Jews were sheltered by Shi’a in 1920s

Relations between Jews in Palestine and the Shi’as of south Lebanon were excellent, so much so that Jews fleeing Arab attacks in the 1920s were even given shelter by them. Fascinating article from Haaretz.

. “In February, 1920, one week before the attack on Tel Hai in which early Zionist activist Joseph Trumpeldor and his comrades were killed, 120 farmers and their families left the moshava agricultural community in Metula to seek shelter in neighboring villages. The Galilee panhandle was delivered to the French Mandate (which controlled all of Lebanon and Syria) at the end of World War I. Arabs and Druze fought the French regime, and Jews were sometimes suspected of collaboration with the French. Only three years later, the panhandle became part of the British Mandate.

Meir Ben Dov, 70, an archaeologist and third-generation resident of Metula, is piecing together a book about the moshava and writing down the legendary tales of the evacuation of the farming community. His grandfather and grandmother, members of the celebrated Lishansky family, with other farm families, found a safe haven in the khan (caravansary) in Nabatiya, which then, as now, was the capital of mountainous South Lebanon and mainly inhabited by Lebanese Shi’ites (called mtewleh at the time).

Kfar Giladi residents also left their settlement during those volatile days and found shelter with Shi’ite leader Sheikh Kamal Assad Bek in the village of Taybeh.

Why did escaping Jews choose to seek asylum in these particular settlements? Ben Dov says that Jewish farmers enjoyed far better relations with their Shi’ite neighbors than with any other ethnic group in the region.

The ethno-religious mosaic on the slopes of the Hermon and surrounding mountains was highly varied in those days. There were Druze, left behind when most of their brethren abandoned the region for the East following bloody battles between Druze and Christians in 1860; Bedouin who sold dairy products to families in Metula; Maronite Christians, Catholics, and Greek Orthodox. One of them, a doctor in Marjayoun, treated Ben Dov’s grandmother with leeches.

There were Alawites, like Bashar Assad, who became the military elite that controls Syria. Still living in the village of Ghajar, east of Metula, the Alawites were considered unsophisticated rubes because, in addition to other practices, they banged on pots during eclipses of the moon to repel the demon attempting to devour it. The clamor was heard all the way to Metula.

There were Circassian, Kurd, Moughrabi, and Turkmen villages in the Golan and, of course, Sunni Muslims in the eastern town of Rashaya al-Foukhar. Residents of “Rashaya” made ceramic utensils and sold them throughout the region. Nawar, Muslim gypsies, forged iron, sharpened knives, made horseshoes and lined bronze cooking pots with zinc to prevent poisoning.

Ben Dov says that, in many cases, central regimes intentionally settled minority groups in the area because of its strategic location as a point of passage between the coastal plain and interior regions and because minority groups are typically loyal to the government. They tend to fight among themselves but often turn to reigning governments to settle scores between them. This may be why, during the latter years of the Ottoman Empire, rulers allowed Jews, including the farmers in Metula, to settle in the region. There were so many minorities in the area, there might as well be another.

When the Metula farmers returned from exile to the moshava in 1920, they discovered that their Arab neighbors did not loot the farms and did nearly no damage to them. Relations with the neighboring Shi’ite village of Kila were especially warm.

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