Month: March 2009

Government ‘cut off Yemeni Jews’ allowances’

Jews in Sana’a are struggling to survive after their allowances were cut off, according to this report of 31 March by the humanitarian news agency IRIN:

SANAA, 31 March 2009 (IRIN) – Members of the tiny Jewish community in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, say they have not received their monthly food rations or any government financial assistance for the past three months.

Rabbi Yahya Yusuf, leader of the 65-member community, told IRIN the Jews had been “suffering terribly” of late; many had been finding it very difficult to even feed their children. “We have sold everything we possess to buy food for our families. We even sold our women’s gold rings. We have run out of money,” he said.

Yusuf said that two weeks ago they had staged a protest outside government headquarters to demand action. “Prime Minister Ali Mujawwar has ordered payment of our monthly allowances and so has the minister of finance. But so far we have not received anything,” Yusuf said.

The community has been living in the Sanaa suburb of Tourist City. The assistance they had been getting was 58,000 riyals (US$290), as well as 40kg of sugar, 50kg of wheat, and 40kg of rice per family, according to Yusuf. Most families had 12-18 members. Yusuf said the cut in aid could be used as a pretext to remove them from the city.

“When we first lived here [in 2007], we got good food rations plus the financial assistance. But gradually the assistance has been reduced,” he said. Appeal “We appeal to aid organisations and benevolent contributors to assist us,” said Yusuf.

Habbob Salem, 27, is a member of the community in Sanaa. He said he and his 18 family members lived in a small apartment with only three rooms. “We have never gone through this hardship. We have no source of income to rely on and now we have run out of money. This is really very harsh for us,” he told IRIN.

The community was moved to Sanaa in 2007 after a number of Shia rebels in Saada Governorate, northern Yemen, threatened to kill them if they did not leave the area within 10 days. Yusuf said their property in Saada had been seized by the rebels, though the rebels have denied this. “We have not received any compensation.”

ButSaba Newscontradicts the above report:

SANA’A, March 23 (Saba) – The Yemeni government continues to give allowances for the Yemeni Jews of those who are living in the Tourist City, Sana’a, a source at the Yemen Economic Corporation has affirmed.

The source dismissed reports recently released on some websites that the government had suspended Jewish allowances as baseless.

All allowances approved for the Jewish families in Sana’a for the next six months have been released, the source said.

Recently, some reports were released citing rabbis and Jews in Yemen complaining about the suspension of their allowances.

Jews were relocated to Sana’a after harassment they had started to experience in Saada and Amran provinces.

New work explores end of Judaism in Muslim lands

Immediately following the Holocaust, between 1945 and 1970, 20 centuries of pre-Islamic civilisation vanished almost overnight, as the Jews from Arab countries and Iran found themselves pounding the paths to exile.

Professor Shmuel Trigano’s latest work, La fin du judaisme en terres d’Islam is a compilation of the work of 10 academic historians from France and Israel. It casts light on one of the major dramas of the 20th century – one that its victims are themselves often loth to talk about. It asks key questions about the relationship of the Muslim world to the Jewish or Christian ‘other’, and puts the Palestinian refugee issue in a wider context.

The book launch in Parison Tuesday 31 March at 7.30pm will be attended by four of the book’s contributors.

After 30 years, what of Egyptian-Jewish claims?

Presidents Sadat, Carter and Prime Minister Begin at the historic signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty on the White House lawn (AP)

Amid the fanfare marking the 30th anniversary of Israel’s historic peace treaty with Egypt, signed on the White House lawn on 26 March 1979, one question has received little or no attention – have Egyptian-Jewish property claims been met?

The answer is a resounding no.

Between 1956 and 1976, Jewish refugees from Egypt, most now living in Israel, filed some 7,000 claims, as requested by the Israeli Ministry of Justice – a quarter of all claims by Jews from Arab Countries. These claims are worth billions of dollars in private property alone. Individuals suspended their claims in order to allow the Israel government to handle the matter of confiscated or stolen properties on their behalf.

The Camp David Treaty declared: “Egypt and Israel will work with each other and with other interested parties to establish agreed procedures for a prompt implementation of the resolution of the refugee problem,” without specifying if the refugees were Jewish or Arab.

Under Article VIII of the Treaty, the two sides agreed to establish a Claims Commission for the mutual return of financial claims. But the Claims Commission was never established.

In 1980, an Egyptian Jew, Shlomo Cohen-Sidon, wrote to Menahem Begin, suggesting that in the absence of a Claims Commission the state of Israel was now responsible for meeting Egyptian-Jewish compensation claims. But Cohen-Sidon’s interpretation was rejected by Israel’s foreign ministry.

Why was the Claims Commission never established? Egypt has never pressed for it. According to Itamar Levin, writing inLocked Doors(p146), the Egyptians initially realized that Israeli claims could leave Egypt ‘stripped bare’, as one Israeli source put it.

Israel, for its part, feared that Egypt might file a massive claim for oil pumped from the Abu Rudeis fields in western Sinai between 1967 and 1975. In anticipation, Egyptian Jews formally asked the Israeli government in 1975 not to return the oilfields without claiming compensation for Jewish property claims.

Israel did not do so, and the Jews of Egypt Organisation sued the state of Israel before the High Court of Justice in September 1975. But they lost the case: the Attorney-General Gabriel Bach concluded that it was too late. The agreement returning Abu Rudeis to Egypt had just been signed.

Levana Zamir of the Israel-Egypt Friendship Association argues that the U.N. Charter on Wars between countries stipulates that no natural resources need be returned in peacetime. Therefore the oil pumped by Israel from Abu Rudeis should not have been taken into account.

The Israel government produced a variety of excuses for not pursuing Egyptian-Jewish claims. In the end they claimed that at the time their property was taken from the Jewish refugees, they were not Israeli citizens. As one Egyptian Jew ruefully remarked, this argument never stopped Israel from claiming from Germany on behalf of Holocaust victims.

Michael Fischbach in his book Jewish property claims against Arab countries, suggests that Israel did not press the claims of Egyptian-Jewish refugees because it was ‘saving’ them for political linkage with the claims of Palestinian refugees in a final peace settlement.

But the late Israeli Minister of Justice, Tommy Lapid, declared in 2003 that the failure to resolve Egyptian-Jewish claims was a severe omission by Israel. Meanwhile, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) have given a renewed impetus to the collection of claims, although they now declare recognition of refugee rights, not redress, is their top priority.

The pressure on Egypt to settle Jewish claims has slackened since July 2000, when after the Wye Plantation talks, President Clinton declared that an International Fund will be established both for Palestinian refugees and Jewish refugees from Arab Countries. Levana Zamir of the Israel-Egypt Friendship Association says: ‘It is high time to begin establishing this International Fund.”

The vast amount of communal property such as synagogues left behind must also be considered. Jews of Egypt may be tempted to follow the example of the Jews of Iraq, who set up the World Organisation of Jews of Iraq in 2008, a separate body to pursue mainly communal property claims.

Watch ‘Farhud’ on Israel Channel 1 Monday

With thanks: Aida and Iraqijews

On 1st and 2 June 1941, the festival of Shavuoth, over 130 Jews were massacred by Arabs in Baghdad in a terrifying pogrom. Thousands more were injured and there was massive damage to property.

The ‘Farhud’ pogrom has its grisly place in the annals of Nazi persecution of the Jewish people during World War ll. The British army, encamped on the outskirts of Baghdad, also bears responsibility for failing to stop two days and nights of killing and looting.

The Israel Broadcast Authority is to air Yitzhak Halutzi’s documentary about the Farhud tomorrow night (Monday) 30th March at 9.45 pm Israel time. Five surviving witnesses are interviewed.

Watch Channel 1 or click here to access the IBA’s Hebrew internet site programme schedule.

102-year old Jewess moves from Iran to LA

She witnessed the rise and fall of three kings and the upheaval of an Islamic revolution 30 years ago. Now 102-year-old Heshmat Elyasian has become the oldest Jewish immigrant from Iran to resettle in Los Angeles. Karmel Melamed has the story in the Jewish Journal of L A.

Because of an age-related mental decline, Elyasian was not fully aware that she had resettled in the United States. However, she said she was in good spirits during an interview with The Journal.

“I have some pain in my arms and legs from arthritis, but otherwise, thank God,” she said in her native Persian, while seated in a wheelchair and surrounded by family members at a relative’s home in the Valley.

Elyasian immigrated to the United States with her son, Manouchehr Tabari, and his family with the help of the New York-based Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). According to HIAS records, Elyasian is the oldest refugee they have helped.

“Making the transition to life in America is not easy for many reasons, especially since the Iranian currency is worth so much less when converted to dollars, but we’re grateful to be here,” said 68-year-old Tabari, who was a cinematographer and filmmaker in Iran.

Tabari said the decision for his immediate family to leave Iran was based on his desire to pursue better educational opportunities for his children in the United States. Since extended families typically live together in Iran for many years, it was only natural for Tabari to immigrate with his mother.

“The plane trip here was very difficult for all of us, especially for my mother, because it was for many hours, and they had seated all of us in different parts of the airplane,” said Tabari, who now lives at his niece’s Tarzana home. “We are still trying to get over the exhaustion of the trip and the shocks of this new environment.”

Elyasian’s long life in Iran has not been the easiest, her son explained. After her marriage, her husband, who was a butcher, lost his savings after livestock he had purchased and ritually slaughtered were not kosher due to some impurities. The couple and their six children barely survived while they lived in poor conditions in Tehran’s run-down Jewish ghetto. Her husband was forced to work small and low-paying odd jobs, while she raised their children and also earned a living helping other families with their cooking, sewing and hand-washing their laundry.

“I am the only person in my family that has had formal education, and my mother really sacrificed on my behalf so that I could get an education,” said Tabari, who produced documentary films for television networks in Iran after studying film and drama in New York during the 1960s. “I’ve taken care of her myself ever since my father suddenly died of a heart attack at age 62.”

Iranian Jewish historical scholars said they were excited about Elyasian’s arrival in the United States because of her life experience and the fact that her father was one of a few Jewish musicians to entertain the late Iranian king, Nasser-al-Din Shah Qajar, which could shed new light on how Jews were treated in the king’s court during the early 20th century.

“Life was not easy for Jews living in Iran during the time this woman was born,” said Daniel Tsadik, a professor of Iranian studies at Yeshiva University in New York. “They were typically living in poverty, faced persecution in various cities and their movement was restricted in the country, because they were considered ritually impure by the local Muslim leaders.”

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