Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Jew interned in Egypt in 1948

This story about an Egyptian Jew interned in 1948 was extracted from a talk given by Racheline Barda at the Sydney Jewish Museum on 10 April. The talk was entitled ' The Second exodus of the Jews of Egypt 1948 - 67' and was based on Racheline's doctoral thesis. (With thanks: Sara)

"Egypt was apparently the first and only Arab state to use internment camps against its Jewish citizens. In Cairo: men were detained in Huckstep, an old American military camp, and the women at the Prison for Foreign Residents (Prison des Etrangers). In Alexandria, the Abukir camp – an old British Airforce military camp - held both men and women. The fourth site was the prison of El Tor on the Red Sea coast in Sinai. It was the most isolated and dreaded of the camps.
"The authorities particularly targeted all Zionists activists and sympathisers, even though Zionist youth groups were tolerated up to 1948 and operated semi-legally in Egypt. They also targeted anybody suspected of being a communist or associated with a communist. [As Jewish youth was heavily implicated in the Egyptian communist party, it meant that a great number of them were arrested. Upon their release, they were all expelled. (The majority went to France, where I interviewed a few of them.)
"In fact, anyone deemed ‘prejudicial to the safety and security of the state’, was a potential target. The experience related by one Respondent was particularly significant as it demonstrated the arbitrary nature of those arrests. He was a student at the Faruk University, in his last year of Engineering. He was not a Zionist but politically he was more of a nationalist who leaned towards the left. In April 1948, members of the Muslim Brothers Society tried to stop him from entering the grounds of the university on the pretext that ‘they did not want Egypt to help the enemies of Islam’. When he tried to force his way in, they physically assaulted him. The dean of the faculty, who did not want any problem with the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, worked out a compromise where the Jewish student collected his lecture notes from friends without attending classes personally. This arrangement was short-lived as, on 15 May 1948, the day Egypt and the other Arab states declared war on Israel, the authorities formally arrested him. He related to me the exact circumstances:

"The guy from the secret police was there and he said: ‘the Egyptians on one side and the foreigners on the other side. I went towards the Egyptian side because that is what I thought I was. He said: ‘you are not an Egyptian, you are a foreigner, you are a Jew’.Until then, I had never been impressed by the arguments of the Zionists.This is when I realised that it was not going to help to try and integrate in Egypt because they were never going to accept us.That was the turning point for me. I started to study Zionism and Hebrew while I was in prison."

"He was subsequently interned for fifteen months with other Jewish students in the Abukir cammp. Their treatment in the hands of Egyptian authorities was apparently fair, and they were not subjected to any trial or even lengthy interrogation. Paradoxically, during his time in prison, this particular respondent together with other students in the same predicament, appealed to the Prime Minister of Egypt, al-Nuqrashi Pasha - the same one who had declared repeatedly to the British Ambassador in Egypt that ‘all Jews were potential Zionists but that anyhow all Zionists were Communists’- to allow them to sit for their final examinations. Strangely enough, they were granted permission to do so, albeit separately from the rest of the student body. The respondent recalled that his diploma was delivered to him in the internment camp together with a signed picture from the King, in recognition for his outstanding performance in the examination. This was Egypt, it couldn’t have happened anywhere else’, remarked this respondent.Eventually, the covert efforts of the Jewish Agency and Mossad Le’Aliya helped secure his release from prison together with other detainees and they organised immediate travel arrangements to Israel through Naples.
In her talk Racheline gives an overview of the multi-ethnic composition of the 80,000-strong Egyptian Jewish community. She notes that only 25 percent were Egyptian nationals; 25 percent had foreign nationality and over 40 percent were stateless. The first signs of trouble were anti-Jewish demonstrations in the streets of Cairo in 1938. The Jews were forced out of Egypt after each of the three Arab-Israeli wars in 1948, 1956 and 1967, but Jews also fled after the 1952 Cairo fire, a 'spontaneous' orgy of anti-British and anti-Jewish rioting, looting and arson.

If you would like an electronic copy of Racheline Barda's complete talk (30 pages long, 1 Megabyte) please email me - Ed.


Anonymous said...

Box office hit in Turkey has anti-Semitic overtones:

Anonymous said...

Hi Ed (bataween) - I found this blog through mideastblog - I would like to read the full text of this article (I could find no e-mail adress here) - mine is - b.t.w I like the informations I get in this blog - the public should know more about the Jewish expulsion of most Arabic countries - I will read more in this most interesting blog..