Month: February 2016

Meira Ovadia’s exodus from Egypt to Israel

Her cousin Dina has told her amazing story – now its the turn of Meira Ovadia (pictured) to tell how her family fled from their native Alexandria to Israel. Her years of brainwashing against Israel did not disappear overnight.  Meira had left Egypt, but it took some time for Egypt to leave Meira, as her colleagues at Palestinian Media Watch put it.

Ovadia,
now 25, was born and raised in Al-Ma’moura, a high-scale neighborhood in
Alexandria, Egypt, under the name Maysa Abdallah. She lived there until the age
of 15. Her wealthy family had a successful fashion factory, and for many years
she lived comfortably. She didn’t even know she was Jewish until 2005.

“Our parents didn’t allow us to pray in a
mosque or a church or visit friends’ houses, and we never understood why,”
Ovadia says, with traces of a foreign accent slipping into her speech, dimples
visible on her smiling face, and her eyes alight. “There were strange
things at home that I didn’t understand, like a meal on the Sabbath that my
grandparents and parents insisted we eat together.

“My grandmother, who was very religious, also
lit candles every Sabbath, but we, the kids, didn’t know why. Grandmother would
also tell us stories from the Bible, but they didn’t interest us. I remember
that I really loved the taste of the apple in honey, but I had no idea that it
was connected to Rosh Hashanah.

“Our parents preferred not to tell us that we
were Jews so that we wouldn’t talk about it outside our house, so that we
wouldn’t be hurt. There were kids who suspected us and laughed at us. I was told
that I looked Jewish, and when I answered them that I wasn’t, they asked why my
mother didn’t wear a veil. I didn’t know how to answer, so I told them that we
were secular.”

Until 6th grade, she studied in a Muslim
Brotherhood school and after that she transferred to a Coptic Christian school.
“I didn’t like the Muslim school. I suffered there. I didn’t want to wear
a veil, and they forced me to. Every day we had to memorize entire chapters of
the Quran by heart. Whoever didn’t study or didn’t speak nicely got beaten –
serious beatings, not friendly pats. One time, I dared to stick my tongue out
at one of the other students during a lesson, and the teacher hit my hand with
a rod until my hand broke. I was taught to hate Jews, that they were creatures with
horns, a long nose and a tail, and to hate Israel, the cruelest country in the
world.”

After the second Intifada broke out in 2000,
solidarity with the Palestinian people and hatred of Israel were on the rise at
the Muslim school that Ovadia attended. “On the wall in the classroom,
there were two pictures. One was Muhammad Al-Dura, the child that, they
explained to us, the Israelis had murdered. There was one picture taken just
before he had died, and a second picture taken when he was already dead, on a
stretcher. That’s what was in front of the children’s eyes – a child’s corpse.
My parents realized that there was no point in keeping us in that school, so we
transferred to the Coptic school. That was much easier to handle. They also
beat you there, but only for really serious things.”  

In 2005,
the family was forced to leave Egypt after masked men broke into their home,
proclaimed that Jews were unwelcome in Egypt and that it would be best that the
children not go to school anymore. “Five bearded men, with weapons and
clubs, broke into the house,” Ovadia recalls. “At first, they broke
the glass of the electronic gate at the entrance, and then they came inside
yelling ‘Ald Al-Yahud,’ ‘the Jewish family,’ and just started to destroy
the entire house. They demanded to know where the men were, but none of the men
– my father, uncle, and grandfather – were home.

“The attackers pushed my mother and she fell.
We screamed. My brother and cousin were on the roof. The attackers went up
there, trampled them and shot next to their heads to scare them. We heard the
shots downstairs. It was horrifying. They left the house eventually, the police
came, and we took Mom to the hospital.”

Three days after the incident, the grandfather
gathered his seven grandchildren and told them that they were Jews and that
soon they would go to Israel and live in Jerusalem. “I couldn’t understand
where this had come from. To Israel? Why would I want to go to a country with
people who had big noses and a tail? It was a total shock. The children reacted
badly and were angry, but we left in the end.”

“At the beginning, I pretended it was a trip.
Ulpan was pretty good for me, but afterwards my cousin Dina and I transferred
to the Amaliya High School [in Jerusalem], and it wasn’t easy. We fought with
the other girls all the time. Mostly I did. They called me Pharaoh. We had
heavy Arabic accents, so they made fun of us. I was very insulted and I would
hit the other girls. It took the teachers a long time to teach me not to hit. I
couldn’t stand the way the other girls talked and mostly disrespected the
teachers. Maybe everything they taught me from a young age about the Jews
affected me. The girls seemed ugly and cruel to me.”

[Interviewer:] “But you didn’t see horns and tails.”

“You’ll laugh, but the first time I went to
Mea Shearim, there was some Haredi guy [religious Jew] – you know, with the
whole outfit – that pressed himself against a wall in order to not come near
me. I turned around to check that he didn’t have a tail. Today, when I see what
Palestinian children are taught, when I see seven year olds saying on air that
Jews are apes and pigs, and the hostess of the program applauds them, I
understand them. Once, I also thought like they did.”

Her connection with Palestinian Media Watch started
in high school. “I took the Arabic matriculation, and one of the employees
at the [PMW] institute taught a class there once and asked every student to
read part of a text. When he heard me reading, he told the teacher that I
sounded like an Arab, and asked about me. The teacher told him my story, and he
suggested that Dina and I come to work at PMW during summer vacation. I was 17,
and ecstatic that I had a job. It was a joy. After high school I started
working here full time.”

Her acclimatization at the [PMW] institute wasn’t
easy. “I would argue a lot with the other employees. Because I didn’t have
Israeli friends, and because I didn’t watch Israeli television, I was convinced
that Israel was hurting the Palestinians for no reason. I hid the fact that I
would cry about Palestinian suffering from the director of the institute,
Itamar Marcus, but I would say to the other employees: ‘The Palestinians lived
here, and you came with weapons, kicked them out with force and took their
homes.’ One of the employees would argue with me all the time, and I would
answer him half-seriously, ‘Well, be quiet, you occupier.’ The employees would
laugh and say that you can take Meira out of Egypt, you can’t take Egypt out of
Meira.

Read article in full

The hidden history of Jews in Rawalpindi

 This astonishing building was once used as a synagogue

A modernist building is the only reminder that Jews, fleeing persecution in Iran,  once lived in Rawalpindi. But locals and the government are cagey about discussing them. The electoral roll has 809 Jewish names, but there are no known Jews in this Pakistani city today. Sahif Tahir writes in the Express Tribune (with thanks: Andrew, via Celia) :

Compared to other colonial and pre-partition buildings in the area,
the exterior of this building indicates that it has been maintained.
Along with the David stars that smile proudly at onlookers, the building
is adorned with bat wings (symbolising good luck) along with the iconic
Masonic compass symbols embellishing the doors. The building resembles a
synagogue in India that was constructed by the Jews from Iraq and Iran
in the late 1800s. The affluence and grandeur of a wealthy class is
quite marked and parallel in the two infrastructures.

The history of Jews in Rawalpindi dates back to 1839 when many Jewish families from Mashhad fled to save themselves from the persecutions and settled in
various parts of subcontinent including Peshawar and Rawalpindi. Since
they were traders, Babu Mohallah (at that time a business centre) in a
location close to the railway station, urged them to settle within this
area. According to 1901 census and Rawalpindi Gazette, Mashhadi Jews
were a thriving tribe of Rawalpindi. However, after partition, many families migrated to Bombay
and the rest left gradually in the late 60s.

 At present, the word
‘Jews’ is only limited to an old British administrative gazette in TMA
building opposite Gordon College which is not open to the general public
and academics.

This stunning building, once used as a synagogue and assembly hall,
is now in shambles. It is occupied by three families who refuse to talk
to visitors and discourage them looking inside. The locals say this area
used to comprise of other such buildings; they were either demolished
or renovated to curb the identity and with the passage
of time new plazas and multi-story residential buildings took their
place. A similar building still exists in Ahata Mitho Khan which used to
have the same carvings and David stars but was recently renovated and
converted into a spare part market – Khan Market.

Despite some articles
on the Jews that reside in Karachi and a slight mention of Mashhadi
Jews, there’s apparently no information on Rawalpindi Jews, their life
styles and worship. The area, being in close proximity to the GHQ and
religious sites, is also quite socially sensitive. The locals are
resilient in talking about the community – some because of hatred, and
some because of fear. This act of defiance doesn’t just lie among the
locals, but is also rooted within the government. While wandering among
the streets, you will be stopped and questioned by officials. The locals
also resist talking about the history and shed very limited
information. However, an old resident who was born in the neighbourhood
in the late 30s said something astonishing,

“There were Jews living in the city till late 90’s.
Although the family moved to some other city, they still come and visit
these streets.”

Most of us are practically unaware of the fact that Jews were once an
active part of our community and even now continue to reside in this
country. In 2013, the electoral list exhibited an astonishing number of 809 people
who declared themselves as Jews. Pakistan, a non-Arab country that was
never technically in war against the Jewish state, is one of its staunch
opponents. There are a number of Jewish families living in Tel Aviv who
distinguish themselves as Pakistani.

Despite undeclared defense ties
and cooperation, our hostility towards the Jews is virulent; our dislike
is evident in just our attitude towards their infrastructure (which is
just as integral to our own history!).

These buildings are rich with history, lineage and culture. We have a
duty to preserve it for generations to follow rather than treating them
the way we treat our minorities, as a British journalistaptly put it,

“To be a Jew is to be a scapegoat – as unnerving an experience in Pakistan.”

Read article in full

‘Shindler’ in row with Yazidi ‘profiteers’

Steve Maman, a Canadian Jewish businessman dubbed the ‘Canadian Shindler’, is leading efforts to help
Yazidis who managed to escape ISIS persecution in Iraq, only to find
themselves stranded in Greece,  according to The Algemeiner. But new allegations that Maman, a philanthropic business of Moroccan-Jewish origin,  had lied about his rescue operation are now undermining Maman’s efforts on the ground. (with thanks: Michelle)

Steve Maman

Steve Maman founded the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq
(CYCI) a year ago to rescue Christian and Yazidi girls kidnapped by
ISIS terrorists and sold as sex slaves in northern
Iraq. The Canada-based charity says it works closely with a team of
negotiators, based inside ISIS-occupied areas, to rescue the kidnapped
girls and reunite them with their families.

In an interview with The Algemeiner on Friday, Maman said
CYCI has expanded its efforts now to help Yazidis who have successfully
escaped ISIS strongholds in Iraq and made it to Greece — but lack the
necessary help to reach their final destination in Germany, which he
said hosts the second largest Yazidi community in the world.

Read article in full

To add to his troubles, allegations by Yazidisthemselves that Maman was a fraud have resurfaced. On his Facebook page, Maman has professed to be pained and angry at accusations that he had staged his rescue operations.

He accused one Khairi Bozani of being a Kurdish ‘Hitler’. He and his ‘accomplice’ Noori Osman Abdulrahman allegedly resented Maman’s organisation CYCI for donating money to the victims. Maman charges that the two were running a racket, charging the Kurdistan Regional Government ( KRG)
head office $ 30, 000 per head for the rescue of captives.

“In other
words, I have made them lose out on 140 x $30, 000 because I donated the
funds to the families without making debt contracts like they do,” Maman wrote.” This has pushed many families to come ask CYCI for help instead of their offer which is a scheme.”

Maman alleged that 20 Yazidi girls had been ‘lost’ to Islamic State after  Bozani had blocked his group at the border.

Supporters of Maman claim he has rescued 1, 376 Yazidis in total, including 140 sex slaves.

Jewish refugee raises money for Yazidis

First Jews go, then other minorities in Pakistan

From left: Ranbir Singh of  Hindu Human Rights, Lord Alton, and Wilson Chowdhry of  the British Pakistani Christian Association at the report launch on 24 February

 Update: the BBC has made a film about the plight of Christian asylum seekers in Thailand

The eradication of the Jewish community of Pakistan sets a dangerous precedent for the future of other faith communities, a British report into religious freedom in Pakistan has concluded. However, it does not have enough information to say if what is left of the ‘community’ is still at ‘real’ risk.

The (Westminster) All Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion and Belief (APPG), chaired by Lord David Alton, heard evidence from 20 different organisations over three months – among them, Harif, the UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, about the plight of the Jewish community. There are thought to be ten families of Jewish origin masquerading as Parsis or Muslims in Pakistan.

Here is an extract from the report’s discussion of Harif’s submission:

“Fishel Benkhald is Pakistan’s only self

declared Jew. He wants to restore the cemetery and
rebuild the synagogue in Karachi. He stated that:
“My dream is to gain empathy. Later I
will try and get help and start the process for a small synagogue

.

“In 2009, the constant anti

Semitic propaganda and conspiracy theories from the Pakistani
government and media sickened him, he wrote that: “My political side outgrew my fear. I
felt less hesitant to claim my religion more publi
cally than I would have before”.

“In February 2014 Fishel, whose father is Muslim but whose mother is Jewish (and
therefore considered Jewish under Jewish law)
planned to change his official religious
status from Islam to Judaism. He said “It is dangerous, but I will go at least once to record
my request so their response can be documented.”

 “The APPG heard that NADRA, the
database in Pakistan which handles citizenship,
denied his request to change his identity
from ‘Muslim’ to ‘Jew’.

 “This is a concerning outcome as it represents a flagrant violation
of one

s freedom to pursue and manifest one’s religious belief. It is also a worrying
development for the trend of plurality and religious freedom in Pakistan.

“As Harif UK
highlighted, “the ethnic cleansing of minorities sets a dangerous precedent for society
at large.”

“We have heard testament of the destruction of the Jewish community in Pakistan, and
with the continuing trends of high levels of persecution and discrimination against other religious
minorities discussed in this report, it is perhaps a worrying sign that there may be a risk of the
eradication of other minorities too.

“Conclusions:
The
APPG is concerned at the
apparent virtual
eradication of the Pakistani Jewish Community and
fears other minority groups may suffer a similar fate if the trajectory of religious freedom in Pakistan
does not proceed in a positive direction. Due to the very small size of the Jewish community in
Pakistan, the APPG cannot conclude whether members of this community are
currently
at real risk of
persecution, however we do recognise that this is a result of past persecutory action against the
Jewish community.

“The APPG recommends that further evidence be gathered on any
remaining Jews in Pakistan and that all Jewish asylum cases being claimed on the grounds of
religious persecution be analysed on a case

by

case basis with the cumulative grounds for
establishing persecution, as outlined above, being taken into account.”

The report generally challenges the complacency of the UK government which did not always deem persecuted minorities to be at ‘real’ risk. A number of Pakistani Christians have been forced to seek asylum in Thailand where they have been interned under terrible conditions. It was his visit  to a detention camp in Bangkok that prompted Lord Alton to investigate why the British government was delaying granting asylum to refugees from Pakistan.

Read report in full

Archive a reminder of vanished Jewish Baghdad

Visiting the Iraqi-Jewish archive exhibit in California brought tears to the eyes of Baghdad-born Joe Samuels. He describes the memories which came flooding back in his Times of Israel blog (with thanks: Michelle, Lisette):

The moment I stepped into the 2,000 square
foot exhibit; the history of my childhood came alive. On display there
was a high school certificate written in Arabic; it reminded me of my
graduation in June of 1948. I was so excited to travel to America for
higher studies. That dream evaporated when I was refused an exit visa.

A Haggadah (pictured), (Passover script) from 1902,
reminded me of our Seder, when my parents, six brothers and my sister
sat for the festive dinner after reading the Passover script. The aroma
of the chicken rice with slivered almond and raisins and the taste of
sweet and sour, lamb stew with apricot still linger in my mind.

The Torah scroll, unfortunately stripped from
the silver or gold that had covered the wooden casing, reminded me of my
Bar Mitzvah when I carried the Torah. It was so heavy.

Other Arabic documents included letters from
the Chief Rabbi, Sasson Kheduri, to members of the community board,
reminding me of how close I felt to others in this old, Jewish
community, how rich it was in culture, how we had so much solidarity and
helped each other.

It was a bittersweet encounter; seeing the
exhibits brought tears to my eyes. At other moments the exhibit filled
me with joy. I was grateful to the American government for making my
Iraqi Jewish heritage come alive again. The numerous petitions from many
Iraqi Jews, our children, and grandchildren, to US government
officials, pleaded with them not to return the artifacts back to Iraq. 

The Congress, in Bill 113, voted to renegotiate with the Iraqi
Government to allow the artifacts to stay in the US. The visit to the
exhibit reminded me of my 19 years of life in Baghdad.

Read article in full 

The Iraqi-Jewish Archive exhibit is at the Jewish Museum, Florida until 6 March

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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.

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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.