Sir Martin Gilbert dies at 78

Point of No Return is saddened to hear of the death, after a long illness, of Sir Martin Gilbert, one of Britain’s foremost historians. A prolific author of 80 books including a biography of Churchill and several works on Jewish history, he  had a track record  for producing solid but accessible works.  ‘In Ishmael’s House‘ turns out to have been the last book he wrote before falling ill. Jews from Muslim countries will always be indebted to Sir Martin for popularising their history  to a mass audience. Robert Fulford gives a flavour of the book:

Sir Martin in his younger days

The long history of Jews in Muslim lands  (National Post):

“One
of the 2002 Bali bombers, Amrozi bin Nurhasin, on trial in an
Indonesian courtroom and headed toward execution, shouted out the
message he wanted his crime to convey: “Jews: Remember Khaibar. The army
of Muhammad is coming back to defeat you.”

“This was his
explanation of the murder of 202 people eight years ago. Of those who
died, 88 were Australians, 38 Indonesians, 24 British. None were Jews.
So what was Amrozi, a Java-born Indonesian, raving about? It’s a
question worth considering as we assess the recent arrests for
terrorist conspiracy in Ottawa. Islamic terrorists can finds motives in
ancient struggles the rest of the world long ago forgot.

“Martin
Gilbert, the author of some 80 books, including the official
biography of Winston Churchill, explains Amrozi’s meaning at the start
of his alarming chronicle, In Ishmael’s House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands, published this week.

“Amrozi
was remembering an event 1,375 years in the past, when Muhammad
attacked Jewish farmers living in the oasis community of Khaibar, in
what is now Saudi Arabia. More than 600 Jews were killed and the
survivors lost all their property and had to pledge half of their
future crops to Muhammad.

“Today, few Jews know the word
Khaibar. But among certain Muslims it has permanent resonance. Khaibar
set a precedent, endorsed by the actions of the Prophet. After
Khaibar, non-Muslims who were conquered had to give up their property
and pay heavy permanent tribute to their Muslim overseers. That form
of discrimination lasted for centuries. It was this incident and its
aftermath that nourished Amrozi’s homicidal ambition.

“Muslims
love to recall that Jews once lived in peace among them. Of course,
Jews were always second-class citizens, their rights sharply limited.
Still, it was sometimes better than settling among Christians. Bernard
Lewis, a major authority on Islam, says that Jewish lives under Islam
were never as bad as in Christendom at its worst, or as good as in
Christendom at its best.

“In the 20th century, Arab hostility to
Jews took an ugly turn. Some claim that the new state of Israel
“caused” the trouble. But well before Israel’s creation in 1948, Arabs
were identifying Jews as enemies.

“In 1910, in the now-Iranian
city of Shiraz, mobs robbed and destroyed 5,000 Jewish homes, with the
encouragement of soldiers. In 1922, in Yemen, an old decree
permitting the forcible conversion of Jewish orphans to Islam was
reintroduced. The government searched towns and villages for children
without fathers, so that they could be given Muslim instruction. The
children were chained and imprisoned till they agreed to convert. In
1936 in Iraq, under Nazi influence, Jews were limited by quota in the
public schools, Hebrew teaching was banned in Jewish schools and
Jewish newspapers were shut down.

“Anti-Semitism intensified when
Israel was created, and grew still worse after Israel won the Six-Day
War of 1967. By the 1970s, about 800,000 Jews, perhaps more, had been
forcibly exiled from Arab countries, their property seized. According
to the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC), they
lost property now valued at well over $100-billion.

“A majority
of these exiles settled in Israel. In the 1950s, the UN recognized
them as refugees and compensation was discussed. Later, the Arab
states turned the UN against Israel and, by association, against
Jewish refugees. In 1975, the General Assembly condemned Zionism as
“racism and racial discrimination.” Various political leaders in the
West (notably Irwin Cotler, the former justice minister of Canada) have
continued to argue for compensation. But after the 1975 resolution, as
Gilbert notes, that idea was unlikely to receive any UN support.

“The number of Jews displaced by the Arabs in the 20th century roughly equals (‘exceeds’ – ed)
the number of Palestinians displaced by Israel. But the plight of the
Palestinians has received several hundred times as much publicity.
One reason is the constant propaganda from Muslim states and their
admirers in the West. Another is that many Jews, unlike Palestinians,
don’t want to be called refugees.

“Gilbert quotes an Iraqi Jew,
Eli Timan, living in London: “The difference is that we got on with
our life, worked hard and progressed so that today there is not a
single Jewish refugee from Arab lands.” Those who suggest that this
model be copied elsewhere will of course be condemned as heartless
bigots.”

Obituary ( Daily Telegraph)

More Reviews of In Ishmael’s House

Evening Standard, The Economist reviews

One Comment

  • sir mmmartin gilbert has written his last book!
    Hwasa brilliznt writer and we shall miss him. The fact that he was Jewish makes himdear to my heart
    sultana
    so sorr for mistakes

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

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.