Friday, December 31, 2010

Ofra Haza: Yemeni desert to global stardom

Here's a lovely sound to play you into the New Year - the gorgeous voice of Ofra Haza. The BBC has broadcast this refreshingly unpoliticised radio programme, to mark the 10th anniversary of her tragically premature death.

From the programme blurb:

"Ofra Haza, dubbed 'The Israeli Madonna', rose from her poor roots in the Yemenite community to global recognition.

"The music writer and critic Pete Paphides first heard the voice of Ofra Haza on the Eurovision Song Contest in 1983. It was an extraordinary voice and belonged to a woman with extraordinary talent and presence. Her life and career were tragically cut short when she died of an AIDS-related disease. Here, Pete talks to her life-long manager and father figure Bezalel Aloni and musicians who worked with her - Ben Mandelson, Yair Nitzani, Ishar Ashdoth, Roger Armstrong, and producer Wally Brill.

"It's ten years since the death of Israel's most well-loved pop star Ofra Haza (Feb 2000). Until succumbing to AIDS-related complications, Haza enjoyed an iconic status in her own country. Though described as 'the Israeli Madonna', her importance exceeded even those comparisons. Having grown up the youngest of nine children in the deprived Hatikva Quarter of Tel Aviv, she became a teen pop sensation in her own country. Haza's international break came in 1983 when she represented Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest with Hi (sic)- a song whose chorus, 'Israel is alive' took it within a whisker of overall victory.

"Her breakthrough album, recorded in 1985, was Yemenite Songs - a piercingly beautiful collection of traditional songs from her own upbringing, gently updated, whilst at the same time retaining key aspects of the old instrumentation (tea trays, petrol cans). As well as cementing her status in her own country, Yemenite Songs was a word-of-mouth sensation across Europe. The a cappella intro of Im Nin Alu was sampled by Coldcut, which in turn prompted the song to become a British hit."

You can listen to the programme on BBC i-player for the next few days.

Enjoy - and a Happy New Year 2011 to all Point of No Return readers.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Is reclaiming property in Iran a lost cause?

A reader asks: what are the chances of getting restitution for his grandfather's property seized post-the Islamic revolution in Iran?

The Knesset law passed in February 2010 requires compensation for Jewish refugees from Iran as well as Arab countries to be included in peace talks. But is there an organisation (apart from JJAC where claimants can register their losses and human rights violations) actually addressing the issue of restitution for Jews from Iran?

To find out the answer, Point of No Return turned to trusted sources in the US Iranian-Jewish community.

"There is no organisation in the world addressing this issue because it's a lost cause right now, "my sources said.

"This is because the current Iranian Islamic regime has passed legislation stating that anyone who "abandoned" their properties or had their properties "confiscated" by the government following the revolution in 1979 has officially forfeited their right to the property.

"Some Iranian Jews who had extensive properties and no personal fear of the current regime have risked their lives, returned to Iran and were able to sell their properties on their own. But it must be noted that they were only able to sell their properties because they either: (a) had inside contacts with government officials whom they bribed to help them and allow the sale to go through
or (b) handed over legal rights to the property to a Muslim friend they trusted to sell the property for them and take a "commission" for doing so.

"Nevertheless, many Jews who returned to Iran themselves to sell their properties or to reclaim them have been arrested by the regime and held to ransom by the government. Many Jews who transferred their rights to the properties to a Muslim, in hopes of selling the properties, were duped by their "friends" and have lost everything. Of course they had no recourse in the Iranian courts because the regime's laws and courts are always tilted in favour of Muslims over non-Muslims.

"To conclude, no one has explored the option of Jewish claims in Iran because the current regime is not accepting such claims and never plans to accept them in the future. The only hope Jews with claims in Iran have is for the regime to be overturned and for a new government to accept these claims and offer compensation. "

The advice to our blog reader is as follows: pray for the current regime to be toppled. Also hold onto your property deeds because in the future you might be able to get your assets back.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Our big fat Moroccan wedding!

Traditional Berberisca costume worn at at Moroccan-Jewish Henna

Inside every Ashkenazi there's a Sephardi struggling to get out, discovers Michael Ledeen, whose son Daniel is marrying a girl of Moroccan-Jewish extraction. Read his account of the wedding festivities, which include a traditional henna party, in Pajamas Media:

Our son Daniel (aka Lt Ledeen, USMC, based in Okinawa) is in the midst of week-long events that will culminate in the wedding ceremony on Thursday afternoon here in Jerusalem. He is marrying Natalie Almog, a woman born and raised in Houston. They both attended Rice University, met and fell in love there, and so here we are: Daniel, daughter Simone, son Gabriel, Barbara and me, delighting in fabulous sunny weather in one of the world’s truly magical cities.

Why Jerusalem? Because Natalie’s dad, Avner, grew up on a kibbutz along with seven — or is it eight — siblings, and while he went to America and married a Texan woman, Rose, the others stayed here and so the bulk of the bride’s family are in Israel. The elders came to Israel from Morocco in the forties, part of the huge but rarely remarked exodus of North African Jews after the Second World War. So this wedding is very different from the typical North or Central European ceremony most Americans are used to. It’s Sephardic, not Ashkenazi, and it’s very Moroccan. Last night we participated in the Henna Ceremony, at which bride, groom, and immediate family members dress in traditional robes (and for me, a big fez), and put a circular patch of Henna on the palm of their right hand. That mark will stay with us for several weeks (I hope TSA won’t ask a lot of pointed questions when we come back). It wards off the evil eye, and initiates wild music, dancing, ululating and of course eating and drinking.

Lots of noise. No quiet conversation, if you see what I mean. Very little sitting. An incredible intensity. And it’s just the beginning.

In the next few days, there will be ritual baths for bride and groom, a formal marriage contract negotiated by me and Avner, a fast for Daniel, and then the ceremony.

Read article in full

Lawyers can't take more than half Libyan payments

The Israeli government's decision to compensate Libyan Holocaust survivors has prompted a new ruling setting a ceiling on what fees lawyers can charge for processing claims. Ynet News has the story:

Lawyers will be able to charge Holocaust survivors no more than NIS 6,583 for processing compensation claims, about half the standard payment until now, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman decided yesterday.

Neeman's decision marks the successful conclusion of a battle waged by the Finance Ministry's Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority against what it deemed excessive legal fees.

The issue arose in April, when the government decided that Jews who suffered persecution in occupied Libya during the Holocaust would also be eligible for compensation under a law to compensate victims of the Nazis. Subsequently, the authority received some 5,000 compensation applications.

Read article in full

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pilgrims greeted with 'death to the Jews' signs

Hebrew signs reading "death to the Jews" greeted Israeli pilgrims who came to the Egyptian Nile Delta village of Damtu to commemorate the annual anniversary of death of a 19th-century rabbi, The Media Line reports. And It's not the first time there has been trouble at the Abu-Hatzeira shrine.

Some 550 Israelis arrived Monday at the mausoleum of Rabbi Yaakov Abu-Hasira, a revered Moroccan rabbi, who died in Egypt in 1880 en route to the land of Israel. But 3,000 Egyptian security personnel cordoned the village, closing down local businesses for the day.

Last year, Egyptian President Husni Mubarak allowed Israeli pilgrims to enter Egypt, responding to a personal request by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Pilgrims had been refused entry the previous year, when the anniversary fell immediately after Israel's Cast Lead offensive on the Gaza Strip, and Egyptian security officials agued they couldn’t ensure the safety of Israelis in the country.

But Egyptian opposition parties said the event shouldn’t pass quietly this year either. The local chapter of the Nasserist Party launched a campaign titled "You shall not pass on my land," calling on the government to disallow the presence of "Zionists" in Egypt.

"I welcome Jews from all parts of the world in my home and I will be their servant," Gamal Munib, secretary-general of the Nasserists and coordinator of the campaign, told The Media Line. "But I refuse to welcome Zionists, who killed Egyptian prisoners of war and are killing my brothers in Palestine."

Munib said his party convened an anti-Zionist meeting Monday night, and was organizing a protest vigil on Thursday across from Damanhour's municipal court with the participation of "all national forces.”

The burial site wasn’t identified as Jewish until 1996, when it began being developed, Munib added. The Nasserist Party petitioned the court to declare the area isn’t a historic site, a move that would ban the annual Jewish festivities he said included the drinking of alcohol. In 2001, the court accepted the appeal.

Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) won and overwhelming majority of the seats in Egypt's parliamentary elections November 28. Opposition groups and international observers accused the regime of widespread election fraud and a violent crackdown on opposition activists.

Munib said Mubarak's regime was ignoring the court ruling and allowing Zionists to enter Egypt in order to buy the world's silence regarding his election fraud and plans to bequeath the regime to his son, Gamal.

"When elections were falsified in Iran the world was in an uproar, but Europe remained silent about election fraud in Egypt, which was a thousand times worse," he said. "I simply can't understand the European criteria on this matter."

Another grassroots campaign, the coalition of "Bloggers against Abu-Hasira", sharply criticized the government and called for the arrest of the Egyptian official who allowed the festivities to take place.

"It isn’t surprising that the regime, which falsified the will of the Egyptian people, would allow the Zionist regime to trample the will of Egypt, its laws and its constitution with recurring visits throughout the year, and especially during December," the coalition told the Egyptian daily Al-Yom A-Sabi'.

In January, the Egyptian state prosecutor charged a local armed group with plans to bomb Abu-Hasira's mausoleum during the annual festivities as well as American ships in the Suez Canal, the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yom reported.

Yaakov Yehudayoff, a Jerusalem resident and Abu-Hasira's great great-grandson, has been visiting the grave in Egypt since 1988. He said that Egyptian authorities repeatedly amounted difficulties on Israeli pilgrims.

"We've never encountered hatred, but you can tell from their faces that they don't like us there," he told The Media Line. "At the grave itself they take our cell phones, our alcoholic beverages, and act very aggressively."

Yehudayoff added that Egypt often denied entry visas to Israeli pilgrims. "Last year they refused 180 applications after we had already booked an airplane," he said.

Yehudayoff denied allegations that pilgrims were trying to take over Egypt. He said that Abu-Hasira was buried in a small Jewish cemetery on land owned by the local Jewish community.

Read article in full

Al-Masri al-Youm article

Israeli band Orphaned Land big hit in Muslim world

'Sapari', based on a traditional Yemenite poem and song.

They're a big hit across the Arab world. (But in Israel, few have heard of them!)
Good news to lighten the seasonal gloom in Israeli-Arab relations (with thanks: Islamo-Nazism blog)

Israeli heavy metal band Orphaned Land has become a huge hit in the Muslim world, with about a million fans world wide, record sales at a quarter of a million and performances in 25 countries. Their mix of heavy metal with oriental music has brought them fans from Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Libya, Dubai, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. The irony is that in Israel almost no one has heard of them. They were formed in 1991. They have recently appeared on the front page of Iran's heavy metal magazine Divan. Their official website is here. Their official fan website is here. Here are some videos about them from Israeli TV:

Read article in full

Why is the Church blaming Jews, not Islamists?

The Grotto of the Nativity, Bethlehem. Photo: Damon Lynch

Almost as naturally part of the festive season as mistletoe and baubles are the reports lamenting the sorry state of Christians in Bethlehem. This year, however, media attention has been deflected somewhat on to Iraqi Christians, following the tragedy of the Baghdad Cathedral massacre in October in which over 50 people died. But the Church leadership is not only failing to condemn its enemies - radical Islamists - it is actively speaking out against the Jews, while pursuing a policy of appeasement as it did under Nazism. Will they never learn? asks Evelyn Gordon on Contentions blog:

In reality, of course, the plight of Palestinian Christians pales beside that of their Iraqi brethren. More than half of Iraq’s Christians – hundreds of thousands in all – have fled their country since 2003, after being targeted in numerous deadly attacks. And not even Al-Qaida has tried to link these attacks to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, though it’s not shy about inventing “justifications”: For instance, it deemed October’s bloody siege at a Baghdad church retaliation for an alleged offense by Egypt’s Coptic Church.

Compare this to the booming business scene in Bethlehem, where tourism is up 60 percent over 2009 despite Israeli “oppression.” One astute Palestinian businessman attributed the boom to the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to reduce violence – a tacit (and correct) acknowledgement that what previously destroyed the PA’s economy was not Israel, but Palestinian terror. Or compare Iraq’s Christian crisis to the fivefold increase in Israel’s Christian population, from 34,000 in 1949 to 152,000 in 2009.

This month, the New York Times reported that many fleeing Iraqi Christians “evoked the mass departure of Iraq’s Jews” after Israel’s establishment in 1948.

“It’s exactly what happened to the Jews,” said Nassir Sharhoom, 47, who fled last month to the Kurdish capital, Erbil, with his family from Dora, a once mixed neighborhood in Baghdad. “They want us all to go.”

It’s eerily reminiscent of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous statement about the Nazis: “They came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me. And by that time, there was no one left to speak for me.”

But there’s one crucial difference. The Church, as the synod statement shows, isn’t merely remaining silent; it’s actively speaking out against the Jews – and thereby collaborating with its own enemies, the radical Islamists.

It evidently hopes to thereby turn the Islamists’ wrath away from Christians. But as the recent attacks show, appeasement hasn’t worked.

So perhaps it’s time for the Church to learn from its mistakes in World War II and instead try speaking out against its true enemies – the radical Islamists who seek to cleanse the Middle East of both Jews and Christians.

Read article in full

Canon Andrew White on his return to Iraq (with thanks: amie)

The Islamists' war against the 'Other' (with thanks: Denis)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Iranians stir up hatred with invented massacre

Iranian students demonstrate in Hamadan. The Israeli flag reads: holocaust of 77,000 Iranians

Point of No Return has already flagged the worrying threats by Iranian fundamentalists against the Jewish holy shrines of Esther and Mordechai. Now condemnation comes from an unexpected source - The Guardian. In a post on the Comment is Free website, Meir Javedanfar shows how the Ahmadinejad government has been resurrrecting Orwellian fabrications and inversions last used against the Jews by Iranian pro-Nazis in the 1940s.

On 10 December, 250 Basij students from Abu Ali Sina University in the Iranian city of Hamedan gathered in front of the mausoleum of two Jewish saints and threatened to tear it down, in revenge for what the students claimed were Israeli threats to infringe on the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

The graves are those of Esther and Mordechai. Esther was the second wife of Xerxes I (the Great) (486-465BCE, also known as Khashayarsha in Persian), the fourth Zoroastrian king of the Achamenid Empire. Esther was a Jew who moved to Persia after the Babylonian captivity of the Israelites (6th century BCE). King Xerxes also appointed Mordechai, who was Esther's cousin and had raised her, as a royal court adviser. The king's vizier, Haman, plotted to kill Mordechai, who refused to bow down to Haman, and all the Jews of Persia. That plan was foiled and King Xerxes, who wanted to protect his country's Jews, hanged Haman and his 10 sons instead.

Since then, every year on the 14th day in the Hebrew calendar month of Adar, Jews everywhere celebrate the deliverance of Persia's Jews from death. Children and adults go to synagogues and read the Book of Esther all over the world, including in Iran.

The hostile act of tearing down part of the tomb is unprecedented in the modern history of Iran, as graves of Jewish saints in Iran (which also include Daniel) have always been considered holy and respected by Jews and Muslims alike. In fact, many Muslim families go to such graves to pray for the health of their loved ones, alongside their Jewish compatriots.

Even more worrying is the revisionism of Jewish history flourishing in Iran under the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The narrative being promoted by this regime is that it was Mordechai who was a murderer because he ordered the massacre of more than 70,000 Iranians. This is being called an "Iranian holocaust".

The eminent Oxford University Professor Homa Katouzian, in his book Sadeq Hedayat: His Work and His Wondrous World, traces this fabrication back to an article published in Iran-e Bastan in 1934. According to Professor Katouzian, this publication, "imitating German antisemitism, fabricated sensational reports of Jewish plots". Not only did this publication reverse the facts in the story of Esther and Mordechai but it also, among other things, distributed reports that Jews were "selling fatal medicine to Muslims". One of the goals of such articles was to emphasise and promote what it saw as the Aryan roots and historical commonality between Iran and Nazi Germany. Such false reports provided the foundation for anti-Jewish Islamist campaigns in the 1940s.

For years afterwards, no one took notice of such antisemitic material, let alone promoted it. This has all changed since Ahmadinejad took power in 2005. These days one can hear about the fabricated and highly anti-Jewish "Iranian holocaust" from Iranian politicians.

Read article in full

Anti-Israel paranoia reaches new heights in Iran (The Jewish Chronicle)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Black book of the Farhud

Edwin Black's new book Farhud should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the Arab-Nazi alliance at the root of the conflict in the Middle East. Review by Lyn Julius in Cutting Edge News:

“This book is a nightmare...I regret that I was the one who had to write it. I hope it never becomes necessary to write another like this one.’ These are among the opening words to Edwin Black’s new book, Farhud.

Much of Farhud does not make for comfortable reading. The central event is the two days of rioting in June 1941, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Jews – the exact figure is not known - destruction of property, mass looting, rape and mutilation. Farhud is the Arabic name for ‘ violent dispossession’. The pro-Nazis who planned it, however, had a more ambitious and sinister objective in mind: the round-up, deportation and extermination in desert camps of the Jews of Baghdad.

The Farhud was the Iraqi Jews' Kristallnacht. Samuel Edelman, in an afterword to Black’s book, admits he had never of this terrible event until 2003. Yet, as Black shows, the Farhud cemented a wartime Arab-Nazi alliance designed to achieve a shared objective: to rid Palestine, and the world, of the Jews. The killing sprees by Arabs continued into North Africa and Balkans: the Germans raised five Arab batallions in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Bosnian Muslims, personally recruited into SS divisions by the pro-Nazi Mufti of Jerusalem, entered into a grisly and murderous partnership with the Ustasha Catholic Croat nationalists to wipe out 100,000 Gyspies and Jews in Yugoslavia. After the war was over, the legacy endured: The mass exodus of the 140,000 Jews of Iraq followed a Nazi pattern of victimisation – dismantlement, dispossession and expulsion.

Black demonstrates clearly that the road to Baghdad begins in Jerusalem and Hebron in 1929, when Arabs massacred dozens of Jews. The immediate pretext was that Jews praying at the Western Wall wanted to sit on chairs. Arab Muslims considered Jews sitting an unbearable provocation: inferior dhimmis could only pray under the conditions dictated by Muslims. Not much has changed in the Middle East. Sadly, it only takes the rumour of a provocation to set off riots and book burnings.

The architect of the Nazi-Arab alliance was the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. One of Black’s best chapters describes how the Mufti muscled his way in to power by outfoxing the British. It comes as a revelation to discover that Amin al-Husseini only polled fourth in elections to the office of Mufti, with a paltry nine votes, and schmoozed the British High Commissioner Herbert Samuel over dinner into appointing him. The Mufti was an indefatigable founder of anti-Zionist societies, youth groups and committees, and craftily internationalised the Palestinian cause through Islamic conferences and institutions. His local opponents protested in vain at his corruption and Machiavellian politics: in 1925, they drew up a petition asking the British to rein in their man. Black shows how the Mufti sidelined and finally disposed of them in the Arab revolt of 1936 – 39.

Engineering more escapes in his lifetime than Houdini, the Mufti fled from the British to Baghdad. There he inspired the Golden Square pro-Nazi officer ring, making repeated attempts to throw off the pro-British government. They finally succeeded in May 1941, and seized power briefly until British forces managed to restore the Regent to Iraq. But the Golden Square’s parting shot was to wreak Farhud mayhem and murder among the Jews.

Black takes his time setting the scene, not sparing the reader the graphic details. Graphic detail is what Black does best, whether it be the barbarities of the Mongols who erected pyramids of severed heads, or the brutality of the British, who took a gruelling 18 months to push from Basra to Baghdad in 1915, and cruelly suppressed an insurgency after their conquest of Iraq with gas bombs. He also surprises us with little known facts, such as the British post-World War l plan to transform Iraq into another India, to the point of transferring in thousands of Indian immigrants.

As with other Black books, Farhud is exhaustively researched – Black’s trademark technique is to deploy an army of data-gathering assistants in archives and libraries across the word. The footnotes and bibliography run to a whopping 150 pages. The book’s weakness, perhaps, is that Black’s insights at times get buried in a welter of information.

Eloquently-written, and always sustaining reader interest, Farhud begins by hurtling through 2, 500 years of Jewish history in Mesopotamia, the ‘cradle of civilisation’. It then bifurcates into a comprehensive account of Zionism and the Yishuv on the one hand, and the colonial politics of oil on the other. Here, Black is on familiar territory, charted in his two earlier bestsellers, Transfer Agreement and Banking on Baghdad. Black’s thesis is that these two factors explain two strands of Arab hatred, fusing into the Arab-Nazi axis.

While the chapter on Zionism and pre-statehood is an excellent potted history of the struggle for a national home for the Jews – the tragedy is not that the Arabs rejected Zionism from the world go, but that extremists peddling a dangerous brew of traditional Islamic antisemitism and admiration for rightwing fascism were allowed by the British to elbow out their moderate rivals and move into positions of power.

Black’s exposition of the geopolitics of oil may explain the Allies’ designs on Iraq for its black gold, but it is less convincing as an explanation of Arab hatred of the British. After all, Germany too had designs on Iraqi oil, but the Arabs were anxious to court Germany from the start.

Arab advances were not at first reciprocated. The pressures on Palestine created by Nazi antisemitism and the Transfer agreement to allow German Jews to emigrate were a source of Arab anger and frustration. Even after the Nazis had co-opted Arabs as honorary Aryans, the Germans viewed the alliance with the Arabs as ‘uneasy and contrived’.

Black’s achievement is to show that a Arab-Nazi alliance not only took root, but went from strength to strength. The ‘politically-correct’ liberal establishment is at pains to deny it. In the preface, a bitter Black tells of his struggle to get the US Holocaust Museum in Washington to recognise the Farhud as a Nazi event. Not only did they at first refuse to do so, but they wrote to other Holocaust museums asking them to do the same.

Revisionist academics (eg the SOAS professor Gilbert Achcar) are also at pains to deny the Arab-Nazi alliance and downplay the role of the Mufti. They claim that the alliance was a temporary, pragmatic anti-colonial relationship built on the premise that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend ‘. There is also a contemporary trend to build interfaith dialogue by highlighting the role of Arab individuals who saved Jews, while ignoring those who persecuted them.

That is why Edwin Black’s Farhud should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the Arab-Nazi alliance at the root of conflict in the Middle East.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Light of achievement, shadow of persecution

Intricate Persian-Jewish embroidery

An unprecedented exhibition, Light and shadows, devoted to the history, culture and contemporary life of Iranian Jewry will open at the Museum of the Diaspora (Beit Hatfutsot) in Tel Aviv on Thursday 30 December. Ynet News reports:

This exhibition is the first to present a comprehensive, in-depth portrait of Iranian Jewry and introduce visitors to the fascinating world of an ancient community and its cultural, social, economic and political life.

The intriguing story unfolds over more than 2,700 years, beginning with the first Jews exiled from Jerusalem by the Babylonians and continuing to today, with most members of the community scattered throughout the world.

The exhibition is sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Y&S Nazarian Family Foundation. It is also generously supported by The David Berg Foundation, The Diamond Charity Foundation, The Global Mashadi Jewish Federation, The Iranian American Jewish Federation of New York, The Maccabee Foundation as well as individual members of The Iranian Jewish community and other Jewish communities.

The exhibition includes archeological artifacts, many on public display for the first time, which reveal fascinating details pertaining to the ancient life of the Iranian Jewish community. Also featured are a wide range of stunning cultural artifacts, including ancient manuscripts, talismans, carpets and both secular and religious music. Additionally, the exhibition includes contemporary artworks by Iranian Jewish artists now residing in Israel, Europe and the United States.

“We are deeply honored and excited that Beit Hatfutsot will be the first to expose the fascinating life of Persian Jewry, which to date has not received the full attention it deserves,” says Irina Nevzlin Kogan, president of The NADAV Foundation, Beit Hatfutsot’s major benefactor.

“This exhibition breaks ground on the new spirit of Beit Hatfutsot as ‘The Museum of the Jewish People,’ which will now reveal the stories of different communities around the world and show not only the historical aspect of the Jewish people, but also its current status. Our hope is that it will help to better understand, in broader terms, the meaning of Jewish peoplehood, and particularly help younger Jewish generations to feel as part of an extraordinary people, who are although dispersed around the world, still remain a thriving nation.”

According to Professor David Yeroushalmi, a member of the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University and the exhibition's historical advisor, some 20,000 Jews still live in Iran today. They are concentrated in Tehran and the two ancient communities of Isfahan and Shiraz, and maintain a strong connection with Judaism and the Iranian Jewish community's unique cultural legacy.

"The portrayal of this unique community has been a fascinating challenge,” exhibition curator Hagai Segev notes. “The community's history is told through an assemblage of authentic objects and images that attest to the rich life of the Iranian Jewish community: a life marked by moments of great cultural achievement followed by periods of great difficulty, persecution and oppression."

Read article in full

Haaretz article (with thanks: Pablo)

Commenter Eliyahu adds: A Mrs (Esther) Sheqalim, discussing the exhibition on Channel 1 Israel TV (Ro'im haolam), told how the Shi`ites consider non-Muslims or non-Shi`ites to be nafis [unclean, polluted]. Hence, her father in Iran could not go out in the rain lest he go through a puddle, splash some water, and thereby pollute a Shi`ite. (In fact Jews were executed for so doing in the 19th century - ed)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Israel captures the mood of the Oud

(Top) Original version of Nogum El-leil by the oud master Farid al-Atrash and (bottom) a modern Israeli adaptation by David Assraf

There is only one country in the Middle East where the seven traditions of classical Arabic music still thrive: Israel. Here new interpretations of old favourites by the musical giant Farid al-Atrash are still being made. Writing in Jewish Ideas Daily, Aryeh Tepper looks at Israel's thriving Oriental musical scene:

And the one place where they can all be heard is the Jerusalem Oud Festival, which originated in 1999 with the modest intention of exposing Israelis to some of the wonders of classical Arab music. Eleven years later, the festival has earned an international reputation and includes a roster of first-rate musicians from around the globe.

Why the oud? Known as the "sultan" of Arab musical instruments, the oud is the father of the lute and the grandfather of our guitar. A string instrument with a pear-shaped body and a deeply resonant tone, it represents and embodies the richness of the Arab musical tradition. Indeed, this year's festival, held November 11–25, included a tribute to one of the great oud players of the 20th century, Farid al-Atrash (1915–1974):

Al-Atrash was not only a virtuoso instrumentalist. He was also a prolific composer of over 350 songs and a popular vocalist who starred in 30 movies and is still extremely popular among Israeli Jews who grew up with his music in their homes. Farid's movies, made in Egypt, were thin on plot but thick with romantic songs. Through the mid-1980s they were shown on Israeli television on Friday afternoons. Today, Israeli payytanim, Jewish liturgical singers, are still transforming Farid's melancholy melodies into devotional hymns.

The Friday-afternoon showing of Egyptian movies in Israel was itself part of an Arab-Jewish cultural exchange that had greatly diminished after the Jews were run out of the Arab world in the wake of the founding of the state of Israel. Still, it has never fully disappeared. Moshe Habusha, one of the leading contemporary Israeli payytanim, is a master of Egyptian music. A recent Israeli film, The Band's Visit, tells the story of an Egyptian army band stranded in an isolated Israeli desert town, where it temporarily fills a cultural vacuum for the local Jews who have left one world and are still struggling to build a new one. Sasson Somech, an expert on Arab literature at Tel Aviv University who dedicated much of his career to analyzing the works of the great Egyptian novelist Nagib Mahfouz, is credited by some with helping to pave the way to Mahfouz's Nobel Prize.

It thus comes as little surprise that at the tribute to Farid al-Atrash, many in the almost entirely Jewish crowd knew the songs well enough to sing along in Arabic. An Arab-Israeli orchestra performed, and to judge by their faces, the musicians were pleasantly taken aback by the intensity of the emotions unleashed in the hall, with a few audience members adding their own spice to the performance by downing shots of arak between songs. The slightly raucous atmosphere harked back to the secular Arab culture once dominant in the Arab world but in steady decline with the rise of religious fundamentalists. In that world, there are fewer and fewer venues for this kind of music; an Arab orchestra that can play Farid al-Atrash for an enthusiastic Jewish audience in Jerusalem would be forbidden, in Hamas-controlled Gaza, from playing al-Atrash for any kind of audience at all.

At the end of the day, one can only mourn Israel's cultural isolation from the finer aspects of the Arab-Islamic environment in which it is situated. But that's the political reality, a reality rooted in a fantasy, buried deep in the hearts of many, that one day Israel will simply disappear. It would take a singer the caliber of Farid al-Atrash to lament, in melody and rhythm, the waste of it all.

Read article in full

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Why Jewish refugees are a hot topic - again

I'm not quite sure when Jewish refugees were ever a hot topic the first time, but it's a good sign that the leading organ of British Jewry is sitting up and taking notice of Danny Ayalon's push to include Jewish refugees on the peace talks agenda. Nathan Jeffay writes in the Jewish Chronicle:

Israel's Foreign Ministry has begun a push to force the other Middle East refugees onto the international agenda and factor them into peace talks.

The United Nations estimates that, upon the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, 726,000 Palestinians became refugees. Meanwhile, Arab states displaced a large number of Jews. The advocacy organisation Justice for Jews from Arab Countries estimates the number at 856,000.

Two thirds moved to Israel but, strangely, Israel has done little to demand that they are compensated. So why is the Foreign Ministry taking up the issue now?

One of the factors holding back the issue has been ideology. The right has felt that talking about Israelis from Arab lands as refugees could undermine the notion that they were returning to their historic homeland. Voices on the left have argued that trying to bring about peace in the Middle East is complicated enough without factoring this, which could hold back peace talks.

Today this kind of strongly ideological thinking is unfashionable. Beleaguered by international criticism, the Israeli public is receptive to discussions that place blame for the state of the Middle East on parties other than Israel. And the communities that immigrated from Arab countries, once peripheral and politically powerless, are increasingly influential and have significant political clout.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon feels very strongly about the issue, further propelling it. His father was an Algerian Jew who was forced from his home after Israel declared independence. Noting that the UN considers the children of Palestinians who left their homes to be refugees, he wrote an article in the Jerusalem Post earlier this year, declaring: "I am a refugee."

Israeli law now mandates that peace negotiators highlight the subject. In February the Knesset adopted a law under which any Israeli government entering into peace talks must use those talks to advance a compensation claim for those who became Israeli citizens.

If peace talks progress, there are two main directions the Jewish refugee issue could take. One is that it could be forgotten in an attempt to reach an agreement. Another is that it could become part of a regional peace agreement. Back in 2000, President Clinton mooted the idea of establishing an international fund to compensate both Palestinian and Jewish refugees, and some Israelis retain hopes of such a fund being set up and Israel, Arab countries, and international donors paying in to it.

Read article in full

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Peace talks must not neglect Jewish refugees

Jewish refugees in 1948

Three cheers for Danny Ayalon, who is cranking up his campaign for justice for Jewish refugees by posting the following rebuttal to Rachel Shabi's rather mean-spirited effort on the Guardian's Comment is Free. 'The Jewish refugee issue was never given a speaking part' in international forums, he writes memorably.

"For a long time now, we have been wanting and waiting to sit down and talk. After all, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not short of talking points that need to be urgently resolved. Unfortunately, however, instead of both sides discussing the problems, the Palestinians seem more comfortable issuing demands.

One of the topics that we could discuss is refugees, what some describe in the familiar mantra as the "right of return". The slogan itself is, of course, a misnomer – a right is a legal function and must be grounded in law to have applicable force. Yet, as with so many of the cliches and familiar refrains surrounding the Middle East, there are two sides to the refugee story, with the Israeli side one of the best-kept secrets of the conflict.

While those Arabs who fled or left mandatory Palestine and Israel numbered roughly 750,000, there were more than 900,000 Jewish refugees subsequently expelled or forced out from Arab lands at around the same time. Before the state of Israel was re-established in 1948, there were almost 1 million Jews in Arab lands; today there are around 5,000.

As opposed to the Arabs in mandatory Palestine, who had been waging a civil war on the Jewish community for decades, the Jews in Arab lands were loyal citizens and residents, and had not been involved in any violence. Sadly, however, the Arab leadership of the time treated them as a "fifth column", and began taking draconian measures to facilitate their expulsion.

On 16 May 1948, two days after the state of Israel was re-established, the New York Times reported that the Arab League had recommended to its member states to freeze all bank accounts belonging to Jews, discharge all Jews in civil service positions and arbitrarily subject Jews to mass imprisonment. Several Arab regimes went further and inspired pogroms and mass murder against their Jewish populations. Just a decade after the Nazi persecution began in earnest, it was now the turn of the Jews in the Middle East to suffer similar edicts.

It is also worth considering how deep-rooted the refugees were in their respective lands. British colonial officials in the early part of the 20th century estimated that the Arab immigration from neighbouring states into mandatory Palestine was "considerable". CS Jarvis, governor of Sinai from 1923-36, said in 1937: "This illegal immigration was not only going on from the Sinai, but also from Trans-Jordan and Syria."

So while many of the Palestinian refugees were newcomers and fresh economic migrants, the Jewish refugees by contrast were being pushed out of the lands that they had lived in for thousands of years, predating even Islam and the subsequent Arab invasion and occupation of the region, which placed on all non-Muslims a dhimmi or subjugated status.

These obvious disparities on the ground were not replicated in the international arena when dealing with the crises. While early United Nations resolutions attempted to be fair and deal with all refugees resulting from the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Arab bloc and its allies trampled on any references or discussions regarding Jewish refugees, while at the same time creating absurd criteria for the Arab refugees, who are still exploited as political pawns to this day. In fact, as early as the 1950s United Nations refugee agency officials claimed that the Jewish refugees fell within their mandate.

After all, with the exception of Jordan, no Arab refugees were given citizenship and the majority still live in overcrowded areas, with few rights afforded them by their Arab brethren. This stands in contrast to the Jewish refugees, who were all immediately provided with Israeli citizenship.

As well as being absurdly unbalanced, the Palestinian demand of "right of return" also flies in the face of modern refugee resettlement. A recent ruling by the European court of human rights declared that due to the time that had elapsed, Greek refugees expelled from northern Cyprus in 1974 would not be allowed to return to their homes.

The negotiations for a final status resolution to the Israeli-Arab conflict are not merely about the creation of two states for two peoples; they are about historic reconciliation, justice, peace and security. There is also the issue of redress, and the Jews who were forced out or expelled from Arab lands are deserving of that.

Unfortunately, there are those who suggest that there is no need to burden the negotiations with another issue. Yet the fact that the Arab majority in multilateral forums have ensured that the Jewish refugee issue was never given a speaking part on the international stage until recently should be of no consequence.

This issue cuts to the heart of a regional solution to the conflict and recognises that a resolution will encompass all claims by all sides.

Israel has cleared the way for negotiations to restart by constantly declaring that all issues will be on the table. The Jewish refugee issue must be one of them".

Read post and comments

Iranian Jews too comfortable to move to Israel

The Israeli Knesset has been discussing ways of encouraging Iran's remaining 25,000 Jews to move to Israel. The trouble is, they are too rich and comfortable. Arutz Sheva reports (via Islamo-Nazism blog)

Nearly 76,000 Iranian Jews moved to Israel since 1948 and Immigration Ministry officials and the Knesset committee for immigration are trying to find ways to encourage the remaining 25,000 to move to the Jewish State. One major obstacle is the comfortable position of many Iranian Jews, despite their children starting school every day with the chant “Death to Israel, Death to America.”

Marking International Human Rights Day, the Knesset Committee on Immigration discussed the situation with Israelis from the Turkish and Iranian Jewish communities in Israel. “I ask Jews in Iran why they stay there, and they tell me they have everything they need,” Avraham Abir, a leader in the Israeli-Iranian Jewish community, told the Knesset committee. “In my opinion, the Jews there will end up like those in the Hitler era in Europe.”

He said that many well-to-do Jews in Iran live in 1,000-square meter homes and that moving to much smaller homes in Israel would represent a sharp decline in their standard of living. He added that another obstacle is that many who want to leave cannot do so without leaving their children behind, due to the government’s refusal to grant passports to those who have not yet completed army service.

Immigration Ministry official Chanoch Tzamir said a new eight million shekel ($2.2 million) program to encourage immigration (aliyah) from Iran is waiting for approval from the government. Knesset Member Danny Danon, chairman of the Knesset committee, commented that Jews in Iran and Turkey are “hostages” in their native countries. A program three years ago that granted $10,000 to every Iranian Jewish family moving to Israel had some success. Aliyah from Iran tripled from 65 in 2006 to 200 the following year.

Jews in Iran are free to practise Judaism, and hundreds of Jews gathered in synagogues to light Chanukah candles during the eight-day holiday.

“It is safe for us in Iran, for Jews, but we always have to be careful. We know that we should stay with our community,” a young woman who called herself Rachel told the Christian Science Monitor recently. “We should not become close to Muslims. If we do, it will only be trouble.”

The Iranian parliament includes a Jew, who proclaims that “no idiot” would even imagine trying to attack Iran. Despite their respectable standing, there is an undercurrent of fear. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, an official distinction was made in favor of Jews as opposed to “Zionists,” but Jews have not forgotten that a millionaire Jewish businessman was executed for allegedly spying for Israel.

In 2000, 10 Iranian Jews, including a minor, were sentenced to prison for allegedly spying for the United States and Israel. Jews in Iran also face the ongoing ranting of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who calls the Holocaust a “myth.”

Despite glowing reports of wealthy Jews in Iran, their economic condition has worsened under the regime of Ahmadinejad, according to several sources in the country. Rachel told the Monitor in a whisper, “You know, I wish I could go to Israel. It is my dream to go there one day and see it.”

Read article in full

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

'We owe our Egyptian Jewish brothers an apology'

The Sakakini palace in Cairo

Well said, E. Sharaf Eldin. In your article 'When uncle Elie came back to Egypt', yours is a voice we hardly hear in the Arab world. Acknowledging the wrongs that were committed towards Egyptian Jews is a brave move. But Eldin's feelings of regret derive from the Karaite Jew Elie's 'Egyptian- ness', his affinity with his place of birth, the language and the culture. But had uncle Elie now been living in Israel, not the US, would Sharaf Eldin had extended his apology to a Zionist? Could he have brought himself to acknowledge that the Jews are the only oppressed minority able to defend themselves against the tide of fascism sweeping the Middle East ? Food for thought from the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Lily):

"We have been applying double standards for more than half a century and a stupid fascist tone is now escalating, classifying all Jews as Zionists and all Christians as crusaders. Millions of Muslims are quickly mobilized when an extremist, whether from the East or the West, links terrorism to all Muslims. We dismiss such characterizations as both racist and as unacceptable generalization. Yet, we do the same, giving ourselves the right to generalize about others and sometimes antagonize them.

"On our way to the house where Uncle Elie was born and raised, near the Sakakini Pasha palace, I asked him what was he feeling at this early stage of his return, and he immediately responded, bitterly: “Why are we made to face this? We were born Jews, but also Egyptians, and rejecting us, is tantamount to removing a chapter of Egypt’s history.”

"Then he held his peace. Perhaps he was internalizing the sorry truth that while half a century was enough time for the Germans to repudiate Nazism, for the Italians to throw Fascism into the dustbin of history and for the Japanese to move beyond the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was all very different for Egypt and the rest of the Middle East.

"Uncle Elie and Mona had grown up and met around Sheikh Qamar Street and Sakakini Square, but everything bar the palace, constructed in 1897, had changed since their day.

"Built by Habib Sakakini Pasha, a Jew** of Levantine origin (sic) whose family migrated to Egypt in the mid-19th century when he was 16, the palace was constructed in the style of a grand edifice he had seen on his travels in Italy and located in what were then the outskirts of Fatimid and Mamluk Cairo. As the slum neighborhoods expanded, it found itself ever closer to the heart of the overpopulated capital. Though encircled today by garbage-strewn, matchbox-style, high-rises, the palace has somehow maintained its grandeur.

"Searching for the house where Uncle Elie had lived, we asked a young man working at a shop on Sheikh Qamar Street for guidance. It turned out that Uncle Elie had lived at this very address, but the original building had been demolished and replaced.

"An adjacent French bakery where the family had shopped was still here, though. Uncle Elie recalled the special loaves it had produced for Jewish festivals. There is no demand for them today; one would not now find a single surviving Jew in the area.

"While Uncle Elie took photographs of his former neighborhood and Mona toured the Sakakini palace, I visualized the two of them here in their 20s, helped by a “soundtrack” of songs by the late Egyptian singer Laila Morad which was echoing from afar: she a charming and alluring young woman, he an exuberant young man, intent on enjoying life.

"At that moment, an elderly local man, Amm Jihad, appeared. He claimed (imagined) to have recognized Uncle Elie, and volunteered to guide us around the neighborhood, focusing his narrative on the changes that had taken place here and nationwide since the officers’ coup of July 1952 that paved the way for Nasser to take power four years later.

"Amm Jihad seemed to remember every building like his own home: That was where the Samhoun family had lived. At the end of the street was the Isaacs’ home. Here was the school the Jews had established, with the Stars of David still recognizable on its fa├žade and walls. And there was an abandoned house, still standing only because its Jewish heirs overseas were contesting ownership.

"Addressing Elie and Mona in the language of simple Cairene, he said: “You were the best. Your days were the most beautiful.”

"The modern era, its intruders and developments, he said, had spoiled everything.

"How sad it was, I added, that the former Egypt of coexistence, not only between Jews and Muslims, but between all Egyptians from different strands and even foreign communities such as Armenians, Greek, Italians and others, had been abducted by adventurers, clowns and propagandists.

"Personally, I believe we owe our Egyptian Jewish brothers an apology for what was inflicted upon them, for the demise of an authentic Egyptian sect that has roots dating back the time of the Prophet Moses. Its members contributed to Egypt’s renaissance in economics, literature and law – all the manifestations of life. But these contributions were not enough to save them from nationalistic and religious maniacs.

"We could have provided the necessary ambiance for them to stay within the country. We had never been in enmity with Judaism nor should we have been. Such enmity is not humane. As far as I know, it is also rejected by Islamic Shari’a law (a moot point - ed).

"The latest official statistics, which date from 2003, indicated that 4,088 Jews still live in Egypt*. Until 1952, that number was as many as 100,000.

"Cairo’s prestigious Al-Maady district was established by the Jewish company Al-Delta. That’s why the area’s main streets still bear the names of Jewish families such as Sawares and Qatawi. It was a Jewish scholar who pioneered the study of fine arts in Egypt at the start of the 20th century, and also founded the vegetable marketplace in the district of Bab el-Louk, an architectural masterpiece.

"Local Jews helped pioneer the modern shopping malls here, through brands such as Omar Effendi, Sidnawi, Cicurel and Shamla. Yacoub Sannou was known as “the father of Egyptian theater.” The Mosairy and Edward Levy companies were central to production and distribution in the local film industry. Togo Misrahi was a leading director; Lilian Levy Cohen, “Kamilia,” was a star actress, as was Rachel Abraham Levy, known as Raqia Ibrahim. Negma Ibrahim participated in plays whose revenue was dedicated to the Egyptian army.

"Nazira Mousa Shehata, nicknamed Nagwa Salem, was the only Egyptian artist to win the “Jihad” shield for her role during the War of Attrition. Then there was the legendary singer Laila Mourad, her musician brother Munir and the great artist Dawoud Hosni.

"This talk about Egypt’s Jews, prompted by Uncle Elie’s visit, is not mere nostalgia for a bygone era that certainly will not return. Rather, it is a cause for reflection.

"We have to learn from our errors, as all civilized nations do, including the Germans, the Italians and the Japanese. Otherwise, our descendants will pay the price. And the first step is to end the blame game and acknowledge: Yes, where Egypt’s Jews are concerned, we made a mistake."

Read article in full

* An exaggeration - there are no more than 30 Jews today
**Sakakini Pasha was most probably a Syriac Maronite, since he built a church and established the Roman Patriarchate in Cairo

Monday, December 20, 2010

Kubbeh helps Iraqi Jews preserve their heritage

Kubbeh dumplings with beetroot

According to the writer Claudia Roden, food is one of the most enduring elements of culture. To the Iraqi Jew, kubbeh is the most enduring - the minced meat dumplings the last link to a homeland to which they can never return. Article by Katherine Martinelli in the Jew and Carrot (with thanks: Kenneth):

Between 1941 and the 1970s the majority of Iraq’s Jewish population faced institutionalized violence and persecution in their homeland, forcing them to flee. Today, only a handful of Jews remain in Iraq, down from an estimated 150,000 in 1948. For the Iraqi Jews who sought refuge in Israel (some sources say up to 90%), their food is their remaining legacy. Dishes like meat stuffed dumplings called kubbeh are their lifeline to a country they cannot return to, and recipes are carefully passed down through the generations to preserve their heritage.

Iraqi food has been incorporated into the Israeli zeitgeist and has become an integral part of the patchwork that is developing into Israeli cuisine. Kubbeh (also spelled kubba and kibba), and in particular the hearty soup known as marak kubbeh, is one of the dishes that is most beloved and recognized by Israelis of all ethnic backgrounds. Sometimes fried and served as an appetizer, they are more commonly simmered in broth and served as a hearty, comforting stew – something of a step-sibling to the lighter, Ashkenazi matzo ball soup, and closely related to fried Syrian kibbe. Although served year round, there’s no better time than the cold months of winter to enjoy a steaming bowl of this robust, tangy soup.

Kubbeh dumplings are made from semolina or bulgur wheat and are typically stuffed with ground lamb or beef, although chicken, fish, and even vegetarian variations exist. They can be served in many broths, but as Recipes by Rachael – a website dedicated to preserving Iraqi Jewish recipes – describes, “Kubba stews come in two categories: those that are slightly tangy from the addition of citrus, and those that are not.”

The sour, tangy soups are given the label hamousta while the so-called sweet stews (really meaning not sour) are called hulou. Within these two categories there are countless variations, which can include okra, eggplant, squash, zucchini, garlic or beets. Marak kubbeh adom, or red kubbeh soup, is a Kurdish specialty that is based on a crimson red broth made from beets and other root vegetables.

The labor and time-intensive dumplings are often made in large quantities so that a number can be frozen and easily enjoyed later. Since the soup can be left to simmer for a long time it is a mainstay of Shabbat meals. Speaking of the customs of the Iraqi Jews in their homeland, Claudia Roden explains in “The Book of Jewish Food” that they “left pots of kubba – meat dumplings in a bamia (okra) stew, which had been prepared on Friday – on the roof terrace, for the Saturday lunch.” In Israel today kubbeh remains a popular dish to make at home or to take away from restaurants to have on hand for Shabbat.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

The 17th century 'coexistence' of master and slave

Beware contemporary historians who are busy rewriting the history of the Jews, especially in Morocco, to make it seem that Jews and Muslims always lived together in symbiotic harmony. This little gem, written by a 17th century English visitor called Addison (no philosemite, he), was unearthed by Elder of Ziyon blog. It conveys the impression that Jews were little more than slaves: "The Present State of the Jews," by Lancelot Addison, written in 1676:

He starts off with a description of how the Jews live in the Barbary States:

"When I looked into the great number of Jews in Barbary, and saw how they were lorded over by the imperious and haughty Moor, I could not but resent their Condition, and wish their Deliverance from that direful imprecation, His Blood be upon us and our Children. One effect whereof may be seen in their present Condition under the Moresco Government, which is no other than a better sort of Slavery. For even in those places where they have permission to inhabit, they are not only Tributary, but upon every small disgust, in danger of Ejectment. Insomuch that they cannot promise to themselves either any durable Settlement or Security. Indeed their calmest state is sufficiently stormy, and when they seem to enjoy the greatest peace, they are vilely Hector'd by the Moors, against whom they dare.not move a finger, or wag a tongue in their own defence and vindication , but with a Stoical Patience support all the Injuries and Contumelies to which they are dayly exposed. For in the midst of the greatest abuses, you shall never see a Jew with an angry countenance, or appearing concerned, which cannot be imputed to any Heroick Temper in this People, but rather to their customary suffering, being born and Educated in this kind of Slavery. By reason whereof, they were never acquainted wich the Sentiments of an ingenuous and manly Usage. It is very common with the Morisco-Boys to rally together, and by way of pastime and divertisement, to beat the Jewish Children: which later, though they should far exceed the former in numbers and age, yet dare not give them the least resistance or opposition."

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Point of honour for Berbers to protect Jews

Daphne Anson has dug up this interesting insight into the 19th century patron-client relationship of Berbers and Jews:

"And here’s a report from the same newspaper (London Voice of Jacob - 28 March 1845), concerning the degraded dhimmi Jews of the Barbary States; it’s actually an extract from Notes on North Africa, the Sahara and Soudan (New York, 1844) by William Brown Hodgson, formerly US Consul in Tunis:

"Jews are numerous in all the villages of Biscara and the Wadreng. They enjoy an efficient protection among the Berber tribes in all the wide regions of Algiers and Morocco. This is afforded by a system of individual relationship, which may be compared to that of patron and client. Every Jew has his particular Sidi, patron or magister, who is responsible for his acts, and to whom he looks for counsel and protection. The defence of his Jewish dependant is a point of honour with the free Amazirgh, or Numidian; and he will protect him from injury or aggression at the risk of his life. Such is the patronal relation of the Israelites among the Scbelechs [sic] or Berbers of Morocco, where their numbers are estimated at half a million. The Arabs do not yield to them this protection. Deprived of civil rights in Barbary, the social condition of the Jews merits investigation."

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Al-Jazeera's nostalgia trip down the Wadi

Rebuilding work at the Maghen Avraham synagogue (EPA)

Nostalgia-soaked piece in Al-Jazeera focusing on the redevelopment of Beirut's Jewish quarter, Wadi abu-Jamil, where the last Jewish resident, Lisa Srour, has been served notice to quit. The synagogue is the only reminder of a community long departed, but not enough funding has been raised to complete its renovation. Excited former Beirut residents in New York are planning a 'roots' trip; those Jews still in Lebanon are nervous and pick their words carefully for public consumption. (With thanks: Eliyahu)

Lisa has now vacated her childhood apartment, but still returns to the Wadi every couple of days to feed the alley cats. She paces her old street and visits its last surviving shopkeeper - Abed, a Sunni Muslim.

In the Wadi's heyday, Abed's father ran a bakery that catered to the Jewish community's specialised bread needs during religious holidays. Now all that is left of the family business is a crowded one room grocery.

"Jews lived like any other Lebanese citizens," he says from behind the vintage store counter, where he listens to French music on an old radio. "They have all their rights," he continues. "Of course they are not like the Jews in Israel."

Most Lebanese Jews resettled overseas, but a minority did indeed emigrate to the neighbouring Jewish state*. Lisa and other remaining Lebanese Jews say they rejected citizenship in Israel.

"Yasser Arafat, God rest his soul, was good to us," Lisa says, referring to the late Palestinian leader.

During the 1970s, Arafat's Fatah established a presence in the Wadi, having clashed with rightist Christian groups in the adjacent hotel district. Jews began fleeing the area to avoid being caught in the crossfire, and as they left, Shia refugees fleeing battles near the Israeli border began to settle in their place.

Lisa says Fatah opened an office facing her building, and recalls one of its lieutenants - a handsome man who used to look up at her on the balcony from the street below. He was in charge of food parcel distribution to Wadi residents when a Shia girl urged him to give food to the Muslims first, then the Christians and lastly to the remaining Jews. Lisa recalls his answer with a smile: "He told her, 'we will give first to the Jews, then the Christians, then the Muslims'."

The Israelis eventually ousted Fatah from Beirut in the early 1980s. During this time, Israeli shells fell on Magen Abraham**, forcing families taking refugee there to flee. The structure remained intact, but sharing the fate of so many historic buildings during the chaos of the 1980s, it was gutted and, after years of abandon, overtaken by a giant growth of dense vegetation. Until last year, the rusted outer gate was fastened with a decaying padlock and chain.

'More than a country'

Back in New York, old Wadi residents are eagerly following the restoration of Magen Abraham on the internet, where they have been reunited with Lebanese Jews from around the world through the social networking site Facebook.

On a page devoted to the rebuilding of the synagogue, pictures have been posted showing the clearing of the brush, the building of a new red tile roof and a first coat of white paint applied to the yellowed exterior walls.

So far, the work is being paid for by private donations - rumoured to be from prominent Lebanese Jewish banking families - and $150,000 from Solidere - a grant which it has extended to all religious organisations restoring sites in central Beirut. But funding has fallen short of the total rebuilding cost, which is estimated at $1mn according the Jewish Community Council, an organisation created under Ottoman rule in the early 1900s.

The long dormant council, which once represented up to 15,000 Lebanese Jews, is now soliciting donations on the Facebook page and through its new website, peppered with optimistic statements calling for the rebirth of the community. Among these is a quote from the late Pope John Paul II: "Lebanon is more than a country, it is a message of religious tolerance and coexistence."

But in a recent television interview, the council head, Isaac Arazi, refused to show his face on camera, fearing that his business would suffer if clients knew they had been dealing with a Jew. After our first meeting Lisa too displayed a great deal of hesitancy, asking that I not inform neighbourhood police that I had visited her. She folded my legal pad and wrapped it in a newspaper as a precaution when I last left her apartment. Indeed many of the estimated 200 Jews remaining in Lebanon keep a low profile.

To protect its Jewish citizens, the Lebanese government deployed the army several times to the Wadi area following resistance to the establishment of Israel in 1948. However, only a few incidents were reported and the community continued to grow, in stark contrast to Jewish communities in other Arab countries.

In a 1951 letter to the New York Times, prominent Lebanese Jewish publisher, T. Mizrahi wrote: "At no time have the Lebanese Jews been deprived of their rights as citizens, or their liberties." Any sympathy Lebanese Jews felt for European Jews settling in Palestine was "purely religious" he wrote. "... All other ties - those of nationality, culture, language and customs bind them to their own mother country, whose faithful citizens they wish to remain."

But sentiments began to change for many in the aftermath of the 1967 war, when Israel dealt a sweeping blow to Arab states. Troops were again deployed to protect the Wadi from protesters and Lebanese politicians offered assurances of their safety. But some grew uncomfortable with the growing anger toward the budding Jewish state and many quietly made plans for departure.

Sabah recalls how homes were suddenly emptied overnight. "You just knew that a family had left without making a lot of announcement."

Half***of the Lebanese Jewish community departed between 1967 and 1971 according to author Kristen Schultz.

"There were a lot of problems at that time," says Marcel Srour in Brooklyn. "After the 1967 war, things had changed, not drastically but we started to worry. The feeling changed, people used to look at us differently. Even though we knew we could practise our religion and they didn't bother us with that, it was time to make a decision for the best."

But many in the community stayed, apparently less fazed by the tensions felt by others. "At no time have we any concern about the faith of the Lebanese soldiers who guard our synagogue, many of whom are Muslims," wrote Jewish Community Council president, Joseph Attie in the Toronto Telegraph in 1969.

Indeed, the second and final exodus of Lebanese Jews came at the start of the civil war in the mid-1970s, when concerns shifted from a war with Israel to a war between Lebanese Christians and Muslims. Wadi Abu Jameel was once again caught up in the conflict, as it straddled the 'green line' between predominantly Muslim West Beirut and Christian East Beirut.

Although Lisa has fond memories of Arafat and his men, other Lebanese Jews have darker recollections. In Brooklyn, Vicky Zeitoune remembers being followed by a boy with a machine gun as she made her way home from school. "I remember running, very scared and my father said 'this is it, we're going to go right now'."

The Zeitounes only packed their suitcases for a "vacation" in New York. But shelling broke out on the day of their departure and the family was evacuated in an armoured personnel carrier. Later that day, their home was destroyed.

The few families that remained faced forced home seizures, kidnappings and murders - about a dozen Wadi residents were kidnapped and killed during the 1980s.

Vicky's husband stayed on and says he would never return. "But I would like to go," she says. "I think people should go back to where they came from, their heritage ... and even though we are Jewish we always thought that we were Lebanese first.

"We are very proud to be Lebanese. We lived very well as a Jewish people, there was no persecution."

Even Marcel, who left in the turbulent aftermath of the 1967 war, is determined to return. "I'll go there one day. I'll be very, very happy to see it again, growing and flourishing peacefully between all religions together."

Read article in full

* In fact half of all Lebanese Jews left for Israel
**an allegation made by journalist Robert Fisk
***others estimate 90 percent

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rebuttal to Rachel Shabi on refugees

Malicious, ugly and illogical - such adjectives spring to mind when you read Rachel Shabi 's shrill post on the Guardian's Comment is Free denigrating a new Israeli government initiative to include Jewish refugees in peace talks. The CiF readership obviously thought so too - CiF closed the thread down a few hours later. Read my rebuttal on CiF Watch:

Rachel Shabi must be one worried woman. She is troubled because the Israeli government, led by deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon, has lately been putting
the issue of Jews driven out of Arab countries on the peace talks agenda.

Turning up the volume on Jewish refugees has shaken avowed anti-Zionists like Ms Shabi out of their comfort zone: a second set of refugees, they fear, has popped up to challenge the Palestinians’ hitherto exclusive monopoly on victimhood. Except that these Jewish refugees have not suddenly popped up. They and their descendants comprise 50 percent of Israel’s Jewish population. They have been in the background all along, these silent, reproachful reminders of a great and unacknowledged historical injustice. Just because the Arab world has chosen to deny or falsify their narrative, the media have chosen to ignore them, and successive Israeli governments have made the monumental mistake of not making a public issue of them – does not mean that these Jews do not deserve recognition and redress.

Even as Saeb Erekat insists that there will be no peace without justice for Palestinian refugees, so can there be no meaningful peace without recognition for the 800,000 Jews driven out of Arab countries. In fact, addressing the suffering of both sets of refugees is more likely to lead to a lasting peace.

In truth, Jewish refugees, even if not explicitly stated as such, have been on the international agenda from the word go. UN GA 194, UN SC Resolution 242, international and bilateral agreements all address a just settlement of the ‘refugee problem,’ without specifying whether the refugees are Jewish or Arab.

It is almost as hurtful as Holocaust denial to deny that these Jews were refugees. To be sure, not one of them would say they were still refugees today – unlike the Palestinians. None still live in the maabarot tent camps of the 1950s. Only a minority came as Zionist idealists. The vast majority were driven out either by state-sanctioned brutality, discrimination and expulsion in Iraq, Syria, Libya or Egypt - or they were ushered towards the exit by violence, marginalisation and intimidation as in Algeria (eg Ayalon’s own family), Morocco and Tunisia. Absorbing these refugees was the right thing for Israel to do. It is the Palestinian condition of non-absorption that is abnormal and counter-intuitive to basic humanitarian values. It is the Palestinians penned in camps who are hostages to political point-scoring.

It would seem logical that Israel should represent the interests of Jewish refugees, simply because 75 percent of Jews from Arab countries were resettled there. The argument that Israel would somehow ‘exploit’ the refugees and pocket any compensation intended for them, no longer holds water: the current thinking, expounded by former president Bill Clinton in 2000, is that individual Jewish and Arab refugees would receive compensation from an international fund.

How gracious of Rachel Shabi to acknowledge that some Jews might be entitled to compensation for their ‘impounded property and possessions’. How then does Ms Shabi explain away the fact that not a single Jew from an Arab country now living in Israel has been awarded compensation for lost property? So deeply mired are Arab states in denial that they won’t admit that these Jews are entitled to demand such compensation. Even the new ‘democratic’ Iraqi government will not deal with pre- 1968 claims (the great Jewish exodus took place in 1950 – 51). In spite of a clause in the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, the Egyptian government has not paid out a single dinar to Egyptian-born Israeli claimants.

As for Ms Shabi’s idea of setting up heritage centres to commemorate Jewish life in Arab lands, it is hard to take her suggestion seriously when such Jewish heritage as has not crumbled to dust is being appropriated as the Arab states’ own. Witness the Jewish communal archives and treasures considered to be Egypt’s national heritage; the Jewish archives stolen and seized by the secret police in Iraq and now claimed as Iraq’s heritage; the Jewish shrine of Ezekiel in Iraq, in danger of being turned into a mosque – and the list goes on.

True, Egypt recently spent much treasure restoring the Maimonides synagogue in Cairo to its former glory – but what use is a synagogue when Jews are not permitted to pray in it?

It’s all very well extolling the ‘long vibrant Jewish experience in Arab lands’. On the other hand, to whitewash the antisemitism that resulted in all but 0.5 percent of the Jewish population in Arab countries being ethnically cleansed is akin to celebrating the rich Jewish contribution to German culture without mentioning the Nazi Holocaust.

Shabi-esque apologetics for Arab and Muslim antisemitism won’t wash. All the facts need to be on the table. Both sides need to feel each other’s pain if there is ever going to be hope of reconciliation between Arabs and Jews.

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