Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Iraqi Jew awarded highest Canadian honour

An Iraqi-Jewish refugee has been awarded the Order of Canada, the country's highest honour. (With thanks: Eli)

Jacob Masliyah, one of the top researchers in extracting bitumen from the oilsands, is a Jew born in Iraq who ended up in Canada because this was the only country that would accept him as an immigrant after he had completed his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering in England.

A professor at the University of Alberta, he has been doing oilsands research for 30 years. His projects have a total of $1 million in research grants attached to them.

The irony of fleeing oil-rich Iraq for the oilsands of Alberta is not lost on him, but he never takes the peace of Canada for granted.

"Virtually every day I remind myself how lucky I am, with my family, to be in Alberta and to be in Canada," he said. "Sometimes as Canadians we forget how fortunate we are."

Article in the Edmonton Journal

Playing the ethnic card in Israel no longer works

Israel's Moroccan-born defence minister Amir Peretz has been criticised for incompetence. Israel's president, Iranian-born Moshe Katsav, has been accused of sexual harassment - and worse. Is the real reason for their 'victimisation' anti-Mizrahi racism? Or is 'playing the ethnic card' itself losing its effect?

The journalist Gideon Levy certainly thinks that Peretz is being victimised on account of his Mizrahi origins. He argues in Haaretz:

"Indeed, let's call a spade a spade: The mockery of Peretz derives from racism. There is no other way to explain the systematic ridicule of his character: his English, his awkward pinning of ranks on the chief of staff, and the covered binoculars. This could happen to anyone, but we laugh at him. So let's remove the mask: Unlike many Mizrahim, Peretz remains a Moroccan who did not become Ashkenazi in his personality, mustache, mannerisms, diction or place of residence. Unfortunately, he discarded the mantle of the man of peace from Sderot, but he never switched the mantle of his ethnic origin. And he is paying for this now. The problem does not lie in his binoculars, but rather in our binoculars. The ethnic demon is still here, alive and kicking, this time at Amir Peretz."

Moshe Katsav, the state's president, has very publicly climbed on to the 'ethnic demon' bandwagon. David Green writes in Nextbook (with thanks Albert):

The latest contender is a bona fide heavyweight: the state's president, Moshe Katsav. Katsav, 61, has been under intense scrutiny since July, when suspicions surfaced that he had sexually harassed a onetime employee at his official residence in Jerusalem. Once this woman came forward with a rape complaint, another 10 women were reported to have lined up at the police station to claim that they, too, had been victims of Katsav's advances. Some of the accusations predate his six years as president. Yet, in spite of the grave accusations now directed at him, it is Katsav who insists that he is the wronged party, and in his defense he insinuates he's being persecuted because of his Mizrahi origins.

On January 24, the day after Attorney General Menachem Mazuz announced his intention to indict the president, Katsav delivered an address nearly an hour long, covered live by all local media. He categorically denied everything, and vowed that until "my dying breath" he would fight a "world war, if necessary" to establish his innocence. Most of his 50-minute performance consisted of a frontal attack on the media: an "elitist clique of bloated egos, born with silver spoons in their mouths," who, he claimed, had conspired with the police to frame him ever since his election to the presidency in 2000.

To observers overseas, Katsav's words may sound bizarre. He was speaking in code, but delivering a message every Israeli understands. A desperate man, he was playing a kind of "race card," or, as the Hebrew phrase has it, in translation, he was "letting the ethnic genie out of the bottle."(...)

In truth, Katsav could be seen as the embodiment of the Zionist dream, an Israeli version of a Horatio Alger character. His family arrived in the young state in 1951, when he was five, spending their first years in one of the makeshift transit camps used to house the many immigrants from Muslim lands whose arrival helped double the country's population during the 1950s. Kastina, their tent camp southeast of Tel Aviv, was flooded during their first winter, and Moshe's two-month-old brother died.

Defying the odds, the ambitious Katsav earned a bachelor's degree from the Hebrew University, and at age 24, returned to become mayor of Kiryat Malakhi, the town that had been built on the site of the Kastina camp. Eight years later, having worked his way up in the Likud, he was elected to the Knesset, and at 38, he became the youngest man ever appointed a government minister, in this case at the ministry of Labor and Welfare. Over the next two decades, Katsav went on to serve as minister of transportation under Yitzhak Shamir, and then under Benjamin Netanyahu, as both tourism minister and as deputy prime minister.

But Katsav's chief 'victimiser' is the attorney-general Menahem Mazuz. And Mazuz is himself a Mizrahi.

A cursory look at Mazuz's background provides a rejoinder to Katsav. Mazuz was born in Djerba, Tunisia, the son of a rabbi. In 1956, when he was one, his family arrived in Israel and was plunked down in Azata, another transit camp, which eventually became the development town of Netivot, the same town where Barak offered a mea culpa on behalf of Ashkenazim to his Mizrahi countrymen a decade ago. It is more remote than Kiryat Malakhi, and remains an impoverished, disadvantaged community. Now, Netivot's most famous son will determine the fate of the one-time pride of Kiryat Malakhi. It is hard to imagine Moshe Katsav is now much more than a source of embarrassment in his hometown, compounding his own misdeeds with a misguided attempt to transfer blame from himself to a faded bogeyman.

Isn't it time for politicians and journalists to stop playing the ethnic card in Israel? David Green continues:

"Israel's current crop of politicians are hardly morally superior to their predecessors, but ethnic demagoguery no longer has the same effect. That's why Amir Peretz, the Moroccan-born current chair of Labor, was able to defeat none other than Shimon Peres for the party leadership last year, even while very consciously refusing to make his background part of the campaign. When he became Labor's candidate for prime minister, in 2006, he declared, "Today we are euthanizing the ethnic genie."

A year later, the public has repudiated Peretz as defense minister and Labor is preparing to replace him as its head. Yet no one in his camp has the nerve to suggest that he is the victim of ethnic prejudice. He is the victim of his own incompetence and his refusal to acknowledge it.

Israel still has a permanent underclass, and it is largely Mizrahi in background. The gap between the affluent and the impoverished is growing, even as the country increasingly prospers. But these days, the source of the problem is social and economic, not ethnic, at least for the Jewish (as opposed to Arab) population.

Read article in full

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The enemy next door: Iran and its Jews

Anti-Zionism has not always been the default position of Iran. In fact, in the Sixties, a group of visiting Iranian intellectuals was smitten with admiration for Israel's kibbutz socialism. While cultural antisemitism has always simmered in the background, the regime's opponents today are more likely to be pro-Israel on the grounds of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend'. In the 'Enemy next door' author Roya Hakakian, who fled the country 20 years ago, writes eloquently in Guilt and pleasure magazine on the complex and ever-changing relationship of Iran and its Jews.

In December of 1978, a chain of powerful knocks shook our courtyard door in Tehran. But the sound of the iron door rattling in its frame was not nearly as terrifying as the look on the face of the person rattling it. When my father finally buzzed the caller in, there was my Aunt Monavar, her face blurred behind a stream of tears. A greeting must have seemed superfluous to my father, who simply shouted:"What's wrong, Monavar?"

"She erupted. The words tumbled from her mouth. They sounded tragic, severe, frenzied, although their meaning eluded me. My father and his siblings spoke to one another in the Jewish dialect of their childhood village in central Iran, a language to which I, born and raised in Tehran, was not privy. "

Read article in full

Persian Jews in US cookie culture clash

A little historical anecdote tells much about the transition of Iranian Jews in Los Angeles over a 25-year span, from strangers to integral -- though distinctive -- members of the larger Jewish community, Tom Tugend writes in Jewish Journal of LA (with thanks: Albert).

"In the late 1970s and early '80s, following Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution, the first sizeable wave of Iranian Jews arrived in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.

"Many chose the conveniently located Sinai Temple in Westwood, a prominent Conservative synagogue, as their Shabbat gathering place.

"Soon their large, extended families, speaking Persian, socialized in the lobby on Friday evenings, ate oneg Shabbat cookies, and attended services the following morning.

"Ashkenazi old-timers started grumbling about "free rides" for the newcomers, quite unaware that to the Iranians, paying membership dues to a synagogue was a foreign concept and that it was considered a blessing for guests to take home some cookies and candy after a bar mitzvah or wedding.

Read article in full

Monday, February 26, 2007

US Congress introduces Jewish refugees resolutions

Capital news from Capitol Hill: new resolutions on Jewish refugees have been re-introduced in the recently-elected US Congress House of Representatives and Senate.

Here is the press release from Justice for Jews from Arab Countries:

WASHINGTON, DC (February 20, 2007) - Rarely is any consensus reached on final status issues in the Middle East peace process. Yet, remarkably, US Congressional leaders have agreed on the rights of Jewish refugees displaced from Arab countries.

In a rare display of bi-partisanship, four Senators and four Congressmen, representing both political parties, have introduced landmark Resolutions on Middle East refugees that call attention to the fact that Jews living in Arab countries suffered human rights violations, were uprooted from their homes, and were made refugees. These Resolutions signify that "it would be inappropriate and unjust for the United States to recognize rights for Palestinian refugees without recognizing equal rights for former Jewish, Christian, and other refugees from Arab countries.

On February 16, 2007, formal bicameral resolutions were introduced in the Senate (S.Res 85) and in the House (H.Res 185). These far-reaching Resolutions seek to ensure that all victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict are treated with equality, including Jewish, Christian and other refugees from countries in the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf. Concretely, the Resolutions urge the President to ensure that in all international forums, when the issue of 'Middle East refugees are discussed, representatives of the United States should ensure:

"That any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees is matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees, as a matter of law and equity."

This bi-partisan effort is being spearheaded in the House of Representatives by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) along with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL); Rep. Michael Ferguson (R-NJ); and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY). In the Senate, sponsors are Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ); Trent Lott (R-MS); Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN); and Sen. Richard Durbin. The Resolutions will be the strongest declarations adopted by the U.S. Congress, on the rights of Jewish and others refugees that were forced to flee Arab countries.

"When the Middle East peace process is discussed, Palestinian refugees are often addressed. However, Jewish refugees outnumbered Palestinian refugees, and their forced exile from Arab lands must not be omitted from public discussion on the peace process. It is simply not right to recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees without recognizing the rights of Jewish refugees," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

"There can be no true and lasting peace in the Middle East unless the legitimate claims of all refugees displaced by the years of conflict are recognized by the international community," said Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN).

"Large numbers of both Arabs and Jews have been forced to flee their countries and it is only right and equitable that the President acknowledge and include Jewish and other refugees in any discussion of Palestinian refugees in pursuing this issue in the international arena."

"It would be constitute an injustice were the United States to recognize rights for one victim population - Palestinian refugees - without recognizing equal rights former Jewish refugees from Arab countries" said Stanley Urman, Executive Director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries. "Both were victims of the very same Middle East conflict and the rights of Jewish refugees must be addressed."

Nazi Jew-hatred lives on in the Arab world

State-sanctioned hatred of the Jews was never native to the Arab and Muslim world but imported from Nazi Germany, argues Turkish-born Shelomo Alfassa in Israelinsider. Such hatred caused the exodus of 900,000 Jews, and lives on today. (With thanks: Albert)

"As a Turkophile who understands the history of the inter-relationships between both Jews and Muslims throughout the Ottoman Empire, I am saddened whenever I read an article that mentions or makes indirect reference to that false fact that Jews and Arabs never got along. What is known is that Jews and Muslims, in Arab, Persian and other Muslim countries certainly did get along. The fact that there was never officially sanctioned state-sponsored anti-Jewish attacks in the Ottoman Empire seems to has gotten buried among the piles of propaganda that are continually spewed out in the modern world media.

"If one reads books by Sephardic Jewish authors, they will tell you of the many experiences - positive experiences -- Jews enjoyed with their Arab neighbors and friends over the centuries. Was it perfect? -- never. But there was never state-sponsored hatred of the Jews like there was in Christian countries.

"The virulent hatred that resonates today throughout the modern world - that ever agonizing disgust of the Jewish people -- is not an old-time Arab feeling toward the Jews. This hatred is a result of the living Nazi influence that never died. Although the Allies killed Nazi troops, destroyed their buildings, burned Nazi books, and even the fact that German Fuehrer killed himself, the Nazi spirit lived on. This spirit of Jew hatred was brought into the Arab world by Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. "

Read article in full

Half of all Iraqi minorities have fled

Iraq's minorities, some of the oldest communities in the world, are being driven from the country by a wave of violence against them because they are identified with the occupation and easy targets for kidnappers and death squads. A "huge exodus" is now taking place, according to a report by Minority Rights Group International, The Independent reports (with thanks: Eli).

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says 30 per cent of the 1.8 million Iraqis who have fled to Jordan, Syria and elsewhere come from the minorities.

The Christians, who have lived in Iraq for 2,000 years, survived the Muslim invasion in the 7th century and the Mongol onslaught in the 13th but are now being eradicated as their churches are bombed and members of their faith hunted down and killed along with other minority faiths.

The report, Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq's minority communities since 2003, written by Preti Taneja, says that half of the minority communities in Iraq, once 10 per cent of the total population, have fled. They include Mandaeans, whose main prophet is John the Baptist and Yazidis whose religion is an offshoot of Zoroastrianism and may be 4,000 years old. Other minorities who were persecuted under Saddam Hussein are under attack again. The so-called Faili, or Shia Kurds, who were stripped of their belongings under the old regime and expelled to Iran are now being forced to run again - forced out of Shia areas such as Sadr City because they are Kurds and Sunni cities such as Baquba, because they are Shia.

The small Jewish community, whose members arrived in chains as slaves, has been all but destroyed by persecution and the pervasive suspicion that Jews have collaborated with the US-led invaders.

Read article in full

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Return of Eli Cohen's body 'a humanitarian issue'

In recent talks with the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, Israel Prime minister Ehud Olmert requested Turkish help in obtaining the return from Syria of the body of Egyptian-born spy Eli Cohen. Jonathan Saul of Reuters reports:

JERUSALEM, Feb 13 (Reuters) - The widow of an Israeli spy who was executed in Damascus over 40 years ago said on Tuesday Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had pledged to seek Turkish help to "try to win the return of his remains from Syria".

Olmert heads to Turkey on Wednesday for talks with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, and Turkish officials say Ankara has offered to mediate talks between Syria and the Jewish state.

Egyptian-born spy Eli Cohen infiltrated the Syrian government before he was discovered and hanged in 1965. The return of his body would be seen as significant and could potentially kick-start stalled peace talks between the two countries. Cohen's 71-year-old widow, Nadia, said Olmert told her on Tuesday he would raise the issue during his meetings in Turkey. Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin declined to comment.

"Eli has already paid the full price and we have also served our punishment," Cohen told Reuters. "Syria has to give us Eli's body to be buried in our country. It will instil confidence." Secular but Muslim Turkey is one of the few nations in the region which has cordial ties with both Israel and its arch-foe Syria. Israel has appealed in the past to Syria via European intermediaries for Cohen's body without success.

An official in Olmert's office, who declined to be named, said: "Israel sees it as a humanitarian issue ... and if Turkey could help that would be wonderful." Syrian officials were not immediately available for comment. Olmert said during talks with Erdogan, "the issue was raised" over retrieving the remains from Syria of an Israeli spy who was executed in Damascus over 40 years ago.

Egyptian-born spy Eli Cohen infiltrated the highest levels of the Syrian government before he was discovered and hanged in public in 1965. The return of his body would be seen as a significant goodwill gesture in Israel. It has appealed to Syria via European intermediaries for Cohen's body without success. But Olmert told reporters at a briefing in Ankara that Cohen was a "humanitarian issue".

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Anatomy of a forgotten pogrom: Safed, 1834

Dvar Dea recalls the forgotten 1834 pogrom against the Jews of Safed, sparked by a war between the Turks and the Egyptians. In many ways it was typical of the pogroms that erupted from time to time against the Jews living in the Muslim world in the 18th and 19th century (via Zionation-Zionism).

"While it is true that there were times and places in the Muslim world where Jews were treated well, the 18th and 19th centuries were not such a time. And one of the places where such good treatment was especially rare was Palestine (another such place that made it to the news recently was Yemen).

"When faced with Zionist resilience this brutality morphed but never ceased. From old-fashioned pogroms in the 1920’s it turned into gang violence in the 30’s. In 1947 it was part of a massive ethnic cleansing attempt to wipe out the entire Jewish population, but with devastating results to the Palestinian population, and that in spite of the armed support of neighboring Arab states.

"In the 50’s and 60’s there were the fidayeen raids against Israeli citizens and property, and in the 70’s and 80’s it was the terrorism of planting bombs in public places, attacking Israelis and Jews abroad, and taking civilians as hostages. The 90’s added a new twist, the suicide bombing, now so strongly associated with this conflict. But all these had the same dominant feature that has not changed since the 19th century, and even from earlier times: the deliberate attacks on unarmed civilians.

"The forgotten pogrom in Tzfat was a regular pogrom, a dreadful yet familiar experience to Jews in both the Islamic world and in Christian Europe. Like all pogroms it was an act of senseless brutality, where the victims were totally helpless. It had no political agenda or motive behind it. There was no ‘Zionist entity’ whose existence served as an excuse to murder civilians; it was motivated by pure greed. The Palestinian Arabs of the Eastern Galilee took advantage of a regional crisis, the war between Egypt and Turkey, to attack their Jewish neighbors and strip them of everything they had, clothes, property, houses, and the like. In the process people were beaten in the streets, many times to death, synagogues destroyed and holy books desecrated.

"An entire community of 2000 souls (English traveler Alexander William Kinglake says 4000) was forced into hiding for 33 days, in caves, ruins, inhospitable mountaintops, and cellars. In that mayhem there were good Arabs who saved lives, like the people of the village of Ein Zeitim and a few individuals, Muslims and Christians from Tzfat itself, but there were also the double-crossers who promised to help for a large sum of money, only to hand the Jews over to the rioting mob outside the hideout. For 33 days the lives of the Jews of Tzfat had practically no value, and any of them who showed his or her face in public was at risk of been beaten to death, sometimes by neighbors or business associates.

"Like all cases of mass racial violence, it had inciters and a government unwilling to do anything about them. In this case, according to Kinglake, there was an inciter, a self-proclaimed prophet by the name of Muhammed Damoor who ‘prophesied’ the plunder he agitated for.

"Like all other pogroms it demonstrated the helplessness of the Jewish condition prior to the formation of the state of Israel."

Read post in full

Friday, February 16, 2007

Back to Alexandria with Georges

It is almost exactly fifty years since the Second Exodus of Egyptian Jewry took place in the aftermath of the Suez crisis. Egyptian Jews are wallowing in nostalgia - there was a conference in Israel at the beginning of February; special commemorative events have been held in Paris and London.

How many people know that Georges Moustaki, the 'bearded bard' of French music in the 1970s, was born an Egyptian Jew named Joseph - the son of Nissim and Sarah? Here are the lyrics of one of his more personal compositions about the city of his birth: Alexandria.


Je vous chante ma nostalgie

Ne riez pas si je rougis
Mes souvenirs n'ont pas vieilli
J'ai toujours le mal du pays

Ça fait pourtant vingt cinq années
Que je vis loin d'où je suis né
Vingt cinq hivers que je remue
Dans ma mémoire encore émue

Le parfum les odeurs les cris
De la cité d'Alexandrie
Le soleil qui brûlait les rues
Où mon enfance a disparu

Le chant la prière à cinq heures
La paix qui nous montait au coeur
L'oignon cru et le plat de fève
Nous semblaient un festin de rêve

La pipe à eau dans les cafés
Et le temps de philosopher
Avec les vieux les fous les sages
Et les étrangers de passage

Arabes Grecs Juifs Italiens
Tous bons Méditerranéens
Tous compagnons du même bord
L'amour et la folie d'abord

Je veux chanter pour tous ceux qui
Ne m'appelaient pas Moustaki
On m'appelait Jo ou Joseph
C'était plus doux c'était plus bref

Amis des rues ou du lycée
Amis du joli temps passé
Nos femmes étaient des gamines
Nos amours étaient clandestines

On apprenait à s'embrasser
On n'en savait jamais assez
Ça fait presqu'une éternité
Que mon enfance m'a quitté

Elle revient comme un fantôme
Elle me ramène en son royaume
Comme si rien n'avait changé
Et que le temps s'était figé

Elle ramène mes seize ans
Elle me les remet au présent
Pardonnez-moi si je radote
Je n'ai pas trouvé l'antidote

Pour guérir de ma nostalgie
Ne riez pas si je rougis
On me comprendra j'en suis sûr
Chacun de nous a sa blessure

Son coin de paradis perdu
Son petit jardin défendu
Le mien s'appelle Alexandrie
Et c'est là-bas loin de Paris.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Are Turkish Jews Turkish enough?

Turkish Jews have tried to appear more Turkish by abandoning their unique language, Ladino, Haaretz reports. But are they Turkish enough for some nationalists? (With thanks: Albert)

Turkish Jews have succeeded in preserving their language for more than 500 years, since the expulsion from Spain. But in the 20th century, Turkish Jewry, like Turkey itself, underwent a tremendous change. The community sought to become part of the citizenry of the new Turkish nation, and to become Turks also in tongue. Toward the late 1940s, the use of Ladino became unacceptable among Jewish youth.

"I could not stand it when my mother spoke to me in Ladino in public," says the editor of Salom, Matilda Levy. "I asked her to speak to me in Turkish, and she did that in a terrible accent."

Karen Gershon Sharhon edits the newspaper's Ladino page and is the moving spirit behind the effort to boost the language. "It is still early to consider Ladino dead," she says, as she sits surrounded by books translated into Ladino and published in Istanbul.

"When I was studying the subject at university, they told me that the language would be dead in 10 years. That was 15 years ago, and in practice what is happening is the opposite," she says.

A few years ago, Sharhon and some of her friends set up a band, Los Pasaros Sepharadis, or the Spanish Birds, to perform Ladino songs, and find they are having great success in attracting audiences. Last year, in cooperation with the Istanbul branch of Institute Cervantes, courses in Ladino and modern Spanish were set up for the Jewish community, and about 80 young members of the community registered and began learning the language.

Members of the younger generation all speak fluent Turkish, of course, but their names are still foreign. According to Levy, people who do not know her think she is a Turkish Muslim, until they hear her name. "They think I am a foreigner, and then I need to explain that I am not. I am a Jewish Turk," she says.

Nationalist elements in Turkey have attacked Jews for their ethnic background.

"This is a new trend," says the deputy head of the Jewish community in Turkey, Lina Filiba. "The nationalists are questioning our Turkishness, even though the fact that we are Turkish is accepted by all others," she adds.

Read article in full

A helping hand for Iranian-Jewish refugees

Even in affluent California, there are Jews struggling to make ends meet. Karmel Melamed reports for the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles on a charitable organisation helping uprooted Iranian Jews not only financially, but emotionally.

"After only a few months in Los Angeles, Shirley N., a 30-year-old Jewish immigrant from Iran, almost returned to her homeland because of financial difficulties.

"I was down, I was broke, I didn’t have anyone here, and I was also worried about my family in Iran," Shirley said. "I would have probably gone back to Iran if it weren’t for all the miraculous help of these ladies and SIAMAK."

"These ladies" Shirely refers to are Manigh Youabian and Manizheh Yomtoubian, co-director for the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center’s charity outreach.

"With a substantial number of affluent and financially successful Persian Jews living in Southern California, it might be hard to believe there are some who live below the poverty line. Yet Youabian and Manizheh and their volunteers encounter this all-too-sad reality every day.

"We help them because no one else does, and we offer them what they cannot receive from welfare; or some don’t have any documents in this country but are hungry," said Youabian, who has been volunteering for the past 14 years. Co-director Yomtoubian has volunteered for the last 14 months, and together they help provide food, home furnishings, clothing, transportation, financial assistance and even temporary housing to approximately 100 Persian Jewish families living in poverty in Los Angeles.

"The organization provided Shirley with food, clothing, rent money and even a used car to get around, and it also recently granted her a full college scholarship because of her high grades.

"If I wanted to say what they’ve have done for me, it’s beyond words," said Shirley, who is now a student at Santa Monica College and works part-time at Starbucks. "They’ve helped me financially and emotionally. I don’t have anyone here; they’ve basically been my family."

Read article in full

Click here to visit Karmel Melamed's blog

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Israelis warned not to visit Iraq

The National Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Division has issued a travel advisory calling on Israelis not to visit Iraq, Lilach Shoval of Ynet News writes:

The division recently noticed a growing trend of Israelis originally from Iraq and Kurdistan returning to visit their birthplaces.

According to the Counter-Terrorism Division, the threat level in Iraq was concrete and very high.The division noted that there was a daily death toll in Iraq of dozens of civilians, locals and foreigners alike. Brigadier General (Res.) Elkana Har-Nof of the Counter-Terrorism Division said many Israelis were not concerned by the warnings, and the number of Israeli visitors to Iraq has risen significantly in recent months.

Aside from Israelis of Iraqi origin, many Israeli businessmen travel illegally to the war-torn country to invest in the Iraqi stock market.

“Israeli businessmen are an attractive target for terror organizations,” Har-Nof explained. “Traveling to Iraq is a very high an immediate risk. We are responsible for all Israeli citizens, and we hope that boosting the warning will discourage Israelis from going to Iraq.

Read article in full

Article in the Jerusalem Post

A review of 'Among the righteous'

Lyn Julius reviews Robert Satloff’s book, Among the righteous: lost stories of the Holocaust’s long reach into Arab lands (Public Affairs, 2006):

Albanian, Turkish and Bosnian Muslims have been honoured for saving Jews by Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem - but not a single Arab. This is the starting point for Robert Satloff’s book, Among the Righteous: lost stories of the Holocaust’s long reach into Arab lands. Why are there no righteous Arabs? The answer is simply that, over the last 60 years, no Arab has wanted to be found. And no Jew has tried too hard to find them.

That is, until January this year. Robert Satloff, who is also executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, put forward an Arab as a candidate for an award as a Righteous Gentile. Khaled Abdulwahhad, who died in 1997, had saved Jewish women from a Nazi brothel and sheltered Jewish families on his Tunisian farm during the Nazi occupation.

For Arabs, to admit kindness towards their enemy would seem at best embarrassing, at worst a betrayal, with Arabs and Jews locked in perpetual conflict over Palestine. Arabs have celebrated the Holocaust (‘a pity the Nazis did not finish the job’), but the predominant reaction has been to build a wall of denial (‘the Holocaust never happened’) ; minimise it (‘it was not as bad as the Jews say’); or relativise it (‘there is nothing unique about the Jewish Holocaust; there were many others, including a Palestinian one by Zionists’). The message in the Arab world, where history is written by servants of the ruling regime, is that Israel was expiation for a European crime.

In fact, the Nazis incorporated the Jews of the French Maghreb in their extermination plans at the Wannsee conference. Had fate not intervened, and the Allies not liberated Libya from the Italian fascists - and Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia (under direct Nazi occupation for six months) from the Vichy regime in 1943 - the Jews of the Arab world would have undoubtedly joined their European brethren in the death camps.

During World War II one percent or some 5,000 North African Jews died. (This figure includes North African Jews stranded in metropolitan France.) Many perished in Allied bombing raids. Some 600 died from starvation and typhus in the notorious Giado camp in Libya. European Jews who had enlisted in the defeated French army or foreign legion died from torture and neglect in forced labour camps. Some endured the inhuman tombeau punishment - lying, half-starved, in their own filth, burning by day and freezing by night.

In fact, Satloff ‘s ostensibly modest goal – to find but one Arab who helped a Jew – conceals a subtle political purpose. If Arabs could acknowledge that the Holocaust was their history too, then, for good or ill, they must come face to face with the uniquely horrible plight of the Jews. Moreover, it draws them into engaging with the unique solution – the Jews’ own state.

The idea for the book came to Satloff on the day that the World Trade Centre was attacked in September 2001. It took him five years to write Among the righteous. For two years he lived in Morocco, meticulously researching the cases of the righteous Arabs, dragging his young family on expeditions to find the slave labour camps erected along the track of the trans-Sahara railway before these crumbled for good into the surrounding desert.

At times, researching the book, with its many false trails and dead ends, must have felt like sinking in quicksand. Often it was Satloff himself who supplied the family members of the Righteous with missing pieces of the information jigsaw about their heroic relatives, whom they did not know (or were ashamed to admit) had helped Jews. The difficulty of his task was compounded by a Jewish tendency to downplay or deny their own suffering – a character trait which Satloff attributes to the age-old dhimmi survival instinct. It was thanks to Satloff that Tunisian Jews who had suffered under the Nazis recently became eligible to claim compensation from the German government.

Ranged on the Arab credit side, with the aforementioned Khaled Abdulwahhad, is Si Ali Sakkat, the former mayor of Tunis, who gave refuge to 60 Jewish workers escaping a labour camp; Mohamed Chenik, the philosemitic prime minister of Tunisia who ‘very likely’ saved Jewish lives. The King of Morocco’s refusal to allow the Vichy French to deport his Jewish subjects is well-documented. The Muslim clergy, notably Si Kaddour Benghabrit of the Paris Mosque, saved Jewish lives by issuing certificates stating they were Muslims.

On the debit side are the scores of Arabs who collaborated in the persecution of Jews. Satloff is careful not to distort the record. He doggedly tracks down relatives of the Tunisian informer Hassen Ferhani, who betrayed the Jewish Schemla family to the Nazis (two brothers and their father were deported to their deaths in Dachau). The Vichy regime could not have victimised the Jews without Arab help but, as in Europe, the vast majority were indifferent. They were no better and no worse than Europeans under Nazi occupation.

France was the only country, apart from Nazi Germany, to have stripped its Jews of their rights. But the impression given by Satloff’s book is that the Arabs looked helplessly on from the sidelines while the Vichy regime implemented the ‘statut des juifs’ in the French protectorates of the Maghreb. Real power did not belong in the hands of the Bey of Tunis and the King of Morocco.

Missing from Satloff's account is any sense of the pro-Nazi antisemitism which pervaded the Arab world at the time. And if the Maghreb Arabs were not free agents, Iraq and Egypt cannot as easily be let off the hook: they were already independent states. Nazism provided a model for the Ba’ath party and intellectual inspiration for the Muslim Brotherhood. In the 1930s, Nuremberg-type laws and quotas were already being enacted in Iraq. Nazi youth groups proliferated. Iraq was the only Arab country to have had a Nazi government, if only for a month.

Yet Satloff dismisses the 1941 Farhoud, in which a rioting mob killed 179 Jews, as outside the scope of his book. To him it was another bout of savagery which Arabs periodically inflicted on their minorities - and not a ‘Nazi’ event. Similarly, the role of the pro-Nazi Mufti of Jerusalem in inciting antisemitism throughout the Arab world barely rates a mention.

Satloff could also be criticised for not distinguishing between Arabs and Berbers. He made an understandable decision not to complicate a story that is already very complex. But figures like Benghabrit of the Paris Mosque were Algerian Berbers (Kabyles), as were most Algerians in France who aided Jews. Berbers and Arabs cannot simply be conflated when Kabyle nationalists like Ferhat Mehenni today express sympathy for Jews and Israel.

Aside from these niggles, Satloff is to be commended for an undoubtedly groundbreaking book. It represents years of painstaking research. It reads easily and is gripping like a detective story. And most importantly, Satloff has chipped away at the Arab and Muslim wall of Holocaust denial. Now, more than ever, this wall needs to come down.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Marina Benjamin, in her grandmother's footsteps

The current issue of the Jewish Chronicle (9 February) has a full page interview with Marina Benjamin, the author of Last days in Babylon, entitled 'No escape from Baghdad'. Marina embarked on a journey - literal and metaphorical - to find her Iraqi-Jewish roots after feeling estranged from them for most of her life. That estrangement, she argues, gave her the necessary perspective to write the book.

Marina, whose book centres on her grandmother's life story, tells Jenni Frazer that 'Iraqi-ness' permeated everything in her upbringing. It was something she was desperate to get away from. Iraqi-Jewish houses looked different from others and they all the looked the same as each other. The family's friends were almost wholly other Iraqi Jews.

"Iraqi-ness informed everything I did. And I'm sure that what's emerging now, at a very deep inner level, showing through like a late-release DNA."(..)

Frazer writes: "Benjamin is equally adamant that going to Baghdad was an essential component of writing the book, although she admits freely that she was terrified during her two-week stay in the city in 2004.

"Rather touchingly, she showed up in Baghdad, speaking halting Arabic, with a bunch of addresses of the last Jews in one hand and a cluster of packets of kosher meat in the other. One or the other seems to have paid off and she paints a compelling, if saddening, picture of the daily lives of the remaining Iraqi Jews."

Read article in full (subscription required)

Interview in Nextbook

Interview on BBC radio: Women's Hour

Jewish Quarterly review

Review in The Telegraph, India

Remembering Babylon: Marina Benjamin will be in conversation with Naim Kattan, author of Farewell Babylon, on Sunday 4 March at 2pm at Jewish Book Week (in association with Harif)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

" Let's destroy Israel and revert to 'dhimmitude' "

Today's Guardian weblog, Comment is Free, features an article by Azzam Tamimi of the Muslim Association of Britain, whose philosophy, in a nutshell, is that of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. "Abandon your dangerous and futile idea of a Jewish state in a Muslim region," is the gist of his message to Jews and Israelis. "Trust us, we Muslims will protect you, as we did in the past when Jews, Christians and Muslims coexisted so harmoniously."

Commenter IvanIvanovIvanovich (no. 423916) robustly rebuts Tamimi's tissue of lies:

"This article is so full of falsehoods that literally every sentence could be successfully deconstructed, but for the sake of brevity, I'll just concentrate on the most egregious...

TAMIMI: "The centuries-long harmonious coexistence between the Muslims and the Jews could have gone on."

RESPONSE: That "harmonious co-existence" was in fact a system of discrimination in which Jews lived as dhimmis, second-class citizens with legal liabilities such as the payment of Jizyah, the inability to repair old temples or build new ones, and during certain periods, the humiliating imposition of identifiable clothing such as huge collars and yes, the infamous yellow badge, which the Nazis later mimicked.

TAMIMI: "However, it was shattered, regrettably, when the Western European powers decided to solve their own Jewish problem by banishing the Jews to Palestine. Western Europe feared an influx of Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe, and the idea of sending the Jews to Palestine seemed to some Christian-Zionist leaders in London to pave the way for the second coming of Christ.It is a historical fact that most Jews had at the time been opposed to the idea of migrating to the "promised land". Nothing would have persuaded European Jews to leave their homes; for many of them the countries where they lived were their homelands."

RESPONSE: There were between 10 and 20 million Jews in Europe at the turn of the century. Less than 500,000 went to Palestine to live the Zionist dream. On what does Tamimi base his "historical fact" that Europeans forced the Jews to emigrate to Palestine? If their expulsion was forcible, why did so few Jews go?

TAMIMI: "Since then, history has been rewritten and its facts distorted; Jewish youngsters have been brainwashed to believe that Israel is the oxygen without which they will suffocate and that it is their God-given right and God-ordained duty to claim the land allegedly promised to them."

RESPONSE: On the contrary, it is Islamic propaganda that brain-washes young Muslims into believing that Palestine is their birthrite and that martyrdom is the path to paradise. The Jewish claim to the Holy Land certainly pre-dates Islam's.

TAMIMI: "It is no wonder that Jewish young men and women from the UK and other European countries have been going to Palestine to serve in the Israeli army whose primary mission is to suppress and oppress the Palestinians."

RESPONSE: On the contrary, the primary mission of the Israeli army is to protect Israeli citizens against attack from their enemies.

TAMIMI: "To assume that the Jews cannot survive without a state of their own called Israel is extremely foolish. The Jews have been around for thousands of years without a state of their own."

RESPONSE: Yes, and have suffered innumerable persecutions at the hands of Muslim and Christian alike.

TAMIMI: "Jews have a future and a place in the Muslim world; but the future of an exclusively Jewish state in the heart of the Muslim world is in doubt. What is more certain is a reality in which Muslims, Christians and Jews can live together again in peace and harmony enjoying equal citizenship rights; none should be superior to another."

RESPONSE: So why then is the Arab world being systematically emptied of its ancient Christian populations? Iraqis, Palestinians, Egyptian Copts, Christians from all over the Arab world are emigrating in droves to escape the discrimination and persecution of their Muslim overlords.

TAMIMI: "In a post-Israel era Jews will still be living in Palestine and other regions of the Muslim world just as many Jews lived with Muslims before they were intimidated by Zionism to leave their ancient dwellings in Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Morocco and many other places to provide this Zionist apartheid entity with a badly-needed population."

RESPONSE: This is the most despicable and diabolical of historical revisionism. The Jews in the Arab world faced persecution and pogroms at the hands of the Arab mobs after the creation of Israel, and yet here, Tamimi blames their subsequent emigration on Zionist "intimidation."

What an absolute disgrace that the likes of Tamimi has carte blanch to spread his malicious lies in the Western media. His presence here at the Guardian is just one more example of the cultural/political Islamization process underway in Europe."

And a poster called Farina does a fabulous demolition job too (no.423920). (Thanks for your wonderful 'plugs' for this blog, Farina):

"Mr Tammimi tries to sell the old rose-tinted history of harmonious coexistence of Jews under Muslim rule. Although conditions varied from place to place and from time to time, he picture he paints is less than a half truth, and certainly no basis for Jews to consign their fates to living in an Islamic country. [Leave aside the current state of oppression and apartheid against non Muslim subjects in such countries].

"Historically the Jews' condition under Islam was relatively preferable to the option of death or conversion, and inquisition in Christian lands. But their condition as dhimmis in Muslim lands over 1400 years was always as second class citizens subject to endless humiliations under laws which in many cases were the precursers of the Nuremberg laws, and always precarious- at the mercy of capricious rulers when humiliation veered into violence:certainly in the Arab lands this was the case, and even in the so-called Golden Age of Spain- See The myth of the Andalucian Paradise.

"For an overview see the following post and many more on the history and current conditions of Jews in specific Arab lands elsewhere in this blog.

"From half truths to downright untruth, Mr Tamimi disseminates the libel about Zionists deliberately fomenting violence in Arab countries to get Jews to leave:
For years anti-Zionists have maintained that the Zionist underground in Iraq had planted bombs aimed at Jewish targets to cause or hasten the Jewish exodus in 1950 -51. Now evidence vindicates the official Israeli line that Iraqi Muslims, not Jews threw the deadly bomb at the Masuda Shemtov synagogue in January 1951 which killed four Jews and injured 10.

"Jews and Arabs will have to find a way to cooexist, but the solution proposed by Mr Tamimi, is not only devoid of realism, but by trying to sell a future under Islam on the basis of the historical record, is utterly cynical and devoid of any idealism for a future of equality and reciprocity of respect."

Kyrgyz Jews about to be deported from UK

The two Jewish sisters who fled their native Kyrgyzstan and took refuge in the UK face imminent deportation, The Independent reports.

Kamila and Karina Kaya, who are 18-year-old twins, want to be doctors. Ambitious, diligent and personable, they have exemplary college records and spend their spare time babysitting or helping in a Birmingham nursing home.

Suddenly, their education is on hold and this weekend they are in custody facing imminent deportation to the central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan.

Campaigners said the harsh treatment the sisters, had endured was further evidence of an increasingly inflexible attitude by the Home Office to asylum-seekers and other immigrants.

Read article in full

Friday, February 09, 2007

The human cost of terror

Heart-wrenching story (via Jewish+/- Irani) about Yosef from Iran, married to Lydia from Morocco, both of them deaf. Their lives were shattered by a suicide bombing in Israel. (With thanks: Albert)

Please watch this presentation about the victims of terror in Israel, from Each and every one of these lives has been shattered to no end, and the pain is immeasurable.

Please pay special attention to entry number 2, the story of Yosef and Lydia Hakali. Yosef is a deaf Jewish Iranian who moved to Israel. Not only was he the victim of a suicide bombing; he survived the blast, but was subsequently attacked by the suspecting bystanders: he was mistaken as the perpetrator because he looks Middle Eastern. Days before the terror attack his wife, who is also deaf ,was preparing for her travel to Montreal for treatment of other serious medical complications, but she did not go.

Read article in full

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hebrew is still taught in Iran - but only on Fridays

Reza Zarabi is the Jerusalem Post's Persian blogger. In a wide-ranging Q & A with JPost readers, Zarabi tackles questions on Iranian-Jewish relations:

Sami Eini, New York: I heard that Jews in Iran could only inherit property if a child converts to Islam. Is this correct? Also that the headmaster of the Jewish schools must be a Moslem. None are Jews.

Zarabi: Regarding property rights, Iran, like many other countries in the region, is a patriarchal society, regardless of religion. For example, if a father dies, the son's inheritance will be more than the daughter's. This has nothing to do with religious affiliation whatsoever, so that assumption is not correct. Regarding Jewish schools, because of the implementation of the Sharia, the school curriculum is both Islamic and and Jewish now. The Tanakh is taught in Persian, rather than in Hebrew. However, the Ozar Hatorah organization still conducts Hebrew lessons on Fridays, the day that most Iranians do not attend school or work.

David Firester, Tikrit: I am currently deployed in Iraq as a US soldier. I am curious as to where anti-Semitism comes from in Iran. Is it derived from education, media, or some other form of indoctrination? Is it even a prevalent concept at all? It always interests me to know to what degree anti-Semitism is present in Iran if at all it can be found in the general populace.

Zarabi: There is no prevalent Anti-Semitism among the people of Iran. Jewish and Iranian history, although quite different, have intersected at certain times in the past. Iranians are highly educated, therefore, they know and appreciate this fact. For example, the Jewish prophet Esther was also the Queen of Iran and the Jewish prophet Daniel was a highly appointed figure during the Achaemaneid dynasty, the founders of the Persian Empire. There is no Wahabi-like indoctrination of children in Iran. The regime continues to vilify Israel as the "Zionist entity" yet this notion does not resonate with the average Iranian.

Read article in full

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Berbers blame current miseries on absence of Jews

The Berber New Year celebrations at the end of January were a good opportunity to reflect on the close and harmonious relations and cross-fertilisation between Jews and Berbers - two ancient peoples whose presence in North Africa predated the Arab Muslim invasion by thousands of years.

This Guysen Israel News article quotes a study by Shlomo Elbaz: "Berber society seems to have been one of the few where antisemitism was unknown. Berber law or azref (tradition) differs from Muslim law as it is quite separate from the religious sphere. It is essentially secular and egalitarian and does not impose a particular status on the Jews, whereas Muslim law fixes the status of Jews and Christians as dhimmi, protected and subject to duties and prohibitions.

"The Jew had a well-defined place in the socio-economic order of the Berber village: he was generally a craftsman (jeweller, shoemaker, blacksmith) or a peddler. Often he moved around. Even today after 30 or 40 years the villagers of the Atlas mountains and the Sahara valleys remember with nostalgia the times when the Jews were part of the landscape, and even go so far as to blame their present miseries on the Jews' absence."

Read article in full (French)

Yemen squeezes Islamist persecutors of Jews

No sign yet that the 45 Jews sheltering in a hotel in Yemen - after receiving threats from an Islamist armed group called the Youthful Believers - will be returning home soon. But as the BBC reports, the Yemen government is stepping up pressure on the Young Believers to disarm:

President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen has warned militant Islamists to disarm, during a week of clashes between a Shia militant group and the armed forces that left at least 42 soldiers dead.Speaking in the capital, Sanaa, President Saleh said: "There is a special force ready to uproot them if they do not disband and put down their weapons as soon as possible. This operation would not take long. You have been forewarned".

Yemeni officials say 81 soldiers were injured during a wave of assaults, beginning in late January in the northern province of Saada. An unconfirmed number of rebels have also died in the fighting. The latest outbreak of violence has given rise to fears that a recent tentative truce between the government and the rebels could unravel, sparking a renewed uprising among Yemen?s Zaydi Shia minority.

The sporadic three-year insurgency has already claimed hundreds of lives. The rebels belong to a banned organisation called the Youthful Believers, representing a complex mix of political and sectarian grievances in the Zaidi Shia heartland between the capital, Sanaa, and the border with Saudi Arabia.

Tension in this mountainous tribal region was already running high after 45 Jews were forced from their homes two weeks ago by masked gunmen.

The Jews have taken refuge in a hotel in the provincial capital, Saada city, under the protection of a local sheikh.

Read article in full

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Jews 'martyred' for the Islamic Republic of Iran

Iran's lone Jewish MP has made another declaration of loyalty to the regime:

TEHRAN (IRIB) -- The representative of the Jewish community in the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis), Maurice Motamed, on Saturday noted that Iranian Jews along with other religious minority groups in the country participated in rallies and demonstrations leading to the victory of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

The country's Jews also bravely went to the warfronts during the 1980-88 Iraqi -imposed war and contributed several martyrs to the Islamic Republic system, Motamed added.

He further said that Iranian Jews have embraced the values of the Islamic Revolution and aspirations of the founder of the Islamic Republic, the late Imam Khomeini, and consider it their privilege to serve the country.

Referring to the false propaganda of certain countries, the MP stressed that religious minorities live peacefully and freely in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Read article in full

Friday, February 02, 2007

To Jews, denial is a 'dhimmi' survival strategy

Robert Satloff wrote his groundbreaking book, Among the righteous, (covered extensively on this blog) in order to open a crack in the wall of Holocaust denial rampant in the Arab world. Satloff's book began as a simple effort to find a righteous Arab who saved a Jew. What he didn't expect, though, in the course of his research, was Jewish denial - a tendency to deny or gloss over Jewish suffering. He even met a Jew who claimed to have 'nice memories' of the Nazis.

Satloff comes up with an interesting explanation for this strange phenomenon. He concludes that denial was a mechanism for generation after generation of Jews to survive as dhimmis. Unswerving loyalty to the ruler provided the only safety shield against the capriciousness of the Muslim masses. Satloff's theory not only explains why some Jews were anxious to put a positive spin on the way they were treated by the Nazis, but by Arab society generally. This quote from the book (p178) puts it well:

Generally, when I asked Jews in Morocco and Tunisia about their own and their families' experience during the war, the usual refrain was: "It wasn't so bad."

"Only after several of these conversations did it occur to me that this sort of denial among Jews from Arab lands is part of their overall strategy for survival. As the last remnant of a people who had mastered the art of living as a tolerated community - sometimes protected, often abused, always second class - over 1,400 years of Muslim rule, these Jews long ago made peace with their lot. Their silence about the persecution they suffered at the hands of the Nazis and their Vichy and Fascist allies is just the latest in a string of silences. This is the same reflex to rush to the microphone after the Djerba and Casablanca bombings to assure the world that 'everything's fine.' It isn't of course. Life for the Jews in these countries hasn't been fine for a long time, and it is getting worse. Young Jews are voting with their feet. (...)

"Jews who did leave these Arab lands have a different approach. Much depends, of course, on when they left (..) and where they went - to Israel, France and North America. But the one thread that ties together these disparate waves of emigration is a sense of grievance. After all, these were the ones who left. Something compelled them to leave, and rarely was the allure to Zion alone powerful enough to do that. Like many emigrant groups, these Jews are nostalgic for their roots. (..) But nostalgia can only smooth over the hard edges of memory. These Jews left for a reason."

Thursday, February 01, 2007

My visit to the tomb of Daniel, by a US rabbi

Rabbi Carlos C. Huerta, a chaplain with the US armed forces, records his thoughts on visiting the tomb of Daniel in Nineveh (Mosul), which until the early 1950s was at the heart of a thriving Jewish community. The emotion in the article, which originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post in July 2003, is palpable. (With thanks: Joe W)

"I am writing to you from Nineveh, the city of the prophet Jonah. Its present name is Mosul. I have had the privilege of seeing its ancient walls, of touching its stones, of going to the grave Islamic tradition says is the prophet Jonah's. There is a mosque at the site; but hundreds of years ago, the Iraqis we work with tell me, it was a synagogue. They tell me the reason the site is so sacred is because of the sacredness in which the Jews held it. Presently, there are no signs of this ancient synagogue.

"I am the rabbi of the 101st Airborne Division, the division Steven Spielberg immortalized in his epic Band of Brothers. We, the soldiers of the 101st Airborne, fought our way up from the south, from Kuwait. The battle took us past Ur, the city where Abraham was born. We maintained contact with the enemy, passed the site of the great talmudic academies of Sura and Pumpaditya, to the city of Babylon, where the prophet Daniel was taken. There we engaged the Nebuchadnezzar Iraqi Armored Division and beat them. We continued the battle to Baghdad, where so many Jews lived and were massacred in the summer of 1948. It was the city of so many of our sages, including the Ben Ish Chai.

"Now we are in Mosul. I ask about the Jews who lived here, and very few remember them. Many say Jews never lived here; but my heart tells me different. The old ones tell me there was a Jewish quarter, a synagogue, study halls, and a cemetery.

"One day, while searching the streets of the ancient city, I came across a building missing half of its roof. The site was a garbage dump and the building's interior was three-quarters full of rotting garbage, feces and sewage. I had to crouch down low to get inside as the doorway was almost completely buried.

"As I entered light came through the half-open roof and I could just make out writing engraved on the walls. It was Hebrew. It was then that I knew I had stumbled into the ancient synagogue of the city of Mosul-Nineveh. My heart broke as I climbed over the garbage piles that filled the room where, for hundreds of years, the prayers of Jews had reached the heavens. I realized I was probably the first Jew to enter this holy place in over 50 years.

"Over three-and-a half meters of garbage filled the main sanctuary and what appeared to be the women's section. I could barely make it out because of the filth, but there was Hebrew writing on the walls.

"Many Iraqis congregated around me, wanting to know what I was doing.

"My translator said that the American army was interested in old archeological sites of all kinds. I asked them if they knew what this place was, and they all said in an instant: It was the house where the Jews prayed.

"They told me that the houses in the streets surrounding the synagogue had been filled with Jews. They took me to the children's yeshiva, a marbled edifice that no longer had a roof, only walls and half-rooms. There was a vagrant family living there and when I asked them what this place was, they said it was a Jewish school for children.

"As I walked through the quarter I was shown the grave of the prophet Daniel, once a synagogue. I saw that many of the doorposts had an engraving of the lion of Judah on the top.

"I felt the presence of our people, of their daily lives as merchants, teachers, rabbis, doctors, and tailors. I felt their rush to get ready for Shabbat, felt their presence as they walked to the synagogue on Yom Kippur. I could almost hear singing in the courtyards, in the succot, as they invited in the ushpizin. I could hear the Pessah songs echoing through the narrow streets late into the night.

"And the children, I could see their shadows as they raced down the alleys and around the corners, praying. I heard their voices learning the aleph beth in the yeshivot as they prepared for their bar and bat mitzvot.

"But I also heard the babies crying, and I could see the young daughters of Zion clinging to their mother's skirts, asking why the bad people were killing them and making them leave their homes of thousands of years.

"Tears came to my eyes, but I had to hold them back lest I put myself and the soldier with me in a dangerous situation. I had to pretend that I was only mildly interested in what they were showing me.

"How does one absorb this kind of experience? How do I convey the feeling of hearing all those voices reaching out in prayer at the synagogue as I stood on top of all that garbage? How do I recover our history, how do I bring honor to a holy place that has been so desecrated?

"I have no answers. I only have great sadness, pain, and loneliness.

"Since then I have gone back to the Jewish quarter of old Mosul with members of my congregation, Jewish soldiers of the 101st: infantrymen, artillerymen, medics, pilots, lawyers, doctors, all proud to be Jewish and serving their country. Together we have found five more synagogues, more yeshivot and many Jewish homes. They have all come away profoundly affected by what they saw. They are saddened, but yet proud to be connected to such an ancient and rich tradition in this historic city of Nineveh."

See article in full

Articles on the tomb of Ezekiel and the tomb of Nahum

Yad Vashem to consider first Arab for award

Israel's main Holocaust memorial centre has for the first time nominated an Arab to be recognised as a "righteous gentile" for saving Jewish lives, the BBC reports.

Researchers at Yad Vashem will now examine the life of Khaled Abdulwahab, who died in his native Tunisia in 1997, to see if he is eligible for the award.

He is said to have sheltered Jews on his land during the Nazi occupation. The Righteous Gentile award has already been bestowed on about 22,000 non-Jews, including 60 Muslims from the Balkans.

The request to recognise Mr Abdulwahab was submitted by Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who has researched the situation of Jews in North Africa in the 1940s.

Read article in full

Update: the story was reported in 49 media worldwide