Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The surreal story behind Operation Magic Carpet

If it were not for a few determined individuals, the Alaska Airlines airlift of Yemen's Jews in 1949 might never have happened. Getting the refugees on the planes was the least of the problems: the aircraft were at risk of running out of fuel, and if they landed in enemy territory,  the crew and passengers could be shot. Joe Spier tell the amazing story of Operation Magic Carpet in the San Diego Jewish World (with thanks: Geoffrey):

Joe Spier

CALGARY, Alberta, Canada — The story of the modern exodus of “Beta Israel” the Jews of Ethiopia during Operations Moses and Solomon, which together airlifted some 22,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel, is well known. Less well known is the dramatic exodus of over 48,000 Jews from Yemen. Almost unknown is the role played by Alaska Airlines.

No one knows for certain when the first Jews came to Yemen. Local 
legend has them being sent as traders by King Solomon. In any event,
 Jews have lived in Yemen for many centuries. In that backward and
 poverty-stricken country, the Jews were the poorest and lowest of
 citizens living in contempt and on sufferance as dhimmis. However, in
 their synagogues and schools, they taught their male children to learn 
and write Hebrew. They never forgot their faith, protected the traditions,
 observed the Sabbath and passed the Torah and Talmud to each 
succeeding generation. Following World War I, when Yemen became
 independent, life in that Muslim country for the Jews became intolerable. 

Anti-Semitic laws were revived; Jews were not permitted to walk on pavements; in court a Jew’s evidence was not accepted against a Muslim’s; Jewish orphans had to be converted to Islam. Some Jews were able to escape to Palestine but most were trapped.
In 1947, following the United Nations vote to partition Palestine, the situation of the Jews in Yemen turned from despair to physical danger. Arab rioters in the adjacent port of Aden, then a British Crown colony and now part of Yemen, killed 82 Jews and torched the Jewish quarter. The establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 and Israel’s War of Independence increasingly endangered the Yemeni Jews as it did in all Arab countries. It was not, however, until May 1949, when the Imam of Yemen unexpectedly agreed to permit all Jews to leave his country that they were able to flee. They longed to return to Zion if only they had the means. At that time, slightly over 49,000 Jews lived in Yemen.
As the War of Independence ended in early 1949, Israel was devastated and virtually bankrupt. Notwithstanding, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, defying logic and the advise of his economic advisors, ordered the immediate and rapid “Ingathering of the Exiles”. Where would Israel get the money? “Go to the Jews in the Diaspora and ask them for the money”, Ben-Gurion answered the skeptics.
For the Jews of Yemen, Egypt had closed the Suez Canal to them and therefore they would have to be transported by air to Israel. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the international Jewish humanitarian aid organization, agreed to fund the Yemenite exodus and organize the airlift, but they needed aircraft.
Alaska Airlines was founded in 1932, when Mac McGee purchased a used three passenger Stinson and started an air charter business in Alaska. With the arrival of James Wooten as president in 1947, the airline began to purchase surplus planes from the U.S. Government and within a year became the
world’s largest charter airline.
The JDC approached Wooten and asked if Alaska Airlines would agree to accept the Yemen airlift. Wooten wanted Alaska Air to take on the mission of mercy but Ray Marshall, Chairman of the Board, was cool. Marshall felt the deal was a waste of the Airline’s time and money. It would take at least $50,000 to set up the charter, cash that the Airline did not have. Marshall insisted that Wooten front the funds himself. Wooten raised the $50,000 by borrowing it from a travel agency associated with the JDC. The contract was signed and Operation On Wings of Eagles, more popularly known by its nickname, Operation Magic Carpet commenced.
As Yemen would not permit the Jewish refugees to be flown out of their country, Britain had agreed to the establishment of a transit camp in the adjoining Crown Colony of Aden from which the airlift could commence. Alaska Airlines set up its base in Asmara, Eritrea with their ground crew, pilots and aircraft, – DC-4s and C-46s. The arrangement was to fly from their base in Asmara to Aden each morning, pick up their passengers in Aden and refuel. Thence fly up the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba to the airport in Tel Aviv, unload the refugees, fly to the safety of Cyprus for the night and return to their base in Asmara at dawn, before starting all over again. The round trip would take about 20 hours.
The aircraft as configured could not carry enough passengers or sufficient fuel. So, the planes were modified by replacing the regular airline seats with rows of benches and fitting extra fuel tanks down the length of the fuselages between the benches. Aircraft intended to carry 50 passengers could now carry 120 and fuel would last a skinny extra one hour.
Meanwhile the transit camp in Aden, called “Camp Geula” (Redemption) was organized by the JDC and staffed by Israeli doctors and social workers under the directorship of Max Lapides, an American Jew. Also headquartered at the camp were emissaries responsible for paying various Yemeni tribal chiefs a “head tax” which would permit the Jewish refugees to pass through their territory.
As news of the evacuation reached the Jews of Yemen, they left their few possessions behind (except their prayer books and Torahs) and like the biblical exodus began to walk out of slavery into freedom. They traveled in family groups, some hundreds of miles, through wind and sandstorm, vulnerable to robbers and a hostile local population, until half-starved and destitute they reached the border with Aden where Israeli aid workers met them and transported them to the transit camp. There they
encountered electricity, medicines, running water, toilets and personal hygiene for the first time. During the entire operation, the Jews of Yemen arrived at Camp Geula in a steady stream, newer ones arriving as an earlier group was airlifted out.
Getting the Yemenite Jews to Aden was one problem, getting them on the aircraft was another. Nomads who had never seen an airplane before and never lived anywhere but in a tent, many of the immigrants were frightened and refused to board. Once reminded that their deliverance to Israel by air was prophesized in the Book of Isaiah, “They shall mount up with wings like eagles”, reinforced by the painting of an eagle with outstretched wings over the door of each aircraft, induced them to board the planes. Once inside many preferred sitting on the floor to unaccustomed soft seats. Keeping them from lighting fires to cook their food was a task. During the flight, about half would get sick vomiting over the extra inside fuel tanks. Notwithstanding, the Yemenites upon landing in Israel chanted blessings and burst into song.
To start up Operation Magic Carpet, Alaska Airlines sent Portland native Bob Maguire, a pilot with management experience, to the Middle East. Maguire flew between 270 and 300 hours a month. Had he been in the U.S., the limit under its aviation rules was 90 hours. Ben-Gurion called Maguire the “Irish Moses”. The work cost Maguire his career. He contracted a parasite that affected his heart and as a result lost his commercial pilot’s license in the early 1950’s. Another pilot was Warren Metzger, born in Lethbridge who found time between flights to marry his flight attendant. At least one pilot, Stanley Epstein, was Jewish.
The airlift that began in June 1948 was hard on the pilots who were flying 16-hour days and hard on the planes that flew well beyond their scheduled service intervals. Fuel was difficult to come by, the desert sand wreaked havoc on the engines and flying was seat-of-the-pants with navigation by dead reckoning and eyesight.
The work was dangerous. Many airplanes were shot at. One pilot, getting a little close to Arab territory while approaching Israel, watched tracer bullets arching up towards his airplane. Another plane had a tire blown out during a bombing raid in Tel Aviv. On one occasion, Maguire was forced to land his aircraft in Egypt when it ran out of gas. The Israelis had warned all pilots that if they had to land in Arab territory, the Jewish refugees and perhaps even the crew would likely be shot. The quick-witted Maguire told airport officials he needed ambulances to take his passengers to hospital. When they asked why, he replied that his passengers had smallpox. The frightened Egyptians wanted him out of there right away. Maguire received his fuel and flew on to Tel Aviv.
Part way through the operation, the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board forced Alaska Airlines to shut down its international charter business and a company called Near East Air Transport, whose president was James Wooten and whose pilots, and aircraft were all Alaska Air’s, completed the Operation Magic Carpet airlift. Near East Air Transport was just Alaska Airlines operating under another name.
By the time Operation Magic Carpet ended in September 1950, 28 Alaska Airlines pilots had made some 380 flights and airlifted 48,818 refugees, almost Yemen’s entire Jewish population, to Israel. Miraculously not one death or injury occurred.
Operation Magic Carpet was kept secret for reasons of security and to prevent sabotage. It would be many months later before the public or the press would become aware of the remarkable operation.
Later, Israel would once again call upon Alaska Airlines to aid in the rescue of Jews, this time from Iraq. El Al and Alaska Air, in a secret partnership, formed a new airline, again using the name Near East Air Transport for that purpose. Israeli ownership was hidden so that the airline appeared to be strictly an Alaska Airlines venture.

Read article in full

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Wistrich z''l and the missing panel

By way of tribute to the late Robert Wistrich, one of the top academic specialists in antisemitism, who died on 19 May, I am reproducing this post from 2014. Point of No Return met Professor Wistrich (whose wife is apparently Syrian-born) at the inauguration of “People, Book, Land – The 3, 500-Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land”  a bold project on Israel authored by Wistrich and initiated by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and UNESCO. Wistrich was justifiably proud of the exhibit. Wiesenthal had fought tooth and nail against Arab opposition to show it. 

But the exhibit would not have taken place if one panel Wistrich wrote had been included - about the 870, 000 Jews from Arab countries.  Wistrich explained that the missing panel was replaced with a single sentence, backed at UNESCO's insistence, with a reference to its source. The sentence reads: “By 1968, Middle Eastern Jews already represented 48% of the entire Jewish migration to Israel." 

Speaking to The Times of Israel, Wistrich said that he was very disappointed that the section needed to be removed, but explained that there was no other way to get UNESCO to go ahead with the exhibition.

“Obviously I tried to do what I could. I went through the trouble of carefully preparing what I thought was a very balanced and thorough section. To me it was important — it was part of my original design and concept,” he said, referring to the panel on Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
However, he added, from the perspective of UNESCO, the topic was explosive, because he showed “that the Jews in Arab land had suffered a great deal. The panel described their dhimmi conditions as subordinates and all the humiliations and discriminations that involved. It also went into detail on a series of pogroms, which occurred in different areas in the Arab world.”
The controversial panel meant to show that Jews living in Arab countries had ample reason to be drawn to Israel, and it was not merely “Zionist propaganda,” Wistrich said. In fact, in an early version of the panel, Wistrich had described the fate of Jews in Arab countries after 1945 as a “form of ethnic cleansing,” expecting that this characterization would be contested.
“I went some way to change the language but it wasn’t enough,” he recalled. “In the end, [UNESCO] said if you want the exhibition as a whole to succeed, you cannot give any pretext to member states to protest,” since they had the power to prevent the exhibition altogether."

Robert Wistrich (photo credit: courtesy)
Robert Wistrich (photo credit: courtesy)
“Their argument all the way through, whenever there was a controversial issue, was that in order for this to go through we have to establish a maximum level of consensus with member states and this will act as a red rag to the Arab states,” Wistrich said. “Obviously they don’t want to see themselves being portrayed as they really were and are.”
Knowing the entire exhibition could be jeopardized if he insisted on the panel, he decided to compromise. “It’s a little bit like in chess game, if you look at it strategically. You have to give up a pawn or a rook and you do that in order to attain your ultimate objective,” he said. “In this case it seemed to me straightforward politics, and there was no way around it.”
However, Wistrich added, he managed to “slip in a few sentences” about the subject in another panel, which remained in the exhibition and can currently be viewed at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. This panel explains that 20 years after Israel’s creation, half its Jewish population hailed from Middle Eastern countries, where they had been subjected to dispossession, harassment and persecution. “They let that go through,” Wistrich said.

Read post in full

What we can learn about UNESCO's silence

Monday, May 25, 2015

Mizrahim absent from Obama's view of Israel

David Bernstein in the Washington Post observes that President Obama (in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg) has a curiously out-of-date image of Israel - rooted in the 1950s and 1960s when the country was dominated by Ashkenazi Labour. As Matti Friedman has written, this image is at variance with the Israel of today - a Mizrahi nation.

President Obama gave an interview to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg

The Israel of kibbutzim (kudos to Obama for using the proper Hebrew plural), Dayan, and Meir, was perhaps a more idealistic, and certainly more socialistic Israel. But it was also an Israel dominated by a secularized, Ashkenazic elite.
Mizrahim (Jews from Arab countries), though more than half the population, were marginalized at every level of society. Discrimination was to a large extent institutionalized; the governing Labor Party was run by socialistic Ashkenazim, and given that state capitalism dominated the Israeli economy one’s political and social connections (protectsia in Hebrew) went a long way toward determining one’s economic prospects.

The kibbutzim in particular were a font of anti-Mizrahi chauvinism; as late as 1985, when I stayed for three weeks on a far-left Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz, the teenage kibbutzniks casually and derogatorily referred to the Moroccan city kids staying on the kibbutz for the summer as “shechorim” (blacks) (for what it’s worth, the Moroccan kids were much nicer than the kibbutzniks).

The cozy Labor/Ashkenazi dominance of Israel was upset by Menachem Begin’s stunning victory in 1977. Begin put together a coalition of anti-Socialist Ashkenazim, religious nationalists, and especially Mizrahim. Since then, Begin’s Likud has dominated Israeli politics, and the Israel of Kibbutzim, Dayan, and Meier, has been replaced by the Israel of Begin, Ofra Haza, and high-tech. Mizrahim, while still lagging somewhat economically, are much better integrated into Israeli society, have a very high rate of intermarriage with Ashkenazim, and have come to dominate the Israeli music and food scenes.

Israel, in short, has gotten more Middle Eastern, and its populist politics reflects that. But that’s natural given that most Israelis’ families have lived in the Middle East for hundreds of years. Meanwhile, national religious types are increasingly prominent throughout elite Israeli society, over a million Russian immigrants have been successfully integrated, and Israel has welcomed, but struggled to integrate, one hundred thousand or so Ethiopian Jews.

Read article in full

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Israeli judo team detained in Casablanca

 Update to the update: a disaster from beginning to end. Spectators called to kill the Jews while waving Palestinian flags. Read the Times of Israel's report.

Update: it is not clear why the Israeli team was detained: Ynet News said that it was because the team, which had applied for visas well in advance, had an armed security guard with them.  The Israeli authorities had warned the team that they would be putting themselves at risk if they went to Morocco. After their release, the team said they were putting their trust in Moroccan security.

When it happens to Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints, it makes world news headlines. (When it happens to Israelis, you will only read about it on this website!) Moroccan authorities detained members of the Israeli national judo team for more than eight hours on Wednesday, confiscating their passports, Israel’s NRG news reported (via  Algemeiner). According to a Moroccan French news site, the Israeli flag and the sportsmen's names were erased from the official competition website.

The team was finally released after the World Judo Association, which covered travel costs and has been handling security for the trip, pressured Morocco to release the Israeli teammates.

The Israeli team was visiting Morocco to participate in a Masters competition but were detained at the country’s airport upon landing.

Speaking to NRG in the midst of the ordeal, Israeli Judo Association Chairman, Moshe Ponti, said, “we have our passports and visas and awaited for permission to enter [the country].”

Ponti said he did “not know why” the team was held, “probably because we are Israelis.”

Read article in full

Saturday, May 23, 2015

First International Farhud Day is declared

 June 1 has been declared International Farhud Day. To commemorate "The Farhud and the Creation of 850,000 Post-War Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands", Edwin Black, author of The Farhud--Roots of The Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust , will give the keynote address at an event moderated by Rabbi Elie Abadie (from 1:15 to 2:20 pm, at an official side event at the UN Headquarters in NYC in Hall 7. Those who cannot attend can follow the proceedings here). 
The Jewish Journal interviews three surviving eye witnesses of the pogrom that marked the beginning of the end for Iraq's Jews:

The Dabby family, circa 1940

Over the first two days of June 1941, countless numbers of Jewish women in Baghdad were raped, more than 2,000 Jews were injured — many of them mutilated — and 900 homes, as well as 586 Jewish-owned businesses, were looted. All told, according to Iraqi-born historian Elie Kedourie, 600 Jews, including children and infants, were slaughtered. This Nazi-inspired pogrom is known as the Farhud, which in Kurdish means violent dispossession, and it marked the beginning of the destruction of the Iraq’s 2,600-year-old Jewish community, which beforehand had numbered more than 75,000 in Baghdad and 120,000 throughout Iraq.

The Nazis’ influence in Iraq can be traced back to 1933, when Hitler first came to power, which was just a year after Iraq gained its independence from Britain. Excerpts from “Mein Kampf” began appearing serially in Iraqi’s newspaper Al-Alem Al Arabi (The Arabic World), which had been purchased by Germany’s ambassador to Iraq, Dr. Fritz Grobba. A youth organization, Al Fatwaa, similar to the Hitler Youth, was formed, and Radio Berlin began to broadcast anti-Semitic propaganda in Arabic.

Pro-Nazis had taken power of the Iraqi government just two months before in a coup staged by Gen. Rashid Ali al-Gaylani and four generals, called the Golden Square, with support from the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Nazi collaborator in exile in Baghdad. They overthrew the former, pro-British government and exiled the young King Faisal II and his regent, Prince Abdul Ilah.

Al-Gaylani, intent on controlling Iraq’s oil fields for Germany, staged the takeover, in league with the Nazis and the Grand Mufti. But Britain, dependent on Iraq’s oil, returned fire by sending in additional troops, and, after a month of fighting, emerged victorious. The British army then stationed itself outside Baghdad, and on May 30, al-Gaylani, his generals and the Grand Mufti fled the country.

The regent was to return the next day. And as a delegation of Iraqi Jews was driving across the Al Khurr Bridge to Baghdad’s airport to welcome him, they were attacked by a mob of Iraqi soldiers and civilians. The violence spread from there, while the British remained outside the city, as ordered by British Ambassador Kinahan Cornwallis, who didn’t want to be seen as interfering in Iraqi politics. Finally, on the afternoon of June 2, British forces restored order, but for the Jews, life in Iraq had changed irrevocably.

Some Jews fled Iraq immediately after the Farhud. The majority of the Jewish community was non-Zionist, and they stayed. Then, as the persecution of Jews continued, including after Israel became a state in May 1948, they reconsidered, and thousands were smuggled out by the Zionist underground. In March 1950, Iraq passed a law allowing Jews to depart within the year if they relinquished their citizenship. Shortly afterward, in Operations Ezra and Nehemiah, the Israeli government airlifted out more than 100,000 Jews. In March 1951, the Iraqi government extended the law but forbade the Jews to remove any assets. By early 1952, more than 120,000 Jews had participated in the mass emigration, leaving behind approximately 6,000. In 2008 the Jewish Agency of Israel estimated that only seven Jews remained in Iraq.

The following memories of the Farhud come from three Iraqi Jews, all now living in Los Angeles, who as children witnessed  what professor Yitzchak Kerem of Hebrew University calls “the Kristallnacht of Iraqi Jewry.”

Charles Dabby

On June 1, 1941, a Sunday, Charles Dabby, then 6, looked out the small recessed window of a second-story bedroom in his family’s house in Baghdad. He could see men breaking into nearby homes on the narrow street below, then hoisting stolen items over their heads or hauling them away in donkey-driven carts. “People were taking sheets, pillows, everything and anything,” he recalled. He also heard the shouts and crying of both adults and children.

Charles’ parents pulled him and his two younger sisters, Bertha and Tikvah, away from the window, saying, “Don’t worry. We have a guard.”
The family felt reassured by the presence of Azawi ibn Tabra, the large, Muslim owner of the warehouse where Charles’ father, Heskel, a spice importer and distributor, stored his merchandize. The keffiyah-clad Azawi was standing guard outside the family’s front door, a sword in one hand and a gun on his left side, patrolling back and forth. A few men accompanied him. He had also stationed several men on the Dabbys’ roof in case attackers jumped over the short wall separating the flat, attached roofs of the adjoining houses. Another guard remained inside the house, making funny faces to entertain Charles.
Later, Heskel led the family downstairs to the basement, where they slept for several nights. It was too dangerous to sleep on the rooftop, as was the custom in warm weather.

After the Farhud, when Charles walked with his father along Main Street to school, they often saw men hanging from scaffolding. When Charles asked why they had been hanged, Heskel answered, “Because they’re thieves.” He never explained that they were Jews.

On May 14, 1948, Charles remembers listening to the United Nations vote on Israeli statehood on the family radio. “I could hear my heart. I was crying,” he said. He had secretly begun learning conversational Hebrew, leaving school for an hour at a time for classes taught by young Iraqi Jews. At home, he buried his Hebrew papers in a box in the backyard, hidden from his parents. “They would panic,” he said. Like most Iraqi Jews, Charles’ parents were not Zionists.
Then, one afternoon in 1949, as Charles rode his bicycle home from school, two boys attacked him — hitting him and trying to steal his bicycle. Charles removed his belt and began thrashing the boys and destroying their bicycles. He returned home with torn clothes, his own bicycle on his shoulder. That night, after learning that the boys’ parents had important government jobs, Heskel put Charles on a train to Basra, to stay with his uncle. In the summer, against his uncle’s and father’s wishes, Charles crossed into Iran with a smuggler and, after some time in Istanbul, he traveled to Israel. His two sisters followed a year later, when Iraq allowed Jews to emigrate, while forbidding them to keep their Iraqi citizenship.

Read article in full

More about the Farhud

Friday, May 22, 2015

What happened to a 'Jew' in Cairo

A Jew in the streets of Cairo may be subject to threats and violence: you would not have guessed there was a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel judging by this clip. Antisemitism on the Egyptian street is alive and well. But then, similar experiments conducted in Malmo and Paris demonstrate that Cairo is no worse. The Jerusalem Post reports (with thanks: Lily): 

An Egyptian journalist conducted an experiment in which he dressed up as a Jew and asked passers-by on the streets of Cairo for directions to a nearby synagogue - with nearly serious consequences for his physical safety.

The Cairo-based Internet news site DOTMSR sent the journalist to the streets of Cairo dressed in overtly Hassidic garb - sidecurls, skullcap, beard, and a hat. The “Jewish” journalist was then subjected to threats of violence, epithets, slurs, and shoving from hostile locals.

 In one scene of the video, the journalist shows an Egyptian a note with Hebrew writing on it. When asked if he is an Israeli journalist, he responds in the affirmative, prompting the Egyptian to hurriedly walk away without responding to his request for directions. Another clip shows a group of young people surround the journalist and demand that he “get out of here.”

Read article in full

Celebrate Shavuot with Muhallabi

The Feast of Shavuot begins tomorrow evening, 23 May. It is customary to eat dairy foods, and each community has its own favourites. This recipe is popular with Iraqi Jews all year round.

Muhallabi -  Aromatic almond milk pudding (From Flavours of Babylon by Linda Dangoor)
 Serves 4 - 6
I litre almond milk
7 tablespoons cornflour
5 tablespoons sugar
2 whole cardamon pods
2 teaspoons vanilla essence 
2 1/2 tablespoons rosewater
Garnish: 1tablespoon finely ground cardamon pods
1 tablespoon pistachios

Mix cornflour with a little almond milk into a smooth paste.
Set aside.
Place a saucepan over medium heat. Combine the rest of the almond milk with the sugar and cardamon pods and slowly bring to the boil,stirring frequently.
Remove from the heat and pick out the cardamon pods. Add the cornflour paste and blend in well. Return to a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. (about 15 mins). Be careful not to let the mixture stick to the bottom of the pan.
Remove from the heat and add the rosewater. Give it a good stir. pour into individual dishes or a large bowl and garnish.

Kahi: it is customary for Iraqi Jews to eat this dish at Shavuot:

It is dough  rolled out as thinly as filo, brushed with butter, then  folded like a handkerchief and fried. Then, icing sugar sprinkled on them.

Here is some useful background on the festival (My Jewish Learning):

On Shavuot, we celebrate the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai. According to Jewish tradition, the Torah has seventy “faces”, but is still one, unified Torah. Shavuot customs celebrate the gift of Torah, and show the same diverse presentation of a few unifying core ideas. Each Jewish culture is unique, and at the same time, integrated with the worldwide Jewish community.

There are many special foods for Shavuot, in different Jewish cultures. Dairy is popular because, when the Israelites in the desert received the Torah, including the kosher laws, there was no kosher meat yet available. Torah is compared to honey, so many traditional Shavuot foods are sweet, as well. Persian Jews make “Polao mastin” a dish made of rice and milk, and “koltcha shiri”, a dairy cake, while in Greece there is a special dairy porridge made with cinnamon called “sutlag”. In Poland, cheesecake is the traditional Shavuot dessert. Libyan Jews make necklaces strung with cookies or pretzels in symbolic shapes for their children. Iraqi Jews make “sambusak”, a savory pastry filled with cheese. The exact details of the menu are fluid—any interpretation of a dairy meal and dessert would be appropriate. This is an excellent opportunity to try out a new recipe, symbolic of our renewed relationship with Torah, or to take the time for an old family favorite, to celebrate your roots.

It is common for communities to prepare their synagogues for Shavuot with natural decorations. Greek Jews historically decorated their synagogues with green branches and a variety of flowers. Even today Bukharan Jews use red roses. In Poland, synagogues were decorated with flowers, branches, and paper cuttings called “reizelach”, or roses, in Yiddish. German Jews would place two flowering branches on either side of the Ark, as a symbol that Torah is our Tree of Life. Consider decorating your synagogue or home with local, in season, flowers and greenery.

Traditional communities hold a “Tikkun Leil Shavuot”, a night-time Torah study session which can last anywhere from a couple of hours to all night long. In some communities this is held in the synagogue, while in others, it is located private homes. People may recite specific passages from different traditional texts, while others prepare different topics, which change from year to year. Study is a potent way of renewing our understanding of Torah.

Shavuot is full of opportunities for communal gatherings and fun. Libyan and Moroccan Jews spray water onto passersby, because the Torah is compared to water, and our reconnection to Torah is a source of blessing.

Read article in full

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Jewish pirates 'became Ottoman allies'

A pirate's grave in the Bay Jewish cemetery in Jamaica (photo: D.R.)

Believe it or not, Jewish pirates were powerful allies in the Ottoman wars against Spain, which had expelled and dispossessed them in 1492. They were also pioneers in discovering the New World, a new exhibition explains. Via Harissa website (with thanks: Michelle)

 Sinan Reis was a member of a Sephardi family who fled the peninsula after the  decree of expulsion and found refuge in the Ottoman Empire. He becomes  Barbarossa's right arm. Among his military exploits is the victory against the Spanish Armada in 1538 at the Battle of Preveza, considered by many historians as the greatest maritime Ottoman victory against Spain. The ships were marked by a Star of David.

Samuel Pallache (Fallache?)
was born in Morocco in 1550. A merchant, diplomat and pirate, he worked to unite Amsterdam and Morocco in the face a common enemy: Spain. He was the first to obtain an agreement between a Christian and a Muslim country. That contract negotiated the presence of a Jewish community in Amsterdam and construction of the first synagogue of the city, where one can see the skull and crossbones. He received a hero's welcome when he decided to end his life here, in 1615.

 "Christopher Columbus left for the Americas and discovered a new world. Jews who had been forcibly converted and who had not renounced their religion took the opportunity to flee Spain. (The exhibition curator)  Martine Yana adds: "the Inquisition spread terror. People were being accused of practising Judaism in secret (the offensive word"Marranos"). They monitored chimneys on Saturday to see if they smoked, if food was being cooked.  They entered the houses to smell what people were cooking. In fact lard was used for cooking, Jews used olive oil. "

" So the "Marranos" joined the explorers, sailed with the conquistadors and were among the first settlers of the colonies of the New World. "They realised that Spain and Portugal were at war with England and Holland. They found a way to get revenge, to recover part of their wealth. Each pirate allies himself with a country to which he undertakes to hand over 50% of his booty. "

"These men, says Yana," had little belief in faith and law but they kept some communal principles. Thus, they did not loot on Saturday. Furthermore, the galley slaves on Spanish vessels were often freed "Marranos". They created small Jewish towns along the coast. This was particularly the case in Jamaica, soon captured by the British who allowed Jews to practise their religion. They were heavily implicated in the resulting pirate code of conduct. They promoted the equal sharing of  spoils. They insisted that they did not swear on the Bible when becoming a pirate but sitting in a boat. "

They helped their community: "London was threatened by the Spaniards so the pirates reached an agreement with Cromwell to fight for him in exchange for the return of the Jewish community in London." 

The story of 20 Jewish pirates is told at the Centre Fleg, Marseille until 4 June.

Read original post (French)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Who will save the Christians of the Middle East?

 Wars of identity break out when order breaks down, writes Walter Russell Mead in this masterful essay in the Wall St Journal on the disappearing Christians of the Middle East. While Christians have never been the only victims, Muslims have more often been the perpetrators. (With thanks: Eliyahu)

A woman prays for Assyrian Christians at a church in Damascus (photo: Reuters)

During the many centuries of imperial rule, the peoples of the region became scattered and mixed. But the region was a salad bowl, not a melting pot; groups retained their distinctive customs and beliefs wherever they went, and different ones served different economic roles. Merchants and skilled workers might be German, Jewish, Armenian or any of a half-dozen other ethnic groups. Eastern Orthodox peasants might be ruled by Catholic or Muslim aristocrats. Rabbinical courts heard cases involving only Jews; the various groups of Christian clergy handled such matters among their flocks.

But the old arrangements could not withstand the rise of nationalism and calls for self-determination. When the Balkan peoples struggled to throw off Ottoman rule in the 19th and 20th centuries, they wanted ethnic nation states like the ones they saw in the West, such as Sweden, Denmark and France.

Wars of independence became wars of peoples and wars of religion. Turks massacred Christians, whom they suspected of sympathizing with the rebels, and Christians massacred and drove out Turkish civilians and Muslims on the side of the empire. And of course, from time to time, everyone took a turn persecuting the Jews. From the war for Greek independence that began in 1821 up through the chaotic collapse of the Ottoman empire in 1923, such wars swept through the region, and atrocities became almost routine. Peoples who had lived cheek by jowl from time immemorial participated in unspeakable brutalities against their neighbors.

Wars of identity break out when order breaks down—which is what happened across the region as the Ottoman and Russian empires collapsed. More recently, we have seen the return of such conflicts in Yugoslavia after Tito’s death and in the Caucasus and now Ukraine following the fall of the Soviet Union. In Syria and Iraq, a series of colonial masters and locally grown despots maintained a brutal order from the 1920s through the last decade. But neither the colonizers nor the despots could provide permanent security.

The role of Islamist fanaticism among Sunnis and Shiites in the latest round of violence should not be minimized, but Christians are not now and never have been the only victims of these wars. From vicious massacres in the Balkan wars of independence to the destruction of the Circassians (a predominantly Muslim people of the Caucasus), the mass deaths of Crimean Tatars and the more recent slaughters in Bosnia and Chechnya, Muslim communities have often fallen victim as well. In the spreading sectarian conflict between Shiites and Sunnis, the murdered innocents and penniless refugees fleeing for their lives are usually Muslim.

Still, in the wars of identity raging across the post-Ottoman Middle East, Muslims have more often been the perpetrators and Christians the victims. That is certainly true today in Iraq and Syria, where Christians are for the most part unarmed and much of the killing is being done in the name of radical Islam.
Over the centuries, Middle Eastern Christians have developed many survival strategies. One is to stay invisible. Christians have often survived best in remote areas, and those in more densely populated areas often do their best to avoid antagonizing their neighbors. Many Assyrian Christians fled into the mountainous regions of Syria and Iraq to escape Ottoman persecution during World War I, and the Armenians in the isolated, mountainous hinterlands fared better than their more visible compatriots in Istanbul.

Another survival strategy for Christians has been to find foreign protectors. In the 19th century, the Christian powers in Europe and the U.S. took an increasing interest in the situation of Christian and other minorities in the Ottoman lands. The Orthodox looked to Russia; Catholics in the region looked to France; Britain and the U.S. asserted a right to protect Ottoman Jews as early as the 1840s; and Armenians often looked to the U.S., among others, for help.

This strategy had its successes, but it proved costly. Turks justified the Armenian genocide as a necessary measure against a pro-Russian Armenian rebellion in World War I. Assyrian Christians provided troops for the British against Arab and Kurdish rebellions against British authority in the 1920s; they paid a heavy price when the British withdrew and the retaliations began.

As Christians in the Middle East have learned at great cost, the Western powers and so-called “international community” are weak reeds. They have been (and still are) slow to intervene, and their interventions have usually been halfhearted, short-term and subject to the vagaries of great-power rivalries.

Yet another Christian survival strategy was to support the development of a secular Arab identity in which Christians and Muslims could meet as equal citizens—just as Catholics and Protestants can be German or American citizens. Many of the most influential Arab nationalists (including many radical Palestinians) were of Christian origin.

People such as Michel Aflaq and Antun Sa’adeh of Syria and George Habash of Palestine made significant contributions to Arab nationalist thought, and the era of secular Arab nationalism allowed many Christians to play more prominent roles in the region. Anti-Zionism also became one of the ways that the Christians of the Middle East could demonstrate their Arab bona fides. To this day, intense support for the Palestinian cause is common in Arab Christian communities.
Unfortunately for Christian hopes, secular Arab nationalism lost its allure. The titans of the nationalist era too often became ineffective despots presiding over failed states. As the intellectual pendulum of the Arab world has swung back toward Islamist ideas about politics, Christians have found themselves ever more marginalized.

For Christians, a final survival strategy was to cling to strong rulers. In Syria, Iraq and Egypt, they attached themselves to rulers such as Hafez al-Assad, Saddam and Hosni Mubarak (and now Abdel Fattah Al Sisi). Such alliances had their uses for both parties. Christians achieved a measure of protection and stability; they were repressed no worse than anybody else, and a handful achieved wealth and political power.

For the despots, Christian allies served many of the purposes that Jews once did for kings in the Middle Ages. They were seen as loyal because they had no other place to turn—and as useful both for their services and because you could blame them when things went wrong (and, if necessary, throw them to the wolves).

They could also be counted on as intermediaries who could present the regime’s case to outside powers. It was not for nothing that Saddam Hussein named Tariq Aziz (a Chaldean Catholic baptized as Mikhail Yuhanna) as his foreign minister.
The deal between Middle Eastern despots and their Christian communities also served to conceal other divisions. In Iraq and Syria, the nominally secular Baathist regimes of Saddam and Assad were, in fact, governments that allowed a religious minority (Sunnis in Iraq, Alawites in Syria) to dominate the country’s majority. However much Christians may have disliked the cruelty of these rulers, they themselves were minorities, and they often preferred minority dictators over the risks of potentially hostile majority-run regimes.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Travels of a tray from Iraq to Israel via Canada

 The silver tray, once in the possession of Iraqi Jews, now takes pride of place on the top shelf of a display at the Or Yehuda Babylonian Heritage Museum in Israel.

This is the remarkable story of the travels of a silver tray, looted from its Jewish owners in the 1941 pogrom known as the Farhud. It is told by Hussein Al-Hilli, an Iraqi Muslim journalist writing in al-Wanaltaqy. 

Hussein Al-Hilli wanted to show his appreciation to a Jordanian Christian who helped his wife gain a resident's permit in Amman. He entered an antique shop in Baghdad and bought a silver tray.The tray was made of pure silver in 1920 by the Jewish silversmith 'Jangana'. "This is the heritage of the Jews of Iraq", said the shopkeeper.

The journalist had heard a lot about the Jews - his grandmother had Jewish friends in Hilla (town neighbouring Ezekiel's shrine - ed) but had been too young to know any Jews himself. He had heard a lot about the Jews and the Farhud , but did not know what it represented in the history of Iraq.

One of four reporters working for  foreign news agencies covering the Gulf War in 1991, Hussein was suspended from his job before he could present the tray as a gift. The intended recipient had left Amman. Hussein fled to Canada with his family. The tray came with him from Amman to Baghdad to Montreal.

In Montreal, an Iraqi Jew, the late Dr Ihsan Samra, became his family doctor and a good friend. Hussein discovered the writers Anwar Shaul, Salman Darwish and researched the Farhud. How was it possible that lawyers, doctors, politicians and writers, who contributed so much to the state of Iraq, were uprooted?

The real problem in Iraq was not Saddam Hussein and what had happened to himself, thought the journalist :"we attacked the Jews in the Farhud and stole furniture and personal items. We looted their homes and displaced them, just as in 1979 - 80 we did to the Iraqi Shi'ites,  accusing them of aiding the Iranians."

Hussein wanted to give Dr Samra the silver tray. But Dr Samra said, better to give it to the Museum of Babylonian Heritage at Or Yehuda in Israel. And so the tray completed its journey from Baghdad to Amman to Montreal and finally to Israel.

Read original article in full (Arabic)

Monday, May 18, 2015

It's risky being Jewish in Lebanon

 The renovated Maghen David synagogue is about to re-open. Or is it? The Forward has been denied permission to go inside, but an exception has been made for Al-Monitor (see article below) . Until the situation for Lebanon's Jews ceases to be precarious, it is doubtful whether the synagogue will ever open its doors.

The renovated Maghen Avraham synagogue (photo: Reuters)

The Forward reports:

Five years after reconstruction, the synagogue’s doors are still locked and the lights are off. Gaining entry is nearly impossible, requiring permission from the Jewish community’s president, and bureaucratic wrangling with Beirut’s security officials. The Forward’s request to visit the site was denied.

The Maghen Abraham Synagogue, originally built in 1925 and one of more than a dozen synagogues that operated in Beirut, is one of the scarce remnants of Beirut’s Jewish past. Its delayed opening has shed light on just how precarious the situation is for Jews in Lebanon.

Since the exodus of nearly 1 million people during the 15-year-long civil war, only a few dozen Jews remain, living quietly in a country that sees the Jewish state to its south as an enemy.

“The word ‘Jewish’ is a very heavy word in Lebanon,” said Nagi Georges Zeidan, a Christian Lebanese historian writing a book on the country’s Jewish history. “Those who stayed keep it a secret. They’re scared to death, and they often don’t even tell those they are friends with that they’re Jewish.”

Among Lebanese, the synagogue’s delayed opening is widely rumored to be due to threats, as spillover from the war in neighboring Syria continues to threaten the country’s fragile sectarian fabric.

Yet while the synagogue undoubtedly has its opponents in Lebanon — it was attacked twice in 2009 — Bassam al-Hout, a Muslim lawyer for the community denied the rumors of threats as baseless.

Isaac Arazi, a representative of the Jewish community, who raised funds from the Lebanese diaspora to renovate the site, insisted that it’s not anti-Semitism but national instability that has prevented the synagogue’s reopening. Without wishing to elaborate, Arazi told the Forward in an email, “The situation of Jews is like all Lebanese citizens — nothing sure, nothing certain.”

But in a country that has seen continual conflict with Israel over the last few decades, there is a risk to being Jewish in Lebanon.

“The Israelite community” — a name Jews have lobbied to have changed in an attempt to distance themselves from Israel — is officially recognized as one of Lebanon’s 18 sects, but members of the community shy away from attending public functions on the community’s behalf, presumably for their own anonymity and safety. They pray quietly in homes in East Beirut.

But Jews didn’t always live in the shadows.

Lebanon’s history is unique to the Arab world. Its Jewish population soared following the establishment of Israel, as Jews fleeing elsewhere around the Middle East settled in the country known as a bastion of diversity. In the 1950s, the population peaked at about 10,000, a significant jump from the some 3,500 who lived there in 1932, some with a lineage believed to date back millennia.
Relations between Jews and others were generally positive, Zeidan said, though tensions flared at times with nationalists following Israel’s founding. He cited a series of violent incidents targeting Jews, but said that much of Lebanese society viewed Jews as one among Lebanon’s many religious sects, with a reputation as honest tradesmen.

Mariam, a bubbly Jewish woman in her 80s who lives alone in a city several hours outside Beirut, reminisced fondly about her childhood memories of the Jewish quarter of Beirut. She remembers listening in on holiday services there, though women did not sit inside synagogues.

Her husband, a Christian, died seven years ago, and her modest apartment is decorated with an assemblage of religious symbols — a picture of Jesus with an aura around his head, a Hanukkiah with leaning candles and a copy of the Ten Commandments, which hangs on the wall.

“This country was beautiful,” Mariam, who asked that her real name not be used, said in Arabic. “There were Jews, Christians and Muslims, Armenians and Kurds, and in one family, you could find all of them. But now, people here don’t like Jews.”

With the Six-Day War in 1967, much of the Jewish population fled Lebanon ­— but it was during Lebanon’s bloody 15-year civil war that Jewish life in the country came mostly to an end.

While Jews were careful to remain politically neutral during the war, the Jewish quarter of Beirut sat squashed between the Sunni Muslim and Christian areas. As a result, Jewish structures were caught in the crossfire, looted and desecrated — turning the quarter into a no-go zone.

It was, ironically, an Israeli bombardment in 1982 that destroyed the Maghen Abraham Synagogue. It had been meant to target Palestine Liberation Organization members who were, allegedly, protecting the site.

As the community dwindled and ultimately disappeared, Mariam felt safe — even as widespread anger grew against Israel — only because her husband was a Christian.

“The Arab people just don’t understand that Jews are not all Zionists, and that is the problem here,” she said. “About half the people know I’m Jewish, but they know my family is Christian. I’m not afraid for my own safety. I’m old, but I am afraid for my children.” Her children, however, have all been raised Christian.
The country’s Jewish cemeteries are unkempt and overgrown with bushes and thorns, and its old Jewish homes are now lived in by Christian or Muslim Lebanese citizens.

In Saida, a city two hours south of Beirut, the old Jewish quarter is today a rundown, impoverished part of the city. A street sign that once read “Jewish quarter” has since been replaced with a “Gaza street” sign — a protest against Israel’s war with Lebanon in 2006. Posters with the faces of the PLO’s former and present leaders, Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, are plastered to the walls.

Down a short and narrow dark pathway off the main courtyard, behind a big, wooden door on the left, hides the city’s old synagogue, built in the late 19th century.

A 25-year-old man of Syrian descent with a carefully trimmed beard answered the door with a welcoming smile. Inside was the only home he and his family have ever known, with several pairs of shoes scattered by the door, and blue paint, one of the last reminders of its past as a synagogue, fading from the stone walls and ceiling.

Zeidan estimated that Lebanon’s remaining Jewish community will perish within the decade.

Read article in full 

This article in Al-Monitor strains every sinew to disassociate Jewish religion from nationality and Lebanese Jews from Israel. Israel is in any case an unappealing destination because it is at war. Once the war is over, the Jews will return: the food and atmosphere are so much better in Lebanon!

Bassem al-Hout, a Muslim lawyer who represents their interests, told Al-Monitor that even though the synagogue renovations are nearly finished, security in the country is not high enough yet for it to reopen.
“We are waiting for the struggle to end,” he said, referring to the regional conflicts spilling into Lebanon from Syria and Iraq. “The region is on fire.” Hout stated that when the synagogue is opened, Jews and supporters from around the world will be invited for a dedication ceremony.

For now, the Jewish community within Lebanon’s borders practices its faith in the privacy of home. Hout explained, “They are afraid of a reaction by individuals," who do not understand their religion is not synonymous with the State of Israel.

But Hout also said the Lebanese public needs to be educated about the difference between Lebanese Jews and Israel, and it is the responsibility of the media to expose such information.

Edy Cohen of Bar Ilan University in Israel told Al-Monitor, “Most Jews from Arab countries don’t relate to the Israelis," but rather they relate to the countries that raised them. Cohen himself, a Lebanon native, identifies as Lebanese first, differentiating his nationality from his religious practice. He left Lebanon when he was 19 after the country’s civil war. He said his father was kidnapped by Hezbollah a few years before, in 1985, and was killed when the Israeli government refused a prisoner exchange.

He confirms most of the Jews in Lebanon did not want to migrate to Israel during the war, saying, “Israel is always in a state of war; it’s known." They had relatives in other places such as the United States, France or Canada. Cohen believes those who fled Lebanon for the West did not want to start a new life in a place of war.

But Hout said that Lebanon’s Jews “do not like Israel; they are Arabian.” Like Cohen, Hout believes Lebanese Jews identify with their nationality versus their religion.

In Tel Aviv, Canadian-Israeli citizen Corey Gil-Shuster hosts a YouTube channel called “Ask An Israeli,” a project he started nearly four years ago in 2011, to better understand the narrative on the streets of Israel about the Palestinian conflict and the Arab world around them.

In one episode, entitled “Meir: Lebanon,” dated September 2013, he interviews a Lebanese-Jewish man called Meir, who admits he misses Lebanon. Meir said that in Israel, people are stressed, but in Lebanon, “You lived like kings. In Lebanon, things were great: the food, the atmosphere.” But the war changed everything. Meir once had Muslim friends, but now there is no one. His own family lives in the West, while for now, he feels more comfortable in Tel Aviv than New York. He would return to Lebanon if there were peace.

Shuster follows with another episode in which he asks Israelis whether it is possible to have peace with Lebanon. While most say the divide is the fault of “terrorist organizations,” namely Hezbollah, one man, Shai, who served in the Israeli military and was deployed to Lebanon in 1977, believes the “noisy minority” — extreme parties in both Lebanon and Israel  prevents relations between the countries.

Shuster told Al-Monitor the knowledge base in Israel is a “closed system.” He explained many Israeli citizens are unaware of the Arab world outside their borders, including Lebanon, and base what they know off “what’s on TV” at night. He said there are “only two narratives; you’re either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli," and there’s little understanding of an alternative storyline.

Most texts point to the formation of an Israeli nation through Jewish-religious roots. The interpretation of how their people-group should exist, however, is changing due to many Israelis abandoning their religious beliefs and practices.
But those living in the Arab world who find solace in the Jewish religion are finding their identity torn. In Lebanon, Hout stated there are “individuals who do not see the difference because of the war.”

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Eli Cohen was hanged 50 years ago

The president of Israel is to host a reception honouring the family of the Egyptian-born spy Eli Cohen, who was executed in Syria 50 years ago. Y-Net News reports:

He provided an abundance of vital intelligence that assisted the country in the war against its enemies; and this month marked 50 years (according to the Hebrew calendar) since the execution in Damascus of legendary Israeli spy Eli Cohen. All the efforts to bring his remains back to Israel for burial have come to naught thus far. 

Born in Egypt, Cohen moved to Israel at the age of 33 and settled in Bat Yam, where he worked as a translator and subsequently married Nadia, an Iraqi immigrant. In May 1960, he was recruited by Unit 188, Military Intelligence's operational unit, trained as a spy and then sent to Argentina, where he took on a false identity – that of Kamal Amin Ta'abet, an exiled Syrian businessman.

Eli Cohen's widow, Nadia Cohen, with a photograph of her husband. (Photo: Kobi Koankas)
Eli Cohen's widow, Nadia Cohen, with a photograph of her husband. (Photo: Kobi Koankas)

Two years later, he moved to Damascus, rented an apartment nearby the Syrian Army's general headquarters, and soon forged close ties with senior Syrian military and government officials.

Thanks to these ties, he managed to gather vital intelligence, which he then passed on to his Israeli handlers – usually during the course of "business trips" in Europe, where he would also meet with members of his family. Some of the intelligence Cohen provided, for example, was of paramount help to the Israel Defense Forces during the Six-Day War
Two years or so after beginning his work in Syria, the Mossad assumed control of his operations.

Yedith Ahronoth report. The headline reads: Israeli Eli Cohen was hangded this morning in Damascus.
Yedioth Ahronoth report. The headline reads: Israeli Eli Cohen was hanged this morning in Damascus.

Syrian officials began to suspect there was a spy in their midst after Israel thwarted a classified plot to sabotage Israel's National Water Carrier project. In January 1965, in an effort to root out the spy, the Syrian regime imposed a 24-hour period of radio silence.

Cohen knew nothing about it, and he was apprehended in his apartment by Syrian security while transmitting a report to his handlers. On May 18, 1965, after a five-month trial and harsh interrogation and torture, Cohen was publicly hanged in Damascus' Marjeh Square. He was survived by his wife and three children.

Eli Cohen (left) during his trial (Photo: AFP)
Eli Cohen (left) during his trial (Photo: AFP)

On May 18, the President's Residence in Jerusalem will host an event in his honor, to be attended by the prime minister and former Mossad chiefs.

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mufti planned to kill Jews in Arab world and Palestine

There is documentary evidence that the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, aimed to kill the Jews, not just in Palestine, but in the Arab world, and had secret plans to set up extermination camps near Nablus, writes Dr Edy Cohen in the Jerusalem Post. After his part in bringing the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali government into power in Iraq, the Mufti spent WW2 in Berlin as Hitler's guest,  broadcasting vicious propaganda from a shortwave transmitter. (With thanks: Eliyahu)

The mufti lived in Germany until May 1945, when the Second World War came to an end. Throughout this entire period, the mufti was involved in espionage, sabotage, terrorist activity against the British and the Jews, as well as anti-Semitic propaganda.

As part of his alleged struggle for independence for the Palestinian people, the mufti attempted to prevent the arrival of European Jews to Palestine, as well as the establishment of a national Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel. At least that’s what he claimed in his memoirs.

But this is far from the truth. In actuality, the mufti was constantly engaged in the deportation and extermination of Jews from Arab countries and from Palestine.

I recently discovered documents that attest to the depth of the Arab world’s animosity toward the Jews and how the Arabs incited against the Jews and spread propaganda. Many people have asked just how closely the mufti identified conceptually and practically to the Nazi approach regarding the extermination of the Jewish people.

There are recordings of the mufti broadcasting from Berlin to the Arab world in Arabic, in which he says, “Kill the Jews wherever you find them – this is God’s will.”

On November 2, 1943 – the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration – the mufti organized a protest in Berlin in which thousands of Muslim immigrants to Germany participated. The following is an excerpt from the speech the mufti gave at the protest: “26 years ago the Jews received the Balfour Declaration so they could build a national Jewish homeland. The British betrayed the Arabs and Islam by supporting the Jews. Jews are selfish.

They think they are the chosen people and that all the other people of the world are meant to serve them. The Jews are the enemy of Islam – they are the ones killed the prophet Mohammad!” The Mufti continues, “The Jewish British minister [Benjamin] Disraeli bought the Suez Canal, thus paving the way for the British to conquer Egypt. And Algerian Jews helped France occupy Algeria. ...The Arabs – and especially the Muslims – must expel the Jews from Arab countries.

This is the ultimate solution.

The prophet Mohammad used this solution 1,300 years ago.

“The Treaty of Versailles was a disaster for Germany and for the Arabs, but the Germans know how to get rid of the Jews, and this is why the Arab world has such close relations with Germany.

Germany never harmed the Muslims and is fighting against our common enemy – the Jews.

The most important thing is that they have found the final solution to the Jewish problem. Time is working against the Jews even though the Allies are helping them.”

According to the mufti’s memoirs, he was aware of the Final Solution already in the summer of 1943.

On March 19, 1943, the mufti made a speech from the Islamic Mosque in Berlin in honor of the prophet Mohammad’s birthday, during which he said, “The Jews have managed to use their influence to control the British and the Americans. This is proven by the recent passing of a bill in Congress allowing the Jews to build a national homeland in Palestine.

“The Jews took advantage of the previous war to settle in the Holy Land. The Jews are a threat not just in Palestine, but in every Arab country, since this is where the Allies plan to resettle the millions of Jews who were expelled from Europe. The Arabs must fight with all their strength to put an end to this plot.”

From the above, we can clearly conclude that the mufti was aware of the Final Solution and the plan to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe from the beginning of the war. There is also documentation showing that the mufti toured concentration camps in Poland with Heinrich Himmler. Killing European Jews was not good enough for the mufti, though, and so he planned to kill all the Jews in the Arab world and in Palestine. While the mufti publicly called for Arab countries to expel Jews living in them, he secretly planned to build extermination camps for Jews from Arab countries and Palestine, so that he could implement the Final Solution in the Middle East.

Haviv Kanaan, who was a researcher, journalist and police commander during the British Mandate, wrote many books about Nazi propaganda. After he retired from the Police, Kanaan began working as a journalist for Haaretz and researching the construction of the concentration camps in Palestine and uncovered the mufti’s plan to build incinerators in the Dotan Valley. Kanaan based his conclusion on the testimony of Faiz Bay Idrisi, who was a senior Arab officer in the Mandate Police and a Jerusalem area district commander.

Idrisi is quoted as saying, “Chills go through my body even today as I recall what I heard back then from police officials and mufti supporters [when General Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was about to enter Egypt as part of the 1942 El Alamein campaign].

Haj Amin Husseini was preparing to enter Jerusalem at the head of the Muslim Arab Legion squadron he’d created for the army of the Third Reich. The mufti’s grand plan was to build huge Auschwitz- like crematoria near Nablus, to which Jews from Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and North Africa would be sent and then be gassed, just like the Jews were by the SS in Europe.”

Kanaan also tells how once, when he was carrying out his research, he met a retired German diplomat who had refused to join the Nazi Party. He told Kanaan, “I cannot say with certainty what lay in store for the Jews living in the Land of Israel, but I do know that their entire existence would have been at stake had Rommel succeeded in conquering the Middle East.”

Kanaan’s full-length study was published in Haaretz on March 2, 1970. Kanaan wrote a book about the El Alamein campaign called 200 days of fear – the Land of Israel against Rommel’s Army, in which he describes how the Jews in Palestine prepared for a possible Nazi attack from Egypt.

To collect information about the mufti’s plans, Kanaan traveled to Germany where he met with officials who were knowledgeable about them. In fact, after the defeat in the summer of 1942 at El Alamein as well as on other fronts, the mufti realized that the Third Reich’s days were numbered, and so he prepared another plan: conquest of the Middle East by the Nazi army, whose first order of business would be the annihilation of the 250,000 Jews in Tel Aviv. The mufti believed that the extermination of the Jews would stimulate the Arabs in Palestine and Egypt to revolt against the British and carry out a jihad (holy war).

These holy warriors would release the Arabs from tyranny of British and French colonialism.

Kanaan uncovered proof that the Germans invested heavily in this program and even established spy networks throughout the Arab world. Kanaan describes how senior German officials such as Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Goering took part in these discussions, although Hitler himself was never involved. The fact that most Arab countries were pro-British made it quite difficult to implement this program, and then the Third Reich began to collapse on all fronts, making it practically impossible.

It’s no coincidence that just a few months after Nazi Germany surrendered, on November 2, 1945, the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, many synagogues were burned down in Egypt and dozens of Jews were killed on the streets of Cairo.

And it was also no coincidence that on that same day, hundreds of Jews in Libya were killed, nine synagogues were desecrated, and hundreds of Jewish homes and shops were looted and burned down. There is no doubt that these attacks on Egyptian and Libyan Jews, which took place exactly on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, were the result of the mufti’s machinations and his influence on leaders of the Arab world. These events were the direct consequence of propaganda the mufti had been circulating for years. Generations of Muslims, including the Salameh family, were being raised on such beliefs. The mufti’s actions had prepared the ground for attacks on Jews in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

A plan to compensate Jews who escaped from Arab countries due to harassment and persecution is currently being discussed in the Knesset and in coordination with the US government. It’s important that Israeli politicians not only understand the historical background that led up to the displacement of Jews from Arab counties, but also the direct connection between their fate and what the Palestinians call the Nakba.

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No solution for Palestinians without justice for Jews by Edy Cohen

Friday, May 15, 2015

No solution for Palestinians without justice for Jews

 The Shaar Ha'aliya transit camp for Jewish refugees , 1951

Today is Nakba Day  - when Palestinians commemorate their exodus from what is now Israel in 1948, in spite of having declared war on the fledgling Israeli state. Their tragedy is recalled every year by a compliant media, and there are even plans to build a Nakba Museum in Washington DC . Dr Edy Cohen, a Jewish refugee from Lebanon in the1990s, writes in i24 News that no solution can be  found for Palestinian refugees as long as justice for 
the  870, 000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries is denied.

On May 15, Palestinians and groups associated with them - extreme leftist Israelis and international organizations funded by Europeans - mark a national Palestinian tragedy known as the Nakba (Arabic for “disaster”). No one can deny the existence of the Palestinian refugee problem, created by the 1948 creation of the State of Israel and the ensuing Palestinian flight from their homes. This is historical fact. However, the creation of Israel also resulted in the transfer from their homes of hundreds of thousands of Jews living peacefully in Arab countries. Having failed in their efforts to defeat the fledgling Israeli state in 1948, Arab states took revenge on the Jews living in their lands who had been loyal to the Arab rulers for centuries.

While the Palestinian refugee problem is well known, few in the West are aware of the problem of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The nature of that Jewish immigration from Arab countries varied. Some were motivated to move to the newly established state by Zionism. Others did not want to leave. My family, for example, had lived in Lebanon for three generations and was an integral part of the Beiruti landscape of Wadi Abu Jamil Street in the Jewish neighborhood of Harat-al-Yahudi. For years we came to Israel to visit family but always returned to our home in Lebanon.

My family did not choose to leave its homeland for Zionist considerations. It was forced to flee in the 1990s fearing for its life. Therefore, the definition of the word “refugee” as formulated in the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention is compatible with my status and that of hundreds of thousands of other Jews. “A person who [has] a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality.”

Dozens of Lebanese Jews were abducted and killed around Beirut in the mid-80s and the Lebanese government was unable to keep the Jews of Lebanon safe. The strengthening of the Shiite organization Hezbollah, on the one hand, and the weakness of the government of President Amin Gemayel, on the other, along with the emergence of many militias, turned Lebanon into a dangerous place, not only for Jews but for hundreds of foreigners many of whom were kidnapped and murdered.
Some 900,000 Jews from Arab countries left their homelands since 1948. The property they left behind is estimated at $30 billion, including the buildings in dozens of Jewish communities in Arab countries: magnificent synagogues, factories and private property that was expropriated and confiscated.

In 2008, the US Congress adopted Resolution 185 which recognized the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and unanimously determined that if aid is extended to Palestinian refugees, similar aid and compensation must be extended to Jews from Arab lands. In an unprecedented decision, the Canadian parliament recognized the rights of Jewish refugees in March 2004.
In Israel, too, the Knesset approved a 2010 law aimed at preserving the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran and receiving compensation. In addition, Israel recently designated November 30 as "Jewish Refugee Day".

Let us not forget this quiet but paralyzing trauma, which has been passed on to younger generations. Jewish refugees who came to Israel from Arab countries were in a state of post-traumatic stress, and therefore did not talk about their past. They came as refugees to a dusty wilderness, dispossessed and beaten, and built new lives. Most integrated into society and made a tremendous contribution to the state and its institutions. But others, robbed of their wealth and property in Arab countries, remain trapped in multi-generational poverty in so-called “development” towns in the periphery, which is the term corresponding to the so-called “refugee camps” on the other side.

Decision makers around the world are well aware that there will be no solution to the Palestinian problem as long as they do not find a solution to the problem of Jewish refugees. The Western world needs to recognize that the tragedy has two faces: the tragedy of the Palestinian refugees and the tragedy of the Jews of Arab countries.

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