranian government’s veto against allowing Iranian Jews to immigrate to Israel and the many sanctions on the Iranian Jewish community enhances Binyamin’s desire for freedom. “I grew up with the dream of immigrating to Israel and living there,” he says. “I remember from a young age hearing stories about the State of Israel. They were stories about having the freedom to be Jewish: of having the freedom to walk around wearing a Yarmulke and tallit (prayer shawl). Every Jew from everywhere around world who can contribute and help the country, should.(..)

""Of the 70 million people who live in Iran, there are only 25,000 Jews. “The Jews who live in Iran are good people,” says Binyamin. “They always help everyone with work and day to day problems, including their Muslim neighborhoods when they are in need of assistance.”

"Binyamin tells how he was forced to study in a Muslim school in Iran where they hardly touched upon the subject of Judaism. “I learned English and computers from a very young age, but Torah and Judaism I learned only in the synagogue.” He, like other Iranian Jews, was taught to keep his love for Israel hidden. Before the Iranian Revolution, when there was massive immigration by the Jewish community to the United States and Israel, Binyamin’s family chose to not leave Iran due to his father’s deteriorating health. “My uncle ran away to Israel 28 years ago when he was 18. He, like me, escaped because he loved Israel and could not continue living in the Diaspora. He came here alone. We both escaped. We are two people who can never go back. Today he is married, has four children and a stable job.”

"In Iran, it’s forbidden to view websites that post contrary opinions to those of the government,” remembers Binyamin. “In order to ensure that people do not enter these websites, there are special filters that block undesirable websites. Israeli and American news websites are of those that are forbidden. I learned computer science, so I managed to overpass the filters and surf every website that was blocked. The first one I looked at was the IDF website.”


Read article in full

Monday, December 22, 2008

Yemen killer: "Jews should convert to Islam"

It looks like the murder of Moshe al-Nahari will be dismissed as the act of a disturbed individual, rather than a jihadist, despite the fact that the Jews of Amran were subject to attack before the murder - and since:

AMRAN, Yemen (AFP) — A Yemeni confessed on Monday to killing a Jew, saying in court that he had warned that the minority should convert to Islam or leave the country, but his lawyers said he was mentally disturbed.

"I killed the Jew," Abdul Aziz Yahya al-Abdi, 39, screamed from the dock, referring to Masha Yaeish al-Nahari, whom he shot dead over a week ago in the town of Raydah, in the northern province of Amran.

"I have told them in a letter that they should either convert to Islam or leave Yemen, or I would kill them," he said, speaking of the minority of a few hundred Jews who continue to live in the Arabian peninsula country.

Only the immediate relatives of the victim were in court which was filled with members of Abdi's tribe, along with five lawyers who volunteered to defend him.

The hearing was the second, following the opening of the trial on Saturday.

"This man has wronged us," said the victim's father, addressing the judges, pointing at Abdi who appeared in a blue prison uniform.

Abdi said his act was "in accordance with a masters' dissertation I wrote on their electronic war and jihad (holy war) in the name of God."

Read article in full

Update: The Yemen Times quotes the victim's father: "If he is crazy, why give him a gun?"In this sympathetic piece, Mohammed al-Qadhi argues that relocating the Jews to Sana'a will not solve the underlying problem - rising intolerance and antisemitism.

Ynet News

Yemen Observer: killer demands American lawyer; victim's family demand he be executed in accordance with Sharia law.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Suspect in Jew's murder admits guilt as trial starts

The Yemen News agency reports:

AMRAN, Dec. 20 (Saba)- The penal court of Amran started on Saturday a trial of the man suspected of killing a Jewish citizen Mashi Yaish al-Nahari two weeks ago in Raidah district of Amran governorate.

The hearing was headed by Judge Abdul-Bari al-Aqbah.

In the session, the representative of the prosecution accused the suspect Abdul-Aziz al-Abdi, 39 yeas old, of killing the Jewish citizen. The suspect admitted his crime in the hearing.
The court agreed on a request of five lawyers to defend on the suspect, asking to hand them over a file of the case.

Read article in full

Let's not forget Jewish refugees from Arab lands

Jean-Pierre Allali (photo: DR)
Arab and Palestinian leaders must acknowledge their responsibility for the creation of the the Palestinian refugee problem, a French Jewish leader told a Bnai Brith lodge in the French town of Enghien at a talk on 1 December. Recognition of an exchange of refugee populations must be part of a future peace agreement.

A vice-president of JJAC ( Justice for Jews from Arab Countries), Jean-Pierre Allali referred to the little known fact that Muslims from North Africa and the Caucasus were imported into Palestine in the 19th century to offset Jewish immigration.

Allali recalled the tragedy and suffering of Jews in Muslim lands who were often expelled in dramatic circumstances from their countries of birth. He pleaded for the recognition of the rights of Jews from Arab and Muslim lands and for the exchange of equal refugee populations to be taken into account in any future peace settlement, so that the Palestinians might abandon their totally unrealistic 'right of return.'

Read original article in full (French)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Tunisian homage to the rabbi who never died

TUNIS (JTA) -- Hundreds gathered at the Jewish cemetery in Tunis to pay homage to a revered (19th century) scholar who, according to legend, drank himself to death after his wife burned all of his collected work.

Tuesday's attendance for the annual commemoration of Rabbi Hai Taieb's death reportedly was the largest ever -- 500 to 700. Guests from France and Israel filled three top hotels outside Tunis, according to Jerry Sorkin, a Philadelphia-area businessman who promotes travel to Tunisia and was on hand for the event.

The colorful celebration features festive drinking by the attendees, who pour boukha on the rabbi's grave. Plainclothes police provided security for the gathering.

According to the legend, Rabbi Hai Taieb lived a pious life from approximately the mid-18th century to the mid-19th century, spending all his time studying Torah, writing commentaries and influencing miracles. His work was produced in one room, which his wife was not permitted to enter.

His wife sneaked in one day when he was not at home and, shocked by the accumulated papers and chaos, burned everything. Upon seeing the loss of his work, the rabbi took to drinking boukha, the Tunisian fig liquer that today is often used as a substitute for kiddush wine. He drank until his death, continuing to offer his wisdom to Tunisian Jews. Upon finding him dead, one of his followers alerted others, saying, “Rebbe Hai has died.”

The response by his many followers, who felt his wisdom would never die, was that he did not die. On his grave are the Hebrew words “Lo Mait,” which means he did not die.

Read article in full

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Yemen government to move Jews to capital

According to Haaretz, President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen is planning to relocate Yemen's Jews from the Amran district and the city of Raidah to the capital, Sana, where each Jewish family will receive a plot of land.

The rabbi of the Jewish community, Yehi Yaish, told the independent Yemenite Internet site, News Yemen, that in a meeting with him, the president instructed his security officials to monitor implementation of the Jews' relocation.

Many of Yemen's Jews, some of whom were attacked over the last few days, are uninterested in leaving their country and immigrating to Israel.

Members of the Sana Jewish community have said during recent phone calls to that some do not want to immigrate at this time, while others are assessing their futures in light of the authorities' actions against the Muslim citizens involved in recent attacks against Yemen's Jews.

This past Monday night, two petrol bombs were thrown at the home of Saadia Yaakov. His family has since told friends in Israel that no one was hurt in the incident, which took place in the middle of the night. "We were very afraid at night, but we're all okay," said the mother of the family, while the father vigorously maintained that he does not know who carried out the act and that he has no quarrel with anyone. "I don't know why they threw the petrol bombs and I don't know who threw them," he said. "May God have compassion on us."

The community in Raidah where Moshe Nahari was murdered a few days ago is one of the last two Jewish communities remaining in Yemen. The community is estimated to number about 270 Jews who live in their own complex in the town. Many of its inhabitants continue to work as silversmiths, a traditional Yemenite-Jewish occupation. It is considered a Jewish occupation because Islam restricts the work of Muslim silversmiths.

Raida, a desert town in the Amran district, around 70 kilometers north of the capital Sana, has a few thousand residents. It has no tourist sites and the central government's control over it is weak. Many residents there carry automatic weapons for protection, including Jews. However, according to Yemenite law, Jews are not permitted to carry the traditional Yemenite knife known as a jambiya, which every Yemenite Muslim man adorns himself with.

For over a year, some 50 Jews have been living in Sana after having been transferred from their hometown to the capital by order of the government in order to protect them from attacks by their Muslim neighbors. In Sana, the government maintains law and order and therefore the Jews there do not face any danger.

One Sana Jew said this week that he does not plan to immigrate to Israel. "They give us everything we need here," he explained. His friend in Israel told Haaretz that members of the community in Yemen think only about day-to-day life and not about their children's future. "How many generations can they hold on for? After all, it is clear that in the end they will immigrate to Israel because the Jewish community in Yemen has no future. Perhaps it will be necessary to bring only their remains to Israel," he said.

Moshe Nahari, the Jewish man killed several days ago in Raida, has still not been buried. His relatives and associates tried to pressure the authorities to allow the body to be brought to Israel for burial, but approval was not granted. Nahari previously lived in Israel, in the Oshiyot neighborhood of Rehovot, but returned to Yemen.

Read article in full

Jerusalem Post article

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bahrain's unlikely envoy: a woman and a Jew

Huda Nonoo (photo: the JC)
It is undoubtedly remarkable that Bahrain should have appointed as its ambassador to the US a woman - and a Jewish one at that. Huda Nonoo, 44, chooses her words carefully, the Jewish Chronicle reports in this exclusive interview by Simon Round (The unlikely envoy). Perhaps too carefully: " At the end of the day, I'm an Arab", she says. Excuse me? It is one thing to be a diplomat, quite another to to be so anxious to please that she is ready to compromise her identity. I'm sure she really meant: "at the end of the day, I'm a Bahraini."

"Why was Nonoo — who, despite having being appointed to the Shura (the upper house of Bahrain’s parliament) in 2006, has no diplomatic experience — given her country’s most prestigious and important ambassadorial role? Part of the answer lies in her obvious charm, intelligence and her great appetite for serving her country, but she also acknowledges that there was another agenda.

“It was a huge shock to be appointed — I never expected it, but it has proved to be a good way of promoting Bahrain. It was a way of showing the uniqueness and the tolerance of my country. When they told me I was going to be ambassador to the United States, I thought that maybe they should have sent me to Timbuctoo first because I didn’t have any diplomatic background, but I have been very well accepted in the US.”

"But how do the ambassadors of the other 21 Arab states feel about having a female colleague, and a Jewish one at that? “Yes, I was worried about how I would be received but it hasn’t caused any problems whatsoever,” she says.

“There is already a female ambassador from Oman, so she set a precedent. I had a welcome dinner from the ambassador of Syria and the ambassador of Iran. My grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Iraq so the Iraqi ambassador was very interested to learn of my background.”

"She has also made courtesy calls to all her Arab colleagues and has attended a meeting of the Arab League. “At my first meeting, no one knew who I was,” says Nonoo, who is a youthful-looking 44. “I walked in and said good morning, but no one responded, so I sat down at the end of the table. They passed around a sheet to be signed by all the ambassadors. When the sheet was returned to the man chairing the meeting he looked up and said: ‘It seems we have to welcome the new ambassador of Bahrain. We didn’t realise she was so young.’”

"Since then, Nonoo has felt warmly accepted into the diplomatic community, even by the ambassadors of countries who would never themselves appoint a woman, let alone a Jew. “The Saudi ambassador is amazing — he has become a good friend. So has the Kuwaiti ambassador,” she says.

"There is one aspect of her role that may cause her problems. As a Jewish woman, educated for four years at the now-defunct Oxfordshire Jewish boarding school, Carmel College, Nonoo is now ambassador of a country which does not recognise Israel.

"She chooses her words carefully. “We don’t have diplomatic relations with Israel. Having said that, our foreign minister at the United Nations General Assembly in September put forward an initiative that asked for all Middle Eastern countries, without exception, to meet together. In an interview, when he was asked what countries, he specified all countries, including Turkey, Israel and Iran.

“At the end of the day, I’m an Arab. I describe myself as an Arab Jew. I’m proud of it. I was asked by someone in England whether I felt Jewish first or Bahraini first. I said I was Bahraini first. He got quite offended, but that’s the way I feel.”

"There is not a huge Jewish community in Bahrain — she thinks it currently numbers 36. But nonetheless, her family were proudly Jewish and she had a happy upbringing. Her father managed cinemas. “We had actors and actresses coming from Egypt or India. So I grew up in a very interesting house.”

"Her schooling was just as cosmopolitan. Initially, she went to a convent — a Jewish girl in an Islamic country being educated by Italian nuns. “There were Muslims, Hindus and Christians, so I didn’t feel any different from anyone else. I never had any discrimination. We kept our religion at home. It was more or less impossible to keep Shabbat because we had school on Saturdays, but whatever we could do we did. Even now, we keep the High Holy Days — Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover, plus Purim and Chanucah, because they’re fun.”

"Nonoo recalls the culture shock of arriving in Britain at the age of 15 to begin her stint at Carmel. “My dad didn’t tell me until a week before that I was going there.” Did she enjoy it? Nonoo laughs again: “Who enjoys boarding school? In Bahrain, everything was done for me. I was thrown into this environment where you had to make your own bed, put your own clothes away. I wasn’t brought up that way, but it taught me independence. Plus, it was very Orthodox — I wasn’t used to that, either.”

She stayed in Britain, attending the then City of London Polytechnic (now London Guidhall University), graduating in economics and accounting before doing a masters in business administration. At that point, she imagined she might stay in Britain. She lived in St John’s Wood in North-West London and started a business. However, when her father was killed in a car accident in 1993, she returned to Bahrain.

“When he died, I went back to take over a computer company that he had started. The plan was to sort it out and come back to England. One year became 15 but I have no regrets about the way my life has turned out.”

"Except perhaps in one respect. Nonoo’s family — her husband and two boys aged 17 and 16 — have remained in Bahrain. “Americans are very friendly and they make you feel at home straight away, but it can be hard at weekends. Without my family it can be a little lonely if I have nothing to do, but otherwise I’m having a good time.”

"And she feels she has an important job to do in correcting preconceptions about Bahrain. “People have heard of one Gulf state and they think all Gulf states are the same. They ask whether females are allowed to drive, whether women have to cover up. In Bahrain it’s your choice. Knowing my country the way I do, these are weird questions.”

Her appointment has done much to answer them.

Read article in full

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Egyptian intellectuals curious about Israel shunned

Egyptian playwright Ali Salem

An Egyptian intellectual needn't go to Israel to be ostracised - to sing in a Cairo synagogue could be deemed offensive enough. Jeffrey Fleishman of The Los Angeles Times reports:

Reporting from Cairo -- It has been a tough peace for Ali Salem. His plays don't have a stage. Intellectuals shun him; the writers union refuses to pay his pension. He sits in a cafe window, typing on his laptop and defending his choice long ago to cross the border into Israel and make friends.

Egypt and Israel made peace in 1979, but that treaty remains as agitating to Egyptian artists and intellectuals as a sliver of glass beneath the skin. Most of them don't accept it, and those who do are often vilified, their artistic voices muffled by condemnation.

"Producers are afraid to come near me," said Salem, who in 1994 drove his car across Israel and wrote what critics considered a sympathetic book about the journey. "I anticipated there would be a strong reaction, but I didn't expect it would be so mean. It's hard and this is the wound."

Salem, a columnist for Al Hayat newspaper and a co-founder of the Cairo Peace Movement, added: "Peace is the right idea. But Egyptian intellectuals are afraid and can't get rid of their ancient fears. They still think Israel and the U.S. will inflict something bad upon us."

There are degrees of resistance among intellectuals toward rapprochement. Many oppose improving relations until Palestinians have their own state; others support limited peace but are guarded when discussing the passions around the Arab-Israeli conflict; a few have visited Israel to interact with their Jewish counterparts.

And, occasionally, an artist unwittingly becomes the target of screeds and opinion page vitriol. Filmmaker Nadia Kamel’s recent documentary about her mother's Jewish roots was attacked as a call to "normalize" relations with Israel. Opera singer Gaber Beltagui had his membership in the musicians union suspended in 2007 when he sang at the 100th anniversary of a Cairo synagogue.

"How can he go sing at a synagogue while they [Israelis] are killing our sons?" Mounir Wasseemy, the head of the Musical Artists' Syndicate, said, denouncing Beltagui. "What glory was he seeking?"

The Cairo synagogue is "officially recorded as an Egyptian monument," said Beltagui, who has filed suit against the union. "I did not expect this reaction. I did nothing wrong. I had even asked permission from the state security services before I sang."

Similar furor has engulfed Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the grand sheik of Cairo's Al Azhar Mosque, the leading Sunni institution in the Islamic world. Writers and newspapers have called for Tantawi’s resignation after he was photographed shaking hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres at a recent international conference on religious understanding sponsored by the United Nations.

Read article in full

Yemen Jews live in fear after grenade attack

As attacks continue on the Jewish minority, the Yemen government's failure to protect the remaining Jews in the country puts the latter in an untenable position.

The National
of Abu Dhabi reports:

SANA'A : A hand-grenade attack early yesterday morning in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood outside Yemen’s capital has shaken the population, coming just four days after a Jewish teacher was murdered in broad daylight.

“I heard a strong explosion that shook our houses while we were sleeping,” said Saeed Israel Jacob. “Somebody threw a hand grenade at our houses and ran away.”

Mr Jacob said everybody in Kharef district in the Amman governorate, 80km north of Sana’a, was afraid, but they did not know who was responsible for the attack.
Police said they were looking into the incident and would act on the Jewish community’s suggestion.

“We respect the Jews in Kharef. They are Yemeni citizens and receive equal treatment like Muslims. They are under the protection of the state and such attacks are incidental,” said Major Nabit Ali al Mahdi, the deputy security director for Kharef district.

Maj al Mahdi said there had been other reports of harassment of Jews and that two people had already been arrested in those cases.

However, Masha Yahia (rabbi Yahia Yaish, brother of the murder victim - ed), said the response of the police to reports of attacks was inadequate.

“My house was attacked with hand grenades some time ago. I reported that to the police but no action was taken. We are facing a lot of problems and we demand the protection of the state,” he said.

Read article in full

Jewish Agency concerned over Yemen antisemitism (Ynet News)

Haaretz article

Monday, December 15, 2008

Yemen murder gang has Jews surrounded - rabbi

Contradicting reports that eight suspects have been arrested by the authorities, a Yemen rabbi whose brother was murdered last week claims that murder gang members have the Jews under virtual house arrest. The rabbi calls on Muslims to protect Jews: his brother will not be buried unless his killer is too. This from News Yemen (with thanks: Heather):

Some suspects allegedly continue to threaten a group of Jews in Al-Souk al-Jadeed area of Kharef district of Amran province, north Yemen, and prevent them to leave (their) homes.

Rabbi Yehiya Yaish, one of the leaders of Jewish community in Yemen, said that he and other Jews are under house arrest as eight suspected of killing his brother Moshe Yaish Nahari last Thursday are surrounding their houses since Saturday evening.


“We are under house arrest and cannot even open doors due to threats by the gang that is surrounding houses in the area and throwing stones to windows and doors,” said Rabbi Yaish in a telephone call with NewsYemen.

Yaish said that the “gang” is led by a companion of “a powerful” figure in the area, obstructing any official or unofficial procedures taken to stop threats and assaults against Jews.

Yaish said the order of the Interior Minister to arrest the eight suspects was “just for media coverage, but what is happening is that we are being attacked in broad daylight.”

Yaish refused to bury his brother Moshe and said Moshe would be buried together with the killer, calling Muslims to protect Jews.

Read article in full

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Yemen victim's brother: 'protect us or deport us'

The Jewish minority in Yemen has demanded the government 'protect them or deport them' from the country after a religious extremist killed one of them last Thursday, the Yemen Observer reports. The murder is the latest of a catalogue of abuses and assaults. The article also reveals that two of the victim's sisters were injured, one seriously, in a car accident on their way to attend the funeral.

"As long as the State is unable to protect us and secure us in our homeland, then, you buy our houses and properties and pay us the money and deport us from the country," said the rabbi, Yahya bin Yaish, brother of Mousa Yaish who was killed.

The rabbi has revealed abuses and assaults over the past few months against the Jewish community which forms less than 500 people among the 22 million Yemeni population.

"Over the past months we have been suffering from repeated assaults and threats; we have been reporting to the official concerned bodies and tribal chiefs but without success," he said.
He accused "some local people headed by bodyguards of some influential officials" of committing such repeated "assaults, abuses, harassments" against the Jews in Raida and Kharef in Amran province, where about 400 people of the Jewish community lives.

The Ministry of Interior said Saturday it had arrested eight of these people accused of abusing the Jews.

"The assaults and threats have gone as far as the murder of my brother who was cold bloodedly killed in the market before the eyes and ears of all," The rabbi said.

"They search us when we come and go, they search our visitors, and investigate our guests, they sometimes attack out houses, beat us, and threaten our women with guns, and nobody rescues us from them, it seems that everybody is helpless to protect us from those assailants, or maybe it is organized assaults," he added.

The former pilot, Abdul Azeez Hamoud Al Abdi, in his 40s, confessed to killing the Jew Mousa Yaish, without showing any kind of repentance over committing the crime, according to sources familiar to the investigations.

The sources said the perpetrator said he did that to "get closer to Allah" , and that he warned the Jews in writing one month ago. In his alleged letter he said to the Jews: You either convert to Islam, or leave the country, or face the sword. (..)

Relatives of the victim from Israel, US, and Britain, have arrived in Yemen to participate in the funeral which will be held this week. Two of his sisters were injured, one of them seriously, in a car accident in their way from Raida to Amran on Friday after they arrived from Israel.

"Now, they (are) in a hospital in Sana'a, and the funeral may be delayed until his sisters are recovered," said one of the relatives who accompanied the two sisters to the hospital in Sana'a.

Read article in full

Friday, December 12, 2008

Yemen Jew shot dead 'for not accepting Islam'

Moshe Yaish-Nahari, the brother of a prominent rabbi in Yemen, was shot dead on Thursday in Rida, Yemen, north of the capital Sana'a, the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat has reported (via Ynet News). Nothing to do with Islam, the authorities say: the assailant was mentally unbalanced.

Update: According to the Jerusalem Post, eight suspects have now been arrested for, in all likelihood, a 'religiously-motivated' murder. The BBC prefers to say it is not clear if the motive was 'political'.

Local sources said the suspected killer, Abed el-Aziz el-Abadi, a former MiG-29 pilot in Yemen's air force, has been apprehended and taken in for questioning. Eyewitnesses told the newspaper that el-Abadi had confronted Nahari at the market in Rida, called out to him "Jew, accept the message of Islam" and then proceeded to open fire with a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Nahari was struck by five bullets.

According to the preliminary investigation, the suspect had murdered his wife just two years ago, but avoided jail time by offering her family compensation.

Nahari (pictured) is the brother of Rabbi Yehiya Yaish, one of the leaders of Yemen's Jewish community.

Deputy head of security of the Amran province, Ahmed el-Sarihi, told Asharq Al-Awsat that el-Abadi is "an extremist who suffers from mental problems". According to the security official, the suspect has admitted to killing Nahari, and told his interrogators that "these Jews must convert to Islam".

Read article in full

Haaretz report (with thanks: Lily)

Zawya Gulf News says that victim's brother wants Sharia justice

Thursday, December 11, 2008

An Arab and Muslim Middle East? No thanks!

An extraordinary piece by the young Egyptian political scientist and author Masri Feki explodes the myth of an Arab and Muslim Middle East. Read the whole thing! (via Harry's Place):

Last month, The Guardian’s own Brian Whitaker wrote a CiF piece called “Minority rights? No thanks!“ His article, a response to a lecture I had given the previous evening at the London Middle East Institute, reduced the Middle East minority issue to a question of oppression by authoritarian regimes. Everyone is oppressed in this part of the world, he argued, no matter which community they come from. Whitaker produced examples of authoritarian rule by so-called minorities – Alawites in Syria and Sunnis in Bahrain. I could not disagree more strongly.

Firstly, these examples are ill-chosen. The regimes in question are both Arab and Muslim and proclaim themselves so. They do not suffer the tribulations and anxieties faced by Kurds in Syria or Copts in Egypt. They cleave from the rest of society as clans or tribes, not as national or religious groupings. Apart from the issue of bad governance – afflicting almost the entire region - minorities who do not fit into the grand Arab-Muslim design (with its twin poles of Islamism and Arabism), foisted on us following the fall of the Ottoman empire, face troubles specific to them.

Let me explain why.

Political Islam is incompatible with citizenship: Almost all Arab regimes claim that minorities are protected by their constitutional principles, but Islam is a primary source of state law. Furthermore, the rise of Islamism has seriously eroded citizens’ rights. So-called secular regimes have had to retreat in the face of the Islamist opposition, although the latter lack popular support and legitimacy. Rejecting the modern concept of citizens’ rights, political Islam sets non-Muslims apart from civil society. The constitution is immutable: it is there by divine right and comes from the Creator of the Universe. It is absolutist by nature and excludes unbelievers, and thus non-Muslims.

Even those Arab regimes claiming to be socialist progressive (Egypt, Syria and Baathist Iraq) have, through their passivity, encouraged political Islam. It was under Sadat that Islam first invaded public life in the 1970s. The Muslim Brotherhood underwent a honeymoon period with the man who called himself ‘the believing president’. Islamists gained key posts in the civil service and the universities. With their literalist reading of the Koran excluding infidels from public life, they were , in the eyes of Sadat, a bulwark against Communism, while the Copts became the preferred targets of Islamist violence and generalised discrimination. These 15 percent of Egyptians only have 1.5 percent of public service jobs and only one seat in Parliament out of 444. They are almost entirely excluded from the army and the judiciary. A ban on practising obstetrics or teaching Arabic, legal and bureaucratic constraints on the building and maintenance of Christian places of worship and the virtual invisibility of the Christian communities on the political scene and in the media are not only concrete proof of discrimination but of the authorities’ reluctance to end it – a fact which is regularly denounced in UN human rights reports.

Not all Arabic-speakers are Arabs: A common language is only one uniting factor between disparate members of a given nation. Just as religion does not define ethnicity, so language is not a sufficiently objective criterion for constituting a single nation. In fact Egyptians are not any more Arab than Mexicans and Peruvians are Spanish. What defines a nation are geography, values, common political conventions, ideas, interests, affections, common memories and aspirations. Running counter to all the nationalist experiences that crown observable, objective, national facts, pan-Arab nationalism has created the Arab nation. It has not been created by it. The arbitrary notion of a nation, which makes people Arabs despite themselves for the simple reason that they speak Arabic, casts aside key historical narratives and legitimate national claims.

This is not to reject Arab identity as illegitimate. Arab nationalism (Arabism) is not illegitimate in itself, but its over-arching claim to pan-Arabism denies the national identities of those non-Arab peoples which have adopted Arabic as their national language (Egyptians, Sudanese, Somalis) as well as those who have not. The forced arabisation of Kurds in Iraq and Syria, the ongoing persecution of Copts in Egypt, Assyrians and Chaldeans in Iraq, the continuing harassment of the last Jews of Yemen and Syria, and recourse to violence, intimidation and cultural denial if any minority refuses to be crushed under the boot of pan-Arabism, reflects the bellicose chauvinism of this ideology.

The Middle East is a region of diversity: Pan-Arabism is an astounding concept of national and religious identity and one at total variance with great Arab values. It does not represent the cultural, ethnic, religious and linguistic mosaic that has always been the Middle East. It is time to make the distinction between Arabs and Muslims on the one hand, and Arab identity and language on the other.

Read article in full

The irresistible rise of the Iraqi Jews

The London Review of Books prints a second letter criticising Adam Shatz's review of two books on Iraqi Jews:

Iraq’s Jews

Adam Shatz abruptly ends his article on the Jews of Iraq with their humiliating arrival in Israel as refugees: they were sprayed with DDT and curtly sent to transit camps (6 November). He might have completed his story by recounting what happened next: the rather rapid rise of Iraqi Jews, as artists, government ministers, generals, academics, assorted professionals and businesspeople of all kinds in an increasingly prosperous and advanced society. But that would not have served the purpose of denigrating Israel. By the way, at the time DDT was the only safeguard against the Mesopotamian fruit flies that could have devastated the orange crops that were the country’s only export.

Edward Luttwak
Chevy Chase, Maryland

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Egyptians oppose Jewish pilgrimage to Nile Delta

Local Egyptians 'outraged at Israel's treatment of Gaza' have voiced their opposition to the hundreds of Jewish visitors who make the annual pilgrimage to the Nile Delta tomb of Abu Hassira, a 19th century Jewish holy man from Morocco. It has escaped their notice, no doubt, that Gaza not only has a border with Egypt, but that Egypt has on occasion refused to let Gazan pilgrims returning from their Hajj to Mecca, go home. (Via Women's Lens)

Update:
Campaigners are hoping to collect a million signatures to have the Egyptian government cancel the festivities altogether, according to this Medialine report, picked up in the Jerusalem Post. "Every year they complain", says an organiser. So far 260 have booked to attend the pilgrimage, which takes place on the rabbi's birthday of 14 January 2009.

The International Press Service reports:

CAIRO, Dec 9 (IPS) - Jews from around the world come annually to Egypt to celebrate the birth anniversary of Abu Hassira, a 19th century holy man buried in the Nile Delta. But many local people oppose the celebrations, and this year particularly because of Israel's ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip.

"The people of Demito, and Egyptians in general, adamantly reject this festival," Moustafa Raslan, a lawyer who has campaigned since 1995 to ban the event, told IPS. "Why should Egypt host Israeli Jews while Israel starves Gaza and murders Palestinians on a regular basis?"

Abu Hassira, a Moroccan Jew who was believed to work miracles, came to Egypt in the 19th century. He settled in the Nile Delta village Demito in the modern province of Beheira, roughly 150 km north of Cairo. He died there in 1880.

Ever since the signing of the Egypt-Israel Camp David Peace Agreement in 1979, religious Jews have converged on Demito every year in rising numbers on the birth anniversary. Running from late December into the first week of January, the festival draws Jewish visitors from around the world, including the U.S., Morocco and -- more contentiously -- Israel.

"In the early 1980s, only a couple of dozen Jewish pilgrims would come to the tomb of Abu Hassira, but they soon began coming in the hundreds," Mohie Durbuk, a lawyer from the nearby city Demenhour told IPS. "In recent years, the number has reached about 4,000."

Durbuk said visitors have included major rabbinic figures and high-level Israeli government officials.

The festival has usually met with a cold reception from both Demito residents and the wider public, who -- like much of the Arab world -- continue to be outraged by Israel's harsh treatment of Palestinian people.

Local residents also resent the draconian security measures that accompany the event, which they say cause considerable inconvenience.

"From one week before the festival until its conclusion, the authorities vastly step up the security presence in and around the village," said Durbuk. "A strict curfew is enforced throughout Demito from 6pm until 6am, during which time local people aren't allowed to leave their homes."

Critics also point out that the size of the compound housing Abu Hassira's tomb has been significantly -- if gradually -- enlarged over the last three decades.

"Originally, the mausoleum compound only occupied some 350 square metres," said Durbuk. "But in the last 30 years, it's been slowly enlarged, and now sits on more than 8,000 square metres of government land. Egyptians are barred from approaching the site all year round."

Durbuk said Jewish visitors have made several offers to purchase land adjacent to the tomb. "They tried to buy land from local families, in some cases offering more than 100 times the going rate," said Durbuk. "But all these offers were turned down."

Read article in full

New work on the Jews of Libya is essential reading

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Farhoud: our sleepless night of terror

Saul Fathi, author of Full Circle, continues his account of the 1941 Farhoud, Kristallnacht for the Jews of Iraq. The word Farhoud is Arabic for 'violent dispossession'. (Via Zionation - Part ll: The Farhood).

Father and Mother immediately jumped out of their beds and stood near the edge of the roof, facing the downtown area of Baghdad. We all got up to stand with them and look. Normally, Father would have told us to get back to our beds, but he didn’t tonight. His eyes were transfixed on the glow emanating from the city’s central district where the Jewish and Muslim communities abutted each other. As we watched the glow crept toward us, spreading from block to block. On the night wind, we caught a faint wailing cry welling up from where we saw the orange light. Mixed with that wail were crashes and booms.

Mother began to weep, and Father’s jaw was clenched tight as he held onto Mother. As we watched the orange glow expand, we could see smoke against the growing light and an occasional lick of flame. The smell of burning wood was on the wind. Father gathered Berta, Yedida, and me, along with my baby brother Yeftah, who was already there whimpering, into our parent’s big bed with him and Mother. We clung to each other as we watched the fires and destruction creep closer hour by hour into the long night.

“That must be Sooq Ha-rage and Sooq Le-sfa-feer,” Father said, “the markets.” After awhile, we could hear screams and distinct curses. “They’ve come to Bab-el-shar-gee and Taht-el-takya,” Father whispered. These were wealthy Jewish neighborhoods. Father held us tighter and began to pray softly. I was afraid, but I wasn’t sure of what exactly. All I could see was that this orange glow was alive and growing and it brought pain. I squeezed closer to my father and my sisters. Around two o’clock, crashing and pounding stopped and all we could hear was the soft wail the seemed to come from everywhere now. After a little while, my parents’ muscles seemed to relax and I fell asleep.

I woke the next morning to screams and renewed crashing in the streets nearby. The destruction in the city was clearly visible now. We could see people struggling with men wielding knives. We saw Jews on faraway rooftops jumping from their roofs to their Arab neighbors’ roofs. Their neighbors quickly ushered them inside where they could hide.

The British army, which had now taken control of Iraq by then, remained just outside of Baghdad and was totally disengaged allowing the atrocities against the Jews to continue unabated.

The wave of destruction continued until about mid-afternoon. It was then that the Kurdish division of the military, ordered by the Regent, moved into the city, sweeping the neighborhoods, rounding up those responsible for this pogrom. By about two o’clock, Kurdish troops were beginning to take up posts in front of prominent Jewish homes. One soldier was stationed in front of our own door.

By Sunday afternoon, there were 180 Jews dead, 240 children orphaned, and 2,120 wounded. Countless numbers of women and girls had been raped and kidnapped. Babies had been disemboweled before their parents’ eyes. Rioters broke into marked Jewish-owned stores, especially those on Shorja Street, looting and destroying. Two thousand homes had been plundered and 2,375 shops had been looted. The property damage was estimated at £3 to £3.5 million. The Jews weren’t permitted to bury their dead themselves. The dead were collected by the government, and eventually, all were buried in one mass grave.

Read post in full

Part 1: Prelude

Monday, December 08, 2008

The media weave historical distortions

Among other things, in his excellent Wall St Journal letter, Shaul Lavan draws attention to how the media projects a distorted, Eurocentric view of the Arab-Israeli conflict:

Bret Stephens's Dec. 2 Global View "Media Narratives Feed Terrorist Fantasies" hit the mark in assessing media influence on terrorism. Not only the BBC, but also many U.S. news outlets, uncritically accept every allegation from what they see as aggrieved populations, while using selective facts to destroy the credibility of Western governments and law enforcement agencies.

Unfortunately, this distortion of "narrative" goes beyond individual events, and extends to historical background. For example, the BBC Web site gives the impression that were no Jews in the Middle East prior to the 19th century. This feeds into the false claim that "the Palestinians are paying for the Holocaust." In fact, half of all Israelis are descendants of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Their 14 centuries of "dhimmi" status might as well have occurred on a different planet.

What is now called Arab East Jerusalem had a Jewish majority from the 1850s until the 1920 riots forced them out. The 19th-century plight of Jews in the Holy Land was described in detail by British officials such as consul James Finn. Nevertheless, the BBC Web site subtly implies that all Jews in Israel are of European descent.

These distortions are not unique to the Arab-Israeli conflict. In covering terrorism in India, the New York Times talks of "Hindu extremists" but use the term "militant" -- not even "Islamic militant" for Islamist terrorists. It is the Indian government, and its responses, rather than the Islamist attackers, that are held culpable for Indian victims. Again and again, deeds of Islamist militants are rationalized, while any Christian, Hindu or Jewish response is castigated.

The bias is so apparent and consistent that one might be tempted to dismiss its influence. Unfortunately it has promoted a climate of appeasement that will only lead to more atrocities like that in Mumbai.

Shaul Lavan
Sandy Springs, Ga.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Farhoud, 1941: Kristallnacht for Iraq's Jews


Saul Silas Fathi's account of his early life in Baghdad, related in his book, Full Circle, seems to bear out that life was both wonderful and terrible for Jews in Arab lands
. It was very good until it was very bad. Saul's father was director of the Iraqi railway system. His family lived well, but by the 1930s, the storm was gathering. Below is Fathi's account of the prelude to the Farhoud , the 1941 Iraqi pogrom against the Jews. [Via Zionation (Iraqi Jews before the fall), with thanks: Ami].

The treatment of Jews in Iraq during the early part of the twentieth century had been relatively positive. The British under the 1917 mandate saw the value of having Jews work with them and later with the newly formed monarchy. They realized that the Jews, who were already holding prominent positions in government and commerce, understood the Iraqi culture and knew both English and the local dialects.

In Iraq, Zionism, or the encouragement of Jewish identity and culture, was permitted from World War I to the early 1930s. However, with the rise of pro- German and pro-Nazi sympathizers in Iraq, restrictions began to be leveled on Jews. In 1933, the Iraqi government forbade the teaching of Hebrew and restricted its use to the Holy Scriptures and in prayers. Extra permits and licensing fees were levied on Jews; and sometimes an extra bribe had to be made in order for Jews to ship or receive goods, without their merchandise sitting in a customs dock indefinitely. Many Jews also were fired from their government jobs.

By the mid 1930s, Nazi-inspired policies became more widespread. Arab boys in Baghdad were often sent to Germany to attend Hitler Youth events. Public high schools stopped teaching French, the language of diplomacy, and began to teach German. Junior high school boys were encouraged to join the Futtuwa, paramilitary programs based on the Hitler Youth groups. Finally, in 1938, no Jews were permitted to attend the public high schools, nor were Jews permitted to leave the country. The Jewish community restricted its own movements to known safe places: work, school, and the marketplace. Though the Balfour Declaration after World War I favored British support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, the British in Iraq could do nothing about the growing Arab support of Arab Palestinians and anti-Zionist hate. Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda found its way into Iraq and was actively distributed. German-backed anti-Jewish radio broadcasts filled the Iraqi airwaves, and short-wave radio receivers could pick up anti-Jewish broadcasts from Germany. Hajj Amin al Hussayni, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (1920-1937) under the British mandate, had fled to Iraq after authorizing terrorist attacks on the British and the Jews in Palestine, and was welcomed by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Al Sa’id. In response, Hussayni and his old friend, Fawzi Kawakchi [Kaukji, Kawkji], spent a year agitating the Iraqi populace against the monarchy, the Regent Abd Al-Ilah, the British, and, of course, the Jews. They used Iraqi radio as their primary propaganda tool.

It was in 1938 that Iraq and the rest of the world heard the awful news of Krystallnacht in Germany. Called “Crystal Night” or the “Night of Broken Glass,” two-days of violence swept through a large Jewish community. German soldiers systematically marched from city block to city block, burning, looting, and killing. One hundred Jews were murdered. Thirty thousand were rounded up and moved to concentration camps. Seven thousand Jewish owned businesses were destroyed and two hundred synagogues were burned.

"With growing pro-Nazism in Iraq and the rise of hatred of the Jews there, the Jewish community feared open violence would reach their people as well. When World War II began in late 1939, Iraq’s treaty with the British stipulated that Iraq would officially and politically side with the Allies. This served only to fan the flames of Arab nationalism that found sympathy with Nazism and anti-Jewish sentiment within the country.

Read post in full

Part 2 to follow

Israelis are 'buying former homes in Baghdad'

Is Baghdad peaceful enough for Jews to be investing in riverside property? According to this report on al-Arabiya (picked up by Israel Channel 2) Israelis are buying up their former homes in Baghdad. (with thanks: Linda)

Iraqi Israeli Jews 'have bought tens of houses' through lawyers, the TV report alleges. Some are in Abu Nawas St, along the river Tigris, and al-Rashid St, where many Jews once had offices and shops.

One tenant pays the rent through a lawyer. He knows the house belongs to Israeli Jews. According to the report, people in Baghdad read the books of (the Israeli novelist) Sami Michael translated from Hebrew!

Until these mysterious Israeli Jews come forth from the shadows perhaps it is wise to take this report with a pinch of salt.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Guardian discussion centres on refugees

The interesting thing about this article about Obama and Middle East peace on the Guardian website Comment is Free is not the article itself, but that much of the discussion in the comments thread afterwards centres on refugees, with the emphasis on compensation for both Arab and Jewish refugees.(with thanks: Independent Observer). This is not something that would have happened, say, a year ago. Here's a sample exchange:

Professor Geoffrey Alderman: These proposals, apart from being incredibly naive, also seem to me to ignore other imperatives that must be addressed. The first is the compensation payable to Jews forcibly evicted from their homes in Arab countries in the wake of the 1948 re-establishment of the Jewish state. The second is the prevalence of anti-Jewish propaganda in the state-controlled Arab and Islamic media. As part of a comprehensive peace all this propaganda must cease. I assume, incidentally, that when professors Cohen and Gordon refer to each side having control of "its own religious sites" this includes Jewish control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and of the Tombs of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

Papalagi: These proposals may be naive but not because of the reasons Geoffrey believes. He speaks about compensation for Jews evicted from Arab countries. This is the new tactic of the rejectionists. Fact is that Israel promoted a campaign to bring those Jews to Israel. Most went voluntariously (sic). There is nothing to compensate.

Papalagi produces the usual canards: the Jewish refugees left at a) Israel's instigation b) of their own free will. An argument also being advanced more and more lately is that, far from helping to bring about reconciliation between two wronged parties, the Jewish refugees are a spanner in the works of a peace deal.

Read article and thread

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Propagandist wakes up to Jewish refugees issue

It must be a good sign when, prompted by last week's news that the Israeli party Shas is to make Jewish refugees an electoral issue, a professional apologist like Jonathan Cook feels sufficiently alarmed to write about the issue of justice for Jews from Arab Countries. While his piece for The National (Abu Dhabi) starts off factually enough, however, it soon enough degenerates into a litany of lies and half-truths. I have challenged them in italics.

" A broad coalition of Jewish lobby groups has made a series of breakthroughs this year in its campaign to link the question of justice for millions of Palestinian refugees with justice for Jews who left Arab states in the wake of Israel's establishment 60 years ago.

"Referring to these Jews as the "forgotten refugees" and claiming that their plight is worse than that of exiled Palestinians, the campaign has scored political successes in recent months in Washington, London, and Brussels.

"Last week, the campaign received a major fillip when one of Israel's largest political parties announced that restitution of property for Arab Jews was a central plank of its platform for the general election scheduled for February.

"Shas, a religious fundamentalist party and the third biggest in the current parliament, said it will refuse to support any government that reaches a deal with the Palestinians unless it first forces the Arab states to compensate these Jewish emigrants.

"Shas, which has a record of opposing peace agreements with the Palestinians, draws its support chiefly from Jews who migrated to Israel from Arab countries – known in Israel as the Mizrahim.

"The party is likely to be the power broker in the next government. Its refusal to accept terms offered by Tzipi Livni, the prime minister-designate, especially on Jerusalem, forced her to call the election last month.

"The international campaign highlighting the suffering of Arab Jews (actually we prefer the expression Jews from Arab countries, but let that pass - ed), led by Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), a pressure group drawing together dozens of Jewish groups in the U.S. and Europe, has made dramatic headway over the past year.

"After heavy lobbying, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution in April declaring that no Middle East peace could be achieved "without addressing the uprooting of centuries-old Jewish communities in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf." George W. Bush, the president, was also said to be "very conscious" of the Arab Jews' plight.

"In recent months, members of JJAC have also addressed the British parliament, the United Nations, and the European Parliament.

"And last month, the group officially moved its operations into Israel, promising to bring strong pressure on the next government.

"A central claim of the JJAC campaign is that the Jewish exodus associated with the 1948 war dwarfs that suffered by the Palestinians. JJAC argues that at least 850,000 Jews were forced out of 10 Arab countries, compared to 720,000 Palestinians expelled from the territory that became Israel.

"Using dubious (why dubious? - ed) figures, one economist, Stanley Zabludoff, produced a paper this year for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs arguing that Arab Jews' losses, at $6 billion in today's figures, are 50 percent higher than Palestinian losses.

"Yitzhak Cohen, a Shas spokesman, echoed that claim: "The uprooted Jews' problem is equal to, if not greater than, the Palestinian refugees' problem."

"An equivalence between Jewish and Palestinian property losses as a consequence of the 1948 war has been drawn by Israeli politicians on a number of occasions in peace negotiations.

"The issue was raised during the later stages of the Oslo talks, at the Camp David negotiations in 2000, and again at the conference called by Bush a year ago at Annapolis. A cabinet minister, Rafi Eitan, has the issue included in his portfolio.

"This year, both Ehud Olmert, the outgoing prime minister, and Livni have emphasized the plight of Arab Jews in private conversations with visiting heads of state.

"The reason is clear. Proponents of the Arab Jews' case argue that what occurred during the 1948 war was an "exchange of populations," suggesting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has already been settled in a manner similar to the conflict between Greece and Turkey in the 1920s, when hundreds of thousands were displaced from their homes.

"Unlike Shas, however, Israeli governments have been reluctant to go public with such claims – a fact recently lamented by Uzi Dayan, the country's former national security adviser.

"This is because the equivalence argument fails to withstand minimal scrutiny. There are a number of grounds for rejecting the case made by the JJAC, Shas, and government officials.

First, it holds the Palestinians accountable for actions for which they had no responsibility. In fact, the cost of the exodus of Jews from Arab states was borne chiefly by the Palestinians themselves, whose land, homes, and belongings were transferred to these Jewish immigrants.

The myth of Palestinian innocence hardly holds up in the face of the Mufti of Jerusalem's aggresssive complicity with the Nazis and the Arab League's rejection of the UN Partition plan. The point about housing is only partly true. The brunt of Jewish refugees populated whole new towns which arose on the sites of ma'abarot (transit camps). On the other hand not a few Arab refugees were housed in Jewish homes in cities in Syria and Iraq, and even Jewish clubs and schools were requisitioned for them.

Second, although historians are agreed that the Palestinians were expelled by Israel in 1948, there is little evidence that most Arab Jews were forced from their homes.

In fact historians are not agreed that the Palestinians were expelled. Benny Morris says it only happened in specific cases. However, there is compelling evidence that most Jews were driven from their homes.

According to the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim, whose family left Baghdad in 1950, most of these Jewish migrants left of their own accord, even if under pressure from Zionist agencies. The largest numbers came from Morocco, lured to Israel by Zionist officials who promised them a better life.

Not true. Avi Shlaim's family did not leave out of choice. He told a schoolfriend 'they were forced out by the Baathist regime'. And there were plenty of 'push' factors leading to the exodus of Jews from Morocco - namely, deep-seated prejudice and nationalist antisemitism, an emigration ban, forced conversions, economic boycotts and general intimidation.

Only in the case of the small Jewish populations in Egypt and Libya was compulsion involved.

And what about 130,000 Iraqi Jews, who were denied higher education, work and travel and were stripped of their citizenship and property, and nine of whom were later executed as spies in 1969? The Jews of Syria, held as hostages and under government surveillance? The Jews of Yemen, whose orphaned children were abducted and forcibly converted to Islam? The Jews of Tunisia, running for their lives after 1967?

And third, and most embarrassing for Israel, there is overwhelming evidence that its secret Mossad agency carried out false-flag operations in Arab countries that endangered local Jews and significantly contributed to the exodus.

The involvement of Israel in bombing campaigns in both Egypt and Baghdad – and possibly elsewhere – is mentioned, for example, in the diaries of Moshe Sharrett, the former prime minister. The explosions were designed, in his words, to "liven up the Middle East."

Ah, the inevitable bombs myth. The Middle East was livened up enough already, thank you, by state-sanctioned persecution and intimidation, extortion and violence. The 'bombs' episode is debunked here.

A majority of the Jews from Arab states ended up in Israel, where today they constitute nearly half of the Jewish population. Shas makes it clear that its primary goal in raising the issue of restitution is to foil any attempt by the next government to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Untrue. Why must fulfilling Palestinian rights be a prequisite to any peace deal, while fulfilling Jewish rights constitutes an obstacle to peace ?

Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud Party and the candidate most likely, according to polls, to become the next prime minister, is also known to be sympathetic to the principle of tying the question of Jewish and Palestinian refugees.

Should a new White House under Barack Obama try to revive the Middle East peace process, Shas may yet offer Netanyahu precisely the escape hatch he is seeking.



Read article in full

Crossposted at Z-word blog and Harry's Place (over 260 comments)