Month: September 2012

Algerian Jews in 1818: miserable but moneyed

 As an exhibition on the Jews of Algeria opens in Paristo mark the 50th anniversary of their exodus when Algeria acquired its independence from France, Elder of Ziyon has found this astonishing diary entry by one Signor Pananti – reminding us of how things were for the Jews in 1818 before the French invasion:

 “The unhappy sons of Israel, so badly treated in other countries, can
expect little indulgence from the barbarians ; consequently there is no species of outrage or vexation to which they are not exposed. They are prohibited from writing or speaking Arabic, to prevent their being able to read the divine Koran. They cannot ride on horseback,
but are obliged to go on mules and asses ; the first being too noble an
animal for them. When passing a mosque, they are obliged to go
bare-footed. They dare not approach a well or fountain, if there be a Moor drinking there ; or sit down opposite a Mahometan. Their clothing Is obliged to be black ; which colour is held in contempt by the Moors.
The Jewish women are only permitted to veil a part of their features.
The indolent Moor, with a pipe in his mouth and his legs crossed, calls
any Jew who is passing, and makes him perform the offices of a servant. Others amuse themselves by smearing
the hands, visage, hair, and clothes of the Jewish boys, with paint or
mud ; while the Turkish soldiers often enter their houses, insulting the
, without the heads of the family having the privilege of desiring them to retire.

“It is the business of Jews to execute all criminals, and afterwards bury their bodies. They are also employed to carry the Moors on their shoulders, when disembarking in shoal water.
They feed the animals of the seraglio, and are incessantly exposed to
the scoffings and derision of the young Moors, without the possibility
of resenting it. Frequently beaten by their persecutors, if they lift a hand in their own defence, agreeable to the lex talionis of the Moors, it is taken off.

 “But that which is still more irksome, is the never ending contributions
levied on them : the weekly sum of two thousand dollars is exacted as a
general tax upon the whole tribe, besides various other individual
assessments, particularly whenever any Moorish festival takes place.
The Turks insist on borrowing money even by force ; and contrary to the
European maxim, it is not he who forgets to pay, that is incarcerated,
but the man who refuses to lend!
A Jew cannot leave the regency without giving security to a large amount for his return.
If any of the sect become bankrupts, and there happens to be a Turkish
creditor, he is almost invariably accused of fraudulency and hung
Woe to those, who attempt to complain on such occasions : which is no
trifling aggravation of their sufferings. There was once an imposition
laid on fountains; upon which a poet wrote the following address: ” You
are loaded with imposts like us; but more happy than we — you are at
least allowed to murmur.”

“It is, however, astonishing with what stoical fortitude all this is
borne by the followers of Abraham ; many of whom, underan appearance of
the greatest poverty, accumulate large fortunes. ” It is true,” said a
Jew, on my asking how he could remain in a country, where he suffered so
many vexations; ” we suffer a great deal; but then what money we


Read post in full

The exhibition at the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme in Paris runs until 27 January 2013

20 centuries of Jews in Algeria – June 2012 (French)

Now the Coptic chickens are coming home to roost

 Maikel Nabil spent 10 months in an Egyptian jail last year (photo: The New Yorker)

 The brave Coptic blogger, human rights campaigner and conscientious objector Maikel Nabil, writing in the Times of Israel, sees a common thread linking the sorry plight of Copts – 75 percent of whom have emigrated in the last 60 years – with the ethnic cleansing of Egyptian Jews. But Copts themselves have not always been as sympathetic as Nabil – and even took advantage of the 1956 exodus to take over Jewish property at knock-down prices ( as one commenter points out) :

After the Egyptian military took power in the
country 1952, it started its campaign against Egyptian Jews, launching
its propaganda against Jews in all the state-owned media. It freed all
the terrorists who had committed violence against Jews before the coup,
and jailed liberals and seculars instead. It encouraged aggression
toward the Egyptian Jewish minority, which led to new terrorist attacks
against Jewish individuals and properties in Egypt.

Between 1954 and 1956, 80,000 Egyptian Jews
were expelled from Egypt, but not before they were robbed of their
property. After that, Egypt revoked their citizenship, forbidding them
from returning to their homeland. Of course, before they left, Egyptian
authorities forced them to sign papers saying that they had been treated fairly
and were leaving of their own will. There are currently around 300 Jews
living in Egypt, isolated in an environment that is hostile to them.*

The Christian minority in Egypt (known as
Copts) reacted in a very selfish way at the time, choosing not to
interfere in the crisis so as to avoid any harm. They thought that if
they took the side of the dictatorship, they would be safe. Obviously,
it didn’t work.

After the Egyptian military expelled Jews and
outlawed Bahais and Shias, they started their campaign against
Christians.  The Egyptian regime has maintained since that time a very
fundamental understanding of Islam, and forced it through the media and
the education system. Violent attacks against Christians became
increasingly frequent, and most of the time no one was prosecuted.

The Egyptian regime created an uncomfortable
situation for Christians in order to force them to leave the country.
And the evidence shows that it worked. Some 4 million Egyptian Christians have
emigrated from Egypt over the last 60 years, representing one-third of
the entire Coptic population, and comprising nearly 75% of Egyptians
living abroad.

But Egyptian authorities are not satisfied
with that. After Mohammed Morsi acceded to power, he decided to speed up
this process. The Egyptian regime used the film “Innocence of Muslims”
to start a huge propaganda campaign against Egyptian Christians. And of
course, Christians in Egypt are becoming increasingly isolated under
this propaganda. Violence against Christians occurs every day, and the
state usually takes the side of the Muslim murderers.

Read article in full 

* These figures are not strictly accurate, and current estimates put Jews in Egypt at less than 50.

BBC breaks 64 years’ silence on Jewish refugees

The BBC has broken its 64 years of virtual silence on the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, although, this being the BBC, it takes scrupulous care to give equal weight to the ‘plight’ of Palestinian refugees (who moved all of 19 miles from Ramle to Ramallah) and their claims. This must be hailed as a victory of sorts for Danny Ayalon’s campaign to push the issue of Jewish refugees on the international stage.

At the edge of Mahane
Yehuda market in Jerusalem, elderly men sit playing backgammon – or
shesh besh as it is known locally – wearing looks of intense

It is a scene which can be found in coffee shops across the
Middle East, such as in Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. In fact many of
the men here are Jewish Israelis who originally came from those Arab

“We stayed in Baghdad until 1951, when we moved to Israel,”
Vardika Shabo says. “They hated the Jews in Iraq. They killed many of
us in 1948. They took our belongings and burned our houses.”

“We left with nothing except our suitcases. No money. We left the house, my parents’ shops. Everything that we had, we left.”

Another man, Baruch Cohen, left Qamishli in North-Eastern
Syria in 1963. He tells me he was 13 when his father led a group of 97
Jews out of the area. They left secretly to avoid unwanted attention
and were helped across the border into Turkey.

From there safe passage to his new home was arranged by the
Jewish Agency, a government body which brought Jews from the Diaspora to
live in Israel.

“We were persecuted. The regime was very cruel to the Syrian
Jews,” says Mr Cohen. “We escaped with just the clothes on our backs.
It was like the exodus from Egypt in the Bible. We lost our lands and
came here as refugees.”

Vardika Shabo and friends in Mahane Yehuda market 

Vardika Shabo came from Iraq over 60 years ago


According to Israeli government figures, 856,000 Jews fled Arab
countries in four years after the state was created in 1948. Officials
say they lost billions of dollars’ worth of property and assets.

A new government campaign aims to raise awareness of their
plight. More controversially it aims to equate it with that of the
hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who lost their homes in
Israel. It insists that both cases are part of the same core issue that
must be addressed by any future peace talks.

“The problem of refugees is probably the most thorny and
painful one. Everyone agrees without solving this we won’t be able to
achieve true peace nor normalisation in the Middle East,” says Deputy
Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

“We have to, ahead of time, understand that refugees are not
only on one side of the border but both sides. There are Arab refugees
and there are also Jewish refugees and we should use the same yardstick
for them all.”

Mr Ayalon spoke at the first special conference on the issue
at the UN headquarters in New York last week. He suggests that an
international fund could be set up to deliver compensation for both sets
of individuals.

‘I am a Refugee’: Palestinian leaders though are angry at the “I am a Refugee”
campaign, which they see as an Israeli attempt to create a new obstacle
for any future peace efforts.

“This is not an issue in the
negotiations that we agreed on with them – they include Palestinian
refugees, Jerusalem, borders, settlements, water and security,” says
chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. 

“They continue loading issues to the overloaded wagon of complexities in order not to have a solution.”

He suggests Israel’s timing is designed to coincide with the
latest plans to ask for the UN General Assembly to admit Palestine as a
non-member state. This will enable the Palestinian leadership to pursue
Israel through the international courts.

“These people are destroying the two-state solution and that
is why we are going to the UN in order to preserve it,” Mr Erekat says.

The refugee issue has proved so difficult that it was put off
by the two sides to be tackled as part of any eventual final status
discussions under the Oslo Accords in 1993.

It has been a key Palestinian grievance since 1948.
Palestinians argue that their “right to return” is enshrined in UN
resolution 194 passed that year, which states that “the refugees wishing
to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should
be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date”.

Israel says that such a move would obliterate the country’s Jewish majority.


While Jews from Arab countries are now naturalised citizens of
Israel, many Palestinian refugees remain in camps; most are in the West
Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

At al-Jalazun refugee camp on a rocky hillside near Ramallah
in the West Bank, 86-year-old Ahmed Safi lives with his family in a
small, overcrowded house. His grandchildren have just arrived home from
the local school run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

Ahmed Safi and his wife Um Hazem


Um Hazem holds up the keys she says belonged to her original home in present-day Israel.


“We had a huge house in Beit Nabala in Ramla [in present-day
Israel],” Mr Safi says. “All the family lived there. Our life was very
nice. We had work and a good income, but when we left we couldn’t take
anything with us because we were scared and we left in a hurry.”

His wife, Umm Hazem jangles some large keys, which she sees as symbols of her right to return.

“You see these? I grabbed them from the cupboard and took
them with me. I couldn’t take anything else as I had my new baby in my
arms,” she says.

Read article in full

BBC ‘balancing’ refugee claims (HonestReporting)

Justice for all refugees is essential for peace

Some 200,000 Jewish refugees were housed in tent camps or ‘maabarot’ on arrival in Israel in the 1950s. (Photo: Israel at the UN)

Zvi Gabay, a former Israeli ambassador and deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry, has been a tireless advocate for Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Only by granting justice to all refugees can any hope of peace come to the Middle East, he argues in The Huffington Post. (This is an English version of an article Gabay first published in Haaretz, entitled The Jewish Nakba)  :

 Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon’s initiative in opening the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab states to public debate
has met, as expected, with angry Arab reactions. One of the reactions
was the accusation that the issue is an “invention.” The reason for
these reactions is that this issue has up to now been unknown.
Successive Israeli governments ignored it and the media neglected it. It
was treated with contempt, amidst the concern that raising it would
awaken Palestinian claims and harm the peace process. So the world
became accustomed to relating only to the Palestinian nakba that
resulted in 650,000 refugees, according to UNWRA, the U.N. agency
created specifically to deal with these refugees.

The Arab governments are careful to perpetuate the misery of the
Palestinian refugees, not allowing them to be rehabilitated or to become
citizens in their countries, due to the ideology that maintains that
rehabilitating the Palestinians would be to Israel’s advantage. The Arab
leaders have repeatedly placed full responsibility for the creation of
the Palestinian refugee problem on Israel. At the same time, Israel
never made a serious effort to exonerate itself of this accusation, even
though U.N. Resolution 194 from 1948 did not hold Israel responsible for the problem.

Another claim made by the Arabs is that the Jews were not forced to flee
from the Arab states, where they lived in peace and harmony. Here, a
history lesson of the conflict would be in order. They would discover
that, during the U.N. debates in 1947 about the proposal to partition
Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, their representatives
(Heykal Pasha from Egypt, Dr. Fadhil Jamali from Iraq and Jamal
al-Husayni, head of the Palestinian Arab delegation, and others) not
only declared
that “the partition line will be a line of fire and blood;” they also
announced that partitioning Palestine would put the Jewish communities
in the Arab states in mortal danger. Immediately after the 29 of
November — the day that the partition plan passed — the Arab armies
and the Palestinian Arab gangs attacked the Jewish community (the
Yishuv) in Palestine and, simultaneously, rioted against the Jews in the
Arab countries.

The war started by the Arabs led to killing, destruction and terrible
human tragedy. Eight hundred and fifty-six thousand defenseless Jews fled to Israel
and other countries, leaving behind their personal and communal
property and assets, while six hundred and fifty thousand Palestinians
abandoned their firing positions and their homes and went to Arab
countries. In effect, a population exchange occurred between the State
of Israel and the Arab countries, similar to the population exchange
that occurred between India and Pakistan. However, the Arab states,
following the instructions of the Arab League, refuse to recognize this
situation and prevent the humane resolution of the problem that they

Despite the fact that the human dimensions of the catastrophe suffered
by the Jews from Arab countries were greater than the dimensions of the
catastrophe suffered by the Palestinians, the world’s attention has
always focused on the latter. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in
1957 did indeed recognize the Jews from Arab countries as refugees, but
the U.N. General Assembly did not pass a single resolution on their
behalf. In contrast, it has passed more than 160 resolutions and
declarations in support of the Palestinian refugees. This one-sided
approach has not solved the problem and has exacerbated the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It could be that the Jewish refugees were ignored because the Jews from
the Arab countries rehabilitated themselves in Israel and in other
countries and the conditions of their life in the camps became a thing
of the past. All of the U.N. resolutions and the billions of dollars
donated to the Palestinian refugees by the international community have
not improved their situation and they continue to live in appalling

The time has come for the Arab states to acknowledge the reality created
by their war on Israel and to stop toying with the possibility of
turning back history, stop reciting the slogan “right of return” for the
Palestinian refugees and stop sowing illusions in their hearts.

A solution to the tragedy of the refugees in the Middle East —
Palestinians and Jews — can only be found by looking at the total
picture. Any solution must be shared by the Arab states, Israel and the
international community. It must be based on President Clinton’s
proposal in 2000, to establish an international fund to compensate
Palestinian and Jewish refugees.

Read article in full

What will happen to Alexandria’s Jewish heritage?

 Ben Gaon in the Eliyahou Hanavi synagogue, Alexandria

What will happen to Alexandria’s priceless Jewish heritage now that the community is almost extinct? An international committee should take it over, but when is the right time to start talking to the new regime – and will they even answer? Anna Sheinman investigates for the Jewish Chronicle:

Ben Youssef Gaon is the last Jewish man in Alexandria. As the
president of the Jewish community in the city, he controls huge swathes
of property, including synagogues, cemeteries and commercial and
residential properties, all administered by a large team of Egyptians. A
campaign is under way to stop the property, much of it donated by Jews
fleeing after the 1956 Suez Canal crisis, going to the Egyptian state
when he retires.

In 1937, Egypt’s second city had a Jewish community of 25,000. Now it
has only one functioning place of worship. The imposing Eliahou Hanavi
Synagogue on Nebi Daniel Street had only two men at the erev Rosh
Hashanah service this year, Mr Gaon and an American embassy employee. In
previous years, a minyan from Israel made the trip for the High Holy
Days, but diplomatic relations have deteriorated following Egypt’s
revolution, and some sources say the group were refused visas.

Stored in the synagogue are many precious sifrei Torah. The community
also holds genealogical records and other valuable religious and
cultural material, all of which may soon go to the Egyptian state.

A former cantor at Eliahou Hanavi, 81-year-old Geoffrey Hanson, whose
visa to visit Egypt has been refused for the past five years for
reasons unknown to him, is on a mission to protect the property, which
he estimates as worth 100 million euros.

Mr Hanson, who now lives in Israel, suggests a solution: “A group of
[ex-pat] Alexandrian Jews must come together and say they will run the
community after Mr Gaon.”

Roger Bilboul, president of the Paris-based Nebi Daniel Association,
which acts to preserve Jewish cultural and genealogical heritage in
Egypt, is broadly in agreement. “The idea of creating an international
committee which can take over is something we have put to the
government, but we have never had a response.”

Bureaucratic stumbling blocks have increased following the
revolution, but Mr Bilboul is optimistic. “We need to start knocking on
doors, establishing a relationship with the new people in power. We are
hoping to start by the end of this year.”

But the situation in Alexandria currently is “very, very dangerous,”
says Desiré Sakkal, director of the Historical Society of Jews from
Egypt, which is based in New York. This week, there was a fire on Nebi
Daniel Street, in which book kiosks were burned, showing the level of
anti-cultural feeling in the city. Although he supports the plan in
principle, to act now would be “pure madness,” Mr Sakkal said.

Mr Gaon has himself come in for criticism. His rival for the
presidency, Victor Balassiano, wrote an article for the Historical
Society accusing Mr Gaon of seizing power and changing the locks on the
synagogue while Mr Balassiano was on holiday.

He is also alleged to have converted to Islam, something required on
marriage to a Muslim woman in Egypt. However, Roger Bilboul asserts that
Mr Gaon is now divorced, and has documentation affirming his Jewish

Additionally, Mr Sakkal said: “Mr Gaon is [allegedly] an appointee of
the Egyptian state, so you have to be very suspicious”. Ben Youssef
Gaon himself was not available for comment.

Read article in full 

Save Egypt’s heritage and assets now!


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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