Friday, February 12, 2016

Petition appeals to Egypt to preserve heritage

Eleven Jewish organisations have endorsed a petition addressed to President al-Sisi, urging the government to undertake the preservation of Jewish heritage. The petition also entreats the Egyptian authorities to make accessible communal records, a long-term sticking point. Descendants of Egyptian Jews are not even allowed photocopies of birth, marriage and death records - central to their religious and civil identity.

 At the centre of this montage of Torah scrolls and registers is the Nebi Daniel synagogue in Alexandria

The move to start a petition, spearheaded by the Nebi Daniel Association, based in London and Paris, comes after 14 years of fruitless engagement with the Egyptian authorities and in the face of indifference of international bodies such as UNESCO. Since the Arab Spring, the Egyptian government has refused to enter a dialogue with diaspora Egyptian-Jewish representatives.

The signatories feel that unless a plan is formulated soon, it will be too late. With just 14 Jews remaining of a community of 80, 000, there will be no more local community to manage Egypt's Jewish heritage.

The petition's main demands are:
1.     The scanning of all existing Jewish archives, particularly religious and civil identity records in the synagogues and making the scans freely available.
2.     The donation to various Jewish community synagogues across the world of some of the 150 Torah scrolls which fall outside the 100 years Egyptian Antiquities rule.
3.     The restoration of the existing synagogues and cemeteries, in particular, the Bassatine cemetery in Cairo, giving easy access both virtually and on the spot.
4.     The development of a comprehensive inventory of the remaining communal assets and a plan for their preservation.
5.     The creation within one of the existing synagogues of a museum of the Egyptian Jewish heritage that would encourage tourism.

The petitioners conclude: "It is our hope that your Excellency will allow us to implement these steps and, to this end, we request a meeting with the appropriate officials to develop such a plan."

To sign the petition, click here 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

UNESCO recognises Aleppo Codex

 The Aleppo Codex has been added to UNESCO's registry of 300 cultural treasures and documents, Haaretz reports:

Sixty years after it was secretly smuggled into Israel from Syria, the Aleppo Codex – purportedly the oldest and most authoritative copy of the Hebrew Bible in existence – has been recognized as a unique treasure and will be included in the International Memory of the World Register, compiled by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The codex, or Crown of Aleppo (called Keter Aram Tzova in Hebrew), is on permanent display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The provenance of this extremely important manuscript, which was written in Tiberias around 930 C.E., is shrouded in mystery, contradictory information and half-truths. The original copy included 500 pages but 200 have disappeared since it arrived in Israel.

On Monday UNESCO officially recognized the codex – also called “the most perfect copy of the Hebrew Bible” and "the perfect edition of God’s words” – as a unique item with universal characteristics. As such, it is worthy of inclusion in the organization's registry of 300 items and collections, located around the world, which it started compiling in 1995. These include cultural treasures that have contributed to human development, and the documents it includes are well-preserved and accessible.

Read article in full (subscription only)

 Aleppo Great synagogue damaged:

This photo showing damage to the Great synagogue is from 10 February 2016 (Photo: The Amaliah Foundation)

 The Times of Israel reports: The Central Synagogue of Aleppo sustained minor damage in fighting, according to photos provided by locals to an Israeli-American activist for peace in the war-torn country.

The damage affected a corner of the building and was probably caused by shelling, according to Moti Kahana, the founder of the Amaliah not-for-profit group, which aims to relieve the suffering of refugees from Syria and empower women there. The corner area was covered by debris, making it difficult to ascertain the extent of the damage caused to the building, which is believed to have been built in the ninth century AD.

Ruthie Blum in The Algemeiner

PoNR adds: the synagogue was already damaged by fire after the 1947 riots and has not been in use since.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Jews feel unsafe in 'safe spaces'

'Safe Spaces' are all the rage, yet are being denied to Jewish students on campus, even 'Jews of colour' like Iranian Jew Arielle Mokhtarzadeh. According to The Tower, US students are raising the banner against every form of racism except anti-Jewish racism. (Even the Holocaust is now being referred to as 'white on white' crime). What's more, universities are petri dishes for antisemitic slanders. 

Undergraduates at Berkeley, California

Mokhtarzadeh applied to the Students of Color Conference with the hope “of learning more about the experiences of communities of color at the UC… [and] sharing with those communities the experience of my own,” she told me. As an Iranian Jew, she believed her identity as both a religious and ethnic minority granted her a place to belong and thrive at the SOCC. Rosenberg (who requested a pseudonym so that he could speak freely about campus issues without fear of potential retaliation) said that growing up in the Bay Area had taught him to be an active member of social justice movements and progressive communities. “I was always encouraged to take initiative on issues and movements that didn’t directly affect me,” he said. “I wanted to learn more about the struggles that my fellow students were going through.”

But their experiences as Jewish students at the SOCC would soon inspire a rude awakening: the campus progressives who were fighting for justice on college campuses for students of color weren’t only ignoring anti-Semitism and attacks on Jewish identity—they were sometimes the ones perpetuating it.

This was quickly made clear on the first day at a session called “Existence is Resistance,” hosted by leaders of UC San Diego’s SJP chapter. Students discussed the boycott of Israel as an issue of urgency for students of color.

Rosenberg and Mokhtarzadeh told me that they originally had no intention to engage in dialogue about Israel at the conference, but they were horrified at how attacks on Israel soon devolved into attacks on the Jews. “The session went way beyond the boundaries of what was appropriate or truthful at the SOCC,” Rosenberg recalled.
For example, they said that Israel was poisoning the water that they sell into the West Bank, and raising the price by ten times. Any sane person knows that this is not true. They also said that when Jewish-American students go on Birthright trips, the Israeli government offers you money to live on a settlement. A number of things like that.
Rosenberg also stated that “There was also no mention of the Holocaust when talking about the history of Israel. They said that in the late 19th century, Jews decided to move into this land and take over it. They completely white-washed our history as a people.”
Mokhtarzadeh was also horrified by the rhetoric used during the session.
Over the course of what was probably no longer than an hour, my history was denied, the murder of my people was justified, and a movement whose sole purpose is the destruction of the Jewish homeland was glorified. Statements were made justifying the ruthless murder of innocent Israeli civilians, blatantly denying Jewish indigeneity in the land, and denying the Holocaust in which six million Jews were murdered. Why anyone in their right mind would accept these slanders as truths baffles me. But they did. These statements, and others, were met with endless snaps and cheers. I was taken aback.
At a conference facilitated by peers who they believed were fighting the righteous battle against racist speech and hate crimes, Mokhtarzadeh and Rosenberg heard anti-Semitic statements that were met with applause and approval—statements like “the state of Israel pays Jews to move to Israel to join the army and kill Palestinians” and even “you shouldn’t buy Ben and Jerry’s because they’re Jewish and have a shop in Israel.” But perhaps the most painful, and upsetting portion of SJP’s presentation was the section called “Intifada: Peaceful Uprising.”

Mokhtarzadeh, a proud Zionist, raised her hand to protest, but it was too late. The whole room—representing a diverse cross-section of progressive activists and students of color—was holding hands, embraced in each other’s support and calling out “Free, free Palestine!”

They walked out, Mokhtarzadeh on the verge of tears. Rosenberg tried to reflect on what he had heard and experienced. “It wasn’t even just about that session,” he confessed.
It was a prevailing sentiment that I felt at the conference and in the progressive community, that because I am Jewish, I cannot be an activist who supports Black Lives Matter or the LGBTQ community. When I heard that among my peers that “the Jews are oppressors and murderers—How can you care about students of color on campus when they’re murdering our people abroad?”—it quickly dawned on me that it wasn’t that they don’t like us because we’re pro-Israel—they don’t like us because we’re Jews. We were targeted. It’s such a shame that the SOCC solidified and supported this belief of mine.
It was, ironically, in a safe space intended to protect students from discrimination and bigotry in which their Jewish identity was marginalized, ostracized, and politicized. And it was the progressive students and students of color—often themselves targets of hate, bigotry, and discrimination—who were the propagators of ancient hatreds against the Jewish people.

Mokhtarzadeh still painfully remembers that weekend. “I was made to feel uncomfortable and unwanted in a space that was meant to be inclusive and safe,” she said. “It was in that moment, during that conference, that I realized that every identity and every intersection of identity was to be welcomed and championed in progressive spaces—except mine.”

Read article in full 

An intersectional failure (Tablet)

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Israeli curriculum to reflect more Mizrahi culture

The poet Erez Biton is to head a new committee set up by the Israeli Education Ministry to recommend  material reflecting the richness of Mizrahi culture to add to the national curriculum. Ynet News reports (with thanks Sarah):
Erez Biton: committee head

The Education Ministry has decided to take action after years of criticism regarding the fact that school curricula focus on European culture and ignore non-European Jews whose origins lie in the Middle East, North Africa, and other Muslim-majority areas (known as Mizrahi Jews). Education Minister Naftali Bennett recently appointed a public committee that is to make recommendations on adding new material to reflect the cultural richness and history of Jews who came from Muslim-majority countries.

The committee, headed by poet and Israel Prize winner Erez Biton, is to examine the existing curricula in history and literature, then make recommendations after three months to integrate Mizrahi culture and history. The committee plans to get assistance from various organizations and experts that deal with the subject, including umbrella organizations for immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, historians, literary and cultural researchers, and more. 

 "This is a historic move," Minister Bennett said on Wednesday. "Today we are correcting a years-long injustice. The richness of eastern culture is a gift whose splendor the educational system failed to appreciate to this day, and apparently we still do not know what we do not know about this incredible culture. Israel, which is a gathering of exiles from around the world, must live with this cultural richness and not minimize it. I am certain that the Biton Committee, headed by the wonderful poet recruited for the mission, will be able to bring historic information to the students of Israel and stimulate a dialogue welcomed by the people." 

Jerusalem Post 

Blind Algerian-born poet wins Israel Prize

Israel is not a milkshake, Mizrahim are not the Other

Monday, February 08, 2016

Why Abdullah chose Jews as his bodyguards

The three fierce -looking bodyguards standing behind King Abdullah of Jordan are - believe it or not - Jews. But you thought that as dhimmis, Jews in the Muslim world were not allowed to carry weapons. You would be right - but these young men are from the Habbani tribe in Yemen - and they were among very few Jews not only allowed to carry the Jambiya, but prized for their qualities as warriors. Why did king Abdullah choose Jews  to guard him? Because they could be trusted, as their whole tribe would be held hostage to their good behaviour. (With thanks: Torbjorn)

 From Wikipedia:

Habbani Jews were described as taller, more muscular, and darker than their Muslim neighbors. The men did not sport peyot like other Yemeni Jews, and, rather than covering their heads, wore an oiled thong through their characteristically long hair. They plucked their mustaches, distinct from other Jews, but similar to neighboring Muslims. They wore a blue prayer shawl over one shoulder, or walked bare chested, smearing their torsos with sesame oil and indigo. A course calico loincloth, died indigo, covered their bottom, and they typically walked barefoot or with sandals. The women wore their hair in tiny braids, and wore loose-fitting embroidered dresses.[38]

Unlike the Jews of northern Yemen, the Habbani Jews wore a Jambiya or curved knife, Matznaph (turban) and Avne`t (sash). It was very uncommon for Jews in Yemen, outside of Habban, to wear the Jambiya.[39]

Sultans in Arabia employed Habbani Jews as soldiers in their armies or as personal guards.[40] Habbani Jews sometimes served as mercenaries; Abdullah I of Jordan, who preferred Circassians and other non-Arab bodyguards, had a number of Habbani Jewish guardsmen, including Sayeed Sofer, and his brothers Salaah and Saadia. (...)

The Habbani Jews (Hebrew: חַבָּאנִים, Standard: Ḥabbanim) are a Jewish tribal group of Yemenite Jews from the Habban region in eastern Yemen (in modern Shabwah Governorate). The city of Habban had a Jewish community of 450 in 1947, which was considered to possibly be the remains of a larger community which lived in independently in the region before its decline in the 6th century. The Jewish community of Habban disappeared from the map of the Hadramut, in southeast Yemen, with the emigration of all of its members to Israel in the 1950s.

In 1912 Zionist emissary Shmuel Yavne'eli came into contact with Habbani Jews who ransomed him when he was captured and robbed by eight Bedouin in southern Yemen. Yavnieli wrote about the Jews of Habban describing them in the following way.
The Jews in these parts are held in high esteem by everyone in Yemen and Aden. They are said to be courageous, always with their weapons and wild long hair, and the names of their towns are mentioned by the Jews of Yemen with great admiration.[22]
Yavne'eli further described the community structure by stating that the Zecharyah clan were the first of the Habbani Jewish clans and that they were local merchants of silver, leather pelts, and cobbling. He further noted that meat was only eaten on the Shabbat and even coffee was considered a luxury.[23]
According to Rabbi Yoseph Maghori-Kohen:
The Habbanis were mighty heroes. I heard a lot from elders in my youth about the Habbanis, about their wars, how they would fight ‘according to names’. What does it mean ‘according to names’? –the letters: They would make the shape of the [Hebrew] letters with their hands, and by this they would be victorious. Also the Shar`abim–from the city of Shar`ab–were strong, but not to the same degree as the Habbanis. Once in Yemen there was a wild tribe of murderous Arab warriors that conquered town after town, slaughtering whomever they found. Thus they moved forward from settlement to settlement: killing, destroying–may their names by blotted out–until they approached a city of Jews, 13,000 Jews roughly. Everyone felt hopeless-even the Arabs among them put up their hands, searching for a place to escape. Suddenly ten [Jewish] Habbanis arrived and waged war with them–ten against a thousand–and vanquished all of them. Not even one of those warriors was left alive, and not one of the ten fell.[24]
Yavne'eli indicated that in 1911 there were only 60 Jewish families left in Habban. Bin Ibrahim Habbani, who was born in Habban and emigrated to Israel in 1945, indicated there were 700 Jews in Hadhramaut, 450 of which were in Habban.[25]

Habbani Jews were extremely reluctant to migrate to Israel, citing their good relations with their neighbors.[26] In 1945, a Habbani Jew claimed to be the Messiah, gathering both a Jewish and Muslim following from Hadhramaut and made his way to Beihar. He became known for his pomp and extravagance, decorating his horse's saddle with gold and silver. Following a large battle where the alleged Messiah and his followers were vanquished, tensions between some of the Muslim rulers and the Jewish communities were accentuated.[27] Some Habbani Jews blamed activities and letters by the Jewish Agency for aggravating tensions further.[28]

After 1948, small numbers of Habbani Jews made their way to Aden, sometimes fighting hostile Arab tribes along the way. From there they were airlifted en masse to Israel as part of Operation Flying Carpet.

The vanguard of the Habbani Jews was led by Zecharyah Habbani who kept after the officials in charge of immigration to accelerate the transfer of the Jews from the Hadramaut to the Land of Israel. They are in dere distress," he reported. "They are suffering from hunger and from the edicts of Hussein Abdallah of Habban and his sons. They are also in debt to the Moslems, who charge them exorbiant rates of interest." The Jewish Agency took action, and few families left the Hadramaut.[29] After 1948, small numbers of Habbani Jews made their way to Aden, sometimes fighting hostile Arab tribes along the way. From there they were airlifted en masse to Israel as part of Operation Flying Carpet.

The Sofer family and Yehoshua Sofer, Abir of martial arts

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Why Jews buit a low cupola on their synagogue

Stories of 19th century ill-treatment of Jews as dhimmis abound, but every so often the bright light of tolerance shows through the darkness, as Eliyahu M' Tsiyon describes in his blog.

The domed Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem's Jewish quarter, as it looked before 1899.

Muhammad Ali's regime was much more tolerant towards the dhimmis (sometimes called rayahs) than the preceding Ottoman regime in Israel --or than the previous Mamluk regime [under Ottoman suzerainty] in Egypt-- had been. This tolerance extended even to the Jews, who had been the low man on the totem pole, the underdog of the underdog, before his time. This description of the Jews' previous status was attested by Chateaubriand after his 1806 visit to the country .

Neophytos reported that after the 1834 uprising, Christians were liberally granted permits to repair and in practice were allowed to build new structures. Observing this, he noted, the Jews too asked for repair permits. As he describes the situation, the Jews received a permit to build. In some cases, Christians had built new structures without specific permission, since they were in practice allowed to do so.

"As we are on the question of repairs, we must say something about the Jewish Synagogue. One year ago only, seeing the liberal dispositions of Mehemet Ali Pasha [Muhammad Ali] and Ibrahim Pasha [his son, general, and deputy], they dared to speak about their Synagogue. They asked that their House of Prayer, being in a ruinous condition and in danger of falling in, might be repaired. So, those who did not even dare to change a tile on the roof of the Synagogue at one time, now received a permit and a decree to build. They finished at the end of August. They built the Synagogue all of stone , and in place of the wooden roof they erected a Cupola. The building was large and spacious, and could contain about 1,000 persons. It was long, but only 10 pics in height. The Cupola was also very low for they feared the stability and certainty of the government."*

One stipulation of dhimma was that non-Muslim structures must not be higher than Muslim structures. Hence, the Jews built the cupola [dome] low since they feared that if Muhammad Ali were overthrown or driven out [as did happen in 1840] then the restored Ottoman regime or another new regime might destroy the structure for being higher than a Muslim structure.

Note that NeoPhytos describes the Jews as the most abject, humiliated, and intimidated of the dhimmis, more so than the Christians. He writes that only after the Christians had obtained permits, "they dared to speak about their Synagogue." More to the point, he continues, "those who did not even dare to change a tile. . . at one time [under the previous dispensation], now received a permit."

*[in Extracts from Annals of Palestine 1821-1841 (Jerusalem, Ariel publishering house, 1979; compiled by Eli Schiller) p 78. Originally published in Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society, vol. XVIII, 1938

Read post in full

Friday, February 05, 2016

Departing and returning to Morocco

 Why did Jews leave Morocco and how does it feel to return? A new film, 'Midnight Orchestra' examines the reasons why Jews left Morocco, and follows a man's return to his country of birth. A new book (below), Return to Casablanca, by Israeli anthropologist Dr Andre Levy looks at the changing relationship between Moroccan Jews and Muslims.

Slowly, through the film, he discovers why his father, a famous musician, made his family leave the country for Israel decades before.

The director of "Midnight Orchestra," Jérôme Cohen-Olivar, said the fictitious family's departure reflects a real decision that many Moroccan Jews made between the 1950s and 1970s when Arab-Israeli tensions flared.

"At the peak of the community, I think it was around a quarter of a million, 250,000 Jews in Morocco, which is a lot if you count the total Jewish population – the world Jewish population," said Cohen-Olivar, speaking by phone from Morocco.

"Right now there are about 2,000 Jews left in Morocco, which is basically nothing," Cohen-Olivar said. "So I just ask myself this question: 'Why?' It's as simple as that. So that was the springboard of my story was just, 'Why? Why did these people leave?'"

Read article in full

In his new book Return to Casablanca, anthropologist Dr. André Levy assesses the impact of this massive emigration on those Jews who decided to stay in his native Morocco. Dr. Levy is a senior lecturer at BGU’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology.


A Moroccan flag used in the early 20th century featured a star of David, harking back to a time when Morocco’s Jews were numerous.

The book provides personal insights into the effects of the diminished Moroccan Jewish community’s establishment of “spatial divisions of spheres in order to obtain better control of interactions with Muslims.”

Dr. Levy posits that as Israel gained more and more Moroccan Jews into its citizenry, the wall between Muslim and Jewish Moroccans gained more and more bricks. This concept — what Dr. Levy calls “contraction” — depicts the way that modern Moroccan Jews deal with the ramifications of their demographic dwindling.

Read article in full (via JIMENA)

Reaching across cultures (The Justice)

Thursday, February 04, 2016

The hidden Jewesses of Indian cinema

Most of the actresses of the silent Indian cinema were Jewesses, claims Kenneth X Robbins in News Minute (referring to an earlier article). The identity of some actresses is contested even today. But the careers of these westernised girls was cut short with the advent of 'talkies': none could speak Hindi or Urdu. (With thanks: Michelle; Tom)

The actors were mostly Baghdadi Jewish women and the rest were from the Bene Israel community, not the Cochini community. That community was small, did not speak Hindi or Urdu, and lived far from the film making cities of Bombay and Calcutta. A single Baghdadi family contributed greatly to Indian films, by giving us the actress-producer Pramila (Esther Victoria Abraham), her sister the actress Romila (Sophie Abraham), and her cousin the starlet Rose (Rose Musleah). Pramila’s son Haider Ali is an actor, who is best known as the co-writer of the blockbuster film Jodhaa Akbar.


The actress-producer Pramila was also the first Miss India.

Baghdadi Jewish actresses were known by single Western names (Lillian, Rose), Hindu names (Arati Devi, Pramila, Sulochana) or Muslim names (Firoza Begum, Nadira) rather than the ones identifying them as Jews. Lillian’s birth name was Lillian Ezra.

In India, the Bene Israel often referred to themselves in two ways. They used one or two “Biblical” names or “Biblical” names followed by a “Maharashtrian” surname identifying their ancestral Konkani village. In the movies, they were billed as David or David Abraham rather than David Abraham Cheulkar or Joseph David rather than Joseph David Penkar.

Simply identifying Jews has not been easy. Asha Bhende (once Lily Ezekiel) and Pearl Padamsee (whose mother was a Baghdadi Jew) are actresses who have used the last names of their non-Jewish husbands. Asha Bhende was also a prominent academic, whose works include Demographic and Socio Economic Characteristics of Jews in India.

Actresses like Zeenat Amat and Helen were not Jewish as some think. The backgrounds of Azurie, Leela Chitnis, Patience Cooper, Ermeline, Rinku Jaiswal, Kitty Kelly, Kamlesh Kumari, and Sabita Devi are contested even today and I seek more information about them. Was Vimala, whose birth name was Marcia Solomon and who is never mentioned in the discourse on Jewish actresses, Jewish?

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Salima Gubbay tells heartbreaking story

On 27 January , Iraqi Jewry commemorated the 47th anniversary of the hangings of nine Jews in Baghdad. For Hebrew-speakers, this moving 50-minute interview by the Babylonian Jewry Center at Or Yehuda with one of the victims' widows captures the terrible trauma she experienced under the Baath regime led by Saddam Hussein.

Salima Gubbay lived with her husband Fuad and three children in Basra. They were among the 3,000 or so Jews still remaining in Iraq. She recalls how secret service men came to ransack the house and take her husband away. Her young son David, four years old, screaming for his father, tugged so hard on the jacket of one of them men that he tore off two buttons. They flung him against the metal garden gate.

The family had had a chance to escape earlier, but Fuad did not want to put his wife Salima, who was pregnant, at risk.

 Fuad's interrogators pointed to the transformer which powered the airconditioning unit in their living room and accused him of sending secret messages to Israel. Saddam had ordered 20 Jews to be arrested and premeditated the execution of a group of Jews as spies after Israel's victory in the Six-Day war. He had told a rabbi to prepare nine graves.

Before he was hanged in prison, Fuad shared a cell with another Jew. When he learned he was going to be executed, he wrote a letter to his wife and told his cellmate to deliver it to her. "Don't cry for me", he wrote to her, "it is God's will. Just think of my death as in a car accident. The main thing is to look after your self and the children. You are free to do as you wish," he wrote, sending back his wedding ring.

When she heard of her husband's execution - the Jewish prisoners were hanged in prison before their bodies were strung up in Baghdad's Liberation Square.
her first instinct was to commit suicide, and stab her unborn child.

The scene on 27 January 1969 in Liberation Square, Baghdad

She moved in with her mother; A few months later her mother was run over in a car 'accident'.

Salima could not feed her children and was desperate to leave Iraq, but could not even get permission to get to Baghdad. The day before she left, she dreamed of her husband Fuad: he appeared and gestured towards the mountains. Eventually she was smuggled through the mountains of northern Iraq into Iran with her children.

Widows of two executed Jews speak up

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

What are we doing to stop 'cultural cleansing'?

 Before and after photographs show that the monastery of St Elijah was blown up in September 2014

Just recently, satellite images confirmed that the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq has been destroyed by the jihadist group Islamic State (IS). What is the international community doing - if anything - to stop 'cultural cleansing'? Lyn Julius blogs at Clash of Cultures in the Jerusalem Post.

St Elijah's stood on a hill near the northern city of Mosul for 1,400 years. But analysts suggested it had been demolished in late 2014, soon after IS seized the city.

A year ago,  UNESCO was sufficiently alarmed by the destruction of cultural and religious sites that it  hastily convened a conference at its Paris headquarters to discuss what can be done to preserve what's left in Iraq and Syria. The iconoclastic jihadists of Islamic State - or Da'esh - had captured a region in northern Iraq which contained 15 percent of Iraq's registered archaeological sites.

Believing that shrines ought to be destroyed lest they encourage idol-worship, they have already blown up or burnt to the ground shrines such as the tombs of Jonah and Seth, Christian churches and Shi'a mosques. In both Syria and Iraq, Islamic State have demolished, pillaged and dug up archaeological sites, sometimes with bulldozers, and sold relics on the international black market in order to finance their malevolent deeds.

Like most UN agencies, UNESCO has blown hot and cold towards Israel and the Jewish people. But this time, UNESCO had made a point of including the Jews in its conference. The UNESCO director-general, Irina Bokova, had  condemned the destruction in May 2014 of the Jobar synagogue near Damascus. A shrine has stood on this site, legend has it,  since the time of Elijah the Prophet.

When a JJAC delegation, accompanied by CRIF, the body representing French Jews, submitted a list of 100 endangered Jewish sites to Mrs Bokova in June 2014, she lent a sympathetic ear. And when Professor Shmuel Moreh, who has worked long and hard for the preservation of ancient Jewish sites in Iraq made his case, Mrs Bokova  - or her aides - were listening. Professor Moreh was flown over from Israel to be a special guest at the conference, along with representatives of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen and Yazidis.

Since then, IS has wreaked even more destruction. In August 2015 it shocked the world  when it  released a video of the Temple of Baalshamin, at the world heritage site of Palmyra in Syria, being blown up. Explosives were reported rigged to another, larger temple, dedicated to the god Baal.

In September, UNESCO accepted an Italian proposal to send in the 'Blue helmets' - the UN international peace keeping force - to protect endangered sites.

In October 50 world leaders voted to allocate resources for some 10,000 new troops, police, hardware, and training schemes for UN forces.

In spite of their greater number and better hardware, It is not clear how the  'blue helmets' will fend off the determined and fanatical jihadists of IS.

IS and other militant groups are guilty of "cultural cleansing" in the Middle East, the head of the UN's heritage organisation has said. "Culture and heritage are not about stones and buildings - they are about identities and belongings."

A conflict against culture is, by extension, an effort to erase the identity of a people, especially vulnerable non-Muslim minorities. These minorities once comprised the rich ethnic and religious patchwork of a pluralistic Middle East. Now they are being driven to extinction.

A cynic might ask ,what use is it to preserve buildings and stones when people were starving? "Civic identity to be built from the bottom up" when people were being beheaded? "Good neighborliness and respect" when people were being sold into slavery?

When the neighbors have been ethnically cleansed, as the Jews had been from Syria and Iraq, with no prospect of return, who will speak up for their heritage? Who would ensure that when the time came to rehabilitate and renovate, traditional Jewish shrines such as the most revered of all, Ezekiel's tomb, would not be turned into mosques?

It is already happening. The Hebrew inscriptions had been removed from the renovated tomb of Joshua the High Priest near Baghdad. Loudspeakers had already been affixed to Ezekiel's tomb, and Koranic inscriptions hung on the walls. Who would ensure that the original character of the shrine would be retained?

And if objects stolen from minority communities are recovered in the West, why should they be sent back to the Syrian or Iraqi governments? As the saga of the Iraqi-Jewish archive demonstrated - the personal possessions and mementos confiscated from their Jewish owners by Saddam Hussein and shipped for restoration to the US - they should be restituted not to governments, but  to the community which has been displaced.

Beyond the expression of high-minded sentiments, none of these questions are being answered.

In one important respect international action  might achieve results: museum chiefs declared they would treat with suspicion any artifacts offered to them from the Middle East, and would conduct "due diligence" checks as far as possible. But private collectors were less likely to be circumspect about the provenance of items. The international art market was a  vessel  too leaky to render watertight.

It is tempting to conclude that organisations like UNESCO, which were founded on the pillars of intergovernmental law, seem well past their sell-by date in a world where non-state actors ride roughshod over "kaffir" international treaties and conventions. Even before the era of Islamic State, neither Syria nor Iraq were signatories to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of armed conflict.

Read blog in full

Monday, February 01, 2016

Edging the Jews out of Tunisia

Less than one per cent of the Jewish community remains in Tunisia. Their marginalisation and exodus is almost complete. Here is a useful timeline:

The Al-Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba

1881 French Protectorate established in Tunisia
1898 Fighting breaks out between Jews and Muslims. Jewish homes looted, shops wrecked. 62 Muslims, 20 Jews sentenced.
1910 Agudat Tsion founded, 1920 Federation of Zionist organisations
1917 Arab soldiers returning from WW1 riot against Jews who are exempt from army service. Looting, rapes and beatings. One dead, 8 wounded.
1923 Liberalisation of French nationality. By WW2, 6,667 Jews had French passports.
1940 Vichy discriminatory laws exclude Jews from public service, Jewish Community Council abolished, inventory of Jewish property drawn up.
May 1941 Gabes pogrom. 7 Jews die.
Nov 1942 Nazi occupation of Tunisia begins. Italian nationals come under Fascist racial laws. Nazis demand that the Jewish community raise  88 million francs . 2,000 Jews sent to forced labour camps. 60 deaths from aerial bombardment.
April 1943 Aerial deportation to European death camps of 40 Jews. 17 survive.
1948 -49 Of 100, 000 Jews, 6, 200  emigrate to Israel illegally. Jewish Agency takes over legal migration. 25, 000 emigrate between 1948 - 55.
1952 attempted pogrom against Tunis hara thwarted by self- defence groups
1952 - 57 10, 000 emigrate to France
1952 bloody nationalist riots
1954 Yom Kippur declared an official holiday
20 March 1956 Tunisia declares its independence. Rise of pro-Nasser movement.
1956 Europeans and Jews attacked and robbed during period of lawlessness
1957 Jewish ministers Andre Bessis and Andre Baruch appointed. President Bourguiba visits Tunis hara. Jews begin to join ruling Neo-Destour party. A minority of Jews are Communists.
1957 old Tunis Jewish cemetery expropriated
1957 Beth Din religious courts abolished
1958 temporary religious commissions replace Jewish Community Councils
1960 postal links with Israel suspended
 1960 Old Great Synagogue of Tunis demolished
1959 exchange controls introduced
1961 Bizerte affair. French-Tunisian clashes lead to anti-Jewish reaction. 15, 000 Jews leave.
1962 10, 000 Jews leave for France with one dinar and 11.75 francs in their pockets.
1962 - 63 European and Jewish firms nationalised.
1967 an ageing population of 26,000 Jews remains
6 June 1967 shops looted and  Great Synagogue sacked. 18,000 Jews flee, 63 percent for France
1976 6,700 Jews remain in Tunisia: 1,100 in Djerba, 4,600 in Tunis. Emigrants go mainly to Israel
1982 PLO establishes offices in Tunisia. More Jews leave
1985 several Jews murdered
1974 ORT school closes

With acknowledgements to  Les juifs en Tunisie jusqu'a nos jours by Paul Sebag and L'echec de l'integration des juifs de Tunisie by Jacques Taieb in La fin du Judaisme en terres d'Islam (ed S Trigano)

Other timelines: Yemen 


Sunday, January 31, 2016

On this day, Suzannah bombers hanged

Moshe Marzouk (left ) and a stamp commemorating Samuel Azar

On 31 January 1955, Moshe Marzouk and Samuel Azar, two Egyptian Jews who had been convicted of espionage and acts of sabotage on behalf of Israel, were executed in Cairo. They were convicted for their part in Operation Suzannah, also known as the Lavon Affair or the Unfortunate Business. David Green writes in Haaretz (with thanks: Lily):

The first bomb was detonated at an Alexandria post office on July 2, 1954. Two weeks later, on July 14, bombs were set off at the offices of the U.S. Information Agency in that city and in Cairo. An additional bomb, intended for the Rio Cinema, a British-owned theater in Alexandria, went off prematurely. Finally, on July 23, fires were set at several public buildings in Cairo.

The bombs were as primitive as could be, and all were timed to go off when the targets were empty of people. And in fact, the only injury caused by the operation was to Philip Nathanson, an Israeli agent, when the phosphorus bomb in his pocket detonated before he could plant it at the Rio Theater.

The fact that Egyptian police were present to arrest Nathanson when he had his mishap led to the conclusion that someone had tipped them off. In time, it became evident that the double agent was Avri Elad, who was arrested after being caught trying to sell information to the Egyptians. He was tried and convicted for illegal contacts with an enemy.

The Egyptians arrested another 11 suspects, two of whom died in custody, with the remainder going on trial in December 1954.

Six were sentenced to prison sentences of various lengths, two acquitted, and Marzouk and Azar were condemned to death.

Though Nasser received many appeals, both formal and unofficial, to show mercy for Marzouk and Azar, he was unmoved, and the hanging went ahead on this day. In April 1977, the remains of both men were transferred to Israel, and were reinterred on Mt. Herzl, in Jerusalem.

Read article in full

A Christian witnesses 19th c abuse against Jews

 Degraded, despised and exposed to all kinds of abuse: such was the condition of the Jews throughout the Muslim world in the mid-19th century. Rev JW Brooks set down his observations in The history of the Hebrew Nation, published in 1841. Via Elder of Ziyon. (Emphasis is EoZ's) (With thanks: Michelle):

"As regards the present political condition of the Jews, notwithstanding the decrees in their behalf which have been passed, the Christian reader will be deceived if he concludes that the reproach of Israel is yet “rolled away from off all the earth.” The public mind has recently been startled by the report of cruelties and injustice to which the Jews of Damascus and Rhodes have been subjected, as if such instances of persecution and oppression were a novelty in these times. But in the East the Jews have all along been exposed to them, though their wrongs have failed until now in arresting particular attention. In the year 1823, at the same Damascus, all the Jews suspected of having property were thrown into prison, and compelled to pay forty thousand purses or lose their heads. At Safet, in 1834, their houses were stripped, and great personal cruelties inflicted upon them, for the like purpose of extorting money; and generally in Syria they were compelled to work for the Turks without payment, being bastinadoed if they remonstrated. The lowest fallaah would stop them when travelling, and demand money as a right due to the Musselman; which robbery was liable to be repeated several times a day upon the same Jew. Throughout the East they are obliged to affect poverty in order to conceal their wealth ; the rulers in those countries making no scruple of seizing what they can discover. And though not interdicted from holding land, yet the enormous taxes demanded of them (equal to one-third of the produce, whilst the Mahometans pay only one-tenth), effectually exclude them from agriculture.

"The occupation of Syria by the Egyptians did not mitigate the hard condition of the Jews of Palestine' They were still defrauded and insulted; the commonest soldier would seize the most respectable Israelite, and compel him by blows to sweep the streets, and to perform the most degrading offices. The contempt indeed in which they are held by Mahometans, however difficult to be accounted for, exceeds that which they have experienced in Christian lands. In the East they are truly become a proverb, the term Jew being applied despitefully, as the most reproachful and degrading known.

"Even the Christians of Syria manifest a degree of malignity and contempt for the Jews, not witnessed in other places: the Nestorians in particular entertain a bitter hatred toward them; and were a Jew to set his foot within the church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, he would be stoned by the Christians of all denominations. ...

"In Persia the condition of the Jews is worse even than in Syria. Often whilst they are assembled in their synagogues, a soldier enters with an order from the Shah for money; they are compelled to work without payment; and their women are unceremoniously taken from them, without their daring to murmur. Their poverty and wretchedness may be best understood by the following graphic description given to Dr. Wolff, before he visited Shiraz, by a Mahometan: “Every house in Shiraz with a low, narrow entrance is a Jew's. Every coat much torn and mended is a Jew's. Every man with a dirty camelhair turban is a Jew. Every one picking up broken glass and asking for old shoes and sandals is a Jew." This description was afterwards confirmed by the doctor's own observation, who found old and young in the street of their quarter sitting and crying to every stranger, with outstretched hand and feeble voice, “Only one pool (penny) for poor Israale !”

"In Morocco they are equally ground down by a barbarous despotism. The Moors consider that the object of a Jew's birth is to serve Musselmen, and he is consequently subject to the most wanton insults. The boys for their pastime beat and torment the Jewish children: the men kick and buffet the adults. They walk into their houses at all hours, and take the grossest freedoms with their wives and daughters, the Jews invariably coming off with a sound beating if they venture to resist. In 1804 those of Algiers were subjected to horrible tortures, being suspended from the walls by long ropes with hooked nails at the ends, merely because they had unsuspectingly lent money to persons who were secretly conspiring against the Dey; nor were they released without the payment of a large sum."

Read post in full

Friday, January 29, 2016

'I delayed my father's funeral to get Jews out of Syria'

 Years after it ended, the story of the extraordinary rescue of Jews from Syria by Judy Feld Carr is filtering out. An interview with her was broadcast on Holocaust Memorial Day on the Australian radio programme 'The Spirit of Things' (segment between 1:30 and 31:25: article here). There follows a brief account in Arabic by the last rabbi of Syria, Rabbi Abraham Hamra, of the effect on him of the destruction of the Jobar synagogue near Damascus.  The Jewish Women's Archive blog (extract below)  carries a fuller account of Judy's work in Syria. She was responsible for rescuing 3,228 Jews out of 4, 500 over a 28-year period until the Mossad told her to 'stay home and wash windows'. Only 17 Jews remain of a community of 30,000.

How did a musicologist from Canada end up saving thousands of lives?
Judy’s incredible story began in 1972, when she read a newspaper article describing how a group of Jews tried to flee Syria only to stumble into a minefield and die while border guards watched. Outraged, Judy and her husband, Dr. Ronald Feld, wanted to help, but in those pre-internet days, with no Syrian free press, how could you even figure out whom to contact, let alone get a message to them?

 Judy Feld Carr: threats on her life

After weeks of trying to place a call to anyone in the Syrian Jewish community, Judy managed to get through, but little did she know that the woman she had reached was an informer for the secret police. Luckily, the woman was away, or Judy’s attempt to help would have been over before it started. The woman’s husband hurriedly gave Judy contact details for the local rabbi and the Jewish school in Damascus. “He was so scared, I thought he was going to have a heart attack on the phone. And the line went dead.” She then sent a telegram to the rabbi, who answered with a request for books. Remembering something she had once read, Judy decided to send a hidden message in the shipment of books with a code used by Jews during the Spanish Inquisition. “I figured, Jews in Syria, some of them came during the Inquisition.” The rabbi’s next telegram used the right countersign. They were in business.

Word got around Toronto that Judy was raising money to send more books to Jews in Syria. A Syrian woman in the community told Judy she was determined to visit her brother in Aleppo before he died of cancer, and asked what she could do for Judy while she was there. The woman was with her family less than a day before the secret police captured her for interrogation, grilling her on her connection to Judy and brandishing the telegrams Judy had been sending to the local rabbi. The woman insisted she knew nothing, and was finally released. But when she returned to Canada, she had a letter for Judy signed by three rabbis, which she had smuggled out in her underwear. It read: “Remember, we are all Jews. Our children are your children. You must take our children out of Syria.” Judy recalled being overcome: “It was like a letter out of the Shoah. I just cried. I don’t know how to do this.”

Now the woman begged Judy to help rescue her dying brother. Judy pointed out that at the time, “Syria was a steel trap. There is no communication outside of the country for the Jewish community. They’re living in only three cities, and we later found out that they can’t travel further than three kilometers from their homes without special permission from the secret police.” The brother was in Aleppo. The embassy was in Beirut; it might as well have been on the moon.

Judy pleaded with the Canadian ambassador to visit the local rabbi at a school in Damascus and give him the travel papers to smuggle to the brother in Aleppo. “I made the only mistake I ever made in all the years of rescue. I told him to go to the school at 2:30. I thought the secret police left the school at 2:00. They actually stayed until 3:00. But that day, God was looking down on us: the agent of the secret police was sick with the flu.” The rabbi got the papers.

Judy had an ambulance waiting at the airport for the brother’s arrival in Canada. “When he came into the hospital, I had a Jewish doctor who had been in the Canadian army during WWII. He told me, ‘I haven’t seen a body like that since Auschwitz.’ They had beaten him brutally every time one of his children escaped. His back was covered in scars. And his arms, my God. And this was a man who was dying of cancer of the bladder and kidneys.”

Before he died, he told Judy, “I have one last thing to ask you. I have a daughter. She’s pretty. She’s single. She’s nineteen years old. I’m worried that without me, there will be no one to protect her. She’s either going to go into a forced marriage or be raped by Syrian army officials. Can you get her out?”

Judy rescued the girl. And then the girl’s sister. Then more families. Even people in prison.

Through all this, she avoided any hint of publicity. “I’ve had four threats on my life. Physical threats. This isn’t a joke.” But it wasn’t just about the risk to her personally; she had to make sure the corrupt Syrian officials kept taking bribes and had no reason to save face by cracking down on her underground railroad. “No one in Canada knew I was doing this; no one in Europe knew I was doing this. Until the Mossad came on the scene and told me to stay home and wash windows and take care of my kids.” She ignored them and kept working, and eventually they began supporting her efforts.

“I was working on an escape the day of my father’s funeral,” she remembered. “I had to go from bank to bank—I needed a lot of money for this escape—and then a courier was going to pick this up and take it to Israel and then Turkey. My father’s funeral was delayed by two hours ‘for an emergency.’ What could be a greater emergency than a funeral? But I had to. There was a mother and four or five daughters, and they told her if she tried to escape, they would gouge out her eyes. I never told my mother the reason, but I did tell the rabbi afterwards, because I had to tell somebody. He nearly fell off his chair.”

Read article in full 

More articles about Miss Judy 

Syrian TV propaganda video from the early 1990s. Almost all the Jews in this video would have left the country shortly after it was made.  (With thanks: Eli T)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Israel has compensated Arabs for lost property

The New York Times has issued an unprecedented apology for an article by Diaa Hadid about property disputes in the old city of Jerusalem. There could be some 100 such properties, according to an Arab source. The NYT correction admits that the homes concerned were owned by Jews before they were expelled during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The Israeli courts ruled against the Arab tenants only because of non-payment of rent. Contrary to Hadid's claims,  Arabs have received fair compensation for properties they may have abandoned in West Jerusalem, while not a single claim for property lost by Jews in Arab countries has been honoured.

View of the Old City of Jerusalem towards the Mount of Olives

Here is the New York Times' correction: 
"The Jerusalem Journal article on Jan. 15 about Palestinian residents of Jerusalem’s Old City who face eviction by Israeli organizations gave an incomplete description of the legal disputes in several cases. The descriptions were based on the tenants’ accounts; the article should have included additional information from court documents or from the landlords. (The landlords are organizations that have reclaimed properties owned by Jews before Israel was established in 1948.)

In the case of Nazira Maswadi, the article said her new landlord was trying to evict her based on a claim that her estranged husband was dead (he is still alive). In fact, the landlord claims in court filings that the Maswadi family has not proved that it has paid rent.

In another case, the article quoted Nawal Hashimeh as saying she was being evicted for replacing a door to her apartment. But according to court documents, her rent payments had also been rejected because they were submitted by her son, whom the landlord said it had no contractual relationship with. (The landlord also claimed that three rent checks fell short of the amount owed.)
In a separate case, the article said Nora Sub Laban faced accusations that she had not continuously lived in her apartment, though she claimed that she had never left it. While the article said that Ms. Sub Laban had been battling eviction efforts for four decades and that the Israeli Supreme Court must now decide whether to consider her appeal, it should have noted that an Israeli court in 2014 upheld a lower-court finding that she had not returned to live at the property after renovations were completed in 2000 or 2001.

While the reporter tried to reach representatives of the landlord in the Sub Laban case, The Times should also have tried to reach the landlords involved in the other cases and their lawyers."

The media watchdog CAMERA's critique led the NYT to issue its correction: 

"Hadid is also extremely misleading or completely wrong – it depends on how devious she is trying to be – about the relevant Israeli law regarding compensation for lost property, when she claims that "compensation [is] based only on the 1949 value of the home or land."

It's hard to say because the phrase "based only on the 1949 value" could have many meanings. For example it could mean one million times the 1949 value, which would be very generous, or it could mean one tenth the 1949 value, or not generous at all. Both methods could be said to be "based only on the 1949 value," but obviously couldn't be more different.

The actual formula is the 1949 value, with yearly interest and cost of living (or inflation) adjustments. Arabs who lost property in Israel are eligible to file for compensation from Israel's Custodian of Absentee Property. As of the end of 1993, a total of 14,692 claims had been filed, claims were settled with respect to more than 200,000 dunums of land, more than 10,000,000 NIS (New Israeli Shekels) had been paid in compensation, and more than 54,000 dunums of replacement land had been given in compensation.

Israel has followed this generous policy despite the fact that not a single penny of compensation has ever been paid to any of the more than 500,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who were forced by the Arab governments to abandon their homes, businesses and savings.

In addition, it should not be ignored that many journalists, including Hadid, write about Jews living in the Old City's Muslim Quarter as if this violates some unwritten moral or legal code, but they never write about the large number of Arabs living in the nearby Jewish Quarter.

For example, according to the 1995 Census of Population and Housing at least 480 Muslims lived in the Jewish Quarter, making up 22.5% of the quarter's population. In contrast, Jews made up just 1.68% of the Muslim Quarter's population. Even in absolute terms, the 480 Muslims living in the Jewish Quarter outnumbered the 380 Jews living in the much larger Muslim Quarter."

Breaking the silence on Jewish property rights 

More articles about property rights in Jerusalem

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

27 Jan 1969: Remembering the Baghdad hangings

 Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. Although the event is not remotely comparable to the mass extermination of six million Jews,   it is also 47 years since the Ba'ath party regime hanged nine innocent Jews in Baghdad's Liberation Square. Percy Gourgey OBE z"l was a tireless campaigner for Jews in Arab lands. This is the text of a speech he delivered 17 years ago in London at a memorial event for the hangings. From The Scribe: 

 The late Percy Gourgey OBE...tireless campaigner

"Thirty years ago today nine innocent Jews were publicly hanged in Baghdad's so-called 'Liberation Square,' falsely accused of spying for Israel. This atrocity shocked the civilised world and focused world attention on the cause of Jews of Arab Lands with all that implies especially in terms of human rights. 

In London the day after the hangings with lurid photographs in the press, there was a mass protest demonstration outside the Iraqi Embassy in Kensington, London of over 5,000 people, organised by the Board of Deputies, the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue and other communal bodies. So effective was it that the Iraqi authorities summoned the British ambassador in Baghdad to complain about it and he replied that Britain was a free, democratic country and people were free to express their sense of outrage at such incidents.

At the time, Hassan al-Bakr was President of Iraq and Saddam Hussein was his right-hand man, whose Ba'ath Party had seized power in a military coup six months before. The Jewish community in Baghdad traced its origins to Babylonian times, 2,500 years ago making immense contributions to the development of Judaism through the Babylonian Talmud, the Religious academies, fruitful exchange of rabbis and scholars with Spain, and subsequently. In fact, the modern Baghdad is about 190 miles from the ancient Babylon and Iraq's President Saddam Hussein had plans to develop it as a major tourist attraction, which was nullified by his invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, and the ongoing crisis caused by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

This service is a Kiddush Hashem and reflects great honour on the martyrs and all present here this evening. The Psalm 137 read earlier refers specifically to the Babylonian community, beginning: 'there by the waters of Babylon, we hanged our harps on the willows and wept at the remembrance of Zion.' Later in the Psalm are the words, 'If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her skill' which Dr. Theodor Herzl used as the rallying cry for the establishment in 1948. Two months before the 1969 hangings, the World Jewish Congress was warning of the impending tragedy. 

Following are extracts of a statement to the Maariv newspaper in Tel-Aviv in March 1991 made by Mrs Selima Gubbay, widow of Fuad Gubbay one of the martyrs, after Iraqi Scud missiles attacked Israel. Israel which had not joined the coalition to drive Iraq out of Kuwait, in accordance with UN resolutions.
'Fuad and I were so happy when suddenly our lives were torn apart. One day four Iraqi officers in a blue Volkswagen drove into our home in Basra.

 They went straight to the air conditioners and pulled out the transformers. 'These are transmitters,' they shouted, 'you are spying for Israel.' Fuad was roughed up when he protested. Our younger son, David, was picked up and thrown against the railings when he tried to kiss his father. He cut himself, and his face was full of blood. The blood was an evil omen of the future. 

It was 1968 and I was four months pregnant. Fuad was taken away to a jail in Baghdad. Eventually, he was put on trial with other Jews, all accused of spying for Israel. The trial was broadcasted live on radio and television. Fuad pleaded not guilty. I travelled from Basra to Baghdad to see him in prison. When I got there they pushed me into a room beat me up and kicked me out. In the next room, separated only by a thin wall, the warders were telling Fuad, 'your wife is on the other side of the wall. She's pregnant. If you don't admit your guilt, we're going to rape her, and afterwards open her stomach and cut up the child.'

'The next day during the broadcast of the trial, I heard Fuad pleading guilty, admitting that on such and such days, he was here and there, sending secrets to Israel. When I checked the dates, I realised that Fuad had been with me and the children all of those times. He had made up the story in order to save us.

 On the morning of January 27, 1969, the streets of Baghdad were even more noisy and crowded than usual. It was the day of the hangings. A day of national celebration. I could hear the neighbours shouting enthusiastically, 'Hang the Israeli spies.' Dancers were brought from far and wide to dance under the gallows. There were free rides on the buses and trams so that people could come and celebrate under the corpses. And what was all the celebration about? The Iraqi nation was taking its collective revenge for defeat of a division on the Jordan front in the Six Day War, and that is how Iraqi television was broadcasting pictures of 9 hanging Jewish corpses, among them my husband Fuad, all innocent people. 

The loudspeakers announced that from 4 o'clock that afternoon, the bodies would be brought down so that the mob could deal with them in the streets. I returned to Basra and people, including Jews, avoided me for fear of being linked with my husband's so-called activities.' 

Mrs Gubbay then described how she fled to Israel with her children in July 1971.
Over 50 more Jews were, after 1969, executed or died through torture in jail. Martyrdom is, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon in Jewish history. But the Jewish People, because of its adherence to the eternal Torah, has acquired the characteristic of eternity. This is exemplified now by our beloved State of Israel and the survival of the Jewish People in all lands of freedom and democracy. May we go from strength to strength, mechayil lechayil."

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Levy looks on as a candle is being lit by David Khalastchy who was deputy Chairman of the Jewish Council of Iraq at the time.
Other articles relating to the Baghdad Hangings :

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Non-Ashkenazi Jews elided in public discourse

'Jews of colour' from the Middle East and North Africa  form the  majority of Israel’s population, yet both the country’s supporters and detractors elide the Mizrahi experience. This needs to change, say Analucia Lopezrevoredo and David Shraub. Fascinating piece in the Tablet.

Jews in Morocco
The omission of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews in intersectional discourse is symptomatic of a larger problem. In the global imagination, the easy conflation of “Jews” and “white” has blinded many to the internal ethnic diversity within the Jewish community—especially in Israel. Non-Ashkenazi Jews are typically ignored in public discourse or respected only insofar as they confirm the prejudices and ideologies of others. While there are some organizations, such as JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), devoted to elevating the profile of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish concerns, in general American Jewish organizations right, left, and center are notorious for being Ashke-normative—in other words, making the Ashkenazi experience the de-facto Jewish experience. This is similarly the case among critics of the American Jewish establishment, both Jewish and not.

Mizrahi Jews represent a conundrum for Jews and non-Jews alike accustomed to the typical Eurocentric modes of characterization. “Jews living in the Middle East? North Africa? Jews identifying as Jewish and Arab? Jews having Arab names and speaking Arabic?” Yet for more than 2000 years, Jews lived among Arabs, spoke their language, and shared many of their customs. These Jews were responsible for contributing the Babylonian Talmud, and centuries later were crucial in revolutionizing the economies of cities including Aleppo, Baghdad, and Cairo.

Unfortunately, Ashkenazi history and culture primarily dominates Jewish dialogue and experiential learning, and Jews are erroneously being uniformly labeled “white” as a result of it. It’s Yiddish—not Ladino or Arabic—that Jews and non-Jews incorporate into their daily vocabulary. It’s the Holocaust—not the expulsion and exodus of nearly one million Jews from the Middle East, North Africa, and Iran—that students learn about in schools. And it’s kugel and gefilte fish—not kubbeh and borekas—that are served at community events and celebrations. This lack of knowledge becomes even more troubling when one considers that included in those unaware of this history are Jews that grew up in a Jewish home, attended synagogue, and received some form of Jewish education.

Read article in full

Monday, January 25, 2016

Jewish refugee raises money for Yazidis

A Jew who suffered in the Muslim world but has now found freedom is directing her energies towards helping the children of Yazidis in Iraq.

 Gina Waldman: repairing the world

Gina Waldman  of JIMENA has begun a campaign to help a group of Yazidi students finish their studies in India. Already her friends  have managed to pay tuition fees for two of the students and travel expenses from Iraq back to India for one.

It costs $2,000 per student per year to finish their University degree in Bangalore,  India. Fifteen students need help because their parents have lost all of their assets to ISIS.

Gina, who left Libya as a refugee in 1967, was asked to write a D'var Torah (commentary on the Torah portion of the week). The reading dealt with Moses' liberation of the children of Israel from Egypt.

"Like Moses, this broken world is calling on us today to fight for a better future," she wrote."Today, the same despair which befell our Jewish people in Egypt, has befallen so many refugees including the Yazidi people in Iraq. The Yazidis are an ancient non-Muslim minority religious group living in Iraq.

"They has been severely persecuted, forcibly converted to Islam, thousands have been murdered in cold blood, their villages raised to the ground. Over 5,000 young Yazidi young girls have been abducted by ISIS and sold into sex slavery."

If you would like to join the practical effort to help the Yazidi students, please go to this website.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

'Slaughter the Jews', but the world won't listen

Rachel Wahba and her family  have heard the Islamist cry Itbach el Yahud before, when they watched the Jewish communities of Iraq and Egypt disintegrate. But the world is in denial. Read her blog on The Times of Israel (with thanks: Michelle)
 Rachel Wahba

Islamic fundamentalists are preaching “Itbach el Yahud,” slaughter the Jews, cries my parents lived with in their native Egypt and Iraq.Today Jews in France are fair game for radical Islamists.Vows to destroy Israel crowd the Internet.

The world is not paying enough attention. 

Today I live in a country where our leaders cannot link “political Islam” with “terrorism” or “Islamic” with “terrorist.” Abbas and Fatah are seen as “moderate,” unbelievable deals are made with Iran and its vile ayatollahs we keep trying to turn into our new best friends.

Murderous gangs like Hezbollah and Hamas are portrayed as freedom fighters, and yitbach el Yahud goes unnoticed?

The destruction of 2,500 years of ancient Jewish life in the Middle East and North Africa is not enough for these nations who are Jew-free today.
I understand how for those who have not directly experienced the hit it is “hard to believe.”

My parents lived it. They watched their ancient Jewish communities in Iraq and Egypt disintegrate.

My grandmother, who grew up free in Singapore did not believe it, could not believe it, when she moved to Baghdad as a young bride. She was “modern,” she scoffed at how the Baghdadi Jews cowered in fear, “they were like mice!”
She found out the hard way. It wasn’t just the thugs on the street who cursed and threatened Jews.

“I didn’t know (how much they hated us),” she said remembering sitting quietly like a mouse herself, the only Jew, at her well placed friends’ dinner party. The guest of honor was no other than the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini himself.

She sat there stunned, afraid, sick to her stomach as he ranted about the Jews. He promised Hitler would deliver not only in Europe but the entire Middle East and North Africa.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Al-Jazeera reports on Israel's Yemenite A-wa band

 Habib Galbi, by  Israel's Yemenite girl band A-wa, is topping the Israeli pop charts. News of its success has reached the ears of Al-Jazeera:

A-wa: music an international language

"A girl band in Israel has been making waves after its debut single became the first song entirely in Arabic to top the charts in Israel.

"Habib Galbi" by the band A-WA - made up of three sisters - gives traditional rhythms and lyrics from Yemen a hip-hop treatment.

"It's a song that has been viewed online over two million times.
The sisters are descendants of Yemeni Jews who relocated (never 'fled' - ed) to Israel after its establishment in 1948.

"But it’s almost unheard of for a Jewish-Israeli band to sing traditional Yemeni folk in a nearly extinct dialect of Arabic."

So far so true, but no report on Arabic news media about Mizrahi Jews is ever complete without denigrating Israel's 'domineering' Ashkenazi establishment, even though Yemenite Jews have a very good reputation in Israel, and the singer Ofra Haza was a national star 40 years ago.

To make the political point about Israel's 'repression' of the Mizrahim, 'Israel's 'poorest and most disenfranchised', Al-Jazeera wheels out the obligatory anti-Zionist commentator. Left-wing activist Orly Noy says:  " The Ashkenazim needed the Mizrahim to 'work twice as hard to prove  they were not 'that type of Arab'".

Iranian-born Noy, who blogs at the leftist +972 Magazine, once wrote a piece to say that she was proud of Iran, but not proud of Israel.

Israeli Jews are 'not familiar with Arab language or culture'

 Outgoing Mossad chief Tamir Pardo (photo: David Vaaknin)

 The outgoing Mossad chief Tamir Pardo has been talking to the press. Much of what he said deals with existential threats to Israel. But this passage, quoted in the Times of Israel, caught my eye.

Pardo recalled meeting an Arab official who bemoaned what he saw as Israel’s refusal to integrate into the Middle East, or fully understand its culture.

“When I first started as Mossad chief, I met with a senior official from the Arab periphery [Maariv speculated that this could be Saudi Arabia or another Gulf state], who asked me if we had actually chosen to live in the Middle East, as he believed we had not,” he said.

“When I questioned him on why he thought this way, he asked me: ‘How many Jews born in Israel know Arabic? How many are familiar with Arab culture? How many even want to know about it? How can you want to understand me when you live in the Middle East and don’t know the language spoken by hundreds of millions around you? How many of your people have ever opened the Quran? Not to pray, but to try to understand what is written there — to understand the culture, understand that we are not all the same, and there is a difference between the Egyptian and the Jordanian, Palestinian, Saudi or Lebanese. You are not familiar with anything. You don’t know anything. It’s easier for you to move to Canada. You will feel culturally more at home there than you do here; what the hell are you doing here? You still haven’t chosen to be part of the Middle East.'”

Although the younger generation has not shown much enthusiasm for the language, plenty of Jews do speak and understand Arabic. Some have even been top Arabic grammarians. But as the Iraq-born author Naim Kattan lamented in his book Farewell Babylon, a Jew's grasp of Arabic did not prevent Jews being excluded from Iraqi nation-building, despite the Jews taking a full part in the Nahda, or Renaissance of the 1920s. Israel has plenty of Arabic-speaking political scientists and intelligence experts who analyse what the Arabs say and do day by day. 

In his statement to Pardo, perhaps it is the Arab official who has betrayed his ignorance of Jews and their intimate connection - linguistically, culturally, historically - with the Middle East. 

We don't know what Pardo said to the Arab official in reply, but it is a cause for concern if he nodded in agreement, as the article might  imply. The Arab official's words betrays ignorance of who Israelis are, and the fact that half of all Israeli Jews come from Arab and Muslim world.