Friday, November 21, 2014

A five-year-old girl recalls leaving Iraq


 The release of the doves in the film 'The Dove Flyer' is a metaphor for the exodus of Jews from Iraq.

Stella J was five when 93 percent of Iraqi Jews fled Iraq between 1949 and 1951.  Her father was repeatedly called in for questioning by the secret police. He was forced to borrow money in order to pay 10, 000 dinars (a huge sum in those days) for his release.

When the time came for the family to join the exodus to Israel, Stella remembers a great deal of commotion at the airport. Jews were only allowed one suitcase and 40 dinars each (25 dinars for children). They were not allowed to take out jewellery or precious possessions.

The customs officers were busy ransacking the contents of the refugees' suitcases. One seized Stella's doll, threatening to pull apart its head. "I'm sure there is jewellery stuffed in the doll's body," the officer said. It was only when a second customs officer intervened that Stella's doll was spared mutilation.

She remembers a crowd witnessing the Jews' ordeal. They shouted abuse at the refugees. But then she recognised the voice of the family's long term servant Sa'id: "Take me with you to Israel", he shouted. "I want to be Jewish!"

Bitter-sweet memories. Within three years, a 2, 500-year-old civilisation had been wiped out.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

'After Saturday comes Sunday'

  Increasingly, we are hearing this slogan, as applied to the religious minorities of the Middle East. First it is the Jews' turn to be wiped out, then the Christians will follow. Where did this proverb come from? Opinions vary, but there is strong evidence that the saying originated with Islamist mobs in the 1930s and 40s. Extract from a Wikipedia entry: (With thanks: Edwin)
A Christian church burning in Iraq

In 1940, a pro-Zionist soil conservationist Walter Clay Lowdermilk asserted the proverb meant that after Arabs ‘have destroyed the Jews they will destroy the Christians,’ predicting a massacre of Jews would occur if Britain left Palestine. Lowdermilk further claimed that 80,000 Iraqi Assyrians had been massacred after the British relinquished their mandate in Iraq in 1932.[13]

In the opinion of Benny Morris, who again provides no source for the claim, around 1947-8 in Palestine, ‘all (Christians) were aware of the saying: 'After Saturday, Sunday,' which he calls a 'popular mob chant' of the time and glosses as meaning,'after we take care of the Jews it will be the Christians’ turn'.[14]

The phrase appears to have gained currency to refer to population expulsions, following the establishment of the State of Israel and the subsequent Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries. According to a 1956 field report by American Universities staff, the phrase had been circulating for roughly a decade by that time in the Near East with the sense: 'after the expulsion of the Jews, whose Sabbath is on Saturday, the Christian Westerners will follow.'.[15]

According to author Bat Ye'or, it was employed by members of the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt in 1947, as part of their demonstrations against Zionism, which spilled over into attacks on Christian communities, held accountable for attempts to secularize Arab society, in 1947. A Coptic church in Zagazig was burnt down, and in anti-Christian demonstrations in Upper Egypt the slogan was:
Today it is Zionism’s turn, tomorrow it will be Christianity’s; today is Saturday, tomorrow will be Sunday.[16]
Joseph Wahed, founder of advocacy group JIMENA, whose own family was expelled from Egypt in November 1952, recalled in a letter to the Wall Street Journal that sixty years earlier a Copt cited the phrase to his Jewish neighbour.[17][18]

A certain Royce Jones stated that it was a Jordanian slogan used on the eve of the Six-Day War, and that it expressed an intention to commit genocide on Christians.[19][20] Royce’s letter was cited by Yosef Tekoah before the UN Security Council as proof of the relief Christians in Bethlehem supposedly felt with the Israeli conquest of the West Bank. The Jordanian representative Muhammad el-Farra dismissed the use of the proverb as ‘cheap propaganda’ and cited as testimony Bethlemites affirming their allegiance to Jordan.[21]

According to blogger Gerald A. Honigman,[22] the phrase was first given prominent circulation in English by Bernard Lewis in the form: 'First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People,’ in an article written for Commentary in early 1976. Lewis claimed that the phrase was heard in the Arab world on the eve of the Six Day War (1967), and argued that recent developments in Lebanon suggested that the Arabs had reversed their priorities.[23

Because of their relevance for Biblical studies Palestinian proverbs have been the object of close attention.[24] The proverb in question does not figure among the 5,000 Palestinian sayings collected by the Bethlehem pastor Sa’īd Abbūd (1933), who, with regard to sayings dealing with Saturday and Sunday, mentions only one: ‘Saturday is longer than Sunday’, used with a variety of meanings: of the need to stay open for business given that Saturday is busier; of people who don’t know their own place, and to a woman whose petticoat is longer than her dress.[25]

Many sources register this proverb's appearance as an Islamic slogan daubed on walls or putatively on the Palestinian flag during the years of the First Intifada (1987-1997).[26][27][28][7] It was indicative of a tension within the Palestinian resistance as Hamas emerged to vie with the PLO for the hearts and minds of people. Historically, Christians have played a distinguished role in the Palestinian Arab nationalist movement since its inception.[29] The more secular and socialist PLO was able to attract and integrate support and leaders from the Palestinian Christian community like George Habash or Hanan Ashrawi,[30] though figures like Habash and Nayef Hawatmeh graduated to a more radical secular leftist politics.[29]

Mordechai Nisan of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs claims the slogan would have been used on a PLO flag when the Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu visited the Holy Land in 1989.[27][31] Nisan opines that there is a Muslim-Arab war being waged against Israel and the Jews, and that Christians all over the world cannot escape being involved:
When the Muslim jihad pursues its Jewish victim, it manipulates and blackmails the West into submission. When the two tangle, the third party never escapes the consequences of the brawl.
Read entry in full

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ada and the pomegranate of peace

 For Professor Ada Aharoni, the new Memorial Day for Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands, on 30 November, is something of a personal triumph.

The Cairo-born academic, poet, peace campaigner and author was one of the first to advocate for such a Day.

Several of Professor Aharoni's books deal with the exodus of Jews from Egypt. Her book Not in Vain (Hachette), about the Jewish Hospital in Alexandria has been awarded the Testimony Prize.

On 30 November itself, Professor Aharoni will be launching the French version of her book, published by Le Manuscript, (La femme en blanc de l'hopital juif d'Alexandrie) at a Paris lunch organised by the ASPCJE organisation of Jews from Egypt.

Professor Aharoni's favoured message is that greater knowledge of the modern Jewish exodus will appeal to the Arab sense of honour. If Palestinians are made aware that they are not the only victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict, they are more likely to achieve a 'Sulha': permanent peace based on reconciliation. This is also the message of a video she has recorded  in Hebrew. Here is the trailer:  RIMON HASULHA VE HAKAVOD - THE POMEGRANATE OF RECONCILIATION AND HONOR.

She elaborates on this theme in this second 15- minute video, the Second Exodus and Peace: Professor Aharoni hopes that her videos will be used to spread greater awareness of the Jewish exodus.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Commemorating the exodus of Jewish refugees

As organisations around the world prepare to commemorate 30 November, the first official day in the calendar to remember Jewish refugees from Arab lands, it is time to place their story  back on the Jewish communal and international agenda, says Shimon Ohayon MK in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Lily):

A refugee family in an Israeli ma'abara or transit camp (1950s)

Today, Israel is seen as a colonialist entity in parts of the world, as a European transplant in the heart of the Middle East which sought, and continues to seek, to uproot the indigenous Arabs from their ancestral homes. Of course, there is much that is wrong historically, factually and morally with this view, whether it stems from ignorance, malice or a mixture of the two.

However, the greatest antidote to these falsities is the history and subsequent expulsion of the ancient Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa, the descendants of which make up around half of the Jewish population of Israel. In the middle part of the past century there were almost a million Jews living across the region, whereas today that number is no more than a few thousand.

While the Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people, for thousands of years Jews developed their unique and indigenous civilization around the Middle East. Jews and Jewish communities have existed in the Middle East, North Africa, Babylon, the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf region for more than 2,500 years. Before the advent of Islam, the Arab conquest and occupation of the region, Jews even held sovereignty in parts of the Middle East, including Israel.

During the centuries after the Islamic conquest, the region became forcibly “Arabized,” becoming known as the “Arab World,” and the original non-Arab peoples became minorities in their own lands. Under Islamic rule, Jews were considered dhimmis, second-class citizens, forced to pay special taxes and wear distinctive signs and articles of clothing and suffering other discriminatory decrees and legislation. The position of the Jews was frequently precarious.

Over the centuries, there were numerous massacres and ethnic cleansings of Jews in the Middle East and North Africa, like the many Jewish communities in the Arabian peninsula which were wiped out in the 7th century. In Morocco, Libya and Algeria Jews were forced to live in ghettos or mellahs. On other occasions, as in places like Yemen and Iraq (Iran? - ed), Jews were given the choice of converting to Islam or facing death.

False accusations and blood libels frequently led to massive riots in Jewish areas leaving many dead, expelled and degraded. In the 1930s and 1940s there were Nazi-inspired massacres of Jews in Libya and Algeria, and most infamously in Baghdad, known as the Farhud.

Following the United Nations Partition Plan, which recommended the creation of a Jewish state in Israel, the Political Committee of the Arab League (League of Arab States) drafted a law that was to govern the legal status of Jewish residents in all Arab League countries. This law, instituted across the Arab world, demanded that Jews be seen as enemies and their assets frozen or confiscated and their citizenship stripped. Jews were frequently imprisoned or worse.

These and other state-sanctioned repressive measures, coupled often with violence, precipitated a mass displacement and expulsion of Jews, who were forced to leave without their assets and property, and caused the Jewish refugee problem in the Middle East. This problem was exacerbated by a continuing expulsion and exodus of Jews en masse from Arab countries until the 1970s.

The personal and communal assets left behind were substantial, far greater than those lost by Arabs who fled during Israel’s battle for independence.

Sadly, almost none of this is known, in Israel or around the world.

With this in mind, earlier in the year I passed a long overdue law that instituted November 30 as a day in Israel of national commemoration for the Jewish refugees from Arab countries. On this day, there will be special Knesset sessions devoted to the issue; the Education Ministry is enjoined to teach students about the history and expulsion of their ancestors and the Foreign Ministry will instruct its representatives around the world to commemorate the occasion appropriately.

With our partners around the world, organizations like Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJA C) and Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA ), based in the US, Harif in the UK and Organization of Jews of Libya &Sant Egidio in Italy, we are arranging a host of events around the world, including in Washington, DC, New York, Montreal, Sydney, Singapore, Paris, London and Rome, and a commemorative event at the United Nations.

However, there is still much work to do. Most Jews do not know this history and it is seldom taught in Jewish schools, synagogues or institutions around the world.

If we are to rectify this historic injustice we must first learn about it. Over the next year, a traveling exhibition created by the Foreign Ministry will be sent to Israeli embassies and consulates around the world with the intention of informing other countries around the world about this neglected subject.

It is vitally important that Jewish communities participate in these events so that ignorance will no longer be an excuse. The Jewish refugees issue was recognized in the past by United Nations officials, in peace agreements and most importantly, under international law.

It is time that we placed the story of and ultimate redress for the Jewish refugees from Arab countries back on the Jewish communal and international agenda.

We can start on November 30.

Read article in full

Monday, November 17, 2014

WW2: 40 Tunisian Jews never returned

Tomorrow  the UK Jewish Film Festival will screen Jacques Ouaniche's 'Young' Perez, the story of a young Tunisian-Jewish boxing champion who survived the Auschwitz death camp only to die on the Death March. Tunisia was the only country in the Arab world to be directly occupied by the Nazis - from November 1942 to May 1943. How many Tunisian Jews shared Young Perez's fate? Veronique Chemla blogs.

 Deportations of Jews from Tunisia took place in April 1943, three weeks before the liberation of Tunisia. Forty prisoners did not return. This is very few compared to the six million Jews killed in continental Europe during the Holocaust. But it illuminates the nature of the genocidal project of the Nazis. Wherever the Germans set foot, whether for 24 hours in Rhodes, or six months in Tunisia*, they persecuted the Jewish population, in order to destroy it.

Among the deported Jews was Victor Cohen Hadria, former President of the Bar Association of Tunis murdered in Auschwitz, Edouard Benjamin Dana, a resistance fighter  deported to Auschwitz, sent into the Warsaw Ghetto to clear it and shot while trying to flee.

Arrested in Paris, boxer Victor  "Young" Perez (1911-1945),  French flyweight world champion in 1931 was deported from France and killed during the death march.



The synagogue in Tunis was transformed into a storehouse for stolen Jewish possessions.

On 7 May 1943, the Wehrmacht fled the advancing Allies. The British liberated Tunis, the free French took Bizerte. Jews could finally remove the yellow stars of their clothes.


Read post in full (French) 

*the Germans also occupied the western desert in Libya

Jews appeal to king against eviction

 An elderly Jewish couple in Casablanca has appealed to King Mohammed V1 to stop 'Mafioso' gangs from  threatening to evict them from their home of 50 years. This is not a problem exclusive to Jews. Muslims too have been targeted by these gangs, reports Yabiladi. Here is a rough translation from French:

 

"With a quivering voice, Shalom Abdelhak reveals his identity in a video posted on YouTube. A Jewish man of over eighty, visibly weakened by illness he is seeking the intervention of King Mohammed VI in his case. In Moroccan dialect, he says he and his wife are victims of a "group" that  is threatening to evict them from their apartment in Casablanca.

"Shalom has been renting his home for over 46 years. Throughout this period, he said he has had no problem with the owners of the building. He also says he regularly pays his rent. It's the same story with his wife, Viessmann Messody, who is also sick. The latter fears that they will forced to live on the street at their age.
 

Shalom's case is not unique. The video shows the testimony of another woman, also Jewish, who has lived in the building for 50 years. The problem started in 2012 when "Mafioso," she claimed, posed as the "owner" of the premises. Since then, "we are experiencing a living hell," she says.

  She accuses "chamkarasof being behind these threats. They target empty apartments, trying to remove windows, doors and even marble and mosaic to show the authorities that the building is at risk of falling into disrepair:  then they order its demolition.


Shalom says: " we are very old and we have nowhere else to go. This is where we were born. "

Read article in full (French)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The murder of Raymond Leyris, reconstructed



Enrico Macias is one of the most popular singers in France. Born in Constantine, Algeria, he was forced to leave, along with the country's 130,000 Jews, when Algeria became independent from France.

His song of exile 'par excellence' is 'Adieu mon pays.' The story of Macias's father-in-law, the musician and composer Raymond Leyris, is less well-known.

This clip by Diarna is a dramatisation of Leyris' tragic murder in 1961. The murder triggered panic amongst the Jews, and was a major factor in their exodus.

In 2012, Leyris's son-in-law Enrico Macias was banned from touring Algeria, and has been unable to visit Leyris's grave, atop a Constantine hillside.

The life and sudden death of Cheikh Raymond

Friday, November 14, 2014

Does Aladdin deserve ADL award?



ADL National Director Abraham Foxman presents  the Anti-Defamation League’s Daniel Pearl Award to Anne-Marie Revcolevschi, President of The Aladdin Project.

At its Annual General Meeting on 6 November in Los Angeles the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) awarded the prestigious Daniel Pearl prize to the Aladdin project for 'promoting greater understanding between Jews and Muslims'.

Five years ago, Veronique Chemla, a French-Jewish journalist wrote down her misgivings in Front Page magazine. The dalogue promoted by the Aladdin project tiptoes around real bones of contention, throwing the ethnic cleansing of Sephardi/Mizrahi Jewry, among other things, under the bus of mutual understanding.

"We need to go beyond the perennial We are brothers, cousins, shalom, salam! and engage in a real dialogue with the Muslim word in which we recognise what unites us but also what divides us," she says. "We need to air our disagreements in order to build enduring and deep relationships. Jihad targets 'Jews and Crusaders'. We need to enter into a real dialogue with Muslims and non-Muslims in order to make them understand the jihadist threat and build alliances with them.

"Initiatives such as the 'islamically-correct' (anti-Holocaust denial) Aladdin project marginalise and isolate moderate Muslims and distance Jews from their anti-jihadist allies. It is not denial and revisionism which feeds antisemitism but the demonisation and delegitimisation of the State of Israel."


Islamically- correct meeting bolsters coexistence myth

Israelis visit Moroccan Majlis

 With thanks: Noam

A delegation of Israelis and other Jews of Moroccan origin visited the Parliament, or Majlis, in Rabat this week. The photos show Casablanca-born Avraham Avizemer who lives in Jaffa, (in the centre in the top  picture) and other members of the delegation of the World Federation of Moroccan Jewry.

The delegation, on its annual visit to Morocco, met with the speaker of the Majlis. He said:" Jews and Israelis from around the world need to feel at home here. Morocco invites all Jews of Moroccan origin to come and visit the Kingdom and preserve the call of the past, present and future."

The visit is 'one in the eye' for the Moroccan anti-normalisation campaign.This time last year, there were moves by pan-Arabist and pro-Islamist parliamentarians to criminalise Moroccan-Israeli relations.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

'We dreamt of being expelled'


From top: Jean-Pierre Allali, Edwin Shuker, Levana Zamir

Organisations campaigning for Jewish refugees from Arab countries are looking forward to the 30th November, the date designated by the Israeli Parliament as an annual Day to remember the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

In the summer of 2014 at a World Jewish Congress meeting in Budapest, delegates from JJAC (Justice for Jews from Arab Countries) recorded their stories. In the following Youtube link you will hear testimonies from Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Lebanon and Tunisia.

All these stories give a good idea of what Jews experienced in the run-up to their departure. So intolerable at times was their plight that one, Edwin Shuker from Iraq, says: 'we dreamt of being expelled'.

Events to remember the exodus are being organised all over the world. To organise an event at your synagogue, community centre, school or church please visit www.harif.org or www.jimena.org.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

'Hava nagila' star defies music taboo

 What is interesting about this snippet from Breitbart News is that singer Ema Shah, who shocked people in 2010 by singing Hava Nagila, speaks for many Arabs when she says that she doesn't care about the Israel- Palestine conflict. Her latest film role, as a girl who discovers her grandfather was a Jew expelled from western Saudi Arabia, may be pure fantasy, but betrays Arab guilt - or a generalised sense of loss. (with thanks: Mi)

Ema Shah is a superstar in Kuwait and the Arab world. Known for her singing and her musical style, which blends pop and classical influences, she is also a pioneer for women in the region, choosing to dress as she wishes--not just on stage but in everyday life as well. Lately, Shah--is trying to break a political taboo by reaching out to Jewish musicians--defying cultural hostility to Israel, hoping she can help cultivate peace. The 34-year-old Shah's interest in Hebrew dates to 2010, when she caused an international controversy by singing the familiar Jewish folk song, "Hava Nagila," at a nightclub as part of a  performance involving multiple languages.

The audience loved it, she told Breitbart News in an interview last week, but a few people were shocked, and alerted police. One woman shouted: "No normalization with Israel, this is Zionism," Shah recalls.

The incident only made Shah--winner of Best Music Video at the New York Winter Film Awards in 2014--more determined to reach out to Israeli--and Jewish--singers and musicians, in the Middle East and the United States. She hopes that by doing so, she can break through the barriers of mistrust in the region, and undo hateful attitudes in the Muslim world in particular.
"We Arabs should work together with Jews," she says. "We are family, and we are all human beings. We should love each other."

Shah's own ancestry crisscrosses the somewhat artificial boundaries of the Arab and Muslim world. Her parents are Iranian and Kuwaiti, with some ancestry in Afghanistan and Iraq. She burst onto the music scene with her performance at a Kuwaiti independence concert in 1996, and began exploring theater as well, acting in a local arts festival for several years under Kuwaiti director Abdulaziz Alhaddad.

Shah is currently working with Saudi director Mohammed Al Saber, who is seeking a producer for a new film he is directing about the Jews of the Arabian peninsula. The story follows the discovery by a young woman, to be played by Shah, who discovers that her grandfather, who lived and worked as a beekeeper in the Sarawat Mountains in western Saudi Arabia, was actually a Jew whose family emigrated from the country in the mid-20th century, as many Jews fled or were expelled from Arab lands at the time. The film's message, Shah says, is about the shared cultural kinship of Jews and Arabs, and the tragedy of how Jews were expelled from Saudi Arabia.

Read article in full
The Jewish cemetery in Saudi Arabia

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Eli Amir's 'Scapegoat': a review

 Eli Amir

If there's one novel that encapsulates the refugee experience, it is Scapegoat, Eli Amir's acclaimed first novel, published in English in 1987. Yet it is the second of his trilogy, the first being The Dove Flyer, set in Baghdad in the late 1940s, and the third Yasmine, set in post-1967 Jerusalem.

 Nuri, the teenage hero of the Dove Flyer, has arrived in an Israeli ma'abara (tent camp) from Baghdad with his family in 1950. A small group of Iraqi boys and girls has been offered a way out of the ma'abara swamp of dashed hopes and destitution: they have been have been picked by Youth Aliyah to join an established, successful kibbutz, Kiryat Oranim.

 Nuri is appointed the Iraqi group leader.  He knows Baghdad is dead, and unless the Iraqis adapt to Israeli society, they will remain on the margins. He swallows his Baghdadi pride to shovel cow's manure in a socialist paradise. He spends hours in the kibbutz 'culture house' listening to western classical music. But his peers refuse to shed their traditional values. They have been catapulted into one of the most advanced social experiments in human history - the kibbutz - yet conventionally aspire to make money and have hafla parties.

East and West collide with a thunderous clash. Two things in particular some of the young refugees find it hard to cope with: the absence of religion and the immodestly-dressed, tantalisingly available, yet elusive, young women. The cultural gap cannot be bridged. Moreover,  no matter how hard Nuri tries, the Iraqis can never become like the golden boys and girls of the regional school who are destined to run the kibbutz movement.

Nuri's kibbutz adventure, despite the patient mentoring of the Polish idealist Sonia, is a failure. He cannot enjoy a brighter future while his family struggles to put food on the table. He returns to the misery of the ma'abara. But his gesture, to bring back for his family a tarnegol kapparot - a sacrificial fowl for Yom kippur - backfires. His mother rejects the fowl: it has not been slaughtered on the kibbutz by a shohet. Godlessness will not be allowed to triumph.

Who is the scapegoat (or more correctly, 'sacrificial lamb') here? Is Nuri's father the sacrificial lamb who forfeits his dreams so that Nuri might enjoy a better life? Are Baghdad values being sacrificed on the altar of Israel's new social order? Or is it the reverse - the older generation sacrificing its prospects to rigid orthodoxy?

 Either way, Eli Amir, who rose to be deputy director-general of the Ministry of Absorption,  has made the dilemmas of integration, so exquisitely set out  in Scapegoat, his life's work.  




Sunday, November 09, 2014

Was Moshe forced to leave Morocco?

It's a touching story of loyalty and friendship between Muslims and Jews: Lahcen (pictured), promised his friend Moshe to care for his ancestral graves. Most interesting  perhaps are the comments below this Morocco World News article, objecting to the phrase 'Moshe was forced to leave Morocco for Israel'.
.
Moroccan Keeps Promise for 70 years to Clean Grave of His Friend’s Jewish Ancestors
According to Mr. Omar Louzi, President of the Rabat Business Club, Lahcen promised to honor the request, loyal to the friendship he had with his Jewish friends. For more than 60 years, at the beginning of each year, Lahcen has been cleaning the graves of the ancestors of his Jewish friend.

Despite his meager resources, Mr. Louzi said that at the beginning of each year, Lahcen bought a small box with black paint and re-writes the names originally written on the graves in Hebrew. What is amazing about Lahcen’s loyalty is that he honored the request, while he never been to school.
Now, despite his old age, Lahcen is adamant about keeping his promise. According to Mr. Louzi, “when someone dares to say that “it is now old, and he has already done enough to honor his promise”, he gets angry, and answers, “A promise is a promise.” He added that he “will continue to do what I have to do … until the return of my friend Moshe … or until I die”.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Jews in Timbuktu? Yes, really

Jews in Timbuktu? Yes, Point of No Return has actually met a  Jew descended from a family from Mali. Here is their amazing story, courtesy of Shalom Life. There could be as many as 1,000 Malians of Jewish descent.

http://3-ps.googleusercontent.com/h/www.shalomlife.com/img/2014/10/26633/inline/190x265ximages.jpg.pagespeed.ic.nouobG4ElI.jpg  
 Rabbi Mordechai Abi Serour

The past and present of the Jewish people in Mali centers around the city of Timbuktu. Many arrived in the West African country in the 14th century, fleeing persecution in Spain after the Spanish Inquisition, and migrated south to the Timbuktu area, which was at that time part of the Songhai Empire. Among them was the Kehath (Ka’ti) family, descended from Ismael Jan Kot Al-yahudi of Scheida, Morocco. Sons of this prominent family founded three villages that still exist near Timbuktu—Kirshamba, Haybomo, and Kongougara.
In 1492, the king Askia Muhammed came to power and the previously tolerant region of Timbuktu had become hostile to the Jewish community. The king declared that Jews must convert to Islam or leave; and shortly after, Judaism became illegal in Mali. Historian Leo Africanus is quoted as saying in 1526: "The king (Askia) is a declared enemy of the Jews. He will not allow any to live in the city. If he hears it said that a Berber merchant frequents them or does business with them, he confiscates his goods." Once this change had occurred, some Jews chose to stay and converted to Islam, but others fled the region entirely, feeling that it was no longer a safe place to call home.
Another notable Jewish family, The Kehaths, came from Southern Morocco in 1492 and converted to Islam, along with the rest of the non-Muslim population. Several others that arrived include the Cohens, descended from the Moroccan Islamicized Jewish trader El-Hadj Abd-al-Salam al Kuhin, who arrived in the Timbuktu area in the 18th century, and the Abana family, who came even later, in the first half of the 19th century. 

Read article in full

The curious case of the Moroccan Marranos

Friday, November 07, 2014

Essaouira festival masks disharmony

 The spirit of Essaouira is with us once again: this annual festival of shared musical heritage projects a story of cultural Jewish-Muslim symbiosis. And this year, the new Encyclopaedia of Jewish-Muslim relations is being given a platform. All well and good, except that no number of officially-sponsored feel-good festivals can disguise the fact that there are hardly any Jews left in Essaouira, that relations between Jews and Muslims in Morocco have not always been harmonious, and that the Encyclopaedia is not as scholarly as the author of this piece in the Huffington Post might suggest.

Haim Louk performs at the Essaouira music festival

This musical dialogue reflects the ethos of the 11th edition of the Festival des Andalousies Atlantiques, founded and chaired by André Azoulay, and directed by the outstanding singer Françoise Atlan since 2009. Devoted to the common Jewish and Arab musical heritage, this unique event is both a locus of commemoration and a celebration of music at once friendly, festive and full of emotions. During three nights and two days, singers and musicians share their virtuosity, enthusiasm and creative expression. Each morning, André Azoulay brings together artists, intellectuals and the audience in a Riad of the Medina in a symposium about the necessity of returning to these common cultural roots. These morning talks do add meaning to the music heard the preceding evenings.
André Azoulay is keen to remind the audience that until the 1960s Essaouira was a city where Jews and Arabs lived together in a peaceful and friendly community. At the end of the 19th century, the city had a majority of 18.000 Jewish citizens against a total population of 25.000 - a unique case in the Arab world. Most of the Jews left Morocco in the aftermath of the Six-Day War (not true - ed), forming nowadays a community of about a million Moroccan Jews scattered around the world. However, there are still vivid traces of what had been much more than mere coexistence: during the Festival numerous artists and participants did give accounts of the fraternal relations and community spirit that were shared among families belonging to either confession.

This shared culture was no exception. Suffice to recall the many thousands of Jews who had been persecuted in Europe throughout the centuries, in particular during the Spanish Inquisition (1492) and the Shoah, who took refuge in Muslim lands. There they were welcomed, and most often, respected and protected too. The history of this shared culture is little known to young Moroccans nowadays. The Moroccan Minister of Education, who attended the Festival throughout, acknowledged that it was necessary to write up this history and correct schoolbooks that deny youth access to this silenced yet vital heritage. Not out of nostalgia for an idealized "Golden Age", but to show that understanding each other beyond religious and cultural differences is possible. Or even better: that it is possible to benefit from a richer human experience thanks to these differences.

At one of the Festival's talks, a team of historians and philosophers discussed an ambitious book edited by Abdelwahab Meddeb and Benjamin Stora, published by Albin Michel and entitled Histoire des relations entre Juifs et Musulmans des origines à nos jours (A History of the Relations between Jews and Muslims from the Origins to our Time). Within a rigorous scholarly framework, it charts the complexities of a vivid, entertaining and at times unexpected history, thus doing away with the most widespread clichés and hate-mongering images that haunt the media.

Read article in full

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Ramses' biased but sympathetic film

Writing in Haaretz Eyal Sagui Bisawe has finally seen Amir Ramses' film "Jews of Egypt". He was surprised to see the film's sympathetic portrayal of Jews, almost all communists, in order to further Ramses' political agenda: to hark back to an earlier age of tolerance and pluralism.


I waited two years to see the documentary “Jews of Egypt.” For two years, I’ve been unable to attend film festivals around the world, and during that period, since the revolution, many Egyptian movie theaters have been closed. Plus, the director of this film, Amir Ramses, has refused to let it be screened in Israel (it has been screened once in Tel Aviv*- ed). Finally, I saw it this week. Where? In the Land of Milky and Honey: Berlin.
As the saying goes, the bigger the expectations, the bigger the disappointment, but in this case, the surprise was just as big.

In many respects, "Jews of Egypt" is an exhausting film, with questionable cinematic value: countless “talking heads,” outdated editing effects and use of still photos, topped off with a dramatic soundtrack, in case the viewers were not riled up enough.

Many of Ramses' choices are questionable: Why did he choose to edit the scenes together in such a messy way, which seems neither thematic nor chronological? Why did he choose to focus solely on the Jews’ influence on Egyptian politics, in the first half of the 20th century, rather than on its economy or culture? Why did he choose to tell, yet again, the already known story of singer-actress Laila Mourad, rather than that many of the other lesser-known Jews who were prominent in Egyptian theater and cinema? And about Mourad – why did he choose to use the worst available recording of her beautiful song, “I Have No Hope”? Why did he choose to cover the song with still photos of the singer, rather than the exquisite footage from the 1949 film in which she performed that song?

Furthermore, the repetition of the same version of events from multiple interviewees makes one think that Ramses is trying to prove something beyond any doubt in his film. Again and again, the interviewees tell the same stories about the pleasant lives they enjoyed, about the openness and liberalism they experienced, and the attitudes toward them which worsened over time. They told of their sorrow as they left their first homeland, and of course of their love of that land, despite the treachery and disappointment.

One gets the impression that Ramses sought to prove to the viewers that Egyptian Jews remained loyal to their first homeland after spending years in detention camps, and even 60 years after they were forced to leave their homes following the three-pronged attack on Egypt by Israel, Great Britain and France that came to be known as the Sinai Campaign.

And that is perhaps the central problem of this film, in terms of content: The fact that the film is apologetic doesn’t actually stem from the interviewees' love for Egypt – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but rather comes more from the biased selection of the interviewees themselves.

Magda Haroun, head of the Egyptian Jewish Community Council, from 'Jews of Egypt.'
Anyone who sees "Jews of Egypt" is likely to receive the misguided notion that not only were most Jews in that country political activists, but that they were all leftists, founders of socialist and communist parties, while also being Egyptian nationalists.

In truth, Egyptian Jews, like many people in the world at the time, were politically indifferent; some were Zionists, some were both Zionists and Egyptian nationalists. The interviewees in the movie were all left-wing activists, ranging from those who converted to Islam and stayed on, to those who fled to France. Absolutely no "ideologically distinctive" Jews were interviewed here – in particular, no Egyptian Jewish Zionists and especially none who went to Israel.

At the same time, despite all that, Ramses is deserving of some praise. Rami Abdel Razak, writing in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm, explains that the film was not meant to tell the stories of all the Jews in Egypt, but only of a specific group of them – specifically, those who have a direct connection to the country's contemporary history. Ramses can also be appreciated for the fact that he and the producer, Haitham El-Khameesy, funded the movie themselves, with no support from cinema foundations, and for the fact that they used many rare archival materials (like images of the January 1952 fire in Cairo).

Also, the story of Jewish communist Henri Curiel is noteworthy, as it had fallen through the cracks between the Israeli and Egyptian narratives. The interview with Curiel’s son, and the very fact that Ramses brought the issue up for public discussion in Egypt, is commendable.

The film should not be seen as just another documentary about a once-flourishing Jewish community that will soon be gone from the world. It should be viewed via the internal Egyptian lens, where the term “Jew” has become a hateful epithet. One should remember that this work was created by someone who lives in a society where the terms “Jew,” “Zionist” and “Israeli” have all become completely distorted and turned into curse words, and that the current generation had no contact with the Jewish community that once existed in their country. All Ramses’ generation knows about Jews comes from a context of occupation and war with the most bitter rival Egypt ever had: Israel.
Within this context, Ramses’ choice of specific interviewees is important for the average Egyptian viewer, who has trouble imagining a modern Jew that identifies as Egyptian, that loves Egypt, is concerned for Egypt’s interests, doesn’t see Egypt as an enemy, and wants no harm to come to it. Furthermore, the director presents the Jewish interviewees as the "good guys” of the story, whereas the Egyptians are the supposed “bad guys,” characterized by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who expelled the country's Jewish community.

Thus, Ramses not only makes room for a new, critical view of modern Egyptian history: He also helps to foster tolerance and open-mindedness, while expressing aspirations for the future.
Indeed, Egyptian Jews, as well as Jews from Morocco, Tunisia and Lebanon, have been transformed in recent years into objects of nostalgia in those countries. The longing is not necessarily for those Jews’ physical presence there, but rather for the time periods that they represented: the eras of pluralism, cosmopolitanism and tolerance.

“Jews of Egypt” is not the first work centering on this subject: Local Jewish characters have been included in Egyptian drama series, and there have been many articles and documentary television shows about the community. Recently, several TV shows about Cairo’s Jewish quarter have been produced, and talk shows have featured some of the few Jews remaining in the country, including Magda Haroun, head of the Egyptian Jewish Community Council.

“Jews of Egypt” was first released in 2012, just as the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power there. The regime first sought to censor parts of the film, especially those relating to the bonds forged between Brotherhood members and Jewish activists held in detention cells. Later, the Brotherhood sought to keep the movie from being screened. However, public opposition – which included a petition in favor of screenings – succeeded in the end, and brought the film success not only among critics in Egypt, but among the public as well.

A few weeks ago, the second part of the film was released, without any interference on the part of the government. In it, Ramses focuses on key figures in the Jewish community who remained in Egypt, barely 15 people. One can only hope that this time the film will be more accessible, even to Israelis.

Read article in full  (subscription required)

*Amir Ramses' film shown in Israel

Jews of Egypt film has London premiere

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Sami Michael: central figure on the margins

Sami Michael, Iraqi-born ex-communist author, claims to be an outsider looking in. In reality he has become the quintessential Israeli, says Noga Emmanuel in Fathom Journal: 


 Sami Michael



In a speech at a conference in Haifa in June 2012, Michael revealed his enduring disenchantment with the Left:

The Parlour leftists – and in Israel, it is worth noting, the leftists have never left the parlour – repudiated Mizrahi Jewry as expendable ‘raw material’, or in the Communist jargon of that time: the ‘lumpen-proletariat’. This was in spite of the fact that immigrants from Egypt, Lebanon and Bulgaria, and especially from Iraq, held an impressive Communist record from their countries of origin. The Communist establishment in Israel treated these immigrants with manifest arrogance. At the beginning of the 1950s, 20 percent of the ma’abarot dwellers voted for the Communist Party in the Knesset. Not one of them was promoted to a position of any value in the party. The central committee of the Communist Party was and still remains today more ‘purified’ of Mizrahi Jews than any other establishment in the state. The suspicion and arrogance towards the Mizrahi communities formed a solid impenetrable barrier in the ranks of the Communist Party.
Leaving the small but cosy enclave of the Communist Party meant discarding his identity as an Arab-Jew Party member. It was a rite of passage of sorts: he was now confronted with the challenge of joining Jewish-Israeli life. A pivotal moment in his life was the birth of his first child ‘… I will wander no more. This will be my land… he thought, as he left the hospital with the newborn baby in his arms.

In the second phase of his ‘becoming’ he set out to fashion for himself a belonging that would not entail submission to cultural norms. For 15 years he put aside his literary ambitions, mostly because the only language he felt he could write in was Arabic and he wanted to write in the language of the land and to reach Hebrew readers: ‘… I live in an Israeli reality in which the language forms an integral part. People speak, think, dream in Hebrew. I cannot write about them in Arabic.’ Writing was a way of proclaiming his existence, a kind of active rebellion. At the end of those 15 years he published Equal and More Equal.

Refuge

Refuge, Sami Michael’s third novel published in 1977, examines the Israeli political margin – the Communist Party. Within this small self-contained community of like-minded people, some of the country’s most urgent conflicts still play out. The novel covers the first four days of the Yom Kippur war, from Friday 5 October 1973 till Monday night, 8 October. The main characters are Shula, an Ashkenazi, married to Marduch, an Iraqi Jew. They have a mentally-challenged little boy, Edo. Shoshana, Edo’s nanny, is married to Fuad, a Muslim Arab, who runs an Arabic paper for the Communist Party. The group is a kind of fraternity, close knit and bound by ideology and loyalty to a cause.

Marduch is nominally a Communist but also a patriotic Israeli. His scepticism is revealed in the fact that on his shelves there are books censured by the party leadership. He willingly joins his army unit at the start of the war. When his wife questions his willingness to fight for a country he so disapproves of he explains that the state of Israel took him in, gave him refuge, when he was hunted, tortured and nearly executed by the Iraqis. He owes Israel a debt because refuge is a supreme value in Oriental ethos. When the party instructs Shula to provide shelter, refuge, for the Arab poet Fathi who is sought by Israeli police because he is considered a security risk, she immediately obeys, out of deference to her husband’s time-honoured values.

Shula’s mother who pays for Shoshana’s services, is also a member of the Party. She had in the past contrived her daughter’s marriage with Marduch. Shula’s true love, a military officer was not a member of the Communist party and therefore unacceptable. The mother, fearing Shula might marry an Arab, encouraged the marriage with Marduch despite his Mizrahi origin. It was, for her, the lesser of two evils.

In the first two chapters, the author sets up this perfect storm of conflicting loyalties, politics, myths, and interests. The irony is gently interwoven into the straggling narrative lines, as party comradeship rapidly comes unglued: Shula and Marduch believe that if Israel is defeated, it will mean a second Holocaust. Fathi the poet (and the darling of Tel Aviv parlours), hopes for an Israeli defeat, even as he shelters under Marduch’s roof and tries to seduce his wife. Shula’s mother is revealed as a sham communist. Shoshana, married to an Arab, is alienated from her beloved family, not accepted by her husband’s friends and family and worries that her second son is radicalised while her eldest son wants to be an Israeli Jew.

The ironies are scattered every which way. While the events move fast and hang like doom over each of the featured characters, the reader is lulled into a kind of stupor by the understated, nearly hushed tones of the novel. No sirens in the background alert us to the raging war but a kindly neighbour who comes to Shula’s apartment to hang blackout sheets over the windows.

Irony

Irony, Michael’s chosen trope for his writing, accords with his belief that it was ‘from the margins you can better see the centre’. Immanuel Levinas considers the self and the Other as always in a dynamic relationship. If the self is the centre, the Other is the margins. In Michael’s Israeli novels, it is a given that Ashkenazi culture occupies the centre, is the assumed ‘self’ of society. As a Mizrahi immigrant-author, Michael balks at being subsumed into that centre. By refusing to be bribed, seduced or chastened into abandoning his intrinsic centre, for which that cultural hegemony is the margins, he never relaxes his ironic gaze upon the unfolding events. His inner awareness of himself as a perpetual but resilient Other is thus closely related to the ironic mode of his fiction.

The story of Sami Michael with its many life ironies says much about the country that had received him and other immigrants with such churlishness. This imperfect country forgave him without reserve for refusing to be integrated into it, enabled him to acquire the tools and provided him with platforms from which to chastise it to his heart’s content, praised him for his outstanding literary achievements, nodded meekly at his pessimistic glower, and treated his robust and authentic Otherness as a source of national pride. These relational configurations between Author and Society, Centre and Margins, Self and Other are always in a flux, thus purveying the supreme irony: Sami Michael is the definitive all-Israeli author.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The Left champions majority theocracies

 The Left is enamoured with totalitarianism and endorses pan-Islamism, having previously embraced Pan-Arabism - all at the expense of the Middle East's struggling minorities, with the exception of its support for the Arab Muslims of Israel. Brilliant article by Daniel Greenfield of Sultan Knish:



 The pan-Arabist President of Egypt, Gamal Abdul Nasser, being cheered by his supporters in 1956



The left backed the Arab Spring which rewarded the ambitions of Arabist and Islamist activists at the expense of Coptic, African and other minorities. Its great regional obsession is statehood for the Arab Muslims of Israel, (better known by their local Palestinian brand), but has little to say about the Kurds in Turkey or the Azeri in Iran. The million Jewish refugees and the vanishing Christians of the region never come up in conversation. They certainly don't get their own lefty protest rallies. 


The Africans of Sudan could have used an entire UN organization dedicated to their welfare, which the Arab Muslims who had failed to wipe out the region's Jewish minority are the beneficiaries of. But they had to make do with third tier aid.

Unlike the Arab nationalists and Islamists of Libya, the French, English and American air force did not come to their rescue. It came to the rescue of the Libyans who showed their gratitude in the time- honored way of the Arab majority by massacring the African minority and then killing some Americans. But what's a little genocide between friends?

The left embraced Pan-Arabism, a race based nationalism, in line with the Soviet Union's expansionist foreign policy. Pan-Arabism's socialism made it easy for the left to ignore its overt racism along with the admiration of many of its leading lights for Nazi Germany. The same left which refused to see the Gulags and the ethnic cleansing under the red flag, turned an equally blind eye to the contradiction of condemning Zionism for its ethnic basis, while supporting Pan-Arabism, which was ethnically based.

Under Zionism, Israel retained a sizeable Arab minority. The Pan-Arabists however drove their Jews out with mob violence, political repression, prisons and public executions. The left's criticisms of Zionism are rendered moot by their own support for Pan-Arabism, and their own longstanding hostility to Jewish national identity, insisting that socialism demands that Jews assimilate into the dominant race, whether in Russia or Western Europe. In the Middle East and North Africa, Arabization has led to repression of non-Arab minorities and the destruction of other cultures through the insistence on unity through race.

As the sun of Pan-Arabism sets, the left has turned its attention to Pan-Islamism with equal enthusiasm. While Pan-Arabism allowed Christian Arabs some representation, Pan-Islamism excludes based on religion. Having endorsed a racial tyranny, the left has fallen so low that it now champions majority theocracies.

The left's fledgling support for Kurdish nationalism has faded as Turkey has gone from a secular ally of the Western powers, to an Islamist tyranny dreaming of empire. This perverse twist of affairs has the left abandoning the national struggles of an oppressed people when their rulers align themselves more closely with the bigoted regional majority.

The War on Iraq, which the left hated, removed a tyrant aligned with the region's Sunni majority and the Libyan campaign, which the left supported, removed a tyrant who had deviated too far from the positions of that majority. So too in Egypt, where Mubarak's excessive tolerance for minorities, led the left to endorse the Pan-Arabist and Pan-Islamist calls for his overthrow. And in Tunisia, where a government tolerant of minorities has been replaced by the Islamists.

The pattern repeats itself over and over again as the left rises in support of racial and theocratic rule. And for all the left's critiques of American and European foreign policy, its own foreign policy which endorses racial and theocratic rule and works to bring it about is a true crime and blot on the region < The left backed the Arab Spring which rewarded the ambitions of Arabist and Islamist activists at the expense of Coptic, African and other minorities. Its great regional obsession is statehood for the Arab Muslims of Israel, (better known by their local Palestinian brand), but has little to say about the Kurds in Turkey or the Azeri in Iran. The million Jewish refugees and the vanishing Christians of the region never come up in conversation. They certainly don't get their own lefty protest rallies. 

It is no coincidence that the one country in the region that the left hates above all else, is neither Arab nor Muslim.

Read article in full
The left backed the Arab Spring which rewarded the ambitions of Arabist and Islamist activists at the expense of Coptic, African and other minorities. Its great regional obsession is statehood for the Arab Muslims of Israel, (better known by their local Palestinian brand), but has little to say about the Kurds in Turkey or the Azeri in Iran. The million Jewish refugees and the vanishing Christians of the region never come up in conversation. They certainly don't get their own lefty protest rallies. 

The Africans of Sudan could have used an entire UN organization dedicated to their welfare, which the Arab Muslims who had failed to wipe out the region's Jewish minority are the beneficiaries of. But they had to make do with third tier aid.

Unlike the Arab nationalists and Islamists of Libya, the French, English and American air force did not come to their rescue. It came to the rescue of the Libyans who showed their gratitude in the time honored way of the Arab majority by massacring the African minority and then killing some Americans. But what's a little genocide between friends?

The left embraced Pan-Arabism, a race based nationalism, in line with the Soviet Union's expansionist foreign policy. Pan-Arabism's socialism made it easy for the left to ignore its overt racism along with the admiration of many of its leading lights for Nazi Germany. The same left which refused to see the Gulags and the ethnic cleansing under the red flag, turned an equally blind eye to the contradiction of condemning Zionism for its ethnic basis, while supporting Pan-Arabism, which was ethnically based.

Under Zionism, Israel retained a sizable Arab minority. The Pan-Arabists however drove their Jews out with mob violence, political repression, prisons and public executions. The left's criticisms of Zionism are rendered moot by their own support for Pan-Arabism, and their own longstanding hostility to Jewish national identity, insisting that socialism demands that Jews assimilate into the dominant race, whether in Russia or Western Europe. In the Middle East and North Africa, Arabization has led to repression of non-Arab minorities and the destruction of other cultures through the insistence on unity through race.

As the sun of Pan-Arabism sets, the left has turned its attention to Pan-Islamism with equal enthusiasm. While Pan-Arabism allowed Christian Arabs some representation, Pan-Islamism excludes based on religion. Having endorsed a racial tyranny, the left has fallen so low that it now champions majority theocracies.

The left's fledgling support for Kurdish nationalism has faded as Turkey has gone from a secular ally of the Western powers, to an Islamist tyranny dreaming of empire. This perverse twist of affairs has the left abandoning the national struggles of an oppressed people when their rulers align themselves more closely with the bigoted regional majority.

The War on Iraq, which the left hated, removed a tyrant aligned with the region's Sunni majority and the Libyan campaign, which the left supported, removed a tyrant who had deviated too far from the positions of that majority. So too in Egypt, where Mubarak's excessive tolerance for minorities, led the left to endorse the Pan-Arabist and Pan-Islamist calls for his overthrow. And in Tunisia, where a government tolerant of minorities has been replaced by the Islamists.

The pattern repeats itself over and over again as the left rises in support of racial and theocratic rule. And for all the left's critiques of American and European foreign policy, its own foreign policy which endorses racial and theocratic rule and works to bring it about is a true crime and blot on the region.

It is no coincidence that the one country in the region that the left hates above all else, is neither Arab nor Muslim. - See more at: http://sultanknish.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/the-lefts-worst-crime-in-middle-east.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+FromNyToIsraelSultanRevealsTheStoriesBehindTheNews+%28from+NY+to+Israel+Sultan+Reveals+The+Stories+Behind+the+News%29#sthash.8dw1U8fL.dpuf

Monday, November 03, 2014

Jewish heritage sites face extinction

This is a useful overview by Ksenia Svetlov, writing in Israel Hayom, of Jewish heritage sites facing extinction in the Arab world. Much of what Svetlov reports, as a journalist in Israel, is necessarily based on hearsay, and some of it may be false: for instance, the latest photos Point of No Return has seen of Ezekiel's tomb show that Hebrew inscriptions have not been erased, but have been exposed. (With thanks: Lily)




Top:Whitewash covers Hebrew inscription at Ezekiel's tomb in Iraq in this photo taken in 2003. Bottom: This photo taken in 2010/11 shows that the original decoration has been exposed once again


In a time when large areas of Iraq and Syria are controlled by fanatics, at the peak of a bloody civil war, it is hard to get a clear picture of the state of the Jewish heritage sites in those regions. Still, Professor Shmuel Moreh of the Hebrew University, an Israel Prize laureate in Arabic literature, a native of Baghdad, and the author of the book "My Beloved Baghdad," speaks of a group of courageous Iraqis who took on the difficult mission to document the damage done to Jewish holy sites, synagogues and cemeteries, and to the residential neighborhoods of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the Middle East.

"Our friends, Shiites and Sunnis, most of them academics employed in universities in Iraq, writers and poets, are documenting what is going on in their country for us," Moreh said. "When news about 'renovations' at Ezekiel's Tomb appeared in the Arabic press, we sent a few friends to Al Kifl, and they brought sketches and photographs of the place. As it turns out, the Shiites destroyed the Hebrew inscriptions under the guise of renovations, and turned the place into a mosque."

At Moreh's request, his friend -- one of the Iraqis who mourns the destruction of Iraq's Jewish culture and dreams of its restoration -- visited the neighborhood where he grew up, and photographed the building and the Meir Taweig Synagogue, where he prayed as a boy. Moreh said the people who go on these documentation missions are private individuals who often do so at risk to their own lives.

Moreh is not the only one who is concerned. Officials of the World Organization of Libyan Jews tell of the attempts at documentation of what is left of the Jewish heritage sites in Libya. "During [President Moammar] Gadhafi's time, we were in contact with the authorities and also with journalists who visited Libya. They photographed the remains of cemeteries and ancient public institutions," Libyan historian Yaakov Hajaj-Lilof, who runs the Institute for the Research and Study of Libyan Jewry, said.

Gadhafi, he said, engaged for many years in the confiscation of Jewish property, the destruction of Jewish cemeteries and the transformation of synagogues into mosques. But during the last few years of his regime, when he was trying to curry favor with the West, he met with representatives of Libyan Jewry and held talks for the payment of compensation to Jews who were not citizens of Israel. A visit by MK Moshe Kahlon to Libya was also reportedly discussed, but never took place.

But all memory of Jewish life in Libya was almost wiped out under Gadhafi's regime. Cemeteries were destroyed over the locals' desire to used the tombstones as building materials, and synagogues were turned into mosques or public buildings. When I visited Libya in 2005, I saw the destroyed, abandoned cemeteries in the city of Zliten, roughly 70 kilometers (40 miles) from Tripoli. "When the armed gangs started taking control of Libya after the overthrow and murder of Gadhafi, there was nothing to save anymore," one of the people involved in the talks with Gadhafi at the time, said.




While concerned members of the Damascus Jewry Organization in Israel are following events in Syria closely, they prefer not to expand documentation efforts, which are evidently focused on the few Jews still living in the war-torn country. Several year ago, Moshe Shemer, the editor of the journal Mi-kan U-mi-sham ("From Here and There"), kept track of the renovation projects in the Jewish Quarter in Damascus, where boutique hotels and restaurants began springing up. Now he is worried that the remnants of a once-magnificent community could go up in the flames.

Local residents have begun documentation and preservation projects despite the war. Such actions are taken by lovers of culture, archaeology students and ordinary citizens who fear for the fate of their country's cultural heritage. In his article "It's Not Too Late to Save Syria's Cultural Heritage" published in Foreign Policy Journal, Franklin Lamb, author of the book "Syria's Endangered Heritage," wrote about efforts by the Syrian regime and local volunteers in the area to document the damage caused to ancient sites , as well as the efforts to renovate the Umayyad mosque and the magnificent Crusader castle known as Krak des Chevalier in western Syria.

Lamb is known for his connections with the Syrian regime and to Hezbollah in Lebanon -- a fact that might account for the lack of any mention of Jewish sites in his article. But the Facebook pages in English and Arabic that the article mentions contain information about the demolished synagogue in Jobar and other places. The Syrians themselves say that in some cases, there is no way to examine the sites, which have now turned into battlefields. In other cases there are reports of damage, but no funding or experts to help in reconstruction efforts.
Like many places in the Middle East, Syria has not yet been thoroughly studied, and pirate archaeological digs by interested parties looking for Crusader-era treasure, could severely damage Syria's past and future, according to a blogger who calls himself Ibn Haleb.


Read article in full

An Israeli visits Ezekiel's tomb

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Abuhatzeira tomb might be closed

 The contentious Jewish pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira in the Nile Delta could become a thing of the past if an Egyptian court rules that the shrine be de-listed as a heritage site and the Rabbi's remains be transferred to Israel. (And yet the Egyptian authorities balk at transferring movable Jewish property, such as communal registers). From Elder of Ziyon:
A young pilgrim to Rabbi Abuhatzeira's tomb

CNN Arabic reports that an Egyptian court set November 24 as the date for a hearing on the issue of the annual pilgrimage by Jews to to the burial place of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira, a prominent Jewish leader in the 19th century.

The administrative court in Alexandria will pass judgment in the lawsuit demanding an end to the Jewish celebration of Rabbi Abuhatzeira.

The lawsuit demands the removal of the shrine from the official list of Egyptian antiquities, and the transfer of his remains to Israel.

Lawyer Ahmed Attia said that "the Jews make this a new Wailing Wall for them in Egypt," charging that the celebration "includes acts contrary to the ethics of the Egyptian countryside and the Arab."

The Alexandria Court had ruled in 2001 to stop the celebration when villagers from around Damanhour complained. However, the Egyptian government overrode the court order and the celebrations continued up until the fall of the Mubarak government.


Read article in full

Egypt foils plot to kill Abuhatzeira pilgrims

Visitors to tomb raise ire in Egypt

Friday, October 31, 2014

Jews make a come-back in Arab novels

Arabs are now writing novels about Jews (irritatingly referred to here by the controversial phrase 'Arab Jew') - maybe because their communities are gone. Is it nostalgia for days gone by? Or a  more honest appraisal of the past? But still, they try to draw a distinction between 'their' Jews  and Israeli policies. Interesting blogpost in the Guardian.

More honest about history? Iraqi novelist  Ali Bader writes about the Farhud massacre of the Jews

For decades, Arab Jews went missing from Arabic films and novels. This loud absence followed the Jewish exodus from Cairo, Damascus and other cities around the region. Before the second world war, Jews had seemed an eternal part of the Arab cultural fabric. In the early 20th century, Baghdad’s Jews had made up one-third of the city’s population, and were prominent in the arts, commerce and city administration.

Things changed drastically in June 1941, when the riotous Farhud pogrom killed around 180 of Baghdad’s Jews and wounded closer to 1,000. Over the next decades, as the city’s Jewish residents emigrated or were driven out, they also disappeared from Iraqi narratives. But when acclaimed Iraqi novelist Ali Bader was searching for the origins of contemporary violence in Baghdad in his 2008 novel The Tobacco Keeper, he circled back to the Farhud massacres. From there, he depicted the city’s vibrant early-20th-century Jewish population.

Bader, who also wrote about the city’s Jewish population in his influential Papa Sartre, isn’t alone. Papa Sartre, published in 2001, was followed by more than 20 other novels and novellas that foreground Arabic-speaking Jews.

From the 1950s through the 1990s, if Arab Jewish characters appeared in Arabic novels, they were largely of two types. Either they’d been crafted by Arab Jews living in Israel, such as Sami Michael, or the characters reflected the situation of Israel and Palestine. The war and occupation “kidnapped … an important part of the Arab world history,” according to scholar Najat Abdulhaq. “And froze it.”

These stories remained largely frozen until about a decade ago, when films and novels that put ordinary Arab Jews in the spotlight began to appear, and were set in Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Algeria. Among these are Syrian novelist Ibrahim al-Jubain’s Diary of a Damascus Jew (2007), Egyptian novelist Mutaz Fatiha’s The Last Jews of Alexandria (2008), Yemeni Ali al-Muqri’s The Handsome Jew (2009), and Algerian Amin Zaoui’s The Last Jew of Tamentit (2012), written in French.

These novels have been coming from across the region. “And I don’t think that the writers had an agreement among each other – that they had a workshop and then decided, ‘Come on, we’re going to write novels about it!’” Abdulhaq said at a talk this summer.

Most of the novels are set in the middle of the last century and are based on true stories. “Lastness” is a central trope. A cynic might say that it’s now possible to write about Arab Jews because their communities are gone.

But Bader, who was perhaps the first of this new wave, says he was intentionally writing against official regime history. In 2001, Bader said in an email: “Political discourse in Iraq was designed to legitimize the [Ba’athist] revolution, by denigrating systematically the previous eras.” This included the denigration of Jews and other minorities. “All my novels try to invalidate the official version of the history,” Bader said.

Other authors have had other motivations. Egyptian novelist Kamal Ruhayyim, who grew up in Giza and well-to-do Maadi, worked as a police officer in Cairo and Paris. When he began to write novels, he turned not to crime scenes, but to memories of his Jewish neighbours. According to his son Ahmed, Ruhayyim wanted Egyptians to remember this important part of their history. He also wanted them to understand the difference between Jewish communities and Israeli policies.

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