Month: July 2010

Jewish leader visits Libya after 43 years

Raphael Luzon (pictured) has long expressed his wish to take his aged mother to visit Libya before she dies, and light a candle for eight relativesmurdered in Benghazi in 1967. This AFP report does not mention them. Neither does it mention that Khadafi never kept his promise to compensate Libyan Jews for their lost property.

TRIPOLI — A Libyan Jewish community leader who visited his birthplace for the first time since being forced to flee in 1967 said on Friday it felt like he was living a dream.

Raphael Luzon, who was driven out after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and now lives in London, visited his birthplace of Benghazi, 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) east of Tripoli, with his sister and 83-year-old mother.

“We visited Benghazi and met our loved ones amid tears and great longing for friends we have never forgotten,” Luzon told AFP. It felt like he was “in a dream.”

Luzon, who also met several Libyan officials during the visit, said he regretted not having had the chance to hold talks with the country’s leader Moamer Kadhafi.

Libya’s Jewish population, numbering tens of thousands, shrunk after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. Most of the estimated 7,000 remaining Jews were evacuated after the 1967 war following anti-Jewish riots.

Kadhafi has said he would be willing to compensate Jews who left behind their properties in Libya.

“All the Jewish community (living abroad) is waiting for my return so I can tell them about the results of this visit,” Luzon said, adding that he plans to make another return to Libya.

“All the Libyan Jews living in Palestine (did he really say that? ed) and Europe and America, and there are 110,000 Jews of them, yearn for Libya and wish to return, or just to visit,” he said.

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The denial of Jewish heritage in the Arab world

Scene from the Book of Esther from the frescos of the Synagogue of Dura-Europa in Syria (mid-3rd Century CE)

The Arab world is busy denying its ancient Jewish history, but eagle-eyed tourists may stumble across some real gems. This exchange between two commenters is from a recent thread on Harry’s Place:


I was in Libya two years ago visiting the archeological site Leptis Magna. In the archeological museum there was a section labelled Christian artifacts. We spotted an object with a menorah carved on it. The guide had a prestigious degree in archeology from a Libyan university, and told me the BBC was in the process of making a programme about Libya’s archeological wonders which he was fronting.

I asked him if he could tell me anything about the menorah. No, he said blankly. I gave him a clue; It looks exactly like the one on Titus arch in Rome, you know the one depicting the Jewish exile from Jerusalem, one of the spoils from the Temple being carried to Rome?

No, sorry I don’t know anything about it, he shrugged.

Abu Faris:

When last I travelled to Syria, I had to fill in a visa application form which asked whether I had ever visited “occupied Palestine” – the Syrian state being constitutionally unable to even print the word “Israel” on its visa application forms.

Until recently all Sudanese passports carried on the first page a large comment in red ink: “For travel to all countries EXCEPT Israel” – at least the Sudanese could bring themselves to mention the name of the country. Sudanese passports no longer carry this caveat – however, you are still not allowed to visit the country if you are a Sudanese, or (for what ever bizarre reason may possess you) wish to visit Sudan after getting Israeli border stamps in your passport (personally, I would not bother – Sudan is grim, dusty, as hot as hell and is most certainly *not* the party capital of sub-Saharan Africa).

Amie, when I was last in Syria I was wandering about the National Archaeological Museum in Damascus (as one does) and I bumped into a very nice French couple, who turned out to be archaeology post-grads with a specialism in the ancient Near East. They told me that beyond courtyard yonder was one of the great treasures of the museum – but that the local authorities never made a big deal of it and would only open up the room on request. I located the nearest lounging Syrian museum guard, who was happily flicking his cigarette ash into some ancient pot and asked for entry to said room. He was somewhat reluctant, but I managed to corral in some other tourists and eventually he shuffled off in the direction of the room, crossing the courtyard and unlocking the door to the exhibit.

Inside was a complete reconstruction of the synagogue of the ancient city of Dura-Europa. It’s wall frescos dating from the Third Century C.E., carefully extracted from site and rehung on the walls of this little room in the National Museum in Damascus. This treasure has no signs leading to it – and the guard, Jihad was his name, is clearly under instructions not to encourage visits. I think they find it all a bit embarrassing actually – what *Jews* in the Middle East? Shurely shome mishtake.

Read thread in full

Abbas wants Jew-free Palestine in West Bank

(Photo: Flash 90)

Hearts will sink to learn, according to Israel National News, that the Palestinian leadership want a new state of Palestine in the West Bank to be as judenrein as the majority of other Arab states. How this policy will encourage peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews is anybody’s guess:

If a Palestinian Authority state is created in Judea and Samaria, no Israeli citizen will be allowed to set foot inside, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said this week in a meeting with members of the Arab League. The PA chairman also stated that he would block any Jewish (he said Jewish, not Israeli – ed) soldiers from serving with an international force stationed on PA-controlled land.

“I will never allow a single Israeli to live among us on Palestinian land,” Abbas declared.

Abbas addressed the Arab League during a discussion over the possibility of holding direct negotiations with Israel. Like Abbas, Arab League members agreed to direct talks in theory, but only if a number of “measures and conditions” were met. De facto, both Abbas and the League nixed the talks, but the constant discussion of conditions is seen as an attempt to throw the ball back into Israel’s court after PM Netanyahu, in Washington recently, succeeded in putting the onus for agreeing to talks on Abbas.

Read article in full

Beware Palestinian Apartheid (Ynet News)

Remembering Ebi: why we fled Iran

Karmel Melamed, then a toddler, with his father, before their departure from Iran

It was the cruel execution of their relative Ebi, a young man of 30, which caused Karmel Melamed and his family to flee Iran. Without personal experience of the random brutality of the Ayatollahs’ regime, the Melameds might still be living in Iran today. Writing in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles Karmel Melamed movingly recalls that terrible time 30 years ago:

“I will never forget when I first saw his body — they shot him with one bullet at point-blank range in his heart,” my father, George Melamed, shared with me a few weeks ago, reflecting on his friend — and brother-in-law’s brother — Ebrahim (Ebi) Berookhim, who was executed in an Iranian prison on July 31, 1980, at the age of 30. For the past 30 years, my father has rarely spoken of this young Jewish man’s killing and the circumstances that propelled our family’s abrupt flight from Iran. During these past three decades, he’s tried to forget how Ebi was unjustly accused of being an Israeli and American spy, then ruthlessly murdered by Iran’s radical Islamic regime.

“Yet as Ebi’s 30th yahrzeit approached this month, my parents, our relatives and some local Iranian Jews who knew this successful young Jewish businessman finally opened up to me about this tragedy that completely transformed all of our lives.

“With news of the Iranian government’s pursuit of nuclear weapons continually filling today’s airwaves, the story of Ebi’s killing serves as a stark reminder to us all of the continuing brutality and illogical nature of the ayatollahs’ regime in Iran. The Iranian government’s inhumane practice of random arrests and imprisonment of innocent individuals continues to this day: On July 31, 2009, the same date that Ebi died but 29 years later, three American hikers were randomly taken hostage in Iran for mistakenly crossing a border; they remain unfairly imprisoned. Last year, Roxana Saberi, an Iranian American journalist based in Tehran, was arrested on false charges of espionage — she was one of the lucky ones; after immense pressure from abroad, the Iranian authorities released her.

“Ebi, my relative, wasn’t so lucky. And the pain of losing him continues to haunt our family three decades later.”

Read article in full

Change is the name of the game

Photo: Cecile Masson

A North African Jew is behind a new movement of French Jews who wish to revert to their original, ‘Jewish-sounding’ names: their forefathers had been persuaded by la Republique, exerting its usual pressure on newcomers to assimilate, to change their names after World War 2. But will French law allow them to do so?

In a surprising reversal of that historical trend, a group of Jews in France whose parents took on French-sounding surnames after World War II are now seeking to return to their original Jewish names and reclaim their lost heritage.

La Force du Nom represents about 200 French Jews whose parents and grandparents adopted French last names after the war.

“Between 1945 and 1947, many Jews who were fed up with Polish names changed them to French ones,” explained Regine Weintrater, who serves as an acting spokeswoman for the group.

“They did so in various ways, altering or shortening them in various ways. They were not forced to do so, but there was creeping prejudice. They did not want to lose their Jewish identity, only to avoid sticking out and protect their children from the anti-Semitism they experienced.”

Celine Masson, the founder of the group, says she was inspired to start it due to her own background.

“My father changed his name from Hassan, a traditional Jewish name, to Masson when he moved to France from North Africa,” she said. “I started to hear about more Jewish families who did the same and would like to return to their original names. That’s when I decided to form this collective.”

Article in the Los Angeles Times (with thanks: bh)


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