Friday, September 30, 2005

Bride of Baghdad

Jenni Frazer of the Jewish Chronicle reports that the last eligible Jews of Baghdad were married last week in Amman, Jordan, and have returned to Iraq this week to begin their new Jewish life together.

The bride, a dentist, and the bridegroom, a jeweller, held a small, intimate engagement party in what remains of the Jewish community of Baghdad - thought to be only nine or 10 people now - before going to Amman for a marriage ceremony performed last week by a European rabbi. The wedding arrangements were made by the bride's two brothers, who now live in Holland. A third brother, and her mother, still live in Baghdad.

The newlyweds, after spending their honeymoon in Jordan, have returned to celebrate Rosh Hashana in Baghdad.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

An Egyptian childhood cut short

"I had a happy childhood, as everyone did in the so-called Arab countries, since we were sheltered by our parents. Then a memory came back a few years ago and sparked an obsession in me to tell the truth of what life was like under Islam. That memory specifically goes back to May 1948. At the time Egypt and the other Arab countries were attacking the young state of Israel and King Farouk had decreed a black-out from the outset of hostilities."

Moise Rahmani remembers his Egyptian childhood.

"We had to cover our windows with blue 'kraft' paper and drapes. One evening around 8pm, there was an air raid alert over Cairo. Like all curious children oblivious to danger ( I was four), I lifted the curtain slightly. The policeman on duty below (was there one in front of each Jewish home?) blew sharply on his whistle and yelled:" Switch off the light, Jew, son of a dog!" Then he came upstairs to arrest the 'spy'! I can still see my trembling and panic-stricken mother
pleading with the policeman to leave us alone.

"My parents taught us three main rules:
1. Never talk about religion in case what is said is misinterpreted and people accused us of blasphemy against the Koran and Muhammed. We could be killed with impunity.
2. Never talk about politics
3. Never wander out alone, never follow anyone. All the mothers dreaded that Jewish and Christian children should be kidnapped by Muslims, converted and turned into beggars.

During this period the atmosphere was sometimes unbearable. People were arrested simply for smoking in the street. An uncle of my father's was arrested and thrown into an internment camp. To this day we do not know why.

My father had been stripped of his Egyptian nationality. I remember, as if it were yesterday, running from consulates to lawyers' offices and ministries in order to obtain a passport.

I remember the anguished discussions my parents had with their friends, asking "where will we go?" And they would talk of 'over there'.

'Over there' did not mean a thing to us children. But when they said 'over there', they lowered their voices.

I remember that two of my mothers' brothers went to Australia. They blazed a trail for us. It was 1948. What would happen to them? what would happen to us? Leading questions which furrowed our parents' brows.

I remember being terrified when fires broke out in 1952. Egged on by officers under Nasser and sick of Farouk's dissolute living, the Egyptian people had attacked and burnt the modern city, symbol of unbearable wealth. The damage was estimated at 25 million dollars at the time. The Jewish shops were of course prime targets and their owners were forced to flee. Relatives came to live with us for a few days and a handful of friends who as 'foreigners' were fleeing the danger and insecurity which threatened 'Europeans and Jews'.

The husband of my maternal aunt was a jeweller: one more shopkeeper whose business had been wrecked by vandals. I remember going with him to search in the debris and the ashes for any gems left behind by the pillagers.

Farouk was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Ahmad Fouad, and went into exile in Italy. General Neguib, popular, wise and moderate, then came to the fore, but power was in the hands of Nasser. I remember the great hopes aroused by Neguib when he visited the synagogue in Cairo on Yom Kippur. The government Number One coming to reassure us and recall we too were Egypt's children led to euphoria. Neguib was sincere, but there was also Nasser.

Nasser was an unknown quantity for the Jews. His was the only battalion defending Falluja during the 1948 war; he was a hero to his comrades. Anti-western, fiercely antisemitic - I quote his statements in my book, L'exode oublie, to prove it. At first Nasser stood in the shadows, then once securely in power he got rid of Neguib.

I remember lots of children dressed up as Neguib during that Purim following the overthrow of Farouk. I remember his being put under house arrest, reviving our fears.

I remember the killing of Mr Carmona, our upstairs neighbour. He had 'slipped' under the tramway lines. He was in agony for several days and my mother was one of the few to visit him.

We 'sold' our furniture for a few Egyptian pounds. We were not allowed to take out more than one jewel per person. Mother's sister-in-law, a seamstress, sewed a few jewels - we were not rich - into dresses.

We had to leave everything behind - trinkets, carpets, even our photos. We were not permitted to take photos out in 1956. In 1957, it seems, things changed. The only photos that I was able to collect (a dozen at most, from my parents) were copies sent to the family in Australia or in the Congo.

A customs officer confiscated my stamp collection which I had insisted on taking with me in spite of my mother's objections. The suitcases were opened and the contents strewn on the floor. Yet we were lucky - a brave officer friend of Father's had come with us. My parents' relatives, some of them senior civil servants, were suddenly suffering from amnesia. We had been conveniently forgotten.

Read article in full (French)

Friday, September 23, 2005

London hosts Jews from Arab lands forum

An international conference to promote awareness of a new campaign on the issue of Jews from Arab countries who were forced to leave their homes by oppressive regimes was held in London this week, Daniel Kahtan reports in Jewish News.

The gathering, hosted by the Board of Deputies and attended by representatives of Israel’s Ministry of Justice attracted delegates from as far afield as Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Canada.

The campaign, supported by the World Association of Jews from Arab Countries and members of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, is to be launched next March.

Executive Director of JJAC Stanley Urman said the campaign will collect and organise testimonies of Jewish life in Arab countries “so that one can document the flight and plight of Jewish refugees.”

He added: “At the moment it is woefully inadequate and it will not allow anyone to assert the issue of Jewish refugees with credibility and efficiency.

“When people speak of refugees, everyone thinks immediately of Palestinian refugees. It’s not well known that there were more Jews displaced from Arab countries (856,000) than Palestinian refugees (725,000) in 1948, according to UN estimates.

“It’s time for this issue to assume its rightful place on the international agenda.”

Campaign for Jews forced out of Arab lands

The Jewish Chronicle's Jenni Frazer reports that the move to launch an international campaign for rights and redress of Jews from Arab lands follows a declaration by Canadian Prime minister Paul Martin that 'the situation of Jewish refugees from arab lands must be recognised.'

"JJAC (Justice for Jews from Arab Countries) executive director Stan Urman told the JC:" A kind of ethnic cleansing took place of Jews from Arab countries after 1948. The focus of our campaign is to get world government recognition of what happened. It's our last best chance to document a glorious and tragic chapter in Jewish history."(..) It is anticipated that if Palestinians ask for compensation under the aegis of a comprehensive peace process, Jewish refugee rights will also be put on the table.

(...)"Veteran Israel-based campaigner Mordechai Ben-Porat is optimistic that Libya and Iraq - which both had large Jewish populations in 1948 - will now be receptive to acknowledging the rights of their former citizens. He wants to locate abandoned Judaica in Arab Countries with the aim of restoring it to the relevant communities in Israel.

"Ideally we'd like to follow the suggestion proposed by President Clinton before he left office that a fund should be etablished in which compensation could be made available to refugees on both sides of this situation, Palestinians and Jews."

Link to Jewish Chronicle site here

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

London meeting plans advocacy campaign

LONDON, Sept. 20 (JTA) — "Jews who fled Arab countries following the creation of the State of Israel are preparing to launch a new campaign for restitution," writes Daniella Peled.

"Meeting in London at a forum organized by the World Organization for Jews From Arab Countries and Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, Jewish representatives from 14 nations met Sunday and Monday to create the steering committee for the International Campaign for Rights and Redress.

"The group plans to conduct an international advocacy and public education campaign on the heritage and rights of former Jewish refugees, documenting human-rights violations against those who fled Arab countries, as well as their lost assets.

"The director of the justice group, Stanley Urman, said the summit was a landmark occasion.

“It is a commitment by Jewish communities in 14 countries on five continents to once and for all document the historical injustice perpetrated against Jews in Arab countries,” he said. “It is not just a theoretical and educational exercise; it is concrete.”

"Supported by the Israeli government, the plan also has the backing of Jewish communities in North and South America, Europe and Australia, with organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International and the World Sephardi Congress involved.

“We are delighted to play a key role in this crucial project,” said Henry Grunwald, president of British Jewry’s umbrella group, the Board of Deputies. “The plight of Jews from Arab countries is all too often a cause that we in the wider Jewish community forget, and we must act to educate and raise awareness of this important issue.”

"Organizers long have been unhappy that the issue of Palestinian refugees largely has eclipsed the question of the nearly 900,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries around the 1948 creation of the State of Israel. They want the Jewish refugees’ fate addressed as well in any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Some 600,000 of these refugees settled in Israel; by 2001 fewer than 8,000 Jews remained in Arab countries.

"The displaced Jews were recognized as refugees by the United Nations, but there was virtually no international response to their plight.

"The only way that the rights of former Jewish refugees can be asserted, organizers believe, is through an international advocacy campaign. They will launch the campaign in March with a special month of commemoration to highlight the torture, detention, loss of citizenship and seizure of property suffered by many Jewish refugees.

“This is a milestone in the effort to address the historic injustice to the Jewish communities in Arab countries,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “We hope that this renewed, unified campaign will not only succeed in creating a comprehensive data bank, but will also put this issue on the agenda of the international community, which has neglected it for so long.”

"Data on the communal and individual assets lost in the mass displacements — incorporating public education, the collection of testimonies and programs to lobby media and governments — will be collected and preserved in a special unit established in Israel’s Ministry of Justice.

"Urman declined to speculate on the value of the Jewish refugees’ assets, insisting that the fundamental issue was justice rather than compensation. Redress might come in many forms, he said, from a commitment to protect and preserve historical Jewish sites in Arab lands to the endowment of chairs at universities to preserve Middle Eastern Jewish culture.

"In Iraq, the Jewish community numbered around 140,000 before being mostly dispersed in the 1950s. Like many others in his community, Maurice Shohet, president of Bene Naharayim, the Iraqi Jewish community in New York, abandoned his possessions when he fled Iraq with his family in 1970 at age 21.

“We left everything; we just wanted to save our lives,” he said.

"The combined assets Iraqi Jewry left behind now could be worth billions of dollars. When the U.S.-led war on Iraq began in 2003, the prospect of an elected, post-Saddam government offered some hope of restitution for the community.

"But “so far all we are hearing is the voice of the insurgents,” Shohet said.

"Shohet visited his home town of Baghdad last year, but he cut short his trip because of violence. With divisions rampant within Iraq society and the government still going through a transition period, compensation still seems far away.

"Yet that makes the issue more urgent, Urman said.

"With Israel’s recent withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, there might also be a new impetus toward fresh talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

“If Gaza results in renewed commitment by the Palestinian Authority to advance serious peace negotiations, it will have moved us forward to a resolution of both the Arab and Jewish refugee issues. But it’s a big if,” Urman said. “The government of Israel and the Jewish world know they have the last and best opportunity to resolve this. If not now, when?”

See CRIF report here (French)
See UPJF report here (French)

Jewish refugees from Arab countries demand compensation

According to a report by Orly Halpern in the Jerusalem Post of 21st September, 28 Jewish leaders from eight countries met Monday in London to strategize an international campaign to "assert the rights of former Jewish refugees from Arab countries."

"Stanley Urman, president of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), told The Jerusalem Post that the ultimate goal of the campaign is to link Jewish refugees with Palestinian refugees in peace talks.

"Our aim is that, every time there is a Middle East discussion on refugees, instead of discussing only Palestinian refugees they will talk about Jewish refugees who are a result of the Middle East conflict," he said. "We are interested in ensuring that whatever rights and compensation are received by Palestinian refugees will be given to Jewish refugees of the conflict [as well]."

"The meeting was said to be organized by the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC) and JJAC, though WOJAC president Heskel Haddad was not actually involved in its preparation, nor did he attend the event.

"In an article printed in the Post, Haddad said he planned to attend the meeting because he approved of the political ramifications, but "I don't think anything will come of it."

My comment: it is churlish of Orly Halpern to quote someone who was not at the meeting say 'I don't think anything will come of it'. Halpern's account is also somewhat misleading: it is true that where Palestinian refugees are mentioned in resolutions, etc, the campaign will try to get Jewish refugees mentioned as well. However, it was decided that the campaign, being primarily about the rights of Jewish refugees, will not go out of its way to mention Palestinian refugees. The situation of both refugee populations is not symmetrical. The former, peaceful citizens of countries where they had been settled for milennia, fled as a result of persecution; the latter fled war. Furthermore, the object of the campaign is not simply to demand compensation. It is also to memorialise these largely extinct Jewish communities - the loss of an entire civilisation.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Shalom meets Tunisian and Moroccan ministers

In what was described as "positive" meetings, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom met with his Moroccan and Tunisian counterparts at the UN Monday to discuss how to deepen ties with their countries. However, despite the kisses and hugs which marked the meetings, full diplomatic ties were not an option, the Jerusalem Post of 20 September reports.

(...)"Israel and Tunisia opened relations following the 1993 Oslo Accords. Those ties gradually improved and in 1996 Tunisia and Israel took a major step forward with the opening of low-level diplomatic missions in Tunis in April and in Tel Aviv in June 1996.

"Tunisia became a popular destination for Israelis of Tunisian origin who longed to return to their roots. Khaddura Houri, a Tunisia-born Israeli musician, made his first trip in 2000 for a musical performance.

"But the ties were broken in 2001 when Tunisia, like many other Arab countries which had opened ties, closed the offices following the start of the second intifada.

"As the violence subsided, Israelis were invited back to Tunisia. Houri performed again in 2004. Following the resumption of peace talks with the PA in February, Tunisian President Zine El Abidin Ben Alihim invited Ariel Sharon to attend a conference in Tunisia on scientific cooperation to take place in November."

Read article in full

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Egypt's 'ping pong effect'

A campaign to preserve Egypt's Jewish heritage by the Nebi Daniel Association, a group of Egyptian Jews living in Britain and France, has met with consistent stonewalling by the Egyptian government.

The group is named after Alexandria's magnificent Nebi Daniel synagogue (pictured), the only one still 'active' in a city where there were once 14. Its members are trying to plan for the day when the 34 elderly Jews still living in Cairo and Alexandria are no longer around. As well as aiming to ensure that cemeteries and synagogues are maintained, Nebi Daniel wish to centralise and secure the future of the community's records. It is vital for Jews of Egyptian origin around the world to be able to access circumcision, marriage and death records for geneaological, religious and civil purposes.

The Egyptian Jewish community once numbered 80,000 but fled for their lives, most in 1956. "Unless the records are saved," says Yves Fedida of Nebi Daniel," people will only remember the Jewish community by decrepit cemetries and buildings, not as human beings with histories, names and faces."

The stranglehold maintained by the Egyptian authorities has led to theft: 'commando-style raids' by visiting Jews snatching documents or tearing out pages pertaining to their relatives.

The cowed and harassed heads of the Jewish community, Mrs Weinstein in Cairo and Mr Salama in Alexandria, say they cannot accede to requests for documents without a letter from the Egyptian authorities. The Egyptian authorities say they cannot act without the community leaders' approval. It's the 'ping pong effect'.

Nebi Daniel have met top Egyptian civil servants and officials and have been treated with the utmost courtesy. They are asked to put their requests in writing, but an answer is never forthcoming.

Efforts to retrieve Sifrei Torah - the Nebi Daniel synagogue in Alexandria has 70 crammed into its Ark - have been similarly stymied. A law classifying any object older than 100 years as an antiquity prevents ancient Sifrei Torah from being taken out of the country. There have been only two instances when this rule has been broken: on one occasion the visiting foreign minister David Levy asked an Egyptian official to allow him to take a Sefer Torah with him back to Israel. The official turned to the Jewish community head. The Jewish community head nodded. The official agreed. Later, the community head had his knuckles rapped.

Why should Nebi Daniel even bother with this thankless task when Egyptian Jews have rebuilt their lives elsewhere?

Yves Fedida's answer is simple: " You get to a stage in your life when you want to reappropriate that part of your identity that has been brutally taken away from you."

Visit the Nebi Daniel website here.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Life can be funny for Persian Jews

Is being a stand-up comic the right job for a first-generation American-Persian-Jewish boy? Karmel Melamed reports in The Forward.

"The generation of Persian Jews whose parents fled revolutionary Iran 26 years ago is now struggling to find its voice. Like the members of many immigrant generations before them, they find that their parents are hoping they'll fulfill the American dream. But success can mean different things in different places. Two of the centers of Persian Jewish life in America — Los Angeles and New York — are also entertainment hubs, and for many young Iranian Jews it is the entertainment field and not law or medicine that offers their adopted land's true promise.

"Ask him what his name means in English, and Iranian Jewish stand-up comic Marvin Kharrazi will sarcastically say, "satisfied donkey!" His parents, however, are less satisfied. "I still can't have a conversation with my mom without her pleading with me to return to law school, or even consider medical school!" the 31-year-old Los Angeles-based comic said.

"Ahdoot, 26, who hails from the Persian Jewish enclave of Great Neck, N.Y., has built a much-lauded act centered on life as a second-generation Iranian-American. (He was a finalist on the NBC reality show "Last Comic Standing.") But it seems that his act has gone beyond merely tickling funny bones and toward addressing the anxieties of his peers. "After my TV appearances, I've received e-mails from other Iranian Jews, saying, 'I'm a lawyer or a doctor, and I don't want to do this anymore,'" he said.

"Adhoot noted that many Iranian Jewish families feel a strong need for their children to succeed professionally and financially, because a large segment of those who left Iran two-and-a-half decades ago were forced to leave behind vast fortunes. He also stated that being uprooted created among his parents' generation a sense that education was essential."
Read article in full

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The lessons of restitution in Poland

Jews from Arab countries could learn a thing or two from the experience of Jews trying to get restitution for property in Poland.

According to the Jerusalem Report, "a new campaign to pressure Poland to pass special legislation that would facilitate restitution of Jewish-owned property from the Holocaust period or compensation for buildings no longer standing is about to be launched. So say World Jewish Congress Board chairman Dr. Israel Singer and Jewish Agency chairman Ze'ev Bielski, co-chairs of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, set up in 1992 to represent Israel and world Jewry in Holocaust restitution negotiations.

"Singer says the WJRO is opposed to a proposed Polish law that would award heirs of Nazi-confiscated property that was subsequently nationalized by the Communists 15 percent of its assessed value. To date, individuals who have pursued private claims through Polish courts have often been stymied by cumbersome legal demands and difficulties in obtaining relevant prewar documents.

"The attitude of the Polish government toward restitution of private property has been callous and we will not accept these nominal offers," says Singer.

Read article in full.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Oriental tunes strike a chord

According to this Middle East Times article, Hebrew songs have unexpected fans - Gaza Arabs. And now the Israelis are gone, it's no longer necessary to hide away those Zionist CDs ....

"During the time he spent working in Israel, Mallahi discovered that many of his Palestinian coworkers also enjoyed listening to those Hebrew songs that had an oriental flavor. He started listening more, and became a fervent fan.

"Even when the first Palestinian intifada broke out in 1987, Mallahi and others like him remained hooked on these songs. It was the melodies, rather than the lyrics, that appealed to them.

"Israeli music had this special flavor that combines oriental and western instruments, producing an exotic tune that is comfortable to listen to," says 32-year-old Fadi Dohan, a tailor who used to work at an Israeli sewing factory in the Israeli town of Khadera.

"I know that most of the Israeli singers we listen to originally came from Arab countries like Morocco, Iraq and even Yemen," Dohan says. "They knew Arabic and some of them were brought up just like us, which explains their oriental tone," he adds.

"Indeed, it was not unusual for a Hebrew tape to have at least one Arabic song performed as an original by the Israeli singer or as an remake of famous Arabic songs."

Monday, September 12, 2005

Will there be Jews in Palestine?

In the aftermath of the Gaza withdrawal and on the threshold of declaring their own state of Palestine, the Palestinians ought to learn from Nelson Mandela's South Africa and jettison an outdated concept of Arab nationalism that inevitably entails the 'ethnic cleansing' of Jews, argues the Tunisian-born French writer Marco Koskas ( via

Well, that's it then. There is not a single Jew left in Gaza. This poor sandswept strip of land is now under Palestinian control - and a good thing too. Let's hope peace will finally come - and that this embryonic compromise between the belligerent parties is followed by further, preferably mutual, peace gestures.

The question remains: why, with every triumph of Arab nationalism, must the Jews leave? whether in the Maghreb or the Mashrek (Middle East), not a single Arab country has gained sovereignty without having expelled the Jews. Or ushered them along towards the exit.

In all these countries the Jews had been there since time immemorial, sometimes even before the Arabs. And these Jews were not settlers. Their presence was not the result of a military occupation. They were not even armed, as the Gaza settlers were. Nonetheless they had to pack up and leave.

A million Jews were thus forced to leave the Arab countries in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a silent ethnic cleansing and nobody batted an eyelid.

It was as if the Jewish population of the Arab countries had been lumped together with French colonialism, its civil servants, soldiers, its White Fathers kicked out of the countries at independence.

At the time, not a single voice was raised at this confusion. There was not a word of comfort for those who had to flee from one day to the next, leaving everything behind.

While the Palestinians expelled from Palestine created a heroic nationalism in exile, the Jews expelled by Arab nationalism were content to rebuild their lives elsewhere - in France, Canada, and especially in Israel.

These are the Jews who have been expelled from Gaza. These same people have been forced out of a future Arab state. These same Jews, fifty years on, are still unwanted by the Arabs.

Will history repeat itself - will we hear the same old tune replayed?

While there is still time - let's ask the leading question: will there be Jews in Palestine? In the future Palestinian state, that is. Will this state be the preserve of Muslims, and a tiny minority of Christians, or will some Jews be mixed in as well?

Provided they disarm and respect the laws of this future state, why could the Israeli Jews already living there not continue to do so? Provided of course that the Palestinian state guaranteed their security and even gave them Palestinian nationality. There is a good million Palestinians in Israel and no one would dream of transferring them to the other bank of the Jordan.

The odds are on as to the identity of a future Palestinian state and whether there will be Jews in it. Unfortunately the way it is shaping up at the moment, this state is basing itself on the Arab nationalist model of the 1950s, with its population composed exclusively of Muslim-Arabs.

Raus Juden - as ever.

Let us disregard the Gaza model, because what worked for Gaza, despite the screaming and wailing, would not work for the rest of the Territories, given the numbers of settlers and the scattered nature of the settlements.

Nobody could force out the hundreds of thousands of Israelis settled there, some for the last thirty years. Otherwise there would be a bloodbath, indescribable chaos and horror.

No Israeli leader would take that risk, not only out of conviction, but because most of the Israeli population is also deeply scarred by the ethnic cleansing that took place in the 1950s and 1960s in the Arab countries.

One has to understand that the collective Israeli unconscious is shaped more by this ethnic cleansing than by Auschwitz. It determines this people's reactions. As long as the de-Judaisation of the Arab countries is not referred to as such, no Israeli would find it fair to leave the Territories. This is not an extremist political position but the expression of a trauma - a gaping wound in the psyche of all oriental Jews. (My emphasis - Ed)

This is why the Palestinian leadership should break with Arab nationalism and say so. They should break with the idea that people can be transferred as easily as pawns on a chessboard.

Were Palestinian claims to be taken seriously (return of the refugees and evacuation of settlements) several million people would be on the move between the Galilee and the Red Sea, as when India was partitioned in 1947, with all the ensuing massacres.

The Palestinians must therefore rethink their position. As long as they continue to confuse Israeli military occupation and a Jewish presence on their territory, there will be no solution.

Let them declare that the occupation is unacceptable but that the Jews already living there are acceptable, and things would be different. Let them guarantee to those Jews the same rights that the Israeli state guarantees to Muslims within its borders, and everything would become possible.

In short they would have to make the transition from the Arab model of national liberation to the South African. There, the extremists had to bow to Mandela. He did not give the whites, as the Algerian FLN gave to the 'pieds noirs', the stark choice between suitcase and coffin.

Quite the opposite. Mandela had the great and just idea of guaranteeing all citizens - black or white - their right to live in South Africa. The right of soil, so to speak. That's why there was no re-make of the Algerian drama over there.

And the right of soil which prevailed in South Africa must prevail in the sort of peaceful Middle East that everyone - except the extremists - wishes to see.

Read article in French

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Talabani: Iraq is not hostile to Israel

Iraq's President Jalal Talabani said on 9 September that he saw no reason why Iraq should not normalise relations with Israel, but that unlike Pakistan, Iraq was bound by the decisions of the Arab League which precluded normalisation until a Palestinian state is established.

He said he welcomed investment into Iraq by Israeli businessmen. The Iraqi press was rife with talk of Israeli investors in Iraq, but as far as Talabani knew, there weren't any.

This is something not all Iraqis are as enthusiastic about as their president. The press has regularly conjured up the spectre of huge numbers of Jews returning to claim back their property and a Jewish conspiracy to buy up Iraq, as this MEMRI article from 2003 indicates:

"The Baghdad daily Al-'Adala (organ of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution headed by Ayatollah Baqir Al-Hakim) writes: "A number of Jews are attempting to purchase factories in Baghdad. An eyewitness who works in Al-Jamila industrial park told our correspondent that he saw two people, who were identified by an Iraqi as Jews, with a real estate broker walking towards a complex of closed factories in the area. The eyewitness said that after approaching them he found out that they wanted to purchase a number of factories for an unbelievable price, and that the broker's fee was 20 billion dinars" (about $15 million at the recent rates of exchange).

"On the same day, the daily Dar Al-Salam(organ of the Iraqi Islamic Party) published a report that the "association of clerics in Mosul issued a Fatwa [religious edict] prohibiting the sale of real estate to non-Iraqis… Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Nu'ma said that home and land sold to non-Iraqis may end up in the hands of Jews."

Surprise! there are still Jews in Pakistan

There could be as many as 10 Jewish families still living in Karachi out of a community once numbering 2,000, reports the Jerusalem Post.

A Muslim but not an Arab country, Pakistan was never technically at war with the Jewish state. The plight of Jews who have fled is not strictly within the scope of this blog.

However, Pakistan has never been at peace with Israel either. Despite the warm handshake between foreign ministers Silvan Shalom and Kurshid Mahmoud Kashuri, the prospect of recognition is some way off. In spite of its nominal anti-terror stance, hostility towards the Jews is virulent. To be a Jew is to be a scapegoat - as unnerving an experience in Pakistan as it was in an Arab country or Iran.

"As the situation of the Jews among Pakistan's many millions of Muslims became increasingly precarious, most chose to leave.

"In 1956, after the Sinai campaign, there were demonstrations outside the synagogue and it was damaged. Most of the remaining Jews left then, and most of them went to Bombay," said Katz. "The last caretaker of the [Magen Shalom] synagogue, a Muslim, rescued artifacts from the synagogue – the bima, the ark, things like that – but he doesn't know what to do with them. They're sitting in his backyard, I think."

A Pakistani view

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Iraqi constitution update

The latest draft Iraqi constitution has been approved by Parliament and will be voted on in a popular referendum in October. It has been criticised as long on aspiration, short on detail. There are lofty but vague declarations of equality and freedom of religion and affirmations of civil, personal and political rights.

As far as Jews wishing to reclaim their Iraqi nationality are concerned, the good news is that qualifyers in the previous drafts have been dropped. The bad news is that too much seems to have been left to the law to regulate.

Article (18): 1st - An Iraqi is anyone who has been born to an Iraqi father or an Iraqi mother.
2nd - Iraqi nationality is a right to all Iraqis and it is the basis of their citizenship.
3rd - (a) It shall be forbidden to withdraw the Iraqi citizenship from an Iraqi by birth for any reason. Those who have had their citizenship withdrawn have the right to reclaim it and this should be regulated by law.
(b)Iraqi citizenship should be withdrawn from naturalized citizens in cases stated by law.
4th - Every Iraqi has the right to carry more than one citizenship. Those who take a leading or high-level security position must give up any other citizenship. This shall be regulated by law.

Read document in full

Update on the update: see this succinct analysis of the final draft constitution by Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment (with thanks: iraqijews)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

No peace until all the dispossessed get justice

One aspect of the Gaza pull-out highlighted in this Beirut Daily Star article of 3 September, but scarcely mentioned elsewhere, is that the land at Kfar Darom had been legally owned by Jews since the 1930s. One can hardly disagree with Michael Fischbach's conclusion - that people who have been dispossessed on all sides need their grievances satisfied, or there can be no lasting solution.

With his Arab readership perhaps in mind, Fischbach says that Palestinian Arabs lost far more land in Israel than Jews lost in Gaza and the West Bank, and this has led to a certain Israeli reluctance to ask for compensation for Jewish-owned land. Crucially, though, apart from a cursory mention, Fischbach fails to make the essential point that Jews from Arab countries lost far more still than Arabs.

"How to deal with these decades-old private property claims underscores an important point that future architects of lasting Arab-Israeli peace would do well to consider. Governments can make decisions about land with the stroke of a pen during negotiations. For peace to last, however, dispossessed persons on all sides who suffered property losses over the decades must gain a measure of satisfaction from the process. Otherwise, their grievances will fester and ruin the possibility for a peaceful future.

"Historically, this has been a much greater matter in terms of the large number of Palestinians who abandoned land in Israel than for the small number of Jews who lost property in Gaza and the West Bank. Yet the issue remains the same for both sides: Persons who sustained losses must feel that their demands for compensation and-or restitution are addressed satisfactorily by any final peace agreement, or such a peace is bound to fail.

"For that matter, the small number of Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese and other Arab nationals who owned land in Palestine prior to 1948 must be compensated satisfactorily for their losses as well. So, too, must Israeli Jews who had acquired and then lost land in those countries because of the conflict. To this list one could also add indigenous Jews from the Arab world who lost property when they emigrated, mostly to Israel, starting in 1948. All such claims must be addressed. Peace must be personal, not just national.

"Governments can cut deals about land. To leave out private citizens from such deals, however, will only sow the seeds for continued bitterness in a region that desperately needs to heal."

Read article in full

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Jewish woman to head Bahraini watchdog

A Bahraini Jewish woman, Huda Azra Noono, has been elected to head the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, making her the first non-Muslim to head a human rights watchdog in the country. (Acknowledgements: normblog)

"I am honoured to be elected the secretary-general of the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society, and I will do my best to help promote human rights in the country," Noono yesterday told Gulf News.

"We will work together as a team to ensure that people's rights in all areas are preserved," she said following the board elections.

Mrs Noono is one of 30 Jews still living in Bahrain, the remnant of a 450-strong community founded in 1904. The article paints an idyllic picture of Muslim-Jewish coexistence.

It is true that Bahraini Jews enjoy full rights and live in harmony with their neighbours. But the article chooses not to mention that the synagogue was destroyed, two Jews killed and several injured in rioting in 1947; and that petrol bombs were thrown at Jewish homes in 1967.

Read article in full

Forgotten echoes of Yemen

Writing in Haaretz Na'ama Gershy reviews Zion Ozeri's photographic record of 'The last generation of Yemeni Jews': (with thanks:Lily)

"Zion Ozeri spent 20 years producing this pictorial record of the Yemenite Jewish community in Israel and Yemen. But the photographs here are not necessarily Ozeri's best work or the most beautiful. They are meant to portray the "last generation." They do not tell the story of the entire Yemenite community but only a small part of it a group that is on the verge of extinction according to the title.

What dying breed are we talking about? The introduction tries to answer this question. Ozeri documents the last vestiges of a community that can trace its roots back to the second century C.E. and has been slowly disappearing since the community immigrated to Israel and became absorbed in Israeli society. This is a generation with no successors. The offspring are so different, they cannot be considered spiritual or cultural heirs.

(...)"My grandmother does not see herself in these pictures. Maybe it has to do with the fact that she comes from a culture of words. Visual culture is foreign to her. For her a picture is not a text. It is not necessary for telling the stories she feels are important. My time and interest are what she needs. But the reason my grandmother does not see herself in these pictures goes beyond her cultural problem with the medium. She does not see herself there because they don't speak to her. They are nameless. They portray Yemeniteness without Yemenites. A Yemenite, according to my grandmother, is not a hardworking, modest, studious person with sidelocks.

He is first of all a person with a name, affiliated with a family, a clan and a city. From her point of view, there is no history and no historical memory without names. A portrait, as exquisite and complex as it may be, does not reveal anything. Without the name and the affiliation, all she can say about a picture is whether it is beautiful or ugly."

Read article in full

Friday, September 02, 2005

A Jew expelled twice over

Israeli farmer Yechiel Bashari is driving a truck southbound, transporting the remains of his now-dismantled hothouses in Gaza, reports Loolwa Khazzoom for the BBC.

A father of six, Mr Bashari has lost $12m worth of assets as a result of Israel's disengagement.

"We are totally traumatized, economically and emotionally," Bashari says of his family's loss.
"I can't believe [Israel] destroyed our home, our dreams, everything we developed over the past 30 years."

Mr Bashari, whose parents were Middle Eastern Jewish refugees to Israel, has a feeling of deja vu about the evacuation.

"It's happened to us twice," he says. "First we were kicked out of Yemen, and now here. But it feels even worse here, because this is the Jewish homeland."

Sounds familiar ? See Libyan-born Gaza settler Avi Farhan's story.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

' US stole Iraqi manuscripts' story unfounded

An informed source dismissed as unfounded a claim in the Qatari newspaper Al-Raya on 29 August that the United States stole manuscripts from Iraq - including leather Torah scrolls - when Baghdad fell into their hands in April 2003. (With thanks: Iraqijews)

Al-Raya quoted Osama Nasser al-Naqshabandi, who was Director General of Iraqi Manuscripts from 1988 to 2002, as saying: "After occupying Iraq, US forces found a quantity of manuscripts, books and leather scrolls of the Torah in one of the caches of the former intelligence. They confiscated them and placed them in a huge air-conditioned truck."

According to Naqshabandi, "experts of the Iraqi Department of Manuscripts and from the Iraqi Museum gave a report to the Archeology Committee stressing they are archeological items ... and should be given to the Department of Ruins and Heritage. But nobody responded." Informed sources say that the manuscripts were removed under the authority of the Ministry of Education, not the Department of Ruins and Heritage.

Naqshabandi blames Pentagon representative Dr. Ismail Hijara, who was sent to Iraq to supervise the Department of Ruins and Heritage, for ordering [the manuscripts] to be moved to the US. "I tried to convince him not to agree, because Israel has been after them since the 70s.They were written by famous Jewish calligraphers in Baghdad. He (Hijara) didn't care, and they were secretly taken to New York."

Read about the manuscript find here.