Month: March 2014

Behind RIBA boycott stands Abe Hayeem

The latest moveto stigmatise Israel’s actions in the ‘occupied territories’ by calling for a boycott of Israeli architects would not normally be a focus of this blog – were it not for the major part played in the boycott campaign by Abe Hayeem, an architect of Baghdadi-Jewish origin.

From The Guardian: 

“Britain’s leading architectural
association has called for its Israeli counterpart to be excluded from
the International Union of Architects in protest at Israel‘s occupation of Palestine, in a further indication of the growing momentum of the boycott movement.

“The Royal Institute of British
Architects (RIBA) has demanded the suspension of the Israeli Association
of United Architects (IAUA) from the international body, saying it
is complicit in the construction of illegal settlements in the West
Bank and East Jerusalem, and other violations of international law.”

It’s not the first time that the activities of Abe Hayeem have come to Point of No Return’s notice.

The motion for a boycott was passed by 23 votes to 16, with ten abstentions, after Hayeem gave a presentation to the RIBA Council.

The irony that Abe Hayeem comes from a family of Iraq Jews,
themselves ‘ethnically cleansed’ from their homeland, did not escape
commenters when Hayeem wrote a piece for the Guardian on the ‘dark’ colonial past of Tel Aviv :

 

Cynosarge:

Perhaps
next week you will write an article condemning the mistreatment and
expropriation of the Jews of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt ….

And perhaps pigs might fly.

If
the Arab regimes had not driven out their Jewish populations, then
there might not have been the same need for Israel to house them all.

And Tom Wonacott commented:

Having
noted that you are a Jew from Iraq which numbered in 1948 about
120,000, would you care to discuss why the Arabs in Iraq (and everywhere
else in the Middle East) chose to persecute, harass and evict the Jews?
Today, fewer than 100 Jews remain in Iraq. What had the Jews in Iraq
done to deserve being run off from their homes, and their possessions
confiscated?

Hayeem himself persists in the belief that ‘the Zionists’ destroyed Arab-Jewish coexistence in Arab countries, spouting base propaganda:

  Regarding Iraqi Jews, my family loved living in Iraq and spoke fondly
of their Arab neighbours. Iraqi Jews always regretted leaving. It is
well known how Mossad agents stirred up trouble, to the extent of
bombing the Baghdad Synagogue, to frighten Iraqi Jews into leaving.


Israel’s
agenda was to create the flight of Arab Jews, to act as a
quid pro quo
for ethnically cleansing the Palestinians. Many Arab countries like
Libya and Morocco tried to stop their Jews from leaving.

One can only hope that Abe Hayeem knows more about his chosen profession of architecture than he does about Jewish history and Middle East politics. 

Chief rabbi of Iran dies

Rabbi Yousef Hamadani Cohen, chief rabbi of Iran since 1994, passed away over the weekend and was laid to rest on Sunday, The Times of Israel reports.

Hamadani
Cohen was known for his ties with the political leadership, and made
headlines in February 2003 when he hosted then-Iranian President
Mohammad Khatami in his Tehran Yusef Abad Synagogue. That visit marked
the first presidential visit to a Jewish center since the 1979
revolution. 

Three years earlier, Hamadani Cohen met
Khatami along with other Jewish leaders. Hamadani Cohen is also said to
have met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Read article in full:

Jerusalem Post article 

There was no Arab monopoly on suffering

Canada’s recent adoption of a key recommendation in a Parliamentary report –  to recognise Jewish refugees from Arab lands – will unlock the stalemate in the current peace talks, argues Jonathan Tobin in Commentary. (With thanks: Eliyahu)

The Canadian report will undoubtedly be ignored by the international press that tends to treat any mention of Jewish refugees as somehow an illustration of Israel’s lack of contrition about the suffering of the Palestinians. But the more that one learns about the topic, the easier it is to understand that there was no monopoly on suffering in this conflict. Just as hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled or, in a few cases, were told to leave their homes in the former British Mandate for Palestine, almost an equal number of Jews throughout the Arab and Muslim world experienced the same fate.

The difference between the two populations was that the Jews were taken in and resettled by their brethren, either in the newborn state of Israel or in Western countries. Though their journeys and adjustment to their new homes was not always easy, none were allowed to languish in limbo. Today, they and their descendants in Israel or in the United States and other Western countries are members of successful communities where they enjoy equal rights. By contrast, the Arabs who left the territory that would become the State of Israel were deliberately kept in camps to this day and denied any resettlement or citizenship in the countries where they found themselves. The reason for this was that they were useful props in the Arab world’s ongoing war to reverse the verdict of that war. Their future was held hostage to the struggle to destroy Israel, and the refugees and their numerous progeny have been kept apart and in squalor in order to further that effort. Their plight merits the sympathy of the world. So, too, does the way they have been exploited and abused by their own leaders and other Arab countries.

Unfortunately, many of those who wish the Palestinians well, including many Jews, have accommodated their nakba narrative demands and sought to pressure Israel to apologize for winning the war of survival in 1948. But the Palestinian decision to cling to this narrative of suffering rather than embracing one of nation building in the West Bank and Gaza, where Israel has repeatedly offered them an independent state, is the primary obstacle to peace. As Rick Richman noted earlier this week, the point of insisting on the so-called “right of return” is not really the refugees but to keep the war against Israel’s existence alive. Not until they realize that they were not the only ones who suffered and that the war that led to their dispossession was the result of their own unwillingness to compromise and share the land will the Palestinians be prepared to accept the current compromise that has been on the table from Israel for many years, and finally move on.

Far from harming the cause of peace, the best thing those who wish to promote a resolution of the Middle East conflict can do is to remind the Palestinians that they were not the only ones who lost their homes and that the Arab world has as much apologizing to do as the Israelis. If one group of refugees must be compensated, so must the other. Just as two states for two peoples is the only possible formula for peace, let the Palestinians recognize that they aren’t the only 1948 refugees. Until they do and acknowledge the legitimacy of a state for those Jewish refugees, peace will be impossible.

Read article in full: 

Canada: Talks should consider Jewish refugees

Plight of Libyan Jews during WW2


The “Piazza Muncipio” quarter of Benghazi, Libya, in the 1920s,
where many Jews lived. Bottom: The “Covered Shuk” in Benghazi in the
1930s, where many Jews owned shops. (Courtesy of Prof.
Maurice Roumani.)

 

The suffering of Libyan Jews during World War ll is gaining recognition. Some survivors have even received compensation. But no amount of money can make up for lives lost or shattered, argues Benghazi-born Professor Maurice Roumani in this interview with Rafael Medoff for JNS. org.

The
Roumani clan, numbering several dozen families throughout Libya, was
one of the oldest Jewish families in Benghazi. Prof. Roumani’s father
was a successful merchant. Libya had been an Italian colony since 1911,
and life for its 20,000 Jews was not significantly affected by the rise
to power in Italy of Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party in 1922. The
“Racial Laws” that were decreed in Italy in 1938 at first were not
strictly enforced in Libya.

As Italy drew closer to Nazi Germany
in World War II, the Libyan colonial authorities began acting against
the local Jewish communities. In the summer of 1942, Jews holding Libyan
citizenship were interned in forced labor camps. In the Giado camp
alone, nearly 600 of the Jewish internees died from typhus or
starvation. Thousands of Libyan Jewish residents holding foreign
citizenship were expelled to different destinations. The new deportation
policy was known as “sfollamento,” or “removal.”

The expulsion
decree hit the Roumanis particularly hard. Because various branches of
the extended family were citizens of several different countries, the
Roumanis were torn apart and deported to different locations.

“Some of my relatives held
Algerian citizenship, so they were deported to the west, to Algiers,”
Prof. Roumani explains. “Several dozen others held British
citizenship—they had originally come from British-occupied Gibraltar—and
they were sent to detention camps in Italy, and then later to
Bergen-Belsen. Most of us, numbering more than two hundred, held either
French citizenship or what was known as ‘Tunisian citizenship under
French protection,’ so we were deported to the east, to Tunisia.”

Since
communication was severely restricted, none of the relatives were able
to maintain contact with those who went to other countries. It would not
be until the end of the war— three years later—that they would finally
find out what happened to one another.

A total of about 900 Libyan
Jews with British citizenship were deported to Italy. But after the
Germans occupied Italy in late 1943, the exiled Libyan Jews were
deported again, some to the notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp,
others to the Innsbruck-Reichenau slave labor camp. Most of them managed
to survive, however, thanks to the fact that they were British
citizens. Nazi officials thought they might be useful as bargaining
chips in a prisoner exchange with the British. 

Prof. Roumani was a
young child at the time, but still vividly remembers some of what he
and his family endured during the expulsion. “We were packed into the
back of trucks, without any of our possessions, basically just the
clothes on our backs,” he tells JNS.org. “The journey went on
for several days—it was more than 1,200 miles to Tunisia. At night, some
of us slept on the ground, underneath the trucks.”

After several
grueling days in the Saharan desert, they arrived in the Tunisian town
of La Marsa, where they were housed in a single rectangular one-story
building, with each family crowded into a single room. “Food was
insufficient and sanitary conditions were unbearable,” Roumani
notes. “We arrived penniless and with no possessions except for a few
clothes—we survived only because of the support we received from the
local Jewish community.”

The building had no protection from the
war raging in North Africa between the Allies and the Axis, and in one
bombing raid, 13 of Roumani’s relatives, including his grandmother,
aunts, and uncles, were among the approximately 200 Jews killed. Many
others were severely wounded or permanently traumatized.

In the
postwar period, some survivors of the Libyan slave labor camp at Giado
received limited financial compensation from the German government—but
only if they emigrated to Israel, and only if they arrived in Israel
between 1949 and 1953. Much later, in 2004, some of the other Libyan
deportees began receiving a small monthly sum from the Germans. But
those Libyan Jewish deportees who did not move to Israel, and who passed
away prior to 2004 received nothing, nor did their descendants.

“No amount of money can ever
make up for the lives that were lost or shattered,” says Roumani. “But
our suffering, although not the same as what others experienced,
deserves to be recognized, like other Holocaust survivors who suffered
at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators.”

Read article in full

Knesset committee slams government

 Tsipi Livni… not interested

The government is ignoring Jewish refugees from Arab countries in
negotiations with the Palestinians, Knesset Control Committee chairman
Amnon Cohen (Shas) has said.  The two main obstacles seem to be opposition by chief negotiator Tsipi Livni to raising the issue  – and a
Pensioners’ ministry budget devoted to claims that is too small. Report in the Jerusalem Post:

“We have to take our brothers
from Arab countries into consideration. They don’t get any reparations
from property worth billions of dollars, which they had to abandon
because they were expelled,” Cohen explained.

However, US envoy in the negotiations Martin Indyk indicated earlier this year that a treaty could include such compensation.

Cohen
also called for Pensioners’ Affairs Minister Uri Orbach to prepare a
report on the value of lost Jewish property to be used in the talks, as
the topic currently falls under his jurisdiction, and to collect
information previously gathered by the Justice and Foreign Ministries on
the matter.

“Some Justice Ministers, like Tzipi Livni, aren’t
interested in the matter, even though the UN recognized the legitimacy
of Jewish refugees from Arab countries’ demands,” Cohen stated.

Orbach
said collecting information “is important because of these people’s
right to their lost property, but the chances of receiving compensation
are small…I don’t want to commit to missions that we may not be able to
handle, but we will up the pace of the documentation.”

However,
Pensioners’ Affairs Ministry Director-General Gilad Smama said that his
budget is too low for the project. Still, by the end of 2014, Smama
expects the ministry to gather testimony from 3,000 people.

Finance
Ministry representative Guy Harmati took issue with the complaint,
saying that the Pensioners’ Affairs Ministry asked for a NIS 50 million
budget, which is too high, and that he needs to see results before
increasing funds.

Levana Zamir, head of the International
Association of Jews from Egypt, said that 35,000 Jews were expelled from
Egypt in 1956 and that the Foreign Ministry documented some of their
abandoned property.

According to Zamir, part of the peace treaty
with Egypt said that Israel will demand compensation for the lost
property, but it never happened.

“Livni thinks that Jews from Arab countries are an obstacle to peace,” Zamir lamented.

Meir Kahlon, representing Libyan Jews, said communal property should count, as well.

“Palestinians
document every tent, well and thicket they had here but we left behind
property worth billions of shekels,” he stated.

Read article in full 

Video (in Hebrew) of the entire proceedings of 26.03.2014.

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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.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.