Month: March 2010

False settler linkage denies Jewish refugee rights

Update: The Financial Times restores some balance by publishing the following letter in response to Dr Rogan’s article:

Sir, In “Refugees for settlers is the way forward for Israel” (March 29), Eugene Rogan writes that the “history of Israel and Palestine has been stained by forced displacement in the past”. The author goes on to mention the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and 1967, as well as the removal of Jewish communities from Sinai in 1982 and from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Mr Rogan, however, completely omits the expulsion of approximately 850,000 Jews from Arab lands that took place mainly between 1940s and 1970s. Today, these Jews and their descendants constitute about half of Israel’s Jewish population.

In 2008, the US Congress passed House Resolution 185 that urges the president and US officials to ensure that any reference to Palestinian refugees in the context of the Middle East conflict must “also include a similarly explicit reference to the resolution of the issues of Jewish refugees from Arab countries”. On February 23, 2010, Israel’s parliament passed a bill recognising the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran.

The first step to solving “the refugee question, one of the most intractable problems of the Arab-Israeli conflict”, is to present historical truth which Mr Rogan, intentionally or not, fails to do.

Sasha Giler,
Boston, MA, US

************************************************************************

With thanks: Sacha

Dr Eugene Rogan

The fixation with Israel’s ‘settlements’ as the leading obstacle to peace in the Middle East has spawned a worrying trend: a false linkage between Israeli settlers and Palestinian Arab refugees.

In December,Ray Hanania, in his manifesto as Palestinian presidential candidate, put forward a proposal linking Jewish settlers and Arab refugees.

Now it’s the turn of the director of the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College Oxford, Eugene Rogan. Rogan brightly unveils a plan, in an article for the Financial Times (28 March)Refugees for settlers is the way forward for Israel, proposing an exchange between Israeli settlers in Judea and Samaria and Palestinian refugees living in Syria and Lebanon.

While Jewish settlers would be allowed to stay in territory that will become a Palestinian state, descendants of Palestinians from refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon, Rogan argues, should be permitted a ‘right of return’ to their ‘ancestral homes’ in Israel proper.

“The only way forward is to put a real price on settlements that might make the Israeli government pause before expanding them,” Rogan writes.

There are several things wrong with Rogan’s plan. It is nothing more than a proposal to allow a Palestinian ‘right of return’ to Israel by subterfuge – a red line Israel has always refused to cross. Assuming that principle is enshrined in international law – a dubious proposition – why limit that ‘right of return’ to Palestinians from Syria and Lebanon? What about Palestinians in Jordan? Egypt? Kuwait? Chile? An influx of hundreds of thousands, largely radicalised, Arabs displacing current occupants from their ‘ancestral homes’ in Israel (assuming these homes still exist) would be a recipe for chaos and violence.

Secondly, Rogan assumes that only Jews moved into the occupied territories since 1967. Yasser Arafat brought thousands of Palestinians with him from Tunisia and during the Oslo years. Civil servants and administrators moved in from Jordan to run the new Palestinian Authority. Arabs built hundreds of new ‘settlements’ in the West Bank.

Most egregious of all, Rogan’s plan ignores the fact that an exchange of refugees has already taken place: 850,000 Jews were driven out of Arab countries in the ten years following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, two-thirds settling in Israel, while a roughly equivalent number of Palestinian refugees headed for Arab countries.

This exchange has already exacted a heavy price from the uprooted Jewish refugees, whose ancient communities were destroyed. Apart from suffering human rights abuses, they forfeited Jewish-owned land equivalent to four or five times the size of Israel and lost billions in assets. They received neither recognition nor compensation from Arab governments.

While Israel is expected to pay a further price for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, ‘offset’ by the return of Arab refugees to Israel proper, Arab states, who rid themselves almost completely of their Jews, are expected to pay no price whatsoever.

What is galling is this blindspot to the existence and rights of Jewish refugees exhibited by Middle East experts and policy makers such as Eugene Rogan. We are entitled to expect them to have an honest and unselective appreciation of the historical facts.

An equitable solution would be to recognise that Arab refugees in Syria and Lebanon, most of whom were not even born in Palestine, should be integrated into Syria and Lebanon and granted all the civil rights currently denied to them. Compensation for their losses should be paid to both sets of refugees – Jewish and Arab.

The end is nigh for Kolkata’s Jewish community

Maghen David synagogue, Kolkata

The Indian Jewish community of Kolkata (Calcutta) is on the verge of disappearing: founded by Jews from Syria, Iraq and Iran, it has dwindled from 6,000 to just 30 Jews. This CNN report, complete with slide show, makes the point that Jews did not leave out of persecution, but it is undeniable that the Jews feared being caught up in the violence of the Indo-Pakistan war of 1947. (With thanks: Pablo)

Zachariah’s heart feels empty like the synagogue’s pews. He knows the end is near for the Jews of Kolkata. Once a thriving community of 6,000, their numbers can be counted on fingers now. Zachariah says fewer than 30 Jews are left in this bustling eastern Indian metropolis.

Many Jews began leaving Kolkata, the city formerly known as Calcutta, after Indian independence in 1947; those who remained are slowly dying off.

Zachariah, a stalwart of the dwindling community, serves on practically every Jewish administrative board. There are simply not enough people left to go around.

“Things have to be kept going,” he says of the cultural burden weighing heavy on his shoulders. “We’re not lying down and waiting for the sunset.”

He runs his fingers over the cold outdoor oven at Maghen David that once turned out fresh unleavened bread. He peers through a window into the basement where vats of wine were stored.

Things have to be kept going. We’re not lying down and waiting for the sunset.
–Ian Zachariah, 65, one of about 30 Jews left in Kolkata, India

From a wooden box, he picks up a book of prayer, the pages eaten with precision by bookworms. “I always thought someone should take these away. Too late now. They are all in terrible shape.”

Zachariah’s ancestors arrived in India in the 18th century from the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Damascus. Others came from Iraq and Iran. All of them came to be known as Baghdadi Jews in India.

They came to British India to trade — in jewels, spices, textiles, tobacco, tea. They made a name as exporters and real-estate dealers and bakers. India, said Judaism scholar Nathan Katz, was one of the few places in the world that was inherently hospitable to its Jews.

In Kolkata, Jewish families settled in what was known as “gray town,” the central city neighborhoods that separated the whites from the “coloreds.” They built graceful buildings that lined Brabourne Road in the heart of what is today Badabazaar, Kolkata’s largest wholesale market.

Jewish settlers to Kolkata eventually built five synagogues, at least two schools and a hospital. The schools are still operational, though not one student is Jewish. The Beth El and Maghen David synagogues exist today more as memorials to a former era than as functional Jewish temples.

They established a landmark bakery, Nahoum and Sons, in New Market, a favorite among Jews and gentiles alike who craved its fruit cake, cream rolls and lemon tarts. It, too, like every other Jewish institution, faces a perilous future — the last of the family in Kolkata, David Nahoum, is 84 and frail.

“They were so well integrated into the upper class of Bengali culture,” said Katz, a professor of religious studies at Florida International University who has done extensive research on the Jewish communities of India. But then came Indian independence and the birth of Israel the following year. The Jews began their exodus.

“A new social and economic order came to into being and their prospects began to dry up,” Katz said. By his estimate, the 12,000 Baghdadi Jews in all of India in 1947 have now dwindled down to less than 100. In a nation of 1.1 billion people, they don’t even qualify as a minority group anymore — barely a blip.

“It was a beautiful culture,” Katz said. “I find it terribly sad.”

Katz said Jewish communities have died violent and forced deaths in other places. Ironically, in India, where they did not face persecution, they left of their own accord.

Read article in full

Agonies of the 1949 exodus from Yemen

As Jews prepare to mark the Biblical exodus from Egypt at the festival of Passover which begins tonight, many will recall their modern-day Exodus in the last 50 years. But the suffering experienced by the Jews of Yemen has been eclipsed by accounts of their difficult absorption into Israel. If it were not for Haim Yosef Zadok, the terrible conditions, death and disease experienced by 45,000 Jews of Yemen, as they waited to be airlifted to the Promised Land in 1949, would not have been documented. Fascinating article in Haaretz, Agonies of redemption, by Yaron Tsur.

From three Jewish diasporas in the Muslim world – Libya, Yemen and Iraq – there was a swift and complete, or nearly complete, exodus to Israel during a short period in the early years of the state, between 1949 and 1952. The closest to the “flight from Egypt” model was the immigration from Yemen, which began in July 1949. It involved nearly all the Jews living in that country at the time, some 45,000 out of 50,000 souls. When the signal was given, they left the country hastily, most of them within a period of a few months. First they went on foot overland to the Red Sea port of Aden, and from there they were flown to Israel in an aerial convoy that was given two names: “Magic Carpet” and “On Eagles’ Wings.”

The episode of the agonies in the desert, the diseases and hunger that afflicted the immigrants on their way has been blurred in their collective memory of the airlift, but it was recounted by the Zionist emissary Haim Yosef Zadok. In his memoir, “In the Storms of Yemen” (1957, in Hebrew), Zadok described the arrival in Aden of the chief rabbi of Sanaa, Amram Korah: “We found him sitting on a bed, leaning on a cushion, closing his eyes every minute and saying: ‘A true exodus from Egypt!’ … His sole wish was to ‘spare the members of our people from the terrors of the desert, and in the meantime give them swift help before they die of hunger and are consumed by diseases.'”

The immediate source of the suffering was the Joint Distribution Committee’s deficient agreement with the British authorities in Aden, which was a crown colony at the time, along with its immediate environs. The Joint had operated a large transit camp there in the past, and the British allowed it to send residents to the young state of Israel at the beginning of 1949, on condition the facility then be dismantled. In its place, the organization was given a different camp, with space for no more than 500 people. This insured there would be no further opportunities to provide shelter to large numbers of Yemenite Jews wanting to immigrate to Israel.
Thus, on the eve of the great wave of immigration, there were not even minimal facilities for handling the flow of people. The immigrants were to suffer greatly in Aden, but this was trivial compared to what awaited them at the border of the British colony. The stream of immigrants began in July 1949. By September, nearly 13,000 people had crossed the border. When the British realized the extent of the influx they closed the border, possibly in consultation with people from the Joint. This meant that around 13,000 additional immigrants were stuck in southern Yemen, in desert locales, without food and water, vulnerable to diseases, natural disasters and extortion. Death, too, was rampant.

Yosef Zadok succeeded in getting through and brought some food to the stranded refugees. According to his testimony, even in those conditions it was possible to distinguish between people with means and those who were poor, among whom he found terrible distress. Inter alia, he describes “a family of six, from the town of al-Haima. They were all sick and half-naked and lying on the cold floor. They were so sick they could not utter a syllable or move a limb … they were unconscious. Worms crawled around them and swarmed in their bodies … Later I heard that four of them perished.” (Ibid; p. 65).

Dr. Esther Meir-Glitzenstein, who studies the immigration from Yemen, and is also very familiar with the story of the mass exodus from Iraq, confirms that this documentation is unparalleled in the history of the other large immigrations from that period, in terms of the shocking testimonies regarding the suffering during the journey. Zadok’s testimony, however, is reminiscent of first-hand reports of the exodus from Ethiopia prior to Operation Moses (in late 1984). During the course of that operation, the suffering and the death rate were even more appalling.

The role of Moses in the biblical-style exodus from Yemen was played by David Ben-Gurion, the prophet and great leader of the Jewish departure from all Arab lands. Unlike Moses, however, Ben-Gurion played his part from afar – not in the company of the wanderers in the desert. In July 1945, on a boat to Europe, Ben-Gurion wrote “Zionism’s calculation after the war” in his diary. This was a simple demographic equation, in which he calculated how many Jews remained in the world after the slaughter in Europe, and which could be brought to the nascent Jewish state.

Ben-Gurion sorted the Jews of the world into five large blocs: the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish population of Palestine), the Jews of the English-speaking countries, the Jews of Eastern Europe, the Jews of Western Europe except Britain and, as he put it, “Mizrahi Jewry [i.e., from Muslim countries].”

Among these, he assessed it would be possible to bring only the fifth bloc in its entirety – 855,000 Jews from Muslim states. In his diary he did not say how and in what time frame it would be possible to do this – but within one generation most were indeed living in Israel.

Did Ben-Gurion want the exodus from Yemen to happen the way it did? Clearly he was not deterred by such waves of immigration, and in cases when it was a matter of uprooted Jewish refugees, he saw supreme importance in bringing them to Israel swiftly, lest they recover and decide they wanted to immigrate elsewhere. In his view, the strengthening of the Jewish population in Israel demographically was the prime consideration.

However, when it came to communities that had not been uprooted, other considerations were involved in planning of the rate of immigration. Thus, for example, on the eve of the dismantling of the large camp in Aden, late in the spring of 1949, a year had passed since the creation of the state and the beginning of mass immigration. Absorption facilities in Israel were already completely full. Ben-Gurion’s colleagues in the government warned of an impending collapse of the economy, the health system and welfare services if the inundation continued.

Among the veteran elite there was also a new ethnically based fear of change in the demographic balance between Ashkenazi (European) and Mizrahi Jews. The first Mizrahi immigrants to suffer from the new Ashkenazi anxiety were the Jews of Morocco – at more than a quarter of a million, the largest Jewish community among the Muslim countries. The Yemenites were less “threatening’: They were known as a small, submissive, industrious community that contributed ancient traditions to the developing Israeli culture.

Nevertheless, the new Israeli leadership did not develop a plan for the immediate immigration of all of Yemenite Jewry, but rather only a gradual, multi-year plan. In May 1949 there was talk of about 10,000 a year – thus an exodus from Yemen that would spread over four or five years. At that stage an agreement had already been reached with the ruler of Yemen, Imam Ahmad, whereby all the Jews would be permitted to leave. The Yemenite “Pharaoh” was much easier to deal with than the Egyptian one in the Bible, but hardly anyone budged: The community was waiting for a signal, as the messages transmitted to them from the Israeli establishment in Aden were discouraging and called upon them not to be hasty.

There is where Zadok swung into action. Born in Sanaa, he came to Palestine in 1929 and later returned to Yemen as a Jewish Agency emissary. Upon arriving in Yemen, or perhaps even earlier, he was shocked and angry that the Jews were not leaving en masse. This did not accord with his fervent Zionist beliefs and with the image of his community as the religious complement to secular Zionism – a community whose traditional character was unblemished, which had messianic tendencies and a special sensitivity to the signs of redemption.

In the Jewish Agency files in Aden, Zadok found the explanation for the delay: the discouraging letters from the head of the office. He decided to defy them and sent the leaders of various Yemenite Jewish communities a missive with the opposite message: “Brothers, awaken and rouse the others, the propitious time has come! … Overcome the sufferings and the agonies of the way, for without you Israel will not be redeemed. And lest the moment be missed and you are too late, arise and come at once!”

The replies Zadok cites in his memoir show that in many places, everything was ready for the great departure and the communal leaders were only waiting for the signal. It was Tzadok who gave it, thereby spurring the great and hasty Yemenite exodus.

In this case, then, the role of the biblical Moses was divided between Ben-Gurion and his young Yemenite follower. Incidentally, the documentation shows that the active role Zadok assumed in leading the Jews out of Yemen did not accelerate their immigration. He decided to embark on a mission to help the victims of the hasty departure, and during the time he spent at the border he was perceived as the head of the Jewish refugees: He assembled their leaders for consultation, took it upon himself to adjudicate disputes among them, and so on.

These were the days of the collapse of the old leadership of the communities, which appeared powerless at the start of the immigration crisis. A new, supreme leadership, totally Ashkenazi, was destined to wait for the immigrants in the promised land. In the meantime, for the Yemenites a handful of young men from their own country who had grown up in Israel and became devoted Zionists, played a fateful role – but one that was taken away from them at the end of the exodus.

Zadok was the most prominent of them, with respect to the weight of his historic role, but there were others, among them Ovadiah Tuvia and Shimon Avizemer.


The very same phenomenon seen with the Yemenite immigrants emerged in the exodus from Iraq. The role played by Zadok was undertaken in Iraq by Shlomo Hillel and Mordechai Ben-Porat. There, too, a handful of Zionist emissaries – this time, of Iraqi origin – played a crucial role in shaping the fate of their countrymen. There too the veteran leadership collapsed at the time of crisis, and the ones who ultimately determined the scope and pace of the immigration were emissaries of Iraqi origin. And they performed their roles in turning the immigration into a hasty exodus, as in the case of Yemen, despite the gritted teeth of most Israeli leaders with the exception of Ben-Gurion.

The difference is that their role was more open and publicized, and the exodus of Jews from Iraq did not include an agonizing episode in the desert. The greatest suffering occured in the promised land itself, in the transit camps; that’s where the traumatic experience of uprooting was endured by Babylonian Jewry.

Interestingly, for Yemenite Jewry as well, the collective memory of trauma has been focused on what happened to them after arriving in Israel, rather than during the journey in Yemen: The terrible hunger and thirst, sickness and death en route, and in the camp in Aden, do not occupy a prominent place. Nor do the memories of the extortion by authorities or even of robberies at the hands of other inhabitants.

The saga of Yemenite suffering focuses instead on the encounter with the young state and its leaders, members of their own religion and people. It begins with memories of theft of gold and silver jewelry, manuscripts and other treasures just before the flight from Aden to Israel. It continues with recollections of cultural suppression in the immigrant camps and the cutting off of men’s earlocks, and it climaxes in the claims about the kidnapping of babies from their mothers.

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The hard truths the UN does not want to hear

When David G Littman of the NGO World Union of Progressive Judaism chose to address a poorly attended session about the rights of Jewish refugees from Muslim lands at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva (sic) on 23 March, it was too much for the vice-president of the session to take: to Littman’s point that there were more Jewish refugees than Palestinian Arab refugees, the vice-president blurted out his surprise: “Excuse me, sir?” and promptly cut Littman off. He allowed other delegates to have their say uninterrupted. Via Jihadwatch (With thanks: Eliyahu)

Here is most of David G Littman’s text:

“Our written statement *contains full facts and figures relating to the British Partition Plan of 1922, by which more than 77% of the 1921 League of Nations designated area of Palestine [120,000 km²] became the Hashemite Emirate of Trans-Jordan, renamed The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1946. Then came the UN General Assembly 1947 Partition Plan, whose aim ** was to divide the area west of the river Jordan – covering the remaining 23 percent of the original Mandate area – into “independent Arab and Jewish States”, with Jerusalem as a corpus separatum administered directly by the United Nations. This UN ‘Partition Plan’ was categorically refused by all Arab League countries, five of whom then invaded Israel [- a day after its rebirth on 15 May 1948].

[The major part of the Cisjordan area, designated to become an independent Arab State, was occupied during the 1948 war against Israel by the Arab Legion commanded by British General Glubb Pasha and – despite the fact that the Rhodes Agreements with Israel referred only to ‘Armistice lines’ at the Arab League’s insistence – it was annexed and renamed by the British Foreign Office, the ‘West Bank’ of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Only the UK and Pakistan recognized this Jordanian land grab as legal. Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip but did not annex it, only evacuating it during the 1967 Six Days War.]

The Arab League’s defiance of international legality in 1947 led to the Arab and Jewish refugee tragedy that resulted from a unilateral Arab decision to make war in 1947, rather than peace, and it was repeated in 1967 at the Khartoum Arab League Summit Conference:

[“No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiation with Israel, no concessions on the question of Palestinian national rights.” (Rejection of UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 Nov.]

There is also the question of a return of, or compensation for, Arab refugees, resulting from the Arab war declared against Israel.

[The refusal by the Arab League, Arab leaders and the Arabs in Palestine to accept a Jewish State in any part of the biblical ‘Land of Israel’ (Palestine) was the primary reason for the dual tragedy of both Arab and Jewish refugees. The plight of Arab refugees took place during a Jihad war begun by five Member States of the Arab League (and the United Nations), backed by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Amin al-Husayni, religious leader of the Arabs of British Mandatory Palestine (1921-1948) and of the Arab Higher Committee (1936-1948). Yet 1.5 million Arabs, Druze, Bedouin and others (20% of Israel’s population) are citizens of Israel today.]

However, almost a million Jews were deliberately targeted as a religious group in Arab countries, many of which are now virtually Judenrein (religiously-cleansed of all Jews). Two-thirds of these dispossessed Jews settled in Israel; they and their descendants represent almost 50% of the Jewish population.

[The hardship endured by the great majority of these 900,000 indigenous Jewish refugees from Arab countries has never been examined by UN bodies, or the loss of their inestimable heritage dating back two and three millennium, nor their vast personal and property rights confiscated.]

This great injustice should be addressed at the United Nations, all within the context of an equitable global solution for a peaceful, international recognition of a 2-State solution. A noteworthy document was adopted two years ago by the U.S. House of Representatives, which quotes both President Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton on the question of justice for these forgotten Jewish refugees ***. A month ago, Israel’s Knesset passed a bill aimed at securing compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab countries, as part of the general peace negotiations in the Middle East [23 February 2010].

All delegates should become better informed about the forgotten million Jewish refugees, whose original number from Arab lands were larger than Arab-Palestinian war refugees.
[Gavel by vice-president; speaker expresses surprise: “Excuse me sir?” – then cut off.]”

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*[* A/HRC/13/NGO/138]

**[under GA Resolution 181 (II)]

***[1 April 2008: U.S. Resolution 185]

‘Jews not allowed to pray’ in Maimonides synagogue

Jewish community head Carmen Weinstein (in the green dress) listens while a friend reads out a letter from culture minister Farouk Hosni, promising that the restoration of Egyptian synagogues would continue. But that promise does not include Jewish worship in those synagogues (Video: Yves Fedida)

More proof, if proof were needed, that Egypt intends its synagogues to be museums. Lord forbid any Jew should actually want to pray in one. From the Elder of Zion blog, via Solomonia:

Zahi Hawass, theJew-hating general secretary of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities and Egypt’s top archaeologist, has announced that he will not allow any Jew to pray in the restored Maimonides synagogue in Cairo.

He told a Muslim scientific forum that “his decision to close the temple was a reaction to Israeli attacks on Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.”

He stressed that he would treat the Maimonides synagogue the same as any other Egyptian antiquities, and that the decision to cancel the opening rededication ceremony of the synagogue was to keep history and politic separated.

But he would not allow any Jew or Israeli to pray there and he would not allow the Egyptian Jewish community to administer the site. He also said that this was a reaction to “provocative practices that carried out by the Jews in their celebration which was held in the temple.” He was referring to the dancing and drinking of wine, which he felt offended a billion Muslims.

He said that Egypt still intended to restore ancient synagogues, and the next one to be worked on was the Temple of the Prophet Daniel in Alexandria.

Earlier today, Palestine Today (link not available) quoted Hawass as saying that the very opening of the synagogue was a “slap in the face” of Israel, showing that Egypt is a tolerant country.
Report in the Qatari newspaper Raya (Google translation) (with thanks: Lily)

Article in BikyaMasr

Hawass: ‘I gave Zionist enemy a slap in the face’ (Haaretz)

Arutz Sheva article

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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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