Month: July 2005

Literature award for Sami Michael

Listing the winners of Israel’s prestigious President’s Prize for Literature, the Jerusalem Post of 20 July reported that the Israel President’s ‘lifetime achievement award’ has gone to Sami Michael, who has been the recipient of numerous literary awards both in Israel and abroad and who has been nominated for the prestigious Booker Prize(With thanks:Lily). Many adaptations of the 79-year-old Baghdad-born author have been produced on stage and screen. His writing, declared the adjudicators, reflects the East where he was weaned and the West where he flourished. It was also noted that Michael, who had initially written in Arabic before moving into the realm of Hebrew, had “infused Hebrew literature with a new spirit.”

In response, Michael proclaimed literature to be “the spiritual territory of the nation.” Writers keep trying to create out of collective memory, he explained, “and we keep going, because writers don’t go out on pension.”

The son of Israel’s Iranian-born President Moshe Katzav, Noam, is himself a gifted writer but his relationship to his father seems to have disqualified him from the competition.

A long way from Aden

The Jerusalem Post of 29 July reported that 40 Jewish women, all in their seventies, recently took part in a school reunion in Tel Aviv. The school was the Convent school in Aden, where most of the girls were Jewish. The article, by Rimonah Traub, gives a rare and useful insight into this little-known community. Here are a few (edited) extracts:

The school the women had attended was the Convent School in Aden, then a British Crown colony on the South West tip of the Arabian peninsula.The Convent school, where most of the girls were Jewish, provided one of the only opportunities for Jewish female education. The Jewish girls belonged to a tight-knit community of 8,000. The community had existed for 3,000 years. Life for the girls revolved around the five streets of the Jewish quarter. The homes stood back to back without courtyards or gardens separating them. Much of the quarter’s social life took place on the rooftops of the buildings.

The British took advantage of the the higher literacy rate among the Jews and placed them in positions of middle management, thus establishing a middle class that supported the Jewish shopkeepers and merchants. Members of the community supported one another and offered refuge and aid to the Jews arriving from Yemen en route to Israel.

In 1947, the life of the Jews of Aden was shattered. Three days after the UN vote on the partition of Palestine, the Arabs ran riot among their Jewish neighbours, murdering 82 Jews and wounding many more. Four synagogues and both the Jewish schools were burnt down. More than 100 businesses were looted.

Rachel Surkis managed to escape with her family during that night of horror. Scrambling over the roof of their home they found refuge with their Persian neighbour for three days, until the British army finally intervened. Nothing was left of the Surkis home. It had been razed to the ground.

Following the 1947 pogrom, the Jews began to leave Aden, making their way to Israel and England. Departure was difficult, as the Jews were unable to dispose of their property. The local Arabs contended that the property had been appropriated through the exploitation of the Muslim population and agitated against the purchase of Jewish property by the Muslims.

After the Six Day War in Israel, the Jews of Aden came under attack once more. This last attack, coupled with the withdrawal of the British from the protectorate, prompted the last of the Jews to leave Aden. With their departure, a long and rich chapter in Jewish history was completely closed.

Read article in full.

Iraqis split on rights of Jewish minority

One month before the deadline for the creation of the new Iraqi constitution, a debate on whether to include Jews as an official minority has broken out in the National Assembly, members of the assembly have told The Jerusalem Post of 18 July.

“There have been suggestions that when it comes to minority rights, we specify who are the minorities,” Saad Jawad Qindeel, a Shi’ite member said in a phone call from Baghdad. “They [the Iraqi Jews] should not be included as a minority because their number is too small.”

(…) In fact it is their small number that warrants Jews minority status, (says human rights lecturer Joshua) Castellino, who is working on his second book about minorities.

“In general, the Iraqi Jews’ low number is more of a reason to extend them minority status as basic recognition of their existence in Iraq and as a means of further protection,” he said.
Yet while only a few bachelors and old people remain in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Jews of Iraqi descent live abroad. Many of them even voted in Iraq’s National Assembly elections in January, although they have not seen their native country for decades.

According to the present interim constitution, the Transitional Administrative Law, the expatriates are eligible for citizenship, meaning that their potential influence in the country is not negligible.

However, no Iraqi Jew has a seat on the special commission appointed to write Iraq’s constitution by August 15. The document is meant to represent all the different ethnic and religious groups. Jews are the only minority group that does not have a seat on the commission.

Even the right of the descendants of Iraqi expatriates to gain citizenship is in question. According to Qindeel, the law may be changed to prevent descendants of Iraqis living abroad from obtaining a passport. At present, anyone whose father is Iraqi is eligible.

To many Iraqi Jews living abroad it would be a crime not to be mentioned in Iraq’s constitution.
“In my opinion it’s discrimination,” said Hod Hasharon resident Albert Eini, 77, who left Baghdad 55 years ago.

“We were born in Iraq, our roots are in Iraq, we have more than 2,500 years of history in Iraq. It’s not possible that they don’t include us. We are part of the Iraqi people,” he said.
“I wish that one day we can go back to Iraq as Iraqis, and not as foreigners, to live or visit as we like.” Read article in full.

Feedback about Jews of Egypt coverage

The July 2005 issue of Egypt today printed three letters, all from Arab readers, praising Azza Khattab’s articles in the May issue about the Jewish community. (You can read them here, here and here).

Fathy Abdel-Sattar of Switzerland writes: “It has been, and still is, my interest to read about our Jewish history for a host of reasons, but mainly to better understand the problem.”

Sherif Agglan comments: You brought their hardships to light and the idea that we must preserve their heritage as part of our collective heritage was exactly “on the money.”

But Amira el-Ibiary feels that the magazine should have done more to highlight the community’s hardships: “Egypt Today chose to write about a people that are often neglected and if not forgotten about. I have a question: Why didn’t you include more of the hardships that the community has faced?”


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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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