Month: July 2016

Jews from Arab countries still dream of compensation

Some Jews who left Arab Countries are still fighting for compensation, and will not give up a single shekel, according to this report by Ofer Aderet in Haaretz. But it’s only recently that the Israeli government has supported these efforts, and recent reports of ‘classified activity’ to seek restitution for stolen assets should bear fruit in the next weeks. But compensation is not the only issue – recognition of the plight of Jewish refugees is possibly more important. (with thanks: Yoram, Lily, Janet)

Janet Dallal: arrived in Israel penniless

In 1948, after the establishment of the State of Israel, the Yedid family’s world crumbled. The Egyptian authorities revoked the business license of the head of the family, Nissim. He was a flour and spice merchant who could no longer provide for his family in Cairo. He decided to take them and flee, hoping to start a new life in Israel.

“We left Egypt without a thing. We only had one suitcase each, containing essential clothing,” his daughter, Prof. Ada Aharoni, recalled this week. “My father was relying on his savings, which were deposited in the Cairo branch of a foreign bank, hoping that these would help him start afresh.”

The family boarded a ship that left Egypt and headed for Marseille, southern France. Once there, the family was housed in a transit camp run by the Jewish Agency. “We were 30 people to a room and the food was served in buckets,” says Aharoni. “My father felt insulted by these conditions, but took comfort in the knowledge that his money was waiting for him at the bank, to help him build a new life.”

However, bad news awaited him at the bank’s Marseille branch. “Sir, you do not have a penny. The Egyptian government nationalized all Jewish money, including your savings,” a bank clerk told him. Aharoni, who had accompanied him, still remembers her father’s anguished cry: “Thieves! You’ve taken everything I own.”

“My father, the respected Nissim Yedid, instantly lost the fruits of his life’s work,” she says. “He was transformed from a gentleman with many assets into a penniless pauper.”

When he returned to the transit camp, Yedid suffered a heart attack. His health deteriorated thereafter. The family moved into a tiny “servants’ quarter” apartment in Paris, as Aharoni describes it. Her mother, who had been a piano teacher in Egypt, was forced to work as a ticket puncher on the Paris Metro.

Aharoni was the only one of her family to immigrate to Israel. She established a family here and developed a career as a literary researcher. The money and other assets the family left behind in Egypt were never recovered.

“We had two large, beautiful houses that were worth a lot of money, but all this property disappeared and we didn’t see a cent. We tried repeatedly to look into it, but nothing came of it,” she recounts.

Two weeks ago, though, she was surprised to learn of Israel’s “classified activity” to seek restitution for assets lost by Arab and Iranian Jews.

In a discussion held by the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, the Social Equality Ministry Director General Avi Cohen vowed that their efforts would “come to fruition within a month to six weeks. I cannot elaborate further.”

Aharoni, who is 83, is not holding her breath. “There’s no way we’ll get anything back,” she says. “You can’t ask a beggar to return your money.”

Someone who feels more hopeful is Janet Dallal, 59, from Tel Aviv. To this day, she keeps the inheritance document granted by a Baghdad court to her grandmother in 1955, confirming the abundant property she inherited from a very rich relative.

Dallal has never relinquished her dream of recovering the money and property her family had to leave behind in Iraq. “We owned valuable lands, stores and houses in Baghdad and Basra,” she tells Haaretz. “The tomb of the prophet Ezekiel is on one of these plots,” she adds with pride.

In the early 1950s, after many members of the Jewish community had already left Iraq, Dallal’s lawyer father Selim decided to stay there with his family. “He was loyal to Iraq and served in the army as an officer,” recounts Dallal. However, the deterioration in the security situation for Jews, and her father’s persecution by the Saddam Hussein regime, eventually caused them to flee as well. Janet was the first to immigrate to Israel, in 1975: She gave up college so she could work and save money for her family; her parents and grandmother joined her in 1978. They had to leave all their assets behind, arriving in Israel penniless.

“Everything remained there. They forced us to sell off our assets at rock-bottom prices and we weren’t allowed to take the money with us. It was frozen in the bank,” recounts Dallal. Her grandmother died three days after reaching Israel, while her parents were housed in a public housing apartment in Tel Aviv. “They came with no money and endured a life of poverty,” Dallal says. However, she emphasizes that her father, who lost all his assets and lived off a tiny stipend from the National Insurance Institute, was happy even under the new circumstances he found himself in, blessing every day he was alive.

Dallal, who became a grandmother this week, is tensely awaiting news regarding the secret negotiations the state is conducting with regard to Jewish assets.

“The stolen assets belonging to Jews from Arab countries remained there, while their owners have been stuck in destitution for generations in poor neighborhoods and in Israel’s periphery,” she says. “I and many others should get back the land and assets of our families based on their peak value at the time they were taken, plus compensation for the financial losses occurred since then.”

It’s difficult to find out exactly what lies behind that “classified” state activity for the restitution of stolen assets. “There’s a complete gag order, based on concerns that information will leak,” Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel tells Haaretz.

She’s coordinating efforts, and believes the activity will lead to significant results that will eventually enable people “to come forward with their requests for recovering these assets, with a good chance of success.”

MK Oren Hazan (Likud), who heads a lobby aimed at recovering Jewish assets from Arab countries, suggests some potential directions this activity could lead. “The idea is that, in the framework of official and unofficial relations Israel is trying to develop with Arab countries, the possibility of obtaining information about stolen private and public Jewish assets be included. This includes synagogues and cemeteries in these countries,” he says.

In other words, a possible future scenario could see Israeli insurance claims adjusters traveling to Arab countries in order to evaluate the value of Jewish property left behind. The state could then use this information to formulate claims.

“I have a personal connection to this,” adds Hazan, describing assets his father’s family owned in Morocco and other assets his mother’s family held in Tunisia. “I know firsthand from my family and others of stories of valuable objects, treasures and a lot of property that was all confiscated when they left for Israel,” he says.

Stories like those of the Yedid and Dallal families are a common refrain among many Jewish families who fled from Arab countries or Iran. A million people came to Israel from these countries in 1948, and several hundred thousand followed in the next few decades. Many left behind valuable possessions, which they never saw again.

For many decades, the state disregarded their claims of stolen assets. However, in 2014, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira addressed the matter, describing the “fiasco” that will be regretted for generations to come, since Israel didn’t make any serious efforts to find out how much property these Jews left behind, what condition it was in and what could be done to seek compensation.

In the past, the state did try to gather some information from citizens who came from these countries, asking them to fill out claims forms for personal and community property. However, notes Minister Gamliel, this activity was “merely protocol. It’s embarrassing to think how little was done up until now on this issue.”

For now, she admits that it’s difficult to know the precise value of these assets. The State Comptroller’s Report said it is probably “a few billion dollars.” But other organizations and individuals quote much higher figures. “$400 billion is buried there,” said Arieh Shemesh, an 83-year-old businessman who immigrated from Iraq, at the Knesset panel discussion earlier this month. “These funds could have lifted these communities in all spheres of life, including housing, education and business – all for the glory of Israel.”

Aharoni, who doesn’t expect to retrieve her family money and assets from Egypt, seeks to harness the suffering, loss and theft suffered by Jews from Arab countries to promote peace. She’s devised a Utopian formula, according to which a “sulha” (reconciliation) between Israel and the Arab states can be reached if the latter recognize that it wasn’t only Palestinians who suffered and whose property was stolen.

“The resolution to this conflict has been in the drawer for 68 years,” says Aharoni. “A million Jews were expelled from Arab countries, while 650,000 Palestinians fled Israel. Our property was thousands of times more valuable than theirs.”

Dallal, however, refuses to see the comparison. “The Arab states declared war on Israel and we – Jews from Arab countries, who were loyal to these countries and never fought them – were the ones who were hurt. We’re the refugees. We’re the ones who need rehabilitation.”

Dr. Edy Cohen, an expert in Arab Affairs at Bar-Ilan University and who immigrated from Beirut, Lebanon, has no intention of compromising or showing flexibility. “We won’t give up a single shekel,” he says. “We demand not only the value of these assets, but also compensation for nonuse for over 70 years.”

In the meantime, until these secret negotiations bear fruit or until peace arrives, Cohen is pursuing his own initiative. On a Facebook page he set up called “The Jewish Nakba,” he appeals to Arab audiences in Arabic, “explaining to them that there will be no solution to the Palestinian refugee problem as long as the problem of Jewish assets in Arab countries is not resolved.

“I’ve managed to scare them,” he boasted this week, describing an article on an Egyptian website entitled “The Jews are plotting to get their possessions back.”

Read article in full

Jewish woman dies after Nice attack

 Catching up on some sad news from the Nice terrorist attack on 14 July 2016: the Times of Israel reports on the death of one Jewish woman, while her sister is still critical and has had to have both her legs amputated. They, like most French Jews, are of North African origin.

Raymonde Maman

 

A Jewish woman who was badly injured in Nice
on Thursday night when an armed truck driver plowed into a crowd has
reportedly died of her injuries.

Raymonde
Maman, 77, and her sister Clara Bensimon, 80, were located in a local
hospital on Friday afternoon, where they are both on respirators in
critical condition, the Ynet news site reported. 

Maman succumbed to her injuries on Sunday, according to reports in the ultra-Orthodox media outlets Hamodia and Kikar HaShabat.

“She was a wonderful woman, dedicated to her
family,” acquaintances of the family told Kikar HaShabat. “The entire
community is in shock. At first they couldn’t find the sisters but after
searching far and wide, they located them in serious condition in the
hospital. Who would have believed that we would be here today eulogizing
her? It is a huge loss to the community and a great shock to everyone.”

Bensimon remained in a coma on Monday,
according to the reports, which said her legs had been amputated as a
result of her injuries.

Read article in full 

Attack came as no surprise to local Jews (Times of Israel -with thanks: Janet):

The attack came as no surprise to many locals,
including many of the city’s 20,000 Jews, who for years have been the
target of anti-Semitic attacks and harassment by members of a growing
minority of fundamentalists from within the city’s large Muslim
population.

“The only Jews you see walking around with a
kippa are the foreign tourists,” said Chalom Yaich, a caretaker at the
Michelet Jewish community center and synagogue. One of Nice’s dozen-odd
synagogues, Michelet is located next to a car repair shop at the
northern downtown area about a mile and a half from the glitzier
beachfront area.

“We locals have stopped wearing it years ago or covered it with a hat for safety,” said Yaich, 53.

Read article in full

Jews petition to halt Algerian exhumation

Many graves no longer have headstones, resulting in their desecration if the exhumations go ahead

More than 1,000 people have signed a petition against
the French government’s plan to move dozens of graves in Algeria,
including Jewish ones, to save on maintenance expenses*. JTA reports:

The petition, launched earlier this month by Orthodox Jews from France living in Jerusalem, follows a decision made in May and announced last month by the French government to move graves from 31 cemeteries.

The cemeteries in question are known in Algeria as “European
cemeteries” because they belonged to France when Algeria was still part
of the French Republic, before it became independent in 1962. All the
graves that are earmarked to be moved are of French citizens whose
families mostly left Algeria before 1962.

With upkeep expenses mounting amid frequent vandalism and garbage
dumping at the cemeteries, the French and Algerian governments decided
to move European cemeteries into an ossuary following a six-month delay
designed to allow family members to organize the transportation for the
remains of ancestors to France.

Halachah, or Jewish law, allows disturbing graves almost exclusively
in situations where doing so can save lives or prevent disrespect of the
dead and desecration. But in this case, “the main reason is to limit
the expenses,” the organizers of the petition wrote.

They also said the plan will result in the desecration of more than
1,000 Jewish graves that do not have headstones. Many headstones were
removed over the decades from European cemeteries.

Read article in full 

*JSS blog has charged that the underlying motive is to expropriate Jewish cemeteries

Algeria to expropriate Jewish cemeteries

To sue for Balfour Declaration is breathtaking ‘chutzpa’

The Palestinian threat to sue Britain for the Balfour Declaration is a move of  breathtaking chutzpa, says Lyn Julius in The Times of Israel. Edy Cohen in Israel Hayom (see below) says that today’s Palestinian leaders are merely following in the wartime Mufti’s footsteps in opposing the Balfour Declaration:

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki has
threatened to sue Britain for issuing the 1917 Balfour Declaration
because, he claims, it led to mass Jewish immigration to British Mandate
Palestine “at the expense of our Palestinian people”.

The
Palestinian threat is not as laughable as it sounds. It is not
altogether unexpected either, being of a piece with the current
Palestinian strategy – exploit any law, abuse any forum, to delegitimise
Israel. 

The Balfour Declaration,named
after then UK Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour, pledged Britain’s
support for the establishment “in Palestine of a national home for the
Jewish people”. It was not intended at the expense of the local Arabs,
whose civil rights would not be prejudiced: later, the 1936 Peel
Commission proposed to partition western Palestine into an Arab as well
as a Jewish state.

“Nearly a century has passed since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917,” Malki was quoted as saying.”And
based on this ill-omened promise hundreds of thousands of Jews were
moved from Europe and elsewhere to Palestine at the expense of our
Palestinian people whose parents and grandparents had lived for
thousands of years on the soil of their homeland.”

Almost every word in Malki’s statement is
economical with the truth. As soon as the Balfour Declaration was made,
Britain reneged on its promises to the Zionists. It hived off 70 percent
of Palestine to Transjordan in 1921 and drastically curtailed Jewish
emigration,  sealing the fate of thousands more Jews trapped in
Nazi-occupied Europe.

Lord Balfour and his Declaration

Jews who came to Israel were ‘moved’ from Europe and elsewhere, says Malki. The elsewhere accounts
for more than half the Jews of Israel – those who came as destitute
refugees or descend from refugees from Arab and Muslim lands. And it was
not the British, but the Arabs who were responsible for that exodus.

No Arab states were enjoined to respect the
civil rights of their Jewish citizens. These Jews were unceremoniously
thrown out of the Arab world without apology and without compensation –
and their pre-Islamic communities destroyed.

The Palestinians, it is widely believed,
cannot be held responsible for what happened to the Jewish refugees.
While Israel could legitimately discuss Palestinian refugees in peace
talks, Jewish refugees would have to address their grievances to Arab
states.

Arab League states, which instigated the 1948
war against Israel, were indeed responsible for creating both sets of
refugees. However, an extremist Palestinian leadership, which
collaborated with the Nazis and incited anti-Jewish hatred all over the
Arab world in the decades preceding the creation of Israel, played an
active part in all Arab-League decision-making and dragged five Arab
states into conflict with the new Jewish state – a conflict they lost
and whose consequences they must suffer.  The Palestinian move to sue is
of  breathtaking chutzpa: it is as if Germans were to sue the Allies for starting World War 2.

The idea of expelling the Jews of Arab
countries after 1948 was adopted by the Palestinians as a policy.
According to the well-connected Egyptian-Jewish journalist Victor
Nahmias, the Palestinians were a major factor in the Jewish migration to
Israel in 1950 – 51.

From the outset, the Palestinian cause was a
pan-Arab nationalist cause. It has also a powerful Islamist dimension:
From an early stage the campaign for Palestine took on an antisemitic
hue. Palestine was a zero-sum game: in Arab eyes, the Jews had no claim
to a single inch.

Every anniversary of the Balfour declaration,
mobs in the Arab world took to the streets and the demonstrations at
times degenerated into full-blown riots, as in Egypt and Libya in 1945,
when 130 Jews were murdered.

Not only did the Palestinian Mufti of
Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini instigate deadly disturbances in
Palestine in 1920 and 1929, wherever the Mufti went in the Arab world,
he used the Balfour Declaration as a rallying cry to incite persecution
and mayhem against the local Jews.

The Jerusalem Islamic congress of 1931, called
by the Mufti,  was followed by violence in Morocco throughout the
1930s. An entente between Tunisian nationalists and the Palestinian Arab
Higher Committee sparked violence in Sfax in 1932. There was trouble in
Yemen and Aden. All this well before the creation of the state of
Israel.

But the worst incitement, with the deadliest
consequences of all, took place in Iraq: In 1939, Palestinian teachers
expelled by the British to Baghdad together with the Mufti, along with
Syrian and Lebanese nationalists, played a key role fanning the flames
of Jew-hatred with false propaganda. Seventy-five years ago this year,
the Mufti  fled to Berlin after being implicated in a failed pro-Nazi
coup – but not before he had primed the Arabs of Baghdad to unleash the Farhud of 1941. The pogrom claimed the lives of at least 140 Jews, with many mutilated and raped, and 900 shops looted and wrecked.

This was the first battle in the Palestinian
war against the defenceless Jews of the Arab world. Had the Nazis been
victorious, the Mufti would have overseen the Jews’ extermination, not
just in Palestine but throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

It is these Jews who have been denied justice,
the right to compensation for their dispossession of assets and land
several times the size of Israel itself, or the human rights abuses they
suffered at the hands of Arab governments and mobs. It is these Jews
who have every right to sue.

Read article in full 

Abridged version in The Algemeinercrossposted at Harry’s Place

Polish version

UK Media Watch 

Dr Edy Cohen writes in Israel Hayom:

The
Balfour Declaration, or “the cursed promise,” as it’s termed in Arabic,
sets down in writing Britain’s commitment to support the establishment
of a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel. The declaration does not
nullify the establishment of an Arab state alongside the Jewish one,
something the Arabs have rejected out of hand several times over the
course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas isn’t the first Palestinian leader who has tried
to take on the Balfour Declaration. In fact, the former mufti of
Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, fought it tirelessly. Moreover, most
of the mufti’s political and financial support from the Third Reich had
to do with the declaration and opposition to it. 

Everyone has always
known that the Arabs can create propaganda that sounds good to Western
ears. Their lies and incitement are boundless. Today, they are cynically
exploiting the Palestinian Nakba festival just as, in the past, the
mufti of Jerusalem would vociferously and cynically protest in Germany
on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration to curry favor with the
Nazis. 

In effect, when the
mufti arrived in Germany, he took care to mark the anniversary of the
declaration with the Arab community in Berlin marching through the
streets and a sermon at a Berlin mosque. This is what he said on
November 2, 1943: “On this day, 26 years ago, the evil tidings of the
Balfour Declaration, which intends to establish a Jewish homeland in
Palestine following the Jewish-English scheme in the previous war, was
issued. This abusive declaration came from Britain, and it gives the
Jews this Arab, Muslim land — the direction of the first Muslim prayer,
the homeland of Al-Aqsa mosque and other places holy to Islam.” 

Read article in full

Young Syrian Jew escaped to Sweden

It is thought that there were no young Jewish people left in Syria before Alanov, 25, who escaped to Sweden, suddenly popped up to give interviews to the press. He blames the 1970s Baath regime for spreading antisemitism, although the vast majority of the Jews of Syria had been driven out by violence and state-sanctioned persecution after 1947.  According to the Swedish medium Local Voices, ‘he still dreams of returning home to help
rebuild his country.’

Alanov, 25: told strangers he was Christian


There has been a Jewish community in Syria since Roman times. In the
19th century it numbered several thousand, but by 2005 just 80 Jews
remained. Most of these have fled since the war started, and by the end
of last year it was estimated that just 18 were left in the country.

Under Assad, Jews were officially banned from politics and government employment.

“If you talk to my grandparents, they would tell you that there was no
hatred among Syrians toward Jews or anyone else. Jews used to have jobs
and trade, and that was very popular in Syria before the Assad regime
came to power in the seventies, after which most Jews were forced to
flee.”

Despite this Alanov says he had a great life, and was two years into a
Law degree when he came to Sweden. But back in Syria he had to be
discreet about his Jewish background:

“Most of our neighbours knew that we were Jews, it was quite normal and
fine. However, I have never said openly that I was Jewish to those who
didn’t know us”.

Most Syrians don’t feel comfortable hearing about Jews living in Syria, he says.

“That was not because we lived in a society with a Muslim majority,
it’s mostly because of the Assad regime’s approach, and what Syrians
were taught at schools. Schools always taught indiscriminate hatred of
all Jews.”

“Whenever I was asked, I would say that I’m Christian.”

Despite the difficulties faced by Jews, Alanov is clear that he loves his country.

“I love Syria, I love Damascus,” he says. 

“We used to love each other, my friends were of all religions. I
celebrated Ramadan and Christmas with my friends, and that didn’t mean I
changed my religion.” 

Alanov says his parents told him that before the Assads came to power
in 1971, Syrians were highly educated, open minded and liberal. Hafez
al-Assad and his son Bashar, the current president, “destroyed the
country on all levels, they kidnapped the whole nation.”

Jews felt this particularly: “We couldn’t practice our rituals normally
by going to synagogues for example, and mostly worshipped at home in
secrecy. The worst thing to me was hearing my schoolmates expressing
hatred towards Jews,” he says.

“After all the destruction in Syria, a country with more than 5000 years of civilization, I started to doubt God’s existence.”

Alanov came to Sweden in 2014, after five years in Lebanon. His brother
is also in Sweden, his sister is in Germany and his mother is back in
Lebanon. Seeing his family is an impossible dream at the moment. He
points to the irony of Europeans freely travelling to Syria to join
Isis, while innocent Syrians are unable to travel. 

“In the asylum countries, they give you something and take others. Here
for example, you have to wait for them to decide on your life. You
might wait for two years to have the chance and know what they have
decided for you; either to stay or to be deported – is that freedom?
Isn’t that degrading?

“And that’s not only in Sweden, it’s everywhere. To all EU countries I
ask, why have you closed your borders now? Now there’s more destruction
in Syria than before?”

Despite the frustrations, he is full of praise for the “respectful and humane” way Swedes have received refugees.

“They are not racists – love stems from their hearts. At the time of
the refugee crisis, I went to Stockholm’s Central Station to help
people; and we saw how the Swedes were taking off their jackets and
clothes to offer them to the refugees. They helped while no Arabic
country wanted to do so.”

Alanov still longs to return to his homeland, despite the difficulties faced by Jews there.

 

Read article in full

 

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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.