Thursday, December 24, 2009

Lebanese journalist discovers Beirut's Jewish past

Nada Abdelsamad (Now! Lebanon)

Writing a book of stories about Lebanese Jews radically changed Lebanese journalist Nada Abdelsamad's perspectives, she tells the Lebanese publication Rue 89. But while it restores Jews to Lebanon's history, will this book do more harm than good by feeding the delusion that an idealised past of neighbourly coexistence in Lebanon can be revived? Via Women's Lens:

When he fled Beirut as a child after 1967, Marco Mizrahi probably never imagined he would return - in an Israeli tank in 1982! Carrying a list of names of his parents' friends in Wadi Jamil (pictured above), the old Jewish quarter, he asked for their news. He also asked for news of his best friend. The latter, he was told, had emigrated to the Gulf states.

Marco Mizrahi's sudden re-appearance in Wadi Jamil was the talk of the Jewish quarter for months, says Nada Abdelsamad. His is one of the more unusual anecdotes in Nada's new book: Wadi Abu Jamil: stories about the Jews of Beirut (al-Nahar publications*).

Before writing the book Nada tells Rue 89 how the Jews of Lebanon were the last people on her mind. A seasoned journalist and TV news presenter, she says: "they were for me part of a fantasy world. I'd always heard of them, but never met any. I even considered them disloyal to Lebanon. Every time somebody talked about their Jewish friends, the story always ended the same way. The latter had always left in great secrecy from one day to the next, without even telling their closest relatives. No-one had ever heard from them again - one assumed they had gone to Israel."

The community had dwindled from 20,000 (10 - 14,000 is the figure more often cited - ed) to about 30.

Working on a BBC series on Lebanon's various communities, Nada went from suspicion to astonishment in her view of the Jews. She 'phoned Canada to do some research. It was the first time she had spoken to Lebanese Jews. "I was deeply touched by their love for Lebanon and their wish to return and spend their retirement there if the situation allowed it. It upset all my reference points. Till then, I'd always associated Jews with Israel."

Nada then interviewed Lebanese living in the old Jewish quarter of Beirut. Most wished to remain anonymous and expressed great nostalgia for their Jewish friends, relatives, ex-lovers, neighbours. That's when she decided to write her book.

"I realised that the Jews were Lebanese citizens with the same rights as me... We were affected by the conflict with Israel like other Arab countries and the pain of displaced Palestinians. Remembering the Jews of Lebanon was therefore not a priority. But now we must integrate them in our national history."

Reaction to the book in Lebanon hase been positive and sales are taking off. Some worry, however: "Why are you doing this now? Do you sympathise with the cause of the Jews?"

To which Nada Abdelsamad replies:" I have no ideological agenda, I just want to talk about a past that once existed and one cannot erase, just by denying it."

*in Arabic, but soon to be translated into English

Read article in full (French)

Interview with Nada Abdelsamad at Now! Lebanon (with thanks: Sacha)


Empress Trudy said...

I tend to reflect that even Hitler wanted a museum of Jews when he was done with the Shoah. Perhaps this is no different. Now that all these Arab nations are more successful with their ethnic cleansing of Jews than even the Nazi's were, now suddenly they 'discover' their Jewish history? Please spare me the weeping.

victor said...

Nada says: "We were the pain of displaced Palestinians." Huh? Then why are the displaced Palestinians in Lebanon still living in refugee camps after 60 years? Why is there so much tension to this day between the Palestinian refugees and the surrounding Lebanese people? Why are the Palestinian refugees excluded by law from engaging in many trades and professions?

bataween said...

They all pay lip service to the 'displaced' Palestinians when the oppressors are Jews. The name of the game is 'hypocrisy'....

Anonymous said...

Ms. Abdelsamad,
It is not true that the Jews in Lebanon had the same rights as you. I was born in Lebanon and was denied an official identity card because I was Jewish. My school was bombed, killing the director and his wife who were Holocaust survivors. We lived in fear. We could not work in the government. If someone was arrested, he could not defend himself thru a lawyer. The perpetrators of crimes against Jews were never arrested, etc. The pain of the Palestinians was perpetrated by the Arab governments and the UNRWA who kept them as parasites. The world doesnt know about the 900,000 Jews who were expelled from the Arab countries and their possessions confiscated for the purpose of settling Palestinina refugees. Those Jews settled in Israel and various and other countries and built a life. Now the Palestinians want to return to Israel. Well, when I and my brethren return to our original countries, they will return to Israel, not before.