Tuesday, November 13, 2012

'My mother cried every night in the 'ma'abara''

 When Jewish refugees gave testimony at the momentous UN meeting convened in September, an account of the plight of Jews from Egypt was notable by its absence. Now the irrepressible Levana Zamir, president of the Association of Jews from Egypt in Israel, makes up for this omission by telling her story to the Algemeiner:  
 
NEW YORK—For Levana Vidal Zamir, it was a “good childhood”—until May 14, 1948. At midnight, she recalls, Egyptian officers rampaged through her family’s house and destroyed everything.  They denounced her uncle as a “Zionist,” arrested him, and held him in jail for almost two years. The Egyptian government confiscated the family’s business—the largest printing company in Egypt—along with much of the family assets.

“All of a sudden, being a Jew was a crime in Egypt,” Zamir recalls in an interview with JNS.org. “The persecution was rampant—beatings, jail, torture—[and] became regular occurrences.”
Zamir—now a filmmaker and the representative of the current Egyptian Jewish community for Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC)—came to the United Nations in September to bear witness. At the recent JJAC international conference in Jerusalem, she spoke for the more than 80,000 Egyptian Jews forced to flee homes in which they had lived—some, for centuries.

In New York, she was set to represent her community at the first JJAC (actually a joint inititiative between the World Jewish Conference and the Israeli MFA - ed) meeting in the halls of the UN. However, no testimony about Egypt’s Jewish community was presented during the UN program. Zamir says that, only 24 hours prior to the gathering, she had been informed she would not be speaking.

In 2008, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler D (D-NY) led efforts in the House of Representatives to pass a “bipartisan resolution recognizing the reality of Jewish refugees.” In July 2012, Nadler introduced another bipartisan bill “designed to secure equal treatment of Palestinian and Jewish refugees” and “pair any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees with similar reference to Jewish and other refugee populations.” Florida Congresswoman U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, supported the legislation.

In Israel, legislation promulgated by Member of Knesset Nissim Ze’ev, of the Shas Party, and passed by the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) February 23, 2009, confers “refugee” status on Jews forced to leave Arab countries. The Ze’ev legislation effectively laid the foundation for both the Jerusalem conference and the recent UN meeting.

“The catalyst to action was the 2009 Cairo speech of U.S. President Barack Obama, during which he equated the Holocaust to the Palestinian refugee situation,” says Zamir. Rep. Nadler said, “It is simply wrong to recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees without recognizing the rights of Jewish refugees…This is, in part, thanks to efforts by the Israeli government, which recently announced plans to hold a national day of recognition of Jewish refugees.”

For 12 years Zamir was called Amarene—meaning moons, in Arabic. (She was named in honor of both of her grandmothers.) In 1950, her name and life were transformed. She became Levana, meaning a singular moon in Hebrew. The child and her family, stripped of all property and under threat, fled a hostile Egypt.


Levana Vidal Zamir. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

With virtually nothing, the family was finally allowed to leave via ship to France and was sent to a transit camp—Campe de’Arenas—outside of Marseilles. The Vidal-Morresi family arrived in Israel several months later, during one of the coldest winters, and was sent to a marbarah (refugee camp) near Tiberias. Their only shelter from the cold winter rain was a tent. More than a half century later, Levana remembers the December night when the family’s canvas shelter blew away in a blasting rainstorm. Her mother cried every night, she recalls, telling no one but her diary.

It took several years, but the family eventually found a home in Shechunat Florentine—the Florentine neighborhood—in Tel Aviv.

“The difference between the Israeli refugee camps and the Palestinian ones is that in Israel we worked, studied, got out, and prospered,” Zamir says. “The Palestinians keep themselves in their camps for four generations, with UNRWA (the United Nation Relief and Works Agency) giving more and more money.”

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2 comments:

Sultana Latifa said...

I wish to congratulate Levana for all the work she is doing on our behalf.
I am very sorry she was not given the opportunity to speak. What was the reason for that? We would have liked to know more about that last minute change.
suzy vidal aka as Sultana Latifa a Jewish refugee from Egypt

Levana Zamir said...

To dear Sultana Latifa,
and to all those who are asking the same question: the answer I got is that our Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, is the one who asked to stop the Egyptian Jews Testimony at the UN. This man, who declared at this same United Nations Session in September 21st, that IT IS TIME TO BREAK THE 65 YEARS OF SILENCE AND TO SPEAK LOUDLY ABOUT THE JEWISH REFUGEES, this man is the one who asked us to shut up...
One more Israeli error, in these 65 years of errors.
In his UN speech, the Israeli Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dany Ayalon, apologized on behalf of Israel for the 65 years of silence.
This is why, somebody at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs already apologized to me about this new and erroneous closing of mouths, and promised to repair the damage, at the first occasion.
This one more apology, because somebody finally realized that among all the arab countries, Egypt is the one which confiscated billions and billions of Egyptian Jews properties, lands and assets, more than all the other Arab countries altogether...
Levana