Friday, June 29, 2007

New book out on the Jews of Bahrain

The Bahrain Tribune interviews one of the 30 Jews of Bahrain, Nancy Elly Khedouri, about her new book: (with thanks: Lily)

"A book, From Our Beginning to the Present Day, by Nancy Elly Khedouri, is a journey of Bahrain’s Jewish community from the first settlers to the modern Bahraini Jews. How the Jewish families have integrated into society, maintained their identity, the occupations the earlier Jews followed and their contributions to Bahrain are also highlighted in the book.

"The first Jewish family to settle in Bahrain was the Yadgarhs, who came to Bahrain in 1880. The first Jews who settled in Bahrain came from Iraq, Khedouri said.

"They were generally traders and money exchangers and one was a record producer. The settlers brought in their religious and cultural heritage and thus Bahrain got its first synagogue and a cemetery for the Jews.

“The peaceful co-existence we have with the Bahrainis is proof of the religious tolerance advocated by His Majesty the King, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa,” Khedouri said."

Read article in full

Arutz Sheva article

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Now Tigris 'masgouf' goes the way of the Jews

Eating fish caught from the Tigris can be so dangerous to your health that some Imams have issued fatwas prohibiting it. The Times reports on the demise of masgouf, barbecued carp, once a firm favourite with Baghdad's Jews (with thanks: Lily):

“I still like to eat fish once a week, but it is not quite the same as before,” said Ali, a regular customer, who stopped by Abu Ayyad’s stall yesterday to select a fish for cooking and then returned later to pick it up for his family’s lunch. “We have only been eating farmed fish for the past year.”

"The traditional recipe has been prepared in Baghdad for centuries. In happier times the fishermen would bring their boats up along the banks and prepare brushwood fires. The fish would be cleaned, gutted and cut down the back to form a circle and then grilled upright against an open fire.

"Whole families would sit out in the cool of the evening and consume masgouf with bread and salads. To this day masgouf is still prepared by Iraqi exiles, including members of the once-vibrant Jewish community, who were forced out of the country half a century ago.

"But, like in so many parts of modern Iraq, the conflict has destroyed the old traditions. The once-popular stretch of river, known as Abu Nawas, where masgouf restaurants were open late into the night is a no-go area these days for vehicles and most pedestrians."

Read article in full

Egyptian Jews fight to reclaim seized property

The return of the Cecil Hotel in Alexandria to its Jewish owners could set a precedent. The Jerusalem Post reports on a conference opening in Haifa on Egyptian Jewry:

An organization representing Egyptian Jews is seeking to increase awareness of their culture and history, and to mark Egyptian Jewry's own nakba, or catastrophe, their exile resulting from the Arab-Israeli wars.

In a conference in Haifa on Wednesday, the World Congress of the Jews from Egypt will also focus on recent initiatives to reclaim property taken from Egyptian Jews since 1948.

An estimated 100,000 Jews lived in Egypt in 1948. Today, estimates of the country's Jewish population run the short distance from 20 to 100. Hundreds were killed and tens of thousands expelled in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948-49, 1956 and 1967.

Often the expulsions were performed "politely. They just took your work permit away. [After that] my father, an export-import merchant, just decided we would leave," said Prof. Ada Aharoni, head of the World Congress of the Jews from Egypt.

The congress lobbies for the restitution of property and recognition of the historic tragedy of Egyptian Jewry, and seeks to add their story to Jewish education curricula around the world.

Earlier this month, the Cecil Hotel, a four-star hotel in Alexandria that belonged to the Metzger family until it was nationalized in 1952, was returned to the family. Nationalized five years before the family was expelled, the 86-room hotel was resold to Egypt after its return, according to Agence-France Presse.

In its heyday the Cecil hosted such figures as Winston Churchill and Al Capone. In 1996, an Egyptian court ruled that the hotel should be returned to its owners, but the ruling wasn't implemented for fear it would establish a precedent for the restitution of nationalized Jewish property.

The study of the dissolution of Egyptian Jewry - and of a culture and literature that were abruptly ended by the wars - could help heal the troubled relationship between Arabs and Jews, according to members of the World Congress of the Jews from Egypt.

Read article in full

Egypt sues for King David hotel (Ynet News)

Jerusalem Post article

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Yemen promises expatriate Jews full rights

According to the article below from The Yemen Times, yet another Arab government is talking of granting nationality rights to their expatriate Jews. The previous Yemen president Al-Hamdi even requested that the Jews return.

What lies behind this recent flurry of conciliatory noises? They delegitimise Israel as the Jewish homeland: the Jews are viewed as 'our Jews', compliant dhimmis, whose ancient ties to their Arab homelands trump their loyalty to Israel. In the case of Morocco and Libya, I believe the charm offensive towards Jews is a cynical bid to attract Jewish investment. There is also the matter of abandoned Jewish property that cannot be developed unless it is reclaimed, or until the owner demands compensation. And if Jews do return, it would be a propaganda coup for Arab governments.

Mohammed bin Sallam of The Yemen Times finds a Yemenite Israeli, who still has family in Yemen, prepared to sing the praises of the current Yemen president Ali Abdullah Saleh:

"Former Yemeni President Ibrahim Al-Hamdi assured that all Yemeni immigrants, including those who immigrate to Israel, have the right to dual nationality according to the Yemeni Constitution. Official statistics reveal that there are 54,000 Yemeni Jews in Israel. Al-Hamdi later requested they return to Yemen, promising them full rights and duties, as is the case with Yemeni Muslims.

"Under Al-Hamdi, Jews numbered more than 20,000; however, this number decreased following his tragic assassination, as many Jewish, Israeli and American organizations hastened to deport them (of course Jews never flee discrimination or insecurity - ed) to Israel with the help of Yemeni mediators. Only around 1,000 remained in Yemen, mostly children and elderly people.

"Unofficial sources assert that Jews of Yemeni origin comprise 10 percent of Israel’s population, or approximately 600,000. Further, more than 12,000 Yemeni Jews reside in the United States and approximately 15,000 in Canada and the U.K. (I think these numbers may be exaggerated - ed)

"The question is: Do some or all of them have the right to dual nationality, as is the case with most Yemeni expatriates worldwide?

"Yahya Al-Marhabi immigrated to Israel seven years ago with his wife and children, leaving behind his elderly father and more than 10 brothers and sisters. In his early 30s, Al-Marhabi is married with two sons and three daughters and living in a house in Beir Al-Saba’, where most Yemeni Jews live.

"He explained, “I came to visit my father, mother and brothers who live in Sana’a and Amran. My father came from Sa’ada governorate several months ago to escape the ongoing war there.”

"Both in his name and on behalf of all Yemeni Jews, Al-Marhabi thanked President Ali Abdullah Saleh for his attitude toward his family and all Jews dispelled (sic) from Sa’ada, commenting that such attitude was welcomed warmly by Yemeni Jews both in Israel and across the globe."

Read article in full

Monday, June 25, 2007

Syrian Mufti calls on Jews to return

Syrian Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun has called on Jews of Syrian origin to return to Syria, where they will enjoy the same rights given to every Syrian citizen, according to the Al-Arabiya website of 21 June 2007. (Via MEMRI)

He said that the property and synagogues of the Jews who left Syria remained as they were, and would be placed at the disposal of their original owners.

'Return' is all the rage: Muslims want preferential rights in Spain

Young Jewish pianist explores her Persian roots

Shi'a Islam, as practised by the puritanical Iranian Mullahs, frowns upon secular music as a corrupting frivolous activity. Shops selling musical instruments in Tehran, mostly owned by Jews, have almost all closed down. So it is nice to see one Iranian-Jewish artiste exploiting her musical talents to the full in the freedom and safety of California. However, Tania Eshaghoff still looks to Iran for inspiration. Her latest album, 'A road to Tehran,' was inspired by the devastating Bam earthquake.

See Karmel Melamed's interview with Tania Eshaghoff

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Guardian puts the case for Jewish refugees

Amazing but true: The Guardian website has posted (for the first time in living memory) an eloquent piece about Jews expelled or forced to flee Arab countries: 'The other right of return'. Even more amazing: the author is Egyptian journalist Khaled Diab. Khaled should be congratulated for his bravery and honesty: for once, an Arab writer does not attempt to blame the Mizrahi Jewish exodus on 'the Zionists', but recognises that the Jews are victims of an Arab injustice. Alwah more Arabs thought like him, and we might have peace in the Middle East.

Where I think Khaled Diab is wrong is to conclude that this injustice might be rectified by offering the Jews 'a right of return' to Arab countries, a wholly unrealistic prescription, and whose only purpose serves to validate the Palestinian sacred cow of their 'right of return' to Palestine. Much better, as commenters have pointed out, to acknowledge that a de facto, permanent exchange of populations took place, that Palestinian refugees ought to be granted citizenship in neighbouring Arab countries, and that both sets of refugees ought to receive compensation.

Khaled Diab writes:

"With Gaza on a knife edge and any prospect of imminent hope dashed, it seems hard to believe that just over two months ago the Arab world dusted off the 2002 Saudi peace initiative and made Israel an offer of comprehensive peace that few thought Israel could refuse. While not rejecting it outright, Israel's visionless and embattled premier, Ehud Olmert, ignored it and wished it would go away.

"According to Israeli diplomats, one of the main sticking points is the issue of the right of return of the 4 million or so Palestinian refugees. Israel worries that the Arabs will want to implement UN general assembly resolution 194 of December 1948, which states that "the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date" - which would pose fundamental difficulties, since many of these homes no longer exist or have been occupied for generations by others.

"For its part, the Arab peace offer does not make any demands on this front beyond stating that a "just solution" needs to be found to the Palestinian refugee problem. One way the Arabs can set in motion a new dynamic and make Israel face up to its responsibilities is by facing up to their own past.

"Palestinians have not been the Middle East's only victims of tumultuous forces beyond their control. Another group that got swept up in history's unforgiving currents was the Arab world's once-thriving Jewish minority: the Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews.

"There were some three-quarters of a million Jews living in Arab countries prior to the creation of Israel in 1948. The Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) had a Jewish population of up to half a million; Iraq, up to 140,000; Egypt had up to 100,000; and Yemen, around 50,000. Today, the Jewish populations of most Arab countries number a few hundred or fewer, with the exception of Morocco which still has a few thousand Jews.

"Although most Middle Eastern Jews saw Zionism as a remote and alien European dream, about half the Jews who left or were expelled from Arab countries ended up in Israel. The rest went to Europe and the Americas, the largest single group settling in France.

"The last few decades have been marked by creative reinvention and collective amnesia. Israel has worked very hard to veil her Arab face, while the Arab world has airbrushed out its Jewish features. But the terms "Arab" and "Jew" are sometimes so fluid that individual members of either group have more in common with each other than their own supposed kin.

"Rather like "Jew", "Arab"' is a very loose tag applied to a diverse range of peoples and cultures. It covers the real McAhmed Arab societies of Arabia, as well as the "Arabised" societies of the rest of the Middle East. The only things Arabs share in common are language - and that is not always the case, given the great difficult those from the western reaches of the Arab world have in communicating with those in the east - and to a lesser extent religion, ie most but by no means all are Muslim.

"Each major Jewish population in the Arab world had its own distinct identity and history. The Iraqi Jewish population is believed to have been the most established, having lived in Mesopotamia since at least the Babylonian exile. In fact, according to Biblical mythology, Abraham was an "Iraqi" who moved to Canaan (modern-day Syria, Lebanon and Israel-Palestine) and, procreative genius that he was, gave birth to three nations: the Israelites, the Arabs and the Edomites. Bizarrely, "God" also promised old Abe land that was already inhabited for his offspring, without satisfactorily explaining how this would come about or what was to be done with the locals.

"Prior to the arrival of Israel, Iraqi Jews were so well integrated that they described themselves as Arabs of the Jewish faith. In fact, the early pan-Arabist movement in Iraq included Jews as part of its vision. Things began to sour, however, with the mass immigration of Zionists to Palestine in the 1930s.

"Unfortunately for Iraqi Jews and for Iraq, they were being blamed for events they had no part to play in and often disapproved of just because they happened to share the religion of the Zionists in Palestine. They gradually fell victim to increasingly repressive and discriminatory laws. During his short-lived premiership, Rashid Ali al-Kaylani - who was against the British and their puppet Nuri al-Said and hoping that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" wanted Iraq to join the Axis against the British - stoked up anti-Jewish hatred, leading to riots which killed some 200 Jews and convinced most of the rest that it was time to move on.

"Although the Arab League states prohibited the emigration of their Jews to Israel in order to deprive the new state of labour and the Jewish population it desperately needed to give the country an eventual Jewish majority, Iraq was the first country to allow the mass exodus of its Jews, who faced harsh living conditions and discrimination at the hands of their superior-feeling European co-religionists. But being well-educated and entrepreneurial, they are now the most successful Mizrahi population in Israel.

"In Morocco, the process of linking local Jews to events in Palestine was slower. In fact, during the second world war, Morocco was under the control of Vichy France. In 1941, the Vichy regime enacted anti-semitic decrees excluding Jews from public functions and forcing them to wear yellow stars of David. King Mohamed V refused to apply the racist laws and defiantly invited all the rabbis of Morocco to his 1941 jubilee celebrations.

"Sadly, the beginning of the end began with the 1948 war during which anti-Jewish riots broke out, killing 44 Jews. After that, the country where Iberian Jews and Muslims had taken refuge from the inquisition and where much of its native Berber population had converted to Judaism prior to the advent of Islam was gradually depopulated of its Jewish community. Today, only 5,000 or so remain. While in Morocco, I visited some of the last remnants of its Jewish community in Marrakech, including the blind rabbi of the city's only remaining synagogue.

"If the Bible is anything to go by, Egyptian Jewry is the oldest in the world, and even the Torah attests that the Jews had good times not just bad there. Only decades prior to the creation of Israel, Egypt's indigenous Jewish population doubled through the immigration of Jews escaping persecution in other countries or looking for prosperity. And Jews did not just play an important economic role in Egypt. One of the leading lights of Egyptian anti-British nationalism was the Italian-Egyptian Jew Yaqub Sanu who started the first newspaper in Egyptian Arabic, a rag speciailising in political satire.

"But as the partition of Palestine and war loomed ever closer, things also soured in Egypt. Over the coming two decades, Egyptian Jewry fell foul of anti-Zionism, anti-colonialism, pan-Arabism and not to mention anti-Egyptian Zionist intrigue.

"An interesting insight into the death throes of this disappeared world, not just of Egyptian Jewry, but also of the excessive aristocracy and privilege of Egypt's pre-revolutionary ruling elite is provided by André Aciman's highly readable Out of Egypt.

While it is impossible to turn back the clock and undo a crime, we Arabs should recall the hundreds of thousands of Jews who paid the price for the Arab-Israeli conflict. We should continue to demand that Israel apologise for the expulsion and exodus of the Palestinians, but we should offer a similar apology to our one-time Jewish populations.

"The Arab League should continue to press for a "just solution" to the Palestinian refugee problem, but Arab states which once had Jewish communities should also offer an equivalent "right of return". Perhaps many Jews, particularly those living in Israel, would not accept this offer, but it is the virtue of the thought that counts.

"Besides, many Arab Jews refused to go to Israel and, instead, settled in Europe and the Americas (around half a million, today). Some of these could be coaxed back to Morocco or Egypt - and even, one day, Iraq. And with a restored Jewish minority in Arab countries, the false divisions that Zionism, pan-Arabism and Islamism have tried to impose on our diverse region can be chipped away and exposed for the fallacies that they are."

Read article and comments

Friday, June 22, 2007

Finally, time to resettle the Palestinian refugees

With Hamas the new undisputed masters in Gaza, people are talking of the demise of the 'two-state solution' - a Jewish state in Israel living side-by-side with a Palestine, where Arab refugees might be repatriated. The 'Palestinian cause' appears to have imploded: the Islamists of Gaza have never been Palestinian nationalists. Their sole objective is to re-islamise every inch of what once once Waqf territory, entailing the destruction of Israel. Meanwhile, on the Fatah-dominated West Bank, it is doubtful how long an independent Palestinian state might survive. There are calls for Jordan to step into the vacuum.

We are at one of those watershed moments: let's seize the opportunity to advocate, not a political, but a humanitarian solution to the millions of stateless (except in Jordan) 'Palestinian refugees' living in camps around the Arab world. Let them at last be resettled by their host countries - Egypt, Lebanon, Syria - and given full citizens' rights. Let the UN machinery which perpetuates their tragedy, finally be dismantled.

The Jewish refugees who fled the Arab world in even greater numbers than the Palestinians who fled Israel here provide a model for solving the Palestinian refugee problem, as noted by the Saudi Youssef al-Sweidan, writing recently in a Kuwaiti newspaper. According to former secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress Dr Avi Beker, the Jewish refugees never received any aid or even attention from the UN Relief And Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, or any other international agency. Although their plight was raised almost every year at the UN by Israeli representatives, there was never any other reference to their case at the world body. It was hard, and many of them had to endure unspeakable conditions in transit camps in the 1950s, but they were finally turned into fully, integrated and productive Israeli citizens.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Jewish refugees from Egypt silent on their plight

The Jews of Egypt were genuine refugees but for years kept silent about their plight, speakers at an event in Paris told an audience of 150.

The audience - many themselves Jews from Egypt - crowded into the Espace Rachi at the Jewish centre in Paris on 14 June for an event called 'Jews of Egypt: the second exodus'. They saw two films, Les derniers juifs d'Alexandrie by Jean-Michel Destang and Richard Zebouloun, and Temoignages: Les Juifs d'Egypte by Micheline Abergel, Minou Azoulai, Emilie Lambert and Sylvie Leprince.

During the discussion, Moise Rahmani, writer and expert on the history of the Jews of Egypt, recalled that 80,000 Jews lived in Egypt before 1956. That memory was buried within him. Nowadays only 50 Egyptian Jews remain. Rahmani had decided to research the forgotten history of his ancestors. In the archives he found documents testifying to anti-Jewish racial laws, reports of riots and massacres and the blow-by-blow expropriation and expulsion of the Jews from Egypt who were by then stateless.

"We are refugees", he said. "Our homes have been taken over, our graves violated, but I did not nurse any hatred nor bitterness. We Egyptian Jews do not remember the bad." In fact few have dared talk of their suffering and forced exile out of modesty. Their experiences paled in comparison with what Holocaust survivors had been through.

Simone Diday, chairing the discussion, explained: "We were very discreet. We never said a word. We always put up with everything, with a sense of humour. And we don't feel vindictive towards Egypt which treated us so badly, more's the pity."

Philippe Partouche, Micheline Abergel, David Harari and Fortunee Dwek also gave their moving and useful testimonies. Dwek appealed for more people to come forward with their testimonies so as to preserve the memory for 'those Jews from Egypt born abroad' as she put it.

The evening was organised by Jean-Pierre Allali as part of the international 'Justice for Jews from Arab Countries' campaign.

See CRIF report in full (French)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Egypt resists Jewish museum in Cairo

Troubling news from Egypt, where the authorities are in denial about Egypt's Jewish heritage. AME, an Arab business news agency, reports:

"Talks between Egypt and Israel to open a Jewish museum in Cairo are making minimal progress, according to eTN. The Jewish Community Council in Cairo believes there are enough Jewish monuments and artifacts in Egypt to build a museum. But many Egyptian archaeologists dispute the country's Jewish history, and claim that only indigenous Egyptian artifacts have been found in areas that Jewish scholars claim have Hebrew history."

Nebi Daniel's fight to preserve Egypt's Jewish heritage

Afghan Jews congregate in New York

Radio Free Afghanistan discovers a community of Afghan Jews living in New York:

NEW YORK, June 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- More than 200 Jewish families of Afghan descent live in the New York City borough of Queens -- the largest group of Afghan Jews outside of Israel. In Afghanistan, meanwhile, there is officially only one Jew left, Zebolan Simanto, a 45-year old caretaker of a synagogue in Kabul.

The focal point for Afghan Jews in New York is the congregation Anshei Shalom, which is also a spiritual home to Jews from Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Russia, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.

Binyamin Pinchasi, a jeweler by trade, was born and raised in Israel. He has never been to Afghanistan, but both of his parents grew up in Kabul. They still have fond memories of growing up in the Afghan capital more than 50 years ago.

"We never had persecution in Afghanistan. And the government was very helpful to us."

Pinchasi, who appears to be in his early 30s and speaks a little Dari -- which along with Pashto is one of Afghanistan's two main languages -- says he feels a spiritual connection to the country, though only a faint one.

Read article in full

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Jews left assets of up to $300 billion, says WOJAC

According to the World Organisation of Jews from Arab Countries, the Jews of Arab lands left behind assets worth up to $300 billion and 100,000 square kilometres of deeded property - five times the size of Israel. Must-read interview in The Jewish Press with Dr Heskel Haddad, the organisation's president.

"Eight hundred thousand Jews fled Arab countries shortly after Israel’s founding in 1948, leaving all their wealth behind. The world, however, neither remembers their plight nor demands their compensation.

If president of WOJAC (World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries) Dr. Heskel Haddad has his way, though, that reality will change. In addition to his activism, Dr. Haddad is professor of Ophthalmology at New York Medical College, a practicing ophthalmologist and author of the autobiographical account, Born in Baghdad. The Jewish Press recently spoke with Dr. Haddad.

The Jewish Press: What happened to Jews in Arab countries after Israel was declared a state in 1948?

Dr. Haddad: "A dark curtain descended. In Iraq, for example, the government imposed a tax on every Jew to liberate Palestine. Jewish merchants were not allowed to do business without a Muslim partner, Jewish employees in the government were fired, about 10,000 Jews were put in an internment camp and another roughly 10,000 Jews were put in jail, accused of Zionism, communism, and other frivolous accusations.Then, suddenly the government said, “You can leave Iraq.” Almost all the Iraqi Jews did, but their property was confiscated. They came to Israel penniless.

What is WOJAC’s main purpose?

To ask for compensation for the Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Former President Clinton in the Camp David II negotiations suggested creating an international fund to compensate the refugees, both Jewish and Arab. But from the political point of view, we also want to counter the demand for the return of the Palestinian Arab refugees. In 1949 the Arab League passed a resolution to prevent Arab governments from giving citizenship to the Palestinian Arab refugees. Because of that resolution, the Arab refugees today in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, etc. don’t have citizenship in those countries. The Palestinian Arab refugees should be settled in their countries just as Israel settled the Jews from Arab countries in Israel.

WOJAC registers property claims of Jews from Arab countries. How many of these claims does WOJAC currently possess?

Ten thousand. We are trying to get about 100,000. There are two purposes: One is to document what happened to the Jews in Arab countries just like they did for the Holocaust – for history’s sake. And the second is to have an idea when we sit down to talk about compensation what magnitude of figures we are talking about. And what magnitude of figures are we talking about?

Iraq and Egypt had the highest amount of property and money confiscated. You take the Libyans and the others, much less. I would say around $200 to $300 billion – in today’s money – would be an adequate figure.

Two-hundred to three-hundred billion!?

Iraq had the wealthiest Jewish community in the world per capita, including the United States. All the land that produced rice in Iraq was owned by Jews. In Egypt, for example, $100 billion worth of property was confiscated from the Jews between 1950 and 1956. Look, all of Israel is 20,000 square kilometers. We left 100,000 square kilometers of deeded property in the Arab countries.

Why were you in Iraq in 2004?

I was invited by the Iraqi minister of health to inspect their eye department. But I also wanted to see my father’s house and the synagogues. My heart was broken. The synagogues either were destroyed or made into factories or something like that.

I also went to see the grave of Navi Yechezkel, which became a mosque, and of Ezra HaSofer. Muslim women who cannot become pregnant go to Navi Yechezkel’s grave to pray because they believe in the prophet and his power.

Why is Ezra buried in Iraq if he was the one who brought the Babylonian Jews back to the land of Israel?

Because he came back to get the Jews of Yemen to go to Israel. They told him they don’t want to go. So he cursed them, “May you always be poor,” and they cursed him, “May you not come back to Jerusalem.” On the way back up the Tigris River he died, and he’s buried on that spot, Al-Ezair.

Are there any Jews left in Iraq?

There are only five Jews in Iraq, most of them over 70 years old. They’re too old and don’t feel like leaving.

Many people claim the Israeli government discriminated against Jews from Arab countries when they came to Israel. Can you comment?

When these Jews came to Israel, the government put them in towns around the border so that they would not see them. They thought they were lower class. They gave them a ration of potatoes and herring. Now the Jews from Iraq, for instance, don’t eat potatoes or herring. The Israeli government was an Ashkenazi-dominated government. When a Jew from an Arab country complained, they said, “Why did you come here?” That’s exactly what they told me. Look, there’s also the lack of Yiddish, which was very dominant at that time. For example, my father had the biggest contracting company in plumbing in Iraq. He built hospitals in Iraq, he built the palace of the king. But when he came to Israel, they put him in the lowest rank because he didn’t speak Yiddish (although he did speak Hebrew and Arabic). His foreman from Romania used to ask him questions about what to do.

Does this insensitivity still exist today?

Yes, because they are not really exposed to that culture. You know, I was invited to meet Anwar Sadat in Cairo in 1978 after he came to Jerusalem. He said to me, “How come Menachem Begin comes with all his advisers and nobody speaks Arabic?” They probably would have been able to get more out of Sadat in negotiations [if they had] because when you speak in Arabic, you know the nuances of these people, what they want.In the foreign ministry there should be somebody who can speak Arabic who can go to these meetings, but nobody pays attention."

Read article in full

Friday, June 15, 2007

Iranians distance themselves from Islamic regime

President Ahmadinejad's latest diatribe against Israel prompts Amil Imani to write in The American Thinker that he and the Mullahs of Iran betray the Iranian people's traditional friendship with the Jews.

"Ahmadinejad does not represent the Iranian people any more than his turbaned-colleagues presently ruling Iran do. What needs to be understood is that in fact Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs, above all else, are true Muslims and despise anything "Iranian" and its ancient "pre-Islamic" heritage.

"Iranians are proud of their historical friendship with the Jewish people. The bond of friendship goes back to the landmark action of King Cyrus the Great of Persia. In 537 B.C., having conquered Babylon, the benevolent King Cyrus freed the Jews from captivity and empowered them to return to the Promised Land and build their temple.

"The majority of Iranians nowadays want to distance themselves from the Islamic regime in Iran and the likes of Ahmadinejad. Iranians wish the world to make a distinction between the Iranian people and the despicable Islamic regime, its wicked followers and traitorous lobbyists."

Read article in full

Thursday, June 14, 2007

BBC website reflects skewed coverage of refugees

A BBC listener was shocked to discover that the BBC website contained only two references to Jewish refugees from Arab lands - neither of them emanating from BBC programmes. On the other hand, the deluge of information on Arab refugees - some would call it propaganda - has peaked with the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War.

Terry M did a search of the BBC website, but the only 'Jewish refugees' discussed by the BBC were Holocaust survivors.

Terry had originally complained about a radio programme in the World Stories series called 'A house in Jerusalem', which will go out on the BBC World Service on June 15. The programme talks of a Palestinian family displaced from a house now occupied by Israelis. In response to Terry's suggestion that the BBC should do a follow-up programme about Jews displaced from their home in Baghdad, Alexandria or Tripoli (where up to a third of the population were once Jews), the programme's producer argued that the Israeli point of view would be put across in a second programme by a Ukrainian woman married to an Israeli.

In turn, Terry sent the following response:

"I understand that you cannot cover "every side of every issue" in the ten programmes a year allotted to the "World Stories" series. I also accept that you strive for balance over the longer period. Of course this is also part of the remit of the BBC, to strive for balance in its coverage. This was why I suggested a programme that would highlight the plight of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

Although the BBC states a commitment to balanced coverage it seems to have an unusual interpretation of balance when covering the "Palestinian refugees" and "Jewish refugees", displaced in roughly similar numbers. Your email prompted me to conduct a little 'rough and ready' research using the BBC's own website; the site has been live for some time it is fair to assume that its contents form a reasonable microcosm of the BBC output.

"I searched for the two terms "Palestinian refugees" and "Jewish refugees", putting the terms in quotation marks for more precise searching. There were 65 pages on "Palestinian refugees" and 14 pages with the term "Jewish refugees". There are 10 entries on each page. Then I browsed each entry and was shocked to discover that every entry on "Jewish refugees" was a discussion on the Second World War and Jews escaping the Holocaust. There were only two entries specifically mentioning Jewish refugees from Arab lands – and both were comments by members of the public on the Have Your Say site! Surely the BBC should be able to do better than to cover Palestinian refugees 650 times and not find space to cover the Jewish refugees from Arab lands just once?

I will certainly listen to both programmes, as you suggest. You commend the second programme as "very much from the Israeli point of view", but it was not the Israelis but the forgotten refugees from Arab lands that have no voice."

Terry is still waiting for a further reply from the BBC.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

'Khalass': the end of my charmed life in Alexandria

The Suez crisis in November 1956, when Britain, France and Israel went to war with Egypt, sounded the death knell for the Jews of Egypt: some 25,000 fled the country. Ted Nahmias, then a young teenager, was one of them. Here are Ted's recollections of his final days in Alexandria.

""You probably won't believe this, but I was one of the first rock 'n' rollers. As teenagers, we had to identify ourselves with James Dean or Elvis Presley. That was more important than watching our wonderful life collapse before us. That we left that to our parents. We knew it would be over soon, so we wanted to prolong and prolong this life of partying, going to the beach and the movies.

"A whole population was preparing to leave. Europe was very cold in the winter, they said - be prepared. Soon warm woollens, coats, and scarves were not to be found in stores. All sold out. Suitcases and large travel bags disappeared from the shelves in days. Farewell gatherings were a daily occurrence. Goodbye… Will we ever see each other again? Classmates promising to meet again somewhere abroad, friends in tears at the thought of parting and, worst of all, members of the same family having to emigrate to different countries and being separated from their loved ones, maybe forever. Sons and daughters following their spouses, grandparents left behind, too old to embark on a new life in faraway places such as Australia or Brazil.

"Windows and balconies were covered in heavy blue paper so as to create a 'black out' to protect the city from air attacks at night.

"Tension was growing and anyone with European features had to be quite careful when going around town. You would never guess, but I had distinctive streaks of blond hair at the time, and some Arabs in the street shouted inglesi at me more than once, frightening the living daylights out of me.

"Of course Egypt was at war with Britain and France, as well as Israel. British and French nationals were being expelled daily at 72 hours' notice. Other Jews bearing Greek, Italian, Belgian , Spanish passports etc, realized they had no future in Egypt. Businesses and property owned by Jews were seized. Thousands lost their jobs. Jewish institutions were closed down. Restrictions were imposed and people could only leave with limited luggage and most possessions were left behind. Khalass.

"It was impossible to fight the rising tide of Arab nationalism. I recall getting on a bus once with a friend, and as usual we were having a conversation en francais quite recklessly. Some of the passengers objected and said we should stop speaking French. In retrospect I cannot believe I made a gesture with my hand and said: Maalesh (never mind). How foolish. At that moment an arrogant young Egyptian in a grey suit and tie intervened and said, 'I shall cut your hand off if you say Maalesh again!' The bus had just come to a stop and we got off in a hurry. Lucky break for us.

"My father used to read the daily French paper, Le progres Egyptien. However, he would discreetly cover it with another paper he used to read - Taxidromos, the Greek daily. That, of course, was accepted, as Greeks took the Egyptian side during that conflict.

"An interesting activity was the setting up by the Egyptian army of free shooting galleries along the Corniche near Silsila. The targets were the figures of British, French and Israeli soldiers with Union Jacks, Bleu blanc rouge flags and Magen Davids on their chests. Young Egyptians were queuing to have a go at firing at the enemy. Groups of soldiers were constantly marching all over town and one could not help feeling uneasy and fearful. I cannot forget the fright I had when at the gare de Ramleh suddenly a group of soldiers walked towards me and stopped. One of them came out of the ranks and walked over to me.

"Khalass. My knees were shaking, I was probably as pale as a sheet. It was Gaber, my baoab's (doorman or porter's) son who was trying to show off his new uniform and machine gun. Ezzayak ya teddy. He laughed at my pitiful sight, and so did the other soldiers. He waved goodbye and they went away with this newly acquired sense of power.

"This was not like our peaceful, friendly city of Alexandria at all. I think that by then, we had realized. It was khalass - and for good."

Whatever happened to the Jews of Kuwait ?

According to this article from The Scribe, there was once an ancient community of 200 Jews living in Kuwait until the 1920s. The article claims that there is no evidence that the Jews were kicked out of Kuwait. They sought a better life in King Faisal's Iraq. Clearly, however, the Kuwaiti establishment disapproved of their trade in alcohol. Had they stayed, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1920 would have probably made their lives untenable.

Most of the Jews who lived in Kuwait came originally from Iraq after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 A.D.

In 1776 when Sadeq Khan captured Basra, many of the inhabitants left the country and among them were the Jews who went to Kuwait. With the Jews' efforts, the country flourished with its buildings and trades. Around 1860, their number increased and their trade flourished. The Jews had a market called "The Jews' market, ", next to the Mosque.

It was known that the Jews used to make alcohol and sell it to the public.

The Jews were known to be careful traders. They were mostly wholesalers and worked with India - Baghdad and Aleppo. They even exported to Europe and China.

There were about 80 Jewish families in Kuwait living in one district where the Bank of Trade is now.

The Jews used to wear long gowns (Zboun) and a Fez which made them look different from the others. Some used to wear European suits, but they wore a Fez on their heads. They had their own synagogue with their Sefer Torah. The synagogue had a separate area for the women.

Saturday was a sacred day. Jews did not work on that day. They also had their own cemetery, which shows that they lived there for a long time.

Kuwait's population is now 35,000 and most of them are Arab Muslims. Before 1914 there were about 200 Jews. Most of them went back to Baghdad and a few went to India.

There were two wealthy Jews in Kuwait but the rest were middle class, being jewellers or textile merchants. Among the wealthy Jews were Saleh Mahlab who owned the first ice factory in 1912 and Gurgi Sasson and Menashi Eliahou who were traders and financiers.

When Sheikh Salem al Mubarak came to power in February 1917 - he was the 9th ruler - he wanted to stop the Jews from dealing in spirits. He called them and warned them. There is no evidence that they were kicked out of Kuwait. The truth is that they went back to Iraq when King Faisal lst came to rule Iraq.

Read article in full

The rise and fall of the musical el-Kuwaiti brothers

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Syrians hate Israel, but love and miss the Jews

The Syrians hate Israel but love Jews - in other words, they prefer their Jews powerless and submissive. There are some 50 Jews still living in Damascus out of a community once numbering 30,000. But Larry Luxner found that not a single Jew was willing to talk to him. Report in JTA News:

ALEPPO, Syria (JTA) – From the roof of a nondescript, four-story apartment building in downtown Aleppo -- amid a jumble of water tanks, power lines and satellite dishes -- one can gaze down at the last remnant of one of the world's oldest Jewish communities.

"Hebrew gravestones, partially obscured by weeds and garbage, occupy a plot of land adjacent to the historic Joab Ben Zeruiah Synagogue, whose stone archways and grand interior walls hint of a prosperous and lively Jewish past.

"The shul, in continuous use for more than 1,600 years, sits deserted. The families living in nearby apartments have no clue that this ancient building once housed the most influential center of Torah learning in the Middle East.

"This rooftop perch offers the only view of the synagogue's restored interior because its front door is always locked. A sign at the entrance provides a phone number in Damascus for tourists, but the man who answers says military police must arrange all visits.

"Syria is home to probably no more than 50 Jews among a total population of 18.5 million. Nearly all live in Damascus, except for perhaps two or three Jews in Aleppo.

"The Jewish community is quite elderly at this point. Nobody bothers them," said Seth Kaplan, a New York-based researcher who visited Syria recently for three weeks. "In fact, many Syrians told me they miss the Jews on some level."

Read article in full

Friday, June 08, 2007

Libyan official in London calls for Jews to return

A high-ranking Libyan official has called for Libyan Jews to return to their country, Rachel Fletcher of The Jewish Chronicle reports.

Dr Mohamed Al Jarari, director of the Libyan Studies Centre - the equivalent of a government department - came to London specifically for a conference of Libyan Jews, held at SOAS last week.

Dr Al Jarari said that Libya must remember its heritage and added: "I would like the Libyan Jews to come back - not anybody else."

But he denied that Libyan Jews had been forced out, saying that was the 'wrong assessment'. (..)

Dr Al Jarari later told the gathering that Libyan Jews had been 'compelled to leave due to harsh circumstances' and that other Libyan tribes had also been displaced throughout history. He said it was the first time he had been invited to the annual conference and that he was 'delighted' to attend. (..)

Mr (Raphael) Luzon, vice-chairman of the Union of Jews of Libya told the JC that it was 'very important' that official Libyans had attended, saying: " It has been 40 years since the last expulsion of Libyan Jews from Libya, after 2,300 years. Never have we had even a minimal opening from the Libyan regime. They all accepted with great enthusiasm."

Mr Luzon, who later lit candles for his relatives buried in an unknown Libyan location, also called for restitution of property left in Libya by the departing Jews.

Read article in full (subscription only)

Gaddafi's 1975 call to return

'Jews of Iran' film shown in Jerusalem

What is life like for the Jews living in Iran today? What kinds of social issues concern them and how do they preserve their religious customs in the Islamic state? Iranian director Ramin Farahani, who made Jews of Iran, talks to Ynet News on the occasion of the film's showing in Jerusalem.

"Thousands of miles from Israel, a small Jewish community lives in Iran, under the rule of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who constantly threatens to "wipe Israel off the map."

"Iranian director Ramin Farahani has been given a permit from the regime to document the life of the Jewish community in the country, and his film, "Jews of Iran" will be screened Tuesday at the Avi Chai institute in Jerusalem. (...)

"Iranian Jews reflect many of the positive and negative mental attitudes that the majority of Iranians posses, but in an exaggerated way. For example I learned that the materialistic lifestyle, which is growing among most of the Iranians, is even worse among many Jews. Or the Jewish students seemed to study harder than average, which is positive.

"Jews in Iran seem to be well connected to each other, but for many, it may lead to a kind of isolation from the main body of society. The central role that synagogues play in bringing them together, has made the role of religion bigger than it was before."

Read article in full and see clip

Ramin Farahani to attend 'Jews of Iran' in London on 19 June

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Libyan Jewish experience in the Giado camp

Nowhere did Jews suffer more during the wartime Fascist occupation of Libya than in the concentration camp of Giado: a fifth of all prisoners died there. As the Jerusalem-based Middle East correspondent of the Rome newspaper Il Messagiero, Eric Salerno met Giado survivors and recorded their experiences. Here is the text of a paper he prepared for the recent Libyan Jewry conference held in London.

In the course of my research into the more violent aspects of Italian colonialism in Libya - the repression of the Arab population (starting from 1911 with the initial invasion and in 1929-32 in what general Graziani defined the “pacification of Cyrenaica”, and later the treatment of the Jewish comunity after the promulgation of the Racial Laws in 1938) - I came across a very interesting aspect concerning the relationship between the different Libyan communities. Over the course of centuries, Arabs, Berbers and Jews, had at different times fought each other, but also had experienced a very interwoven and, in many cases, fraternal relationship. That to some extent was put to the test by the attempt, at times successful, of the prevailing colonial power to “divide and rule”.

The Jewish comunities in Tripoli and Benghazi had maintained longtime relations with the communities in Italy. Many of the Jews carried British passports, others were considered French nationals. When Italy invaded, most of the Jews found it natural, after years of Ottoman rule, to support the new governors. However, there were - and these should be researched - cases in which Libyan Jews, especially those of the Gebel (the troglodytes or cave-dwellers who can trace their presence in the region 2,000 years), fought alongside the Arabs and the Berbers against the Italian army.

One of the most horrible aspects of the repression of the population of Cyrenaica was the establishment of the concentration camps. It is an experience that, in different periods of the Italian colonial adventure, connects both the Arab and Jewish communities. As time goes by, it is more and more difficult to assemble oral testimonies about those tragic events. I first encountered this problem when collecting, in the 1970s, stories about Sollum and el Agheila, just to mention two of the Italian concentration camps in Cyrenaica in which some 40,000 men, women and children, uprooted from their lands, died.

Today the situation is even more difficult: the people who suffered most have passed away, those with memories tend to be very old and are not always able to concentrate on facts. Emotions, as important as perceptions are, but not necessarily historical proof, take up a major place in their stories. And the archives, though more and more accessible, are not always complete. The documentation from that period in the Italian archives – I refer both to the camps set up in Cyrenaica in 1930 and to the plight of the Jews of Libya and the concentration camps, and forced labour camps that were set up by the Fascists in 1941-1942 - is not very rich. One gets the feeling that some papers have been destroyed, or maybe those that underlined the ferocity of the actions of the Fascists, were never placed in the official files. Maybe they were never written. What is clear from the documents that do exist, is that had World War II lasted longer, the Jews of Libya would have suffered the same fate as the six million that died in the Nazi extermination camps in Europe.

In the last few years, to make up for lack of documentation I dedicated more time to oral testimonies, as I did in the 1970s. In Libya, I was able to meet with Libyan Arab veterans of the Second World War, men who had been forced to fight against and for the Fascists, and who had clear memories of the concentration camp in Giado, although less recall of the forced labor camps to which other Libyan Jews had been taken. In the archives of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, I found recordings made over the last 20 years or so. I myself was able to speak with many Libyan Jews both in Israel and in Rome where hundreds of those that left Tripoli and Bengazi still reside.

The repression of the Jewish community of Libya started with the imposition of Racial Laws in Italy in 1938. Mussolini was following in the steps of Hitler. For a few years discrimination against Libyans of Jewish decent was minor but the situation became intolerable with the war. The Racial Laws, first imposed in Italy and only later in Libya - for economic reasons as the Jews were considered fundamental to the wellbeing of the colony - were just the beginning. Things got worse when Mussolini received word that members of the Jewish community in Benghazi had demonstrated their happiness at the arrival of the Allied soldiers (understandably, as they were accompanied by elements of the Jewish Palestine Brigade), that had entered Libya from Egypt. It was a difficult situation; the front was moving back and forth. In 1942, Mussolini ordered that all the Jews of Cyrenaica be transported to concentration camps in Tripolitania. Giado, high on the Gebel south of Tripoli, was to be the major camp. It was clear, by that time, that had the war in North Africa lasted longer, the Jews of Libya would have met the same fate as the six milion in Europe.

One of the most complete stories about that period was told by a man by the name Ofek. When the British retreated, and Italian and German troops re-entered Cyrenaica and Benghazi, his family were deported to Giado, as were hundreds of other Jewish families . What follows is part of his testimony.

"Every two weeks, the oppressors posted in the synagoges a list of families who should prepare for departure. We were taken in freight trucks on a five-day journey. At night we slept under the stars. Altogether, 2600 people were taken away. I was 18 years old at the time. We were forced to work for 12 hours straight, without a break, hoeing and transporting dirt. It is self-evident that with the meager food we received and the backbreaking work, we could expect a slow, tortuous death (as in the work camps in Europe). We organized a delegation of Jews to go to the commander and request larger rations. The officer laughed at us and said, "We didn’t bring you here to support you. We just didn't want to waste bullets on you. Now get back to work!"

"It was only after much persuasion and crying that the cruel commander allowed neighboring Arabs to sell us vegetables, dates and barley. We obviously did not have any money with us, so how did we buy the food? The sale was in exchange for labor. After an exhausting day's work, we did work for the Arab villagers, such as sewing clothes."

Yehuda Chachmon, born in Benghazi in 1932, said that before the war the Italians 'treated us well and gave us all our rights'.

"A few months before the war started, they began mistreating us. They would curse and humiliate us. The first transport for 150 people was in trucks with no cover. It was a four-day ride in the desert till they reached Giado. It was a military camp situated near an Arab village named Giado, about 40 kilometers from the Tunisian border. There were approximately 3,600 of us in the camp. The shacks were long buildings. Every family of 10 got 3.5 meters to put their belongings. The rest of the space was used for a dining room, a kitchen and a bedroom. We slept on the ground. The bathrooms were wide open. Men could see women and women could see the men. There were no doors or anything. The showers too were door-less. The fence was 2.5-3 meters away from the shacks. If a prisoner dared go near the fence, the police were entitled to shoot and kill him. The fence was made of barbed wire and the guards were Arabs. I remember their names: Brobashi Abas and Abid Oni. There were also Italian guards…the Italian guards were the Arab guards’ commanders. The Arabs treated the Jews very well…When they saw a Jew they wouldn’t talk to him or torture him. Only the Italian major and the camp informer gave us trouble. The Italian police were cruel to us."

Many of the Libyan Arabs that I spoke with, insisted in describing the good, often personal relationship, with the Jews in their towns and villages. This confirms what the historian Yacov Haggiag-Liuf writes in his History of the Jews of Libya: "the relationship with the Arab population improved, with each helping the other, as a result of a common bitter destiny. The Arabs gave refuge to Jews outside the Hara (Jewish quarter) and in the villages near the city, even if, at times, they overcharged them rent. And for their part, the Jews helped the Arabs when they could with basic necessities. On the other hand, the Italians , particularly the Fascists, abused the Jews, humiliating and offending them with insulting names, beating them whenever possible".

I believe that this aspect – the relationship between the different comunities that deteriorated only with the political and emotional situation that emerged with the foundation of the State of Israel – is important: it shows that, once a political solution is found to the Palestinian question and peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors, the anti-Israeli antagonism that in many cases is portrayed not as anti-Zionism but also anti-semitism, would slowly disappear.

Libyan Jewry conference promotes reconciliation

Libyan Muslim scholars from Tripoli and Benghazi, and Libyan Jewish scholars and other experts in the history of the Jewish community in Libya, met for two days at SOAS (the London School for Oriental and African studies) on 31 May and 1 June to promote dialogue between different communities in Libya. (With thanks for this report to Eric Salerno)

The Jewish community, whose roots go back 1,300 years, formed one of the largest minorities in Libya together with Berbers and Bedouins. They co-existed peacefully in the country and were positively and constructively active in all fields of Libyan society. In the last 60 years, thousands where forced, one way or another, to leave their homeland. The last exodus of 6,500 Jews followed street riots which took place at the beginning of the 1967 Israeli-Arab war.

The presence of Dr. Mohammed Jerary, director of the Libyan studies centre of Tripoli, and two other Libyan scholars, was seen as a very significant beginning in the promotion of dialogue between cross-sections of this North African country. The event celebrated the rich and deep-rooted culture of Libyan Jewry and will hopefully rebuild the confidence to generate goodwill and friendship towards reconciliation. The information and historical facts provided will serve as tools to learn and plan for a better future between Jews and Muslims.

The title of the conference was Coexistence Of Libyan Muslims and Jews: Lessons from the Past and Plans For The Future; Proposal To Create an Organised Platform For Cooperation. The moderator was Mr. Adel Darwish, Journalist & Middle East expert. On the panel were Prof. Maurice M. Roumani (historian and writer), Dr. Faraj Najem (writer and scholar), Mr. Ahmed Rahal (writer and journalist), Prof. Vincenzo Porcasi (economist), Dr. Eric Salerno (writer and journalist), Prof. Salah Al Din H. Al Suri (expert in modern Libyan history) and Dr Khalifa Al Ahwal (expert in History of Jews of Libya).

Bataween adds: Today not a single Jew lives in Libya, where Jews first settled 2,000 years ago. On 31 May, a film was shown and a lecture delivered on Libyan Jewry, whose checkered history encompassed periods of prosperity and peace. Jews suffered from Mussolini's racial laws when Libya became an Italian colony. During the war years, foreign nationals were deported to Nazi concentration camps: some never returned. Over 3,000 local Jews were interned in the Giado concentration camp. One in five died from starvation and disease.

After liberation and under British rule, some 130 Jews were massacred in 1945. Many Jews fled for Israel after rioting in 1948; 18 Jews were murdered and shops and synagogues burnt down in riots in 1967. Mrs Luzon, mother of Raphael Luzon, chairman of the Libyan Jews' Association in the UK, lit a candle for each of their eight relatives killed in 1967.

At the session on 1st June, Muslim Libyan historians were at pains to emphasise the sunlight, rather than the shadow, in the Arab-Jewish relationship. Dr Farej Najem denied that Jews, dhimmis under Shariah law, had been forcibly converted to Islam. Dr Khalifa Al Ahwal said that Jews - a third of the population of Tripoli was Jewish in 1855 - had been in the forefront of trade, commerce and culture, but reproached the Jews for hedging their bets by adopting foreign passports.

The speakers disputed the fact that all Libyan Muslims had welcomed Mussolini: indeed 40,000 Libyan Arabs had died at the hands of general Graziani in what Eric Salerno describes in his book as an Italian genocide.

Iin his classical work on the Jews of Libya, the Italian historian Professor Renzo de Felice referred to their misery and wretchedness, but the Arab Muslims lived in even worse conditions. Both suffered under Italian and British rule. The era 1952 to 1967 following Libyan independence was apparently a 'golden age' for the 7,000 Jews still in in the country.

Libya has passed Decree 68, which allows for compensation to Jews expelled and dispossessed in 1967 as well as Maltese and Italians who lost their property in 1969, although no Jew has yet reported receiving compensation. The country is open for business and wishes to attract ex-Libyan expatriate investment with various economic incentives.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

My longest ten minutes - by an Egyptian Jew

June 1967. The police said they wanted to talk to Rami Mangoubi's brother for ten minutes. The ten minutes turned out to be three years, nine days, 17 hours and 58 minutes. Rami tells his story in The Jerusalem Post:
During the first three days of the Six Day War, the Egyptian media claimed victory, and Egyptians did not know their army was crushed. Everyone was certain troops were at the doors of Tel Aviv. Rumors spread that thousands of Israeli prisoners were being shipped to Cairo by train to be paraded for all to see in Ramses Square, where the train station is located. The authorities had trouble satisfying this demand, as Egypt had caught no more than a handful of Israeli POWs. But a solution was found.

On the first day of the war, at a quarter to five sharp, we heard a knock at the door. We opened. Two policemen in civilian clothes wanted my brother Sami for 10 minutes at the station. He followed them.

Two minutes later, Zeinab, the custodian's wife, knocked at the door. Shaken and with tears in her eyes she asked: "Why did they take him?"

Still in shock, we just repeated what we heard: "He will be back in ten minutes".

Read article in full

Monday, June 04, 2007

Six-Day War victory was also Jews' misfortune

The Jewish News Weekly has a round-up of the devastating effects on Jewish communities in Arab countries after the Six Day War (via JIMENA):

"Imagine That, every Friday night, your mother prepared dinner with fresh food your father brought home from the market. Sundown welcomed Shabbat, and with it, the smell of roasted tomatoes and spices mingled with fresh fish.
"This was Gina Waldman’s Libya. Until June 1967.

"When Israel defeated its Arab neighbors in the Six-Day War, Waldman’s government and its people made life nearly unbearable for Libyan Jews.

"The day after the war began, a mob of protesters surrounded her parents’ home, shouting “Slaughter the Jews!” and other obscenities. Her mother warned her not to come home. For six weeks, Waldman stayed on a co-worker’s couch and her parents could not leave their house. They were afraid they would be killed.

“I would say the war was bittersweet,” said Waldman, who now lives in Tiburon. “Sweet because Israel won, and bitter because we lost our home. The Libyan Jewish community is totally extinct today.”

"Life had not been easy for Arab Jews in North Africa and the Middle East since the creation of a Jewish state, but the results of the 1967 war made a difficult life even harder. Across the region, governments squashed the rights of Jews. They were expelled, jailed, or in some cases, killed.

"Even though Waldman’s parents observed the Sabbath, they were never able to openly or publicly observe Jewish holidays or events. They were not considered citizens of their country. They were not allowed to have a telephone."

Read article in full

Sunday, June 03, 2007

How Egypt took revenge on its Jews

The Jerusalem Post's Brenda Gazzar tells the story of how the Egyptian government took revenge on the country's Jews following Egypt's crushing defeat in the Six-Day War. Some were interned for up to three years. (With thanks: Linda)

"Shabtai was one of at least 425 Jewish males - the vast majority of the community's men - who were detained in Egypt during the Six Day War.

"Within days of their detention, 75 Jewish detainees with foreign passports were released due to pressure exerted by these countries and expelled, according to Prof. Michael M. Laskier of Bar-Ilan University's Department of Middle Eastern History. One hundred and twelve of the remaining 350 prisoners were released by the end of 1967 or the beginning of 1968 and expelled, while the rest were gradually released over the next two and a half years.

"But many of those who carried Egyptian passports were detained for nearly three years. Shabtai, like many Jews born in Egypt, did not have citizenship and was considered by the government to be stateless.

"The idea was to break the back of the Jewish community and demoralize it," Laskier said. "If you take people 18 to 50, they are the backbone of the community, the main providers, that can assist the community - people that authorities might have felt... could be any kind of help to Israel or might carry out acts of sabotage."

"When Shabtai and his brothers were taken from their home, their widowed mother was left to manage largely on her own. It was at least three months before his mother and his future wife, who had met him a month before his detention, received word of his whereabouts. For at least three weeks at Abu Zaabal, Shabtai remained clueless about outside events. When he finally heard from a new detainee that Israel had captured the Sinai, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and east Jerusalem, he felt "internal happiness" - emotions he was careful not to reveal to his captors.

"The first several months at Abu Zaabal were very difficult for the detainees, who corroborate stories of random physical and verbal abuse, indiscriminate beatings, strong feelings of uncertainty and humiliation.

"On their first day there, they were required to hand over any possessions they carried with them and to strip down to their underwear. Before they were crammed into their small cells, they were forced to run quickly around an open rectangular corridor while prison staff waited to hit them with belts or wooden sticks as they passed by. The exercise would repeat itself many times.

"Every time Israel attacked the Egyptians, they used to take revenge on us," Shabtai said. "I don't know on whose instruction but among the captains that were there, there were bad ones. There were even captains that they called 'Hitler.' Who knows if they had brothers who died in the war, if they had parents that died in the war" or if they knew prisoners captured by Israel. "They didn't have anyone to take revenge on, except us."

"Gamliel Yallouz of Herzliya, says that once after a long run, an officer was waiting to hit them as they entered their cells. When Yallouz entered, the officer, waving a club of dried date leaves, took the thickest and roughest part of the weapon, stuck it hard into his bare chest and turned it 360 degrees.

"The only thing I thought to do was to grab his belt with both hands and jump with him" to the ground a few floors beneath them. "I felt so humiliated, so bad, I told myself, 'I'll take him with me.'" The only reason Yallouz didn't commit suicide, he says, was that he suddenly saw a vision of his two children - two and four - standing next to the officer. "This was the only thing that calmed me."


"By 1948, an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 Jews were living Cairo, Alexandria and other Egyptian cities. These Jewish communities were quite involved in the economic development of the country before the July 1952 coup that brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power. Yet well before the Six Day War and even before Israel's establishment, the situation for Jews in Arab countries became progressively more difficult.

"Several factors led to these communities' decline. Among them was the world economic crisis that began in 1929 which helped to resuscitate anti-Jewish sentiment, the growing perception that Jews and other non-Muslim minorities were "collaborators" under British colonial rule, the rise of fascism and the Palestine question, said Laskier, author of The Jews of Egypt: 1920-1970: In the Midst of Zionism, Anti-Semitism and the Middle East Conflict. However, the primary catalyst for the Jewish community's dissolution in Egypt and other Arab countries was the radicalization of nationalism and its orientation toward pan-Arabism. The ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt also helped inflame prejudice against the Jews.

"Nationalism was the major problem because Egyptian nationalism over time, especially in the 1940s and 1950s, espoused notions of Pan-Arabism and it was very, very radical and minorities - Jews among them - didn't have much of a future in a pan-Arab environment," Laskier said. "Jews were regarded as not only not loyal, but not authentic Egyptians. For the Muslim Brotherhood, they were considered to be infidels or disloyal."

"In fact, this wave of nationalism was so strong that even if Israel had not existed, Laskier argues that the Jewish community in Egypt would still have dissolved sooner or later. Following the 1956 Sinai Campaign, between 23,000 and 25,000 Jews are estimated to have left by 1958 due to expulsion or voluntary departure. Those who left voluntarily did so under significant political and economic pressure, including discriminatory laws and practices and the sequestering of property and businesses. By 1967, there were only 2,500 Jews left in the country.

Read article in full

Saturday, June 02, 2007

How Jews were treated after the Six-Day War

How did Arab countries treat their Jewish citizens in the aftermath of the Six-Day War? Zionism had already been outlawed, but being Jewish now became a "crime": (With thanks for this summary: JIMENA)

Egypt: During the first days of the 1967 Six Day War almost all male Egyptian Jews aged 16 and over were imprisoned and kept in over crowded prison camps. Some would not be released for three full years. Jews of foreign nationality were summarily deported.
  • Libya: Muslims rioted in the Jewish Quarter of Tripoli. 18 Jews were killed. Homes and synagogues were burned to the ground and the mobs prevented Libya's Jews from returning to their communities. The Libyan government rounded up all the Jews, confiscated their property and expelled them.
  • Iraq: After the Six-Day War, the government imposed more repressive measures: expropriation of Jewish property; freezing of Jewish bank accounts; dismissal of Jews from public posts; the forced closing of Jewish-owned businesses; cancellation of trading permits; disconnection of telephone, and Jews were placed under house arrest for long periods of time or restricted to the cities.
  • Tunisia: During the Six-Day War Jews were attacked by rioting Arab mobs; and synagogues and shops were burned. Despite government appeals to the Jewish population to stay, 7,000 Jews migrated to France.
  • Lebanon: The majority of Lebanon's 7,000 Jews left in 1967, feeling that their position in an Arab country was insecure.
  • Six-Day war anniversary reopens deep scars

    Next week marks the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War. The Arab defeat directly affected the few thousand Jews still living in Arab countries and led to the final stage in their 'ethnic cleansing'. (You can read some of their recollections here.)

    For Gina Waldman, a Jew living in Libya at the time, the event reopens deep emotional scars.

    The 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War between Israel and five Arab states marks the final step in the mass expulsion of the Jews indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa.

    This event reopens deep emotional scars for me. My family was among those expelled from Libya in 1967. It marks the destruction of a Jewish civilization over 2,000 years old. Of the 900,000 Jews that lived in the Middle East and North Africa 50 years ago, less than 5% remain today. Our communities are extinct.

    The Six-Day War in 1967 affected me directly. I was living in Libya but, I am not an Arab, nor a Muslim. I am a Libyan Jew who, in the aftermath of the war became a stateless refugee. The rioting mob took to the street during this conflict and burned the homes of their Jewish neighbors. The government then proceeded to expel us.Our homes and properties were confiscated, our cemeteries desecrated, our synagogues looted. While fleeing the country, my family and I miraculously escaped certain death, thanks to British friends who rescued us from a bus being doused with gasoline, about to be blown up by the mob.

    The Middle East conflict, like all conflicts, has produced many refugees. The UN singled out only one group of refugees for special assistance and attention. The Palestinians. The narrative of the Christian refugees who are now fleeing their homeland because of the radicalization of Islam, and Jewish refugees who were ethnically cleansed because of their religion, are ignored. Most of 900,000 Jewish refugees went to Israel which became the biggest and most successful refugee camp in the world.

    Israel integrated its refugees and gave us dignity and hope. This is in sharp contrast to how Arab countries treated the Palestinian refugees. The Arab governments incited the mobs to kill Jews and instituted policies that led to nearly 900,000 Middle Eastern Jews becoming stateless refugees.

    For the past 59 years they refused to settle the 750,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Instead these governments forced Palestinians to live in misery in segregated refugee camps denying Palestinians basic human rights. In the last 100 years wars and ethnic conflicts produced over 100 million refugees. Yet none of them were kept in camps by their host countries for as long a period as the Palestinians in Arab countries.

    The Jewish refugees survived pogroms and expulsions, struggled to reconstruct their damaged lives and overcome the destruction of their communities. We were forgotten by the international community. Since 1949, the United Nations passed more than 100 resolutions on Palestinian refugees; but not a single one for Jewish refugees from Arab countries. This one-sided approach has created a distorted understanding of the conflict by ignoring the oppression of indigenous Jews by the Muslims.

    For centuries the Jewish and Christian communities lived under oppressive discriminatory laws as Dhimmis with limited rights because they were not Muslims. Because of this distorted narrative, the vast majority of people view the Middle East as exclusively Arab, exclusively Muslim, and do not know that Jews and Christians lived in the region for over two millennia. Today nine Arab countries are Judenrein – free of Jews - and are increasingly becoming Christianrein.

    If you have any stories to tell of how the Six-Day war affected you please let the BBC and your local media know.