Month: July 2007

Andre Chouraqui dead at 89

Although his books are not as well known in the English-speaking world as in the French, the death of Andre Chouraqui, Algerian-born author, historian and lawyer on 9 July, is a great loss to North African Jewry. Here is what Aimee Kligman of the Women’s Lens blog posted about him:

Born in Algeria in 1917, he obtained his law doctorate in France in 1948. Settled in Jerusalem in 1958. In the period 1959-1963, he served as advisor to David Ben-Gurion on how to best integrate the Jews from African countries into Israel. He was elected Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem in 1965, and was in charge of cultural affairs.

He is best known for his writings; he translated the bible and authored several books. In 2001, he said: “Let us bring the Hebrew Bible, the Greek New Testament and the Arab Koran back to what they originally stood for: peace and reconciliation. Let Jerusalem at last become the model capital for universal peace, as the prophets of the three religions stemming from Abraham had always dreamt.”

His biography, originally published in 1984, “A Man In Three Worlds” is available on Amazon.Com, translated from the French. I couldn’t resist looking for some of the other materials he wrote, and I did find two more that should provide fascinating reading. They are: Letter to an Arab Friend, 1972, co-written with William V. Gugli and
Between East & West – A History of the Jews of North Africa, 1968

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Bridge-building religious scholar and linguist: Times obituary

Mizrahi Jews owned land in east Jerusalem

This article in The Jerusalem Post provides clear evidence that pre-1948, Jews, often from Iran and Iraq, owned land in what the media like to call ‘Arab East Jerusalem’. Some of that land has now been abandoned to Bedouin squatters.

“Standing on the runway of the abandoned Atarot airport in northern Jerusalem, Aryeh King – an activist with the NGO Public Office of East Jerusalem (POEJ) – points out hundreds of illegal buildings erected by Arabs on Jewish-owned land. Over the past five months, Beduin have set up tents at the end of the runway, he notes.

“The desolate airport is a metaphor for what is happening across the eastern side of the city, says King. Whether by gross negligence or the efforts of shady land dealers and straw men, more than 3,000 dunams of land in east Jerusalem owned by Jewish individuals, the State of Israel or the Jewish National Fund (JNF) have been squatted on by Arab homesteaders, he says.

“In 1995 gunshots fired at airplanes taxiing on the runway from nearby buildings forced the closure of Jerusalem’s only airport, he continues. Since then the Arab multi-family buildings, some as high as eight stories, have continued to encroach on the British Mandate era airfield.

“The construction of the security fence has only exacerbated the land grab, King says, since some of the Jewish-owned lands are “orphaned” on the eastern side of the barrier. De facto, he says, those dunams have been lost to the Jewish people.

“The nearby Kalandiya refugee camp was built on land acquired by the JNF and Baghdadi Jews before 1948, King explains. Housing Ministry officials estimate the Jewish-owned land in Kalandiya is worth $35 million.

“Land title is often complicated in Jerusalem, King explains. Some parcels of raw land in Abu Dis and other locations were purchased by Jews living in Iran before 1948. The real estate was never developed. The owners and the heirs ended up living in Beverly Hills, and neglected their purchases.”

Read article in full

Worldnet Daily article

French Jewish leaders meet Tunisian ambassador

A delegation of French Jewish leaders raised the question of Tunisia’s Jewish heritage in a meeting with France’s Tunisian ambassador, Raouf Najar on 16 July, Actualite juive reports.

Jean-Pierre Allali, French coordinator of the Justice for Jews from Arab Countries international campaign, mentioned the state of the Jewish cemetery at Gammarth. Meyer Habib asked if it was possible to access the precious archives of Tunisian synagogues. The ambassador replied that these documents could be photocopied or put on microfilm.

Allali and Habib, who went to see the ambassador with the president of the French-Jewish representative body CRIF, Richard Prasquier, praised the ambassador for his stance on antisemitism. In response to Prasquier’s suggestion that books on the Holocaust in Arabic should be more widely made available in Tunisia, Mr Najar said he was ready to encourage any such private initiatives. He pointed out that there was no trace of antisemitism or revisionism in Tunisian schoolbooks.

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Yemen Chief Rabbi ‘believes in Muhammad’

Has the Chief Rabbi of Yemen become a Muslim? The mind boggles at this statement which appeared in the Arabic newspaper Al-Thawra on 27 July.(With thanks: Kyle, and to Iraqijews for summarising it).

The Chief Rabbi of Yemenite Jewry Yahia Ben Yaish Ben Yahia says that he has a 54- part Torah scroll more than 500 years old which he inherited from his father. He claims that the scroll mentions the prophecy of the prophet Muhammad – the same as is written in the Koran. He says that he believes in Muhammad as much as he believes in Moses and in other prophets of God.

Read article in full (Arabic)

How the Yemenite Jews were airlifted to Israel

Read George Bryson’s terrific profile in the Anchorage Daily News of Warren Metzger, the 87-year old Alaska Airlines pilot who helped transport 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel ‘on the wings of eagles.’

The company planned to use C-46 transports to move what (company president James) Wooten initially thought was 1,000 refugees from Yemen on a mission underwritten by a Jewish American relief agency. Except the C-46 couldn’t do the job, at least not by its manufacturer’s specifications.

Normally a C-46 configured as a passenger plane could carry about 45 people, Metzger said. But Wooten wanted to carry twice that many, because the refugees weren’t that heavy. Many of them were children and elderly, and even healthy adults weighed less than 100 pounds.

But the planes also needed to carry additional gas, since Egypt and Saudi Arabia — the nations that bordered the flight zone up the center of the Red Sea — wouldn’t let them land and refuel. In fact, they wanted to shoot them down.

“They told us, ‘If you go down in Arab land, you and your co-pilot — since you aren’t Jewish — might survive, but all of the rest of the people won’t,’ ” Metzger said.

So the range of the planes had to be extended to make the nine-hour flight from Aden to Tel Aviv.

The solution, Metzger said, was to tear out all the passenger seats and configure a new floor plan in which the passengers sat troop-style, with their backs to the side of the plane. That allowed room to install an auxiliary set of fuel tanks down the center of the fuselage.

The reconfigured planes could remain airborne about 10 hours, just a little longer than necessary, Metzger said. “But you had to stretch to make it.”

First, however, they had to get the passengers on board.

As much as the Jewish refugees wanted to reach Israel, Metzger said, they still were reluctant to fly. A nomadic desert people who lived in tents, most of them had never seen a plane before, let alone gotten to ride in one.

Still, one of the refugees pointed out that the mode of their return to Palestine had already been foretold in a line from the Book of Isaiah: “They shall mount up with wings like eagles.”

“So we were making their prophecy come true,” Metzger said.

Just to make sure the point got across, crew members painted the image of an eagle with its wings outstretched on the door of each of the planes.

That got them inside, but once they were airborne, Metzger said, about half of the passengers got sick.

“They would vomit straight over the fuel tank.”

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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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