Tuesday, May 12, 2009

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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