Tuesday, June 30, 2009
"Only a small number of misinformed people are not tolerant of religions other than Islam," says Himyar Abdallah, a traffic police officer in Raida. "Most of us treat the Jews here as we would treat any other fellow citizens, with dignity and respect."
"Reactions over the death sentence vary," he adds. "While many are pessimistic, others are worried of violent reactions, especially after some people tried to attack the judge that passed the verdict."
Many Muslim Yemenis do not differentiate between the Jews in Yemen and the Jews that occupy what has come to be known as Israel. During a performance at a recent graduation ceremony in Sana'a, a theatrical play promoting the unity of Yemen depicted a Jewish soldier as the source of conflict between Aden and Sana'a.
Often when tensions rise in Palestine or even in Iraq, the Jews of Yemen bear the brunt of conflict.
Increasing hostilities have prompted a number of Yemenis Jews to leave the country.
The latest three families, two were from Al-Nahari's family making up a total of 17 people, which arrived in Israel the same day the death sentence was passed.
An estimated 300-400 Jews remain in Yemen, a country where minorities, including the Akhdam, are not very well tolerated.
Although the government boasts support and tolerance to the Jews, it has been slow to fulfill its promise of providing them with safe havens.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh has proposed that the 45 Jewish families in the farming communities of Kharif and the nearby town of Raida in Amran governorate are moved 50 miles southeast to Sana'a, where they can be better protected. He has offered them free plots of land to build homes.
Abraham Yahya, leader of the Jewish community in Sana'a says, "I have been to many countries including the US and Canada, but I love my country."
The same day a Yemeni appeals court handed a death sentence to Abdul-Aziz Al-Abdi for shooting dead Masha Al-Nahari in December. "All we want is the execution of Allah's judgment," he says.
Following threats to the Yemenite Jewish community, the umbrella body of North American Jewish Federation's plans to evacuate almost half of Yemen's Jewish community to the US over the next two weeks, according to The Jerusalem Post.
But the Jewish Agency's Aliya Department director Eli Cohen used the opportunity to call on "all the Jews of Yemen to come to Israel and not to anywhere else in the world," a reference to the United States.
Zionism is the ideology behind "aliya," which means the immigration of Jews to the "Land of Israel," not anywhere else in the world.
Israel defines itself as a Jewish state and offers citizenship to Jews from anywhere in the world, including Yemen, although it continues to refuse the right of return of the Palestinian refugees forced from their homes during the fighting that saw Israel come into existence in 1948.
Freedom of religion and non-discrimination are fundamental principles to strengthening any society. Misinformed community leaders and mosque preachers, promote hatred towards Jews, unbeknownst to them that they are sowing seeds of hatred and discrimination in Yemeni society.
However, not all perceive the Jewish society in Yemen with the same contempt. Religious tolerance is sometimes evident as in the Muslim Charitable Society for Social Welfare when it provided the less fortunate Yemeni Jews in Amran with clothes and gifts for the celebration of Passover in April.
Read article in full
Monday, June 29, 2009
The San Francisco Chronicle has this important feature by Brooke Anderson on the pitiful remnant of Syria's Jews. The Syrian government needs to show it is treating its Jews well to gain favour with the US government, but few would publically flaunt their faith:
"Even though most of his friends and relatives have left, Albert Cameo says he will never abandon Syria.
"My family has always been here," said Cameo, 68, a retired tailor and president of Syria's estimated 200-member Jewish community. "It's important for some of us to stay here to keep our traditions."
Most Jewish Syrians left in waves after the creation of Israel in 1948 and the enactment of harsh Syrian laws barring them from owning property, withdrawing funds from bank accounts and traveling.
"If they had let Jews go back and forth, no one would have left," said Joey Allaham, 34, who visited Syria last summer for the first time since leaving in 1992.
Like Allaham, who owns a chain of restaurants in New York, many Syrian Jews migrated to the United States. But others are scattered around the globe, residing in Europe, Israel and Latin America. Those who stayed behind say they did so because of advanced age, health issues, reluctance to move or unwillingness to face an uncertain future.
Today, a reporter must solicit permission from both the ministry of information and Syrian intelligence service to visit the lone functioning synagogue in the old Jewish Quarter in Damascus, which at its height had some 20 temples. The neighborhood is characterized by abandoned and dilapidated buildings and shuttered storefronts.
"It is very depressing to walk down the empty streets," said Allaham.
Most Jews are elderly and many residents are Palestinians, some of whom still pay rent to expatriate Jewish landlords through the United Nations.
Ahmad Ghaneim, a Palestinian Muslim, says most of his Jewish neighbors left in 1992 after the late President Hafez Assad lifted a 45-year travel restriction on Jewish Syrians, which marked the last wave of Jewish emigration from the country.
"It was very difficult when they left because they were my good friends," Ghaneim recalled. "When one family left, their relatives followed."
On many Saturday mornings, a visitor can find as many as a dozen people praying at the lone synagogue under the protection of police security. And when Amin Halwani, a 53-year-old tailor, left a recent service with his skullcap still atop his head, a police officer reminded him to take it off to avoid attracting attention on the streets.
"Thirty years ago, life was difficult. If the police walked by our house, we trembled. That's why people left," recalled 70-year-old Rachel Cameo, Albert's sister. "Now, they are here to protect us. Everything is easier."
In a recent e-mail message, Imad Moustapha, Syrian ambassador to the United States, told The Chronicle that "all properties owned by Syrian Jews have been left untouched for when they choose to visit or return."
Some observers see a political motive for the police protection and comments by the ambassador.
The government of President Bashar Assad - Hafez Assad's son - is well aware that persecution of the nation's remaining Jews could create international pressure at a time when he is seeking rapprochement with the United States and a possible peace deal with Israel.
To date, few Syrian Jews have accepted the invitation to return home.
Allaham says returning to Syria would be impractical for him and others who have established careers and families abroad.
And Ephraim Gabbai, associate rabbi at the Syrian congregation Magen David in lower Manhattan, says many are still afraid to return no matter what the Syrian government says.
"I would be scared to reveal my faith publicly," he said.
Stanley Urman, executive editor of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, a New York coalition of 27 Jewish organizations, says any peace agreement with Israel should include the issue of compensation for Syrian Jews who left clandestinely during the long travel ban. The World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, a group affiliated with Urman's coalition, estimates the value of confiscated Jewish property throughout the Arab world at more than $100 billion.
"It's a matter of principle," said Urman. "Elements on both sides need reconciliation."
In 2007, Urman's group lobbied the U.S. Congress to pass House Resolution 185, which granted first-time-ever recognition to Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The resolution affirms that the U.S. government must recognize that all victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict be treated equally when negotiating peace agreements.
Meanwhile, Rachael Cameo hopes some Jews will return and help restore the Jewish Quarter to its former glory.
"In the afternoon, people would sit outside their front doors with coffee and sweets," she recalled with sad nostalgia. "They would dress well just to visit each other."Read article in full
*Associate rabbi Ephraim Gabbai, although himself of Egyptian and Iraqi parents, speaks for his US Syrian congregation
Sunday, June 28, 2009
No, this show of support for anti-government protesters is not in Teheran, but the Israeli town of Holon, where demonstrators are somewhat safer. Note that the interviewee Kamal Penhasi estimates Jews in Iran to number no more than 17,000. Via Babylon and beyond blog:
The show of support was organized by Kamal Penhasi, the Iranian-born editor of Shahyad, the only Persian-language magazine published in Israel. "We speak from the throats of the entire Iranian people, whose voices are being silenced by the censorship of the regime that is killing people on the streets …we are part of the Iranian people and want to tell them we are with them. Enough of this regime; the Iranian people deserve their freedom," he said at the demonstration.
Penhasi left Iran shortly after the Islamic Revolution. "I saw what happened in 1979; today's events remind me of that revolution," he said. "This is the great spark in the direction of the big revolution." Penhasi says the regime likes to show that it is strong, but in reality it is crumbling from within. "The people of Iran want their freedom and have taken to the streets to prove it." The young generation in Iran knows exactly what's happening in the outside world, they view Israel as a second paradise on Earth after the U.S. in terms of freedom, he says. Acknowledging that "30 years of brainwashing" have damaged Iranians' sympathy to Israel, Penhasi still believes it's there.
Penhasi has been publishing Shahyad for 19 years. Each month, 2,000 copies of the magazine are printed and it is read by many others online in Israel and elsewhere, including Iran. Besides news and culture, the website serves Penhasi for outreach, for preserving the connection with Iran, keeping an open channel for information and dialogue and documenting the Jewish community's history. Once, he undertook a project to document all the streets in Israel that have Persian- or Iranian-related names and posted them on the website. Iranians were astonished that the Zionist state has so many sites recognizing Iran.
And some repay him in kind, sending him information and pictures from Jewish sites such as cemeteries, including exclusive pictures from the tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamadan. For years, he has collects documentation on the Jews of Iran, with hopes of one day establishing a heritage center. If only the many organizations of Iranian Jews in Israel were better organized and budgeted, this would be possible, he says sighing, envious of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center.
Many still have family among the 15,000-17,000 Jews still living in Iran. It's not always simple and not always safe but there is contact. These days, Penhasi is more plugged in than ever -- but not only with Jews. Phone, e-mails, chats -- he has a constant stream of real-time news, some of it exclusive that he shares with the local press.Iranian Jewry 'hostages' in case of Israeli military action
Friday, June 26, 2009
Long feature article in the Jerusalem Post about Essaouira (Mogador), which once had as many Jewish as Arab inhabitants. Now it has fewer than 10 Jews, plenty of tourists, but no culture:
Josef Sebag says he has a fine life in his native Essaouira, though he has no friends here. This retail-artisan heaven for tourists on Morocco's southern Atlantic coast is a town unique in the Arab world for its history of Jewish-Muslim relations.
He is often in his casbah antiques and book store, just off the large main square and next to the hippest night spot in town. Sebag does not hang out in the rooftop Taros Café, but does spend a good amount of time in London, Paris and New York. Something about living in Western cultural capitals suits him. He has friends there.
Visitors come to see him, from France, Canada and Israel, but most tourists are not insiders in Essaouira, known as "Souira" to the locals. The Moroccan Arabs call him "el yahoudi" (the Jew) but Sebag says it is never meant nastily. He is as Moroccan and Souiri as they are, and they know it. His family has been in Morocco since fleeing the Spanish Inquisition.
His store is a must for British, Australian, American and French tourists, as well as for surfers from all over and for increasing numbers of Israelis, especially the ones born in Morocco who don't come as part of organized tour groups.
Most Moroccan and foreign Arabs do not come to his store, though it has nothing to do with Sebag's being a Jew. An exception is certain Arab authors who leave their poetry and prose with him, a sign of respect, as they know he carries few Arabic-language books.
"I know everyone born and raised here but have few friends," he begins in French. "What can we talk about - art, literature? No, we can't. The local people are more concerned about making money in their stores and restaurants than reading. Some do very well here in Souira, but many have never been out of Morocco."
Sebag is one of some 4,000 Jews still living in Morocco, mostly in Casablanca, but that is another story. He and his ailing mother are two of perhaps four - or seven or eight, depending on whom you ask - Jewish Essaouira natives left from a community that has lived here since 1760.
Essaouira used to be an example of a small Arab town in which Muslims and Jews lived side by side in both rich and poor districts, working together but socially segregated - and in peace. It was unique because there were almost as many Jews as there were Muslims, so the term "minority" did not really apply, as it did in every other town and city in Morocco and everywhere in the Arab world.
Aside from ownership of the land in and around the town, which always remained in the hands of the caids and makhsen - local landed gentry and royal family clans - most urban-style import-export business was dominated by Jewish families.
The one exception was all artisan work connected to wood, directly linked to the vast forests around the town. But as an example, from the very beginning of royal trading in the 18th century, the Corcos family dominated the import of tea leaves from Britain, which originated from its Far East colonies, and was thus responsible for making tea the traditional morning beverage in Morocco.
Essaouira's last Jews began to leave following the Six Day War. Many of the working-class families left the mellah, the Jewish district in Arab cities, for Israel. The casbah's well-off business leaders headed mostly to France and Canada. But thousands of Jews remain here, buried in two cemeteries on the edge of town, including Rabbi Haim Pinto, whose tomb thousands of Jews from abroad visit every September in a hiloula, a pilgrimage.
Today, real estate and tourism are booming in Essaouira, but the boom has little to do with the Jewish world, other than a few very active key players. The same is true for the music festivals, including the Gnawa Festival in June that draws up to 400,000 mostly Western visitors.
"There are leading Moroccan Arab families here making a lot of money with French firms in construction and tourism-linked activities in general, and that is grand for them and for the town," Sebag says, "but let's say that aside from the music festivals, culture is limited. Jews here were always a bridge between small-town Muslim society and the Western world. There were very few tourists here. Now the opposite is true. The Jews are gone, but Souira is a tourist center."
Thursday, June 25, 2009
"Allow me to briefly introduce myself. My name is Israel Bonan, I am a Mizrahi Jew. I was born in Cairo, Egypt in the mid 1940s. I was expelled from Egypt in 1967, and left with a torn shirt on my back, and a pair of mangled glasses, broken intentionally, on my face, and with very little else.
"I am considered by any descriptive measure, a bona fide "refugee", a designation echoed by the United Nation High Commissioner of Refugees UNHCR, on behalf of the more than 800,000 displaced Mizrahi Jews fleeing the Arab countries (expressed twice, in 1957 and subsequently in 1967). I currently reside in the Boston area in the US.
"I have been familiar with Mr. Shasha's views for quite sometimes now, and I find it disquieting that his positions, which run contrary to the factual history of the era and the conventional wisdom of the Mizrahi community, or as he prefers to call us "the Arab Jews", are taken as representative, when they are not.
"It never ceases to amaze me, that Mr. Shasha who likes to refer to himself as an Arab Jew, though born in the US, has such a meager understanding, of the history of the era and about what constitutes a refugee or to dwell with any depth about their lot. Be that as it may.
"I find that Mr. Shasha's logic and the common thread in his writings, have always consisted of three major assertions; making his discourse monotonously predictable and invariably repetitive.
"One, life was always rosy for the Jews living in Arab lands and Israel's creation, as a cataclysmic watershed event, is the only cause for disrupting such an idyllic life.
"Two, Israel as a product of an Ashkenazi culture, that is European by nature, has always suppressed, repressed and maligned the Mizrahi community and treated them as second class citizens; though they do represent, according to Shasha, the most effective group to undertake any peace initiative and dialog with the Arabs, having shared their culture, albeit without the author postulating any specific ideas as to the who, the why, the what, the when or for that matter, the how.
"Finally, and he shares that notion with his counterpart (and much quoted resource in his writings) Professor Yehuda Shenhav; that it is unconscionable nay, immoral, to compare the plight of the Mizrahi Jews with that of the Palestinian Refugees.
"Once again in the cited article, he did not disappoint, neither did he deviate from his usual template, but merely continued his revisionist approach to the Mizrahi historical narrative.
"Extremism by its very nature does not allow for a tempered view of events or for cogent reflective analysis. The end result is always black or white; so regardless of how carefully and temperately Mr. Shasha seems to preface his views, the end result is always the same … black or white, all or nothing.
"It is strange to note that in Mr. Shasha's attempt at historical fairness and balance, he used the following 26 words, in an article of more than 3300 words: :
"Some arrived of their own free will; others arrived against their will. Some lived comfortably and securely in Arab lands; others suffered from fear and oppression.
That was the extent of defining what really happened to the Mizrahi Jews in an article titled: "Why the Jews left Arab lands," and you know what, Mr. Shasha is right!! Now if we can only take those 26 words and flesh them out a bit more with the historical facts of the matter, we get a totally different unfolding narrative that is not steeped in demonizing a country or a refugee class, or in cataclysmically defining some watershed events while glossing over others.
I took pains to chronicle my own personal Exodus ordeal, in "A Personal Exodus Story" after more than 35 years of silence. Shasha wrote:
It is curious that in a world that has largely ignored the voices of Arab Jews, the few we hear are filled with anger, resentment and hostility toward Arabs.
I invite Mr. Shasha to read it and to tell me, how much hate he can attribute to me vis-à-vis my Egyptian tormentors or Arabs in general, after reading it. By my accounting, none; yet I will let him be the judge. It is not hate, nor rancor or anger that motivates us to speak out as the "Forgotten Refugees". It is done out of fairness not retribution, it is about justice after having our human rights trampled upon and above all to record our own history that should not be denied us.
In a co-authored article with Dr. Rami Mangoubi titled: "Zionism for the ages", we rebutted the first two of Shasha's stated positions and in my article titled: "The Banana Jews"I took Professor Shenhav to task in rebuttal to his article "Hitching a ride on the magic carpet" about the third topic you both share.
In a nutshell, and again I happen to agree with Mr. Shasha, the Jews of Egypt participated fully and in greater proportion to their numbers in all aspects of life in Egypt; they more than made their mark on the cultural and economic landscape of the country. Where we disagreed with David Shasha, is that he chose the watershed event of the creation of the State of Israel as the turning point without which life in Egypt (and ergo the rest of the Arab countries) would have remained idyllic.
Idyllic indeed, when law after law (as far back as 1869), before even Zionism was spoken of, was enacted to limit access to citizenship for the Jews of Egypt in the country of our birth. through successive Nationality decrees and laws (of 1929).
Idyllic indeed, when law after law was enacted, to economically ethnic cleanse the Jews and other minorities by passing the Company law (of 1947) to restrict Jews and other minorities from access to work in the private and public sectors.
Idyllic indeed, when the Nationalization law (of the mid 1950s) was enacted, to deprive the members of our community of their remaining assets and businesses. Lest I forget and be judged guilty of omission, many other minorities at the time also suffered through this ordeal.
We also touched on the issue of the class system that favored the Ashkenazi community over the Mizrahi community; only to find ourselves citing some top government leadership roles that are today studded and replete with Mizrahi Jews. Mr. Shasha, class struggles are just that, they are struggles to improve one's status and to raise the ante for the whole country to improve, through an honest and thriving competitive spirit; and it will always will be and better be, a work in progress; for everyone's sake.
In my rebuttal of the third point, I wrote at length of my experience and that of my parents' experience and about what a refugee is, because it is not about being an armchair apologist or being a Monday morning quarterback. It is about the suffering experienced, the dislocation, the angst associated with what was left behind and for one having to start rebuilding a life in one's old age. It is also about leaving behind a culture, a way of life and the familiar. Undoubtedly the older refugee generation has suffered, more so, than the younger one.
Are Mr Shasha and Professor Shenhav, neither of them refugees, being intentionally obtuse and blind to the fact that it is more than just assets and businesses that matter to a refugee, especially the ones who were left with nothing to call their own?
That takes me back again to the twenty-six words I alluded to earlier, and Shasha's attempt to cover all the bases for historical completeness. In the process Shasha saw only what he wanted to see and felt what he could only touch; the rest to Shasha, remained conceptual, at arm's length and clinically sterile.
As part of my public speaking educational campaign about the Mizrahi Jews "The Forgotten Refugees", I always stress the fact that the Middle East narrative has been one-sided for far too long and that our history needs to be disseminated. I also never neglect to touch on the issue of the two refugee populations, as a study in contrasts; the same event (the creation of the State of Israel), that affected two classes of refugees, The Mizrahi Jews, the "Forgotten Refugees" and the Palestinian refugees and what became of them, after the fact.
They both started undeniably with a lot of hardships. The Mizrahi Jews who left for Israel, had to live in tents and ma'abarot (refugee camps), but not for long and in the process they helped and were part and parcel of creating a new country.
The Mizrahi Jews who were resettled elsewhere, invariably found the Jewish community at large eager to help, to get them started in their new life and they rebuilt their lives in the country of their choice.
On the other hand the Palestinian refugees, for the most part, were denied absorption in the Arab countries; they were left in camps as wards of the UN for over 60 years and they passed their refugee status much like an inheritance to the fourth generation. All this dehumanizing behavior on the part of their Arab brethren was simply for political expediency and never once did the Palestinian refugees' dignity enter into anyone's consideration.
This is my narrative, this is my parent's narrative, this is the Mizrahi Jews' narrative and we will not be denied our history. It is pathetic to hear Shasha suggest that he speaks for me or for the Mizrahi Jews; his perspective is flawed and does not add much value to the historical narrative of the era. Indeed, as Shasha wrote:
"Arab Jewish voices have today largely been silenced, and with that silencing has come the lamentable absence of a perspective that could allow us to see the Middle East in different ways."
One last note, that is conspicuously absent from Shasha's writings, save for the inherent braggadocio vis-à-vis the Arabs. I again happen to share Shasha's notion, as I truly believe that the Mizrahi Jews are in a unique position to enhance the dialog between Israel and her Arab neighbors.
To resolve an ongoing feud, as ingrained in the Middle Eastern culture, both sides have to acknowledge and fully account for what they had done to each other. Admission and full accounting, is a prime imperative to reach a "sulha" or a sustainable peace. Yet we find the Arab governments in total denial about having harmed their Jewish communities.
Read post in full
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Excellent piece by Eric Trager in the Jewish Exponent. Instead of reinforcing the propaganda narrative that Israel is an interloper in the Middle East, President Obama's Cairo speech should have reminded the Arab and Musim world of their responsibility for antisemitism:
"But by limiting his discussion of Israeli history to a European genocide, the president reinforced the common Arab contention that Israelis are foreigners -- and that Israel is, therefore, a colonial entity. By emphasizing geographic displacement in his account of Palestinian suffering, Obama portrayed the Palestinians as indigenous to the Middle East.
"Ultimately, this contrast implies an anti-Zionist narrative: that the Palestinians have paid a tremendous price for crimes committed against a foreign people in a foreign land. This account has long validated Palestinian "resistance" -- a word that Obama even used in his speech -- and undermined peace efforts.
"Portraying Israel as a foreign entity foisted upon a native Arab population isn't merely counterproductive; it's wrong. Israel's emergence is a product of Middle Eastern events, and Arabs have had a profound role in ensuring its existence. Since the late 1940s, virtually all of the Arab world's historic Jewish communities have been uprooted violently, with more than 800,000 Arab Jews fleeing to Israel for sanctuary. These refugees and their descendants comprise roughly half of Israeli Jews today.
"In the challenging task of building Muslim public support for Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, it is vital to remind Muslims of their responsibility for the anti-Semitism that made Israel's founding a moral necessity. Rather than speaking exclusively of the Holocaust, Obama should have told his Egyptian audience that the biggest synagogue in the Middle East, located in Alexandria, has stood virtually empty for decades because of eviction orders issued by Gamal Abdel Nasser's regime during the 1950s and '60s.
"He might have further challenged them to visit the synagogue on Adly Street in downtown Cairo, noting that a constant security detail is required to safeguard the religious rights of the five Jewish women who still worship there.
"Finally, Obama might have noted that fewer than 100 Egyptian Jews remain out of a population that once numbered 80,000 -- and that approximately 37,000 of these Jews sought refuge in Israel.
"To illustrate the anti-Semitism at the heart of the Muslim world's rejection of Israel, Obama might have highlighted the plight of Yemen's Jews. Though numbering a few hundred individuals -- down from a population of roughly 60,000 in 1948 -- Islamists have repeatedly threatened them with death and have subjected them to frequent violence.
"This situation forced 18 Jewish families in Saada -- in Yemen's northwest -- to relocate to the capital in 2007, where they've been kept in tight quarters under government supervision and subsist on welfare. According to reports, Yemen's Jews are considering immigration to Israel, but are reluctant to leave a community that historians believe has existed since the time of King Solomon.
"By noting the horrific mistreatment of Arab Jews during the 20th century -- and the continued abuse of Jews in certain parts of the Muslim world -- Obama could have emphasized that anti-Semitism was not strictly European.
"In turn, he would have provided a rarely heard rebuke to those who see Israel as a foreign entity, reinforcing that its emergence as an answer to anti-Semitism is also the product of its Middle East context. Instead, he chose to focus only on the European story of Israel's birth -- one that validates Arab rejection of Israel as a legitimate state, and therefore inhibits peaceful compromise."
The Jews have long gone from Afghanistan, but the synagogues of Herat are being restored, a reminder of a bygone age of religious diversity. Reuters reports (with thanks: binhaddou):
HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Behind a parade of old mud brick shops, through narrow winding alleys, a tiny door opens onto a sundrenched courtyard, where school children giggle and play alongside the ghosts of Afghanistan's Jewish past.
The Yu Aw is one of four synagogues in the old quarter of Herat city in west Afghanistan, which after decades of abandonment and neglect, has been restored to provide desperately-needed space for an infant school.
When Israel was founded in 1948, the estimated 280 Jewish families that lived in Herat began leaving. Today, there are no Jews left in the city and only one left in the entire country, the last remnant of a community that dates back some 2,500 years.
"Before this was a community centre and school it was a synagogue for the Jewish families who lived in the area," said Fatemeh Nezary, a teacher and supervisor of the school.
"The children don't know, they are too young to understand right now," she said, pointing towards her small class of doe-eyed five-year old girls and boys.
The Herat synagogue, over a century old, is comprised of a modest stone courtyard framed by a series of small rooms including a main prayer room which still has a raised platform where the torah would have been read.
Parts of the prayer room's high ceilings are decorated in painted Persian-style floral patterns and motifs.
The "mikvah", an echoey underground chamber underneath the courtyard, has also been restored. Decades of rubbish was gutted from its cavity to reveal a natural pool of water which is thought to have been used for bathing rituals.
"Wherever possible we try and put back the elements. We can't put back what we don't find, some of the buildings have been stripped," said Jolyon Leslie, a South African architect who leads restoration projects in Herat's old city on behalf of the Agha Khan Trust for Culture.
"What we're trying to do is protect as many old historical monuments as possible. Whether it's a mosque whether it's an ex-synagogue like this or whether it's a hamam, to try and put them in public use," Leslie said.
"It's important that Heratis understand for future generations that this was a very rich society in the sense of its religious diversity and it's pluralism," he added.
Where Jewish prayers once rang out, now Afghan children chant nursery rhymes. The platform where the torah would have been read is left undisturbed to bask in warm sunshine which floods through wide, arched bay windows. (...)
Afghanistan's once thriving community is believed to trace its roots to the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests in 720 B.C. and 560 B.C. when exiled Jews moved to what is now Iraq, Iran and neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan.
By 1992, when the Soviet-backed communist leadership in Kabul collapsed, the community disappeared from Herat. A few have since returned to re-visit the refurbished relics of their past.
"Jewish visitors from abroad, even Herat Jews from abroad, have come back to visit these places and there's a sense of them re-owning these properties and being very proud to see them restored," Leslie said.
He recalled a recent visit by a Herati Jewish family who had travelled from Canada to visit Yu Aw. They sobbed when they saw the restored synagogue.
A few kilometres away from the old quarter, an Afghan boy unlocks a heavy wrought-iron door to an open field where overgrown thorn bushes and weeds breed unchecked around craggy and windswept white marble tombs inscribed with Hebrew.
The family which has taken care of the cemetery for the past 150 years continue to do their best to protect it, but since Herat's Jews left, they are no longer paid for the work.
"When my grandfather worked here, they were still here and they gave him a salary. But then when the security situation got bad the last of them moved to London. And so our salary was stopped," Jalilahmed Abdelaziz said, adding that the cemetery contained about 1,000 graves.
Through three decades of conflict and the rule of the austere Islamist Taliban, Abdelaziz's family guarded the site, which is off a dirt track lined with Muslim cemeteries.
The Taliban, though responsible for harassing the family at times, resisted damaging the graves.
"The Taliban were not the worst of our problems. We had neighbours who would try and desecrate the graves or steal the stones, they were the worst, but we would tell them to stop and tell them what they were doing was unIslamic," Abdelaziz said.
"We knew all of the families here ... If they wanted to visit here they could, but they don't."
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The main protagonist in Shimon Ballas's novel Outcast is also a Jew who converted to Islam - based on the true case of an Iraqi Jew called Ahmed Soussa. But, as in the case of my ayatollah ancestor, the conversion does not resolve his conflicted identity. At the Cambridge conference Jews of Arab culture, I listened to two young Israeli Jewish students of literature wrestle with their identity as 'Arab Jews' . Yuval Evri (original family name before Hebraicisation: El-Arab) felt he inhabited a frontier land of hyphenated identity; Almog Behar had gone so far as to learn Arabic so that he could write poetry in that language.
Behar's model here appears to be the late Samir Naqqash, who as an 'Iraqi writer in exile' resolutely continued to write in Arabic after arriving in Israel.
What these young Israelis of Arab origin fail to realise is that the Arabic culture and language of their grandparents is not the same culture and language as practised by their Arab Muslim and Christian brethren in Israel. Samir Naqqash's references were profoundly Jewish, and the language he wrote in - Iraqi Jewish-Arabic dialect - was not wholly intelligible to an Arab audience. (Attempting to help out the poverty-stricken Naqqash, the author Khaled Kishtainy once suggested Naqqash place his writings in the Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq- al Awsat. But Naqqash had to give up as no reader could understand his pieces).
Ironically enough the last repositories of Arabic culture in Israel turn out to be the synagogues. As Meyrav Rosenfeld-Hadad explained at the Cambridge conference, the Tiferet haMizrah orthodox male voice choir turns popular songs by Um Kalthum and other famous Arab singers into paraliturgical songs of devotion to God.
It is one thing to have an affinity with Arabic culture and language; it is another for Jews to embrace an Arab identity - and the conference deliberately, and for ideological reasons, blurred the distinction between Jews and Arabs in Israel. But to no avail. The problematic expression 'Arab Jew' has already been the focus of this blog here, here and here. Aside from the fact that most Jewish communities predate the Arab- Muslim conquest and that many Middle Eastern communities do not consider themselves Arabs (Berbers, Kurds, Assyrians, Copts), an Arab identity seems so passe now that the era of pan-Arabism is dead and that so many 'Arabs' now identify, first and foremost, as Muslims.
The bottom line is that Jews are not Arabs. Young Israelis given to romanticism about Arabic literature and language have been insulated from the Arab and Muslim antisemitism their grandparents experienced. This is why even the children of a Jewess married to a Muslim are still taunted as 'children of a Jew'. That is why my ayatollah ancestor returned to the fold.
A Jew is a Jew is still a Jew.
Monday, June 22, 2009
The National reports:
SANA’A: A former military pilot who shot dead a Jewish teacher last December was sentenced to death by an appeals court yesterday.
While the verdict was welcomed by the family of the victim, relatives and tribesmen of the convict were irate, and described the verdict as “shameful”.
“We consider the verdict a triumph for Islam, [a religion] that treats people equally and a correction for the primary court scandal,” said Khalid al Anisi, who represented the family of Moshe Yaish al Nahari, who was killed last December.
The prosecution had demanded the death sentence for Abdulaziz Yahia al Abdi, 39, who confessed to killing al Nahari, a Hebrew teacher and father of nine, following a warning by al Abdi that Jews should convert to Islam or leave the area.
The appeals court judge, Ahmed al Badani, and his two assistant judges, Mohammed al Jindari and Abdulmalik Sharafeddin, overturned the primary court verdict, which ordered last March that al Abdi pay the victim’s family US$27,500 (Dh100,925) in blood money.
Al Abdi originally escaped the death sentence after the primary court judge ruled he was mentally ill.
The appeals court judges said the convicted man killed al Nahari in daylight, admitting before the court that he had planned the murder in advance.
Upon hearing the ruling, al Abdi said: “This verdict honours me.” The father and wife of the victim were the only members of the Jewish community who attended the ruling session, and his father described the verdict as just.
“This is fair and this is Islamic Sharia [law]. I am happy about this verdict. I know it will not bring back my sole son, but at least it will relieve us that justice has been made,” said Yaish al Nahari, father of the victim, as he wept.
Al Abdi’s tribal relatives were infuriated by the verdict, which they described as unfair for sentencing a Muslim to death for killing a Jew. Some even said this is against Sharia. (My emphasis)
They besieged the court premises and refused to allow the victim’s family and the judges to leave.
“This is unfair and shameful as Abdulaziz suffers from psychological problems. The primary court has proved that. We will challenge this verdict,” said Sheikh Hamud al Abdi, an elder brother.
The verdict, said Mr al Anisi, will restore confidence in the fairness of the judiciary.
“It is the first court verdict that gives the death penalty for a Muslim [murdering a Jew] since the 1980s.
“Usually tribal dignitaries used to interfere and exercise pressure on the Jewish families of the victims to accept tribal arbitration, ending with blood money.
But this is also the first case in which the killing of a Jew is motivated by extremist religious views,” Mr al Anisi said.
Jews in Rydah and Kharif districts in Amran province have complained that they have received death threats and other forms of harassment, including having hand grenades thrown at their houses, particularly after the latest Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip. About 400 Jews live in the town, 60km from Sana’a, the capital.
Mr al Anisi, who volunteered to represent al Nahari’s family, expressed concern over a potentially violent backlash from the convicted man’s family.
“The relatives of the convict besieged the court building and refused to let the judges and father and wife of the victim to leave. They even threatened them.
“Police escorted them to their house and I went with them to make sure they arrived home peacefully. Another police car escorted the judge,” said Mr al Anisi.
“It is the task of the authorities to protect the Jews from any angry reactions. It is this way the authorities can demonstrate respect to the ruling.”
However, the family of the victim is making its own arrangements to permanently move to the capital Sana’a in fear of any possible backlash.
“We are very happy about this verdict and we want the execution of the killer, but I am expecting harassment as a result.
“We are making arrangements to leave Amran to Sana’a as we have heard the tribesmen here are going to protest against the ruling,” said a relative of the Jewish victim on condition of anonymity for security reasons. Following reports of the threats against the Jews after the murder of al Nahari, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, discussed with Jewish community leaders a plan to relocate Yemen’s remaining 200 to 300 Jews from Amran to Sana’a, where each Jewish family would receive a plot of land, the state-run Saba news agency has reported.
However, some Jews, including the Rabbi Yahia bin Yaish, said there was nothing new or acceptable about this relocation plan.
Others Jews, however, did not wait for further details of the plan and decided to migrate to Israel.
Said bin Yisrael, the head of the Jewish community in Rydah, and his eight children and wife arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv last February following hate attacks.
Read article in full
Three families leave for Israel (Jerusalem Post)
Haaretz article (with thanks: Lily)
Sunday, June 21, 2009
So far, so very 'interfaith'. Several respected Israeli academics, some with international reputations, are due to give papers. The conference also features a slew of Arab academics. Any event that spotlights Jewish-Arab interaction and cultural interchange must be a good thing.
But on closer examination, something appears very odd. The conference time-frame begins not 1,000 years ago, when Jews first began to interact with Muslims following the Arab Muslim conquest, but in 1948, when the mass exodus of Jews from Arab countries was in full train. By 2009, almost no Jews live in the Arab world.
The conference has deliberately chosen to focus on Israel, where most Jews of Arab culture have ended up. Its message is clear: Israel has 'de-arabised' Jews from Arab countries. They have been stripped of their Arabic culture. (For good measure, the conference throws in a couple of sessions on Palestinian literature in Israel. No doubt, the conference will also show how Israel has suppressed Palestinian Arab culture.) Conclusion: Jews must re-connect with their 'Arabic roots' and their Arab brothers and together throw off the oppressive Zionist yoke.
Some of the Jewish lecturers are well-known leftists or advocates of Jewish-Muslim coexistence on Arab terms:
Yosef Tobi, an Israeli of Yemeni origin, would like to return to the Golden Age of Spain. He denies that Yemeni Jews were mistreated before the 15th century. Therafter persecution had more to do with the 'general breakdown of law and order than an exclusive anti-Jewish sentiment'.
Almog Behar, author of the poem Ana min al yahoud, has argued that the Arabic language is intrinsic to Jewish identity.
Sassoon Somekh, an ex-communist emeritus professor of Arabic literature, has produced a new theory in which 250 Muslims died saving Jews in the 1941 Iraqi pogrom known as the Farhoud: the Farhoud thus ceases to be an anti-Jewish event.
Ami Elad-Bouskila has published works on the 'Israeli hegemonic cultural predisposition' towards modern Palestinian literature and culture.
Rachel Shabi (tbc), author of Not the enemy, a chronicle of discrimination and cultural suppression of Mizrahim by Ashkenazim in Israel.
Jonathan Mendel,founder of the Cambridge Musta'arabim Unit whose mission is 'Re-arabising the de-arabised'.
Sadly, this conference looks like it will be another Israel-bashing exercise masquerading as an 'interfaith' initiative.
The real issue here is: why does the conference programme studiously avoid discussing the persecution and 'ethnic cleansing' of Jews from the Arab world? Why does it intend to deny their suffering? Why are there no Jewish authors or poets still living in Baghdad or Cairo? Why are there only seven Jews still in Iraq of a community of 150,000? That is a hard truth that Prince Talal and his Cambridge collaborators probably do not yet feel brave enough to confront.
Postscript: from one day's attendance the conference was not as 'political' as feared. Much discussion was mainly about language and literature. The session with Rachel Shabi, with her allegations of discrimination againt Mizrahim, attracted much criticism from the floor, which she took gracefully; Yosef Tobi (perhaps unfairly maligned above) and Shmuel Moreh represented mainstream Israeli opinion and scholarship.
The Forward reveals that there are some 600 Tzadikim (righteous men) buried in Morocco. Alyson Klayman joined a Hiloula (pilgrimage) of 75 Moroccan Jews to the tomb of David Dra'a to test his magical powers (with thanks binhadoo):
As our rundown Mercedes puttered past the olive groves and wheat fields of Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, our taxi driver, Mohammed, pulled off the dirt road to ask a shepherd for directions.
“Do you know how to find David Dra’a?”
I was skeptical that the Arab shepherd would be able to lead us to the tomb of an obscure kabbalist rabbi, but he knowingly pointed us forward, higher into the peaks.
Rabbi David Halevy, from the Dra’a area 60 miles northeast of Marrakech, is one of more than 600 tzadikim (righteous men) buried in Morocco who are recognized by local Jews as saints. My brother and I were looking for Halevy’s grave because this June weekend was his hiloula, when Moroccan Jews visit a tzadik’s grave to light candles and pray for health and prosperity, usually on the anniversary of his death.
Morocco lost more than 95% of its Jewish population to immigration in the past half-century. But many who have moved abroad return for hiloulas, like 32-year-old David Ruimy, a meat seller from Jerusalem who visits Morocco once a year to pray at Halevy’s tomb.
“The tzadik can perform miracles,” Ruimy told us when we arrived. Ruimy had an encyclopedic knowledge of the wonders Halevy had performed from beyond the grave. He said that the tzadik once visited a man’s dream to tell him to look in his cupboard. In the morning, the man found $200 there, exactly the amount needed to open his business. Another story was about a baby who was accidentally smothered under a pile of blankets. Her family rested her lifeless body on the tzadik’s grave, shut the door to the tomb and prayed. Minutes later, they heard her cries.
“That baby was my Aunt Bida,” Ruimy said.
Ruimy’s entire extended family was in attendance at this hiloula, continuing a 65-year-old tradition that began with his grandmother, who lived in Marrakech. His parents’ generation, the 14 brothers and sisters of the Sebbag clan who still live in Morocco, have been coming their whole lives.
“Many Jews have left Morocco, but my family stayed,” Ruimy said. “Now we probably make up around 90% of the people at this hiloula, but in the past we were just a small fraction. Twenty-five, 30 years ago, there would be almost five or six hundred people.”
The Sebbags’ success in Morocco is evident in the way they are investing in the hiloula site, turning the crumbling shacks into newly renovated vacation homes with fresh pink paint, flower planters and, most important, indoor plumbing. Unlike the Arab homes in the adjacent village, the rooftops here are crowned with Moroccan flags, an extra display of loyalty to the kingdom. The Moroccan Jewish community owns this land, which used to be occupied year-round by Jewish families and by a yeshiva just a few decades ago.
In the hours before the hiloula began, it felt like we were crashing a family reunion. Cousins ran in bathing suits down the path to the river, parents played cards and instructed Arab employees brought from Casablanca to help prepare the food. Hired local policeman watched over the group.
After the sunset, the air was electric with anticipation. People disappeared into the houses to change clothes. Ruimy returned, dressed in a brown djellaba, a traditional Moroccan loose robe with full sleeves and an oversized pointed hood. Many of his aunts and uncles were dressed similarly.
Jacky Kadoch, the usually severe-looking president of the Marrakech Jewish community, grabbed the microphone at the end of a 30-foot chord and transformed into the evening’s jaunty master of ceremonies. The hiloula head count grew to around 75 people, and latecomers who drove more than three hours from Casablanca filed into the plastic chairs in the front.
The hiloula began with an auction, first for the honor of opening the tomb and then for decorative candles to burn. The money goes toward the upkeep of the tomb, and a blessing was recited for the winner of each item. One at a time, Kadoch auctioned off 30 candles in French. “La première bougie! La deuxième bougie!” Each started with an opening bid of no less than 1,000 dirham ($125).
Wallets loosened with the nonstop flow of whiskey, and interludes of synthesized music in Hebrew and Arabic were broadcast over the mini public address system. Not surprisingly, most of the top bids came from members of the Sebbag family.
At one point, Daniel Sebbag, another of Ruimy’s uncles, created a ruckus on the sidelines when he whipped out his cell phone and all the children crowded around to look at the screen. He recently came on a private visit to the tomb and said the tzadik showed him an image, in the ashes of the fireplace, of an old man holding a baby. He took a photograph of the vision with his cell phone. His sister Bida, the woman revived by the tzadik as a baby, was particularly interested in seeing the picture.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Justice for Jews from Arab Countries took its case to the Italian Parliament on Tuesday. At a hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Fiamma Nirenstein, seven Italian deputies - a respectable turnout by all accounts - listened to presentations by Irwin Cotler, MP, ( pictured third from right) and Professor David Meghnagi*(fourth from left). Here is the JTA report:
ROME (JTA) -- There can be no lasting peace in the Middle East unless the claims of Jews displaced from Arab countries are redressed, Canada's former Justice Minister said.
The "exclusion and denial of rights and redress to Jewish refugees" from Arab and Muslim countries, Irwin Cotler told Italian lawmakers, "will prejudice authentic negotiations between the parties and undermine the justice and legitimacy of any agreement."
Cotler spoke Tuesday as part of a delegation of the Justice for Jews from Arab Countries organization, which presented its case to the Foreign Affairs Commission of Italy's Chamber of Deputies.
Some 850,000 Jews were driven out of Arab countries after the birth of Israel.
Cotler (pictured here with Levana Zamir, head of the Egyptian Jews' organisation in Israel), said a "revisionist Mideast narrative" continues to hold "that there was only one victim population, Palestinian refugees, and that Israel was responsible for the Palestinian Nakba [catastrophe] of 1948." This, he said, is "prejudicial to authentic reconciliation and peace between peoples as well as between states."
Cotler described "a double Nakba -- not only of Palestinian-Arab suffering and the creation of a Palestinian refugee problem, but also with the assault on Israel and on Jews in Arab countries, the creation thereby of a second, almost unknown, group of refugees, namely, Jewish refugees from Arab countries."He urged Italy to "use its voice, vote and participation in matters relating to issues of Mideast refugees to ensure that any reference to Palestinian refugees will include a similarly explicit reference to Jewish refugees from Arab countries."
Read article in full
*Point of No Return adds: in his presentation at the Italian Parliament Professor David Meghnagi lamented the cannibalisation of Jewish identity and the misuse of language in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict: "the words are ill - we must cure them", he said. The Palestinians used words like nakba or harsa to describe the catastrophe of their flight and defeat by Israel. In reality, though, the words described the genocide the Arabs had failed to inflict on Israel's Jews.
A survivor of the 1967 pogrom - the third to be directed against Libya's Jews - premeditated, with Jewish homes clearly marked out for attack - Professor Meghnagi appealed for Arabs and Jews to recognise their common humanity.
Coming from a musical family (his sister is the folk singer Miriam Meghnagi and his niece the opera singer Claire Meghnagi) Professor David Meghnagi, who teaches a Masters Degree course in Holocaust studies at Rome 3 University, is also collecting Jewish, Arabic and Christian music from Libya. At the close of the screening of The Forgotten Refugees for the Italian Jewish community on 16 June, he and Miriam sang a song the professor had composed himself, dedicated to the Jewish families butchered in the 1967 pogrom in Tripoli. They performed a second song in Arabic, originally sung by homeless Jews who sheltered in the main synagogue of Tripoli after the devastating 1945 pogrom. It expressed their yearning to go to Palestine. Tens of thousands of Libyan Jews fled as soon as they could when the state of Israel was declared in 1948.
Canadian Jewish News
Recording of parliamentary proceedings (Fiamma Nirenstein's blog)
Thursday, June 18, 2009
This interview by Karmel Melamed with US Iranian Jewish leader Frank Nikbakht in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles gives an insight into the current state of Iranian politics and how minorities are manipulated:
Q: From your knowledge, would Ahmadinejad or the supposed reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi be any different in their treatment of religious minorities such as Jews, Christians and Bahais living in Iran?
A: They don’t make a difference since both of these candidates have hardline histories in their fundamentalist loyalties to the discriminatory Islamic Republic of Iran constitution as well as documented anti-Israeli policies and military planning. Mousavi, for example was not only the initiator of the current nuclear program In Iran but he was among the leading officials as Prime Minister in the 1980s behind the creation of the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist group and the deployment of thousands of Revolutionary Guards in Southern Lebanon and Baalbek area.
Q:You are an Iranian Jew who knows first hand about the regime in Iran and its treatment towards Jews/minorities. What is the biggest misconception Americans have about the elections and the candidates running for the presidency there?
A:The biggest misconception among Americans is that they think the official government in Iran is actually a real policy making entity; it is not. There is another parallel government in Iran which is headed by the Supreme Leader Khamenei, complete with several major departments, which is the real government and policy making entity and which does not hold elections either. The official government is in charge of implementing major policy decisions of the higher authority and also tasked with minor policy making and the day to day business of the country.
Q: If the reformists are able to regain the presidency fromAhmadinejad, how will they be using Iran’s Jews to advance their own propaganda machine and their image in the West?
A:The “reformers” were the ones who initiated the using of minorities for major foreign propaganda, but Ahmadinejad took this to a higher level and was behind the continuous efforts for bringing sympathetic or bought off journalists to Iran to report on the “ideal” conditions of the religious minorities in Iran. Ahmadinejad, forced the removal of the old and obedient Jewish leadership in Iran since they finally refused to accept his Holocaust denying statements. The “reformers” as some in the West like to call them, will certainly do the same and appoint Jewish “representatives” according to their needs.
Update: has Roger Cohen seen the light? (with thanks: Tom Gross)
From the New York Times:
"I’ve argued for engagement with Iran and I still believe in it,
although, in the name of the millions defrauded, President Obama’s
outreach must now await a decent interval.
"I’ve also argued that, although repressive, the Islamic Republic
offers significant margins of freedom by regional standards. I erred
in underestimating the brutality and cynicism of a regime that
understands the uses of ruthlessness."
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
JERUSALEM, June 16 (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is prepared to resume peace talks with the Palestinians that would cover core issues like borders and refugees, his new envoy to Washington said on Tuesday.
But, in an interview with Reuters, ambassador Michael Oren cautioned that on the status of Jerusalem, which is also among "core" issues in the peace process, Netanyahu had a firm position that the city must be the undivided capital of Israel.
U.S. President Barack Obama wants Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks as soon as possible and has welcomed as positive Netanyahu's conditional endorsement this week of the goal of Palestinian statehood.
But it is unclear when negotiations over core issues will resume. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has ruled out resuming the negotiations until Netanyahu freezes building in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Resuming negotiations on core issues, particularly over the future of Jerusalem, could splinter Netanyahu's coalition government, where right-wing and religious parties are strongly opposed to acceding to Palestinians' demand for at least a part of the city as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
"The core issue would be, for example, the borders between us and the Palestinians," Oren said when asked which core issues would be discussed in future talks.
He said Netanyahu's demands that a future Palestinian state be demilitarised were another core issue.
"The refugee issue, both the Palestinian refugee issue, as well as the Jewish refugee issue -- the Jews who were forced out of Arab lands -- those are core issues," he added. (My emphasis)
Israel has long insisted it does not accept a Palestinian demand that refugees who fled in the war of Israel's creation in 1948 should be able to return to homes that are now in Israel.
It has also at times related calls for compensation for those refugees to the losses of Jews who lost homes in countries like Iraq, Iran, Morocco and Egypt after Israel was established.
Read article in full
I was actually writing an essay for a local newspaper regarding the need for establishing bilateral relations with Israel. My search on Jewish Communities in Pakistan brought me to your blog.
There are still many historic symbols here that remind us of a once prominent Jewish Community. I remember from my college days, my college's building constructed during British Raj in mid 1800s had a Star of David on one of its towers! Then, I always wondered how it came to be there. Later, I learnt that Jews were prominent here in all walks of life.
I'm in my mid 20s. I like many from my young generation sincerely hope that democracy takes root, so that extremists never get the chance to rise again in our country. Let me tell you that as Moslems, we have no grudges whatsoever against our Jewish fellows. In fact the Jews and Moslems lived like brothers in Pakistan. It was only in the 1960s that religious extremists motivated by Arab frenzy started making life difficult for our Jewish compatriots. But these religious extremists made life miserable for tolerant Pakistani Moslems as well. Today, we in our country are striving to get rid of religious extremism, once and for all!
I really hope that one day we will invite our Jewish compatriots back to their homes and synagogues in Pakistan. They were an integral part of our society and we really miss them!
Greetings from Pakistan.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Hallelujah. He said it.
In his much-anticipated foreign policy speech at Bar-Ilan university yesterday evening, Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli prime minister in a speech covered by the world's media to mention 'tens of thousands of Jewish refugees who left their homes and belongings in Arab countries.'
Netanyahu's statement gives a huge boost to the campaign for Justice for Jews from Arab Countries. This week JJAC representatives meet in Rome: a hearing at the Italian Parliament on Jewish refugees has been scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday).
But the western media largely ignored Netanyahu's historic mention of Jewish refugees as they focused on his concept of a 'demilitarised ' Palestinian state and his insistence on Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. For instance, Jewish refugees were absent from the BBC News website.
We can only hope that Netanyahu's statement about Jewish refugees will be reiterated over and over again, so that the parameters of discussion are shifted to give a picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict free of distortion and omission. We also hope that future speeches will contain not just a passing reference to Jewish refugees from Arab countries to illustrate a point about Palestinian refugees, but a ringing policy statement of the need for justice for 850,000 Jewish refugees, who have hitherto been denied not only recognition, but compensation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's historic mention of Jewish refugees who left their homes and belongings in Arab countries marks a departure from the vague references of the past. Why has Israel been so reticent to raise the issue over the years? Here are five reasons why:
1) Israel has a fundamental difference in approach from the Arabs - it has been very much “‘we’ll discuss this issue when we come to it.” While the Arabs talk about rights and justice the Israeli approach has always been pragmatic - ‘look how flexible we are and prepared to make ‘painful concessions’. To the outside observer this approach has always made Israel seem on the defensive. Theis perception has been aggravated by the fact many Israeli media and intellectuals have embraced the Arab narrative. This has narrowed the conflict to an Israel-Palestinian dispute and excluded the larger Arab context in which the expulsion of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries plays a significant part. It also casts the Palestinians as innocent victims ( ‘what did we have to do with the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands?’).
2) Israel thought that to raise the Jewish refugee issue was to be seen as socially divisive. Its main task was to integrate refugees from all over the place, and not to privilege one particular group over another. This policy paid off - intermarriage between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim is over 25 percent and barriers between ethnic groups are rapidly breaking down - but it has meant Israel has not exploited the Mizrahim for political advantage as the Arabs have done with the Palestinian refugees.
3) It is often said that the Jewish refugees from Arab lands themselves found that their story had to take a back seat to that of the Holocaust survivors. After all, the Mizrahim had suffered, but at least they got out alive.
4) Another factor for Israel’s silence is that efforts were still going on until the 1990s (eg Syria) to rescue the beleaguered remnants of various Jewish communities. There were delicate negotiations going on behind the scenes to rescue these hostage Jews and they thought any publicity would make their plight worse.
5) During the Oslo years the Left believed that the issue of Jewish refugees was a needless obstacle in the way of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which they genuinely thought was just around the corner. Hence, as Justice minister, Yossi Beilin closed down the department dealing with property claims for Jews from Arab countries and ordered a room containing files dealing with Libyan Jewish claims cleared. The files were destroyed. Subsequent Justice ministers have realised that this was a serious mistake and re-opened the department, but successive Israeli governments have been mealy-mouthed on the issue and, until now, have not made any public declarations drawing parallels between Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Palestinian refugees.
Before leaving Rome on Saturday, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi met with about 300 Italian expatriots expelled from his country in 1970, and an unofficial group of five Jews of Libyan origin, The Jerusalem Post reports.
The official Libyan Jewish representatives had turned down Gaddafi's invitation for a Saturday meeting because "we cannot bow our heads and desecrate the Sabbath," Shalom Teshuba, vice president of the Rome Jewish community, stated in a note delivered to Gaddafi.
Teshuba's letter reviewed a century of Libyan Jewish history and included a request for talks aimed at restitution and restoration of family and religious heirlooms confiscated after the massacres and expulsions in 1967.
The five unofficial Jewish representatives who walked to the meeting included distinguished peace activist and Jungian psychoanalyst David Gerbi. Clothed in the traditional white cassock, cap and pin-striped gilet typical in pre-'67 Libyan Jewry and wearing a Magen David around his neck, Gerbi asked Gaddafi to permit the restoration of the Sia Dar Bisni Synagogue in Tripoli, for which he had personally gathered funds. The community left behind over 47 synagogues, several of great historic and religious significance.
He also asked that six mezuzot he had brought to Libya for this purpose in 2007, when he was arrested and bereft of his belongings, be returned to him.
Both the Italian Catholic and Jewish guests were invited to speak publicly, and were greeted individually by Gaddafi.
The Libyan leader recalled the late Raffaele Fellah, a former president of the World Organization of Libya Jews. When told of his death, Gaddafi said, "Mercy to his soul," and praised Fellah's attempts at mediation. He added, however, that these attempts had brought no results because "he tied the Jewish question to that of Israel."(..)
Gaddafi reiterated his invitation to all to come back to Libya, and again stressed that priority would be given to Italian enterprises over other nationalities.
The issue of restitution for Jews who fled from Arab lands will be discussed in Rome this week during a meeting of the Justice for Jews from Arab Countries organization. The main speakers are former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler and Prof. David Meghnagi, former vice president of the Italian Jewish community and chairman of Rome University's Holocaust education master's program.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
It is 47 years since Algeria's Jewish community left en masse for France, but Algeria should 'learn from the experience of Tunisia, Morocco and Yemen' and give them back their citizenship, a human rights activist told Al-Arabiya recently. (Of course only those Jews loyal to Algeria - and certainly no Zionists - would be allowed back.) One wonders what planet this lady lives on, given that the last of Yemen's Jews are being driven out, but perhaps she understands that minority rights are the best guarantee of a healthy civil society: (with thanks: Heather)
A prominent Algerian human rights activist called on the government to acknowledge the rights of Jews of Algerian origin and said such people should be naturalized as she stressed there was a difference between being Jewish and being a Zionist.
Malia Bouzaid, a member of the Arab Commission for Human Rights, launched a campaign to grant Algerian Jews living abroad citizenship as she believed they were suffering greatly because they were deprived from returning to their homeland. Algerian Jews meet all the conditions to become citizens...Most of their fathers or grandfathers were born in Algeria. Many of them were born to Algerian mothers.
"Algerian Jews meet all the conditions to become citizens," Bouzaid told Al Arabiya. "Most of their fathers or grandfathers were born in Algeria. *Many of them were born to Algerian mothers."
Bouzaid said the Jewish issue was very sensitive in Algeria but argued that handling the issue realistically would play a major role in solving many of the problems Algeria has faced for decades.
"What I mean by 'realistically' is learning from the experience of other Arab countries like Tunisia, Morocco and Yemen in the way they preserved their Jewish communities and treated them as citizens," Bouzaid said, adding "'Realistically' also means knowing the difference between Jews and Israel."
Bouzaid stressed that the Jews she met in French cities like Paris, Lyon and Marseille pledged allegiance to Algeria rather than Israel and that given the choice they would love to resettle in Algeria.
When asked about French-Algerian relations, Bouzaid said that 25 percent of the decision makers in France were Jews of Algerian origin and that they have the ability to help their homeland if it were to acknowledge them.
"They might get back at Algeria for denying them citizenship by grabbing every opportunity to weaken it in front of the international community. But if Algeria recognizes them as citizens, they will work for its benefit," she said.
We have to differentiate between Jews who willingly left Algeria after the independence and their hands were not stained with Algerian blood and Jews who took part in killing Algerian people and they are many. ( A lie - ed)
The head of the Algerian National Commission against Zionism and Normalization rejected all calls for the unconditional naturalization of all Algerian Jews and said some of them pledge allegiance to other than Algeria.
"We have to differentiate between Jews who willingly left Algeria after the independence and their hands were not stained with Algerian blood and Jews who took part in killing Algerian people and they are many," Khaled bin Ismail told Al Arabiya.
Ismail cited the example of French-Algerian singer Enrico Macias who was born in the northeastern city of Constantine.
"He was a teacher during the day, but in his leisure time he put on the French military uniform and fought against his fellow Algerians," Ismail said, adding in 1956 Jews were asked to join the Algerian resistance fight against French occupation and none of them responded.
"Algeria does not bestow its citizenship on anyone. Those who want to apply for citizenship have to supply the necessary legal documents," he concluded.
Algerian Jews are those who settled in Algeria during the time of the Ottoman Empire through the French occupation that started in 1830. (A lie - the Algerian Jewish community predates Islam and the Arab conquest: ed)
Read article in full
* Nationality is passed on by the father
Friday, June 12, 2009
As Iranians go to the polls today, this Sky TV report claims that Iranian Jews are pawns in the leadership contest between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mirhossein Mousavi. Mousavi is the more 'liberal' of the two front-runner candidates: he has criticised Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial as discrediting Iran. However, the Jews are more likely to vote for Ahmadinejad in today's elections: better 'the devil' they know. Al-Arabiya reports:
Experts in both countries describe the Iranian Jewish minority as a low-profile community that strives to be on the winning side of any election to avoid confrontation in the Islamic Republic.Isreali experts predicted Jews would support for Ahmedinejad despite his controversial statements on Israel and the Holocaust.
“They are leaning towards leaving Ahmadinejad in his post because (Mirhossein) Mousavi is unpredictable,” David Mutaj, spokesman for the Central Organization of Iranian Immigrants in Israel, was quoted as saying by Israel’s Ynet news.
Mutai stressed that since the Islamic Revolution, the Jewish community has tried to keep a low profile in politics and election propaganda. “They do not participate in support rallies and certainly do not organize any,” he explained.
David Menashri, director of Tel Aviv University’s Center for Iranian Studies also predicted Jewish votes would go to Ahmadinejad since Jewish minorities tend to follow the mainstream.
"The ruler today is Khamenei, who is more supportive of Ahmadinejad. Even though he doesn't say it explicitly, any criticism against the president is directed at Khamenei," Menashri told Ynet.
Read article in full
Dr. Ali Raza Nouri Zadeh, expert on Iranian Affairs, said Iran's Jews are mostly backing Mehdi Karoubi, whose platform guarantees minority rights and political participation and Mousavi who is more moderate than Ahmadinejad.
"Iran's Jews suffered a lot under Ahmadinejad and they know better than to miss the chance of improving their situation under other leading candidates who care about minority rights," Zadeh told Al Arabiya.
He acknowledged that the Iranian Jewish community exercises extreme caution in politics but stressed that they are active behind the scenes.
"Iran's Jews are extremely careful about what the statements they give. They have representatives in the Iranian Parliament and in the past 30 years their protests against government have not exceeded 10 times," Zadeh explained. "This is because whatever they do they are accused of being Israeli agents."
Spine-chilling account by poster Israelinurse on the excellent blog Harry's Place of her mother-in-law's experience of a pogrom in Libya in June 1948. Whenever her grandchildren join the Israeli army, the mother-in-law sits them down and tells them this story:
My mother-in-law’s family are from Tripoli in Libya. They didn’t live in the Jewish quarter of the city and had Arab neighbours with whom they had enjoyed cordial relations for years. Her mother had died in childbirth some years previously, so my mother-in-law, who at 18 was the eldest child, was largely responsible for her younger siblings.
One day out of the blue, whilst their father was out, riots began in the neighbourhood. They saw from the window of their apartment that a mob of their Arab neighbours was converging on them armed with all sorts of implements, but what shocked my mother-in-law most was the next door neighbour who was a butcher, brandishing the long knife he used to slaughter animals and shouting along with the others ‘Itbah el Yahud’.
They quickly locked the door and pushed a heavy wardrobe against it before hiding in the apartment and keeping as quiet as they could in the hope that the mob would think they weren’t at home. It worked– the mob went off in search of other victims.
When their father came home it was decided that my mother-in-law would try to get help. They knew they had to get to the Jewish quarter– they couldn’t stay in that Muslim neighbourhood. So she sneaked out of the apartment and stole through the narrow streets trying to think what to do.
Suddenly she saw a British policeman. She grabbed his arm and refused to let go until he agreed to help her. He went back to the apartment with her and escorted the whole family, carrying only what they could, to the Jewish quarter.
There they heard of the terrible events which had been happening in other parts of the town too, and within a short time they organised their travel arrangements to Israel.
They arrived with nothing and at first lived in a ‘ma'abara’. They all became professionals– teachers, lecturers, a chemist.
Whenever one of our children joins the army, my mother-in-law sits them down and tells them that story.