Friday, July 31, 2009

Dirty dealings in Deal: scandal rocks Syrian Jews

Chief rabbi Saul Kassin

The Syrian Jewish community in the US has been rocked by a far-reaching scandal incriminating three of its rabbis. Elicia Brown of The Jewish Chronicle looks at the insular Halebi community, which began leaving Aleppo in the 19th century.

Three of its rabbis have been arrested for money laundering in a wide-ranging sweep which netted 44 people, including three New Jersey mayors, several local politicians and two other rabbis of Ashkenazi background. The alleged fraudulent activity was exposed by a fourth Syrian Jew, Solomon Dwek, who was accused of being a traitor by his community.

The property developer had been charged in 2006 with bank fraud and became an informant for the FBI.

“There’s a lot of anger against Solomon Dwek,” said one Syrian Jewish woman on holiday in Deal, NJ, where the allegedly corrupt rabbis were based.

Her friends, she added, have expressed mixed feelings about the rabbis involved. These include the chief rabbi of this notoriously close-knit community, 87-year-old Saul Kassin, and Levi-Yitzhak Rosenbaum, who is accused of conspiring to broker the sale of a human kidney for transplant, paying the donor $10,000 and selling it for $160,000.

“You have some people defending the rabbis, saying what the rabbis did wasn’t so bad. You have other people saying, what kind of examples are they setting? Some people feel they should step down,” said the woman.

The probe shed a rare light on this insular Jewish community, which began leaving Aleppo, Syria, in the late 19th century, moving on to Cairo, and later to the US, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina and Israel.

Despite the geographical distances, the Halebis, as they are known, remain very insular, with many marrying within their community. In 1935, the chief rabbi of the community in America forbade followers to marry a convert, an edict which is still widely followed.

Famous Halebi families include the Safra banking dynasty and the Nakash brothers, of Jordache Jeans fame, but the community numbers hundreds of lesser known millionaires.

Keeping to themselves, the Halebim even holiday together and many of the arrests were carried out in the seaside town of Deal, where many of them have their second homes.

Read article in full

The Forward: 'medieval minds in Armani designs?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

How complicit were Arabs with Nazism?

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem with Adolf Hitler

The king of Morocco's acknowledgment of the Holocaust has been hailed by Jewish leaders as a bold step. But although the Moroccan king's declaration is a useful counterweight to president Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial, the prevailing impression in the Arab world - and indeed much of the West - is that the Arabs were innocent bystanders while the Nazis slaughtered millions in Europe. (In fact thousands of Jews died on 'Arab' soil as a direct or indirect result of Nazism). More egregious, the myth, ostensibly believed by president Obama, no less, has developed that the Palestinians paid the price for Nazi and European antisemitism when Israel was established on 'their' land.

Nowadays, it is politically incorrect to refer to the Arab association with the Nazis. The Palestinian leader, the Mufti, was the driving force behind the campaign to rid Palestine of its Jews. But Arab propaganda has tried to turn history on its head, accusing Israelis of being the new Nazis - a phenomenon analysed in this report.

The recent debacle over the Shepherd hotel in Jerusalem has a special irony: the property was once owned by the pro-Nazi Grand Mufti of Jerusalem himself. The US administration has backed Palestinian objections to the redevelopment of the Shepherd Hotel, although it has been legally owned by a Jew since 1985, because it is situated in a predominantly 'Arab' district of Jerusalem. This position sends the worrying signal that Arabs can live among Jews, but Jews cannot live among Arabs.

In truth the Arabs were sympathisers, and even actively complicit with Nazism. After the war the Mufti of Jerusalem was wanted for war crimes in Yugoslavia, but the Allies failed to prosecute him as a Nazi war criminal for fear of offending Arab sensibilities.

Below is evidence of the Arab-Nazi connection:

1. Arab discourse against the Jews and the Jewish state has been genocidal in nature since the 1930s.

2. Arab nationalist parties, eg the Baath party, were influenced by a Nazi model.

3. The founders of the Moslem Brotherhood in the 1930s - which eventually spawned groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah - were heavily inspired by Nazism.

4. Arab countries gave shelter to prominent German Nazis after World War 11.

5. The Palestinian leader, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, was Hitler's ally.
Haj Amin Al Husseini became a loyal ally of Hitler and spent the war years in Berlin. He incited anti-Jewish violence in Palestine 1920, 1929 and 1936. Banished (or escaping) to Iraq in 1939 by the British for his role in the Arab revolt, he plotted the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali al-Geylani coup in May 1941. He incited antisemitism and prepared the groundwork for the June 1941 Farhoud progrom which killed some 179 Jews.

6. The Mufti was personally responsible for the deaths of 20,000 Jews murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. He organized the killing of 12,600 Bosnian Jews by Muslims, whom he recruited to the Waffen-SS Nazi-Bosnian division. He personally stopped 4,000 children, accompanied by 500 adults, from leaving Europe and had them sent to Auschwitz and gassed; he prevented another 2,000 Jews from leaving Romania and 1000 from leaving Hungary for Palestine, who were subsequently sent to death camps.

7. The Arabs have fulfilled the Nazi objective of rendering the 'Arab' Middle East judenrein. Nine-nine percent of the Jewish population has been 'ethnically cleansed' from Arab countries. No Jews are allowed to live in Jordan. No Jews can even visit Saudi Arabia. The Jewish community is extinct in Libya. The call to freeze and abandon Jewish settlements in the West Bank has an unpleasant whiff of anti-Jewish racism about it.

Further reading: see articles on this site under the label 'Holocaust in Arab and Muslim countries.'

Arabs and Nazis - can it be true?

Nazi Influence on the Middle East During WWII

Amin al-Husaini and the Holocaust. What Did the Mufti know?

Islamism, Hamas and Al Queda's Nazi Roots

Hamas's historical ties to Nazism

Nazi Roots of Palestinian Nationalism

Hitler wins Fatah primary

The fall of Nazi language - a response

Review of Paul Berman's book, The flight of the intellectuals

When Palestinians go to Auschwitz, by Sarah Honig

Websites: (French)
The website Jerusalem Posts has a wealth of information in its archive.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jewish leaders hail Moroccan Holocaust speech

The US Conference of Presidents has welcomed the king of Morocco's acknowledgement of the Holocaust as "one of the most tragic chapters of modern history."

"This courageous act by His Majesty King Mohammed VI to recognize the historical truth and universal significance of the Holocaust and the need to educate the Arab and Moslem world about its impact on mankind is especially remarkable," said conference chairman Alan Solow and executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein. "We hope that the King’s endorsement of this important initiative will encourage others to do the same."

The Conference of Presidents issued a press release:

"New York, July 27, 2009…"The recognition by His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco of the Holocaust as “one of the most tragic chapters of modern history” and his endorsement of the Paris-based Aladdin Project, which aims to spread awareness of the genocide among Muslims, was lauded by Alan Solow, Chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

"King Mohammed VI’s acknowledgment of the Holocaust was read in a speech in his name at the opening ceremony of the Aladdin Project, an initiative of the Paris-based Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah. According to Anne-Marie Revcolevschi, director of the Shoah foundation, this is the first time an Arab head of state has taken “such a clear stand on the Shoah.”

Read article in full

Bahrain and Morocco rulers make positive gestures

How good for the Jews was the Moroccan king?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

State Department website purges Jewish history

The State Department has stealthily been overstating the numbers of 'Palestinian refugees' on its website, while ignoring Jewish refugees. Web snapshots indicate that the State Department has increased the supposed numbers of 1948 “Palestinian refugees” from the 2002-2004 versions of its website. All available versions of the website grossly overstate the real number of Palestinian refugees, while continuing to ignore the Jewish refugees who had to flee for their lives from Arab lands. Elisabeth Berney reports in The Jewish Star (with thanks: Desi):

"Alarmingly, from day one, the Obama administration has adopted what is essentially Arab Palestinian revisionist history: Islam and Islamic nations are glorified; Jewish history has been thrown down a “memory hole,” and Jews are viewed as “invaders” of “Palestinian” Arab land. In Cairo, Obama ignored the historic connection of the Jewish people to Israel, instead claiming that the aspiration of Jews to have a home in Israel was “rooted” in the European Holocaust, and blamed the establishment of the State of Israel for the “dislocation,” “suffering,” and “humiliation” of Palestinians.

"Obama’s Cairo speech was part of an extremely disturbing pattern. When Obama took office, apparently a modern-day version of Orwell’s history re-writers and expungers quietly revised the U.S. State Department’s official descriptions of the countries of the world on the department’s public website. The website now glorifies Muslim nations’ thousands-of years long histories, language, archeology, and contributions to science, culture and poetry — and has completely eliminated millennia of Israel’s history, language and contributions to culture, science and the world. (..)

The official U.S. State Department description of Israel’s history starts just a little over 100 years ago, with efforts “initiated” by Theodore Herzl for a sovereign homeland for Jews “in Palestine.” The State Department gives absolutely no indication that a single Jew ever lived in Israel prior to recent decades, or that Jews remained in Israel throughout the millennia. None of the numerous archeological sites left by Israel’s ancient Jewish inhabitants are mentioned.

Instead, the State Department leaves the false impression that the region was a Palestinian entity and then suddenly Herzl came up with the idea of inserting a Jewish state. Simply put, the State Department blackout of Israel’s history assists the fraudulent Palestinian narrative.

In addition, in contrast with glowing descriptions of Muslim countries’ cultures and languages, the State Department’s official description of Israel never mentions the ancient Hebrew language or Israel’s historical (or recent) cultural, religious, poetic, artistic and scientific contributions to the world. Unlike their rare Arab counterparts, Israel’s prominent Nobel laureates are never mentioned.

The State Department description of the “people of Israel” also promotes the false claim that Jews are usurpers of the land who all originate from outside of Israel:
“The three broad Jewish groupings [in Israel] are the Ashkenazim, or Jews who trace their ancestry to western, central, and eastern Europe; the Sephardim, who trace their origin to Spain, Portugal, southern Europe, and North Africa; and Eastern or Oriental Jews, who descend from ancient communities in Islamic lands.”

The real “origin” and “ancestry” of Sephardim, Ashkenazim and Eastern Jews –– namely, dispersed Jews who had lived in Israel in past eras –– is not mentioned. The State Department also neglects to mention that today’s “people of Israel” includes Jews whose ancestors lived in Israel through thousands of years of turmoil and persecution.

Moreover, the State Department’s mention that Israel’s people includes Jews who “originated” in Arab lands does not explain that 870,000 Jews came to Israel as refugees from Arab lands; having fled for their lives in the face of Arab persecution, including Iraqi laws which made “Zionism” punishable by death; burnings of synagogues and hundreds of Jewish homes in Syria; pogroms in Baghdad, Morocco and Yemen; and expulsions of Jews from Egypt, Yemen and Libya. (My emphasis - ed)

By contrast, the State Department frequently describes people in Muslim lands as “Palestinian refugees” and greatly exaggerates the number of individuals who might conceivably qualify for Palestinian refuge status. Jordan’s people are claimed to include “approximately 1.7 million registered Palestinian refugees;” Syria’s people “some 500,000 Palestinian… refugees;” and Lebanon “about 400,000 Palestinian refugees, some in Lebanon since 1948.”

Read article in full

Monday, July 27, 2009

An Egyptian 'mummy' wrestles with her identity

This poem was written by Lisette Eskinazi Norton Stalbow and dedicated to her mother Benvenuta Taragano who died in March 2002.

Lisette was expelled as a child with her family from Egypt in 1956. She went back in August 20008 to show her son her birthplace. He took this photo of her in a garden in Luxor.

Lisette is still trying to grasp her uprooting and the different strands of her identity. "I loved my country you see. I loved my home. It was my security. But I never knew it till I had gone that I belonged nowhere officially but to a British Passport. A Foreigner I will always be and a foreigner to parts of myself that no one will ever see. What if? Could be the one question of my reality. So imagination became the land which no one could take from me. Things can always come and go but what’s inside no one can take is the most important thing that my daddy taught me."

Once upon a time

There was a little girl

Whose whole world was shaken when she was 9?

Or was it 6?

Like a caterpillar in a cocoon,

She just got moved too soon

To become a natural butterfly.

To survive she would need to adapt,

To learn, to stay vigilant at all times,

Lest it should happen again

And it could you know.

So there she was

Knowing only who she was

By relation to another.

At first it was her mother

Then it was her father...but he stayed behind.

So then it was her brother and her sister.

Her family was her territory.

Her family was who she was.

Because everything else had been taken from her.

This little girl was a refugee you see

- This little girl was me –

Thrown out, expelled, kicked out, some said, for being British

What is British? What was she?

A comedy or a tragedy?

What mistake of nature she must be,

A hybrid for eternity?

Best be good, Best be nice

Best be quick. Best be wise.

Spoke French you see

Looked olive, not quite white you see.

Looked foreign and exotic

but not British as she should be.

So little by little she tried to reform her identity.

For obviously England was where she was meant to be

And anyway they wouldn’t take her back you see.

Because she was British in 1956 in Egypt when Nasser said

"Out Out You foreigners from my land. This is Egyptian Territory!"

"This is where I was born" said she. Is this a comedy or a tragedy?

My mother and father were born in Turkey you see

So they too were foreigners to me in terms of language and territory

My children were born here so an Egyptian became a Mummy

But not in the British Museum you see, only in her identity.

Confused yet?.. Wait and see. You’ll never be as confused as me.

Everybody said

You’re so very lucky.... lucky, lucky, lucky..... you’re so very lucky to leave.

I left my best friend.

You’re so very lucky..... lucky, lucky, lucky..... you’re so very lucky to leave

I left my dog Whisky.

You’re so very lucky....... lucky, lucky, lucky..... you’re so very lucky to leave.

I left my home.

You’re so very lucky........lucky, lucky, lucky....... you’re so very lucky to leave.

I left all that I have known.

You’re so very lucky........ lucky, lucky, lucky...... you’re so very lucky to leave.

I left my daddy or did he leave me?

I had new clothes for Britain.

I had a new language to learn.

I had a new culture to learn.

I had new foods to try


I had to grow iinto me.

Was this a comedy or a tragedy?

And where in all this was any reality?

Re-invent yourself was one philosophy

We were different you know. We were special.......not like the other refugees.

We were from Harrods and they were from Woolworths

Was how it was explained to me.

And now an Egyptian owns Harrods and I live a stone's throw away.

But I am British and I hope he will never be!

The world is but a stage and what goes round comes round!

In Birmingham, in 1956, Enoch Powell times,

Go home Pakie. Go home Wog.

Go back to your dirty land and live in a tent with a camel for company

You Gypo Arab you

I am not a Gypo. I am not an Arab. I am a Jew

But I am in England because I am British too.

How can an identity be a passport, a piece of paper?

How is an identity formed?

For me it was my family since it could never be my territory

Which shifted like the sands

In the land in which I was born.

Nothing is black and white you see.

How could I become ‘me’ on such shifting sands of reality?

To form into the butterfly you see

You must not shake the chrysalis too soon

Or move it from its cocoon.

And so it was in the years that passed that

when I could not longer ‘be’ in my false identity

I fell ill with ‘ME’which forced me to go into the cocoon once more

And emerge as Me from ‘ME’,

Now is that a tragedy or a comedy? You tell me.

My body is my territory you see.

The map of my reality.

The vessel of all that is inside of me

And which you see like a kaleidoscope.

When you shake me, you again will see

the fragments that fall in different patterns

like the shifting sands of my soul.

The colours that make me who I am –

My past, my present


who I am becoming each moment

as I see the world anew

and not through

the blinkers of my past.


I am my family

But it is no longer

A comedy


A tragedy

To also be


And yes

I am of them


I am


A separate


A hybrid.


Is my personality..

But my soul is whole

My soul dances

amongst the embers of my identity

and says

All the rest is history!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bahrain and Morocco rulers make positive gestures

Sheikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain

This week, statements made by the royal houses of Morocco and Bahrain making conciliatory gestures towards Israel or the Jewish people got some play in the international media. (With thanks Lily and Michelle). My assessment follows at the end:

The crown prince of Bahrain wrote an article in the Washington Post:

"WASHINGTON — Arab leaders must begin talking to the Israeli media to better communicate their desire for a lasting Middle East peace, Bahrain's crown prince said on Friday.

"We as Arabs have not done enough to communicate directly with the people of Israel," Sheikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa wrote in an opinion article published in the Washington Post.

"The article was published alongside a commentary by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in Friday's paper.

"Al Khalifa said Arab leaders must "tell our story more directly to the Israeli people by getting the message out to their media" and emphasizing support for the so-called Arab Initiative, which promises normalized relations between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for the creation of a Palestinian state.

"Essentially, we have not done a good enough job demonstrating to Israelis how our initiative can form part of a peace between equals in a trouble land holy to three great faiths," he wrote."

Read article in full

For the launch of the Aladdin project in Paris, AP reprised a largely unreported initiative by the King of Morocco made in March:

"RABAT, Morocco – From the western edge of the Muslim world, the King of Morocco has dared to tackle one of the most inflammatory issues in the Middle East conflict — the Holocaust.

"At a time when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's dismissal of the Holocaust has made the biggest headlines, King Mohammed VI has called the Nazi destruction of the Jews "one of the most tragic chapters of modern history," and has endorsed a Paris-based program aimed at spreading the word among fellow Muslims.

"Many in the Islamic world still ignore or know little about the Nazi attempt to annihilate the Jews during World War II. Some disbelieve it outright. Others argue that it was a European crime and imagine it to be the reason Israel exists and the Palestinians are stateless.

"The sentiment was starkly illustrated in March after a Palestinian youth orchestra performed for Israeli Holocaust survivors, only to be shut down by angry leaders of the West Bank refugee camp where they live.

"The Holocaust happened, but we are facing a similar massacre by the Jews themselves," a community leader named Adnan Hindi said at the time. "We lost our land and we were forced to flee."

"Like other moderate Arab leaders, King Mohammed VI must tread carefully. Islamic fervor is rising in his kingdom, highlighted in 2003 by al-Qaida-inspired attacks in Casablanca on targets that included Jewish sites. Forty-five people died.

"The king's acknowledgment of the Holocaust, in a speech read out in his name at a ceremony in Paris in March, appears to further illustrate the radically different paths that countries like Morocco and Iran are taking.

"Morocco has long been a quiet pioneer in Arab-Israeli peace efforts, most notably when it served as a secret meeting place for the Israeli and Egyptian officials who set up President Anwar Sadat's groundbreaking journey to Jerusalem in 1977.

"Morocco has long been a quiet pioneer in Arab-Israeli peace efforts, most notably when it served as a secret meeting place for the Israeli and Egyptian officials who set up President Anwar Sadat's groundbreaking journey to Jerusalem in 1977.

"Though Moroccan officials say the timing is coincidental, the Holocaust speech came at around the same time that Morocco severed diplomatic relations with Iran, claiming it was infiltrating Shiite Muslim troublemakers into this Sunni nation.

"The speech was read out at a ceremony launching the "Aladdin Project," an initiative of the Paris-based Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah (Holocaust) which aims to spread awareness of the genocide among Muslims.

"It organizes conferences and has translated key Holocaust writing such as Anne Frank's diary into Arabic and Farsi. The name refers to Aladdin, the young man with the genie in his lamp, whose legend, originally Muslim, became a universally loved tale.

"The Holocaust, the king's speech said, is "the universal heritage of mankind."

"It was "a very important political act," said Anne-Marie Revcolevschi, director of the Shoah foundation. "This is the first time an Arab head of state takes such a clear stand on the Shoah," she said in a telephone interview.

"While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict often aggravates Arab sentiment toward Israel, Morocco has a long history of coexistence between Muslims and Jews.*

Read article in full

My reaction: While the Bahraini crown prince's piece is to be welcomed, one should not read too much into it. Perhaps to counterbalance its pressure on Israel over settlements, the US has been anxious for some positive Arab noises on normalisation with Israel. Bahrain, a base for the US Navy's Fifth fleet, has been willing to oblige.

Both Bahrain and Morocco are worried about the Iranian nuclear threat, as as two of the few Arab states still with a few Jews living in them* , it is natural that they should make pro-Jewish gestures. Both ruling houses have appointed to Jews to be advisers or ambassadors, and have excellent relations with individual Jews. Neither state sanctioned anti-Jewish measures, as in Syria, Egypt, Libya and Iraq. However, despite statements of regret and even Bahrain's willingness to pay reparations for damage to Jewish property, both royal houses were powerless to stop popular antisemitic feeling and street violence against their Jews after 1947.

But the Bahraini crown prince adds nothing of substance to the debate: all he seems to be saying is that the Arabs should do a better job explaining themselves to the Israeli media. He says nothing about the Arabs recognising Israel as a Jewish state. Even such a gesture as his was too much for some: his article is not particularly representative of how Bahrainis feel, and received instant rejection in some quarters. As the Dubai newpaper The National reported:

Bahraini opposition groups and anti-Israeli groups issued statements shortly after Sheikh Salman’s article appeared in which they criticised the move as a step towards “naturalisation with the Zionist enemy”.
Bahrainis, regardless of the sectarian differences that divide them on other regional issues, also quickly utilised the internet and Facebook to form reaction groups to reject the crown prince’s call.

As for king Mohammed Vl of Morocco, his acknowledgement of the Holocaust is to be welcomed. But there is little recognition of the impact it had on Moroccan soil where thousands of Jews died in labour camps. Neither does he mention the effect of the wartime Vichy laws on Moroccan Jews.

* one should take praise from reporters for Moroccan 'tolerance' and 'coexistence' with a pinch of salt. The fact that only 3,000 Jews remain out of 300,000 is an indication of failure, not successful coexistence and tolerance. Likewise the fact that Bahrain has not been able to retain more than 36 Jews out of 600 hundred - ed.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Half of Jewish community of Iran expected to leave

With thanks: Olivia

This interesting and balanced video about the Jews of Iran must have been made some time ago, as Maurice Motamed has been superseded by Ciamak Morsadegh as the community's Jewish MP, but much of the content still holds true today. Although the community are said to 'have few problems', half are nonetheless expected to emigrate over the next few years. Here is the accompanying blurb:

"A Jewish MP in an assembly that routinely calls for the destruction of Israel, but Iranian Jews rights are protected by law.

"They're even exempt from the ban on alcohol, although discretion is advised. Iran's Jews have been here nearly 3,000 years. In 1979 most fled the Islamic Revolution to the US, fearing a pogrom which never came. Robert, a real estate agent has come back from LA to look for an Iranian wife and Shabbat prayers on a Friday night is the place to be. But times have changed. He's looking to marry young, and most girls think his age too high a price to pay for a ticket to the US and freedom. Behind closed doors Jews throw off Islamic dress and party freely to celebrate the birth of a boy. Soraya, baby Ramtin's aunt, says he can still expect a life of discrimination. They prefer to have Muslim people in their universities or in their factories..."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tangled web of Jewish ownership in 'Arab' areas

The stench of hypocrisy is rising from the current furore surrounding US objections to the redevelopment by a Jewish owner of the Shepherd hotel - once itself owned by the pro-Nazi Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini - in the 'Arab' Sheikh Jarrah district of Jerusalem.
Jewish construction is seen as an obstacle to peace; burgeoning Arab construction in Jerusalem (much of it illegal) is not. You only have to read Justus Reid Weiner's research exposing the construction boom in thousands of Arab units in Jerusalem, much of it lavishly funded by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and the Palestinian Authority, to understand that peace is not the issue. On the contrary, over the last several years, the Arabs have been engaged in a political and demographic race for control of Jerusalem.
To the US government and the European Union, everything is black-and-white: in their eyes west Jerusalem is 'Jewish', and east Jerusalem, where Israeli sovereignty is not recognised under international law, remains 'Arab'. In truth, this simplistic view ignores the fact that the eastern part of Jerusalem only became Jew-free when the thousands of Jewish inhabitants were 'ethnically cleansed' from the old city in 1948, scores of synagogues destroyed and cemeteries desecrated during 19 years of Jordanian occupation. The city was reunited when the eastern side of the city was recaptured and annexed in 1967 by Israel.
The issue of land ownership in Jerusalem is far more complex than the Obama administration and the EU would have us believe. Mount Scopus - the original site of the Hebrew university campus and the Hadassah hospital - remained a Jewish enclave in Jordanian-controlled territory. It is also a little known fact that hundreds of thousands of Arab squatters in 'Arab east Jerusalem' live on land still owned by the Jewish National Fund. The JNF purchased hundreds of individual parcels of land in and around Jerusalem during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Some ended up under Jordanian control. In 1948, on one of these parcels the UN built the Kalandia refugee camp, seizing the land without permission from the owners, the JNF. As Gil Zohar explained in his 2007 Jerusalem Post piece other parcels of land in 'Arab' east Jerusalem were cut off from their Iraqi and Iranian Jewish owners after they came under Jordanian rule. In total 145,976 dunams* of Jewish land is said to have come under Jordanian control. ((Jewish property claims against Arab countries by Michael Fischbach, p 85).
Another 16,684.421 dunams of Jewish land in the rural West Bank - including the Gush Etzion settlements, land between Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarm, and in Bethlehem and Hebron - were seized by the Jordanians after 1948.
The Golan Heights are almost universally considered 'Syrian' territory and yet the JNF lays claim to 73,974 dunams in southern Syria (op cit, p36). The earliest purchase was made in the 1880s.
On the macro-level, it is estimated that Jews living in Arab countries owned some 100,000 sq km of deeded property, equivalent to four or five times the size of Israel. Many cities in the 'Arab' Middle East and North Africa had large Jewish populations. Baghdad was a quarter Jewish. When over 90 per cent of Iraq's Jews left for Israel in 1950 - 51, property seized by the Iraqi government included three hospitals, 19 Jewish schools, 31 synagogues and two cemeteries.
In Egypt mansions belonging to wealthy Jewish families became embassies, residences and public institutions. Jihan Sadat still lives in a mansion once owned by the Castro family, and president Mubarak reputedly has the use of a villa owned by the Smouha family.
The international community gets into a huff when Jerusalem property once owned by Arabs is legally bought by Jews. Across the Arab world, Jewish property has been abandoned, sequestered or sold well below market value as Jews left in haste or were driven out. The West is sanctioning the principle that the Arab world must be Jew-free (Arab states have almost succeeded in this task, having banished 97 percent of their Jewish population) . The takeover of millions of dollars' worth of Jewish homes, shops, offices and communal property by Arabs has never been considered provocative or an 'obstacle to peace'.
Double standard, anyone?
* 1 dunam= 1,000 sq. metres
Update (with thanks Lily) : the irony that the Shepherd hotel in Jerusalem should have been owned by a man committed to making the Middle East Judenrein has not been lost on Avigdor Lieberman who has ordered a photo of al-Husseini meeting Hitler to be disseminated by the Israeli foreign ministry.
Crossposted at Melanie Phillips' blog and at Israpundit
The US - Israeli building dispute over Jerusalem
Jews owned land in the West Bank and Gaza (leaked Palestine Paper)
BBC ignores Jewish claims in Abu Dis

Jewish girl was abandoned by her family in Egypt

From the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction department:

It was in 1979, soon after the signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty.

W., a Jewish businessman with connections in high places in the Arab world, was busy arranging for a group of elderly Egyptian Jews ( several stripped of their nationality since 1956 - but that's another story) to visit Israel when he was approached by a tall, gangly Egyptian asking to join the tour.

"Are you Jewish?", W. asked. "No," came the reply.

Imagining that this Egyptian might be a member of the Mukhabarat (secret police) sent to spy on the visitors, W. suggested that the Egyptian wait and join a later tour of Israel he was organising for Egyptian intellectuals.

"No, my wife and I need to visit Israel as soon as possible. My wife is Jewish, although she doesn't know it."

The Egyptian then proceeded to tell the puzzled W.the whole story. The wife was a small child when she was separated from her Jewish family. In their chaotic haste to leave Alexandria for Israel some years before, the family had left their daughter behind. The abandoned girl was taken in by the family's Egyptian neighbours, and brought up as their own. She went on to marry an Egyptian Muslim.

W. duly arranged for the couple to visit Israel. At the airport, they were greeted by the famous Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea. The couple were interviewed on TV, and the wife was told her story.

Before long, a fleet of cars arrived. It was the wife's family, brandishing a photo of her as a child. They had recognised her from the TV screen.

The wife was reunited with her long-lost family. But after a week, she demanded to go back to Egypt. Her links with her Jewish family had been severed for all time and the clock could not be turned back. Egypt would always be home.

The Egyptian authorities must have breathed a sigh of relief. Had the wife decided to stay in Israel, it would have been an embarrassment and a public relations disaster.

Such stories of separation are extremely rare, but they do happen. Last year, an Iraqi Jewess abducted by a Muslim neighbour joined her family in Israel after 55 years' separation.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Yemen Jews protest 'kidnap' of bride

Jews in Yemen have staged a sit-in to protest the 'elopement' of a young Jewish bride 'with her Muslim love' and her 'conversion' to Islam. Mohammed Bin Sallam of the Yemen Times reports:

SANA’A, July15 – Dozens of Yemeni Jewish citizens from Sa'ada and Amran staged a sit-in in front of the cabinet last Tuesday in protest against the negative stand of the Ministry of Interior toward the kidnapping of Layyah Saeed Hamdi Al-Na'eti.

Prime Minister Ali Mohemed Mujawwar assigned a representative to meet a number of Jewish citizens. The Jews gave the representative two copies of a petition that addressed both the prime minister and the attorney general complaining about the stand of the Ministry of Interior and the guards of Tourist City where they live.

They demanded an urgent investigation into the disappearance of Layyah, 16, and the arrest of those responsible for her "kidnapping". Layyah vanished from her husband's house a week after their wedding.

The protestors further demanded that the culprits hand over the girl as well as the jewelry and money that were in her possession. They stated that the money and jewelry belong to her husband Haroon Salem, 18, of Sa'ada.

There were contradictory news reports about whether Layyah Al-Na'eti was kidnapped or whether she ran away from her husband's last Tuesday of her own accord.

However, reports from the Jewish community confirmed that Abdul Rahman Mohammed Hizam Al-Hadiqi, a Muslim young man, was accused of kidnapping her. Al-Hadiqi was seen during her wedding party accompanied by a number of his female relatives. Reports said that he took her from the Kharef area of Amran to the residence of her husband Haroon during her wedding ceremony.

"So far, I have no idea about the fate of my daughter," said Layya's father who attended the sit-in. "However I heard rumors that she embraced Islam a few days after she was kidnapped and that the judiciary of Amran agreed to marry her to the kidnapper Al-Hadiqi, who is from the Kharef area in Amran.”

The Jewish community said that they doubt the news that Layyah embraced Islam, demanding that “a neutral judicial and security committee be formed to investigate the incident and stop any attempt to marry her to another man."

Layyah's husband Haroon Salem grievingly narrated to media outlets the circumstances of her disappearance. "During the first week of our marriage, she said that she was menstruating and that I had to wait [to consummate our marriage]," he said. "After one week exactly, on Tuesday evening, she said that she would go to wash and come back. I waited for her impatiently but she never came back to our bedroom. I went to the bathroom to tell her to hurry up but saw nobody. This was on Wednesday at 1:30 in the morning. I looked for her with relatives in the neighboring apartments but I didn’t find her. I rushed out to search for her at the main entry to the city but guards told me that she left accompanied by a number of tribal men. These guards didn’t say whether Layyah went out to them or whether the kidnappers were inside the city."

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Jewish bride disappears in Yemen

Turks treat Jews as eternally indebted guests

This Armenian Weekly review of a new book on Turkey's Jews by Rifat Bali, Model citizens (not yet available in English), should be read in the context of Armenian frustrations that Turkey has still not recognised the World War One genocide of over one million Armenians. Nevertheless it contains interesting insights into how Turkey has treated its Jews as eternally indebted guests:

"From what Bali brings to our attention, we can see that there has always been a frantic, extremely vulgar anti-Semitism freely expressed by Islamic fundamentalists and racists, and openly tolerated by the government and judiciary. Such anti-Semitism—escalating at times with the rising tension between Israel and the Muslim countries of the Middle East—often went as far as warmly praising Hitler for doing the right thing and exterminating the Jews; declaring Jews the enemies of the entire human race; listing characteristics attributed to Jews as the worst that can be found in human beings; in one instance, putting up advertisements on walls in Jewish-populated neighborhoods in Istanbul; and in another case, sending letters to prominent members of the Jewish community threatening that if they didn’t “get the hell out of Turkey” within one month, no one would be responsible for what happened to them.

"Whenever Jewish community leaders have approached the authorities for a determined stance against such open anti-Semitism, the answer has been the same: These are marginal voices that have no significant effect on the general public; and there is freedom of expression in Turkey.

The eternal indebtedness of Jews to Turks: An important fact about such violent anti-Semitism is that it goes hand in hand with the widespread official and public conception of the Jews as guests who are indebted to their hosts; it is a debt that cannot be paid no matter how hard the debtors tried. This view isn’t only shared by extremist elements in Turkey, but by the entire society—from the elites to the average person. It is a conviction purposefully designed and maintained by the establishment. And it enables the perpetual, unending, and unrestricted generation and regeneration of the relations of domination in Turkey between the establishment and non-Muslims in general, and Jews in particular, manifested in the treatment of the latter as hostages.

"There are regular manifestations of this relationship. The most unbearable is the shameless, extremely offensive repetition by both top-ranking government officials and the mainstream media of how Turkey generously offered shelter to the Jews in 1492, when they were expelled from Spain, and how the Turkish people have always been so “kind” to treat the Jews with “tolerance” throughout history. This theme is repeated on every occasion but is voiced more loudly and more authoritatively whenever pressure on Turkey regarding the Armenian Genocide increases abroad. Another theme has been the obligation of the Jews to show material evidence of their gratitude to Turkey on account of the latter’s welcoming of German Jewish scientists right after the Nazis’ ascension to power. (Readers of Bali’s first volume instantly will remember how Turkey declined thousands of asylum requests by German Jews; how 600 Czeckoslavakian Jews on board the vessel “Parita” were turned down; and how 768 passengers on the Romanian vessel “Struma,” after being kept waiting off Istanbul for weeks in poverty and hunger, were sent to death in the Black Sea by Turkish authorities, with only one survivor in the winter of 1942.)

"An illustrative example is the story of the fury that broke out in Turkey in 1987 when the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Council in Washington, D.C. decided to include the Armenian Genocide—as the first genocide of the 20th century— in the Memorial Museum that was going to be built.

"The mainstream media, and not only the ultra-nationalist extremists, started a campaign that would last for years. Melih Asik from Milliyet (which has always positioned itself as a liberal and democratic newspaper), in his article on Dec. 20, 1987, accused “Jews” for being “ungrateful.” After observing the regular ritual of reminding the Jews of the Turks’ generosity in 1492 and during World War II, he wrote: “We treated them with utmost kindness for many years and now these same Jews are preparing to present us to the world in the Holocaust museum as genociders. Before everything else this behavior should be exhibited in the museum of ‘historical displays of ingratitude and disgrace.’”

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Thank goodness for one's religious kinsmen...

Charming little story by Robert Grossman in the Huffington Post of how as a young US serviceman stationed in Morocco in the 1950s he and his mate Matt bonded with the local Jews :

"While serving there in the 1950's, Matt and I would venture beyond the base's confines on days off, hoping to find Bergman and Bogart in some undisclosed hideaway. Instead, we discovered the Jewish community of Port Lyautey. They lived in a separate part of the Arab medina called the mellah. A number of these Sephardic Jews found work on our naval base, which I learned upon meeting one of them, Moishe, who was then the barber at the officers' quarters. I introduced him to Matt, who at that point was developing a keen interest in things Jewish. Moishe quietly told me that, given the end of the French protectorate and the coming to power of the Arab monarchy, most, though not all, the Jews there and elsewhere in Morocco, some 200,000, would secretly depart, mostly for Israel.

"On one adventure Moishe had taken us to his synagogue in the mellah. When we entered, we observed the bearded rabbi reciting prayers from an elevated bima and some 15 male worshipers moving about, each at his own pace and in his own direction, intoning a portion of scripture while rocking back and forth and up and down. We stood at a side wall -- there were no chairs on the dirt floor -- and Matt whispered to me that what he was seeing was not unlike portions of the Catholic service back home. Those in the synagogue were dressed in black just like the priests, and just like the priests there were only men.

"We reminisced about other threads of our past as we had a dinner of hummus, couscous and Moroccan chicken at an Arab restaurant that night in Kenitra. The next morning we left and headed south, exploring familiar haunts in Fez, Quarzazate and Marrakech. Unlike when we were first there some 50 years before, many travelers have now been to these places so a current description of our visit to them adds little.

"Besides, it was our drive back from Marrakech to catch our flight at the airport near Casablanca that evokes the strongest memory of our trip. We were on the desolate highway about halfway there when the car's motor began to sputter and then, as we pulled over to the side of the road, it died. After trying to restart it several times without success, we got out and raised the hood. We jiggled the spark plugs but the motor still didn't start. We looked at each other in frustration and stared at the emptiness around us. There wasn't a camel or donkey in sight.

"All at once two men of olive complexion appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. We stepped back in apprehension. They moved directly to the car and, while one of them watched us, the other carefully inspected under the hood. I worried that they were about to steal some part of the engine. They started talking to each other. They could have been speaking the Moroccan dialect of Arabic but Matt, a linguist, assured me it was no form of Arabic he'd ever heard. There were Berbers from the Atlas Mountains who spoke their own dialect but Matt said it wasn't that either. He told me their words did sound familiar to him but he couldn't make them out.

"In a flash I sensed what I was hearing. The same guttural tone and nuance is repeated time and again when I occasionally go to religious services. The language is rarely spoken in my home, so I couldn't interpret what they were saying. But I knew the sound. I knew the intonation. I said to them in my halting French, "Je suis Juif," hoping they would understand me, but all they seemed to see were my blue eyes and white face.

"It suddenly dawned on me what I should do. Slowly but firmly I began to recite a prayer that almost every Jew has been taught, regardless of how little trained in Hebrew or whether from Russia, Yemen or South Dakota. It is the prayer that reflects the Jewish gift of monotheism conceived thousands of years ago: "Shema, Yisraeil: Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad -- Hear, O Israel: the Lord, our God, the Lord is One."

"Their Sephardic eyes lit up. They quickly moved in my direction, threw their arms around both Matt and me -- and immediately fixed the car."

Matt smiled as my religious kinsmen warmly gestured to us as they receded into the barren wilderness to an unseen settlement somewhere in the distance. He turned to me and said, "Thank God some of your brethren are still here." We two Americans then drove on, Matt having now added another notch to his awareness of things Jewish."

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Whatever happened to the Jews exiled to Babylon?

Documents found towards the end of Saddam Hussein's rule have cast new light on what happened to the Jews taken into exile by the Babylonians - an exile which lasted 2,500 years. Abraham Rabinovitch, writing in the Jerusalem Post, explains (with thanks: Lily):

King Jehoiachin was only 18 years old and had occupied the throne of Judah barely three months when he was led off into Babylonian captivity in 598 BCE together with his wives, his mother, his servants, his eunuchs and thousands of "the chief men of the land."

But what happened to them when they reached Babylon? And what happened there to the tens of thousands of others who joined them in exile when the First Temple was destroyed a decade later? The Bible tells us of the return to Judah half a century later but virtually nothing of what the expellees experienced in Babylon itself. It tells us even less about the fate of the northern tribes of Israel - the "10 lost tribes" - which had been marched out of history by the Assyrians a century earlier.

However, scholars have been able to gain a measure of access to these missing years from cuneiform documents unearthed in Iraq in the last century, including a trove illicitly dug up in the final years of Saddam Hussein's regime and only now nearing publication. The documents are innocuous - business records, land deeds, tax accounts - but together are able to shed light, feeble but suggestive, on this central period in Jewish history

"We have been able to make history out of dry documents," says Prof. Israel Eph'al of the Hebrew University, an epigrapher and historian of the ancient Near East.

Early last century, archeologists digging in Babylon, the capital of Babylonia, uncovered cuneiform tablets in a vaulted chamber beneath the ruins of an ancient structure believed by some to have been the base of the fabled "Hanging Gardens" of Babylon. These tablets, deciphered in the 1930s by German Assyriologist Ernst Weidner, detailed the storage of oil and other commodities and their distribution. Four of the badly damaged tablets concerned the supply of oil to "Jehoiachin, king of Judah" and his five sons. The date is five years after he was taken captive. The fact that he was being provisioned by the Babylonian authorities and that he retained his royal title suggests that he was being treated with deference even though he had been taken captive because his father, Jehoiakim, had rebelled against Babylon. Favorable treatment is also suggested by the fact that at 23 he already has five sons, indicating that the young royal was not deprived of the wives who had accompanied him.

The major source regarding the exiles in Babylonia to date is a cuneiform archive found in the 1890s by a University of Pennsylvania expedition at the site of ancient Nippur. The area, 180 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, has seen heavy fighting since the Allied incursion in 2003. The archive consisted of extensive business records maintained by the Bit Murashu family over three generations. The business details are mundane, but the people and communities mentioned in the more than 700 documents depict a rural region in which 30 percent of the population has non-Babylonian names, according to a study by Prof. Ron Zadok of Tel Aviv University.

"The Babylonians resettled many nations on their territory," says Eph'al, "not just the Jews."(...)

A promising new cache of documents attesting to the Jewish presence in Babylon has come to light only in the past decade after the cuneiform tablets, apparently illicitly excavated in the wake of the first Gulf War, reached private collectors in the West who made them accessible to scholars. Among the settlements inscribed on these documents is al-Iahudu, the City of Judah, a name used in antiquity as a designation for Jerusalem.

Some 120 individuals bearing Jewish names have been identified among the 600 persons mentioned in the documents. Two-thirds of the Jewish names are from al-Iahudu and the rest from nearby. The contents of only three of the approximately 100 documents have been published so far, but the rest are expected to be published within a year or so. The site of al-Iahudu has been tentatively identified by an American scholar as ancient Borsippa (today's Birs Nimrud) on the Euphrates, about 110 kilometers southwest of Baghdad.

The most dramatic evidence of the communal cohesion maintained by the Jewish exiles in Babylon is the way those who returned to Zion organized themselves. (It is not clear what percentage of the exiles chose to return to Judah after Babylon fell to the Persians and what percentage chose to remain.) Those whose families had been associated with the Jerusalem temple before the exile now identified themselves once more as priests, singers, gatekeepers and temple servants in anticipation of the rebuilding of the temple, as described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Others organized themselves by town of origin.

"These are the people who came up from among the captive exiles in Babylon, and that returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own city" (Ezra 2:1).

The Jews are the only ethnic group among the many in Babylonian exile known to have returned to their homeland, except for one other group from Neirab in northern Syria. The Jews who remained behind in Babylonia were without exception the only group to preserve their identity and way of life down through the ages until their dispersal in the current generation. Babylonian Jewry would not only survive and prosper for 2,500 years but would for centuries serve as the spiritual center of world Judaism, the place where the Babylonian Talmud was forged. The Jewish community in Babylon would be strongly reinforced a few centuries after the exile, notes Eph'al, when many residents of Judah fled eastward during the Roman period to escape severe drought and famine.

The difference between the Babylonian exile and the Assyrian exile is stark. Both nations exiled populations to punish them or to forestall the possibility of revolt. But the Assyrians, described by Eph'al as creators of "the world's first empire," also needed manpower to service their rapidly expanding realm. Their aim was to harness the exiles to this task as efficiently as possible and this meant exploiting them as individuals rather than as communities. "The Assyrian kings were determined to assimilate the deported populations," says Eph'al. "They enforced mingling of the populations and their 'Assyrianization.'"

Unlike the Babylonians, the Assyrians depleted conquered areas entirely of their original population and replaced them with deportees from elsewhere, as was done in Samaria after the Israelites were uprooted.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Shmuel Moreh : from boxer to prizewinning poet

Fascinating and significant profile by Doreen Wachmann in the (Manchester) Jewish Telegraph of Iraq-born Professor Shmuel Moreh, emeritus professor of Arabic literature at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem: Shmuel goes from the horrors of Iraq to prizewinning poet*. Professor Moreh, who has just finished a lecture tour in Manchester and London, epitomises the Jew torn between his spiritual home and his birthplace: (with thanks Lucille and Iraqijews)

Iraqi Jews are the quintessential exiles. Nobody more encapsulates the exilic tensions between love of one’s birthplace and that of one’s ancestral spiritual home than Shmuel Moreh — a Baghdad-born Israel Prize winning Orientalist and emeritus professor of Arabic literature at the Hebrew University.

The grandson of a rabbi and the child of integrated professional parents, Professor Moreh explained to me last week how deeply ingrained in the psyche of the Iraqi Jew is the ancestral memory of the first exile into Babylon, now Iraq.

Prof Moreh, who was at Manchester University for a conference on the Middle East, said: “Every year on Tisha b’Av Iraqi Jews weep for the Temple as if it happened yesterday. “They weep when they sing the psalm On the Rivers of Babylon. Every Jewish house had a strip of black paint around its walls to remember the destruction of the Temple.”

He recounted a joke making the rounds in Baghdad in the 1940s about how it was impossible to make a Jew smile as long as the Temple remained destroyed. He added that his accountant father, before his death in Israel in 1990, had made him sing with him the words of Yehuda Halevi about not forgetting Jerusalem. “We sang and wept together,” he recalled. Yet however steeped in Jewish nostalgic tradition Shmuel’s family was, they were “well integrated into Arabic culture”, even though, as in the time of the Cairo Geniza, Jews persisted in writing Arabic in Hebrew script.

Prof Moreh’s academic choice of Arabic literature stemmed from the fact that already, by the age of 16, he had published poems in well-established Arabic newspapers. Yet as elsewhere throughout the Diaspora, however well integrated Iraqi Jews were in their exilic land, during the 20th century antisemitism raised its ugly head. It began, he said, with Iraqi officers who had served in the pro-German Ottoman army during World War One. This was later aggravated by an influx to Iraq not only of German immigrants but also of Palestinians fleeing the British Mandate in the 1930s. The situation deteriorated drastically in 1941 with the pro-Nazi revolt against alliance with Britain during World War Two by Rashid Ali al-Kaylani, who took over as Iraqi prime minister.

Prof Moreh – then Sami Muallem – had the misfortune to be a classmate of the new prime minister’s son in the top Baghdad primary school they both attended. When his father had seized control of Iraq, eight-year-old Faisal al-Kaylani turned his attention upon his classmate “Sami the Jew”, threatening to take out his eye with a stick. But brave Sami fought back. With his back against the wall, Sami boxed Faisal in the eye and the prime minister’s cowardly son ran crying to his Christian headmistress, who threatened Sami with expulsion for the misdeed. However, the situation was resolved when Sami’s father was called into school the following day and Sami cleverly made a mockery of the reconciliation ceremony he was forced to endure. Al-Kaylani senior soon suffered a major setback with a threatened British onslaught on Baghdad and he fled to Berlin where he was recognised as the Iraqi government in exile.

However, with the departure of Al-Kaylani, Iraq was left in a power vacuum which facilitated the June 1 - 2, 1941, farhud in which nearly 140 Jews were killed in a pro-Nazi pogrom.

Israel Prize winner Prof Moreh has written extensively about the catastrophe and has urged the Israeli government to recognise June 1 -2 as the national memorial day for Holocaust Day in Israel. He has also campaigned for the event to be included in Holocaust education.

But he now claims that present-day Iraqi intellectuals regret the farhud, which led to the eventual escape from the country of most of Iraqi Jewry and with them their important economic and professional contributions.

With World War Two raging in 1941, there was no possibility of escape from Iraq. Professor Shmuel Moreh recalls: “Men, women and children were raped. Around 2,500 Jews were rounded up. Homes were plundered.

“But our family was lucky. Our neighbour was the commander of the Iraqi Air Force and no one dared come near. “After the looting, Jews came begging to us for food and clothing. There were many orphans.”

Post-war, the economic situation of Iraqi Jews improved with the prosperity it brought. But clandestine Zionist activities were taking place.

With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, conditions worsened with Jews afraid to go on the streets as people were being arrested and accused of being Zionists and Communists. Prospects were now bleak. Most of Iraqi Jewry left for Israel between 1950 and 1951. In order to leave they had to renounce Iraqi citizenship and all their assets were frozen.

Prof Moreh recalls: “One minute we were upper middle class. The next we had to leave with our clothes and £50.” He added: “Many Jews gave the keys of their homes to their neighbours who gave them to Palestinian refugees.”

There was an exchange of population and property,” he said. “But the Israeli government has never used that argument with reference to the Palestinian refugee issue.”

The professor maintains that many Iraqis are now calling for the Jews to return to help build up the country, saying that he personally is inundated with such invitations.

However, back in 1951 the situation was totally different. Wanting to take his published poems out of the country, Prof Moreh took them to the Ministry of Interior censor who authorised them with his stamp. Nevertheless airport officials tore them up, as well as strip-searching him, suspecting him of smuggling out gold. But undaunted, the professor said: “I took the pieces out of the dustbin and had them republished in Israel.”

“It was a peculiar feeling,” he added. “I did not know where I was going except that it was to Israel.” At Lod Airport, he and his fellow immigrants were sprayed with DDT. He says: “Some took it very hard.” After he was sent to an absorption centre near Haifa, members of his family left separately for Israel.

Prof Moreh recalled: “My father left behind 37,000 square metres of land in Baghdad. He wanted to build a hospital there. To compensate, I later became president of Jerusalem’s Misgav Ladach Hospital.” But housed in a tent in the Haifa absorption camp, his first day was devoted to concreting a roof. Unused to such strenuous manual work, the next day he could not rise from his bed. Fortunately, he had a brother already at the Hebrew University who arranged for him to study there and Prof Moreh’s glittering career as an expert on Arabic literature took off. (...)

He has also had close links with Manchester, visiting as a professor every summer in the 1990s and co-authoring a book on Jews in the Arabic theatre with Professor Philip Sadgrove of Manchester University’s department of Middle Eastern studies. Last week, he was at the university for a British Society for Middle Eastern Studies conference on ‘Separation and Conflict in the Middle East’.

So how does Prof Moreh, who continues to love Arabic as his mother tongue and instrument of his art and writes nostalgically about his homeland, feel about the prospects of Middle East peace? His answers express the eternal ambivalence of the once-exiled Jew. On the one hand he asserts: “Israel is the only place in the world where a Jew can feel safe and secure.” But he admits that he only really felt at home there when he received the Israel Prize in 1999.

His poems, published in Arabic across the Muslim world, depicted his mother’s homesickness for her native land. As a result of the Arabic publication of his memoirs, he receives daily phone calls from Iraqis, begging him to return. He admits his “yearning for Iraq”, especially to visit the graves of the prophets Ezekiel, Daniel, Jonah and Nahum as well as the scribe Ezra. But he says poetically: “The masts of our ships are broken, our sails torn. How can we return? Iraq is no place for us. If the Muslims are slaughtering their brothers, how can we return if we are Jewish?”

Nevertheless, Prof Moreh is hopeful of the Saudi peace initiative and is encouraged by all the scholars from Arab countries who are his friends. But then he remembers how in his youth, within the space of a week, all his friends became enemies and he had to escape for his life.

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*Professor Moreh actually won his prize for Oriental Studies