The synagogue of al-Ghriba is all set to welcome thousands of visitors on 6 and 7 May 2015 for the annual Lag Ba’ Omer pilgrimage. The Tunisian government seems particularly keen to show it has taken all necessary security precautions, according to Tunis Afrique Presse. Not only has the synagogue been a target of a terrorist attack in 2002, but 21 tourists were gunned down at the Bardo Museumin March.
Tunis — Minister of the Interior Mohamed Najem Gharsalli, on Friday,
said his department has taken appropriate measures to ensure the success
of the pilgrimage to El Ghriba, Djerba scheduled from May 6 to 7, 2015.
“The ministry has prepared the security reinforcements needed for the
success of this event,” he indicated at a meeting, attended by
ambassadors of Algeria, France, Russia, USA, Italy, Japan, United
Kingdom, South Africa, Czech Republic, Spain, China, Netherlands and
The Synagogue of El Ghriba, which was the scene of a terrorist attack in 2002, hosted nearly 2,500 pilgrims in 2014.
Mr. Gharsalli said all precautions have been taken to protect the residents and visitors in their travel and stay in Tunisia.
The government will be represented at this event by several
ministers, including the Ministers of the Interior and Tourism, to show
its commitment to the success of the pilgrimage season and to rooting
This article by Ameen Al-Mumaiiz from his book, Baghdad as I know it (1930), gives a fascinating insight, through the eyes of a Muslim, into how Iraqi Jews were at the forefront of modernising the country. It must be emphasised, however, that the Jewish upper classes were a small percentage of the community as a whole, most of whom, as per the autobiographies of Nissim Rejwan and Salim Fattal, were poor. Thanks to Ivy Vernon for her translation.
“The Iraqi Jews ate the most expensive and rare of fruits and vegetables. As soon as the fruit is available in the market, the Iraqi Jew would buy it no matter how expensive.
He eats a healthy( kosher) meat and chicken diet checked by the Rabbi – this in obedience to religious edicts which orders them to thank God for the first season fruits, as well as to check the slain animal that no bones are broken and that it is free from any infectious diseases.
The majority of the Jews wear the best quality clothes sewn by the superior Baghdadi tailors (Armenians, Muslims, Jewish or Farma the Indian) to celebrate their festivals as per the Torah edicts.
Most of them …………..celebrate in their houses with the best foods, like the fatty chicken breasts and sweets (Haiwwa).
The Jewish man will frequent the best snack bars and cafes in Baghdad with names like the River Cafe, al Basha, Shabandar, Moshe, and Mummaiiz Cafe, where he can relax and be entertained, as well as make business deals. He does not care how much he pays to the owner of the snack bar.
They own the best clubs in Baghdad, as well as the high class ones i.e. Al Rashid, Laura Kaddouri. These are exclusively Jewish and no-one else is allowed to join.
They also have the schools with the highest standards, both primary and secondary: The Alliance, Shamash and Frank Iny schools, so that sending their kids to finish their higher education in the American or European universities can be achieved easily with no problem, conditions or limitations.
If, for example, an Iraqi Jew needs to defend himself in court, he can bring in the best lawyers from abroad (as seen in the case of the extremely well off Mr Shemmail Jemaila) when he brought in Mr Parkiton-Ward, the famous English lawyer to do so.
The Jews use the most luxurious and pedigree milking cows, handle the rarest of domestic birds, the parrots, canaries and love birds.
They were the first to import American cars into Iraq – for example the Ford agents were Ibrahim and Shafiq Ades.
The agents for General Motors were the Lawee brothers.
They appreciate the nutritional value of the Nabeq (tiny soft fruit from trees), the manna,Jammar (from wood in the trees), roasted beetroots, and they will pay whatever price to get them.
The Jews will only buy live fish and buy it directly from the (supplier or fisherman?).
They will put up their summer tents on the riverside only in the best locations like the A’Athamiyyah beach and Al Kahouriya. They only left when threatened by Nu’man al A’thami, as he was afraid they were plotting to make the area all Jewish.
The Jewish Rabbi was the most skilled in circumcision and many Muslim families resorted to using his skills to circumcise their boys.
For foreign languages, the best teachers were Jewish, for example Shummail for Fench and Heskel Effendi for the English language.
The best swimming instructors were Jewish at Said Sultan’s Organization and the teacher Saffani was the most able.
The majority of the merchants who imported the hygienic artefacts and instruments from abroad were Jewish… Salem Shamoun introduced the bathtub and the boiler to bathrooms. The Shasha family imported the variety of cloths in the Saffaffir warehouse.
The Hakkak family imported the “Singer” sewing machines, the gramaphones “Lady’s voice”, and “Pythaphone” records.”
French media have revealed that students at at least two high
schools in Tunisia, the land where the Arab Spring began, have marked their sports days with huge banners in support of Hitler and Islamic State (Da’esh). Are the students acting out of ignorance or conviction? (With thanks: Eliyahu)
In Tunisia, “Islamofascism” is not merely a media formula. It can take on a quite concrete appearance. . . .;At
the high school in Jendouba in the northeast of the country, a banner
showing Hitler saluting the German flag was displayed. (France TV – Geopolis)
In another high school in the area of Jendouba, it was the black flag of the Islamic State that was put on display. . . . . (France TV – Geopolis)
the girls high school of Kairowan (LJFK), the religious center of
Tunisia, a banner showing a representation of the persecutions of the
Islamic State was hung on a wall. One can see on it a masked warrior
armed with a scimitar accompanied by two prisoners dressed in the
typical orange pajama. One of them in flames might represent the
Jordanian pilot burned alive by Da`ash [ISIL] last February. (Le Figaro, 15 April 2015)
Blogger Eliyahu M’Tsiyon comments:
“The article in Le Figaro looks for an excuse why many in the Arab world are
so fascinated with Hitler. And the reporter finds a false reason:
“The fascination for the 3rd Reich is not rare in the Arab countries, which
did not undergo the trauma of Nazism and are gladly hostile to Israel.”
“This reason is false because in fact Nazi German troops, the Wehrmacht, did
occupy Tunisia in late 1942 and early 1943. The Jews there were
subjected to the preliminary stages of the Holocaust while mass murder
camps were being built in North Africa. In fact, Walter Rauff, the Nazi
expert in murdering Jews spent several months in Tunisia. Read excerpts
from his reports to his superiors and diaries here.”
Who knew? This report (Arabic – sorry, no English subtitles) on a London screening of the film ‘Shadow in Baghdad’ appeared on Iraqi TV. The screening was organised by the Meir Basri Forum. Some 80 people attended – mainly Iraqi Muslims and Christians. The Meir Basri Forum was founded by an Iraqi Jew and a Shi’a Muslim in 2010.
The film tells the story of Linda Menuhin Abdul-Aziz, whose lawyer father disappeared in Baghdad in 1972, presumed murdered by the regime. An Iraqi Muslim journalist offers to help Linda trace her father’s last movements. Linda achieves closure of sorts, and her faith in humanity is reaffirmed.
The TV channel Al-Hurra has also been interviewing Linda Menuhin and Duki Dror, the film’s director, an Israeli of Iraqi origin.
Images of the terrible hangings of nine Jews on 27 January 1969 fill the screen.
What is interesting is that the Arab media is engaging with Iraqi Jews who now live in Israel and carry Israeli passports.
Linda’s story may elicit sympathy from an Arab audience, but have they really come to terms with the fact that Iraqi Jews have moved on? These Jews do not yearn to return to the Iraqi motherland, but are now citizens of the West and of Israel. Their children may still speak some Arabic and enjoy the music and the food, but they are firmly established in their new countries.
At last, the story of the oppression and flight of the Iraqi Jews is reaching a mainstream Arab audience – surely, a miraculous development.
Why is there no Ma’abarot Day to recall the first home – a tent camp – that 80 percent of Israel’s oriental immigrants experienced when they first arrived? Article in Haaretz:
An odd question is posed by the protagonist of the television series
“Zagouri Empire,” in the first episode of the new season. Why, he asks,
does the Israeli calendar have no “Ma’abarot Day” – a reference to the
1950s’ transit camps that mainly housed Jewish refugees from the Middle
East and North Africa.
You won’t find an entry for ma’abarot in the
Encyclopedia Hebraica. The 1978 edition contains a terse discussion of
the subject (27 lines), but not as a separate entry, rather in the
general volume devoted to the Land of Israel.
Nor do we have a “Museum of Ma’abarot.” We have an
Israel Air Force museum and a Yitzhak Rabin museum and a Palmach museum
and a Ya’ir Stern museum (commemorating the founder of the pre-state
underground organization Lehi). But to learn about transit camps, you’ll
have to poke around in archives or listen to old wives’ tales.
In a collection of Davar Le’Yeladim – the weekly
children’s magazine published by the (now-defunct) Hebrew daily Davar,
which was a mouthpiece for the ruling establishment – from 1951-1952, I
found barely 15 articles on the subject, most of them written by young
Who is responsible for constructing our history?
Who is charged with the role of filling with content that odd and
self-interested concept referred to as “collective memory”?
When it comes to subjects like transit camps and
poverty, this is not only a question for learned historians. Recent
surveys have provided painful findings about the number of poor children
in Israel. A heated debate has also arisen about who’s responsible for
the fact that housing prices have lurched out of control – Benjamin
Netanyahu or Ehud Barak, or maybe it was the other Ehud (Olmert), or
possibly Menachem Begin, Golda or Ben-Gurion?
Perhaps the question should be rephrased: Who is
responsible for the fact that there are some people who have no prospect
of being able to buy an apartment today, whereas others own entire
buildings? That’s a question that calls for a consideration of the
history of poverty in this country.
The history of poverty here is a huge blank. Our
great cultural repression. The ma’abarot, the product of Israeli
poverty, are a historical wound that’s been removed from the map. And
not by chance.
In 1951, a quarter of a million people were living
in ma’abarot, 80 percent of them from Islamic lands. Most of the camps
were dismantled by 1959. Ten forgotten years. Memories erased.
Here, in a nutshell, are a few important points
which are apparently inconvenient to recall. The first inhabitants of
the ma’abarot lived in tents, one per family. Afterward, an improved
tent, hut-shaped but still made of canvas, came on the scene. Later,
there were tin huts and wooden shacks. Some of the ma’abarot weren’t
hooked up to the water or power supply, and filthy public toilets often
served dozens of people.
In April 1949, Zalman Aranne, a leading member of
the Mapai ruling party (and later minister of education), warned that a
“catastrophic situation” existed in the camps. Elihayu Dobkin, a senior
figure in the Jewish Agency, described the conditions as a “holy
horror.” But David Ben-Gurion ruled that the improved dwellings that
were being demanded for the new immigrants were too costly: “I don’t
accept this pampering [approach] with respect to people not living in
tents. We are spoiling them. People can live for years in tents. Anyone
who doesn’t want to live in them needn’t bother coming here.”
Beginning in September 1949, the Jews of Poland
were allowed to immigrate to the nascent Jewish state. Toward the end of
that year, the Agency reached the conclusion that the new arrivals from
Poland deserved better absorption conditions than the immigrants who
preceded them. “There are respected individuals among them,” was its
To spare these newcomers the suffering of the
transit camps, it was proposed to house them in hotels. At the same
time, meetings were held among the authorities about speeding up the
Poles’ placement in permanent housing – including in apartments
originally allocated for immigrants from the Arab countries.
“They were all aware that giving preference to the
Polish immigrants was wrong and so they resolved to keep it secret,”
wrote historian Tom Segev in his book “1949: The First Israelis.”
In January 1953, the Agency’s Immigrant Absorption
Department in Jerusalem noted, “Most of the European families have long
since left the ma’abarot, and more than 90 percent of the camps’
inhabitants are from the Oriental communities.”
During the past month I’ve been visiting distressed
areas in Israel – the winter 2015 version. Every morning I arrive in a
different place. Kfar Shalem, Ofakim, Or Yehuda, Ramle, the long and
depressing tenements of Jaffa Dalet. Distressed neighborhoods of Israeli
Jews. Happily, I haven’t seen especially harsh sights.
The images I had
in my mind of the ma’abarot and other sorts of immigrant camps have
been shattered. At the end of the 1970s, Project Renewal was launched to
rehabilitate rundown neighborhoods, and outwardly the situation has
over the years become fairly reasonable. But many of the people I’m
meeting are unemployed; a great many lead hardscrabble lives.
It seems to me that before we talk about the
distress of the retail price of Milky, the chocolate pudding snack that
symbolizes the middle class, we should recall this country’s distressed
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Point of No Return
Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries
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