Monday, January 24, 2011

Wartime 'Jewish-Muslim ties in Maghreb were good'

Not much wartime Jewish suffering in North Africa can, it seems, be blamed on anyone other than the Nazis (Tunisia), the Italian fascists (Libya) and the Vichy authorities (Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco): Haim Saadon (pictured) of the Hebrew University tells us in The Jerusalem Post that 'relations between Jews and Muslims in the Maghreb were good, despite the Nazis.' However, Jews paying Arabs to shelter Jews (such as Saadon's own family) from the Nazis, is no different from Jews paying European Gentiles to do the same. When he claims there was no violence, Saadon seems to have forgotten the mob attacks against Moroccan Jews as soon as General Patton landed in 1943; his explanation of the Libyan pogrom of 1945 is weak. And how does he explain the fact that anti-Jewish Vichy rules were still maintained in Algeria after the liberation 'so as not to arouse the Arab population'*?

When Nazi Germany’s Afrika Korps invaded Tunisia in 1942, panic quickly spread among members of the local Jewish community, many of whom packed their belongings and fled to the countryside, fearing persecution.

Dr. Haim Saadon of the Hebrew University recalled, in an interview with the The Jerusalem Post last week, how his parents had to live in hiding until the French colony was liberated by the allies.

“They remember exactly how they left their houses and lived in a little village with Muslims in the country,” Saadon said.

“They had to pay for their accommodation but they were well treated there.”

Relatively good ties between Jews and Muslims in North Africa during World War II stand in stark contrast to the treatment of their coreligionists by gentiles in Europe at the same time and is the central theme of the English-language lecture Saadon is scheduled to deliver at the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem on Tuesday, on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Whereas in Europe Jews were hunted down by locals – in Lithuania the Jewish community was almost annihilated by nationalist militias without the Nazis lifting a finger – the Jews of North Africa were for the most part left unharmed by Muslims.

“There was no violence towards Jews during the war from Muslims,” he said.

“Even between 1911 when Libya was occupied by the Italians, until 1943, there was a lot of tension between the Italians and the Jews, but the Jews were relatively on good terms with the Muslims.

“The question is how to explain this difference: Muslims gave shelter to Jews during the war during the bombardment of Libya. For instance, Jews lived in Arab villages. They paid money, but their lives were saved.”

At the same time there was no particular sense of camaraderie between members of the different faiths, Saadon said. In fact, in other parts of the Muslim world some Muslims sided with the Nazis.

Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini famously spent the war in Berlin, where he helped organize a Muslim unit to fight on the Axis side. In Baghdad, an Axis-supported junta briefly seized power from the pro- British government.

“North Africa is not the case of the Middle East,” he said. “Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine had a different process.”

On one occasion, a Muslim man in the Maghreb even helped save Jewish lives.

Read article in full

* Jews of Arab lands in modern times by Norman Stillman, p.135.

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