Month: April 2021

Meet Zvi Yehezkeli, the Arabic-speaking James Bond

To many Israelis, Zvi Yehezkeli is something of a hero – an investigative journalist who has daringly infiltrated Islamic  state and the Muslim Brotherhood. However, he is not only an Arabic-speaking Jew, but a religious one. Profile by Kay Wilson in Israellycool:


Zvi Yehzkeli: considered one of Israel’s handsomest men

It is rare that a journalist garnishes respect from both sides of the political divide. But such is the case with Zvi Yehezkeli. 

Aside from once being voted among Israel’s most handsome men, he is our most famous Arabist: a non-Arab who is an expert in Arab affairs.

A son of parents who fled Iraq and thus with a background of spoken Arabic, Yehezkeli enlisted into the Shin Bet and worked for them in security details all over the world. While he was abroad, he became interested in Islam.

 He was especially fascinated with terrorist Yasser Arafat due to the fact that the mass murderer shook hands with the late Prime Minister, Itzhak Rabin, at the Oslo Accords.

In his work as a journalist he went undercover throughout Judea and Samaria to find out how local Arabs felt about the now outdated July 2020 plan to bring areas under Israeli sovereignty. A tiny camera was hidden in his glasses. 

Those interviewed didn’t even know they were being filmed. For the release of the report, he distorted their faces and voices to protect them from the brutality of the Palestinian Authority. Unsurprisingly, most of the interviewees stated their preference to live under Israeli sovereignty. 

 Read article in full

Some 20 tourists attend Djerba pilgrimage

A few masked tourists from France made it to Tunisia this year to mark the Lag Ba’Omer pilgrimage on the island of Djerba, reports the Times of Israel.  The pilgrimage took place in the wake of a worrying series of antisemitic attacks on the island.

A pilgrim lights a candle in the Al-Ghriba synagogue, Djerba (photo: AFP)

DJERBA, Tunisia — The annual Jewish pilgrimage to the ancient Ghriba synagogue on Tunisia’s Djerba island started Monday without the usual thousands of pilgrims, due to restrictions to stem the coronavirus pandemic. 

 The pilgrimage to Ghriba — the oldest synagogue in Africa — takes place from April 25 to May 2 for the island’s Jewish community and the few faithful able to make the trip from abroad.

Last year it was canceled due to the pandemic, but this year it is taking place — albeit with pilgrims praying individually and wearing face masks.

Former tourism minister Rene Trabelsi, himself Jewish, was in Djerba with about 20 French tourists.

Read article in full

In religious tolerance, Morocco still falls short

During the year that Ian Pokres spent in Morocco, he discovered that matters were not as ‘nice’ for Jews as they are made out to be. Take the case of ‘Esther’, a fellow student, ostracised for her desire to convert to Judaism. Morocco remains a deeply Sunni Muslim country and religious tolerance is limited. Read Ian’s blog in the Times of Israel: 


  • The King of Morocco visiting a synagogue

So, not knowing the bounds of the law, I told her I would show her where the active synagogue in Fes was. This synagogue is seldom known by even native Fesis, as people born in Fes are called. If you mention “the synagogue,” they think you mean the abandoned ones in the old Jewish quarter near the palace, the mellah. The King is turning those into museums for the benefit of tourism. Torah scrolls sit unused and misquoted on endless tours by legal guides and shysters alike. 

What people often fondly dub the revivification of Jewish culture in Morocco is more accurately termed the mummification of something very much dead. At least in Fes, local Jews don’t want everyone knowing about their continued communal life. 

My first time at the community center was a Friday evening. The seeming lady-in-charge told me I was welcome any time, but I shouldn’t invite Moroccans. An elderly member of the community I had the opportunity to briefly interview through a translator told me it is not safe for him to wear a yarmulke outside. 

Even as a child, when Jews still populated the mellah, wearing a kippah was dangerous. Harassment was a given, and assault was likely, even if it wouldn’t cause great physical harm. I will say more about mellahs in a later post. 

To come back to Esther, I decided it was worth transgressing the matron’s graciousness to help this struggling young lady out whom I knew had put herself in harm’s way already for the Jewish people.
And I was right. I showed her the place, a tucked-away spot with a police guard that attracts many visiting Israelis every Shabbat, baruch Hashem. 

Two of the women there, including the one who had helped me feel at ease, directed her to the acting Rabbi of Fes, a descendant of one of the famous rabbinic dynasties of Fes – I won’t say which. Within days, she had arranged daily Hebrew lessons with him, and unabashedly brought her materials – Hebrew and siddur lessons on paper printouts – to the “garden” at our language institute, where students congregate to study and chat. 

Of course, she attracted attention. This was supposed to be an outpost of openness (I’m not naming names, but the institute accepts half its funds, and includes in its name a certain Western nation on which it models its teaching. Feel free to Google; I won’t lose any sleep over it.), but some things apparently push the limits too far. 

One of my closest Moroccan friends, an otherwise sweet and open Fesiya, told me Esther’s behavior was weird and unacceptable, and she shouldn’t be doing it. Mind you this friend had herself stopped wearing her hijab and told me she no longer called herself a Muslim. But again, limits. Some things are just not touched in Moroccan society…this was a universal theme I heard from my young friends and acquaintances there, no matter their place on the religio-political spectrum. Go and ask for yourself if you don’t believe me.

Read article in full

1947 witness warns :Jews in Arab lands in danger

In July 1947, Eliahu Eliachar, founder of the World Sephardi Foundation and vice-president of the World Sephardi Federation sounded the alarm concerning the perilous situation of Jews in Arab lands. The main problem was the ‘extremist Arab leadership’, inciting an ignorant populace to violence against Jews, both in Palestine and in the ‘Jewish ‘ghettoes’ in Arab lands, hostages to the Palestine problem. Eliachar  gave this must-read  testimony, unearthed by blogger Elder of Ziyon,  to  the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), held at the YMCA in Jerusalem, July 15, 1947.  What he told them could have influenced the plan to partition Palestine passed by the UN in November of that year. ( With thanks: Yisrael)


Eliachar gave his testimony to UNSCOP meeting in the YMCA, Jerusalem, in July 1947

Arab-Jewish relations were good in the social and economic fields. They traded freely together, they met socially, and Jewish schools were attended by the upper classes of the Arabs. I have myself studied with many of the present day Arab leaders in Palestine and abroad, and many are still my best friends. We were comrades in arms during the first war, and better friends it is difficult to find. 

 The Turks did not tolerate any disorder. Allow us, gentlemen, to stress this point with all our might. No disorder prevailed for centuries in this country. What is the cause? We leave it to you to consider. A special system granted foreign protection to certain Christians, Jews, and even Moslems. Without both these preventives, the Arab masses, who are generally of a peaceful character, are, due to their illiteracy and fanaticism, easily aroused to bloodshed. 

 Arab nationalism was non-existent, or at least dormant before the occupation of Palestine. The Balfour Declaration was accepted tacitly by the Arabs of Palestine. Only outside intriguers aroused opposition. The word of King Hussein and that of his son, Emir Feisal, was taken by the Arab world and the Arabs of Palestine at the time as the final law and the final word of law. 

But gradually opposition was organised by the Christian-Moslem Association founded for this specific purpose in Palestine. The masses of the Arabs were inflated on religious grounds, which resulted in the terrible massacres of Jaffa, Hebron, Jerusalem, Safad, Mosca and so forth. 

These massacres were perpetrated by the Arabs against their erstwhile friends, neighbours, partners. The Community of Hebron, the most ancient Jewish settlement in Palestine, was thus destroyed and evacuated. It remains so until today. 

A town, a whole Jewish community in Jerusalem, which had existed for over eight or nine centuries without interruption, has been wiped out under British rule. [This refers to the Jewish community in Silwan/Kfar HaShiloach – EoZ.]Such a destruction could not have happened to the Jews under the Turks, particularly since the Government was aware that the Arab masses were being incited and encouraged by their leaders to believe that the Government supported these deeds. “Al Dole Maana” was the password in those days. 

 Many Arabs condemned these murders. Many have resumed their friendly relations with the Jews, but the fact remains that no longer can Jews inter-mingle freely in Arab towns and villages, even if they be of the Oriental Communities and of the oldest inhabitants. 

 On the strength of our experience of generations past and of recent events, we cannot visualize our dependence on an Arab State. Our bare lives will be in danger, and the fate of the Hebron Community may be ours too. 

 Without going into the causes which have brought the change of attitude, we cannot but deplore that present day Arab leadership is most extremist and most outspoken as to their intentions. No Jew can depend on the Mufti’s goodwill or that of his lieutenants. Using his religious position and prestige, he has been calling for massacres of the Jews ever since he fled to Germany. (…) 

 I was born a free man in Palestine. For over six hundred years, my family has resided here. All the time we realized one thing; that the Jewish problem, even as a Jew could see it — whether he lives in Washington, London, the Argentine, Palestine, or anywhere else — is totally different from what you will see for yourselves in one day in the D.P. Camps. 

 There is another thing which you have to see if you want to appreciate the problem that is facing you, that is demanding a solution. These are the ghettoes of the Arab States, of those independent, sovereign, democratic Members of the United Nations. The ghettoes in these Arab States, in the Yemen, in Iraq, in Damascus — if you will visit any of them, all the reports, all our speeches, all our proofs as to whether such and such a prophet was born on such and such a day, all that will have vanished and you will face the problem of humanity in the raw demanding a solution.

 It is through you that we are in duty bound to sound the alarm, and call upon the human conscience of the world to take stock before it is too late. What has happened under the Nazi regime in the West may happen under the rule of certain Governments, Members of the United Nations Organization.

 Many hundreds of thousands of Jews look up to you, Honourable Gentlemen, to prevent a repetition of massacres such as those in Baghdad under Rashid Ali, when hundreds were killed, or in Tripolitania under the British flag of occupation, where 120 men, women and children were brutally butchered. It is an open secret that the Arab League and the Arab Government consider the Jews in their realms as hostages for the Palestine problem. 

They have declared this openly. If you require any evidence, we have the evidence with us. We do not want to take too much of your time, but if you want any evidence on these statements made by the Arab League, made by various governments, made by Dr. Jamali, the Foreign Minister of Iraq, we are ready to give them. Jew-hatred and Jew-baiting is growing daily in almost all Arab countries. What has happened once in Baghdad, Tripolitania, Urfa, the boundary of Syria and Turkey where a whole family was massacred overnight, in Egypt, what happened on 2nd November, 1945, Balfour Declaration Day, may happen again with increased violence.

Read report in full

Afghanistan claims back priceless artefact from US

The Afghan president is demanding that an ancient and priceless siddur (prayer book), now in the US, be returned to Afghanistan following the bombing and pilfering of the Museum where it was kept. The case is not straightforward, however. See my comment below (with thanks: JIMENA)


Following the outbreak of Afghanistan’s civil war in 1992, the museum was repeatedly shelled. It suffered heavy damage in a May 12, 1993 rocket strike. The combination of Taliban mortars and looters resulted in the loss of 70% of the 100,000 prehistoric, Hellenistic, Buddhist, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Islamic and Jewish objects once in its collection. Those pilfered artifacts flooded antiquities markets in London, Paris, New York and elsewhere. Now the pro-Western regime of President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai – formerly an anthropology professor at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland – wants its cultural legacy returned. Among those treasures it is seeking to repatriate is a 1,200-year-old siddur (prayer book) – the world’s oldest Hebrew manuscript after the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“It is our responsibility to get back our ancient treasures,” said Abdul Manan Shiwaysharq – the country’s Deputy Minister for Information and Publications in the Information and Culture Ministry – in the first-ever on-the-record interview between an Afghani official and an Israeli journalist.

Shiwaysharq argues photos of the ancient siddur in Kabul’s National Museum dating from 1998 contradict the ownership documents provided by the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC. The MotB says it bought the siddur in 2013 from antiquities dealers in the UK who provided provenance documents showing the manuscript had been in Britain since the 1950s. The MotB paid $2.5 million for the prayer book. Though Shiwaysharq appraises the unique volume at $30m. for insurance purposes, it truly is priceless.

The prayer book may have belonged to the Radhanites, a little-known group of medieval merchants, some Jewish, who traded along the Silk Road linking Christian Europe, the Islamic world, China and India during the early Middle Ages. The Radhanites’ entrepôts and Afghanistan’s early Jewish community were likely destroyed in the 12th and 13th centuries as the Mongol Empire grew from the steppes of Mongolia to extend from Europe to China.

Read article in full

My comment: This is not a straightforward case. The zeitgeist favours the return of artefacts from the West  to their places of origin and the US has signed dozens of Memoranda of Understanding with Arab and Muslim countries. However, is the artefact really a ‘national treasure’? Could the Afghan Jewish community, now in exile, have a  good claim to this prayer book? The Museum of the Bible in Washington DC may have acquired this  prayer book illegally, as a result of the looting of the Afghan museum. If it were to be returned to Afghanistan, the chances are that the museum housing it would be once again at risk of destruction. Afghanistan is unstable, and the Taliban fundamentalists, who have no respect for Jewish artefacts, are resurgent. At least the exhibit will be secure and preserved in the right conditions where it is now in the US.

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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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