This is a story of a Jew who owes her life to Englishmen. But it’s also a story of how one of those Englishmen was helped by a Jew.
It is 44 years this week that the Six-Day Way broke out between Israel and its Arab neighbours. But the repercussions of Israel’s lightning victory spread to every Arab country in which Jews still lived. A campaign of savage persecution ended the Jewish community in Egypt, Iraq and Libya.
Libya was wracked by disturbances for weeks after the start of the 1967 war. Arab mobs terrorised Jews, destroying property and claiming lives.
Gina Bublil Waldman was a 19-year-old Libyan Jew working for an engineering company on a site 30 km outside Tripoli. She spent a month sheltering from the rampaging mob in the garage of a British colleague. When the Libyan government finally allowed – or forced – the Jews to leave the country, Gina and her family were on a bus full of Jewish passengers bound for the airport.
Suddenly, the bus stopped. Alarmed at the suspicious behaviour of the driver, Gina rang one of the British company engineers for help. He drove over to rescue her just before the driver could douse the bus with petrol.
Another of Gina’s English work colleagues, Brian Rodgers, modestly admits to playing a ‘supporting role’ in saving Gina. But he, in turn, is grateful to a Jew who helped him and his family during those terrible times.
On the Friday of the week of the Six-Day War, an enormous anti-Jewish demonstration took place in Tripoli. The crowds were going wild. The atmosphere was tense. Jews were advised to stay at home. However, all foreigners were viewed with suspicion: several Maltese were mistaken for Jews and murdered.
While US citizens were being evacuated, no special provision appeared to be made for British expatriates.
” And how are your Jewish friends today?” inquired Mansour the driver. Brian did indeed have Jewish friends. One, Ever, had been a close friend for three years before the war broke out. He warned Brian that he and his family were in danger if they did not get out of the country: the demonstrators were hotheads from the town of Zawiya, who, in 1948, had burnt down the synagogue of that town.
Together with a Berber Muslim, Ever resolved to drive in the early morning the 10 km to Brian’s house to hand him the money for the airfares for him and his family. In so doing, Ever could have been shot for breaking curfew.
As it happened, Brian chose not follow Ever’s advice (to leave then would have meant instant dismissal from his company). His loyal wife Shirley refused to leave without him. But they remain grateful to Ever for his outstanding act of bravery.
Dodi, a furniture importer, was another of Brian’s Jewish friends. His father shipped hospital beds from Libya to Israel in 1948. Dodi helped arrange for Brian’s Palestinian Christian neighbour to visit her family in Nablus on a Lebanese passport.
But the easy-going relations between Muslims, Christians and Jews ended after 1967, and soon after, Colonel Gaddafi seized power in a coup. Their property destroyed or seized, the remaining Libyan Jews fled. Ever ended up in Israel. Dodi left for Italy, but was imprisoned for a short time on a return visit to Libya in 1969. (Brian believes he was not ill-treated.)
Gina managed to re-establish contact with her British saviours after many years. Dodi is dead, but Brian, now retired to the peaceful English county of Shropshire, still keeps in touch with Ever. Brian will never forget how Ever risked his life to save him and his family. Of such deeds true friendship is made.