Tuesday, October 05, 2010
This flattering review of Sir Martin Gilbert's new book comes from Paul Bennett, in the Canadian newspaper The Chronicle Herald. The book masterfully reconstructs a largely forgotten story, he writes:
The Middle East is a tinder box and sparks fly whenever the shared history of Muslims and Jews is on the table for discussion. The recent furor over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York City showed just how intense the raging public debate can become. And whenever the debate arises, the focus is almost always on the plight of the Palestinians and the West’s mistreatment of Muslims.
While most Canadians are painfully aware of the Palestinian struggle, much lesser known is the Mideast refugee crisis that accompanied the 1948 birth of Israel. That crisis involved the forced exodus of over 800,000 Jews from their centuries-old homes throughout the Arab world. These thousands of exiles sought refuge from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Aden, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.
Martin Gilbert’s latest book, In Ishmael’s House, sheds new light on the often neglected history of Jews in Muslim–ruled territories. The book’s title derives from Old Testament biblical tradition where Jews and Muslims are said to share a common ancestry as descendants of sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. In this epic story, we discover a host of distinctly different Jewish communities, some of which existed 1,000 years before Islam. Living as a minority, they too faced persecution and marginalization in Muslim societies over the past 1,400 years.
The noted Jewish scholar Gilbert, famous as the official biographer of Winston Churchill, has produced a polished, elegantly written, exhaustively documented history of the Jews living under Islamic rule. It is a worthy addition to his amazing catalogue of over 80 published books, including a few outstanding historical atlases of the modern world.
Gilbert and Princeton University’s Bernard Lewis, author of the international bestseller What Went Wrong? (2002), are the leading Western experts on Middle Eastern studies. While Lewis probes into the history of Islam, Gilbert tends to specialize in the history of the world wars, the Holocaust, and the Jewish experience.
In Ishmael’s House masterfully reconstructs a largely forgotten story. While Muslims are fond of recalling how Jews once lived in peace among them, this book presents a starkly different perspective. His emphasis is on the conditions that kept the Jews as second-class citizens, or dhimmis, even when they were not subject to outright persecution.
Gilbert’s book does much to revive the facts of the earlier Jewish struggle. He traces the subjugation of the Jews back to 628 AD and the Muslim prophet Mohammed’s victory over Medina’s Jews at the Khaibar Oasis. It was Khaibar, according to Gilbert, that marked the beginning of dhimmitude under Sharia law. Although non-Muslims were offered protection, it was conditional upon accepting "a state of subjugation and fealty."
The Jews were also treated as a tribe apart in Muslim societies. In the early 700s, Omar Abd al-Azziz introduced the Covenant of Omar under which the Jews were clearly segregated in Muslim communities. Under this regime, dhimmis were protected, but they were also forbidden from building synagogues, riding horses or employing a Muslim.
The Jewish struggle continued into the 20th century and then Arab hostility grew much worse. Well before Israel’s creation, Jews were targeted as enemies. In 1910, mobs ransacked 5,000 Jewish homes in the now Iranian city of Shiraz. The Yemeni leader Imam Yahya enforced a lapsed public decree in 1922 aimed at converting Jewish orphans to Islam. In 1936, Nazi influence was so entrenched in Iraq that Jews were restricted in access to public schools, banned from teaching Hebrew and denied freedom of the press.
Anti-Semitism was rife throughout the world after the creation of Israel and even worse following the Six Day War of 1967. By the 1970s, over 800,000 Jews had been exiled from Arab countries, their property seized, a loss valued at $100-billion or more.
The large majority of Jewish exiles settled in Israel. Their claims and appeals at the United Nations were debated but eventually rebuffed. In the 1970s, the UN turned against Israel, culminating in the 1975 General Assembly resolution condemning Zionism as "racism and racial discrimination."
Read article in full
More reviews here, here, here, here, here, here and here