Monday, February 28, 2011

Miss Holland witnessed a Libyan pogrom in 1967

Now derelict synagogue in Tripoli (Photo: Martin Beek)

The grandparents and parents of today's rioters were certainly not immune from "the longest hatred," as a New Zealander's account of a pogrom in Tripoli shows. It took place in revenge for Israel's stunning victory over Arab armies in the Six Day War. Joanne Holland worked as a secretary in Tripoli from 1966-68; some time after returning to London, she shared her reminiscences with a reporter from the Jewish Chronicle. Via Daphne Anson :

The pogrom she witnessed entailed a score of murders and the burning to the ground of Jewish homes and businesses. Miss Holland had known only one Jew, a refugee doctor from Germany, before she went to work in Libya, and there she befriended a number of Jews.

She recalled that one Jew, who having hid in his house for about a week, ventured outside to discover the fate of the shop he owned. Arabs recognised him and gave chase, so he ran towards a police car, expecting assistance. Instead of rescuing him, the police ran him over.

One evening, a jeep-load of armed police led by a colonel led two families from their home on the pretext of taking them to the airport so that they might reach safety. The families were, in fact, driven out into the desert, where he and his men murdered them all - thirteen persons including two young children. The colonel later explained that he had "wanted to avenge my Arab brothers" (i.e. for Israel's victory in the Six Day War).

Armed police stood idly by while Jewish-owned shops were broken into, looted, and set alight. Such premises included a restaurant-cum-liquor store; Arab rioters ran up and down the street swigging the drink from the stolen bottles, and going back for more, while four armed soldiers with grins on their faces looked on.

A Jewish family who barricaded themselves in their apartment for over a week were shocked when their Arab neighbours, whom they'd lived alongside for 30 years, attempted to gain entry and set the place ablaze.
Children as young as eight were among the mob, and Miss Holland was "horrified to see women, under normal circumstances never seen, except occasionally peeping out from behind their veils, standing by and watching the destruction and murder with apparent glee."

What particularly struck Miss Holland when the pogrom occurred was the unwillingness of westerners stationed in Tripoli to intervene and try to help the Jews being hunted down. What also shocked her was the apathy of contacts in London, to whom she recounted what she'd witnessed. "[T]hey seemed bored and showed no interest," she said. "Many Britons still had some romantic concept of the Arabs. How wrong they were."

She had the distinct impression that in Libya westerners "were madly competing with each other in appeasing the Arabs and expressing their deep sympathies with them in their hatred for Israel and the local Jewish community," to use the phraseology of the Jewish Chronicle reporter (JC, 21 February 1969).

"Then, for the first time," she told him, "I could understand how the Nazis got away with murdering millions of Jews, for people were just not interested in helping them."

The Libyan authorities had finally permitted Jews to leave Libya on temporary travel documents, which prohibited them from taking their belongings or more than £20 with them and would not permit them to return after being away for four months. Those that departed were herded together at dawn by armed soldiers in the forecourt of a hotel, and were surrounded by hostile Arabs shouting and swearing.

Miss Holland herself was several times surrounded by Libyan crowds, and spat at, and once, when visiting a Jewish family, she was almost killed by Arabs wielding iron bars and knives.

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