Month: June 2014

Remembering the Oujda massacre

Jewish cemetery at Oujda, Morocco

Jewish cemetery at Oujda, Morocco.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Before this month of June is out, it is as well to recall 

the outbreak of anti-Jewish rioting

on June 7 – 8, 1948

  in the northeastern Moroccan towns of Oujda

 and Jerada, in which
44 people were killed 

and some 60 wounded. The massacres, 

whose
circumstances have never been definitively

 determined, came weeks after Israel’s declaration

 of statehood, and contributed to a dramatic upsurge

 in the departure of Jews from Morocco, 

most of them to Israel. David B Green

 writes in Haaretz:

Oujda,
where the violence first broke out on June 7, 1948, is a large city
(today its population is about 450,000) very close to Morocco’s border
with Algeria, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) inland from the
Mediterranean. In the year beginning from May 1947, some 2,000 Moroccan
Jews fled the country for Palestine, many of them passing through Oujda
before crossing into Algeria.


Within
days of Israeli statehood – which was declared on May 14, 1948 – the
Moroccan sultan, Mohammed V, delivered a speech in which he warned his
country’s Jews not to demonstrate “solidarity with the Zionist
aggression,” but also reminding Morocco’s Muslim majority that Jews had
always been a protected people there. Because the address contained both
a statement of support for the Jews and an implied threat against them,
the effect of it on anti-Jewish sentiment is difficult to gauge.

What
is clear is that on the morning of June 7, rioters descended on Oujda’s
Jewish quarter and killed four of its Jewish residents, as well as a
Frenchman, and wounded another 30. Late that night, and continuing into
the next morning, rioting also began in Jerada, a much smaller mining
town some 60 kilometers (37 miles) to the southwest of Oujda. There, 37
Jews were killed – including the town’s rabbi, Moshe Cohen, and four
family members – out of a total Jewish population of approximately 120.

Damage
to property was also extensive in both towns. As police arrived only
several hours after the violence began, they could only assess the
losses. And when the pasha of Oujda, Mohammed Hajoui, condemned the
violence and even visited the homes of all its victims, he was attacked
on June 11 in a mosque in the city.

At
the time, Morocco was still a French colony – independence was granted
only in March 1956 – and the French commissioner for Oujda, René Brunel,
pinned responsibility for the outbreak of violence on the Jews – for
their passage through Oujda on their way to Israel, and their supposed
sympathies with the Zionist movement. According to a report by the
French Foreign Ministry, it was “characteristic that those in this
region near to the Algerian border consider all Jews who depart as
combatants for Israel.”

For
its part, the French League for Human Rights and Citizenship blamed the
French authorities for their lax control in the area.

A
number of officials from the local mining federation were put on trial
on charges of instigating the massacres, with several of those convicted
the following February being sentenced to life imprisonment with hard
labor, and others to limited sentences.

If
before Oujda and Jereda there had been a stream of Jews departing
Morocco, afterward it became a flood. During the next year, 18,000 of
Morocco’s 250, 000 or so Jews left for Israel. Between 1948 and 1956,
when emigration was prohibited*, the number reached about 110, 000.

Read article in full (Subscription required) 

* In fact the ban was lifted in 1949 but re-imposed in 1956 – ed 

Sixty-three years since the Oujda and Djerada pogroms

For peace, don’t listen only to the Other

 Professor Mohammed Dajani resigned from Al-Quds university after taking his students to visit Auschwitz death camp

It’s one thing to listen to the Other; another thing to listen only
to the Other. The former can lead to reconciliation, but the latter is
intended to create subjugation. Well put, Adi Schwartz, writing in i24 News. I would only add that for true reconciliation to happen, the Other ought to recognise that European Holocaust is also an Arab story with a direct link to the postwar mass expulsion of Jews from Arab countries.

After
a long delay and a huge controversy, a UNESCO exhibitionabout the
Jewish people’s connection to the Land of Israel opened June 11th in
Paris. In order for the exhibition to go ahead, UNESCO not only demanded
that the words “Land of Israel” be replaced by “Holy Land,” but also
the removal of one of the panels, which was dedicated to Jewish refugees
from Arab countries.

The panel depicted the absorption in Israel of hundreds of thousands
of Jews who fled persecution and violence in the Middle East and North
Africa. The exhibition’s author, Hebrew University Professor Robert
Wistrich, told Israeli media that the panel was removed because it
showed that Jews in Arab lands had suffered a great deal, a topic that
angered Arab states.

Some 3,000 kilometers from Paris, and only a few days earlier, a
Palestinian professor had to resign from al-Quds University in Jerusalem
because he taught his students about the Holocaust. The courageous
Mohammed Dajani received death threats after leading the first organized
group of Palestinian university students to Auschwitz, and had to stand
down because of campus riots and heavy pressure.

Both, then – the uprooting of Jews from Arab countries and the
European Holocaust – are still a taboo among Palestinians and Arabs.
Even the slightest expression of acknowledgment or understanding is
overwhelmingly rejected.

Foreign observers tend to claim, in the name of even-handedness, that
each side to the Arab-Israeli conflict need to make an effort to
recognize the narrative of the other. This will make peace more
achievable, they say. But the truth is that there is no equivalence
between the two sides: while the uprooting of Jews from Arab countries
is completely denied, and the Holocaust hardly recognized, the term
“Nakba” is very well known in Israel.

In the past two decades, no literate Israeli could escape discussions
of the “Nakba” (catastrophe in Arabic), a term used to commemorate the
displacement of Palestinians during their war with Israel in 1948. As
early as the 1980s, the term appeared in Israeli newspapers, in academic
researches and even in official history books taught in public schools.

Just recently, a film festival at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque was
dedicated to the Nakba, and the Eretz Israel Museum held a conference on
the issue. While certainly a controversial, provocative and unpopular
issue among Israelis, neither the festival nor the exhibition were
canceled or censored. On the contrary: they were given center stage in
publicly funded institutions.

These historical events are very different, but for the sake of this
discussion let’s relate to their role in the respective narratives.
Palestinians consider the recognition of the Nakba essential; Jews feel
gravely offended when the historical events of the Holocaust, or of the
uprooting of Jews from Arab countries, are denied. So why the
double-standard?

It’s one thing to listen to the other; another thing to listen only
to the other. The former can lead to reconciliation, but the latter is
intended to create subjugation. For the activists who promote
rapprochement between the two peoples, this could be a good place to
start: once every literate Palestinian knows about the Holocaust and the
uprooting of Jews from Arab countries, the chances of peace will be
much greater.

Read article in full

Tunisian Jewish numbers keep on declining

Buffeted by political and economic shocks in the last 11 years, including a deadly suicide attack outside the synagogue by Islamist militants in 2002 and violence after Tunisia’s popular uprising in 2011, the Jewish community continues to decline. Insightful article by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times:

Three or four families left after the revolution that overthrew
President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. “They had large families and not
enough work,” said Youssef Gamoun, who, like many of the Jews here, has a
jewelry shop in Houmt Souk. “After the revolution, there was less work
and a problem of crime. The tourists stopped coming, and there were
burglaries. Things were really tough.”

 
Flowers auctioned to raise funds for the Ghriba synagogue, whose foundations were first laid in 586 B.C.


(
Samuel Aranda NYT)

The
2002 suicide attack signaled that the synagogue had become a target
along with other Jewish sites in North Africa. The people of Djerba are
reticent about what happened, but 21 people were killed, including 14
German tourists, when the bomber exploded a tanker filled with propane
gas at the entrance to the synagogue.

The
attack was hushed up by Mr. Ben Ali’s government — the charred walls
were whitewashed within hours of the explosion — and Tunisia’s
connections to Al Qaeda were never fully explained. That lack of
openness has kept German tourists away to this day, said Rene Trabelsi, a
Jewish tour operator and hotelier whose father is keeper of the Ghriba
synagogue.

Tunisia has been a center of Jewish life since at least Roman times, but only about 2,000 Jews remain in the country.  (Aranda  NYT)

The
Tunisian government has nevertheless provided a permanent police guard
to protect the synagogue since the attack. Dozens of police and
plainclothes intelligence agents locked down the entire area during the
pilgrimage last month, and military helicopters patrolled overhead.
“What happened in 2002 cannot happen again,” said Haim Bittan, Tunisia’s
chief rabbi.

Many
Tunisians like to emphasize their cosmopolitan history, yet the country
is predominantly Muslim and Arab and has been affected by the shocks
emanating from the Middle East. Rioters burned shops and synagogues in
1967 during the Arab-Israeli war, causing an exodus of Jewish families.
The massacres at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in
Lebanon in 1982 prompted more to leave, Mr. Trabelsi said. Tunisia
hosted the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat for 12 years, and Israel
bombed the Palestine Liberation Organization’s headquarters near Tunis
in 1985.

 
Tunisian boys studied in Djerba’s remaining Talmudic school. 
(Aranda NYT)

So when the newly appointed minister of tourism, Amel Karboul,
decided to promote the Ghriba pilgrimage this year as a way to bolster
tourism and champion the Jewish minority as an example of Tunisian
tolerance and plurality, members of the National Constituent Assembly
gave her a sharp rebuke.

Legislators
threatened to censure Ms. Karboul and a senior Interior Ministry
adviser over the issuing of travel documents to Israeli tourists.
(Israeli visitors are not issued visas but a laissez-passer, which
avoids recognition of their Israeli passports.)

“We
wanted to make the point not to allow people with Israeli passports and
not to establish diplomatic relations with Israel,” said Issam Chebbi,
one of the assembly members who supported the motion of no confidence in
the minister.

The
political furor scared off some Jewish visitors, yet some welcomed
democratic discussion of the issue. For the first time, a Jew, Mr.
Trabelsi, was proposed for the post of minister of tourism in the new
government in December. He did not get the job— “Maybe it is not the
moment,” he said, shrugging — but added that for the first time, many
Tunisians saw a Jew speaking fluent Arabic just like them on national
television and reacted positively.

“Perhaps
Jews before were hidden, and now today people find the Jewish question
is important,” he said. “Tunisians want to show they are tolerant.”

Read article in full 

Tunisia needs you Jews!

Jewish Refugee Day is historic breakthrough

It’s been a historic week for activists campaigning for the rights of
Jews from Arab lands. The Israeli Knesset has passed a law which will
for the first time designate  30th November as a national day of commemoration for the million or so Jewish refugees forced to flee Arab lands and Iran. Lyn Julius blogs in the Jerusalem Post:

“Today, we have finally corrected an historic injustice and placed
the issue of Jews who were expelled or pushed out of the Arab world in
the last century on the national and international agenda,” said MK
Shimon Ohayon (pictured) , who proposed the law. “In Israel, the history of the Jews
who originally came from the Middle East or North Africa, who make up
around half of the population, was ignored for too long.”

“From this year, every child in Israel will learn about the history
of the Jews of the region, who arrived long before the Islamic conquest
and Arab occupation of the region. This is a vital part of our fight
against those internally and externally who delegitimize our presence
here in the region and claim we are somehow foreign to the region.”

Scandalous but true – Israeli children may  learn very little about
the ancient Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa, and
even less about how these were driven to extinction in a single
generation by a combination of physical threats, state-sanctioned
legislation and pogroms. In short, ethnic cleansing.

The date of 30 November was chosen for what might come to be known
as Jewish Refugee Day  to mark the onset of a series of anti-Jewish
riots.  Jews were murdered and Jewish property ransacked in Syria,
Bahrain and Aden as demonstrations to protest the UN Partition Plan  on
29 November 1947 turned violent.

But November
1947 was not the start of Jewish troubles, nor should it be seen as the
beginning of an ‘understandable backlash’ to Zionism.  Jews  in Iraq
had already been traumatised by the 1941 Farhud,
which claimed the lives of 179 Jews. Three years before Israel was
born, anti-Jewish riots broke out in Libya, Egypt, and Syria. Hundreds
were murdered, many were dispossessed or made homeless.

Before the UN  Partition Plan  resolution was passed, and before a single Arab refugee had fled Palestine, the Arab League was colludingin
a series of measures which would victimise their Jewish citizens as
the ‘Jewish minority of Palestine’. Zionism would become a criminal
offence, Jewish bank accounts frozen and Jews arrested and interned on
the slightest pretext.

Just as the state of Israel was established on 15 May, 1948, five
member states of the Arab League sent their armies in to crush the
newborn state and exterminate its people. Azzam Pasha,  secretary of the
Arab League, proclaimed: “[T]his will be a war of extermination and a
momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres
and the crusades.”

Everybody knows that the Arabs failed to win the war against the
Jewish state. However, they decisively won the war against their
defenceless Jewish citizens – setting off a mass exodus, mostly to
Israel. The number of Jewish refugees was greater than the number of
Palestinian refugees.

Naturally, not all the history of more than 2,000 years of Jewish
life in the Arab world is about suffering and pogroms. The
average schoolchild will also learn about the extensive Jewish
contribution to the fabric of Middle Eastern and North African society,
 trade, culture, literature and music.

But the main purpose of the Day is to explain why 50 percent of Israel’s Jews hail from Arab and Muslim lands.

Without an understanding of Jewish refugees and how most ended up
as citizens of Israel, there can be no understanding of what drives the
Arab quarrel with Jews and Zionism, nor how best to resolve it.

Read blog in full 

We have finally corrected a historic injustice 

World Jewish Congress welcomes naming of Day

Like Jews, Iraqi Christians face extinction

Nearly two-thirds of Iraq’s 1. 5 million Christians have fled the country since 2003. Now a new assault by the jihadists of ISIS is emptying cities like Mosul of its Christians. Another indigenous community is following the Jews into extinction, says JNS News.

Like the Jewish people, the Christians of Iraq have a long and storied history that can be traced back to the very foundations of human civilization.

“For hundreds of years Christians have been marginalized in the Islam-dominated part of the world. After the fall of Saddam the situation has been devastating for Christian Assyrians and other minorities such as Mandeans and Yezidies,” Nuri Kino-a Swedish-Assyrian Christian who is an independent investigative reporter, filmmaker, author, and Middle East and human rights analyst-told JNS.org.

“More than 60 churches have been attacked and bombed. Rapes, kidnappings, robberies and executions [are all prevalent],” Kino added.

Kino, who has been in constant communication with friends on the ground in Iraq, said that these attacks are all a part of daily life for Assyrians “who don’t have their own militia or any neighboring country to back them up.”

According to Taimoorazy, who has also been in regular contact with a number of people in Iraq, the situation has deteriorated rapidly since the jihadist invasion.

Taimoorazy said that “water and electricity have been cut, there is a shortage of cooking gas, clean water is running out and there is a fear of an outbreak of illness where the refugees have fled.”

“This is a complete disaster for the wellbeing of our nation,” she added.

Before 2003, it was estimated that around 130,000 Christians lived in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, but only about 10,000 remained before the recent ISIS invasion a week ago. Now, residents say around 2,000 Christians remain in the city. Many have gone to the surrounding countryside or to Kurdistan. Additionally, many are seeking to flee the country altogether.

“Mosul is also very important for Christians, the prophet Jonah is buried there and also Abraham is supposed to be born in that part of Iraq,” Kino said,

The abandoned Saint Elijah’s Monastery—the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq—located in the Nineveh Province, just south of the city of Mosul. (Doug via Wikimedia Commons)

.

“I have spoken to more than 20 Assyrian refugees [in recent days]. They are all saying pretty much the same thing: ISIS is a radical Sunni Islamic group who preaches and demands Sharia laws. That means that Christians have to pay a certain tax for protection, convert, or die,” she said.

The latest attacks are nothing new for Assyrian Christians and other minorities. They have faced nearly a century of continuous assault on their way of life.

“We lost 75 percent of our nation during the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek genocide from 1914 through 1918,” Taimoorazy said.

This has accelerated over the last decade, where nearly two-thirds of Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians have fled the country since 2003.

As the jihadist invasion continues, Iraq’s Christian leaders fear that this may very well be the end of Christianity in Iraq.

“After more than 2,000 years, during which we have withstood obstacles and persecutions, Iraq is today almost emptied of its Christian presence,” Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Saad Syroub of Baghdad said in an interview with the international Catholic charity group Aid to the Church in Need.

“We fear a civil war. If the various different opposing internal parties do not succeed in finding an agreement, then we must expect the worst. Another war would mean the end, especially for us Christians,” added Syroub.

The modern persecution and expulsion of Iraq’s Christian and other minorities draws many parallels to the waves of attacks on and eventual expulsion of Iraq’s Jewish community during the mid-20th century, when nearly 135,000 Jews were forced to leave from 1948 onwards. Overall, nearly 900,000 Jews were expelled from their homes across the Middle East, many settling in Israel, Europe, and North America.

Similar to Iraq’s Jews, who were targeted for their success and accused of supporting Israel, Christians in Iraq are also being targeted for their relative success and supposed ties to the West, especially the United States.

“The history of Jews and Christians in the Muslim dominated part of the world goes hand in hand. Massacres and atrocities to the members of the two religions have been going on for centuries,” Kino told JNS.org. “It is very sad that the colorful and very cultivated Jewish community of Iraq vanished.”

For Iraqi Christians-as well as those in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and elsewhere in the Middle East-their ancient communities may soon also vanish, as many flee for safety in Europe and North America.

“At the current rate, with the mass exodus which is being witnessed by the world, the number of Christians left in the Middle East will be slim to none,” Taimoorazy said.

Read article in full 

ISIS pledges to destroy ‘polytheistic’ shrines 

About

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.