Friday, November 30, 2012

First, they went for the Jews

  House set on fire during the December 1947 Aden riots, in which 82 Jews were murdered (via Daphne Anson)

Sixty-five years ago almost to the day, as attacks escalated against the Jews of Palestine, the Arab states launched a war against their defenceless Jewish citizens. The Arabs went for their Jews BEFORE a single Palestinian Arab refugee had fled what was to become Israel. I am re-posting extracts from 'November is the cruellest month', a summary of the events that followed the Arab rejection of  UN General Assembly resolution 181 on 29 November 1947 partitioning Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state.

Arab-Jewish tensions reached new heights in the autumn of 1947 as the UN debated Palestine. Dr Muhammad Husein Heykal, chairman of the Egyptian delegation warned that one million Jews in Arab countries would be endangered by partition.

A new wave of violence spread following the vote in favour of Partition on 29 November 1947. Demonstrations were called for 2 - 5 December. It was only because the police prevented the mob from attacking the Cairo Jewish quarter that lives were spared.

In Bahrain, beginning on 5 December, crowds began looting Jewish homes and shops and destroyed the synagogue. Two elderly ladies were killed.

In Aleppo, Syria, the Jewish community was devastated by a mob led by the Muslim Brotherhood. At least 150 homes, 50 shops, all 18 synagogues, five schools, an orphanage and a youth club were destroyed. Many people were killed, but the exact figure is not known. Over half the city's 10,000 Jews fled into Turkey, Lebanon and Palestine.

In Aden, the police could not contain the rioting. By the time order was restored on 4 December, 82 Jews had been killed. Of 170 Jewish-owned shops, 106 were destroyed. The synagogue and two schools were among the Jewish institutions burnt down.

In the Maghreb the French still kept tight control of the population. Morale was better there than among the Jews of the Middle East: these were desperate to leave but had nowhere to go. However, rioting in Morocco six months later was to claim 48 Jewish lives.

The Palestine Post ran an editorial entitled "Unwilling hostages" on 11 December 1947. It quoted an editorial in the Manchester Guardian the day before, entitled 'Hostages'. This deplored inflammatory statements made by Arab leaders which could be interpreted as threats against the Jewish minorities. Both in Syria and Iraq "pressure has been put on the Jews to denounce Zionism and support the Arab cause. One cannot help wonder what threats have been made to bring this about."

The riots of the previous week had been attributed by Arab governments to the 'fury of the people'. The editorial charged that " the governments concerned, if they do not activate or instigate them, look upon them with a benevolent eye."

The Lebanese government issued orders of expulsion against Palestinian Jews in Lebanon. The Palestine Post of 22 December 1947 carried a report about harsh measures that the Arab League was considering taking against Jews in Arab lands. They would first be denaturalised, their property confiscated, their bank accounts frozen, and they would be treated as enemy aliens.

'While there is no news of the acceptance of this resolution by the Arab League, it is significant and tragic that such a document should have been drafted," the editorial lamented. "It is easy for them to play the bully and to keep a sword hanging over the heads of many hundreds of thousands of Jews who are at their mercy."

Although it was not passed, aspects of the Arab League draft resolution were adopted by individual Arab governments. The human rights lawyers and ex-Canadian Justice minister Irwin Cotler has called them 'Nuremberg-style measures.'

By the time Israel was established on 15 May 1948, the Jewish communities in Arab countries had been rocked to their very foundations. As Norman Stillman says, the Palestine issue was a major contributing factor, but it was not the only one - it was more of a catalyst. Arab and Islamic nationalism could find no room for ethnic and religious groups that deviated from the norm, and Jews found themselves alienated and isolated from society at large.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cotler slams Arab states for double aggression

As the UN General Assembly votes to approve an upgrade in the Palestinians' status, ex-Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler, writing in Haaretz, slams the false narrative that claims that the Palestinian Arabs were the only refugees in 1948. Arab states must acknowledge their responsibility in the 'double aggression' of launching a war against Israel, and committing human rights violations against their Jewish nationals:

"How do we rectify this historical – and ongoing – injustice?

"First, it must be appreciated that while justice has long been delayed, it must no longer be denied. The time has come – indeed it has long past – to restore the plight and truth of this forgotten – and forced – exodus of Jewish refugees to the Middle East peace and justice narrative. Indeed, the UN should take the lead in establishing a center of documentation and research to tell the 850,000 untold stories of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

"Second, remedies for victim refugee groups – including rights of remembrance, truth, justice and redress, as mandated under human rights and humanitarian law – must now be invoked for Jews displaced from Arab countries.

"Third, in the manner of duties and responsibilities, each of the Arab countries – and the League of Arab States – must acknowledge their role and responsibility in their double aggression of launching a war against Israel and their human rights violations against their respective Jewish nationals. The culture of impunity must end.

"Fourth, on the international level, the UN General Assembly – in the interests of justice and equality before the law – should include reference to Jewish refugees as well as Palestinian refugees in its annual resolutions; the UN Human Rights Council should address, as it has yet to do, the issue of Jewish as well as Palestinian refugees; UN agencies should also address compensatory efforts for Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

"Fifth, jurisdiction over Palestinian refugees should be transferred from UNRWA to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There was no justification then – and still less today – for the establishment of a separate body to deal only with Palestinian refugees, particularly when that body has been itself compromised by its revisionist teaching of the Middle East peace and justice narrative.

"Sixth, any bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – and any and all discussions on the Middle East by the Quartet or others – which one hopes will presage a just and lasting peace – must include Jewish refugees as well as Palestinian refugees in an inclusive joinder of discussion.

"Significantly, some Governments have made welcome progress on this question, such as the U.S. Congress in recently adopting legislation recognizing the plight of Jewish refugees and requiring that the issue be raised in any and all talks on Middle East peace. Democratic legislatures around the world should hold hearings on the issue to ensure public awareness and action, to allow for victims’ testimony, and to right the historical record – an effort with which I am engaged in the Canadian Parliament.

"The exclusion and denial of rights and redress to Jewish refugees from Arab countries continues to prejudice authentic negotiations between the parties and a just and lasting peace between them. Let there be no mistake about it: Where there is no remembrance, there is no truth; where there is no truth, there will be no justice; where there is no justice, there will be no reconciliation; and where there is no reconciliation, there will be no peace – which we all seek."

Read article in full

Two synagogues ransacked in Sfax, Tunisia

 With thanks Ahoova and JIMENA

On 14 November at 3.50 pm, as Israel embarked on its Pillar of Defense operation in Gaza, two synagogues were ransacked in the Tunisian town of Sfax.

 According to Camus (Yigal) Bouhnik, born in Sfax but now living in Israel, vandals forced open the gate and front door of the Edmond Azria synagogue in rue Philippe Thomas. This synagogue was restored in 2010 by volunteers and with the help of Jewish community funds.

 The back door of the Beth-El synagogue was discovered open and the synagogue plundered once more. It's the second time that the Beth-El synagogue in Avenue de Picville has been broken into. The vandalism, first reported in English on Point of No Return, began 15 months ago. Bouhnik claims that there is no security to speak of in Sfax:'every bastard is king and does what he fancies.'

 The Ark containing Torah scrolls at the Beth-El synagogue, plundered and damaged

Bouhnik has posted 87 photos of the damage, but it is not clear whether these are recent or taken of the early wave of devastation at the Beth-El synagogue. The synagogue had undergone major restoration, including the repair of its smashed windows, three years earlier.

Read Camus Bouhnik's report (Hebrew)

Looting and damage to Sfax synagogue is confirmed

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Jewish woman brutally murdered in Iran

  Mosque in central Isfahan

Unconfirmed news of the brutal murder of a Jewish woman in Isfahan and the dismemberment of her body  has reached The Times of Israel:

A 57-year-old Jewish woman was brutally stabbed to death on Monday by Muslim attackers in the Iranian city of Isfahan, in what her family says was a religiously motivated crime related to a property dispute, Menashe Amir, an expert on Iranian Jewry who spoke with the victim’s family, has told The Times of Israel.

Tuba N., whose family requested not to reveal her last name, was murdered by her Muslim neighbors, who had harassed her family for years in an attempt to drive them from their home and confiscate the property for the adjoining mosque.

“The religious radicals even expropriated part of the house and attached it to the mosque’s courtyard,” Amir said. “The Jewish family appealed to the courts with the help of a local attorney” to seek redress for the conflict, “despite the threats to their lives.”

On Monday, while her husband was in Tehran attending to business matters, “thugs broke into her home, tied up her two sisters who were living with her, and repeatedly stabbed her to death.” Afterward, her attackers allegedly butchered her body and cut off her hands, a sister who witnessed the event told her relatives in the US, who conveyed the information to Amir.

Iranian authorities were said to have not returned the woman’s dismembered body to her family and have tried to cover up the case.

The Times of Israel could not independently verify the report.

Read article in full

Saga of Islamist harassment goes on in Djerba

North African Jews face precarious future

Old man at prayer in the al-Ghriba synagogue, Djerba, Tunisia

Deutsche Welle has a reasonable summary of the current state of two Jewish communities on the verge of extinction - in Egypt and Tunisia, under new threat from the 'Arab Spring'. But their plight is not just a function of the Israel-Arab conflict.

The re-opening of the Maimonides Synagogue was overshadowed by political and religious conflicts. Representatives of the Egyptian government did not attend the ceremony, citing Israeli aggression against Palestinians. Tensions caused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impact the Jewish community in Egypt, even though Cairo signed a peace treaty with the Jewish State in 1979. Hopes that the so-called Arab Spring would help ease tensions have been largely disappointed.

"The situation hasn't improved in any way," David) Harari (of the Association for Egyptian Jewish Heritage in Paris)  said. The head of the Jewish community in Cairo is surveilled by the Egyptian state and cannot speak freely, he added. In Alexandria, the authorities closed the city's synagogue this year during Jewish holidays, according to reports in the Israeli media. Egyptian officials later rejected this accusation.

Maimonides Synagoge im ehemaligen jüdischen Viertel Haret al-Yahoud von Kairo. Hier: Das Innere der frisch restaurierten Synagoge mit Bimah und Thoraschrein. Kairo, Ägypten, 21.03.2010 +++picture alliance / JOKER  
The Egyptian government financed the Maimonides Synagogue restoration, but did not attend the opening ceremony
There is concern among Cairo's Jews about what will become of their once vibrant community's property. Their buildings in Cairo and Alexandria are on valuable plots of land, which are being eyed by businesspeople and politicians.

"When the last Jew in Cairo dies, the valuables will be confiscated by the state,"  said Harari.

 In Tunisia, there is still a functioning Jewish community. In the capital and on the island of Djerba, a few synagogues are open on the Sabbath. But compared to the past, fewer and fewer people attend services on the high holy days, according to Roger Bismuth.

"The situation began to change in 1967 with the Six Day War and the dangerous and unfair equation of Jews with Israelis," Bismuth, president of the World Center for North African Jews in Marseille, told DW. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become a conflict between Jews and Muslims, precipitating the emigration of most Jewish families in Tunisia, he said.

The revolutionary upheaval of the Arab Spring had brought hope for greater religious equality in Tunisia. In early 2011, former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was deposed. Jewish establishments were attacked twice during the ensuing chaos. In one of the attacks, Islamists attempted to force their way into Tunis' main synagogue, yelling anti-Semitic epithets.

Interim President Moncef Marzouki promised the Jewish community protection. In the future parliament, Jews may be allotted two seats. But concerns remain. Perez Trabelsi, the head of the Jewish community in Djerba, recently called for more protection after a failed attempt to kidnap a Jewish person in the city of Zarzis. And the Israeli government has discouraged its citizens from participating in the traditional pilgrimage in Djerba this year, fearing terrorist attacks. In 2002, the Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba was devastated in an al Qaeda attack, killing 21 people including 14 German vacationers.

Bismuth believes the Tunisian government hasn't taken a clear position on Jews and minorities, because "the ruling Ennahda party has Salafist allies," who are very anti-Semitic. He worries that if the situation deteriorates, then the last Tunisian Jews will emigrate.

Read article in full

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Jewish ghosts of Aleppo's past

 Broken tombstones in Aleppo's Jewish cemetery (C. Palma)

 Fascinating article by Anna Therese Day about Aleppo's Jewish 'ghosts' in The Forward.  It is interesting how many people in Syria seem to recall the Jews,  although only some 3,000 remained in the country until the 1990s.

Mahmoud, my guide through the rebel-held part of the city, was giving me a cook’s tour of the recently bombed areas, when suddenly he halted. “We’re here,” he announced with a quick glance. “The Jewish cemetery.”

What lay before me was an abandoned cemetery sprinkled with concrete, shrapnel, and ammunition — all a product of recent government bombing. Upon closer inspection, the tombstones revealed a familiar surprise: Hebrew inscriptions. Mahmoud paused, no doubt anticipating my surprise. “This city has many, many layers of ghosts,” he responded with a knowing gaze. Like others in this article working with the Free Syrian Army, Mahmoud, a 26-year-old English teacher who joined the rebels after the government’s brutal crackdown on Aleppo, asked that his full name not be used to protect his family. He is a pluralist-oriented, progressive young man. So I had shared with him that I had spent a significant amount of time working and studying recently in Israel, where I had worked toward my Master of Arts in political science from Ben-Gurion University.

I also asked him about the Jewish community of Aleppo, explaining that family members of my Israeli landlord were among the 30,000 Syrian Jews that had fled Aleppo and other Syrian cities since Israel’s establishment in 1948. Now, however, we were not focused on history. Mahmoud was showing me the war’s most recent battleground — the Old City of Aleppo, which also happened to be the site of the city’s historic Jewish neighborhood.

Most Syrians I encountered in Turkish refugee camps and in rebel-held Syria during October and November remembered the Syrian Jewish community and were quite willing to discuss this part of their past. They also spoke of their own views and experiences related to Israel as Syrians living under a government that demonized it. This accusation, espionage for Israel, is the most severe allegation that one can be charged with in Syrian society.

Years later, Ahmad told me, agents of Syria’s National Security Agency tortured him — sticking needles under his nails before ripping them out with pliers and forcing him into stress positions and extreme sleep deprivation — when he returned home from an American-certified computer science program in Qatar with an envelope that was related to the program and was marked “ISL.” The envelope had come from America, and Ahmad had no idea what the acronym was. The security agency claimed it stood for “Israel” and said it meant he was a spy.

 In Aleppo, Hassan, an FSA commander who is known commonly as the General, shared his family’s personal connection to the Jews of Aleppo and his inherited knowledge of Aleppo’s vibrant past. “My father said Jews were a major part of this city,” the General recalled during an Eastern Mediterranean dinner of mixed meze, or small dishes of hummus, eggplant and similar fare.

He claimed that his father’s uncle had been married to a Jewish woman and that the government had rounded up their entire family during an escalation of tensions with the early Zionists of Palestine. They were subjected to a rough interrogation, threats and the brief imprisonment of one of his brothers on suspicions of Zionist espionage, he said. The uncle and his Jewish wife fled to Turkey and then to Latin America after this incident, the General recounted. “It just got worse in 1948, so most of them left,” he explained. “Those that couldn’t lived under all sorts of discrimination and suspicion until they were basically no longer Syrian."

 Both Mahmoud and the General talked about Israel while being careful to distinguish between Jews and the Israeli state, a state they regard as a form of Western neo-colonialism. It’s a view that many Arabs espouse.

Most of the Syrians I encountered spoke about the injustices faced by their Palestinian brothers and expressed frustration about the geopolitics of Israel and Iran. In their view, the Iran-Israel face-off limits the West’s ability to intervene in Syria on their behalf. Interestingly, however, I found some consensus among the rebels that Israel is the country that will intervene militarily to their benefit when — or if —Assad moves or uses his cache of chemical weapons against the opposition.

Read article in full: 

'Tell your children' project collects refugee stories

  Berta Wizgan from Tunisia tells her story to student Bar Dubinsky

An initiative backed by the Ministry for Senior Citizens, one of the prime movers in the campaign for recognition for Jewish refugees from Arab countries, is sending schoolchildren out to interview veteran immigrants in Israel. It's called 'Tell your children', after the Passover Haggadah reference. Israel Hayom reports: (With thanks: Michelle; Lily)

Justice cannot be done to the following story in just a few words because it contains the history of a whole generation. High school students and volunteers in Migdal Haemek have recently taken part in a unique project called "Tell Your Children" (a reference to the Passover Haggadah), which documents the stories of veteran immigrants in Israel who came from Arab countries.

"Our aliyah was full of turbulence. We moved from place to place until we got to Migdal Haemek, where there were just a few people at the time," said Berta Wizgan, 70. She and her parents settled in the northern town after immigrating from Tunisia following the establishment of the State of Israel. A few days ago, Wizgan was visited by Bar Dubinsky, a 12th-grade student at the ORT Rogozin school who wanted to document her story. 

"Apartments back then were built like trains and we had to live with people who had different cultures and came from different places," Wizgan told Dubinsky. 

"When I was 12, I decided to go to work on a farm, but this decision was difficult to make because my parents were very traditional," she said, recalling the difficulty she faced when she wanted to work and then join the army.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Jews took their dead with them out of Sudan

Maurice Goldenberg's shop in Khartoum (Photo: Frederique Cifuentes)

The fading frontage of Maurice Goldenberg's shop in Khartoum is the only proof that Jews once lived and thrived in Sudan under British colonial rule. There were almost 1,000 Jews, Sephardi as well as Ashkenazi. Today there are none. They and their descendants are scattered between the US, Israel, Switzerland and the UK.

Before Jews arrived from Egypt, Turkey and Iraq to form the modern community, eight Jewish families had been forced to convert to Islam by the Mehdi, who fought General Gordon at the battle of Khartoum. The converts were forced to take Sudanese wives and change their names. The Bassounis were originally named Ben-Zion, the Mandils Mendel.

Today's visitors to Khartoum can see one other relic of the Jewish community - the cemetery. But the Sudanese Jews in exile exhumed the graves of their relatives and had them reburied in the Givat Shaul cemetery overlooking Jerusalem. What's left of the Jewish cemetery in Khartoum is a rubbish dump.

Why did the Jews leave? For much the same reasons that Jews left every other country in the Arab world: fear and insecurity. After British colonialism ended and Sudan declared independence in 1956, Jews began leaving in the late 1950s and during the 1960s.

In the anti-Jewish atmosphere of a predominantly Muslim country, Jews were not helped by possessing documents that identified them as 'Israeli', thus making it easier to scapegoat them for discrimination.

One Sudanese-born Jew told me that the Jews anticipated persecution but fled before it could really come about. The climate in the Sudan was heavily affected by Egypt and Nasserist arabisation. Fearful Jews exported their assets, but the government froze their property. Later, their property was unfrozen. However, it was galling for Jews who managed to sell their properties for peanuts to watch property values subsequently soar sky high.

The least fortunate, as ever, went to Israel, but some, like the Gaons and the Tammans in Switzerland, were financially successful. They were instrumental in shipping out Sifrei Torah from the Khartoum synagogue to Jerusalem, as well as their loved ones from the Jewish cemetery. The Jews of Sudan are now the subject of a film: The Longest kiss in history, by Frederique Cifuentes-Morgan. The film takes its title from the point where the Blue Nile meets the White Nile in Khartoum.

The (almost) lost history of the Jews of Sudan

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sephardim can get automatic Spanish nationality

 The Alhambra expulsion document of 1492

 Update: according to this New York Times article, applicants must renounce their existing nationality: this will make acquiring Spanish nationality less attractive.

Five hundred years after their expulsion, Sephardi Jews can now acquire automatic Spanish nationality without living in the country for two years, the Spanish government has announced. It is not clear to whom the measure is intended to appeal, although there are Sephardi Jews (some still Ladino-speaking) across Latin America.  However, just as Israelis of Eastern European ancestry have been queuing up to acquire Polish and Rumanian passports, it now becomes possible for those Israelis of North African origin who can trace their ancestry to the megorashim fleeing the Spanish Inquisition to live, study and work in the EU. (With thanks Lily; Michelle)

 Haaretz reports:

Spain has announced that it will ease the naturalization of Sephardic Jews whose ancestors were expelled 500 years ago.    

Sephardic Jews already benefit from a preferential naturalization procedure that requires them to live in Spain for only two years before claiming citizenship. But the change, which was announced on Thursday, means that Jews will have to present only a certificate confirming their ancestry to claim a Spanish passport.       

The Federation of the Jewish Communities of Spain, an umbrella body, congratulated the government for “recognition of a right which does not depend on any government decree.”
In its statement, the organization added that the announcement needs to “culminate in a legal text that will specify the conditions to be met to assume nationality.”
The government did not say how many Jews it expected to apply for citizenship, but it noted that a large number of Sephardic Jews lived in Turkey and across Latin America.
While estimates differ, the number of Jews living in Spain - 25, 000 to 45, 000 people out of a total population of 47 million - is only a fraction of the number who lived in the country before 1492, when Jews were forced to convert to Christianity or go into exile.

El Mundo reports: (translation from Facebook):

 "Our relations have not been broken ever, not have never forgotten, have both been more intense the more tolerant, dialogical and democratic Spain has been,"  said (the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo).

According to Margallo, another objective of the instruction is "recovering the memory of the silenced Spain during long ago" and culminating towards "land and freedom" of the Spaniards "yearn for Sefarad" who live in the diaspora.

For (Minister of Justice Alberto-Ruiz) Gallardon, this statement is that of the "reunion" and is addressed to all "those who have been unjustly deprived of their nationality and have been recreated through affection a Spain that never resigned to losing and that from now on is as theirs as ours, in regards to the right".

The President of the Federation of the Jewish communities, Isaac Querub, who has had a memory for those Jews who were expelled from Spain in the 15th century and their descendants, who today, after 520 years of "nostalgia" and "yearning" in the land of their parents, they will gain access to Spanish nationality "are in place that are" has also participated in the Act.

Cherub has highlighted the "unequivocal willingness" of the Government and has moved its appreciation to justice and Foreign Ministers for this commitment that "will culminate in legislative form that matches" and allow the Sephardim feel ""fully Spanish in rights and duties.

As well as on March 31, 1492, the date of the signing of the edict of expulsion of the Jews of Castile and Aragon, was, according to Cherub, a day of darkness and obscurity, the legal provision "of return" announced today will make that this day "go down in history as a day of blue sky and intense luminosity for Spain".

Friday, November 23, 2012

Islamists destroyed Jewish Gaza carving in 1980s

 The erasure of the Jewish history of 'Palestine' is a feature of the delegitimisation campaign being conducted against Israel and Jews in the region. A case in point is the destruction of a stone carving which once belonged to an ancient Gaza synagogue, according to Emet Mi' Tziyon blog (with thanks: Eliyahu):

One notable case is that of a Jewish inscription in the Hebrew and Greek alphabets that still existed as recently as 20 years ago but has since been destroyed, apparently by Islamic fanatics shortly after the start of the hate movement called the First Intifada [according to Haggai Huberman; the first "intifada" started in December 1987].

This stone carving was found in 1870, apparently by British travelers. It was discovered in the Great Mosque of Gaza on a stone column which was the upper tier of a double-tiered support for the roof and walls of the mosque.

The mosque structure was originally a Crusader church, built after Baldwin I, the Crusader king of Jerusalem, decided to rebuild the city in 1149, after it had lain in ruins since before the Crusader conquest as a result of wars between Seljuk Turks and other Muslim factions, or may have been destroyed at some point by the Crusaders themselves [according to Michael Avi-Yonah].

In this light, it would seem that the Crusaders re-used parts --including pillars-- of wrecked earlier buildings that were lying around in the ruined city. The Hebrew and Greek inscriptions together with the decorating medallion/wreath, described by Hershel Shanks as "Hellenistic," indicate that the pillar was part of a synagogue built during the late Roman or the Byzantine periods. The Hebrew and Greek are identical in meaning. They are a man's name, Hananyah son of Jacob,

Hananyah bar Ya`aqob [in Hebrew writing חנניה בר יעקב ]. The Greek inscription is Anania giyo Iako, meaning the same thing. Giyo [in today's Greek yiyo] means son or son of. Other features of the bas-relief include a seven-branched, three-footed menorah, a shofar [used in the synagogues on Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur], an etrog [citron] and a lulav [palm frond].

Note that the Hebrew inscription uses the Aramaic word bar בר, meaning son or son of, instead of the usual Hebrew word ben בן. Aramaic was the predominant spoken language of the Jews in Israel in the late Roman and Byzantine periods. Hananyah was probably a major donor to building the synagogue, and he was honored with a stone carving in his name, just as Jews today honor major donors with stone or metal plaques in synagogues.

Read post in full

The long Jewish history of Gaza

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Hamas: Jew-hatred and Islamic imperialism

 Hamas fighters praying

More proof from Joseph S Spoerl in Union Leader why there can be no compromise with the implacable Jew-hatred, imperialism and genocidal intentions professed by the Muslim Brotherhood's Gaza offshoot, Hamas.

The flare-up of violence between Israel and the Hamas state in the Gaza strip has drawn our attention again to that volatile corner of the globe. Since the Muslim Brotherhood now controls Egypt, and the rulers of Turkey and Qatar have openly embraced Hamas, the current round of violence is occurring in a whole new geopolitical context. It is more important than ever that Americans understand the ideology of Hamas and its parent, the Muslim Brotherhood.

That ideology has two dominant features: Islamic imperialism and extreme hatred for Jews.

The Egyptian founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hasan al-Banna (1906-1949), was enraged by Western dominance of the Muslim world, since he saw this as a reversal of the divinely mandated order by which Muslims should rule over non-Muslims, not vice versa. Al-Banna looked back on the era of Muslim conquests as a golden age, writing that "the Noble Qur'an appoints the Muslims as guardians over humanity., and grants them the right of suzerainty and dominion over the world."

Invoking classical Islamic law, al-Banna called upon his followers to eject Western imperialists (including Zionists) from Muslim lands, and then to work towards Islamic penetration and eventual control of non-Muslim countries as well. A central goal of the Muslim Brotherhood has thus always been the destruction of the Zionist state of Israel.

 The Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestinian territories, a.k.a. Hamas, quotes al-Banna in its "Covenant" or statement of foundational principles: "Israel will remain until Islam eliminates it as it eliminated its predecessors." When Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood leaders claim that they are merely a "resistance" movement opposed to Israeli "occupation," it is important to recall that they believe the entire state of Israel is occupied territory that rightfully belongs to Muslims. Their goal, therefore, is the total destruction of Israel.

Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood regard Israel as the product of a diabolical Jewish conspiracy to control the world. The Hamas Covenant asserts that the Jews have taken control of the global media and the international financial system; that they were behind the French and Bolshevik Revolutions; that "wherever there is war in the world, it is they who are pulling the strings;" that they control the Freemasons, the Rotary Clubs, the Lions Clubs.

The goal of the Jews is "to break societies, undermine values, destroy people's honor, create moral degeneration, and annihilate Islam." Zionism, the Covenant tells us, "is behind all types of trafficking in drugs and alcohol, so as to make it easier for it to take control and expand." As evidence of this global Jewish conspiracy the Covenant cites the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic forgery that played a central role in Nazi propaganda and that historians rightly describe as "a warrant for genocide."

Hamas leaders routinely broadcast open calls for genocide against Jews on the official Hamas TV station in Gaza. In February 2010, Abdallah Jarbu, a member of the Hamas government, stated, "the .. Jews are thieves and aggressors . they are a foreign bacteria - a microbe unparalleled in the world. May He (Allah) annihilate this filthy people. I condemn whoever believes . that they are human beings. They are not human beings. They are not people."

Read article in full

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gaza: Hamas bigotry began with this man

Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Gazan branch

Are you, like me, experiencing a sense of 'deja-vu' when it comes to the current conflict in Gaza? Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. The only difference, this time round, is that the present Egyptian government is ideologically sympathetic to Hamas, and only pragmatism will prevent it from supporting Hamas' war against Israel. I am re-posting an article I wrote in 2009 at the time of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

In spite of the record press and media coverage of the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, rarely are Hamas's objectives put in historical perspective. Hamas are not Palestinian nationalists but Islamists. Well-meaning do-gooders talk about the need for an end to violence and for the two sides to sit down and talk. But Hamas, an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement, simply does not have a negotiating position, short of the annihilation of Israel and the subjugation of Jews to Muslim rule, as per its Charter. 

Hamas is the local Gaza branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. This organisation, founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, a teacher, was directly inspired by the rise of Nazism, as well as Mohammed's campaign against the Jewish tribes of Arabia in the Koran. The German-funded Brotherhood's membership rocketed during the 1930s from 800 to 200,000. Its primary target was not colonialism. It has only ever targeted the Jews and other non-Muslims - and more specifically, the Jews of Egypt.

Matthias Kuntzel explains how this campaign, which established the Brotherhood as a mass movement, was set off by the 1936 uprising in Palestine directed against Jewish immigration and initiated by the notorious Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Between 1936 and 1938 the Brotherhood organized mass demonstrations in Egyptian cities under the slogans "Down With the Jews!" and "Jews Get Out of Egypt and Palestine!" Leaflets called for a boycott of Jewish goods and shops. The Brotherhood's newspaper, al-Nadhir, carried a regular column on "The Danger of the Jews of Egypt," which published the names and addresses of Jewish businessmen and (allegedly) Jewish newspaper publishers all over the world - attributing every evil, from communism to brothels, to the "Jewish danger." The Jews of Egypt were repeatedly called on to publicly dissasociate themselves from Zionism.

In June 1939 bombs were planted in a Cairo synagogue and Jewish homes, but this was as nothing compared to the violence to come. In November 1945, just six months after the end of the Third Reich, the Muslim Brotherhood carried out what Kuntzel calls the worst anti-Jewish pogroms in (modern*) Egypt's history, when demonstrators penetrated the Jewish quarter of Cairo on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. They ransacked houses and shops, attacked non-Muslims, and torched the synagogues. Six people were killed, and a hundred more injured. A few weeks later the Islamists' newspapers "turned to a frontal attack against the Egyptian Jews, slandering them as Zionists, Communists, capitalists and bloodsuckers, as pimps and merchants of war, or in general, as subversive elements within all states and societies," as Gudrun Krämer wrote in her study The Jews in Egypt 1914-1952.

The rest is, as they say, history. More riots erupted in 1948, thousands of Jews fled, discriminatory laws were introduced against non-Egyptians and in 1956, a third of Egypt's original 80,000-strong community were expelled and dispossessed. After 1967, hundreds more Jews were interned and expelled.

The pitiful status of Jews in Egypt today would gladden the heart of any Hamas supporter: the country is almost judenrein, and the few dozen fearful Jews still living there - almost all converts to Islam or married to non-Jews - 'know their place'.
*worse pogroms erupted in medieval times

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Iranian Jew 'ready to help injured Gazans'

 As often happens when there is conflict involving Israel, Iran's Jewish community is once again under pressure to show where its loyalties lie. Samiak Morsadeq, the token representative in the Iranian Majlis, but also a doctor, is ready to use his skills to help Gazans, reports Fars News Agency.
TEHRAN (FNA)- A senior Iranian Jewish legislator who is also a skilled surgeon underlined his readiness to go to Gaza to help the Palestinians injured during the recent Israeli regime's aggression on the Gaza Strip.

"I am ready to provide service for the injured people in Gaza as a surgeon and use all my expertise and special capabilities to provide service for the Resistance," Representative of the Jewish minority at the Iranian Parliament Siamak Marreh Sedq told FNA on Monday.

"The Iranian Jews like all free and monotheist people of the world condemn the genocide in Gaza and voice hatred for it," he added.

Read article in full 

Iranian Jews condemn Israel in Gaza

Gaza or Ghana?

'My family was among the first forced out of Egypt '

 The Cicurel department store in Cairo kept its name after its owners were expelled with nothing. This photo was taken in 1946.

 Jenny Stewart's family was among the first to be expelled from Egypt in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis in 1956. Here is her story, as told to Point of No Return:

"My name is Jenny Stewart (nee Setton). I was born in Cairo in 1935. I went to a convent boarding school.

"Our family was amongst the first Jews to be forced out of Egypt in 1956. I was then 21, a primary schoolteacher. The Suez Crisis had just broken out:  Britain and France in alliance with Israel were attacking Nasser after he nationalised the Suez Canal. We were among 25,000 Jews expelled from Egypt.

"It was November 1956. There was a knock at our door. It was Mrs Kromovski, an Ashkenazi lady from Poland. She begged us to take her in: she had been turned out of her home in Suez which had become a military zone.  Two officers came to our door and gave us three days to leave. We do not know if Mrs Kromovski’s arrival and our subsequent expulsion were linked.

"We packed our suitcases with warm clothes. My mother had a UK passport, but I had none. I had to get a travel permit from the Swiss embassy. My stepfather was stateless.

"We were allowed to take out only 20 pounds each.  I sewed a £10 note in the hem of my dress. My mother insisted on taking her jewellery with her. It was all confiscated by the immigration officers when we arrived at the airport.

"After a long and complicated journey - we left Cairo on a UN transport plane - I remember arriving  at London airport, which consisted then of just a few corrugated shacks. The cold and damp weather made my stepfather very ill. Having previously contracted TB he only had one kidney and asked to be sent to the Jewish hospital in the East End of London. He spent six months there. My mother became so depressed she had spells in a mental hospital under sedation.

"Jews who arrived in England after us were sent to refugee camps in the north of the country.

"My father, an import-export merchant in Egypt, was taken to prison. An Egyptian army officer had designs on the apartment he lived in, and had him arrested on trumped-up charges.  My father spent about eight months in jail with robbers and thieves. When he was released he was put on a ship for Italy, and then another to Israel. Life was a struggle: he started working as a postman; as he was well-educated and multilingual, he managed to rebuild his life in Israel.

"Our family business in Egypt involved running two shops selling French designer clothing and children’s wear. On our hurried departure we left the shops in the hands of my brother-in-law, but later he too had to flee Egypt, leaving all our property behind. We later found out that we owned a plot of  land in Alexandria, the site of an ancient Greek temple. It must have been purchased before  King Faroukh ascended the throne: afterwards, Jews were not allowed to inherit property.

"After 1979, when Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty, we visited Egypt. I remember staying in a palace in Zamalek, converted into a hotel, that I used to walk past as a child. The Egyptians welcomed us very warmly. But I felt Egypt had gone backwards. The shops still had their original names. Their owners of the large department stores, such as Gattegno and Cicurel, had fled Egypt with nothing. The street names, however, had all changed.

"We were recommended an Egyptian lawyer to try and get us compensation for our losses. We paid him his fee, but nothing came of it. "          

Monday, November 19, 2012

First Jewish wedding in Delhi for 50 years

 A Bene Israel family (Photo: the Shiksa in the Kitchen)

 The first  wedding for 50 years has taken place in Delhi between two Bene Israel Jews, reports the Hindustan Times. Only 50 Jews still live in the Indian capital. There are some 5,000 Jews still in India.

As Shulamith Ezekiel Malekar and Sharon Pinhas Bhalkar tied the knot at the Safdarjung Club in south Delhi's Safdarjung Enclave, it marked a memorable event for not only the couple but for the whole Jewish community in Delhi.

“This is the first wedding in 50 years between two Indian Jews in Delhi. There have been Jewish marriages but they were inter-religious,” Ezekiel Isaac Malekar, the father of the bride, a retired lawyer and rabbi at the Judah Hyam Synagogue on Humayun Road, said.

According to him, only 10 Indian Jewish families live in the Capital now. The Jewish community in Delhi is only 50-members strong.

“There are also around 200-odd diplomats who are Jews. Every year, in winter, over 25,000 visitors come to visit the Judah Hyam Synagogue (the only one of its kind in North India),” Malekar said.
Hannah Judah, a teacher based in Mumbai, had flown in with her husband Akiv to attend the wedding. She said there are over 5,000 Indian Jews, most of who stay in Mumbai. “There is also a considerable Jewish populace in Kochi, Kolkata and even Manipur. In Delhi, however, the number isn't too flattering,” Hannah added.

While the men sported the traditional kippa (Jewish skull cap) at the wedding, the women showed off serene sarees and dainty dresses. Children ran around the venue in kurtas, lehenga-cholis, miniature wedding gowns and suits. Turban-wearing catering guys moved around with an array of snacks and soft drinks. A tiny dance floor was also set up for the post-wedding dance.

As the bride, accompanied by her family, walked towards the wedding shamiana with little flower boys showering rose petals and a pretty teen holding on to the trail of her dress, the groom started singing a Hebrew song — sung by millions of Jews for over 2000 years as a wedding ritual. However, Delhi and its people heard it again after half a century.

Read article in full

Cochin Jew composed popular 'Ma Navu' song


'Ma Navu' is sung wordwide by Jews - on the festival of Simhat Torah, for instance - and by non-Jews alike. Point of No Return thanks Bala Menon, who blogs at the Jews of Cochin, for reminding us of the song's origins in the Jewish community of Cochin: 
It was Elias (Babu) Josephai (pictured here), the ebullient caretaker of the Kadavumbagam Synagogue of the Cochin Jews  in Ernakulam, who first told me about the enchanting Hebrew song Ma Navu. Josephai asserted that the music was composed by a member of the Kadavumbagam congregation. (The Kadavumbagam synagogue is not in use today).

Josephai's claim is true. I have come across many articles where the credit for the uplifting composition is given to 'Jews from Cochin'.  This Sephardic song in Aramaic (it sounds like Hebrew to me - ed) is sung by every Jewish person from Kerala. Josephai says it was popular during the Simchat Torah celebrations in Cochin - because the lilting tune made all participants dance with abandon.

Today, Ma Navu is sung worldwide, and in the United States it is popular at various dance festivals, including the Universiy of California and with church choirs across the country.  A search on YouTube will show the many variants of the original Cochin tune, with dancers going round and round in circles, holding hands.

Read post in full

Sunday, November 18, 2012

France: 'The yoghurt's expiry date is now'

 The scene after the terrorist attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse in March 2012.

 You might agree or disagree with Michel Gurfinkiel's view that the French President, Francois Hollande, has woken up to antisemitism in France - and events in Gaza will probably only make matters worse. One thing is certain - from bitter experience of the Shoah and their expulsion from Arab and Muslim lands, many French Jews already see the writing on the wall, or as Gurfinkiel quaintly puts it in the Middle East Forum, the expiry date on the yoghurt pot.

(..) an elderly gentleman of Moroccan-Jewish descent confided to me last week: "The yogurt's expiry date is now." The gentleman elaborated:
Back in Morocco, we used to be members of the national elite. Right after independence, in the late 1950s, my father was seen as a close friend of King Mohamed V. He had access to everybody in the government. He held important positions. Then, one day, he told his stunned family that we were leaving for France. And forsaking the best part of our money and belongings. We, the children, were aghast: "What is going on?" we asked. And our father told us: "The yogurt's expiry date is now. From now on, we have no future anymore in Morocco. We must go, as long as we can go."
Indeed, most Jews left Morocco in less than twenty years, and most had to relinquish most of their goods upon leaving. There were 350,000 Moroccan Jews — out of a global population of 10 million — in 1956, when the French and Spanish protectorates were lifted and the "Sharifian Empire," as it was then known, resumed full sovereignty. In the early 1970s, only a few thousand were left.
Some Jews left for Israel even before independence, when the French still ruled most of the country. Most left for Israel, France, or Canada during the first ten years of King Hassan II's reign, from 1961 to 1971. Hassan II was then playing the "progressive," pan-Arabist, and proto-Islamist card, and gave free rein to anti-Jewish intimidation or harassment.

He changed his mind when he survived two assassination attempts, in 1971 and 1972, and realized that some of his hitherto closest advisors were involved. Some say that he then remembered an old prophecy according to which the Alawi dynasty he belonged to would last as long as Jews would be found in Morocco. Some others more soberly say that he needed American aid to survive, and that America paid much attention to his attitude towards Jews. Whatever his motivation, the king made sure after 1972 that the last Jews still living in Morocco should stay, and that even some other Jews should be cajoled into starting business or buying property in the country. All in all, a residual three thousand-soul community has thus been maintained to this day. (But its young people are moving away every year, never to return - ed)

As for Mohamed VI, who succeeded Hassan II in 1999, he has so far been a friend of the Moroccan Jewish community, both in and outside Morocco, and a genuine moderate in Israeli-Arab affairs. The 2011 constitution — passed as the Moroccan answer to the so-called "Arab Spring" — specifically mentions the Jewish heritage as part and parcel of the national Moroccan heritage, a noble and praiseworthy move on the part of an Arab country.

But the point is that at least 98% of the counted Moroccan Jews were induced to leave Morocco under very short notice. Which gave some weight to what the elderly gentleman had to say next:
I never thought anything like that would happen to me again, and in France at that, of all countries. … But here we are. The expiry date has been reached again. We must go. My children and grandchildren must go. And I, an old man, must go too.
That most Jews in France feel utterly insecure by now and that many consider leaving for another country is an open secret. Interior Minister Manuel Valls — who is seen as even more pro-Jewish and pro-Israel as Hollande — insists that Jews are an integral part of the French nation, and that "France cannot countenance" a mass exodus of its "children"). Which means that such a mass exodus is indeed being discussed.

French Jews certainly love France and are loyal to the French nation. On the other hand, they are either the survivors or the survivors' children of two major cataclysms: the Shoah in the 1940s and the near-total expulsion from Islamic countries from the late 1940s to the 1980s. All of them know or were told by their closest relatives about previous "expiry dates."

The Toulouse massacre was certainly a turning point. But more anti-Jewish violence was reported throughout the summer in France. It culminated in an attack against a kosher supermarket in Sarcelles, in the Paris suburbs, on September 19. Two weeks later, on October 6, the French police dismantled an Islamist cell that was apparently involved in the Sarcelles attack and was planning more attacks, including the assassination of several Jewish leaders. What was noteworthy about it was that its members were mostly converts to Islam rather than Muslims by birth.

Le Monde, the authoritative if somewhat left-wing newspaper of France, two days later published a landmark editorial:
A sinister fact was validated over the weekend. There are in France groups that are decisively engaged in anti-Jewish violence. … All in the name of Islam, and of an unbelievable ideological hodgepodge where the Muslim community's concerns over the Middle East coalesce with questions over Afghanistan. … What is however really new and really frightening is that the anti-Jewish violence borrows a lot from the old European anti-Semitism that prevailed at the end of the 19th century. … And that the Internet spreads the anti-Semitic renewal through a myriad of anti-Western sites.
The link between anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, Islamism, and global anti-Western militancy is not breaking news, to say the least. What is important here is that Hollande (at least implicitly), Valls (much more explicitly), and Le Monde and the French intellectual and political establishment it stands for do not attempt any longer to deny it or to underestimate it.

Read article in full

Saturday, November 17, 2012

It's not fare: food intolerance sticks in the craw

Last week, a Lebanese student at Harvard Business School,  Sara el-Yafi,  charged that the couscous and hummus (pictured) on offer at its Israeli mezze station had been appropriated from the Arabs. Writing in the Propagandist, Harvard alumnus Mark Anspach gives el-Yafi her just deserts:

"If she saw a Tunisian Food Station with couscous and harissa hot sauce, would she fire off an angry missive complaining that this dish is also served in Libya? If the dining hall responded by serving up the same food at a Libyan Station, would she turn around and protest that Harvard had grievously offended Tunisia?

Of course not. There would be no logic to such complaints, just as there is no logic to her protest about the Israeli Mezze Station.

What she really can’t stomach is the mention of a country she has been trained to hate: Israel. That’s okay. She is free to spend the rest of her life wallowing in hatred. It will only give her indigestion.
Personally, I don’t care if she hates Israel, but I do care about the truth. She says Israel isn’t African and warns it not to “appropriate other peoples’ foods.”

Who are you calling “other people”? Don’t you know that Jews lived in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco long before the arrival of Arab colonizers?
Don’t you know that the Israeli population is made up in large part of Jews driven from their ancestral homes in North Africa and the Middle East?

These Jews can no longer feast on couscous in Tunis, but they can do so in Haifa and Jaffa. They can no longer enjoy hummus in Alexandria, but they can do so in Tel Aviv.

The Arabs have already “appropriated” their land and houses and worldly goods. When they try to deprive them of their culture, too, it is long past time to draw the line.

Read article in full 

Right Side News

Friday, November 16, 2012

Paradise lost and found in Kurdistan

Here's another take on My father’s Paradise: a son’s search for his family’s past by Ariel Sabar (Paperback £8.99, McGonquin) - this time reviewed in The Sephardi Bulletin by Lyn Julius.

 For years, Ariel Sabar took no interest in his father. Although a professor of Aramaic at a Californian university, Yona Sabar was everything his all-American son Ariel was not. “ Ours was a clash of civilisations,” Ariel writes in ”My father’s Paradise”. Yona was decidely ‘uncool’ - he wore cheap clothes and scribbled cryptic notations, while his son skateboarded in his bermuda shorts and flirted with ‘shiksas’. The father was a modest compromiser, the son an arrogant go-getter.

It was only when Ariel’s own son was born that the realisation dawned on Ariel– he was but a link in a millennial chain of Kurdish Jews, with a special responsibliity to pass on a unique identity and heritage to subsequent generations.

The book is the story of Yona Sabar from his humble beginnings in Zakho, a nondescript town in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, not far from the Turkish border. There the Jews comprised less than half of one percent of the population. They engaged in un-Jewish occupations like lumberjacking and rafting. They were pious, but until Yona’s generation, illiterate and poor. They were also different from the Jews further south:  they still spoke the ancient tongue of Aramaic, not Arabic.

 In this ‘paradise’ Ariel admits that the local Jews had to do the bidding of the aghas of warring tribes. They had to pay a fee for marriage and volunteer their labour. (The author seems to believe that which others would call extortion and slave-labour were ‘not too high a price to pay for freedom of trade and religion.’)

 Following harassment and persecution in 1948 when Israel was born, Yona and his entire community were uprooted along with the 18,000 other Iraqi Kurdish Jews – 25,000 if you include Kurdish Jews from Turkey and Iran –  and transplanted to Israel.

The welcome was gruff and the Kurdish Jews were despised twice over – once by their more sophisticated brethren from Baghdad, who thought of Kurds and stupid and backward – and again by European Jews  in Israel. Kurds in Israel were shamed into hiding their origins.

 In spite of his trendy Israel-bashing, however, Ariel admits that the next generation seized the opportunities that Israel offered to better themselves. These “opportunities were won”, he writes almost wistfully,” while cultures were lost”.

Yet it was the European scholars of the Hebrew University who gave Yona his lucky break and, ultimately, his livelihood: encouraging him to become an academic specialist in the dying language of neo-Aramaic by recording the vocabulary and speech patterns of his own family.

Israel’s Ben Zvi institute awarded Yona a research grant. He took his specialism to Yale and then to UCLA.  There, incongruously, he was a consultant in Aramaic for Hollywood producers making films about the life of Jesus. Thus, he ‘sublimated homesickness into a career’.

This prize-winning book is stylishly written and well researched – Ariel cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter. The reader is spellbound when father and son decide to return to Zakho after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. But Ariel irritates with his cloying nostalgia for Zakho ‘where cultures could braid without blurring.’ Yona appears to have done a better job of coming to terms with a vanished Zakho than his own son.

A past ‘ where Muslims, Christians and Jews looked after one another’ might have been a cruel delusion to Yona’s mother Miriam, whose eldest baby Rifka was abducted by her Muslim wetnurse, never to be seen again. Ariel’s Californian enthusiasm for a mythical multicultural past survives undimmed in spite of his feverish and risky attempts to look for his lost aunt. If the choice is between retaining an exotic culture and a safe and predictable future, I would choose safety and predictablity any day.

Jewish Chronicle review

Paradise in Aramaic: review of Ariel Sabar's book

Ariel Sabar and his father Yona on a return visit to Yona's birthplace of Zakho

When some 25,000 Kurdish Jews were driven out of Iraq and Iran, a unique story and culture came to an end. Poet and author Moris Farhi reviews one of the few Kurdish-Jewish memoirs in English, 'My father's paradise' by Ariel Sabar (now in paperback) for the Jewish Chronicle:   

In this memoir by Ariel Sabar, the “paradise” of the author’s father, Yona, is Zakho, a town on an island of the Habur river, close to the Turkish border in Kurdish Iraq.

In the 1930s, when Yona’s story begins, Zakho had a population of 27,000. Inhabited predominantly by Muslim Kurds, it boasted a Jewish minority assumed to be the progenies of Nebuchadnezzar’s captives banished to Babylon.

Remarkably, these Jews, mostly illiterate, spoke neither Kurdish nor Arabic, but Aramaic, a language, some three millennia old, which served the Middle East as lingua franca for much of that time-span and which still has two prayers, the Kaddish and the Kol Nidrei, in the Hebrew liturgy.

Life was never easy for Kurdish Jews. But it had its paradisal aspects. Ensconced for centuries in a harsh region where good luck and/or misfortune struck people indiscriminately, Muslims, Jews and Christians, while maintaining their faith and social standings, had developed an enviable coexistence.
Equally importantly, the Jews treasured a compelling spiritual world, an oral tradition of countless narratives distilled both from the Old Testament and a cornucopia of cultures.

This “paradise” was lost when Arab nationalism erupted. Upon the establishment of the state of Israel, Iraq expelled all the Jews from the country.

The fledgling State of Israel opened its gates to these exiles. While his family had difficulties settling down, Yona Sabar found salvation in education.

As a “literate” Kurdish Jew who spoke Aramaic, he soon drew the attention of academia. He became a dedicated scholar of Aramaic, first in Israel, then in the United States. Given the better resources for research in the US, he settled there. Producing seminal works over the years, he became one of the greatest authorities in that ancient but dying language.

The latter part of My Father’s Paradise narrates the growing interest of Yona’s son — the author, Ariel — in his father’s roots. Eventually, father and son travel to Zakho. Despite the warm welcome they receive from the Kurds, some of whom still remember the family, Yona realises that the present can accommodate the past only as a nostalgic “paradise”. Later, after another emotive trip to Zakho, Ariel attains a better understanding of the effects of lost paradises.

An eye-opener on the diaspora’s cultural breadth which we often under-estimate, My Father’s Paradise is an outstanding memoir.

Read article in full 

Sephardi Bulletin review

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The long Jewish history of Gaza

 Mosaic flooring in a 6th century synagogue in Gaza

With rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel once again topping the news headlines, it is as well to recall that Gaza has not always been an Arab city: Jews have lived there for centuries.

As Dr Shaul Zadka reminded us in a talk in London last night, one of Gaza's notable Jewish inhabitants was the 17th century Nathan of Gaza. He can best be described as spin-doctor for Shabbetai Zvi, who wreaked mayhem across the Jewish and non-Jewish world, proclaiming himself the Messiah.

Since 2006, not a single Jew has lived in Gaza, after Israel pulled out 8,000 Israeli civilians from the territory. It looks like there may not be many Christians left there either, following harassment and forced conversions after Hamas took over control.

Here is a potted history of the Jewish roots of Gaza, from the Jewish Virtual Library:

"Gaza is within the boundaries of Shevet Yehuda in Biblical Israel (see Genesis 15, Joshua 15:47, Kings 15:47 and Judges 1:18) and therefore some have argued that there is a Halachic requirement to live in this land. The earliest settlement of the area is by Avraham and Yitzhak, both of whom lived in the Gerar area of Gaza. In the fourth century Gaza was the primary Jewish port of Israel for international trade and commerce.

"Great medieval rabbis such as Rabbi Yisrael Najara, author of Kah Ribon Olam, the popular Shabbat song, and renowned Mekubal Rabbi Avraham Azoulai, were rabbanim in Gaza Jewish communities.
The periodic removal of Jews from Gaza goes back at least to the Romans in 61 CE, followed much later by the Crusaders, Napoleon, the Ottoman Turks, the British and the contemporary Egyptians. However, Jews definitely lived in Gaza throughout the centuries, with a stronger presence in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 

"Jews were present in Gaza until 1929, when they were forced to leave the area due to violent riots against them by the Arabs. Following these riots, and the death of nearly 135 Jews in all, the British prohibited Jews from living in Gaza to quell tension and appease the Arabs. Some Jews returned, however, and, in 1946, kibbutz Kfar Darom was established to prevent the British from separating the Negev from the Jewish state. 

"The United Nations 1947 partition plan allotted the coastal strip from Yavneh to Rafiah on the Egyptian border to be an Arab state. In Israel's war for independence, most Arab inhabitants in this region fled or were expelled, settling around Gaza City. Israeli forces conquered Gaza, and proceeded south to El-Arish, but subsequently gave control of the area to Egypt in negotiations, keeping Ashdod and Ashkelon. In 1956, Israel went to war with Egypt, conquered Gaza again, only to return it again.
With the 1967 Six Day War, Israeli forces reentered Gaza and captured it. During the war, Israel had no idea what it would do with the territory. Eshkol called it “a bone stuck in our throats.”1"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How Jews helped Yanks liberate Algiers in 1942

 Panoramic view of Algiers

It is 70 years since Operation Torch - the Allied invasion - began the liberation of North Africa from the Nazis and their collaborators. Point of No Return flagged an article by David B Green in Haaretz on the subject. But our knowledgeable commenter Eliyahu points out that the US liberation of Algeria would not have gone so smoothly, and certainly not without loss of life, had the  Algerian underground,  85% Jewish, not paved the way for their arrival by taking over key strategic points.  David Green's article makes no mention of this fact:

Eliyahu writes:

This article by David Green is OK as far as it goes. But it is woefully incomplete, probably through no fault of the author. In fact, a group of Algerian Jews in the Resistance did a great deal to help Operation Torch succeed. Whereas more than 500 American soldiers died in the landing at Casablanca, none died landing at Algiers because in Algiers the Underground, about 85% Jewish, made a coup d'etat, taking over the sensitive nodes of political/military control in Algiers, the capital of French North Africa, on the eve of the US landing and in coordination with it. This story is missing in most American accounts of WW2 and the war in the Mediterranean, but I can say about the Algiers Underground what Churchill said about the RAF in the Battle of Britain. Seldom have so few saved so many.

The ingratitude of official US institutions and personalities is striking. Official US Army accounts of the war omit mention of help for the US by natives in North Africa but for one book that mentions the Algiers uprising in a few lines without any mention that most were Jews. The US consul in Algiers at the time [the US was not at war with Vichy], Robert Murphy, worked with the Underground up to a point and supplied one rifle or carbine to the resistance fighters [General Mark Clark had supplied another]. Yet in his book of memoirs, Diplomat Among Warriors, Murphy only fuzzily alludes to the resistance, again without mentioning that they were mostly Jews. Moreover, he refused to help Jose Aboulker who was arrested and jailed by the dissident Vichyites who took over Algeria under American sponsorship after the landing. This is part of the background of Rafael Medoff's account which also overlooks the Underground [Knowing Rafi, I assume that he just didn't know of it, omitted as it is from American accounts of the war].

Here are sources on the events in English, French and Hebrew:
Gita Amipaz-Silber, La Resistance juive en Algerie, 1940-1942 [Jerusalem: Rubin Mass 1986]
--(same author in Hebrew)-- מחתרת יהודית באלג'ריה- 1940-1942
[Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense Publishing House 1983]
--(there is also an English translation. I don't know the title)
--Elliot A Green, "Jewish Anti-Nazi Resistance in Wartime Algeria" in Midstream (New York, January 1989)
--also see articles by David Corcos in Encyclopedia Judaica about Algiers and Algeria.

-- Leon Poliakov writes about the Algiers Underground in his article about the Jews in France [including North Africa] during the Shoah in the Yiddish-language Algemeyner Entsiklopedya, Series "Yidn," vol. zayin, pp 188-191. Poliakov stresses the importance of the Algiers Underground to the success of the Allied landing, that is, the success of Operation Torch. Poliakov thinks that the landing would have ended in catastrophe if not for the Algiers Underground. All things considered, gratitude for the Underground's accomplishment has been less than deserved in France and almost non-existent in America, judging by later publications.

They love the Israeli singer Rita in Iran

Rita, on a talk show with other Israelis of Iranian origin ( including now disgraced ex-president Moshe Katzav) sings the famous 'Goleh Sangam'.  

It’s not every day an Israeli wakes up to an email inbox full of love letters from Iran. Yet they come in droves to the Israeli singer Rita Yahan-Farouz, currently on tour. The Jerusalem Post reports:

The 50-year-old Iran native, who performs under the name Rita, is arguably Israel’s most popular female entertainer. She has put out 12 albums since hitting the Israeli music scene in 1985, many of them going platinum on the country's charts.
Rita’s latest album, “My Joys,” is sung in Farsi, in which she is fluent. By including old folk tunes from Iranian culture, like the traditional Persian wedding song “Shah Doomad,” Rita has won legions of listeners in a land whose leaders regularly call for her adopted country's demise.

“You wouldn’t believe some of the emails I get from people in Iran," Rita says laughingly during a phone interview with JTA while traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco as part of her US tour through mid-November.  "They tell me how much they love me and how much they love Israel.”

Rita describes her musical vibe as a “gypsy band,” infusing classic Mediterranean spirits of complex percussion rhythms and upbeat tempos with unusual instruments of the genre like woodwinds, ouds and violins.

Growing up in Tehran under the shah’s rule, Rita remembers a vibrant childhood filled with Persian music. Still, the family kept their Jewish identity a secret from neighbors. In 1970, when Rita was 8, her family moved to Israel.

“My sister came home from school one time in tears because her teacher asked her to recite a Muslim prayer in front of the class. The teacher was shocked when she didn’t know it," Rita recalls. "After that incident, my father decided we should leave Iran.”

Rita says she has dreamed of creating an album that could serve as a bridge between two countries that have seen nothing but tension in recent years.

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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 “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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Monday, November 12, 2012

Operation Torch freed the Jews 70 years ago


The restored buildings of the European quarter of Casablanca (Photo: AP)

Seventy years ago almost to the day,  the Allied invasion - Operation
 Torch - saved North African Jewry from the Nazis.  The Jews of Casablanca
 declared 2 Kislev (11th November) the Hitler Purim, the anniversary of
 their deliverance, and commissioned the writing of a  scroll or Megilla
David B Green continues his 'On this day' series in Haaretz 
(with thanks: Lily):

France’s colonies in North Africa – Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria – had come under indirect German control, via the Vichy regime after the occupation of France in 1940 (Wrong - Tunisia had come under direct German control for six months - ed). (...) 

“Megillat Hitler” is today on display at Washington, D.C.’s U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Written in Hebrew, its text mimics the language of the original Scroll of Esther, as it describes the rise of “Hitler the painter,” who rose to become the ruler of all of Germany, and who decided, on the advice of his chamberlain Himmler, to destroy the Jews.

The author of the scroll, P. Hasine, a Hebrew teacher from Casablanca, tells how Hitler’s plan to deport the Jews of North Africa was foiled at the last minute by the decision of President Roosevelt, “who could not sleep,” and so “commanded that these states be rescued and given protection.” Thus the feelings of the Jews “went from mourning into happiness because the Americans established their rule.” The scroll declares that every year, on the 11th of November, “we are obligated to establish this day of rescue,” a “fixed and grand festival.”

Unfortunately, as historian Rafael Medoff has noted, the Allied liberation of North Africa in 1942 was not absolute. Despite despite the promises of President Roosevelt, and although the deportation of the Jews had been averted, the anti-Jewish measures that had been in place in places under Vichy control were not automatically canceled.

Specifically, the 1940 decision of Vichy France to cancel the application of the Cremieux Decree, by which Algerian Jews were offered full French citizenship, was not reversed. Not only did thousands of Jews continue to languish in forced-labor camps, but the Roosevelt administration, according to Medoff’s research, was loath to restore full rights to the Jews of North Africa for fear of stirring up the local Arab populations. General George Patton even warned General Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander in Europe, that steps taken to “favor the Jews” could “precipitate trouble and possibly civil war.”

Pressure from Jewish organizations in the U.S. mounted on the administration to insist on the elimination of French racial laws, but it was only in April 1943 that the labor camps were shut down, in May that Tunisia’s anti-Jewish racial laws abolished, and not until October 20 of that year that the Cremieux Decree was reinstated in Algeria.

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