Month: June 2005

The painful memories stirred by Gaza

The authorities want the Jewish homes of Gaza razed in case leaving them intact stirs some painful memories among those Israelis who were forced to flee Baghdad, Tripoli or Cairo, argues Clifford D May in Townhall.

“Such a display would lend credence to the claim that the Israelis had been forced to leave Gaza — as they earlier had been driven out of Lebanon, and as they will, one day, be expelled from every inch of Israel. This week, Hamas pledged yet again that “the jihad” against “the Zionist entity” would “continue until victory or martyrdom” – i.e. until they wipe the Jewish state off the map or die trying.

In addition to concern about encouraging dreams of conquest and genocide, Israeli officials also must have worried about the psychological impact that images of Arabs taking over Jewish homes would have had on their own citizens — particularly those Israelis who come from Arab lands.

It is often forgotten that half of all Israeli Jews trace their roots to such places as Baghdad, Cairo and Tripoli. Jewish communities were well established in many Middle Eastern and North African capitals hundreds of years before those capitals were conquered and occupied, beginning in the 7th century, by armies from the Arabian Peninsula, carrying the banner of the new faith of Islam.

Iraq, for example, was for millennia home to a prominent Jewish minority. As late as 1948 one of every four Baghdadis was Jewish. After the U.N. partition of Palestine, however, hundreds of Iraqi Jews were executed. Others were imprisoned. Jewish homes were confiscated. Eventually most Jews fled.

In Yemen, by contrast, Jews had long endured a kind of apartheid. They were not allowed to walk on pavements or ride horses. They were forced to clean the public toilets. By law, Jewish orphans had to be converted to Islam. Not surprisingly, once Israel was established, virtually all Yemeni Jews sought refuge there.

Egypt was among the leaders of the “jihad” declared against Israel in 1948. This was to be, in the words of Arab League Secretary Azzam Pasha, “a war of extermination.”

As Egyptian soldiers invaded Israel, mobs attacked the Jewish quarter of Cairo and Egyptian authorities shipped Jews suspected of sympathizing with Israel to concentration camps in the Sinai desert.

In all, close to 900,000 Jews are estimated to have fled Arab-majority countries, leaving behind houses, schools, synagogues, cemeteries and, in many cases, ancient cultures and traditions. ” Read article in full.

Muslims empathise with Libyan Jew

The publication by Reuters of Jonathan Saul’s articleabout compensation to the Jews of Libya led to reaction in the Arabic and Libyan press and websites. One of Saul’s interviewees, Raphael Luzon – chairman of Jews of Libya UK – then decided to set out his personal viewpoint in his own words. The reaction was incredible: he received 65emails and calls from Libyan Muslims – almost all of them empathising with him. Here is what Luzon wrote:

My position is based on historical, verifiable facts, which can only be distorted by fabricating the past.

1.The existence of the Jews of Libya goes back 2,400 years, or 1,300 years before the arrival of the Arabs there.

2.Jews always lived in harmony with the nations of the Middle East and the Islamic World. Although forcibly evicted from their homeland – at times by compulsory emigration or escaping with little but their lives – the Jews of Arab countries clung to their traditions, heritage, Arabic language, native music and food and they tried to pass them on to their children. Witnessing Iraqi Jews enthusiastically participating in the recent election in Iraq from overseas is proof that the Jew is not ready to let go of his roots and still feels a strong attachment.

3.Jews took an active and important part in administering the different countries conquered by the Arab armies during the Islamic conquests as well as under the Ottoman Empire and participated in the economical, commercial, social & cultural development of the area.

4.When the Italians and the Fascists occupied Libya in the 19th century, Jews fought side by side with the Libyan heroes against the fascists. My grandfather, Raphael Luzon, fought with the hero Ramadhan Al-Shteui in Musrata.

5.No Libyan Jew wanted to leave his homeland until 1945, when bloody street demonstrations against the Jews took place for no obvious reason. This incident led to loss of trust by some members of the Jewish community. The second wave of demonstrations in 1948 only confirmed their doubts. The number of fatalities soared to 400 people with many more injured. Shops, houses and other properties were looted and burnt down.

6.As a result, fear descended over the vast majority of the 38,000-strong Jewish population, which led to mass immigration to Italy and Israel – the only countries willing to offer asylum. Had these harmful events not taken place, I doubt that 10% of the Jews would have emigrated from their homeland. The vast majority of Jews who left Libya did so out of fear and not out of ideology.

7.Following Libya’s independence, the number of Jews in Tripoli and Benghazi hovered around the 7,000 mark. These were honest, decent, hardworking citizens who wanted nothing other than to be able to earn a living and discharge their duties and responsibilities (such as paying taxes) with honesty. In reality they were denied several human rights, including the right to vote or to stand for election, the right of application to work in the Public Services or Governmental posts and the right to serve in the army.

8.There are those who seek to imply that the matter of compensation to the Jews of Libya is connected to the Palestinian matter. I do not understand this logic: two wrongs do not make a right.

9.The Jewish Libyan community stayed close to their roots despite everything they went through. The community that numbered approximately 7,000 people, suffered again in 1967 with another wave of atrocities. Houses and other properties were burnt down, and 16 people – including 8 members of my own family (among them a woman and her 6 children) – were killed in cold blood and without any provocation by a Libyan officer heading a unit of the Royal Libyan Army. Soon after that, a law was passed to deport all the Jews (each person was allowed to take a small suitcase and 20 Libyan pounds only). They were forced to leave all their properties and monies – everything they had worked so hard to accumulate over the years and it was all then confiscated.

10.The Jews of Libya avoided involvement in any political activities or support of any political party, because their loyalty is purely to the homeland – Libya – and not to any ruling body. The proof of this is that when the Embargo was imposed on Libya, no Jew supported it; on the contrary. Unfortunately, Libyan activists in Human Rights matters never included the case of the Jews of Libya. I hope this is only an oversight and not a deliberate policy. As an optimist, I can see a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel with the announcements of Mr. Saef Al-Islam (Ghaddafi’s son) regarding the rights of the Jews of Libya and I am hopeful that I will, one day, be allowed to visit my homeland, Libya. In spite of these declarations, I have already applied twice for permission to visit but have been refused. I am eagerly waiting to do so again.

11.I am asking for my Libyan and Arabic identity to be recognised, and I see no conflict with the fact that I am a Jew. Just as an Arab who lives in Israel carries an Israeli passport and follows Islam or Christianity, or a Druze. My wish is to be able to visit my place of birth accompanied by my octogenarian mother, to fulfil her dream to visit Libya, just like many Libyans (Muslim, Christian and Jews) who are longing for the day of return. I also wish to accompany my daughter in whom I instilled a love of Libya through my childhood memories and my mother’s tales; I want my daughter to see with her own eyes the places where I and her ancestors were born and lived and to know more about Libya besides its location on the map.

12.I am not asking for compensations for me personally or only for Jews but I ask for justice for all my Libyan brothers, without any racial or religious discrimination, and for my murdered family.

13.As a person who is very interested in History, I do not deny that throughout many centuries the Jews lived under the umbrella of Islam. They prospered and contributed to many fields such as culture, science, commerce and economics. They were always proud of their Arabic roots and of their Judaism. I would like to add that Western Jews suffered much more under the Crusades and Nazism.

I hope there are Arab Muslims and Arab Jews who, like me, believe that we have to reach an understanding between us. In order to become closer, we must emphasise what we have in common NOT what sets us apart.

Let us look forward with optimism to a beautiful future for our beloved Libya.

Peace upon you all.

Raphael Luzon
Chairman of Jews of Libya- UK

Spare a thought for Jews in Iran

With the election of an hardline conservative as the new Iranian president, spare a thought for the precarious plight of Iran ‘s 30,000 Jews, who have been living as dhimmis under sharia law since the 1979 Iranian revolution. As the article below shows, the community lives in a constant state of anxiety.

A ‘golden’ period for the Jews under the Shah, when Iran and Israel enjoyed excellent relations, ended in that year: 17 Jews were executed, including the head of the community. Some 50,000 Jews fled. Many had their property confiscated. As the regime became hostile to Israel, Jews were always vulnerable to arrest or worse as ‘Zionist spies’. (In 2003 the last of 13 Jews arrested on trumped-up charges were released after international pressure). Today Jews are nominally allowed to leave but cannot send money out and restrictions still apply. Background articles hereand here.

Exclusive: Yedioth Ahronoth correspondent joins Tehran’s Jewish community for Friday night prayers

By Orly Azoulay

TEHRAN – “What do you want?” asked a suspicious and angry elderly local, as I entered the Mahariv synagogue in Tehran onFriday night.

When I explained to him that I was Jewish, and asked to join the prayer service, he was incredulous. “We haven’t seen Jews from outside of Iran for 30 years,” he said.

On my first day in Tehran, I asked my cab driver to take me to the local synagogue. I didn’t have an exact address, only the name of the neighborhood.

Photo: Orly Azoulay

Tehran’s Mahariv synagogue (Photo: Orly Azoulay)

After circling the area for a while, we arrived at a two-storey building on Street 15 in Tehran. Blue Hebrew letters decorated the front end of the building. The gate was locked, and our attempts to reach someone through the intercom went unanswered.

The driver sensed my disappointment.

“If you would like to see the Jewish cemetery, I can take you there,” he said. “It will be interesting for you. The grandmother of the president of Israel is buried there.”

I asked him who the president of Israel was.

“Moshe Dayan,” said the cab driver. I didn’t rush to correct him. It seemed to me that in the heart of Tehran, on a road that connected the synagogue to the Jewish cemetery, accompanied by an unknown driver, it was preferable not to reveal familiarity with Israeli affairs.

Red hilltops

We were soon on our way. 50 kilometers north of Tehran, on the road to the Caspian Sea, perched on red hilltops, spectacular in their beauty, is a small village by the name of Damavner. The dirt road leading to the grave stones was blocked with enormous concrete blocs.

The young driver suggested that we leave the car on the main road and climb up on foot. Children playing soccer in the neighborhood pointed us towards a winding road, littered with rocks and wild thorns. The cemetery had no fence, and lacked a gate, or guards. I walked through the graves and searched for a stone with the name Katsav. Article in full

A Shi’i Muslim friend of Israel

How could an erstwhile Shi’i Muslim fighter for the PDFLP become a fervent supporter of the Jews? Read this slightly ancient, but fascinating article from the Jerusalem Report.While his idea of bringing the Iraqi Jews back to Baghdad seems somewhat fanciful, one wishes there were more Dia Kashis about. (Note : since this article first appeared two years ago, Saddam has of course been toppled, the writer Samer Naqash has died, but Kashi is as enthusiastic about the Jews as ever.)

“Ironically, Kashi arrived at his own politics after a dramatic flirt with a radical Palestinian organization as a youth. In 1970, the 18-year old Kashi, having failed his university exams and on the suggestion of a friend, found himself on a bus headed toward Damascus to fight for the leftist Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He thought he was going to be a freedom fighter in the battle for democracy and basic human rights.

“Three months later he returned, worse than disillusioned, to Baghdad. The experience changed his view of the world. “I thought I was helping my brothers. What the Palestinian lecturer told me before sending me out to fight was that, should I run out of ammunition, I must surrender not to my fellow Arabs, but to the Israelis. The Arabs would kill me for fighting without permission, and they would rob me, whereas the Israelis, he said, would simply put me in jail. Then I could hear the fighters bartering, wheeling and dealing, discussing how much money they would get if they killed an Israeli soldier or officer, and how much if they captured him. I couldn’t believe it. There was no ideology. I was risking my life for the Palestinian struggle, and I just couldn’t take it.” And so began his curiosity about, and affection for, Israel.

“Contemporary Iraq’s relationship with its 2,700-year-old Jewish community has not been happy. In 1941, 180 Baghdad Jews were killed and about 1,000 injured in a pogrom by pro-Nazi and Palestinian elements. With the establishment of Israel in 1948, Zionism became a crime, and between 1949-51, over 100,000 Jews were evacuated from Iraq, while another 20,000 were smuggled out through Iran. Most ended up in Israel. After that, economic restrictions were placed on the Jews who’d chosen to stay and the gates were closed.

“By the time Kashi was born in 1952, all that was left of Iraq’s ancient, once thriving Jewish community was a fractional percentage, probably fewer than 6,000.

“Kashi, however, has his own, fonder memories of how things were in Baghdad. It all began in Baghdad’s Battaween district, where rich Jews and Arabs lived as neighbors. Daoud Hayim, the Chief Rabbi of Iraq, resided two doors away from the Kashi’s extended family household. The rabbi’s wife once called the 6-year-old Kashi to her home. Afraid of the old woman, he ran back to the safety of his devout grandmother. What the rabbi’s wife wanted was for someone to turn on the lights and the stove on the Sabbath. Kashi’s Shi’ite grandmother, who prayed five times a day, explained that these people were not only neighbors, but were like relatives.Read the whole thing!

The Arab states’ ‘original sin’

This ‘must-read’ article by Professor Shmuel Trigano who teaches at the University of Paris was published in the French daily Le Figaro in 2001, but is as relevant as ever.

“A bizarre amnesia obscuring the fundamental truths of the Israel-Arab conflict afflicts the debate about the Palestinian ‘right of return’ for 3,700,000 refugees to the territory of the state of Israel.

“To frame the debate in terms of the ‘right of return’ is to falsify historical truth. In no way is the Arab world an innocent victim and Israel congenitally guilty. This distorted account obscures the experience and history of most of the Israeli population – the Jews from Arab countries – as if they never existed or as if their plight mattered less than that of Palestinians or of other Israelis.”

Professor Trigano goes on to detail the ‘original sin’ of the Arabs – the ethnic cleansing of the Jews. Repression and pogroms were followed by a 1949 decision taken in concert by Arab diplomats in Beirut to expel their Jewish populations in revenge for the Palestinian exodus.

“Thus the Jews from Arab countries are critical to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Seen in this light, the creation of Israel (where they constitute a majority) in the heart of “the Arab world appears less as a humanitarian solution for Holocaust survivors than as the fruit of the struggle for liberation and self-determination of an oppressed minority of the Arab world. (My italics – Ed) Their situation is directly comparable to that of the Palestinians: there was a de facto exchange of populations between 600,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries and 540,000 Palestinians displaced after the creation of Israel. These 600,000 Jews were dispossessed and confined to transit camps (ma’abarot) – tents and low wooden huts – before they were settled more permanently in Israel. To date, they are still suffering from the economic, political and cultural effects of their uprooting.

“One can understand why Palestinian apologists should obscure this dimension of the conflict so inconvenient to their cause. Nonetheless, it will not go away. One can less easily understand how Israeli leaders, especially on the left, should have turned a blind eye to it – for ethnocentric reasons, no doubt. As for the Arab states, they are doubly responsible – for having expelled their Jewish residents, they not only failed to integrate the Palestinian refugees but transformed them into a weapon against Israel.”Read article in full

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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