One-stop blog on Jews from Arab and Muslim Countries and the Middle East's forgotten Jewish refugees, updated daily
Saturday, June 10, 2017
Libya's forgotten war against its Jews
In June 1967, while mobs raged against Jews in the streets of Tripoli and Benghazi, a young girl was sheltered by a brave Muslim until it was safe enough for her family to leave the country. That girl was to become Mrs David Harris, the author of this Algemeiner article highlighting the forgotten consequences in Libya of Israel's Six Day War victory. (With thanks: Imre)
Shell of the Zawiya synagogue, burnt down in the 1945 pogrom
Notwithstanding constitutional guarantees provided by the new Libyan
nation, restrictions on Jews were gradually imposed. By 1961, Jews could
not vote, hold public office, serve in the army, get passports,
purchase new property, acquire majority ownership in
any new business or supervise their own communal affairs. Yet the Jews
remained, umbilically linked to their ancestral land and hoping against
hope, despite all the evidence to the contrary, for positive change.
Then, in June 1967, war broke out in the Middle East. Inspired by
Nasser’s pan-Arab appeals, Libyans took to the streets and attacked the
By the time calm was restored, 18 Jews in Tripoli, the country’s
capital, were dead. The toll might have risen had it not been for the
courage of Cesare Pasquinelli, Italy’s ambassador to Libya, who ordered
all Italian diplomatic missions in the country to
extend their protection to the Jews.
A very few Muslims helped as well, including one — who at great risk —
hid the teenager who was to become my wife, along with her parents and
seven siblings, for two weeks until they were able to leave the country.
Tellingly, however, this righteous Libyan
has refused any public recognition, lest his life be put in danger for
Within a matter of weeks, all the remaining Jews of Libya fled abroad,
urged to do so “temporarily” by the government. Each was permitted one
suitcase and the equivalent of $50. Half headed for Israel; 2,000 went
to Italy. In many respects, the tragic fate
of Libya’s Jews was no different from that of hundreds of thousands of
Jews in other Arab countries.
To no one’s surprise, this temporary exodus became permanent. Colonel
Muammar Gaddafi seized power in 1969; the following year, he announced a
series of laws to confiscate the assets of Libya’s Jews, issuing bonds
providing for “fair compensation” within 15
years. But 1985 came and went with no compensation paid.
And so, with only a few scattered international protests, scant press
attention and silence from the United Nations, another once-thriving
Jewish community in the Arab world, like so many others, came to an end
— and the rich tapestry of the region’s diversity
took yet another irretrievable hit.
In just 50 years, almost a million Jews, whose communities stretch back up to 3,000 years, have been 'ethnically cleansed' from 10 Arab countries. These refugees outnumber the Palestinian refugees two to one, but their narrative has all but been ignored. Unlike Palestinian refugees, they fled not war, but systematic persecution. Seen in this light, Israel, where some 50 percent of the Jewish population descend from these refugees and are now full citizens, is the legitimate expression of the self-determination of an oppressed indigenous, Middle Eastern people. This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, which can never return to what and where they once were - even if they wanted to. It will attempt to pass on the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution. Awareness of the injustice done to these Jews can only advance the cause of peace and reconciliation. (Iran: once an ally of Israel, the Islamic Republic of Iran is now an implacable enemy and numbers of Iranian Jews have fallen drastically from 80,000 to 20,000 since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Their plight - and that of all other communities threatened by Islamism - does therefore fall within the scope of this blog.)