Month: November 2005

Why I am angry – by an Egyptian Jew

It took 37 years for Israel Bonan to pluck up the courage to talk about the ordeal of his imprisonment and expulsion from Egypt. Today, not only is he seething at the fact that the suffering of the Jewish refugees has been completely ignored, but that in the interests of fostering good relations with the Arabs, Jews are pretending that it never happened. Yet a prerequisite to reconciliation, as any married couple could vouch, is to air one’s grievances before kissing and making up.

“It came as a surprise to me, during the past year, that the ageing Jewish community from Egypt is not of one mind on the subject of our history in Egypt. It is not that they were totally unaware of it, I was mostly surprised that for some they wished to deny it. Why bring it up? What purpose will it serve? We need to mute it out? And I ask myself why?

“I do not wish for anger, but anger is the only emotion I currently experience. When I referred to our community as an ‘ageing’ one, it was supposed to imply, the maturity and experience, the enhanced ability to reflect and measure our responses and finally our generation will gradually fade from the scene. So what do we want, to disappear without our stories being told? Do we have and need Six million of us dead before we react to what happened to us? Of course our miseries dwarfs by comparison to the Holocaust experience, but it was a tragic one nonetheless. How can we fathom reconciling without Egypt and her Government apologize to us, at a minimum, for what they did to us and our parents before us?

“Are our sensibilities so jarred, by the stories, that we chose to ignore them? It’s only Palestinians and the Chairman (Arafat) that do that sort of thing, and not us? What will get you angry, with me? More than 3 years in jail, losing more than our self respect, more than abandoning our hard-earned fortunes?

“I ask you, what have we learned from old age? Some of us I am sure are married, maybe with their second or third mate; what have we learned from relationships? That we can slap each other, go to bed and forget about it the next morning? NO, we learned, to confront the problems, talk about them and apologize when apology is called for, and here we are, we were blissfully wedded to Egypt, only she slapped us silly, stomped on our human rights and took all our community property without even a judicial review; and now we go to bed and wake up in the morning and let’s forgive and forget? What kind of logic is that? Please get angry, with me.

“True reconciliation that is so one sided, is abhorrent to me. I beg you to get angry with me, it is our right to ask for an apology, it is our right to ask for restitution and it is our right to ask for our self respect back. It is Egypt’s turn to recognize what she did to a community that participated fully in her well being, only to be wronged in return.

“It is a two way street, reconciliation is. I crave it, but I also crave my self respect, I also crave my dignity and I also crave leaving a clean legacy to our children after us. I need to be able to tell my sons, looking them up in the eye, that we were wronged but did not accept it or rolled over and played dead. I ask you to join me in doing the right thing for our community, because I sincerely believe it is the right thing.”

Read the whole thing!

Slightly adapted from the original at HSJE, The Historical Society of Jews from Egypt, at
Also excerpted at Hopeways.

Republished by permission of the author and the websites.

Silence engulfs the ‘other refugees’

Erik Arnold is a freelance columnist who writes on a variety of cultural and political topics. Here is his take, featured on the weblog Dhimmiwatch on 24 November, on the refugee problem in the Middle East:

Arab aggression has created not one but two groups of refugees in the Middle East. The world has not been allowed to forget the first but has remained largely unaware of the second. The first group comprises those Arabs who abandoned their homes in Palestine during the 1947-1949 fighting. They numbered 587,000… The second group encompasses the Jews who, between 1947 and 1963, were uprooted from African and Middle Eastern countries where their ancestors had lived for generations and where they were full fledged citizens until they suddenly became anathema. They numbered about 650,000 [Note: The numbers are actually much higher than this, being closer to 800,000. E.A.]

… The overwhelming majority were poor people, but they collectively left behind property valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars… The world has not overly concerned itself about the Jews who were constrained by forces beyond their control –discriminatory laws, persecutions, physical violence, and purposeful exclusion from Arab societies — to flee “to a place of safety,” thus meeting Webster’s definition of refugees.

Attention has been concentrated instead on the plight of the Arabs who left Palestine voluntarily — persuaded by their own military commanders and politicians that the war against the Jews would be short and their victorious return would be sweet with booty — hence might be categorized more properly as “fugitives” rather than as “refugees.” (Frank Gervasi, The Case for Israel, Viking Press, New York, 1967, pgs. 108-109).

The above paragraph makes succinctly clear a problem long ignored by the world’s governments: the history of the persecution and expulsion of the large Jewish population of the Middle East and North Africa. The story of the Arab refugees has occasioned much gnashing of teeth and beating of breasts among the collective court of international opinion, while the same sentiment has not been granted to their more numerous Jewish counterparts.

(..) The post-World War II period witnessed the end of the millennia-old history of Jewish life in the Near East. Across this huge area dictators arose who emphasized the purely Arab character of their countries, thus automatically excluding the Jews from the nation-building process. The growth of Zionism and the subsequent battle for Palestine were used to stress the alien-ness and the subversive-ness of the Jewish populations. The persecution, despoliation, and expulsion of whole communities proceeded apace, ending only with the impoverishment and ejection of the Jews of Libya following the Qaddafi coup of 1969. Yet when the issue of refugees is discussed, the group in question is always Arab.

The implications of this one-sided emphasis for the Israel-Arab problem have been profound. While Arabs and their supporters loudly declaim the unconditional demand that Israel open its doors to a flood of emigrants and their descendants, no Muslim country is expected to do the same for Jews. Indeed, in many instances the Jewish presence in certain areas predates that of both Arabs (North Africa), and Islam (Yemen), by several thousand years. Yet there is no large-scale effort to make restitution to these shattered communities.

A visit to any library will reveal a large amount of works devoted to the dilemma of the Arab runaways. In fact, a whole “Palestine industry” has arisen dedicated to the articulation of this group’s point of view while systematically ignoring that of the Jews. The Israeli government, rather than making a case for its own victimized citizens and their progeny, simply allows a black silence to engulf the memory of the destroyed Levantine communities of the world’s oldest diaspora.”

Hear, hear.

Read article in full

End of the ‘Ashkenazi era’?

Since Israeli domestic politics were shaken to their foundations by the surprise election to the leadership of the Labour party of the ‘Moroccan’ Amir Peretz, Haaretz has gotall excited about the re-emergence of the ‘ethnic demon’ (real or imagined). Within Likud, it reports, there is support for the ‘Tunisian ‘ Sylvain Shalom to become leader of the party rather than that other contender, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“A day before the Labor primaries, Silvan Shalom said that Amir Peretz’s victory would pose a problem for the Likud. Peretz exploited this statement to score another few votes at the polls – an outcome that Shalom had not intended, of course. He had only wanted to help himself. Shalom meant to say that while an earthquake was underway in Labor and a Sephardi from a peripheral town was assuming the party leadership, the Likud could not remain behind. It had to place a suitable candidate at its head – a “Tunisian” to run against a “Moroccan.”

“Uzi Cohen, the Likud’s ubiquitous man in the field, openly said as much this week. Until now, he was a big supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu, but this week, Cohen defected to the Shalom camp, announcing: “After the upheaval in Labour, there are quite a few Knesset seats that are going to be distributed on an ethnic basis, so it would be best if Silvan were head of the Likud – There is no way that an Ashkenazi like Bibi could beat a Sephardi like Peretz.” Shlomo Madmon, chairman of the Likud branch in Kfar Sava also joined Shalom’s supporters, saying, “With all due respect to Bibi, we have to offer a response to Amir Peretz.”

“MK Haim Katz (Likud) declares that out in the field, revolution is afoot. People of Moroccan descent – Likudniks included – are speaking in loving terms about Peretz. Dialna – one of ours, they’re saying. Just as the Ashkenazim once used to say in Yiddish Unsere.”

Read article in full

Meanwhile Al-Jazeera gets the wrong end of the stick by gleefully assuming that the end of the ‘Ashkenazi era’ means the end of Zionism.

‘My dearest friends were a Copt and a Jew’

In an article titled “We were born in a city of religious tolerance” in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, renowned Egyptian writer and columnist Anis Mansour discussed Muslim-Christian-Jewish relations in Egypt over the past decades. MEMRI prints the following excerpts:

“We residents of [the city of] Al-Mansoura were of French or Turkish origin, and among us lived large communities of foreign immigrants who had their [own] churches and schools. As children, we therefore spoke many languages. The foreigners taught us and gave us pocket money. Thus, as a boy I knew French, Italian and German, and so did many others. There wasn’t a day in my life that I did not utter the names Jirjis, Hanna, Cohen, Levy, Jacques, Marianne, Violet, and Arlette. These were the names of my friends from school, or of my neighbors. We all played together in the street, met at the public library, or got together in the shop of Mr. Cohen, who sold shoe polish, pins, and matches. We helped our friend look after the shop when his father was away, and we [helped] our friend Jirjis and his father, the tailor, who [likewise] used to leave us [in charge of] the shop. We served the customers who wanted their clothes pressed, and cleaned the premises.

“We never wondered why [we should do this]. My father and mother did not disapprove when they heard about it. My mother regarded it as a proper and moral [act] that reflected brotherhood and friendship. She also visited the Christian and Jewish women, and they visited her. I used to accompany my mother when she visited the hospital, bringing flowers and fruit for a sick child – one of my schoolmates – or for his mother or father. Once, she asked me to put on some clean black clothes and shine my shoes. I had to go to the church, since the father of one of my friends had died. My mother advised me to sit quietly and not talk, no matter what I saw there. I went and sat in the last pew, with my head bowed, and without understanding anything I saw or heard.

“Until then, I did not understand what it meant for a person to be a Christian or a Jew, and what the difference was. [I did not understand] the significance of being kissed by a Christian or Jewish mother, of seeing her visiting our house, or of accompanying my mother on a visit to Jirjis’ home or to the Cohen [household].

“Until [one day when] one of my relatives found me playing in the street, stopped me, and asked after my father and mother. Then he said: ‘I heard you saying [the names] Jirjis and Cohen.’

“‘Yes,’ I replied.

“‘Don’t you realize that one is a Copt and the other is a Jew?’ he asked (in an admonishing tone). ‘How [can] you play with them? Does your mother know?’

“‘Their mothers are friends of my mother’s,’ I answered.

“But he asked again in admonition: ‘Does your father know?’

“‘He visits them too,’ I replied.

“My mother asked me [about it], and she denounced our relative’s questions. At that point, I began to think and understand.

“[But] they [Jirjis and Cohen] have remained my dearest friends!”

Read article in full

More about what Sylvain did in Tunisia

Sylvain Shalom’s visit to Tunisia was more than an official visit by the Israeli foreign minister – it was an historic, personal pilgrimage. Here are some extracts from a piece in Guysen News.

“In the great synagogue in Tunis, the whole community was assembled. Elie Yishai (member of the Knesset) made a moving speeech in Tunisian Arabic. Dalia Itzik (a government minister) called on the Jews to make aliyah to Jerusalem.

This call to aliyah, made in all sincerity and freedom, was highly symbolic, explained the president of the European Jewish Congress, Pierre Besnainou, who was part of the Israeli delegation. ” We dreamed that an Israeli plane would touch down at Tunis airport and saw it with our very eyes. To dream of the Tunisian president, Ben Ali, visiting Israel is on a par with that dream we had a few years ago. Sometimes dreams come true.

(..) Economic, cultural, scientific and political interests come into play from now on. We have to try to break down the ideology of Jihad by the Muslim world against Israel or the West. Tunisia is today aware of this and has been brave enough to say so.”

Warmly welcomed by the Tunisian authorities, Sylvain Shalom went in search of his family’s past with his mother Myriam, who was returning to the land of her birth 47 years later.

“After the gentleness and timeless charm of white Djerba and its 2,500 year-old synagogue, and its typical Jewish community, Mr Shalom and 50 others, all of Tunisian origin, went to his hometown of Gabes, 370 km south of Tunis, which had been closed to traffic for the occasion.

“In the synagogue in Gabes, where Shalom read Minha, he felt the strongest of emotions during his pilgrimage. Here 50 years earlier, his mother Myriam and his father Shimon Shalom (a bank manager, shot dead during a hold-up in Beersheba in 1964) were married under the Hupa by the rabbi of the little town, today deserted by the Jews.

“Moved to be standing on the same spot where his father and grandfather had prayed the Jewish daily ritual, he said he felt deeply saddened that there was not a single Jew in the town. “They died, they went to Israel or France, but thankfully life goes on in Israel. I know I’m closing a circle,” he said, not without nostalgia. The mayor of Gabes presented him with a certificate of honorary citizenship.

“The Jewish community leader, Roger Bismuth, called Shalom’s visit ‘fantastic’ but some Tunisian bloggers were not impressed. ” We do not accept that a representative of the state of Israel, especially its foreign minister, even one of Tunisian origin, should soil our country’s earth while his country oppresses tortures and kills our brothers and deprives them of their inalienable right to live freely in an independent state”, wrote one.

Read article in full (French)


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