Sunday, May 09, 2021

Hamas uses violence to politicise Jerusalem property dispute

Point of No Return has been following attempts by Jews to reclaim land and property in Jerusalem from which they were driven in the 1930s and 1940s. Now a  property dispute in Sheikh Jarrah, east Jerusalem has been politicised by Hamas to stoke  rioting and violence;  international bodies and members of the US Congress have rushed to condemn Israel.   BICOM has a good summary of the current situation:

The battle over legal ownership of several buildings in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood has been ongoing for the last 15 years in Israeli courts. 

 Earlier this year, the Jerusalem District Court upheld an October 2020 Jerusalem Magistrate Court decision that ruled the ownership of land belonged to the Jewish group Nahalat Shimon Co and ordered 25 Palestinians from four families to vacate properties they are living in by 2 May 2021.

 Following this decision, the residents appealed to the Supreme Court, who gave both sides until 6 May to reach a compromise. They failed to do so, and the Supreme Court will make a ruling on 10 May. According to the Supreme Court, the land in question in Sheikh Jarrah, adjacent to the tomb of Shimon Hatzaddik, was “owned by Chief Rabbi (Hacham Bashi) Avraham Ashkenazi and Chief Rabbi Meir Orbach until the War of Independence [1948], after they purchased it in 1875 from its Arab owners”.

 Subsequently, two Jewish organisations, Va’ad Eidat HaSfaradim and Va’ad HaKlali L’Knesset Yisrael, worked to register the land with British Mandatory government in 1946. After the 1948 War, Palestinian families who were refugees and lost their homes inside Israel were resettled in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood by UNRWA and the Jordanian government. 

 Following the 1967 Six-Day War, Israeli forces captured the area and the state confiscated the homes under Israel’s Absentee Property Law. The properties were subsequently registered with Israeli authorities under the two Jewish organisations in 1973. In 2003, the land was sold to the pro-settlement group Nahalat Shimon 

 In 2020, the Magistrate Court noted, “Throughout all of the deliberations, the defendants claimed through their counsel that they were not tenants but rather held the property rights …  apparently, as they realised that they had not convinced the Court that they were the owners of the property, the defendants claimed for the first time that they are tenants who should not be removed from their homes.”

Friday, May 07, 2021

How were Tunisian Jews impacted by WWII?

Tunisia was the only country to come under direct Nazi control during WWII, over the six months from November 1942 to May 1943. Up to 5,000 young Jewish men were marched off the forced labour camps; the yellow star was imposed on Jews in the south of the country. But the situation could have been much worse. Here is a summary of a series of talks given by historian Claude Nataf for Akadem:

Paul Ghez, a Jewish hero

The Vichy Resident-General, Admiral Estéva, was not an antisemite. He was a practising Christian who took advice from Bishop Gounod of Carthage,  no antisemite either. Estéva managed to delay by one month the implementation of the Statut des Juifs, which was applied on 31 October 1940 in Morocco. (Unlike Morocco, however, even converts to Islam in Tunisia were considered Jews.) The anti-Jewish laws drove Jews  - especially those of French nationality - out of the civil service, the professions and public service, banks, insurance and property management. Jews could not pursue debtors. Quotas came into force in secondary schools.  Jewish youth movements were banned and Jews could not join the Scouts, for instance. 

The Vichy authorities abrogated a 1923 law allowing Jews to request French citizenship. Estéva drew criticism from Vichy officials when he insisted it not be retroactive. He was even accused of being a traitor. He managed to allow Jewish doctors to continue to treat the population, and obtained an exemption for 123 defence lawyers - almost all of whom were army veterans.

However, mindful of the economic clout they exercised, the Vichy regime largely exempted the 3,000 Italian Jews (Grana) in Tunisia from these strictures. Strangely enough, Italy itself would attempt to mitigate the persecution of the Grana once the Nazis had occupied Tunisia.

The new Bey of Tunisia, Moncef, declared that Jews and Muslims alike were his children, but the majority of Jews, on the eve of the Nazi occupation, were marginalised and impoverished.

The Nazi commanding the occupation was Walter Rauff, inventor of the mobile gas van which was used to murder 100,000 Jews in eastern Europe. The Ensatzgruppen  he headed in Greece had plans to liquidate the Jews of Egypt and Palestine. But Rauff did not have many SS troops, two thirds of the occupying forces in Tunisia were Italian and only one unit was German, most of the first-rate fighters having been diverted to Hitler's Russian campaign.

Rauff gave the Jewish community 24 hours to recruit 3,000 Jews for forced labour. But only 150 volunteeers turned up. Rauff took over the Great Synagogue in Tuns and his men wrecked Sifrei Torah.

Enter one of the heroes of the Jewish community, Paul Ghez. Ghez was a lawyer who would serve as head of the  Committee for the Recruitment of Jewish Labour. He had distinguished himself in WWI and had won the Croix de Guerre after volunteering for the French army in WWII. " At this  point I have a single aim," he declared.  "I will stand erect and not project the spectacle of a trembling Jew."

Wearing his officer's uniform throughout the war, he protested that the Germans had no right to humiliate the Jews. If they wanted to shoot 10 of the community's leaders, he would be the first to die. Rauff backed down and took 100 Jews as hostages instead. His men rounded up 2,000 men on 9 December. Between 9 and 18 December, another 3,700 were recruited from the provinces. It was the Jewish community's job to feed and clothe the inmates from taxes raised by the community itself.

The question remains: why did the Germans insist on recruiting effete Jews to do forced labour when there was a much better-qualified workforce amongst unemployed Italians? The answer must have been that the persecution and extermination of the Jews was a key war aim.

Some of the camps were run by Italians. When Rauff made it known that he wanted to shoot Jews, the Italian commander of one camp turned a blind eye to escapees. When German soldiers looted from Jewish homes and raped their women, the Jewish community protested. Ghez remonstrated with the Germans. 'Rape is against military honour', he said.

The Germans requisitioned radios from the Jews, bicycles, pianos, crockery, cameras. They demanded jewellery. Rauff threatened to shoot his Jewish hostages. Then came extortion - Rauff demanded 20 million Francs in one day. Estéva was asked to intervene. He arranged for the money to be lent to the Jewish community. The story is told that in March 1943, Rauff took three hostages on the island of Djerba and demanded 100 kg of gold. When the rabbi toured the island in his car on that Shabbat collecing the gold, the Jews of Djerba knew something was seriously amiss. .He collected 50 kg, but the Nazis never returned for the rest.

By the end of the occupation, 17 Jews had been deported to concentration camps in Europe, some 42 Jews were victims of acts of sadism and shootings.  Right-wing French were antisemites, but the Catholic church was basically not. The lower class Italians laughed at the Jews' plight, while some Italian consulates protected Jews. The Bey of Tunisia was philosemitic but powerless;  Muslim leaders acted responsibly. Some aristocrats hid Jews. But nationalists were anti-Jewish; Arabs did help identify Jews in the round-up and rejoiced to see Jews humiliated. In one terrible case, a Muslim denounced the Chemla brothers and their father; these were deported and beheaded in Germany. Many Arabs were influenced by Nazi propaganda and widespread use of the Yellow Star might have provoked Muslims to act against Jews.

It took two months for the Allies to repeal the racial laws but the rift between the Jews and the French would not heal. The Jews could never trust the French again. Some Jews moved closer to Arabs, some became more pro-Zionist and some became anti-nationalist. The Jews of Tunisia  had received a terrible shock - a shock from which they would not recover.

Based on historian Claude Nataf's Akadem lectures (French) 1 -6, December 2020.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

How Sarah witnessed the Farhud in Baghdad

 It is 80 years since the outbreak of the Farhud massacre shocked Iraqi Jews to the core. Sarah was an 11-year-old nanny from Kurdistan living in Baghdad who witnessed the Farhud.  Dorota Molin tells her story in Times of Israel:

Sarah, who was 11 during the Farhud

“My paternal uncle lived in Baghdad. He didn’t have children, so he asked my father to ‘adopt’ one of his. I was the eldest one and my father loved me very much, he said ‘pick any one except for Sarah.’ 

But my uncle still asked for me. My father couldn’t refuse him, that would harm his honour in our community. 

So aged 11, I left my family and went down to Baghdad to stay with my uncle. I was living with him and his wife but in the end, I got bored. I told them I wanted to work.

 They took me to a house where I took care of a child, a baby. Afterwards I was brought to care for an elderly Jewish woman.

 Three or four months later, the Farhud broke out, they started killing people. Earlier, they had already began beating Jews in the streets and robbing them. 

Eventually, the Farhud broke out, on the Eve of the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost). They went out and started killing people. They would break into houses at night to rob and kill. They discussed this at the house of my mistress.

 ‘A certain man has been killed, what shall we do?’ But they couldn’t do anything, so they just hid in the house. In Baghdad, there were also Muslims who loved the Jews. 

Such Muslims would help their Jewish neighbours by writing on their neighbours’ doors ‘this house is Muslim‘. If a house had this sign, the rioters wouldn’t touch it. But if a house didn’t have such a sign, they would break in and kill those who were inside. 

They would bang on the door with rifles, the door opened, they entered and killed whoever was inside. This went on from the night until the next day, two in the afternoon. So to protect us from this, our Muslim neighbours put a sign on my mistress’ house.

 I watched them painted this sign on our door but I didn’t understand what was going on, I was just a little child. The next day in the afternoon, my mistress told me ‘go, get us some bread.’ In Arabic, they call it sammun. 

Here in Israel, they call them lakhmanyot. ‘Bring us three bread rolls so that we can eat.’ I didn’t understand what was going on so I went to the bakery, bought some rolls and started walking back.

 Then I saw two men on the street, one was saying to the other ‘See this girl? Kill her, she’s a Jewess.’ ‘No way, today Jews don’t go out to roam about in the streets.’

 ‘I tell you, she is a Jew. Kill her.’ 

 ‘No, she can’t be, Jews dress fashionably, they are modern. This one is a poor child, not a wealthy Jew!’

 But the other says ‘kill her!’

 ‘I will not kill her.’

 In the meantime, I tried to stay calm. By the grace of God, I didn’t run away, walking slowly, as if unintimidated by them. In the end, they went their way and I made it back to my mistress’ house, shaking from head to foot.

 I told her about this incident and she exclaimed ‘oh, you are yellow! Drink some sweet water!’ She gave me water with sugar and I drank. 

 The next day, they started killing again. First, they roamed the streets and killed any Jews they could find. 

But at noon, they even started breaking into houses using rifles and killing people indoors. I went up to the roof to watch what was happening in the streets. I was little, I didn’t understand it. There in Iraq, the houses had flat roofs you could sit on, so I sat there. I saw some people carrying bundles with clothes—possessions they had stolen from Jewish homes.

 They would come with cars, loot Jewish homes and fill their vehicles with the stolen possessions, taking even the furniture. Then one man approached one of those who were carrying the bundles saying ‘give these things to me or I’ll kill you.‘ 

The other replied ‘I won’t give them to you. These houses are full, go get some for yourself.‘ 

Then someone called from inside our house. ‘Come down from the roof!’ But I said ‘No, I want to see.’

 So I stayed, watching the men outside argue. ‘Why would you kill me?’ one of them said. ‘Go, get some possessions for yourself.’ 

But—what shall we do—the other man did kill him, in front of my very eyes. He killed him and took the stolen possessions from him.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

The Lebanese Jew who now serves in the IDF

Major K  and his family were among the last Lebanese Jews  to leave for Israel. Today he works in Israeli intelligence monitoring the activities of Hezbollah and other threats from a country he grew up in. Yoav Limor interviewed him for Aish: 

Major K works for Unit 8200 in Israeli intelligence

If K. has one dream, it's to go back to Beirut. To walk around the neighborhood he grew up in, to meet his old neighbors and friends. 

To sit in restaurants, to go for vacations in the north like he did when he was a kid. "I'll be the first to go to Lebanon once it's possible," he says. Sergeant Major K. is known in Unit 8200, Israel’s Central Collection Unit of the Intelligence Corps, as "The Lebanese".

 He came to Israel from Lebanon with his family, among the last Jews who lived there, and was drafted into the IDF and made a career in Unit 8200 focusing on his former home – Lebanon and the fight against Hezbollah, who took over the country he grew up in. 

 He's 39 years old, married with two girls aged 8 and 3. His perfect Hebrew can be misleading: when he came to Israel, aged 12, he didn't speak a word. 

Everything he learned he learned by himself. Word after word, sentence after sentence. His mother tongue is Arabic, and just like any educated Lebanese, he also speaks French and English. He studied in a Christian school, and most of his friends were Christian.

 "Most of the Jews left before us. Most of them after the Six Day War, and then after the Yom Kippur War. Those who stayed, dispersed after the civil war began in 1975, many moved to France or Canada, because they knew how to speak French, and also to Brazil." 

 His parents lived in Beirut. "They were convinced that in a few months the war will end, but like all the Jews who remained in the city, they decided to go up a bit north, to a more remote mountainous area. 

They were sure they would return when the fighting subsided, but it didn't, and we stayed there." His father was a successful salesman and his mother a housewife. He remembers a normal and happy childhood of a regular family: two parents with four kids, K. and his three sisters.

 In retrospect, he can say that during those times there was considerable persecution of Jews, even though his family never felt it. "I don't remember being scared to say I'm Jewish.

 Our neighbors knew we were Jews. My father came from a religious home, and we would celebrate the major holidays – Passover, Rosh Hashanah."

 I was never ashamed or scared to say I was Jewish. They would get matzah for Passover from Syria, where there was still a large Jewish community, with a chief rabbi, kosher slaughter and bakeries. "In Lebanon all that disappeared years earlier, but we learned to get by. We lived among Christians, but we upheld our Jewish lives. Father prayed at home. On Yom Kippur the neighbor would come over before the fast ended to warm up our food, and the neighbors would move our car so we didn't desecrate the holiday." 

 Q: Weren't you scared? 

 "I was a Lebanese Jew. I was accepted like they accept a Lebanese Christian. I studied in a Christian school that was somewhat religious, and anyone who needed to know – they knew I was Jewish and didn't attend religious lessons. I didn't go around screaming that, but I was never ashamed or scared to say I was Jewish." They avoided going to the Shiite areas of Beirut. 

"We lived in a Christian area, which was protected. The moment you ventured a bit south, you were exposed. My father didn't like going to these areas. He was connected to military people who would give him passage, but he was very careful." 

 He remembers many vacations during his childhood in Lebanon: In the snowy mountains, and on the beach during summers. Long vacations that sometimes lasted the whole summer. In the 1980s the family would get in their car, drive south to the border, pass through Rosh Hanikra, and when the vacation ended go back home. 

During holidays they would come to Israel, to visit his mother's family. Today it sounds like science fiction, but in the 1980s they would get in their car, drive south to the border, pass through Rosh Hanikra, and when the vacation ended go back home. 

"I remember holidays, the hotel in Nahariya. We would usually come for Rosh Hashanah, because it coincided with the vacation in Lebanon." His father was the only one then who spoke Hebrew. The rest of the family spoke with their relatives in Arabic. At the end of the 1980s the visits became less frequent due to the security situation, and the family slowly began to think more about leaving Lebanon and moving to Israel. "My father was Zionist, and he wanted to live again in a warm and embracing Jewish Zionist community." 

 At the end of 1993, they made the decision and K.'s family prepared for the move. As opposed to Syrian Jews, who had to escape without any belongings, Lebanese Jews left in an orderly fashion. K.'s family told their neighbors they were leaving for America, packed their house, including the furniture, called the movers and put their possessions on a ship that sailed to Cyprus, where they were greeted by Jewish Agency officials. After a few days waiting, in December 1993, they flew to Israel.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Will Sarah Halimi St pave the way to true justice?

Sarah Halimi will have a Paris street named after her. But a street name is a poor substitute for justice: Dr Halimi's murderer is to walk free after the French Court of Appeal acted that he was acting under the influence of drugs. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Some 20,000 protested at the travesty of justice that would allow Sarah Halimi's killer to go free (Photo: Geoffroy Van der Hassselt/ AFP via Getty images)

Paris will soon inaugurate in its historic Jewish quarter a street named for Sarah Halimi, Mayor Anne Hidalgo said amid protests over authorities’ handling of the killing. 

Hidalgo made the announcement on Sunday following a rally by about 20,000 people, mostly Jews, who demonstrated against the April 14 ruling by France’s highest court on the 2017 slaying. “We need to honor Sarah Halimi’s memory. And that’s what we’ll do,” 

Hidalgo said in a statement, France3 reported Tuesday. “There will be a Sarah Halimi Street. It will be a way of achieving justice for her.” The street will be in the 4th District, also known as the Marais, which before the Holocaust was the heart of Jewish life in Paris.

Ronnie Dellal, a Jewish refugee from an Arab country now living in London, wrote this letter of protest (With thanks: Lisette):

  J’ Accuse: Open letter to the French President M Emmanuel Macron:

I am writing to you and invoking the famous words of Mr Emile Zola when he addressed a century old anti-Semitic travesty that blighted the name of a previous French Republic under M. Félix Faure: 

 “Would you allow me . . . . to draw the attention of your rightful glory and to tell you that your star, so happy until now, is threatened by the most shameful and most ineffaceable of blemishes? 

 Over a century ago, the Dreyfus affair marred France's reputation in the free world and ultimately gave rise to the most disturbing events and heinous crimes.

 France is now facing the same challenges, with the outrageous handling of Dr Sarah Halimi’s murder. France and its reputation is, today, at a crossroads. The path it takes will depend on whether good men and women will stand up, defend and honour the ideals of the French Republic (Liberté, égalité, fraternité) or not. Yet, M Le Président, you have in your power, as your predecessor had, to stop the above travesty from taking place and right a wrong before it raises its ugly head again. 

 The cornerstone of the French revolution and the Republic's ideals is that all French citizens should be able to live in freedom, treated equally and enjoy the same rights and responsibilities regardless of colour, background, religion and beliefs. 

 Yet there is a small, but sizeable, minority which feels that the above ideals do not apply to them. They are unable to live in freedom and forever need to have special security in their communal buildings; places of worship and even their shops. All the while their children are attending schools behind high fences and security guards. With the travesty of Dr Sarah Halimi's murder, they have now been denied equality under the law, due process and their individual right to live freely and without fear. Ultimately, if not already, they will no longer feel that they have equal rights as the rest of their French brothers and sisters.

 M. Le Président, you have it in your power, if not your responsibility, to address an injustice before it becomes forever rooted in French culture. You have the power to say, not only, 'no' to anti-Semitism but more importantly, 'never again'. 

 How you will act now will show how far France have moved on from the Dreyfus affair and how your presidency might contrast with that of M. Félix Faure, your predecessor.

 Respectfully yours 

 Ronnie Dallal 

Monday, May 03, 2021

Meron tragedy is greeted with outpouring of hate

The Lag b’Omer tragedy at Mount Meron in Israel, which led to at least 44 deaths and injuries to many more, has been greeted with an outpouring of hatred on social media.  Despite the Abraham Accords and multiple initiatives to improve Arab-Jewish relations, there is still a long way to go. Report by Jenni Frazer in The Jewish Chronicle:

The narrow passageway where the stampede occurred (Photo: TOI)

 According to investigative journalist David Collier, a report of the deaths by Al-Jazeera had garnered 30,000 responses, and that “10,000 — 33 per cent — were either laughing at or loving the fact [that] innocent Jews have died. The most ‘liked’ comments were the most vicious”. 

 “It isn’t about a few sickos celebrating the awful tragedy in Israel. It is the scale of it,” he wrote on Twitter. 

 Another report of the incident on a site called New Press featured the line: “A number of Israeli settlers were killed and wounded due to a bridge collapse in Galilee, north occupied Palestine”. 

 This received reactions such as “Even the bridge wants them dead” from someone called ‘Levantine Pali’, while a poster known as Ms.Andry responded with a picture of someone yawning and the comment “Drinks on me, y’all!” 

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Fashion world mourns passing of Alber Elbaz, 59

One of the fashion industry's leading designers, Alber Elbaz, has died of COVID-19. Elbaz was born in Casablanca and immigrated with his family to Holon in Israel when he was eight months old. Aged seven he was already sketching dresses. His mother encouraged him and sent him off to New York to become a professional designer with $800 in his pocket. 

Albert Elbaz: ebullient

The fashion world reeled with shock and grief to learn that Alber Elbaz, the designer best known for his spectacular rejuvenation of Lanvin from 2001 to 2015, had died at a Paris hospital. He was 59. 

 His death on Saturday, due to COVID-19, was confirmed by Compagnie Financière Richemont, his joint venture partner in AZ Factory, his latest fashion venture. 

 He was among the leading fashion figures who have died of COVID-19, who include Kenzo Takada and Sergio Rossi. 

 An ebullient character prized for his couture-like craft, Elbaz took a five-year hiatus after being ousted from Lanvin and just launched AZ Factory, hinged on solutions-driven fashions, entertainment and tech.

 While his name was not on the label, the start-up was steeped in Elbaz’s personality, humor, and his inimitable flair for soigné fashions. 

 “I have lost not only a colleague but a beloved friend,” Richemont founder and chairman Johann Rupert said in a statement, expressing his shock and sadness at Elbaz’s sudden passing. “

Alber had a richly deserved reputation as one of the industry’s brightest and most beloved figures. I was always taken by his intelligence, sensitivity, generosity and unbridled creativity,” Rupert said.

 “He was a man of exceptional warmth and talent, and his singular vision, sense of beauty and empathy leave an indelible impression. 

Friday, April 30, 2021

Meet Zvi Yehezkeli, the Arabic-speaking James Bond

To many Israelis, Zvi Yehezkeli is something of a hero - an investigative journalist who has daringly infiltrated Islamic  state and the Muslim Brotherhood. However, he is not only an Arabic-speaking Jew, but a religious one. Profile by Kay Wilson in Israellycool:

Zvi Yehzkeli: considered one of Israel's handsomest men

It is rare that a journalist garnishes respect from both sides of the political divide. But such is the case with Zvi Yehezkeli. 

Aside from once being voted among Israel’s most handsome men, he is our most famous Arabist: a non-Arab who is an expert in Arab affairs. A son of parents who fled Iraq and thus with a background of spoken Arabic, Yehezkeli enlisted into the Shin Bet and worked for them in security details all over the world. While he was abroad, he became interested in Islam.

 He was especially fascinated with terrorist Yasser Arafat due to the fact that the mass murderer shook hands with the late Prime Minister, Itzhak Rabin, at the Oslo Accords. In his work as a journalist he went undercover throughout Judea and Samaria to find out how local Arabs felt about the now outdated July 2020 plan to bring areas under Israeli sovereignty. A tiny camera was hidden in his glasses. 

Those interviewed didn’t even know they were being filmed. For the release of the report, he distorted their faces and voices to protect them from the brutality of the Palestinian Authority. Unsurprisingly, most of the interviewees stated their preference to live under Israeli sovereignty. 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Some 20 tourists attend Djerba pilgrimage

A few masked tourists from France made it to Tunisia this year to mark the Lag Ba'Omer pilgrimage on the island of Djerba, reports the Times of Israel.  The pilgrimage took place in the wake of a worrying series of antisemitic attacks on the island.

A pilgrim lights a candle in the Al-Ghriba synagogue, Djerba (photo: AFP)

DJERBA, Tunisia — The annual Jewish pilgrimage to the ancient Ghriba synagogue on Tunisia’s Djerba island started Monday without the usual thousands of pilgrims, due to restrictions to stem the coronavirus pandemic. 

 The pilgrimage to Ghriba — the oldest synagogue in Africa — takes place from April 25 to May 2 for the island’s Jewish community and the few faithful able to make the trip from abroad. Last year it was canceled due to the pandemic, but this year it is taking place — albeit with pilgrims praying individually and wearing face masks. Former tourism minister Rene Trabelsi, himself Jewish, was in Djerba with about 20 French tourists.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

In religious tolerance, Morocco still falls short

During the year that Ian Pokres spent in Morocco, he discovered that matters were not as 'nice' for Jews as they are made out to be. Take the case of 'Esther', a fellow student, ostracised for her desire to convert to Judaism. Morocco remains a deeply Sunni Muslim country and religious tolerance is limited. Read Ian's blog in the Times of Israel: 

  • The King of Morocco visiting a synagogue

So, not knowing the bounds of the law, I told her I would show her where the active synagogue in Fes was. This synagogue is seldom known by even native Fesis, as people born in Fes are called. If you mention “the synagogue,” they think you mean the abandoned ones in the old Jewish quarter near the palace, the mellah. The King is turning those into museums for the benefit of tourism. Torah scrolls sit unused and misquoted on endless tours by legal guides and shysters alike. 

What people often fondly dub the revivification of Jewish culture in Morocco is more accurately termed the mummification of something very much dead. At least in Fes, local Jews don’t want everyone knowing about their continued communal life. 

My first time at the community center was a Friday evening. The seeming lady-in-charge told me I was welcome any time, but I shouldn’t invite Moroccans. An elderly member of the community I had the opportunity to briefly interview through a translator told me it is not safe for him to wear a yarmulke outside. 

Even as a child, when Jews still populated the mellah, wearing a kippah was dangerous. Harassment was a given, and assault was likely, even if it wouldn’t cause great physical harm. I will say more about mellahs in a later post. 

To come back to Esther, I decided it was worth transgressing the matron’s graciousness to help this struggling young lady out whom I knew had put herself in harm’s way already for the Jewish people. And I was right. I showed her the place, a tucked-away spot with a police guard that attracts many visiting Israelis every Shabbat, baruch Hashem. 

Two of the women there, including the one who had helped me feel at ease, directed her to the acting Rabbi of Fes, a descendant of one of the famous rabbinic dynasties of Fes – I won’t say which. Within days, she had arranged daily Hebrew lessons with him, and unabashedly brought her materials – Hebrew and siddur lessons on paper printouts – to the “garden” at our language institute, where students congregate to study and chat. 

Of course, she attracted attention. This was supposed to be an outpost of openness (I’m not naming names, but the institute accepts half its funds, and includes in its name a certain Western nation on which it models its teaching. Feel free to Google; I won’t lose any sleep over it.), but some things apparently push the limits too far. 

One of my closest Moroccan friends, an otherwise sweet and open Fesiya, told me Esther’s behavior was weird and unacceptable, and she shouldn’t be doing it. Mind you this friend had herself stopped wearing her hijab and told me she no longer called herself a Muslim. But again, limits. Some things are just not touched in Moroccan society…this was a universal theme I heard from my young friends and acquaintances there, no matter their place on the religio-political spectrum. Go and ask for yourself if you don’t believe me.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

1947 witness warns :Jews in Arab lands in danger

In July 1947, Eliahu Eliachar, founder of the World Sephardi Foundation and vice-president of the World Sephardi Federation sounded the alarm concerning the perilous situation of Jews in Arab lands. The main problem was the 'extremist Arab leadership', inciting an ignorant populace to violence against Jews, both in Palestine and in the 'Jewish 'ghettoes' in Arab lands, hostages to the Palestine problem. Eliachar  gave this must-read  testimony, unearthed by blogger Elder of Ziyon,  to  the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), held at the YMCA in Jerusalem, July 15, 1947.  What he told them could have influenced the plan to partition Palestine passed by the UN in November of that year. ( With thanks: Yisrael)

Eliachar gave his testimony to UNSCOP meeting in the YMCA, Jerusalem, in July 1947

Arab-Jewish relations were good in the social and economic fields. They traded freely together, they met socially, and Jewish schools were attended by the upper classes of the Arabs. I have myself studied with many of the present day Arab leaders in Palestine and abroad, and many are still my best friends. We were comrades in arms during the first war, and better friends it is difficult to find. 

 The Turks did not tolerate any disorder. Allow us, gentlemen, to stress this point with all our might. No disorder prevailed for centuries in this country. What is the cause? We leave it to you to consider. A special system granted foreign protection to certain Christians, Jews, and even Moslems. Without both these preventives, the Arab masses, who are generally of a peaceful character, are, due to their illiteracy and fanaticism, easily aroused to bloodshed. 

 Arab nationalism was non-existent, or at least dormant before the occupation of Palestine. The Balfour Declaration was accepted tacitly by the Arabs of Palestine. Only outside intriguers aroused opposition. The word of King Hussein and that of his son, Emir Feisal, was taken by the Arab world and the Arabs of Palestine at the time as the final law and the final word of law. 

But gradually opposition was organised by the Christian-Moslem Association founded for this specific purpose in Palestine. The masses of the Arabs were inflated on religious grounds, which resulted in the terrible massacres of Jaffa, Hebron, Jerusalem, Safad, Mosca and so forth. 

These massacres were perpetrated by the Arabs against their erstwhile friends, neighbours, partners. The Community of Hebron, the most ancient Jewish settlement in Palestine, was thus destroyed and evacuated. It remains so until today. 

A town, a whole Jewish community in Jerusalem, which had existed for over eight or nine centuries without interruption, has been wiped out under British rule. [This refers to the Jewish community in Silwan/Kfar HaShiloach - EoZ.]Such a destruction could not have happened to the Jews under the Turks, particularly since the Government was aware that the Arab masses were being incited and encouraged by their leaders to believe that the Government supported these deeds. “Al Dole Maana” was the password in those days. 

 Many Arabs condemned these murders. Many have resumed their friendly relations with the Jews, but the fact remains that no longer can Jews inter-mingle freely in Arab towns and villages, even if they be of the Oriental Communities and of the oldest inhabitants. 

 On the strength of our experience of generations past and of recent events, we cannot visualize our dependence on an Arab State. Our bare lives will be in danger, and the fate of the Hebron Community may be ours too. 

 Without going into the causes which have brought the change of attitude, we cannot but deplore that present day Arab leadership is most extremist and most outspoken as to their intentions. No Jew can depend on the Mufti’s goodwill or that of his lieutenants. Using his religious position and prestige, he has been calling for massacres of the Jews ever since he fled to Germany. (…) 

 I was born a free man in Palestine. For over six hundred years, my family has resided here. All the time we realized one thing; that the Jewish problem, even as a Jew could see it — whether he lives in Washington, London, the Argentine, Palestine, or anywhere else — is totally different from what you will see for yourselves in one day in the D.P. Camps. 

 There is another thing which you have to see if you want to appreciate the problem that is facing you, that is demanding a solution. These are the ghettoes of the Arab States, of those independent, sovereign, democratic Members of the United Nations. The ghettoes in these Arab States, in the Yemen, in Iraq, in Damascus — if you will visit any of them, all the reports, all our speeches, all our proofs as to whether such and such a prophet was born on such and such a day, all that will have vanished and you will face the problem of humanity in the raw demanding a solution.

 It is through you that we are in duty bound to sound the alarm, and call upon the human conscience of the world to take stock before it is too late. What has happened under the Nazi regime in the West may happen under the rule of certain Governments, Members of the United Nations Organization.

 Many hundreds of thousands of Jews look up to you, Honourable Gentlemen, to prevent a repetition of massacres such as those in Baghdad under Rashid Ali, when hundreds were killed, or in Tripolitania under the British flag of occupation, where 120 men, women and children were brutally butchered. It is an open secret that the Arab League and the Arab Government consider the Jews in their realms as hostages for the Palestine problem. 

They have declared this openly. If you require any evidence, we have the evidence with us. We do not want to take too much of your time, but if you want any evidence on these statements made by the Arab League, made by various governments, made by Dr. Jamali, the Foreign Minister of Iraq, we are ready to give them. Jew-hatred and Jew-baiting is growing daily in almost all Arab countries. What has happened once in Baghdad, Tripolitania, Urfa, the boundary of Syria and Turkey where a whole family was massacred overnight, in Egypt, what happened on 2nd November, 1945, Balfour Declaration Day, may happen again with increased violence.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Afghanistan claims back priceless artefact from US

The Afghan president is demanding that an ancient and priceless siddur (prayer book), now in the US, be returned to Afghanistan following the bombing and pilfering of the Museum where it was kept. The case is not straightforward, however. See my comment below (with thanks: JIMENA)

Following the outbreak of Afghanistan’s civil war in 1992, the museum was repeatedly shelled. It suffered heavy damage in a May 12, 1993 rocket strike. The combination of Taliban mortars and looters resulted in the loss of 70% of the 100,000 prehistoric, Hellenistic, Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Islamic and Jewish objects once in its collection. Those pilfered artifacts flooded antiquities markets in London, Paris, New York and elsewhere. Now the pro-Western regime of President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai – formerly an anthropology professor at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland – wants its cultural legacy returned. Among those treasures it is seeking to repatriate is a 1,200-year-old siddur (prayer book) – the world’s oldest Hebrew manuscript after the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“It is our responsibility to get back our ancient treasures,” said Abdul Manan Shiwaysharq – the country’s Deputy Minister for Information and Publications in the Information and Culture Ministry – in the first-ever on-the-record interview between an Afghani official and an Israeli journalist.
Shiwaysharq argues photos of the ancient siddur in Kabul’s National Museum dating from 1998 contradict the ownership documents provided by the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. The MotB says it bought the siddur in 2013 from antiquities dealers in the UK who provided provenance documents showing the manuscript had been in Britain since the 1950s. The MotB paid $2.5 million for the prayer book. Though Shiwaysharq appraises the unique volume at $30m. for insurance purposes, it truly is priceless. The prayer book may have belonged to the Radhanites, a little-known group of medieval merchants, some Jewish, who traded along the Silk Road linking Christian Europe, the Islamic world, China and India during the early Middle Ages. The Radhanites’ entrepôts and Afghanistan’s early Jewish community were likely destroyed in the 12th and 13th centuries as the Mongol Empire grew from the steppes of Mongolia to extend from Europe to China.

My comment: This is not a straightforward case. The zeitgeist favours the return of artefacts from the West  to their places of origin and the US has signed dozens of Memoranda of Understanding with Arab and Muslim countries. However, is the artefact really a 'national treasure'? Could the Afghan Jewish community, now in exile, have a  good claim to this prayer book? The Museum of the Bible in Washington DC may have acquired this  prayer book illegally, as a result of the looting of the Afghan museum. If it were to be returned to Afghanistan, the chances are that the museum housing it would be once again at risk of destruction. Afghanistan is unstable, and the Taliban fundamentalists, who have no respect for Jewish artefacts, are resurgent. At least the exhibit will be secure and preserved in the right conditions where it is now in the US.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Jewish women who married Arab men in Palestine

As many as 600 Jewish women could have married Arab men during the Mandate period in Palestine, according to Rabbi Hanania Dery, the chief rabbi of Jaffa. Dery, who died in 2002, made it his mission to track down these women and reconcile them with their families. Idith Erez, a graduate student at Haifa University, has researched the question. Feature article  in Haaretz by Ofer Aderet:

Kamal al-Hussein, seen here with his family. Al-Hussein, the commander of the Arab side against Joseph Trumpeldor at tel Hai in 1920, was said to have had an affiar with Sarah Abadi, a Jewish woman from Tiberias.

In one of the interviews Dery gave, he noted that “many of the women who converted to Islam are from the Eastern [Mizrahi] communities. They know Arabic, and the Arabs’ way of life is not something that’s remote for them. Many come from large families that are on welfare. There are also intelligent girls among them who are looking for adventure.” Dery also mentioned other reasons for such relationships, among them “rebellion,” “defiance” and “principles.” 

According to his obituary, in 2002: “He was never deterred by difficulties, and he persuaded Jewish families who were already sitting shiva for their daughters who had married Arabs, to take them back.” A particularly interesting case is recounted in a report sent by a Haganah man to the organization’s intelligence branch in 1942. His plan, cited in Erez’s study, was to recruit a young Jewish woman to spy on senior Arab leaders. 

“I am thinking this week of getting in touch, to obtain information, with a Sephardi girl from Tiberias who has intimate relations with Kamal al-Hussein. He likes to waste a lot of money on her.” Abadi's fur coat Hussein entered the history books in 1920, as the leader of the attack on the Jewish settlement of Tel Hai, in Upper Galilee, in which Yosef Trumpeldor, an icon of the Zionist enterprise, was killed. Two decades later, he was having an extramarital affair with Berta Abadi, a Sephardi woman from the Old City of Tiberias. 

Abadi managed the city’s Agam Cafés. Some contemporaneous sources claim that she had a “bad reputation” and that she ran a high-class brothel above the café. According to other sources, she was a “society woman” who hobnobbed with dignitaries from the Arab community in Tiberias at social events and soirees. A report of the Haganah’s intelligence service termed her a “modern prostitute” but offered no elaboration.

 According to one of the Arab sources, far from hiding her relations with Hussein, Abadi flaunted publicly the gifts with which he plied her and strutted around the streets of Tiberias wearing a fur coat from him, even in the heat of the summer. Alongside her relationship with Hussein, whatever its character may have been, various sources note that she also had a romantic relationship with Ahmed Adora, leader of Najjada, a paramilitary youth movement that was active in the city. 

In April 1948, following the battle for Tiberias, which ended with the victory of the Haganah and the evacuation of the city’s Arab population, Abadi disappeared. One account has it that she moved with Adora to Jordan, where she lived for a few months disguised as an Arab, until she was arrested on suspicion of espionage. According to another version, she went to Lebanon with Hussein, who was murdered there about a year later. In any event Abadi returned to Israel, married a Jewish man and raised a family. She died in 2000 at the age of 80 and is buried in Tiberias. 

“Her history from April 1948 is vague,” researcher Erez says. “My attempt to contact members of her family, who still live in Tiberias, was unsuccessful. Oldtimers I spoke to there know Abadi’s story well, but were silent. Other than providing hints about a ‘problematic’ past, they were uncooperative.” 

 Erez discovered a number of stories about Jewish women of Mizrahi origin from Tiberias who maintained relationships of various kinds with Arabs from the surrounding area. Life together in a mixed city, where the two peoples interacted in cafés, markets and residential neighborhoods, occasioned contacts that crossed national and cultural borders. 

Erez found that in Tiberias in the pre-state years, as in other communities in the periphery, the majority of the Jewish women who had relationships with Arabs were from the Sephardi communities, “whose way of life, language and customs point to the cultural proximity that existed between Jews and Arabs in the city,” she explains, adding, “Their close acquaintanceship with Arab culture and the Arab men was a natural and convenient basis for the ties that were formed.” Another reason some women of Mizrahi descent chose Arab men,

 Erez notes, is that they were not attracted either to the “rough-hewn sabra” or the “European Jewish immigrant, foreign to their way of life.” Arabs, in contrast, shared a common language and social and cultural codes with these women, and were also “ardent suitors, persistent and polite.” Nonetheless, Erez discovered that not all of the Jewish women in relationships with Arab men on the eve of Israel’s establishment were Middle Eastern descent, or living in relatively remote communities.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Halimi sister: 'Sarah's killer should stand trial in Israel'

Following the decision of the highest court of appeal in France that the murderer of a French Jew of Tunisian origin should not stand trial, a huge protest demonstration is planned for Sunday in France and rallies have already been held in the US and Israel.  Meanwhile, Sarah Halimi's sister, Esther Lekover,  is calling for the murderer to be tried in Israel, the BBC reports.

The sister of an Orthodox Jewish woman murdered in France in 2017 is to file a legal claim in Israel in the hope of getting a trial against the killer. 

 Kobili Traoré cannot stand trial in France after a court deemed he was not criminally responsible due to his mental state. He killed Sarah Halimi, 65, in what French courts have now accepted was an anti-Semitic attack. He chanted verses from the Quran as he attacked her inside her Paris flat. 

 He also chanted God is great in Arabic before throwing her over the balcony of the third-floor flat in the city's eastern Belleville area. Murder of Paris woman, 85, 'anti-Semitic' France warns of steep rise in anti-Semitism Mr Traoré, who was 27 at the time of the attack, is currently in a psychiatric hospital. 

 Israel's criminal law may apply to anti-Semitic crimes committed abroad that have been denounced by an Israeli citizen, in this case Ms Halimi's sister Esther Lekover.

 However, France does not extradite its nationals. Ms Lekover's two lawyers "deplore being forced to expedite this procedure, but they cannot accept a denial of justice which offends reason and fairness far beyond the Jewish community of France", they said in a statement.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Jews were never consulted about return of Iraqi archive

 In the year in which the Iraqi-Jewish archive (IJA) is supposed to go back to Iraq, activists are fighting to keep it in the US. As part of her campaign, lawyer and academic Carole Basri, who descends from a prominent Iraqi-Jewish family,  has launched a film called 'Saving the Iraqi-Jewish Archives'. 

The film, which Carole directed with Adriana Davis, makes the case that the archive belongs to Iraqi Jews now in exile, and not to the Iraqi state. Some of the 20,000 documents and photos, correspondence and school reports  came from the Frank Iny school, the last Jewish school in Baghdad. Frank Iny was Carole Basri's grandfather.

Carole spent several months in Iraq immediately following the US invasion in 2003 and knew all the officials in the Coalition Provisional Authority run by Paul Bremer.

In a Q&A with Professor Henry Green, after a screening of the film at the Miami Jewish Film Festival, Carole Basri described how she  and other Jews was not consulted by the Bremer government when it signed  a commitment to return the archive to Iraq once restoration by the US National Archives in Texas had been completed.

She had little faith that the IJA might be properly preserved if it returned to Iraq, given that over 300 Torah scrolls were gathering dust in the basement of the Iraqi National Museum. The IJA is the last remaining link between descendants of the community and its 2,700-year history in Iraq.

The IJA was seized by Saddam Hussein's regime from a Baghdad synagogue in the 1970s and stored in the basement of the secret police headquarters. The collection was discovered in 2003 under four feet of water by Dr Harold Rhode after a US bomb damaged the building's water pipes, but failed to explode. It took ten years for the National Archives in Texas  to restore and digitise the archive. Highlights were exhibited at various Jewish centres and museums in the US and its stay extended several times after protests by Congressmen. 

The US state department has stated that the collection will definitely return in 2021, although only three Jews still remain in Iraq.

You may view the film Saving the Iraqi-Jewish archives until 29 April.

Sign the Petition: Don't let the Jewish archive go back to Iraq

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

To combat Shoah denial, call out Arab antisemitism

The path to true reconciliation surely lies in a balanced view of history, where Jewish victims of Arab anti-Semitism are allowed to tell their stories, and Arab states are called to account for their own actions, writes Lyn Julius in JNS News.

Robert Satloff: creating empathy

The walls of Holocaust denial are crumbling, wrote Washington Institute for Near East Policy executive director Robert Satloff earlier this month. We are seeing the green shoots begin to sprout that he personally had helped seed to combat Holocaust denial in the Arab world. 

 Since Satloff published his book Among the Righteous in 2006, calling for an awareness that Arabs were bystanders, perpetrators and also rescuers in the Holocaust in North Africa, there has been an explosion of academic research; Emiratis and Saudis have visited Auschwitz; and Holocaust denial has been condemned by Morocco. 

 Change may be painfully slow but is to be applauded and must give us hope for a better future. On the same day that Satloff published the above blog, however, three broadcasts on official Palestinian Authority TV indicated that Holocaust distortion and denial are still very much alive. These shows charged that Jews had betrayed “the warm Palestinian welcome” given to them as refugees, called Hebron a Nazi-style ghetto and equated Israeli leaders with Nazis.

Despite Satloff’s strenuous efforts to the contrary, his campaign still has the unfortunate side-effect of projecting the Holocaust as a European story. The complicity of key Arab figures in the Nazis’ extermination project, such as “leader of the Arab world” Haj Amin al-Husseini, is barely touched upon in Among the Righteous. 

 The mufti broadcast virulent anti-Jewish propaganda from Berlin, where he and dozens of other Arab Nazis were Hitler’s guests. He was a willing party to the “final solution.” For political reasons, he was never tried for his war crimes, which entailed sending 20,000 Jews to their deaths, and massacres perpetrated in Yugoslavia by the SS units he established. The Palestinian leadership has never repudiated the eliminationist anti-Semitism spearheaded by the wartime mufti, who concocted a deadly blend of Koranic anti-Jewish prejudice and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories imported from Europe.

 Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas himself wrote a Ph.D. thesis minimizing the Holocaust. Pan-Arabism attempted to coalesce the Arab world against Communism, the West and Zionism. In the 1930s, there arose Arab parties founded on the Nazi model and paramilitary “shirt” groups emulating the Nazi Brown and Black Shirts. 

When it looked like the Nazis would win the war, Arabs were not shy to show their overwhelming support for the Germans. For two months in 1941, Iraq had a pro-Nazi government and declared war on the British. Virulent Nazi propaganda and incitement were an important factor in the massacre of hundreds of Jews known as the Farhud. Yet Satloff views this event stripped of its Nazi significance, as just another pogrom among others that erupted from time to time in the Arab world. 

 Egged on by the mufti to declare war on the fledgling State of Israel, Abdul Rahman Azzam, the Arab League’s first secretary-general, threatened that the establishment of a Jewish state would lead to a “war of extermination and momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades.” A genocide would have been likely if the Arab side won.

 After the war, Nazi war criminals escaped justice by fleeing to Syria and Egypt, and there continued the Nazis’ anti-Semitic campaign. In spite of the signing of the Abraham Accords, anti-Semitism is rampant even in countries that have peace treaties with Israel. Egypt, for example, where Islamism—whose legacy of terrorism and anti-Jewish hatred goes back to the Nazi era—still has much support among the Arab rank and file. 

 As a result of Palestinians’ failure to defeat Israel militarily or through terrorism, their intention to commit genocide has morphed into politicide, through the demand of the “right of return” of Palestinian “refugees” to Israel proper, “lawfare”‘ to delegitimize Israel in international fora and the BDS movement. 

 Robert Satloff’s strategy has been to create empathy among Arabs by attempting to find Muslims who saved Jews. But this approach has its pitfalls: Holocaust education has been manipulated to confirm Palestinians in their victimhood. Spurious, morally equivalent comparisons are made between the Nazi victimization of the Jews and the “Nazi-like” behavior of Israelis towards Palestinians. 

 A Holocaust museum set up in Nazareth by Khaled Mahamed, an Arab Israeli, was initially praised by Yad Vashem until he displayed a Palestinian flag, photos and posters of the so-called nakba, the “catastrophe” of the exodus of Palestinian refugees from Israel in 1948. Yad Vashem condemned Mahamed for “conflating the Holocaust with other events and contributing to the misappropriation of the Holocaust as a tool against Israel.” 

 The Anti-Defamation League spokesman in Israel pronounced himself “troubled” that Palestinians were said to be paying the price for European guilt over the Holocaust. 

 Professor Mohammed Dajani won praise as one of the few Palestinians to campaign against Holocaust denial. He led a group of students from Al-Quds University on a visit to Auschwitz in 2014. Consequently, he found himself in hot water with his own people, and promptly lost his job; he went to work for Satloff at the Washington Institute. 

 On a previous visit to Auschwitz, however, he had said: “We do not compare the nakba and the Holocaust as if the atrocities that occurred are on the same level.” But he made just such a comparison when he stated: “I feel we must have empathy for each other, in the sense that I, as a Palestinian, must understand what the Holocaust meant to a Jew and a Jew must understand what the nakba is to a Palestinian.” 

 The best way to prevent distortion and manipulation is to raise awareness of anti-Semitism in the Arabs’ own backyard— eliminationism against Israel and the Jewish nakba of almost a million Jews from the Arab world, who now comprise more than half of Israel’s Jewish population. The Jewish nakba has been thought of as collateral damage of the Arab failure to destroy Israel, yet we know that the Arab League drafted a plan to persecute and dispossess their Jewish citizens before a single Palestinian refugee had fled Israel. 

 The League states applied Nuremberg-style laws, criminalizing Zionism, freezing Jewish bank accounts, instituting quotas and imposing restrictions on jobs and movement. 

 The path to true reconciliation surely lies in a balanced view of history, where Jewish victims of Arab anti-Semitism are allowed to tell their stories, and Arab states are called to account for their own actions.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Sixty years since the Egoz sank, with the loss of 43

Sixty years have passed since the Egoz (Pisces), a Mossad smuggling boat carrying 42 illegal emigrants from Morocco, capsized. All on board died except for the captain and two sailors  (a third crewman, Paco Perez, died with the emigrants.) On 16 April 2021, Gila Gutman Azulay, who lost the majority of her family that day, lit a memorial torch to commemorate their deaths and the deaths of those who died defending the State of Israel. Some 22 of the bodies were located and buried at Jerusalem's Mt. Herzl Cemetery. Here is an extract from a post published by Point of No Return on the fiftieth anniversary of the sinking of the ship: 

A solemn ceremony was held on Mount Herzl to recall the dead of the Egoz (Photo: Jerusalem Post)

 On Wednesday 11 January 1961, for the thirteenth time, the ship Egoz was about to do an illegal crossing to Gibraltar. It was an old launch that had served the British during World War 2, converted into a smuggling boat. 

 On board were ten families of Moroccan Jews, 42 people in all, preparing to make the great voyage to the Promised Land. Among them were Captain Francisco Morilla and a three-man Spanish crew; Haim Sarfati, a 28-year-old Israeli born in Fez, sent by the Mossad as a radio operator, on his last mission before returning to marry in Israel; Jacques and Denise Ben Haroch, married the previous day; David Dadoune and his two children. Dadoune had been caught with a fake passport at the airport in Casablanca and was happy to be joining his wife and two other boys already in Israel; Henry Mamane, a bartender from Casablanca, and his 80 year-old mother Hana Azoulay and his children, eager to be reunited with two girls who had gone with an earlier party of children on 2 January. 

 The passengers were exhausted after a 600 km journey from Casablanca.To avoid attracting attention, the group was supposed to make a pilgrimage to the tomb at Ouezzane of Amram Ben Diwan. In case they were stopped after Ouezzane they had to claim they were on their way to be guests at a wedding in the Al Hocem area. 

Crossing the Rif mountain range had been very arduous due to snow and fog. Around midnight they stopped near a bridge, where two masked figures had guided them on a rocky path to the beach. These armed and hooded men, members of the Mossad network, helped them onto lifeboats in order for them to reach the boat. But as the boat sailed out to sea, the waves became rough. Yet all checks had been made and the forecast had been for good weather. At 3 am GMT, ten miles from the Moroccan coast, the vessel's tired hull split 'like a nutshell'. Within five minutes the Egoz sank completely. No doubt the Mossad network in Gibraltar picked up the SOS and gave the alarm. 

The captain and two sailors aboard managed to escape on board the only lifeboat. A Spanish trawler, the Cabo de Gata picked them up at dawn and also sounded the alert. 

 Alex Gatmon, the head of the Mossad in Morocco who had taken up his post two months earlier, warned Ephraim Ronnel, his superior who ran three North Africa networks from Paris. Rescuers converged from all sides.The coastguard launch Orpheus and four Moroccan trawlers set sail from the port of Al Hoceima. The British base at Gibraltar dispatched a speedboat and airplane. The commander of the French Navy in Algeria ordered two escort vessels to divert to the scene of the accident (the Vendeen and Intrepid). 

The military attache of the Embassy of Israel in Paris, Colonel Uzi Narkiss, won a promise of help from the French Prime Minister Michel Debre. But aid came too late. Twenty-two corpses were found floating on the surface wearing inadequate life jackets. The wreck itself and the bodies of 20 passengers, including 16 children, were never found. 

 This event raised a storm of international emotion, and a forceful poster and leaflet campaign in Israel and the mellahs of Morocco (Operation Bazak) aroused the anger of the Moroccan authorities. Crown Prince Moulay Hassan received a delegation from the Jewish community: Dr. Leon Benzaken, former Minister of Posts, and a personal friend of King Mohammed V, David Amar, head of the Jewish community and Rabbi David Massas. They asked permission to give the dead a religious burial.

 Following lengthy and extremely tense talks, the prince agreed, on condition that the bare minimum of ceremonial took place and no parent was allowed to attend. The 22 bodies were buried hurriedly in a far corner of the Spanish cemetery of Al Hocem. 

 Since 1980 the 23rd Tevet has been declared a day of remembrance in Israel for the sinking of the boat Egoz. After years of hard work and negotiation with the Israeli government, associations in Israel and international figures, King Hassan II gave his permission for the bones from the shipwreck to be repatriated to Israel. They were given a state funeral at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on 14 December 1992. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Young Canadian cleans up Sudan Jewish cemetery

A young Canadian Jew has embarked on a project to clean up Khartoum's Jewish cemetery. Chaim Motzen has set up a website where people can share details and photos to help identify graves. Will Brown writes in the Sunday Telegraph (with thanks: Nelly, Lily)

The Jewish cemetery, one of the last remnants of  a Jewish community in Sudan,  was vandalised as used as a dumping ground

Mr Motzen, who now develops renewable energy projects across Africa, decided to travel back to see the new Sudan after the revolution.

“There was a remarkable difference,” he says. But when he saw the graveyard, his heart sank. The rubbish piles had grown four feet high and there was a pungent smell of urine and rot.

Mr Motzen asked for and immediately got permission from the Minister of Religious Affairs Nasr Eldeen Mofarih in the new transitional government to restore the site as a private individual in January 2020. He paid for a Sudanese archaeologist and dozens of workers out of his own pocket and got to work.

Over several weeks they removed some 14 trucks of almost everything imaginable from the site. “There was about five metric tonnes of glass, car parts, a crazy amount of dirt, medical waste, lots of scorpions, and even beehives,” he says.

Eventually, they uncovered 71 graves, many of their inscriptions broken beyond recognition. The team carefully sifted every spade of dirt for thousands of fragments of the headstones. Then for months, Mr Motzen and the archaeologist then set about laboriously piecing the Arabic and Hebrew inscriptions together like giant puzzles.

Standing in the beating sun with the jangling sounds of the city all around him, Mr Motzen points to a small stone slab marked with Star of David. The grave had been broken apart and scattered across the site. But after hours of work, he had managed to piece together the fragments and translate the Arabic words.  

The small grave belonged to Diana Yacoub Ades, a small girl who had died suddenly in 1959 at just eight months. With this information, Mr Motzen explains how he tracked down Diana’s first cousin in London.

The 88-year-old Albert Iskenazi told the Telegraph he was shocked when he heard the news. Mr Iskenazi grew up in Khartoum and remembered his baby cousin clearly. “I remember Diana well. She died suddenly of a fever. It made me feel very happy that he found the gravestone. Now we can mourn her properly.”

“Our happiest days were in Sudan. We used to go to visit our Muslim friends during Ramadan and wish them a happy feast,” says Mr Iskenazi.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” says Daisy Abboudi, founder of the research project, Tales of Jewish Sudan. “He found fragments of my great grandmother’s gravestone, as well as other graves of family members. There is something about the physicality of graves which is so important to people.”

“When I visited in January 2020, I assumed that physical link to my history was lost to time. There was nothing people could point to and say my ancestors were here. And then suddenly there is. It's very powerful.”

Read article in full

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Tripoli synagogue 'to become Islamic centre'

Once the handsomest synagogue in Tripoli, plans could be afoot to turn the Dar al Bishi synagogue into an Islamic centre. In a  JTA report based on one in the Italian-Jewish Moked, David Gerbi  of the World Organisation of Jews in Libya alleges that the synagogue is being taken over without permission. Gerbi broke into the synagogue in 2011 to pray, but was forced to leave Libya, where no Jews live anymore,  after threats on his life. If the synagogue becomes a mosque, it would not be the first. The shrine of Ezekiel at al-Kifl in Iraq was turned into a mosque without protest in the last five years.

The Dar al Bishi synagogue

JTA — An abandoned and ancient synagogue in Libya is being turned into an Islamic religious center without permission, the World Organization of the Jews of Libya said. David Gerbi, a Libya-born Italian Jew, and member of the organization, which promotes the interests of people belonging to the Libyan Jewish Diaspora, wrote about the Sla Dar Bishi in Tripoli last week in a report published by Moked, a Jewish publication in Italy. 

 “Since there is now no Jew living in Tripoli and since the power is in the hands of the local authorities (read: militias) it was decided to violate our property and our history,” he wrote. “The plan clearly is to take advantage of the chaos and our absence.” 

 Gerbi said The World Organization of Jews in Libya “calls for this transformation to be stopped immediately and to leave the Tripoli synagogue intact with the hope that one day it will be restored.” Contacts on the ground provided Gerbi with pictures and videos over the past three months that have convinced him that the synagogue is being taken over illegally, he said.

David Gerbi managed to pray in the synagogue in 2011 before being thrown out of Libya

Friday, April 16, 2021

BBC Arabic downplays Jewish suffering in Iraq

Following the March 2021 passing of one of Baghdad’s very last Jews, 61-year-old Dr. Dhafer Fouad Eliyahu, BBC Arabic published a piece drawing on an Agence France Press report. But key passages referring to the persecution of the Jews were excised, thus giving a misleading picture. The BBC has form in downplaying Jewish suffering. CAMERA Arabic has published this analysis:

Dhafer Fouad Eliyahu, who died in March 2020, leaving three Jews in Iraq.

 Parts of the report were based on a March 28th AFP Arabic report on the same story. (A similar English version from March 27th is found here). Notably, the edits BBC Arabic made to the original AFP text consistently downplayed the suffering experienced by the local Jewish community, often at the hands of the Iraqi state, as well as surrounding Muslim majority. 

Below are the relevant AFP Arabic language passages (translation from Arabic is largely based on the corresponding AFP English report, with CAMERA Arabic’s alterations in cases the two disagree), with BBC Arabic’s omissions in italics and additions in bold:[One mostly prays at home”, a source knowledgeable of the city’s Jewish community, who also chose to remain anonymous, told AFP. Jews also suffer “when they deal with government bodies, they will not be well received once it is known they are Jewish”, he added.] 

Prayers for those followers of the Jewish religion who remained in Iraq are mostly held at home. According to Edwin Shuker, a Jew born in Iraq in 1955 and left it for Britain when he was 16, “there are only four Jews with Iraqi nationality who are descendant of Jewish parents” left in the country.,[not including the Kurdish region. ]

[In the early 1940s, the Jews were subject to a pogrom known as the “Farhud”, which left more than a hundred of them dead, properties looted and homes destroyed]. Throughout Iraqi history, Jews consisted a key part of the country’s diverse religious and social fabric. In 1948, Israel was created amid a war with an Arab military coalition that included Iraq. Subsequently, almost all of Iraq’s 150,000 Jews left the country, involuntarily at large. 

After Israel’s establishment, the number of Jews in the country exceeded 150,000. Then it began to decrease, as their identity cards were taken away and replaced by documents for Jewish people only that made them targets wherever they showed them, according to AFP. The majority then preferred to sign documents saying they would “voluntarily” leave and renounce their nationality and property. Still today, Shuker said, Iraqi law forbids the restoration of their citizenship. 

By 1951, 96% of the community had left. Almost all the rest were to follow when emigration rates resurged, after the 1969 public hangings of mostly Jewish merchants denounced as “Israeli spies”, together with the Ba’ath party rising to power by a coup.  [“Promotion of Zionism” is punishable by death and that legislation has remained unchanged. ] Decades of conflict and instability — with the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Kuwait, an international embargo, the 2003 American invasion and the ensuing violence — completed the erosion of the small community. By the end of 2009, only eight members remained, according to a US diplomatic cable. 

[Nevertheless,] violence against members of the community has been persisting. A jeweler threatened by militiamen who coveted his goldsmith’s work went into exile. In short, BBC Arabic saw fit to edit out the following information from a report about Iraqi Jews and their history: 
* The occurrence of the early 1940s” (June 1941) Farhud pogrom, which killed “more than a hundred” (179) of them. 
* That Iraq was party to the 1948 war with Israel. Iraqi Jews were forced to forgo their nationality and property in exchange of the authorities allowing them to flee the country. 
*That Jewish individuals are still being targeted in Iraq even in the passing decade, reportedly having suffered mistreatment at the hands of local authorities, as well as violence at the hands of militias. 
*That “promoting Zionism” is punishable by death in Iraq even today.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Albert Arie, Egypt's oldest Jew, dies in Cairo

The oldest Jew in Egypt has died in Cairo, just short of his 91st birthday. 

Albert Arie was born in 1930 into a middle class Jewish family. In spite of the mass exodus of 100,000 Jews, Arie turned down many opportunities to leave Egypt. 

He was a Communist and served time from the 1950s in five jails. There he rubbled shoulders with the top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

 He appeared in the  2012 film by Amir Ramses, 'Jews of Egypt' , together with other Jewish communists. 

 Arie converted to Islam in the 1960s to marry a Muslim woman. His son, Sami Ibrahim, takes an active interest in the preservation of Egyptian-Jewish heritage.