Tag: Israel/Libya

Libyan-Jewish leader Meir Kahlon dies

The death has been announced of Meir Kahlon, Chairman of the World Organization of Libyan Jews and a founder of the Libyan -Jewish museum in Or Yehuda. Kahlon was also for many years head of the organisations representing Jews from Arab lands in Israel before he was succeeded by Levana Zamir.


The funeral takes place today at 1200; the procession will pass the Or Yehuda Libyan-Jewish Museum.

Moshe Kahlon tells it like it is, in Arabic

Israel’s finance minister Moshe Kahlon is of Libyan origin, but he’s not quite the bridge-builder with the Palestinians that Haaretz would like him to be. He speaks basic Arabic but has some honest things to say in the language: he tells his Palestinian interlocutors  that he is the minister from the refugee camp – the ma’abara where his mother still lives. And declaring ‘Rahat al-Quds!’ (‘You’ve lost Jerusalem’) is his way of speaking truth to power, albeit with a smile.

The tension of the days of rage that followed America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
remains palpable. The Palestinians have totally cut themselves off from
the Trump administration. A peace deal seems further away than ever.
And into the Muqata in Ramallah marched a senior Israeli minister who,
with a broad smile on his face, declared in Arabic, “Rahat a-Quds!”
(“You’ve lost Jerusalem!”)

In
another place and time, this certainly could have been a casus belli,
but in this story, which took place at the end of last month, those
present responded with forgiving amusement and shook the hand of their
guest – finance minister and security cabinet member Moshe Kahlon.

It
wasn’t Kahlon’s first visit to Ramallah, nor was it his first meeting
with senior Palestinian Authority officials. His remark was accepted
forgivingly because they are familiar with Kahlon’s direct but endearing
style. Since he became finance minister, the former Likud member who
now heads a party, Kulanu, which doesn’t have a clear diplomatic agenda,
has succeeded in developing a quiet channel with the Palestinian
leadership. First it was on the basis of economic cooperation and
coordination under the auspices of the defense establishment, while
later on other issues were added, spurred by an American bear hug. In
essence, since the Palestinians declared that they will not come to the negotiating table if Washington is the mediator, Kahlon is currently the only active diplomatic channel.

Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon at the Knesset on March 5, 2018.

 
Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon at the Knesset on March 5, 2018.(Photo: Olivier Fitoussi)

Some
Palestinian officials refer to him sarcastically as the minister from
the refugee camp, because during one of his meetings he told them of his
difficult childhood in the projects in Givat Olga. His conversations
are sprinkled with the Arabic he learned from his Tripolitan parents.
This detail has attracted the attention of foreign news outlets, which
have labeled him “the Arabic speaker who could lead Israel.” Only Kahlon
really understands Arabic, people familiar with these meetings told
Haaretz, in a barb clearly aimed at Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman,
but they hasten to add that Kahlon’s Arabic is very basic and his
conversations with PA officials are conducted with the help of
interpreters or in English.

Although
these meetings were never really a secret, even if all the details
aren’t known, the Kulanu chairman tries very hard to conceal this aspect
of his work. On all his very lively social networks, among the hundreds
of announcements about new financial benefits and pictures of his
elderly mother (who still lives in Givat Olga), you will find only a
handful of references to diplomatic or security affairs in general and
to his ties with Ramallah in particular. That’s no coincidence, of
course. Kahlon is proud of his work in this area, but he is also afraid
to undercut his right-wing image.

The
connection began when he took over the Finance Ministry in 2015, with a
telephone call from his Palestinian counterpart Shukri Bishara, which
led to a meeting at which they were joined by PA Minister for Civilian
Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh. This wasn’t an unusual gesture or a
demonstration of good will. Under the Paris Protocol governing economic
relations between Israel and the PA – which was even updated in 2012 by
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said then this was aimed at
“supporting Palestinian society and strengthening its economy” – Israel
is obligated to coordinate various economic moves with the PA, including
the transfer of taxes collected by Israel on the PA’s behalf.

Over
the years Israeli governments have at various times held these
Palestinian funds hostage, delaying or freezing their transfer as a form
of pressure or punishment. This being the case, even a decision to
regulate the transfer of funds becomes a significant diplomatic
decision, as is a decision on what level of official comes to the
meetings. Kahlon’s associates note that the previous finance minister,
Yair Lapid, had also met with Bishara under these circumstances, but the
relationship never developed in the same way and the debts could not be
worked out.

In 2017 Kahlon also started meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah,
with Netanyahu’s knowledge and blessing. The two have met three times
in Ramallah and are expected to hold another meeting in Jerusalem. The
pair, along with members of their staffs, also connect by phone. These
meetings are attended by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the
Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, whose responsibility includes
the financial and security coordination mechanisms. Sometimes
Palestinian intelligence chief Majid Faraj has also attended.

But
some Palestinian officials aren’t so enthusiastic. They say the
relationship with Kahlon is totally businesslike and stems from the need
to manage economic agreements with Israel. The senior PA officials have
no partiality toward whoever is managing the contacts with them, as
long as he is not a settler, they stress. There are those in the
Palestinian “street” who would prefer to cut off all contact with
Israel, but they don’t understand that the PA can’t do that because it
has obligations, they say.

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What I miss most about Libyan jail is the food

 Chraime: fish poached in a spicy tomato sauce – a typical Libyan-Jewish dish (Photo: Daniella Cheslow)

Fantasising about  food and collecting his prison guards’ recipes helped Israeli-Tunisian artist and chef Rafram Chaddad keep his sanity during his five months in a Libyan jail.  He has now published a book in Hebrew about his 2010 ordeal, Rafram’s guide to Libyan jail. Extraordinary article in the Tablet:

In 2010, Chaddad got a request from Pedazur
Benattia, who runs the Or Shalom center for Libyan heritage in Bat Yam, a
suburb of Tel Aviv. Benattia asked Chaddad to fly to Libya on his
Tunisian passport—Israel and Libya have no diplomatic relations, and
travel between the two is forbidden—and take pictures of the Jewish
synagogues and cemeteries.

Libya was once home to as many as 37,000 Jews
whose community dated to ancient Roman times; they fled from
anti-Semitic laws and anti-Jewish violence starting in the 1940s, and
today there are no Jews
left in Libya. Chaddad packed a bag full of cameras and traveled to
Tunisia, leaving his Israeli passport with relatives. From there he flew
into Tripoli with a list of Jewish destinations around the country.

In his first two days in the Libyan capital, Chaddad walked the
streets and munched on the local offerings. Not all of it was memorable:
For instance, he saw a vendor selling mafroum—known in Israel as a potato sliced in two, stuffed with meat, and then fried. “I get excited and ask for one mafroum, and he takes out a roll, splits it, spreads a red harissa,
opens a sort of heated metal container and takes out ground meat cooked
in a reddish sauce. He sticks it in a roll and serves it to me. Not
tasty,” Chaddad writes in his book. “Disappointed, I ask for a roll with
chicken liver. He throws a few livers and chopped onion onto the grill,
fries them, and puts it all in a bun. This is better already. I take a
little container of water out of the fridge, like those they hand out on
a plane, pay two dinars and I’m not hungry anymore.”

He passed banners of Muammar Qaddafi cascading down the sides of
buildings in downtown Tripoli and mused that he could take better
pictures of him. He asked young Libyans where to find women and liquor
and was invariably disappointed on both counts. And in each
city—Tripoli, Benghazi, Yefren—Chaddad started his search for Jewish
sites by seeking old Libyan men who remembered their neighborhoods 60
years prior, when Jews were a healthy part of every major Libyan city.
In Tripoli, one shopkeeper guided him down a twisting alley to a
courtyard where Chaddad saw, amid ruins, a stone pair of Ten
Commandments and an arching dome. The gates to the synagogue were
closed, and Chaddad walked to the back of the building, climbed up a
crumbling staircase, and clambered through a hole in the wall to reach
the second floor. “I photograph every corner in the synagogue and in its
cracked dome,” he writes. “The walls are cold and smell of an evocative
mildew. A smell of cleanliness untouched by man for a long time. I want
to touch them and to feel the last people who leaned on them.”

In his book, which was published last month in Israel, Chaddad writes
as if he was a curious food-tourist, looking for the hole-in-the wall
eateries: When he finally stumbled upon a fish restaurant dishing
delicious chraime, he rushed into the kitchen to thank the
chef. In Tripoli, the hotel concierge asked him for English lessons, and
Chaddad agreed in exchange for

a trip to the man’s mother’s house for a
taste of shakshuka—eggs poached over tomato sauce.

But soon after Chaddad completed his mission and visited every
destination Benattia gave him, Libyan police rapped on his hotel room
door, confiscated his Tunisian passport, and took him to be
interrogated. “I was tied up and beaten with wood, iron and electricity,
and I was asked lots questions,” he told me. “They asked me if I was a
spy for Israel … I said yes, but I didn’t know anything, I didn’t even
know who is in charge of army in Israel.”

Once Chaddad revealed he was an Israeli, the beatings got worse.
After a month, though, the torture stopped and he was moved to solitary
confinement, where he waited for his release. He had given his sister’s
email address to another prisoner who’d been released, and he hoped that
his family had gotten the message and was working on getting him out.

Chaddad kept his sanity by walking around his cell for exercise,
playing chess with a board and pieces he made, taking fantasy walks
through cities he loved, and thinking about women. To break his
isolation, Chaddad tore the cardboard tops of his foil food trays into
Hebrew letters, and he arranged the letters into words on the prison
floor, imagining his parents could receive his messages. For
conversation, he approached the guards through what he figured was the
most innocent topic. “I asked them about shakshuka, chraime,
all sorts of food that is connected to Jewish tradition,” he said. “And
I asked them about the food in their mothers’ houses, their favorite
food, how to cook it, and what ingredients. If you talk about their
food, it opens them.”

 

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170 Days in Gaddafi’s Dungeon: Harif event with Rafram Chaddad on 13 March in London. Details here

Israeli TV crew arrested, then released, in Libya

Emmanuel Rosen with fellow presenter Dana Weiss:‘ the sky would have been the limit’ had his interrogators discovered he was from Israel

Following reports of the arrest of ex-Libyan Jew Raphael Luzon in Benghazi, we now learn from the Times of Israel of the arrest and interrogation of an Israeli TV crew travelling with him. It’s not the first time Israelis have been inside Libya since the revolution. One, Tzur Shezaf, even admitted he was Jewish, but came no harm. (With thanks: Lily)

Leading Israeli journalist Emmanuel Rosen and his crew were arrested twice and interrogated for four hours while filming a documentary in Libya on life there after Muammar Gaddafi. Had his interrogators established that he was Jewish — or more grave still, Israeli — Rosen said on Wednesday, safely back in Israel, “the sky would have been the limit — and it would have been a pretty gray sky.”

Rosen and his crew, who were traveling on European passports, said they had no problems when filming at sites such as Gaddafi’s palaces. But they immediately attraced suspicion and hostility when they filmed at Jewish sites such as Tripoli’s Jewish quarter, a synagogue, and the home in Benghazi of a former Libyan Jewish leader, Raphael Luzon — who, thrown out of the country in 1967, now lives in London and was traveling with them.

They were arrested first in Tripoli, taken to an army base and interrogated by a man Rosen said was Libya’s minister of intelligence, before being allowed to leave. “We kept stressing that we were a European TV crew,” Rosen said in radio and TV interviews.

“The second time was much more complex and dangerous,” he said. Their car was stopped at a roadblock in Benghazi manned by soldiers and civilians, after they had been filming at Luzon’s former home. “They burst into our car, threw out the Libyan nationals who were with us, took our phones, and took us to an intelligence base. We were interrogated for four hours. They keep coming in and out and asking questions. The danger was that they would work out who we were. Of course we could not let them know that we were Jewish, let alone Israeli.”

Had they carefully checked his passport, he said, they would have realized he “frequently” visited Israel, he said. And if they had Googled him, they would swiftly have established his identity.

“The problem is that there’s no one to turn to for assistance. You are alone. There’s no consulate or embassy…. You are completely in their hands, and you don’t know what they want to do,” Rosen said. “There is a kind of anarchy there. There is no proper government or police.

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Is Aisha Gaddafi seeking asylum in Israel?

Aisha Gaddafi

With thanks: Ranbir

I’ve been avoiding this story for some days now – but the time might have now come to comment about news reports that Aisha Gaddafi, the late Libyan dictator’s daughter, is seeking asylum in Israel.

As evidence, the reports cite the fact that Aisha, who fled to Algeria with members of her family, has engaged Israeli lawyer and human rights activist Nick Kaufman to represent her.

Firstly, engaging an Israeli lawyer does not mean anything much. I seem to recall that Aisha’s brother Saif al-Islam once had an Israeli girlfriend. So what?

Next, I would point out that several press reports take a more cautious line: Aisha might be seeking asylum, or is eyeing asylum.

In the next breath reporters invariably bring up the fact that Colonel Gaddafi is rumoured to have had Jewish origins – that’s why Israel might be Aisha’s natural choice. In support of this theory the Los Angeles Times blog and USA Today both linked to this Point of No Return blogpost in which two women in Israel claim to be related to Gaddafi’s grandmother, who ran off with a Libyan sheikh.

Under Israel’s right of return, having a Jewish grandmother might well have entitled Colonel Gaddafi to citizenship. But if Aisha is claiming the right to move to Israel because her great-grandmother was Jewish – the link is becoming somewhat threadbare.

Of course, there is the possibility that the whole asylum story may have been cooked up by Gaddafi’s enemies. In the Middle East and North Africa, there is no better way to discredit someone than to call them a Jew. For instance, rumours have been circulating in Egypt that Boutros Boutros Ghali, the Coptic ex-UN secretary-general, was all set to follow his Jewish wife to Israel.

If Aisha does indeed move to Israel, no reporter seems to have bothered to ask the Israeli public why they should offer asylum to a hostile dictator’s daughter. When he was alive, Colonel Gaddafi was responsible for the expulsion and wholesale dispossession of the last 6,000 Jews in Libya. Perhaps Israel should grant Aisha asylum after all – on condition she apologises and donates to Libyan Israelis a large chunk of her father’s billions, squirrelled away in Swiss bank vaults.

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