Sunday, May 31, 2009

Catching the last Jews of Iraq before they vanish

The timing of the publication of Iraq's Last Jews is critical, says Zvi Gabay writing in The Jerusalem Post. Two of its 19 interviewees died before they could see the book published. Soon there will be no Jews alive who remember the Jewish community of Iraq (with thanks: Lily) :

This book includes testimonies of 19 Jews (men and women) as well as of an Iraqi Shi'ite, who personally experienced the events that occurred in Iraq during the last century.

The main reasons that brought about the escape of the Jews from Iraq may be summarized as follows:

• the xenophobia of the nationalistic Sunni leadership, which did not tolerate minorities, including Shi'ites, Christians and Kurds, especially if they had substantial financial means and social standing;

• anti-Semitism, which existed in newly independent Iraq (and in other Arab countries), which was sponsored by Nazi Germany and led by the German ambassador, Dr. Fritz Grobba, who was supported by fanatical religious leaders, such as Haj Amin el-Husseni (who escaped from Palestine under British Mandate and continued his anti-Jewish activities in Iraq).

The climax of the anti-Jewish activities in Iraq, was the Farhud - the uprising against the Jews on Shavuot of 1941 - during which 135 men, women and children were murdered, hundreds were injured and much property was looted. This uprising ultimately brought about the escape and the mass emigration of the Jews from Iraq. The longing for Zion among Iraqi Jews directed many of them to Mandate Palestine and later on to Israel, while a minority opted to immigrate to other countries such as the United States, Canada, England and Australia. Today, the number of Iraqi Jews residing in Israel is 244,000, while 40,000 are distributed elsewhere in the world.

The catastrophe of the Jews of Iraq occurred for no obvious reason. The anti-Jewish policy of its governments left them with one option - to escape and leave behind all their personal and communal property. Unlike the Palestinians, the Jews of Iraq did not wage a war against Iraq nor did the Jews in other Arab countries. They were the scapegoats of political conflict in their own countries. Israeli governments throughout the years, for reasons which are not clear, did not include this catastrophe of the Jews of Arab countries as part of their political agenda nor was it included in the educational program, as in the case of the Nakba of the Palestinians. This enabled Arab propagandists to portray the Palestinians as the only victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The testimonies are personal and include a broad description of Jewish life in Iraq spanning the comfortable day-to-day life, mainly during British rule, the sufferings and persecutions once Iraq became independent and finally the escape to Eretz Yisrael, through the assistance of the Zionist underground movement, which was established after the Farhud.

They are also authentic and can be the basis for writing the history of the Jews of Iraq in the last century. The introduction, written by Prof. Shmuel Moreh, provides historical background and explains how the Jewish community survived for 2,600 years, in Babylon and later in Iraq.

The extraordinary history of Dhiaa Kassem Kashi, the young Shi'ite, who suffered from oppression in Iraq and was forced to escape in the 1980s, is a vivid example of the sufferings of the non-Sunni communities in the country. He longs for the good relations that existed between his family and his Jewish neighbors. Needless to say, there were Muslims who did not agree with the policy of hatred toward the Jews; however, their voices at the time were not heard. The Jews in Iraq suffered from the struggles between the Sunnis and Shi'ites, as today Israel is at the center of the conflict between Shi'ite Iran and Sunni Arab countries.

The timing of the publication of this book is critical, since firsthand testimonies of Jews who lived in Iraq are dwindling (two of the Jews included in the book were not fortunate enough to see its publication). In this respect, special acknowledgment should be given to the Jewish Babylonian Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, for its important work in collecting and documenting personal testimonies of Iraqi Jews.

Read article in full

Front page interview with editor Tamar Morad

Iraqi Jews: don't forget your motherland

Suppressed Iraq music heritage : a bridge to peace?

Imagine the scene: an Iraqi Muslim now resident in Australia sits in a taxi on his way to Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, to meet the surviving elderly Jewish musicians who once created the man's own musical culture but were spat out as 'spies' from their country of birth. This eight-minute clip (With thanks: Aida, Helen and Dia) will eventually be the basis for a documentary film, On the banks of the Tigris. Two years ago, The Age devoted four pages to this exciting project: (with thanks: Iraqijews, Ivy)

"When actor Majid Shokor fled Iraq for Jordan in 1995, he stumbled upon a great mystery. In Amman he frequented a coffee shop where exiled Iraqi artists, writers, and theatre workers met to exchange ideas. Among the works discussed were poems written by Iraqi Jews, recently published in a literary magazine. Majid was deeply moved by the poets' love for their former homeland. It was his first encounter with the suppressed history of the once-vibrant community of Iraqi Jews.

"Three years later in Beirut, where Majid had gained temporary refuge, he came across an article depicting weekly gatherings of Iraqi-Jewish musicians in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv. The group included renowned performers of Iraqi songs Majid had loved as a child in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein had suppressed the seminal role played by Jews, and others opposed to his regime, in developing Iraqi music. The names of composers were removed and their works credited as folksongs.(..)

"With free access to the internet, Majid was also able to pursue his research on the fate of Iraqi-Jewish musicians. What he discovered reads both as a fable and a challenge to our divisive times: once upon a time, Jews, Muslims and Christians lived side by side in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. They shared a culture, and common source of pleasure, in music, art, foods, Arabic language and literature.

"This culture flourished, especially in Baghdad from the 1920s onwards. Music could be heard everywhere, in coffee houses, homes, and on the radio. Iraqi-Jewish musicians and composers were highly esteemed and wrote many songs loved by all Iraqis, and popular throughout the Arab world.

"They made up the majority of the first Iraqi Radio Ensemble, recorded discs, and performed throughout the country. They included the legendary composers Saleh and Daoud Al'Kuwaiti and the much-loved singer Salima Pasha Murad.

"I realised it was an important part of my country's history," says Majid, "and I knew that something should be done about it, but I was not sure what."

"When Majid mentioned the idea in October 2004 to documentary filmmaker Marsha Emerman, she was immediately interested. It appealed to her as a story that explored music and culture as a means of uniting people. In 1991, in response to the first Gulf War, she had organised a Melbourne concert that brought together Jewish, Arabic and Kurdish performers.

"Says Marsha, "as a filmmaker I have always wanted to challenge the media's obsession with images of conflict and violence and concentrate on peace-making". The film project, On the Banks of the Tigris, was finally born.

"In the past three years Majid and Marsha have established contact with a global network of Iraqi musicians from Jewish, Muslim and Christian backgrounds. With development funding from Film Victoria and donations through the Australian Business Arts Foundation, they travelled to the Netherlands last December and filmed Ahmed Mukhtar, a master oud player. Ahmed shares Majid's Shiite background, and his status as an exile from Saddam's regime. The filmmakers then flew to Israel for their long-awaited meeting with the ageing community of Iraqi-Jewish musicians.

"Wherever he went in Ramat Gan, Majid was greeted as a long-lost son. "Ramat Gan is a little Baghdad," he says.

"It is in the markets. The restaurants. In the pickles, the popular songs, and traditional sweets. It is in the body language, the way people speak to each other, the way they use their hands to express their ideas. Everyone wanted to touch me. I felt I was in a safe environment."

"Majid attended the weekly musicians' gatherings he had first heard of in Beirut, and he met Elias Shasha, Abraham Salman, and Alber Elias, now in their 80s, who had performed in Baghdad in the 1940s. They invited Majid into their homes and told him stories that recreated the lost Iraqi world of their youth.

"When Majid asked Elias Shasha to close his eyes and remember his life in Baghdad, he said, "I remember the beautiful days, beautiful hours, beautiful places. The Tigris and the Euphrates, the boats, the fish, my friends. It's very difficult. Love for the homeland is undeniable. I can't ignore I was born in Baghdad, I am an Iraqi."

"Majid also spent time with musician Yair Dalal. He is filmed performing, and teaching young Israelis who are enthralled by Arabic music. The son of Iraqi Jews, Yair is a celebrated performer on the world music circuit. A virtuoso oud player, violinist, singer, and composer, his music is a haunting blend of Jewish and Arabic influences.

"In recent times Yair has discovered the generation of older Iraqi Jewish musicians and brought them back into the spotlight. Passionate about peace initiatives, he was immediately pleased to participate in the film. As part of the project, Majid and Yair hope to stage a concert that brings together Jewish, Muslim and Christian musicians united in their mutual passion for Iraqi music.

"I have asked myself many times," says Majid, "if I am doing the right thing. But meeting these people and listening to them, has strengthened my conviction. These musicians and composers gave us such beautiful music, and loved Iraq. When I met them in Ramat Gan, they were like people I knew. We shared a lot of history.

"There is a bond I feel with them that I feel with all exiled Iraqis. It is very moving the way they recall cities like Baghdad over half a century later. They were victims of politics. We were all victims."

Read article in full

Donations welcome here

Friday, May 29, 2009

Eurocentric intellectuals ignore Arab antisemitism

Amos Elon in his younger days (Photo: Jerry Bauer)

"The Arabs bore no responsibility for the centuries-long suffering of Jews in Europe.Whatever their subsequent follies and outrages might be, the punishment of the Arabs for the sins of Europe must burden the conscience of Israelis for a long time to come."

These words belong to the Israeli writer and journalist Amos Elon who died earler this week. Press obituaries all over the world have been quoting them as if Elon said something brave and revolutionary.

One must not speak ill of the dead, but Elon's statement simply isn't true.

Today Jews around the world celebrate Shavuoth. Exactly 68 ago, a terrible pogrom broke out in Baghdad over the festival's two days. After two days of rioting, looting and destruction, 180 Jews were dead, thousands injured, homes and shops had been looted and thousands of pounds' worth of damage done. This pogrom had nothing to do with Zionism. It happened eight years before Israel was established.

The pogrom, known as the Farhoud, was the Iraqi Jews' Kristallnacht. It followed a pro-Nazi coup in May 1941 instigated by the Mufti of Jerusalem.

Let's call a spade a spade: there was widespread sympathy in the Arab world for the Nazis and the Mufti of Jerusalem was a steadfast ally of Hitler.

Following the unsuccessful pro-Nazi coup which he organised in Iraq, explained in detail here, Haj Amin el Husseini arrived in Europe and was officially received by Adolf Hitler on 28 November 1941 in Berlin.

From his office the Mufti organized radio propaganda on behalf of Nazi Germany; espionage and fifth column activities in Muslim regions of Europe and the Middle East; the formation of Muslim Waffen SS and Wehrmacht units in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Western Macedonia, North Africa, and Nazi-occupied areas of the Soviet Union; and set up schools and training centers for Muslim imams and mullahs who would accompany the Muslim SS and Wehrmacht units. He would spend the remainder of the war organizing and rallying Muslims in support of Nazi Germany.

The Muslim Brotherhood (Gaza branch: Hamas) founded in Egypt in the early 30s was directly inspired by Nazism, and instigated anti-Jewish riots.

Arab complicity with Nazism is just for starters; there were the centuries of humiliation, sporadic violence and forced conversions which Jews suffered in the Muslim world.

The late Amos Elon is sadly typical of a number of Eurocentric intellectuals in Israel who are frankly ignorant or misinfomed about Jewish history in the Arab world. This was never the idyll of coexistence they believe it to be.

King of Morocco acknowledges Holocaust

Arab and Muslim leaders need to come to terms with the legacy of the Holocaust in their own countries and follow the example of the King of Morocco, Warren Miller comments in The Philadelphia Inquirer:

The leader of an Arab Muslim nation recently made some remarkable statements about the Holocaust - remarkable for their courage and respect for historical truth. In a largely unreported speech at the Royal Palace in Fez, Morocco's King Mohammed VI called the Holocaust "one of the blots, one of the most tragic chapters in modern history." The king added, "Amnesia has no bearing on my perception of the Holocaust, or on that of my people."

The remarks offer a stark contrast to the willful amnesia now commonplace in parts of the Muslim world, where denial and distortion of the Holocaust have become widespread.

Among the most notorious examples is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called the systematic murder of six million Jews a "myth," and whose government sponsored a conference of Holocaust deniers in 2006. Meanwhile, through Arabic translations of revisionist literature and the indulgence of much of the state-sponsored Arab press, some Muslim Arab leaders have sought to make Holocaust denial a tool against Israel and the West.

But in a few places in the Islamic world, there is now a willingness to look truthfully at the past and comprehend what befell European Jewry more than six decades ago. Last year, the predominantly Muslim European nation of Albania commemorated its first Holocaust Remembrance Day. And now King Mohammed has shown real leadership by publicly acknowledging the Holocaust. He should be emulated as well as applauded.

The federal commission I head works to preserve the memory of the Holocaust - both the cultural legacy of the thousands of communities that were destroyed and the historical record of what happened to them. We try to preserve the lessons as well as the evidence of the event, so modern societies will understand that allowing prejudice and hatred to flourish can only lead to barbarity.

In both of these areas, King Mohammed's speech presents an important opportunity. It provides a starting point for Morocco and its neighbors to explore more fully the fate of Jews across North Africa during World War II. Some officials in the region still maintain that the Holocaust did not affect their countries. Although Jews in North Africa largely avoided the genocide their people suffered in Europe, they faced painful persecution.

King Mohammed's grandfather, Mohammed V, managed to diminish application of the Vichy government's racist laws toward Moroccan citizens of Jewish faith. But thousands of Jewish refugees from Europe were placed in French-controlled detention and slave-labor camps in Morocco, as they were in Algeria and Tunisia. Many of these Jews, as well as some Arabs and Berbers, were forced to work under cruel circumstances, with insufficient food and in unbearable climatic conditions. The nations of North Africa must come to terms with this legacy.

The king's speech also offers an opportunity to leaders of other Muslim nations: They can choose historical truth over falsehood, and the respect of civilized nations over ostracism.

Read article in full

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Farouk Hosni backtracks on anti-Israel 'hyperbole'

In the latest instalment of this ongoing saga, front-runner as the next director-general of UNESCO Egyptian ex-minister Farouk Hosni, yesterday announced that he 'regrets' his remarks denigrating Israeli culture, according to Reuters:

PARIS (Reuters) - Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, a candidate for the top job at the United Nations culture agency UNESCO, apologised on Wednesday for calling for Israeli books to be burnt.

Hosni's bid for the post of UNESCO director-general provoked the anger of a group of intellectuals who accused him of anti-Semitism in a French newspaper column last week.

Writing in the same newspaper, Le Monde, Hosni said he regretted his words, adding that they had allowed detractors to associate him with things that he found hateful.

"Nothing is more distant to me than racism, the negation of others or the desire to hurt Jewish culture or any other culture," he wrote.

Philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, film director Claude Lanzmann and Nobel Peace Price laureate Elie Wiesel last week quoted Hosni as saying he would burn Israeli books and calling Israeli culture "inhuman".

"Let's burn these books; if there are any, I will burn them myself before you," they quoted Hosni as telling a member of parliament who had confronted him about the presence of Israeli books in Egyptian libraries last May.

Hosni told media at the time he had meant the comments as "hyperbole".

UNESCO will elect a new director-general in October and Hosni, who has been nominated by the Egyptian government, was viewed as a front-runner to become the Arab world's first head of the Paris-based organisation.

However, Levy, Lanzmann and Wiesel urged other countries to block his candidature, saying Hosni had a record of denigrating Israeli culture.

"Israeli culture is an inhuman culture; it's an aggressive, racist, pretentious culture that is based on a simple principle, stealing that which does not belong to it and then claiming it as its own," they quoted him as saying in 2001."

Read article in full

Haaretz: Netanyahu withdraws objection to Hosni (with thanks: Roger)

Times article

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hezbollah blesses Beirut synagogue restoration

It's just as well that the projected renovation of the Maghen Avraham synagogue in Beirut, as reported by Haaretz, has Hezbollah's blessing, or it might find itself caught up in the next round of fighting. With so few Jews left in Lebanon, however, it will be more of a mausoleum commemorating past diversity than a symbol of present tolerance: (With thanks: Lily and an anonymous reader)

"The ruined main synagogue in central Beirut is due to be renovated in the coming weeks, after an agreement between various religious denominations and permission from the Lebanese government, planning authorities and even Hezbollah. Several dozen Jews still living in Lebanon will fund the project, along with others in the Diaspora.

"Renovations will include mending the gaping hole in the Magen Avraham synagogue's roof and repairing the chandeliers that once hung from it. The Torah ark and prayer benches will also be refurbished to their former states.

"People involved in the project told Haaretz Tuesday by telephone that renovations were scheduled to begin "within weeks."

"The job will be funded by a $200,000-donation from private donors, as well as $150,000 from Solidere, a construction firm tasked with rebuilding central Beirut from the destruction of the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War. The company is privately owned by the family of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister assassinated in 2005.

"The project received the green light after political officials and community leaders became convinced it could show that Lebanon is an open country, tolerant of many faiths including Judaism.

"Solidere's reconstruction contract stipulates that any places of worship must not be razed, but remain under the ownership of the religious community it serves, people involved in the renovation told Haaretz. The company has budgeted $150,000 for the rebuilding of each house of worship.

"Lebanon's Jewish community is one of the country's 17 officially recognized faiths. The several dozen people in its remaining Jewish community hold few religious activities other than prayer services during the High Holidays. Many Jewish residents are in middle age or older, and affluent. Many live outside Lebanon, mainly in Europe.

"The Jewish community never served as a target for anyone in Lebanon. All the Jews who left the country did so of their own free will (a controversial statement - ed). We're not talking about renewing prayer in the synagogue, but only about renovation as a symbol of the great diversity of Lebanon and the history of the community," one source said.

"Yitzhak Levanon, a Herzliya-based writer and translator who studied at the American University in Beirut in the late 1920s and early 1930s, told Haaretz: "The story of the Jews in Lebanon is over. It cannot be returned."

Read article in full

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jewish rights are human rights

A recent 'call-to-arms' by rabbi Avi Weiss for more 'spiritual activism', set Abby Wisse Shachter thinking about two deserving human rights causes in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle - the genocide in Darfur and the rights of Jews from Arab lands: (with thanks: Tom Gross)

"Weiss’ presentation brought to mind two very different ongoing human rights campaigns. One well known, the other not. One heavily supported by Jews, the other less so. One Gentile, one Jewish. The first is the humanitarian crisis in Darfur; the other is the advocacy effort on behalf of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

"Jews were out front early trying to stop the killing and displacement of millions of innocents in western Sudan. And Jewish groups, including many younger Jews, were very visible at the national march last year in Washington. More recently, however, Darfur hasn’t been leading the news, as they say. Indeed, David Rosenberg, head of the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition, would like to encourage the Jewish community “to re-engage” on the issue.

"The campaign to raise awareness of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa is a very different story. It is not and has not been a leading concern for most Jews. Instead, small but committed groups like Justice for Jews from Arab Lands and The David Project have been working hard to push for greater awareness, as well as pushing for changes to U.S. and international policy regarding rights and redress for Jewish Middle Eastern refugees.

"There is a movie, “The Forgotten Refugees,” which chronicles the story of those who were forced from their homes, lost their property and were exiled from their home countries. The movie has yet to be screened in Pittsburgh but when I asked a representative from The David Project about getting a copy here to Iron City, I got a very enthusiastic response. Will Jewish Pittsburgh respond?

"Meanwhile, these two efforts, on behalf of the refugees from western Sudan and refugee Jews, would seem to exemplify Rabbi Weiss’ call to arms. Let’s fight for the rights of others no more and no less than we would the rights of fellow Jews. And then, if Rabbi Weiss is correct, the pathway to love of all mankind (and greater engagement on Darfur) will be achieved through love of medinat yisrael (and fighting for Jewish rights and justice).

Read article in full

Some useful links about Jewish refugees:

Frequently Asked Questions

How much did Jews lose? (includes background reading)

Seven myths about Jews from Arab Countries

Jewish bodies row over NY-bound Yemen Jews

The Jerusalem Post reports that a row has broken out among Jewish organisations in the US about the planned airlift of Yemenite Jews to an anti-Zionist community in New York. But their safety is surely a greater priority:

"The World Zionist Organization executive called on the communal umbrella of American Jewry to stop the fundraising effort meant to move Yemenite Jews to a Satmar community in Monsey, New York.

"The Jerusalem-based WZO, whose leaders form part of the leadership of the Jewish Agency, disapproves of the United Jewish Communities' efforts on behalf of the move because the Yemenites will be joining an anti-Zionist community.

"Bringing Yemenite Jews to the Satmar community is an anti-Zionist activity, because it's bringing Jews to a place that doesn't really recognize the State of Israel," said Paula Edelstein, who sits on the WZO executive and is co-chair of the Jewish Agency's Immigration and Absorption Committee.

"The WZO statement, which is being finalized and will only be released on Tuesday, "is a strong call for the UJC to stop its activities encouraging the immigration of Yemenite Jews to the US," according to agency and WZO spokesman Gil Litman.

"Some 113 Yemenite Jews are expected to leave Yemen for the United States in the coming weeks, aided by the US State Department and Jewish refugee agencies in the US. Many of the remaining 160 or so Jews in the country are expected to eventually come to Israel, Jewish Agency officials believe."

Read article in full

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jewish intellectuals protest UNESCO leader choice

Organisations of Jews from Egypt were among the first to question whether Egyptian ex-minister Farouk Hosni (pictured) is a wise choice to head UNESCO. Now leading intellectuals are joining the chorus of dissent, JTA reports:

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Three leading Jewish cultural figures urged the international community to prevent the Egyptian minister of culture from assuming the leadership of UNESCO.

Bernard-Henri Levi, the French philosopher, joined Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust memoirist and Nobel Peace laureate, and Claude Lanzmann, the director of the seminal Holocaust documentary, Shoah, in an open letter urging nations to keep Farouk Hosni from leading the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Hosni, nominated by Egypt, is considered a shoo-in in the May 30 vote of member nations. The Paris-based body is one of the few U.N. institutions trusted by Israel as relatively impartial. In the early 1990s, it set aside funds to preserve Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus architecture. It has also resisted claims that archaeological digs around Jerusalem’s Old City harm Palestinian interests.

The letter, appearing this week in publications around the world, quotes Hosni as calling for the burning of Israeli books and accusing Jews of “infiltrating” the international media to “spread lies.”

“Mr. Farouk Hosni is the opposite of a man of peace, dialogue, and culture; Mr. Farouk Hosni is a dangerous man, an inciter of hearts and minds,” said a version of the letter appearing on “There is only little, very little time left to avoid committing the major mistake of elevating Mr. Farouk Hosni above others to this eminent post.”

Read article in full

Update (with thanks: Anonymous commenter)

A weekend paper in Israel says that the Israeli Government has struck a deal with Egypt whereby Israel would not oppose the appointment of this Egyptian to the UNESCO post, in return for an unspecified Egyptian quid pro quo.

Update to the update: (via IMRA)

Human rights organization Shurat ha Din (Israel Law Center) joins the growing protest against the decision of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to withdraw his objection to the appointment of Egyptian Culture Minister, Farook Husseini, to head UNESCO. The organization says that it will petition the Israeli Supreme Court if
Netanyahu fails to challenge this outrageous appointment.

Moroccan jihadists planning Jewish attacks held

At the same time as jihadists in New York are arrested for planning attacks on synagogues, so jihadists in Morocco are arrested for planning much the same thing:

RABAT (AFP) — A group of alleged Islamists recently arrested in Morocco planned to attack Jewish interests in the country, a court source said Thursday, citing the charges against them.

The suspects, alleged to be members of a cell that was part of the radical Islamist movement Salafia Jihadia, were also preparing attacks against Moroccan security services, the source said.

Details of the alleged attack plans were not available.

The cell -- Jamaat Al Mourabitine Al Jodod, or New Fighters Group -- allegedly began operating in March 2008 in southern Morocco and sought to recruit militants from Koranic schools with the intention of infiltrating political parties.

Authorities announced their arrest on May 12 and they face charges including forming a criminal gang with the aim of carrying out "terrorist" acts. They are being held in jail.

"Police dismantled the cell as part of a regular operation in the battle against terrorism," the court source said.

Salafist network targeted Jewish interests

Friday, May 22, 2009

Holocaust survivor helps Iranian Jews stay in UK

Jews in Iran are not persecuted, the British Home Office had argued when it turned down an application from an Iranian Jewish family for asylum in the UK. The Jewish Chronicle carries the story of how a Holocaust survivor, Dr Max Block, helped the S. family to win their fight to remain in Liverpool:

Seventy-five years after arriving in England as a refugee from Nazi Germany, Max Block has helped an Iranian Jewish family gain asylum in the UK.

The S. family have been helped by the entire Liverpool Jewish community as they struggled to survive without state aid when their application for asylum was turned down.

They fled Iran after their land was seized, their home demolished and a grandmother’s funeral was disrupted, with security guards destroying the coffin and kicking the corpse.

Farmers and cousins Youssef and Maryam S. lived in a rural area of northern Iran, with their daughter, 17, and son, six. They are the descendants of an Iranian Jew who had gone there during a goldrush and the family were the only Jews in the neighbourhood.

The couple had visited Tehran only once, when they went to the Iranian capital as 18-year-olds to marry in synagogue.

In recent years the family suffered increasing harassment, and when their house was demolished, Maryam’s mother collapsed with shock and died.

The incident at his mother-in-law’s funeral goaded Youssef into an angry response, deemed anti-Islamic by the authorities, and the family fled to Tehran, where they raised money to buy false passports to enable them to escape to the UK.

At a Reception Centre in Liverpool, the family were told they would have to move to Blackburn. But they preferred to stay on Mersyside where there was a Jewish community, even though that meant forfeiting their asylum seekers’ allowance.

They were given emergency accommodation above Harold House, the local community centre, which is where Dr Block discovered them after a memorial meeting for the victims of the Mumbai terror attack.

“I saw people taking food into the flat and I asked ‘What’s up?’ A family in distress, I was told.”

The S. family had found it hard to communicate, with only their daughter able to translate from Farsi into English.

Dr Block arranged for a local Iranian Jewish friend to visit, and started to mobilise the local community to campaign on their behalf. Liverpool’s Jews responded generously, with food, furniture and English lessons. A local clothing manufacturer donated a suit for Youssef. The children were found places at Jewish schools. Then came the letter from the Home Office telling them that their asylum application had been turned down.

The Home Office argued that Jews were not persecuted in Iran, that there was a Jewish MP in the Iranian parliament, and that the maximum sentence faced by Youssef for his alleged crimes would be “only” five years. Max Block and other members of the Liverpool community helped the family research their appeal.

Read article in full

Sir Martin Gilbert hears of the exodus from Egypt

Levana Zamir (standing to the left of Sir Martin Gilbert) hosted the testimonial sessions at her Tel Aviv home

During a visit to Israel on May 17th, Sir Martin Gilbert met with a group of Jews from Egypt, who became refugees during the 50s and 60s of the last century.

Sir Martin, Winston Churchill's official biographer and a leading historian of the modern world, is working on his book about Jews in Arab Countries.

Levana Zamir, President of the International Association of Jews from Egypt, hosted the meeting at her home in Tel-Aviv. During two long sessions, Sir Gilbert heard and interviewed two groups about their personal exodus. Some were imprisoned and expelled during the first mass expulsion by King Farouk in 1948/1949. Others were part of the second mass expulsion by President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956/57: 35, 000 Jews of all nationalities were expelled overnight.

The third and most brutal period of arrest and expulsion of 1967-68 was represented too. It was the first time that Ovadia Yerushalmi, who was imprisoned in Abu-Zaabal and Turah jails from 1967 to 1970, had ever talked about the inhuman torture he endured, together with some hundreds of Jews, in those horrible prisons. Rosa Molkho, a survivor of one of the two pogroms in the Jewish Quarter of Cairo in September 1948, told the poignant story of how she had witnessed her mother's death.

Lucy Kalamaro and Sami Cohen from Cairo left 'of their own free will'. However, Sami Cohen insisted that the imprisonment of members of his family had prompted his own exodus before his turn came. "Our parents' generation" he said, "paid the heavy price of the Second Exodus."

The meeting was intense. These witnesses are the 'last of the Mohicans' who lived through the Second Exodus, which emptied Egypt of its Jews.

Ma sortie d'Egypte: Levana Zamir appeals to Egyptian Jews dispersed all over the world today to send their own stories, in any language, to her at Each story is important. Don't wait, do it now!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Some 30 Jews to leave Yemen for Israel this week

A group of Yemeni Jews will emigrate from Yemen to Israel this week in a secret exodus organized by the Jewish Agency, sources close to the Jewish community said Saturday.The Yemen Observer has the story:

"About 30-35 Yemeni Jews, from six families, from Raydah and Kharef, are scheduled to leave Yemen forever on May 19th, 2009, said the sources, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“A delegation from a Jewish agency in Sana’a has been convincing these families of the move and arranging the trip since the beginning of this month,” the sources told Yemen Observer.

"The Jews will be transferred from Sana’a to Tel Aviv via Amman, the sources added.

"The remaining 332 Yemeni Jews have been living in fear and come under growing threats, especially after a Muslim extremist killed one of them last December in Raydah, about 50 km north of the capital Sana’a.

"A total of 267 Jews are living in the two areas of Raidah and Kharef in Amran, one of the most conservative and tribal provinces in Yemen.

"The government failed to transfer them to the capital after seeing an increased number of threats against them. Security agencies have shown concern over the suspended transfer to Sana’a, where they are all supposed to be housed in one or two buildings.

“They could be easy target for extremists or Al Qaeda, and a massacre may happen,” a security official said in light of the plan to house them all together.

"After the promise of the government to relocate them last December, the Jews offered their properties and houses for sale, but nothing was bought until now. An extremist, local mosque speaker urged their Muslim neighbors not to buy anything from the Jews."

Read article in full

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Jewish Nakba: far worse than the Arab

As the Palestinians mark their nakba, for the first time in a long time an influential columnist on the mass-circulation Israeli Maariv focuses on the disaster which befell Jews from Arab countries. They went through a nakba of persecution, loss and suffering far worse, claims Ben-Dror Yemini. We have been given permission to reproduce the full English translation of this must-read piece: (With thanks: Iraqijews)

They say that she was stunningly beautiful. Sol (Suleika) Hatuel was 17 years old when she was beheaded. A Muslim friend claimed that she had succeeded in converting her. When Sol denied the claim, she was accused of renouncing Islam and was condemned to death. Her case reached the sultan.

In order to prevent her death, the community elders tried to persuade her to live as a Muslim. She refused and said, “I was born as a Jew, I will die as a Jew.” Her fate was sealed. It happened in 1834. She was from Tangier and was executed in Fez. Many make pilgrimages to her grave. Despite the fact that the incident was immortalized in eyewitness testimony, in a famous painting and in a play, her story has been forgotten. The following article is dedicated to her and to the victims of the Jewish Nakba.

Every year on the 15th of May, the Palestinians − and many others around the world along with them − “celebrate” Nakba Day. For them, this is the day that marks the great catastrophe that befell them as result of the establishment of the State of Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs became refugees. Some fled, some were deported. The Nakba grew to such enormous proportions that it is preventing a solution to the dispute.

We must remember that in the 1940s, population exchanges and deportations for the purpose of creating national states were the accepted norm. Tens of millions of people experienced it, but only the Palestinians (and they are not alone in this) have been inflating the myth of the Nakba.

However, there is another Nakba: the Jewish Nakba. During those same years, there was a long line of slaughters, pogroms, property confiscation of and deportations − against Jews in Islamic countries. This chapter of history has been left in the shadows. The Jewish Nakba was worse than the Palestinian Nakba. The only difference is that the Jews did not turn that Nakba into their founding ethos. To the contrary.

Like tens of millions of other refugees around the world, they preferred to heal the wound. Not to scratch it and not to open it and not to make it bleed even more. The Palestinians, in contrast, preferred bleeding to rehabilitation. And now they are also paying the price.

The industry of lies has intensified the myth of the Nakba and turned it into the ultimate crime. The Nakba has spawned innumerable publications and conferences, to the point of completely distorting the actual historical process. The Deir Yassin massacre has become one of the milestones in the Palestinian Nakba. There is no need to hide what occurred there (even though the issue of the massacre is in dispute). Innocent people were killed. There were a few other instances of behavior that should be exposed and condemned.

Extermination War against the Jews: A long series of massacres was perpetrated against the Jews in Arab countries. They did not declare war on the countries in which they lived. They were loyal citizens. That did not help them. Their suffering was erased. Their story is never told. The Palestinian narrative has taken over history. There is no need for a Palestinian narrative versus a Zionist narrative. We need to shake off narratives in favor of the truth. And the truth is the number of Jews murdered was greater, their dispossession was greater, and their suffering greater...

A stunning testimonial from those years, which actually comes from the Arab side, sheds light on the issue. In 1936, Alawite notables sent a letter to the French Foreign Minister in which they expressed their concern for the future of the region. They also referred to the Jewish question: "The Jews brought civilization and peace to the Arab Muslims, and they dispersed gold and prosperity over Palestine without damage to anyone or taking anything by force. Despite this, the Muslims declared holy war against them and didn’t hesitate to massacre their children and women … Thus, a black fate awaits the Jews in case the Mandates are cancelled and Muslim Syria united with Muslim Palestine”. The interesting thing is that one of the letter's signatories was none other than the great grandfather of Bashar Al Assad, the president of Syria.

We must remember that Nakba Day is the date of the declaration of Israel's independence, May 15th . We must remember what happened just a few hours after that declaration. The Secretary of the Arab League, Abdul Rahman Hassan Azzamaha, announced the declaration of war against Israel: “This war will be a war of annihilation and the story of the slaughter will be told like the campaigns of the Mongols and the Crusaders.”

The Mufti, Haj Amin Al Husseini, who was close to Hitler during the Second World War, added his own bit: “ I am declaring a holy war. My brother Muslims! Slaughter the Jews! Kill them all!” The mini-Holocaust of the Jews in Arab countries.

Various documents, some of them discovered only in recent years, show that the declaration of war was far broader. It was actually a declaration of war on the Jews.

Research that was conducted, among others, by Prof. Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice of Canada, shows that the Arab League formulated a bill that would place a series of sanctions on the Jews, including confiscation of property, bank accounts and more. The preamble to the bill states that “All Jews will be considered members of the Jewish minority in the State of Palestine.” And if the fate of the Jews of Palestine was sealed, the fate of the Jews in Arab countries was clear.

The bill was indeed the background to the sanctions against the Jews in Arab countries − sometimes by way of legislation, as happened in Iraq and later in Egypt, and sometimes by taking those measures without the need for any legislation.

According to the industry of lies, the Jews in Arab countries lived peacefully in their environment, under the protection of the government, and it was only because of the Zionist movement and the harm done to the Arabs in Palestine that the Jews began to suffer.

This lie has been repeated innumerable times. Most of the Jews in Arab countries did not undergo the horrors of the Holocaust. But, even before the advent of Zionism, their situation was not any better. There were periods in which the Jews enjoyed relative peace under Muslim rule, but those periods were the exception. Throughout Jewish history in Muslim lands there were humiliations, expulsions, pogroms and a systematic deprivation of rights.

Series of Pogroms: We can, of course, start with the conflict between Muhammad and the Jews. Muhammed undertook social reforms, bringing the Arabs out of the Jahaliya period, and borrowed the concept of monotheism - primarily, perhaps, from the Jews. Many motifs from the Jewish religion appear in the Koran, for example, circumcision and the prohibition on eating pork. But Muhammad wanted to convert the Jews, They, of course, refused. The result was a confrontation that ended in the expulsion and slaughter of hundreds.

The Jews, as the “People of the Book,” were given the right to live under the protection of Islam and to practise their religion. From time to time, from generation to generation, the conditions underwent changes. In many cases, the Jews lived under the covenant of Khalif Omar.

This covenant enabled them to live as protected people (“Dhimmis”), albeit with inferior status. But many times, under Muslim rule, they were not even allowed a life of inferior status.

The Golden Age: One of the proofs of the coexistence of Jews and Muslims is Jewish prosperity under Muslim rule in Spain and the Golden Age. The reality, however, was different.

It encompassed continued violence against the Jews. In 1011 in Cordoba, Spain, under Muslim rule, there were pogroms in which, according to various estimates, from hundreds to thousands were murdered. In 1066 in Granada, Yosef Hanagid was executed, along with between 4,000 and 6,000 other Jews. One of the worst periods of all began in 1148, when the Almohad dynasty came to power (al Muwahhidūn), and ruled Spain and North Africa during the 12th and 13th centuries.

Morocco: The country that suffered from the worst series of massacres. In the 8th century whole communities were wiped out by Idris the First. In 1033, in the city of Fez, 6,000 Jews were murdered by a Muslim mob. The rise of the Almohad dynasty caused waves of mass murders. According to testimony from that time, 100,000 Jews were slaughtered in Fez and about 120,000 in Marrakesh (this testimony should be viewed with caution). In 1465, another massacre took place in Fez, which spread to other cities in Morocco.

There were pogroms in Tetuan in 1790 and 1792, in which children were murdered, women were raped and property was looted. Between 1864 and 1880, there were a series of pogroms against the Jews of Marrakesh, in which hundreds were slaughtered. In 1903, there were pogroms in two cities – Taza and Settat, in which over 40 Jews were killed.

In 1907, there was a pogrom in Casablanca in which 30 Jews were killed and many women were raped. In 1912, there was another massacre in Fez in which 60 Jews were killed and about 10,000 were left homeless. In 1948, another series of pogroms began against the Jews which led to the slaughter of 42 in the cities of Oujda and Jrada.

Algeria: A series of massacres occurred in 1805, 1815 and 1830. The situation of the Jews improved with the start of the French conquest in 1830, but that did nor prevent anti-Jewish outbursts in the 1880s. The situation deteriorated again with the rise of the Vichy government. Even before 1934, the country was permeated by Nazi influences, which led to the slaughter of 25 Jews in the city of Constantine. When it achieved independence in 1962, laws were passed against citizenship for anyone who was not a Muslim and their property was effectively confiscated. Most of the Jews left, usually completely penniless, together with the French (“pieds noirs”).

Libya: In 1785, hundreds of Jews were murdered by Burza Pasha. Under Nazi influence, harassment of the Jews intensified. Jewish property in Benghazi was plundered, thousands were sent to camps and about 500 Jews were killed. In 1945, at the end of World War II, a program against the Jews began and the number of murdered reached 140. The New York Times reported the horrible scenes of babies and old people who had been beaten to death. In the riots that broke out in 1948, the Jews were more prepared, so only 14 were killed. Following the Six Day War, riots broke out once again and 17 Jews were slaughtered.

Iraq: a massacre occurred in Basra in 1776. The situation of the Jews improved under British rule in 1917, but this improvement ended with Iraq's independence in 1932. German influences increased and reached a peak in 1941 in the pogrom known as Farhud, in which 182 Jews were slaughtered (according to historian Elie Kedourie, 600 people were actually murdered) and thousands of houses were pillaged.

Those were the days of Haj Amin al Husseini, who preached violence against the Jews. After the establishment of the State of Israel, the Iraqi parliament acted according to the Arab League bill and in 1950 and froze the assets of Jews. Sanctions were imposed on those who remained in Iraq. The Farhud massacre and the harassment from 1946 to 1949 to all intents and purposes turned the Iraqi Jews into exiles and refugees. The few thousand who remained in Iraq suffered from harsh edicts. In 1967, 14 Iraqis were sentenced to death on trumped up charges of espionage. Among them were 11 Jews. Radio Iraq invited the masses to the hanging festivities.

Syria: The first blood libel in a Muslim country occurred in 1840, and led to the kidnapping and torture of dozens of Jewish children, sometimes to the point of death, and a pogrom against the Jews. In 1986, the Syrian Minister of Defense, Mustafa Talas, published a book, “The Matzah of Zion,” in which he claims that the Jews did, indeed, use the blood of a Christian monk to bake matzah. Same old anti-Semitism, new edition. Other pogroms occurred in Aleppo in 1850 and in 1875, in Damascus in 1848 and in 1890, in Beirut in 1862 and in 1874, and in Dir al Kamar there was another blood libel which also led to a pogrom in 1847. That year, there was a pogrom against the Jews of Jerusalem, which was the result of that blood libel. In 1945, the Jews of Aleppo suffered severe pogroms. 75 Jews were murdered and the community was destroyed. There was a resurgence of the violence in 1947, which turned most of the Syrian Jews into refugees. Those who remained there lived for many years as hostages.

Iran: There was a pogrom against the Jews of Mashhad in 1839. A mob was incited to attack Jews, and slaughtered almost 40. The rest were forced to convert. That is how the Marranos of Mashhad came into being. In 1910, there was a blood libel in Shiraz in which 30 Jews were murdered and all Jewish homes were pillaged.

Yemen: There were fluctuations in relations that ranged between tolerance and inferior subsistence, between harassment and pogroms. The Rambam’s Letter to Yemen was sent following a letter he received from the leader of the Yemeni Jews, describing edicts of forced conversion issued against the Jews (1173). There were further waves of apostasy edicts which cannot be detailed here for lack of space.

One of the worst milestones was the Mawza exile. Three years after Imam Al Mahdi took power in 1676, he drove the Jews into one of the most arid districts of Yemen. According to various accounts, 60 - 75% of the Jews died as a result of the exile. Many and varied edicts were imposed on the Jews, differing only in severity. One of the harshest was the Orphans' Edict, which ordered the forced conversion of orphaned children to Islam. In nearby Aden, which was under British rule, pogroms occurred in 1947 which took the lives of 82 Jews. 106 of the 170 shops that were owned by Jews were completely destroyed. Hundreds of houses and all the community's buildings were burned down.

Egypt: As in the other Arab countries, the Jews of Egypt also suffered inferior status for hundreds of years. A significant improvement occurred when Muhammad Ali came to power in 1805. The testimony of French diplomat, Edmond Combes, leaves nothing in doubt: “To the Muslims, no race is more worthy of contempt than the Jewish race." Another diplomat added, “The Muslims do not hate any other religion the way they hate that of the Jews.”

Following the blood libel in Damascus, similar libels began to spread in Egypt as well and incited mobs to carry out a series of attacks: in Cairo in 1844, 1890, and in 1901-1902; and Alexandria in 1870, 1882 and in 1901-1907. Similar attacks also occurred in Port Said and in Damanhur.

Later on, there were riots against the Jews at the end of World War II, in 1945, in which 10 were killed and hundreds were injured. In 1947, the Companies Law was passed, which severely damaged Jewish businesses and led to the confiscation of property. In 1948, following the UN resolution on partition, riots began in Cairo and Alexandria. The dead numbered between 80 and 180. Tens of thousands were forced to leave, many fleeing and abandoning their property. The lot of those who remained did not improve. In 1956, a law was passed in Egypt which effectively denied the Jews citizenship, forcing them to leave the country with no property. This was an act of pure expulsion and mass property confiscation.


The above is just a partial list out of a long series of massacres in Muslim countries. It happened before the Zionist endeavor. It continued with the Zionist endeavor. We are talking about a succession of events. Tens of thousands were murdered simply because they were Jewish. So the fairytale of coexistence and blaming Zionism for undermining that coexistence is yet another completely baseless myth.

Before the UN vote on partition in November 1947, Egypt's ambassador to the UN, Heykal Pasha, warned that “The lives of a million Jews in Muslim countries will be in danger if the vote is for partition… if Arab blood is spilled in Palestine, Jewish blood will be spilled elsewhere in the world.”

Four days afterwards, the Iraqi foreign minister, Muhammad Fadil al Jamali said that “We will not be able to restrain the masses in the Arab countries, after the harmony in which Jews and Arabs lived together.” There was no harmony. There had been a massacre of Jews just a few years earlier. El Jamali lied, of course. The very same Iraqi government had encouraged the harassment of Jews and issued orders to confiscate all Jewish property.

Additionally, the Iraqi leader of the time, Nuri Said, had already presented a plan for expelling the Jews in 1949, even before the hasty − actually forced − exit of the Jews from Iraq. He also explained that “The Jews are a source of trouble in Iraq. They have no place among us. We must get rid of them as best we were able.” Said even presented a plan to lead the Jews via Jordan in order to coerce them into passage to Israel. Jordan objected, but the expulsion was implemented anyway. Said even admitted that this entailed a type of population exchange.

So the massacres, the pogroms and the great expulsion of the Jews was a continuation of their suffering under Muslim rule. There have always been Muslims who came out in defense of the Jews. They are also worthy of mention. That were also periods of prosperity, but it appears that most of the Jewish prosperity, as in Egypt in the 1920s and 1930s, in Algeria in the 19th and 20th centuries, in Iraq in the 1920s − was under colonial rule. In most cases, the situation of the Jews was bad before the European invasion and worsened once again with the end of the colonial era.

* * *

Throughout the relations between Jews and Arabs, in Arab countries or in the course of the Zionist enterprise, there was not one case of a pogrom against Muslims of the type committed by the Arabs against the Jews. Even in the worst cases, which must be condemned, such as Deir Yassin, they occurred as part of a military confrontation.

Those are cases that should be condemned, but we need to put things in perspective. The Arabs slaughtered the Jews without any hostilities and without any military excuse, just because they were Jews. And those few Arabs who were killed, were killed as part of a military campaign. Despite this, any injury inflicted on the Arab population resulted in innumerable investigations and references. The worst abuse of all, the abuse of Jews by Arabs, was erased and forgotten.

Let's return to Deir Yassin, the ultimate symbol of the Nakba. We have called it an indecent act and we will repeat that. But we must note that it was preceded by a series of murderous terrorist attacks against the civilian population. Waves of incidents, which to all intents and purposes were actual pogroms, by an incited mob that attacked the civilian population. Thousands of Jews were slaughtered - women, children and the elderly. The Palestinians even murdered their own people. In the great Arab Revolt in the 1930s, 400 Jews and 5,000 Arabs were killed, most of them at the hands of their brethren.

The months before Deir Yassin were the worst of all. 39 workers were murdered at the Haifa refineries, 50 Jews were killed by car bombs in Jerusalem, and on and on. In total, in the four months between the vote on partition and the declaration of establishment of the State of Israel, 815 Jews were murdered, most of them before the Deir Yassin incident (on April 9, 1948), some afterwards (the slaughter of the Hadassah hospital convoy: 79 killed, April 13, 1948). Most were civilians. Most died in massacres and terrorist attacks. And that is the real background. Far more murdered Jews. But they have all been forgotten. They should be mentioned. That is the Jewish Nakba, whose victims, in Israel and around the world, are mentioned less and less.

The Palestinians paid the price: Close to a million Jews lived in Arab countries at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel. Just a few live there today. Most left because they suffered from pogroms and the threat to their lives. It was a crueler expulsion than the one suffered by the Arabs of Palestine, who paid the price for the declarations of war and annihilation made by their leaders. Even the Jewish property that was confiscated or abandoned as a result of the expulsion is more valuable than the Arab property that remained in Israel.

Various investigators have tried to estimate the value of the confiscated Jewish property following the forced departure of the Jews from Arab countries, compared with the Arab property left in Israel following the forced departure of the Arabs. Economist Sidney Zabludoff, an international expert in the field, estimates that the value of the Arab property is $3.9 billion, compared with the value of the Jewish property which is $6 billion (at 2007 values).

So even in this area, the Palestinians’ claims are refuted. They dragged the Arab countries into war. They paid the price. And they are the ones who caused the Jews to pay an even higher price. Both in property and in blood.

This article is not intended to cultivate the Jewish Nakba, and it by no means includes all the cases of pogroms, property confiscations, forced conversions and other harassment. The purpose is precisely the opposite. When they understand, in the Arab world in general, and the Palestinians in particular, that suffering, expulsion, loss of property, the cost in lives, is not the monopoly of one side, they may, perhaps, have the sense to understand that this past is a matter for history lessons. Because if we start to perform a political accounting, they have an overdraft. The Jewish Nakba was far greater. The suffering was enormous. But it is the suffering of many nations, Jews and Arabs among them, who went through the experience as part of the creation of new nation states.

It is therefore worth presenting the story of the Jewish Nakba. Not for the purpose of increasing the hostility, but for the purpose of presenting the truth, and for the purpose of reconciliation between the nations. Inshallah.

Read article in full (Hebrew)

A useful backgrounder on Arab and Jewish refugees

This background article on Arab and Jewish refugees by Gilead Ini of CAMERA has some useful data on the Jews who were forced out of what later became known as 'Arab East Jerusalem' and the West Bank. Ini also summarises the plight of Jews driven from Arab countries, who still seek acknowledgement and redress.

"Although relatively overlooked, a large number of Jews — over 800,000 — became refugees during and after Israel's war for independence. An overwhelming majority were driven from their homes in the Arab world, a result of anti-Jewish sentiment amplified by the war. Others lost their homes in British Mandate Palestine as a direct result of the fighting — they either fled or were captured by Arab troops as the armies of neighboring states overran and destroyed their villages.

"Jewish Refugees from Mandate Palestine: The number of Jews who lost their homes within the territory of Mandate Palestine as a direct result of the fighting was significantly less than the number of Arabs who fled from the region. In large part, this was because Arab armies failed to capture many Jewish towns, thus allowing many of the roughly 10,000 Jewish evacuees who fled the fighting to return to their homes after the war. It was also because, in the words of Palestinian leader Muhammad Nimr al-Khatib, "[t]he Palestinians had neighboring Arab states which opened their borders and doors to the refugees, while the Jews had no alternative but to triumph or to die."

"Still, in some cases Jews fled their homes when it became clear their village was on the verge of being lost to Arab forces. For example, women and children were evacuated from Gush Etzion, a block of four villages southwest of Jerusalem, as the situation there started to deteriorate. At Yad Mordechai and Kfar Darom, in the south, residents escaped just before the Egyptian army captured and destroyed the towns. The village of Atarot, north of Jerusalem, was evacuated under fire, its residents escaping on foot to Neve Yaakov. When the Arab Legion attacked Neve Yaakov the following day, the residents of that town fled and, along with the displaced from Atarot, found refuge in Hadassah Hospital.

"Jewish villages who did not flee before Arab forces gained control of their town were generally removed from their homes and held as prisoners of war. Prisoners from areas that remained under Arab control after the war were eventually transferred to Israel, where they had to find new homes. For example, residents of the Gush Etzion villages of Mesuot Yitzhak, Ein Tzurim and Revadim, which came under the control of the Arab Legion, were taken captive and resettled in new Israeli villages after the war. (The residents of the fourth Gush Etzion village, Kfar Etzion, were almost all massacred by Arab gunmen.)

"The surrender of Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter to Arab Legion troops was immediately followed by the exile from the ancient city of roughly 1,300 Jews. Almost 300 others — males of fighting age — were taken captive. The impossibility of keeping a Jewish presence in the Old City, which had been inhabited by Jews from time immemorial, was underscored by the Arab mobs that marched on the departing residents and on a hospital housing severely injured Jews, only to be held off by the well-disciplined Arab Legion. The Jewish Quarter was ransacked and burned.

"Even when Israel regained control of a captured village by the end of the war, residents generally could not return to their homes, as they were destroyed by the Arab conquerors. The residents of Mishmar Hayarden, for example, were taken into captivity by Syrian troops, who then destroyed the village before Israel regained control. The same happened when Nitzanim was overrun by Egyptian troops.

"Jewish Refugees from the Arab World:Between 1948 and 1951, as a result of the War of Independence, about 400,000 Jewish refugees were absorbed by Israel after being driven from their homes from Arab lands. In total, well over 800,000 Jews indigenous to Arab and Muslim countries lost their homes and property following Israel's independence, roughly 600,000 of whom found refuge in Israel. Although the number of Jewish refugees and the total area of their lost land exceeded that of their Arab counterparts, the vaguely similar number of Jewish and Arab refugees has led some to describe the exodus of the two groups as a de facto population transfer.

"With the UN's 1947 decision to partition Palestine, the Jewish community in Iraq, which only a few years earlier had suffered a devastating pogrom, faced a new wave of harsh persecution.

"The Iraqi government adopted what author and journalist Edwin Black described as "Nazi confiscatory techniques," levying "exorbitant fines as punishment for trumped-up offenses." Zionism was made a criminal offense. As Arab countries invaded the newly declared Jewish state, the Iraqi police ransacked Jewish homes and arrested hundreds of Jewish citizens. Hundreds more were dismissed from their public jobs. Crippling restrictions targeted Jewish commerce and travel. The government seized Jewish property, cut off municipal services to Jewish neighborhoods, and shut down Jewish newspapers

"Researcher Esther Meir-Glitzenstein explained that "what had begun as voluntary emigration turned into an expulsion." Eventually, about 120,000 people — almost the entire Jewish community — would escape the oppression, with little more than the clothes on their backs.

"A similar scenario played out in Egypt. The events of 1948 brought a revival of anti-Jewish sentiment, complete with anti-Jewish riots and murders, the confiscation of Jewish property, legal restrictions affecting the employment of Jews and mass arrests. This prompted a wave of Jewish flight from the country, a trend that only increased in the decade that followed.

"Violent anti-Jewish rioting in Yemen in the wake of the UN partition plan help spur tens of thousands of Yeminite Jews to leave their homes and migrate to Israel as part of Operation Magic Carpet. Murderous pogroms in Morocco in 1948 and 1953, and in Libya in 1945 and 1948, yielded similar results."

Read article in full

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Another Guardian nostalgia trip by Rachel Shabi

This nostalgia-soaked piece in The Guardian is the latest fruit of the amba-addicted Rachel Shabi's publicity machine for her controversial book Not the enemy. Shabi usefully breaks down the 'white-colonial' stereotype by pointing out that Mizrahim (she irritatingly calls them Mizrahis) are half of Israel's Jewish population; but although more nuanced and less political, this offering still cannot resist denigrating but misleading generalisations and digs at the 'European ruling minority'. For instance, hebraizing your name was not an exclusively Mizrahi phenomenon: one David Green did it too. He is known to us as David Ben-Gurion. (With thanks: Niran)

"Those reservations about being far from "home" (I was never sure which one - Iraq or Israel) were sometimes nudged by the sort of migrant experiences that were typical of British life in the 1970s. Back then, Britain wasn't especially interested in my parents being Iraqi, or Israeli, or whatever. Perhaps they were just "foreign" - at any rate, that was how I tended to perceive them as a child. There were long trips in search of pitta bread and long waits for visiting relatives to bring us bottles of amba, the radioactively bright mango pickle that Iraqis seem addicted to. My mum admits that she would go to a pet-food shop for the unhusked sunflower seeds that she'd roast for us to crack open between our teeth as a snack. ("Yes, that's right, for the budgie," she'd tell the shopkeeper.)

I didn't realise then that the seed-cracking was a hallmark oriental habit - or that, in early Israel, public transport operators were so confounded by the carpets of seed husks that lined the buses, courtesy of passengers, that they erected signs to discourage the practice. When I was young, I didn't know the pet-shop story, either. Had my mum told me then, I'd have been embarrassed, as I was by all things that made me appear "foreign". A migrant kid, I assumed that blanding out my background would somehow make me more British, whereas all it could possibly achieve was to make me more bland.(..)

"As it turns out, scores of Israeli children were experiencing something similar at that time. Approximately half the population of Israel is from Arab or Muslim countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen. Known as Mizrahi ("Eastern") or Sephardi Jews, they arrived in Israel during various periods following its creation in 1948. Jews of Mizrahi origin were for many years the majority in Israel - until the arrival of just under a million migrants from the former Soviet bloc during the early 1990s reshuffled the ethnic pack. Mizrahis grew up in a Jewish society that was desperate to yoke to Europe and belittled the Arab world as an uncivilised cultural desert. The majority Mizrahis were assumed by the ruling European minority to be bearers of an inferior culture that should not come to represent or define the Jewish state. And, inevitably, many of those Mizrahi children internalised this story.

"Interviewing for my book, it was easy to understand the Mizrahis who described how they had spent childhoods faking their own identities - in a country that encouraged its Mizrahi population to ditch those "backward" oriental habits. One professor told me he'd badgered his father into changing the family surname to something that wasn't a telltale mark of Mizrahi origin, and now feels shame each time he visits his father's grave and sees the bogus name on the headstone. Another, of Moroccan origin, described how she invented a French persona for herself, forbidding her parents from speaking Arabic or playing oriental music. Others described how they erased their guttural oriental accent: vocals that are integral to Hebrew - a Semitic language, the sister of Arabic, but which Israel decided would be tonally "wrong" for the Jewish state. (I remember how I used to practise my English vowels until they lost the slightest foreign twang.) And these stories repeat so many times over in Israel - recollections of masked origins, buried roots, trashed biographies; blanded-out backgrounds.

"This wasn't uniformly the case. Countless Mizrahis retained their home culture in Israel, often in defiance and against the odds. When their Europeanised co-nationalists pronounced Mizrahi culture to be inferior, some just said: "And who are you, exactly, to decide on that?" Meanwhile, many of those Mizrahis who did sever roots are now trying to reconnect with those forsaken origins - reclaiming their real family names, reinstating the oriental vocals, rediscovering their home culture. Yair Dalal, a world-acclaimed Israeli musician of Iraqi origin, describes a realignment process that occurs when he sends his Mizrahi students home to practise a piece of oriental music. "They come back a week later and say: 'My dad started to sing the song I was playing.' And that's the connection. That person is back on track."

Read article in full

More Shabi smears on BBC Radio 4 (13th May). Comment thread here

Friday, May 15, 2009

Defining the 'right of return'

This thoughtful piece by Barbara Kay in The American Thinker was obviously timed to coincide with the Palestinian 'Nakba' anniversary on May 14th. I have set out my thoughts on their so-called 'right of return' here; I should add that Jews have been offered a 'right of return' to some Arab countries, but have spurned it. Who in their right mind would return to a country where their security is not assured and the population is basically hostile?

"The word "Zionist" is now a heavily freighted word, but what does it actually mean? Eminent sixth-generation Israeli writer A.B. Yehoshua says that in its essence it means nothing more than the law of return. It's not about love of Israel or a belief that Jews are in some way "better" than others. He pointed out that it would surprise many people to know that Israel is not the only country in the world with a right of return, although Israel's enemies like to give that impression. Hungary and Germany also have laws of return, and so do many others. Google "right of return" and check out the long, long list. Ethnicity lies at the heart of all of them, so in that sense Israel is a country like most others.

"Palestinians argue that since they were living on the land at the time of its elevation to statehood, they too have the right of return. Return to what? To a homeland or to lost property? For lost property does not constitute a homeland. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Jews lived in Baghdad for centuries, but when they were summarily ethnically cleansed in 1948 (those who were not murdered) without compensation for their homes, businesses or bank deposits, they didn't kid themselves that they'd lost a homeland. They were absorbed in their homeland, Israel, and are indistinguishable from other Israelis. The same would have been true of Palestinians if they had been absorbed into their ethnically appropriate enclaves — West Bankers to Jordan and Gazans to Egypt.(...)

"Palestinians who fled or were pushed from their homes in war must obviously be materially compensated, just as the descendants of the 900,000 ethnically cleansed Jews from Arab lands, absorbed by Israel, should be compensated (and never will be). If and when the Palestinians gain statehood for the West Bank and Gaza — and they'd have an excellent chance if they recognized Israel's right to exist and gave up plans for its extermination — they should by all means establish a law of return in their first and only politically sovereign domain.

"Just like most countries, including Israel."

Read article in full

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Calm returns for annual Djerba pilgrimage

Islamist intimidation at the local yeshiva (exposed on Point of No Return) had led to calls for a boycott of the event last year, but calm seems to have returned to the island of Djerba this week, when the annual pilgrimage to the al-Ghriba synagogue took place without incident. From Mid-East Online:

DJERBA - Thousands of Jews completed an annual pilgrimage to Africa's oldest synagogue held amid tight security on the Tunisian island of Djerba Tuesday.

Roughly 1,000 Jews living in Tunisia joined 5,000 others from around the world including 500 Israelis during the two-day festival at the Ghriba shrine.

It's even better than last year," said event organiser Perez Trabelsi, the president of the Jewish community in Djerba.

After Israel's three-week war on Gaza that ended on January 18, authorities imposed heavy security measures to prevent an attack similar to the one carried out by a suicide bomber at the site in 2002 that killed 21 people. The Jewish community in Tunisia is still one of the largest in the Arab world but its numbers have dropped from 100,000 on independence from France in 1956 to around 1,500 today. Most emigrated to France or Israel. Nearly half of those who remain live in Djerba.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Another year over for Point of No Return

Another year over, another birthday for Point of No Return.

It's been four years since this blog was set up (with the help of Joseph Alexander Norland) and the number of hits at the moment of writing stands at 206, 474 - as many in the last year as in the previous three years put together.

A drop in the blogocean, to be sure, but the issue of the forgotten Jews from Arab and Muslim lands attracts ever-growing interest. The global credit crunch has, sadly, taken its toll on funding for the campaign for recognition by Justice for Jews from Arab Countries. On the other hand, the issue has acquired a higher profile than ever in Israel and in February this year, the prestige Herzliya conference devoted 90 minutes to a discussion on Jewish refugees. An organisation of Iraqi Jews in Israel was emboldened to put forward a compensation claim for $100 billion.

Books and memoirs seem to be pouring forth from the pen of ex-residents of Arab and Muslim countries or their descendants : Memories of Eden, The Man the White Sharkskin Suit, My Father's Paradise - to name but three. But as the existence of Jews in Arab and Muslim lands becomes better known, so the danger increases that their narrative is rewritten and mythologised as a glorious pre-Zionist tale of Arab-Jewish coexistence, their suffering glossed over or their resettlement difficulties in the Jewish state magnified in order to 'bash' Israel.

It is not enough to raise the profile of Jewish refugees. We must be vigilant and strive to correct distortions wherever we come across them.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Murder of Casablanca Jew 'panics' community

Was it a criminal mugging or an act of antisemitism? Whatever the reason, the murder of Joseph Amar, a Jew, in Casablanca on the night of the 3rd April, has panicked the Moroccan Jewish community. The story made the front page of the magazine Maroc-Hebdo.

Joseph Amar, a retired jeweller aged 68, was returning home on foot after an evening with friends when he was stabbed to death. The attacker stripped him of his wallet and left him lying in a pool of blood.

What is interesting is that the attacker could have recognised Amar as a Jew. " First indications of the police investigation are that Joseph Amar was wearing a beret, as is the Jewish tradition," wrote L Bernich, the Maroc-Hebdo reporter.

The Moroccan anti-terrorism squad swung into action, while the Israelis issued a security warning just before the Passover holiday: Morocco figured quite high up on the blacklist.

The reporter alleges somewhat acidly that the Israelis were just trying to drive a wedge between Morocccan Israelis (visiting saints' or ancestors' graves or celebrating the Maimouna) and their homeland. The Moroccan authorities, for their part, wished to hush up the whole affair. People still recall the murder of Albert Rebibo, 55, in 2003 by masked Islamists and the still unsolved murder of the businessman Baby Azencott in June 1996. There was also the murder of Rabbi Elie Aferyat, 75, in September 2003 in Meknès.

In spite of the attacker's arrest, the 2,500 Jews still living in Morocco feel anxious.

Read article in full (French)

Article on 2003 terror attacks

Only two Jews on Sidon electoral register

There are only two Jews listed on the electoral register in the Lebanese town of Sidon. But where are they? And if this report in the Beirut Daily Star is to be believed and the last Jew left Sidon in 1985, why are these Jews still entitled to vote?

SIDON: Isaac Elijah Diwan and Jack Samantoubi Zeitouni are the only two Lebanese Jewish voters in the coastal city of Sidon for the June 7 parliamentary elections. Only the names of two Lebanese Jews are listed on the civil registry records in Sidon, though the city was home to a large Jewish community before the outbreak of Lebanon's Civil War in 1975. The port city's Jews were mainly concentrated in a neighborhood of the old downtown, known until today as the "Jews Quarter."

The neighborhoods Jews fled to North America and Europe (and Israel - ed) and were replaced by residents from other religions.

A large Hizbullah flag hangs from one of the balconies adjacent to the quarter's synagogue, which has become the residence of a family. Pictures of Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and others resistance figures are plastered on almost all the walls of the Jews' Quarter.

One of Sidon's long-time residents, Saeed Safadi, recalls that the relationship between the southern city's Jewish community and other confessions "was based on mutual respect."

He points out that most of Sidon's Jews did not flee the city after Israel's creation in 1948, but rather abandoned the city in large groups from 1975 to 1978, during the early phases of the Civil War.

"The last Jew left Sidon in February 1985 as Israeli troops were withdrawing after the invasion of 1982," Safadi says.

Unlike Jewish communities in other Middle Eastern countries, the Lebanese community largely remained and even grew in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and began emigrating during the civil wars of 1958 and 1975.

After political stability collapsed in Lebanon, Jews flocked to places with existing Lebanese expatriate communities, such as Paris, New York, Montreal or Sao Paulo.

Despite the 1948 war, the Jewish community grew to almost 9,000 by 1951, largely as a result of an influx of refugees from Iraq and Syria. Lebanon was the only Arab state that saw its Jewish community increase after the establishment of Israel.

Safadi recalls that Sidon's Jewish community was mostly made up of tradesmen.

"Sidon's Jews were known to be rich and sharp and they had a habit of closing their quarter's gate at night," he says.

While the Jewish community never played a decisive role during elections in Sidon, Safadi remembers, "they always voted wisely and made sure not to upset all candidates."

"The Jews would split their votes between Sidon's two candidates for the elections so as not to upset any of them and receive services from both of them," Safadi says.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

A common culture did not save the Jews of Iraq

Rachel Shabi continues to peddle her thesis that Israel's 'de-arabisation' of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries has prejudiced prospects for peace with the Arabs. This piece, toned-down for Sunday Times readers, carries the nevertheless provocative headline: Israel, land of broken promises.

Shabi writes:"... if Israel could find a way to reconnect with its own Middle-Eastern self, the chances are that this would result in the country having entirely different relations with the region. Because long before they were apparent arch enemies, Arabs and Jews were culture collaborators, good neighbours — and friends."

Sorry, Rachel - a complete fallacy. Cultural affinities alone are not enough to guarantee peaceful coexistence. Those 'good neighbours and friends' managed to 'ethnically cleanse' over 800,000 Jews from Arab countries. Intolerant Arab nationalism treated even the most acculturated Jewish neighbour as a potential Zionist and an enemy. And to Islamic fundamentalists today, the only good Jew is a dead Jew, subservient dhimmi, or convert to Islam.

At a lecture last week on the literature of the Iraqi Jews, I was reminded of how Jewish writers and poets were exhilarated at the promised dawn of the Arabic Nahda (Renaissance) in 1920s Iraq in which they fully expected to take part. As conditions for the Jewish community declined in the 30s and 40s, its members were forced to make increasingly desperate expressions of loyalty to Arab states, until 1950 when the vast majority of the Jews seized the chance to flee. But some 5,000 stayed on, and still the persecution continued. No declaration was more fawning or servile than the poem written by the Jewish poet Anwar Shaul whose publication helped secure the release from prison of his friend, the writer and community leader Meir Basri in 1971:

Though I derived my faith from Moses,
I dwell under the shadow of Muhammad’s religion (Islam).
The Tolerance of Islam was my refuge,
The eloquence of the Quran was my resource.
My love to the nation of Ahmed did not diminish
even though I am devoted to the Speaker’s (Moses) religion.
I will remain like the Al-Samaw'al in loyalty,
Whether I am happy in Baghdad or I am not.**
*Al Samw'al [6th century AD] a Jewish poet, sacrified his son to keep his word.
** With thanks to Niran for her translation

Anwar Shaul and Meir Basri were the epitomy of Arabised Jewish culture. They stuck it out to the bitter end - enduring persecution, harassment and imprisonment until the 1970s when they could stand it no more. They were among the last Jews to leave Iraq. Shaul went to Israel, Basri to England.

The question Rachel Shabi should be asking is not what can Israel to do to become part of the Middle East, but why are there no Jewish musicians or poets left in Baghdad or Cairo?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

'Morocco can teach Israel about coexistence'

Maguy Kakon of Marrakesh has it all: money, ambition, good looks. For all that, she failed to get elected in the last Parliamentary elections. As the perfect symbol of Muslim-Jewish coexistence she feels she has a right to lecture Israelis on how they should relate to Arabs. But to become accepted as a Jew in Morocco, she has to speak like an Arab - to compromise her identity. Haaretz has this profile:

"I speak Moroccan Arabic," she explains, "not the Arabic of the Jews here - a special language that some of the Muslims do not understand. Because of this I can even go to places where Jews are scared to go - very Muslim places, like this market."

However, she insists that Morocco's Jews are perfectly safe, and that she has never experienced anti-Semitism personally. Nonetheless, Jews in Morocco cannot work in government, banks, or municipal posts, even though they can be elected to city councils, "and a lot of times Jews have bureaucratic difficulties heaped on them, although not on me personally, because I speak excellent Arabic."(my emphasis -ed)

The only time she encountered anti-Semitism, Kakon recounts, was when her son David, today a banker in Paris, won the Casablanca golf club championship at age 15. The loser called him a "dirty Jew." Kakon did not take that sitting down. Among other things, she wrote the mayor and the interior minister, and the club issued a public apology. Her son nevertheless refused to return to Morocco. (...)

Morocco is the only Arab country in which Jews lead normal and good lives," Kakon says. "If the current king's reforms continue, and if more people, more women with liberal social views like mine enter politics, Morocco will be the leading country in Africa. We are, after all, so close to Europe. In terms of mentality, there is not that big a difference between Casablanca and Marseilles. What is holding Morocco back is the status of women. As individuals they are indeed gaining more power: There are women doctors and engineers, lawyers and professors, and even a woman adviser to the king. But as a gender they are discriminated against very much. From that standpoint, Morocco remains an Oriental country, where a woman's status is poor, as in every Muslim country. That is why the elite and the educated young people, not just the Jews, are leaving Morocco, and the universities are in a terrible state. We must change this."

Despite such criticism, Kakon notes that Morocco can also teach Israel and the entire Middle East a thing or two "about peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs. I am convinced that we, the Jews from Morocco, can help Israel make peace with the Arabs because we are part of Arab culture. When we say that we know how to talk to the Arabs, we mean the opposite of what [Avigdor] Lieberman means. In my view it is disastrous that he got elected. We know how to give respect and accept respect. It is not a matter of left and right; it's a matter of knowing how to talk to one another. If I can manage to talk to the simplest and most ignorant people in Morocco in their own language, and to win them over with my ideas, then it's clear that the problem is that Israelis are not behaving correctly to the Arabs."
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