Month: June 2016

Jews reach out to Muslims for Ramadan (updated)

Update: Not all Jews reaching out to Muslims have been welcomed: Israelis driving to Ramallah for an Iftar meal were greetedwith rocks and firebombs, then ejected by the Palestinian Police.

Jews  have been reaching out to their Muslim neighbours during the month of Ramadan, taking part in Iftar (the evening meal concluding a day’s fasting) and visiting them. In Morocco, Jews, Christians and Muslims have been distributing food to needy families,
Chabad.org reports.

 Chabad distributing food in Morocco

A total of 1, 500 boxes of food, worth approximately $60,000, were
delivered to 8,000 Muslim families in three cities. The care packages
contained traditional staples — such as tea, dates, lentils and
chickpeas — for breaking the Ramadan fast each evening.

The endeavor was organized by the non-profit organization
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), in partnership
with the Chabad-Lubavitch of Morocco
and the Mimouna Association, a local group of Moroccan Muslim students
who work to create ties between Jews and Muslims.

“We are privileged to help support Moroccans in need celebrate the
holy month of Ramadan,” Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder and
president of IFCJ, said in a statement. “This inspiring joint initiative
serves as a shining model of bridge-building between Christians, Jews
and Muslims, and shows that the world’s faith communities can unite
around shared values to make a difference for good.”

 Edwin Shuker (centre, in the dark suit and blue tie), a member of the British Board of Deputies, at an Iftar celebration in Kurdistan.

Jews visit Arabs for Ramadan 

Turkey’s Jews host Ramadan iftar

Benjews protest non-recognition by Israel

This DW article by Judith Neurink casts a spotlight on the ‘failed’ aliya of  Kurds of Jewish descent in the 1990s. Almost all of these ‘Benjews’ – most likely descended from Jewish women abducted or forced into marriages with Muslims – returned to Kurdistan. Although the Israeli Law of Return allows an individual with one Jewish grandparent to become a citizen, the status of people who ‘feel Jewish’ or whose Jewishness goes through the male line remains ambiguous. It puts them in the category of Spanish marranos, Ethiopian Falashmura and other ‘lost tribes’.

 The Kurdish directorate for Jewish affairs has been holding memorial ceremonies to attract the sympathy and support of diaspora Jews

“Israel should accept us,” says Sherko Sami Rachamim, a Kurd with Jewish
roots, who lives and works in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. For years
he has been wanting to settle down with his family in Israel, “but the
Israelis closed their doors.”

He says that many Jews who converted to Islam like him feel the same.
Rachamim is one of thousands of so-called Benjews in Iraqi Kurdistan,
whose grandparents converted during the persecution of Jews before and
after the founding of the state of Israel. In the 1950s, two thirds of
the around 150,000 Jews living in Iraq fled to Israel or elsewhere.
Others converted or left during the 1970s when Iraqi dictator Saddam
Hussein resumed the persecution.

Although some of the converted Jews became devout Muslims, many are
Muslim in name only. Like Rachamim, who shrugs when asked about his
faith. “I am not interested in Islam.” His wife does not wear a scarf,
he did not educate his three children according to Islam either, because
he feels Jewish.

“People in [the town of] Koya know me for my criticism about Islam;
sometimes friends tell me to shut up for my own safety,” he smiles, as
if it is a joke. “I consider religion a private thing.”

After the Kurdish region gained de facto autonomy from Saddam in 1991,
Israel organized two secret operations to evacuate Jews – and children
of converts – from Kurdistan. Rachamim’s parents were airlifted in one
of them.

Their sons visited them in Israel, but found out later that they were
not allowed to join them. After 10 months their parents returned to
Kurdistan. Even though Rachamim had sold his house in order to move to
Israel, he was not accepted. “Because my grandfather and father were
Jewish they do not accept us,” he told DW. Rachamim finds it hard to
swallow that Israel only accepts heritage through the mother’s line. His wife’s Jewish bloodline also goes through the male line of her father, whose mother converted.

Read article in full 

Israeli expert denies there are Jews in Kurdistan

The Forward seeks to politicise Yemenite band

 Should Mizrahi Jews, like Israel’s  highly-successful A-wa Yemenite music trio, become cultural ambassadors to the Arab world? Maybe not, says Leeron Houry in The Forward – but they should become more politically-engaged if they want a real ‘Mizrahi revival’. Begging the question whether Mizrahi culture in Israel needs a revival, this is another article trying to portray Mizrahim as a bridge to the Arab world, without regard for their painful history there.

(…) The recent international attention directed at these bands raises
new questions. Media coverage outside Israel tends to envision these
Arabic-singing Israeli musicians as a potential bridge between Israeli
Jews and the Arab world.

(One article
highlighted how “Habibi Galbi” was widely popular in Yemen, a political
paradox.) At first, this conclusion seems logical: If more Israelis can
appreciate the fact that their heritage is rooted in the Middle East,
maybe this can serve as a bridge to understanding how “the Arab is the
enemy” has been used not only against Mizrahim, but also against
Palestinians.

But what does it really mean to be a singer in Arabic today? Do these
musicians have any political responsibility based on the language they
choose to sing in? Or is it possible for them to make music in Arabic
and then remain relatively separate from the larger conversation about
Israel/Palestine?

These questions are complicated because Mizrahi musicians sing in
Arabic mostly as a way to return to their heritage. This does not
automatically make them cultural ambassadors between Israel and the Arab
world — and that seems to be how the media wants to portray them.

Read article in full

The 451st to be dismissed, by Naji Noonoo

Over 30 years Naji Noonoo survived a pogrom, losing his job and assets, imprisonment and persecution in Iraq – in order to escape to Israel. Here is his harrowing story, (via The forgotten Million blog) as translated by Arieh Shamash and Yamin Nounou. (With thanks: Lisette)

The
1950s were very hard years for the Iraqi Jews. The authorities gradually removed
all Jews from their positions in government ministries and public companies. 

At
the time I was a friend of the management of the trains’ authority. I got 
the
job by accident. Management was looking for someone fluent in in both Arabic
and English. I decided to go for an interview. My skills fitted the job and I was
accepted. Because of this, I resigned my previous job as secretary of one of
the senior judges at the Justice Ministry. 

At
the time, most railroad workers were Jews. Why was the number of Jews working
at the Railway so high? In my opinion, there were a number of reasons.

1.          1. Salaries were low 


2.          2. 
The job locations were too remote 


3.          3.
Railway jobs required people who were knowledgeable in English and Arabic. 
Jews,
graduates of the Alliance (AIU)school, were more proficient in these
languages than their Arab counterparts. Arabs who were proficient in English
did not work for low wages, but filled  more senior positions in government
offices. Therefore most of the railway workers were Jews. 


During
the 1950s, when they started to fire the Jewish workers, I was called for an
urgent meeting with the British Commissioner. As soon as I entered the room, he
told me, “Mr. Noonoo, I was instructed by the authorities to immediately fire
450 employees.” 

I
replied, “I’ll make up the list of employees and you decide which ones.” 

“No,”
he said, “No need, the Ministry of Justice sent a detailed list of those to be
dismissed, you only need to tell them.” 

Reading the list, I couldn’t believe my eyes: all those being dismissed were
Jews. Not even one Arab name was included in the list. 

“Excuse
me, sir,” I said, “Please list 451 fired.”

   

The
manager looked at me in wonder and asked, “What do you mean?” 

“I
am asking to be the 451st person to be dismissed”, I said.

The
next day I did not return to work in the Railways. My name was published in the
paper along with the other 450 dismissals. 

I
survived all the tribulations, the pogroms, and the persecution in Iraq, such
as the Farhud that took place in 1941. I escaped in 1970 after the Ba’ath Party
purged the remaining Jewish community (in the 1960s). 

During
the time of the Farhud in 1941, I lived in the Bataween neighborhood in Baghdad.
I was not personally impacted by the pogrom. An Arab friend, a lawyer by
profession, who was married to a Jewish woman, saved me and many others from the rioters. 

On
the second day, after the end of the pogrom, when my brother Naim did not
return home, I went looking for him. I wandered through the hospitals, and
after a few hours of searching, I found him lying wounded without treatment in
the back of the room. He was all bruised from head to toe. No doctor came to
him for a whole day and night to treat him. Dozens of Jews were lying there
wounded and untreated. When I saw that the doctors ignored him, I immediately
took him out of the hospital and brought him home. The hospital director was
notorious for his hatred for Jews. Every Jew that was seriously wounded had to
be euthanized and did not recover, while the wounded were abandoned to their own
fate. 

These
horrible days passed without anyone being punished. Also, a lot of Jewish
property that was looted and stolen was not returned to the rightful owners. 

 

The
Jewish community had a deep emotional crisis following the horrible massacre
and plunder. Community leaders were quick to help the families affected,
especially for children left as orphans after their parents’ murder. In the
aftermath of the riots, the British entered Baghdad and things returned to the
way they were before the Farhud. The peaceful times enabled by British forces
that stayed in Baghdad led to economic prosperity. The economic bloom benefited
both Jews and Arabs. 

The memories of the events of the pogrom began to fade. 

After
I quit the Railway Board, I decided to establish my own business. My friends helped
me, and soon thereafter I started a housewares company. Luck shined on me, I
accumulated a lot of assets. In addition to good business, my wife inherited
from her father 18 plots, each plot being 1⁄2 acre. 

I
decided to spend the money to build a mansion in an exclusive area in Baghdad.
For this purpose, I even mortgaged the plots that my wife had inherited. The
house was more beautiful than anything in the surroundings. I lived there only a short time.
The Iraqi authorities had begun their anti­-Jewish policies. Many Jews felt
threatened and sought to sell their property, but the religious authority and
the national newspapers warned the public to avoid buying the property of Jews,
because the property would go to the Arabs soon anyway. These happenings made it
impossible to realize the real value of property. As a result, I had trouble
selling the house. Also, one local policeman coveted my house and in his capacity
threatened every prospective buyer. I finally had to sell the house for such a
small amount, I could not even cover the mortgage on some of the plots. I lost
my house to the policeman and the lots to the lenders. 

When
the mass exodus of the Jews in the 1950s started, I had not made up my mind
whether to abandon Iraq. The news and rumours coming back from Jews arriving in
Israel were tough: immigrants from Iraq were living in tents under poor
conditions. They had no food and no work. They faced hard conditions, and many
of them got sick. These rumours increased my hesitation to leave Iraq.
As time passed, the window of opportunity to leave Iraq closed to a further
Jewish exodus. 

Almost
all Iraqi Jews had fled. Only 6,000 Jews remained scattered in several cities. 

As
a small and insignificant minority, we lived in constant fear until 1958. That
year there was a coup. In place of King Faisal, his prime minister Nuri Said
and the regent, General Qasim came to power . The Qasim regime improved the treatment of the Jewish
minority. They recruited the Jews to do their work. I also
received a blessing, my work prospered, which allowed me to build a new house.
The positive attitude of General Qasim towards the Jewish minority enabled us to
develop good  relations with our Arab neighbours. 

Unfortunately,
General Qasim’s rule ended after another military coup. Qasim was assassinated
and replaced by General Al ­ Bahar. The new ruling party did not sympathise with
the Jewish community and our movements again were limited. Restrictions
reached their peak after the Six Day War in 1967. 

Right
after the war I came as usual to the office; police
detectives were waiting for me at the entrance. I was asked to accompany them
for questioning. I did not know what for and why.

When
I got to the police station I was thrown into a cell size of 20 sq.m. There I  met
420 Jewish prisoners, who had arrived along with me. After only a short time in the
cells, I was called to stand before a judge. Within minutes, my indictment was
read to me: “spying for Israel.” The judge asked if I pleaded guilty. 

I
refused to plead guilty to this false accusation. As a result, I was thrown
back in the cage, along with all the other detainees. 

For three months I stayed in detention, the inter

rogation going on daily. One day a new
prisoner was brought to jail, whose name was Albert Judah Noonoo. The man was
bruised all over his body, he was dying from all the torture in the basement by
the Iraqi secret police. 

A
Jewish doctor named Albert Rabie, who was also among the detainees, began to
treat him with devotion. Gradually, he began to recover. 

When
the interrogators saw that his physical condition was improving, he was
executed by hanging. 

The
detainees were horribly abused. One of the detainees, Fouad Jacob Shasha, who
refused to plead guilty to the charges attributed to him, was hanged on the fan
in front of his father by his feet, his hands down. 

As
a result of the investigations, harsh detention conditions, news of the
executions of Jewish youth, and lack of contact with my family, I lost half my
weight. My wife, after four  months of wandering and searching, found the warden,
but could not identify me. 

 The memorial in Ramat Gan, Israel, to the Iraqi Jews murdered in the Farhud and executed by the Ba’ath regime

One
day, soon after the hanging of nine Jews, guards entered my holding cell,
opened the doors, and told us to go. 

We
did not understand their intentions: they told us we were really free. Having
learned from experience, we feared they were sending us into a hidden trap. Why
did they open the prison doors? And if they were really going to free us, why
did our families not come to welcome us? We did not know where we were. With
grave misgivings, we left the
jail and began walking. After walking for hours, we found our way home.

Soon
after we were freed, we were taken back to jail. This time, they insisted that each
of us find an Arab to provide a financial guarantee that we would not break the
law after we were freed. This was not logical at all. I was lucky, I had a
Kurdish Arab friend who agreed to vouch for my release. Many were not so lucky and remained in detention. That way I was released a second time
from jail. 

For six months, my family and I stayed at home. We  were afraid to leave the house.
The general mood in the neighbourhood was that Jewish blood was cheap. 

My
wife and my family pressed me to take a chance and escape. I was afraid to do
it, but family pressure was strong and made me change my mind. 

I
paid a lot of money to smugglers. We  left late at night,  we abandoned our
home and all its contents. The brothers of Naim Hayal’eli (who was hanged a
year earlier) ran away with us. 

Only a long time afterwards did I find out why we were released from jail on the same day in such an
extraordinary and rushed way. It turned out that the hangings of Jews had caused a great
shock to world  public opinion. Abba Eban, then Israel’s UN
representative, heard that there were many other detainees, so he asked for UN
intervention. Iraq’s representative denied that anybody was detained, and so he
agreed to allow a UN representative to come to Iraq to examine Israel’s claims. 

That’s
why we were released unexpectedly that day. When the UN representative reached
the prison, he did not see any detainees. But, as soon as the UN representative
left Iraq, we were arrested again. The mechanisms of denial and deception were
very familiar to us. 

In
addition to the physical and mental suffering I went through in prison, my
money of £ 60,000  that I had saved for years after working in Rafidan Bank was confiscated, and my home was seized. 

I
came to Israel without anything, penniless and without any assets. I slaved to work hard to rehabilitate myself. At my advanced age, this was not a
trivial matter. 

Read article in full (Hebrew)

Algeria to expropriate Jewish cemeteries

As if the uprooting of its Jews were not enough, the Algerian regime is now embarking on a policy of expropriating Jewish cemeteries, the French-Jewish blog JSS reports (with thanks: Nelly).  

Tombstones at the St Eugene Jewish cemetery, Algiers (Photos: V. Probst Benserenda) 

For the last ten years, and with France’s approval, the dead are being exhumed and reburied in mass graves. On 26 May 2016, the French foreign ministry  published an obscure announcement  regarding cemeteries in Algiers, Oran and Annaba that are to be amalgamated.

Families who wish to have the remains of their loved ones transferred to France have six months to do so at their own expense. They must notify the French consul-general in Algiers, Annaba or Oran.

However, JSS points out, applicants will be deterred by having to produce documentary proof of the exact location of their relatives’ graves. Most Jews will have left with nothing. They might not even recall which cemeteries their antecedents were buried in. The memory of their parents will be destroyed and their bones stuffed into a mass grave without regard for Jewish laws of burial.

Below is the list of cemeteries slated for destruction. The middle column indicates which cemeteries have been earmarked for ‘amalgation’ and the column on the right indicates which cemeteries will be grouped together.

The original article gives contact details for the French consul-generals in Algeria. Families can seek general advice by writing to [email protected]

Read article in full (French)

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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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