Introduction

“The Arab Jew” is the longest chapter of Joan Peters’ book.  The chapter profiles many of these vulnerable communities, the other, true but ignored, refugees of the Middle and North Africa.  It tells of the fundamentally insecure—and often very precarious—Jewish lives lived, and often violently ended, over the millennia in that region under the institution called the “dhimma”.  The Arabic root means to “blame; find blameworthy; criticize; rebuke; censure sharply, etc.”. The word itself means (among others) “covenant of protection”.  It developed in Islam over the centuries to determine the status and laws pertaining to “ahl ul kitaab”, “People of the Book” (mostly Jews and Christians) who were allowed to retain their religious identity, but under extremely harsh conditions in exchange for “protection” by Islamic authorities. Too often “protection” meant little more than slavery; this applied especially to the Jews of Yemen.  Dhimmis (Jews who lived under the dhimma) universally had to pay the “jizya” an exorbitant tax often amounting to extortion, oftentimes receiving a slap from the jizya collector.  Jewish testimony would not be believed in court. At various times and places conditions improved for some depending on the temperament of the local ruler, and great Torah scholars and wealthy merchants arose is some places, but it could all vanish in a hair-trigger minute. The dhimma-based dehmanization and demonization of Jews was such that that the Arab nations identified so easily with Naziism. The dark albatross of the dhimma was always on the the shoulders of Arab Jews shoulders. These are the refugees the world would contrive to forget.

[For further reading try “The Dhimmi” (1985) by Bat Yeor and her later works; and “The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism” (2008) by Dr. Andrew Bostom.

–Yosi Derman

 

In 1948 more than 850,000 Jews lived in the Arab world.  At the time this book was written in 1984, there were fewer than 29,000.

Before the Prophet Muhammad and Islam arrived on the scene in the 7th century, Jews and Arabs had harmonious relations and words of praise regarding the noble virtues of the Jews may be found in ancient Arab literature.

It was Muhammad who ultimately negated this positive image of the Jew.  He adopted several Jewish practices in the hope of wooing the Jews to Islam.  When they rejected his religion, he dropped those practices, substituted Mecca for Jerusalem, and Arab hostility towards the Jews commenced with the extermination of the Jewish tribe of Quraiza.

Omar, the caliph who succeeded Muhammad, delineated the twelve laws under which a ‘dhimmi’, or non-Muslim, was allowed to exist.  Along with Christians, Jews were forbidden to touch the Koran; forced to wear distinctive clothing including a colored piece of cloth as a badge; not allowed to perform religious practices or drink wine in public, own a horse, or allow their grief to be heard by Muslims when they buried their dead.  As a grateful payment for being allowed to live and be ‘protected’, a dhimmi paid a special head tax and property tax.  Muslims could charge, however falsely, that the Jew had cursed Islam, and the Jew would not be able to defend himself.

A Muslim who murdered a non-Muslim was not given the death penalty as he would if he had killed another Muslim.  Instead, he had to pay ‘blood money’ to the family of the slain but only if there was testimony to the fact. Since the testimony of a dhimmi was invalid, this consequence was unlikely.

The demeanment of Jews has been carried out throughout the centuries, inflicted with varying degrees of cruelty and inflexibility depending upon the character of the particular Muslim ruler.  The tax was enforced until 1909 in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey; until 1925 in Iran; and was still being enforced in Yemen in the 1980s.

Jews had to live in ghettos called hara, mellah, or Jewish Quarter.  These were overcrowded and most lived in squalor.  Even during the best of times, the Jews were never considered equal, and fear was always prevalent.  Throughout the centuries, the Jews were the first to suffer persecution in times of economic turmoil or political upheaval and the cumulative effect of the sporadic mass murders left their mark on the Jews even during periods of relative calm.

In addition to suffering dhimmi status, classic antisemitism also existed throughout the Middle East. In Syria, the blood libel of 1840 brought about the death, torture and pillage of countless Jews who were falsely accused of murdering a priest and his servant to collect the blood for Passover matzoth. This blood libel still exists in Arab literature and, as only one example of many, in 1962, the Egyptian Ministry of Education published ‘Human Sacrifices in the Talmud’ as one of a series of official national books.

The departure of European colonists in the twentieth century brought into being a highly nationalistic group of Arab states, which increasingly saw the Jews as a new political threat.  Ambivalence towards the Jews was gradually replaced by a completely demoniacal and negative stereotype of the Jew and created a receptive climate in which Nazi anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 1940s flourished.  Arab writings have frequently justified Hitler’s crimes against the Jews and Arab defense of the Nazis’ extermination of the Jews has persisted.

While all of the above persecution was ongoing throughout the centuries, the Jews of each country throughout the Middle East also suffered additional horrors at different times.

YEMEN

  • Jewish settlements existed more than 2,000 years…perhaps as early as the first Babylonian exile in 586 BC.
  • A law decreed that fatherless Jewish children under thirteen be taken from their mothers and raised in Muslim homes as Muslims. Many families arrived in Israel with one or more of their children lost to them.  Some widows were grieving the loss of all their offspring.
  • Stoning Jews was an ‘age-old’ custom and was still common tradition at the time of the 1948 exodus.
  • For about four centuries beginning in the 7th century, the Jews of Yemen were subjected to the severest possible interpretation of the Charter of Omar. Conditions were so punishing, that conversion was accepted eagerly by terrified Jews.
  • The eighteenth century was also one of almost unbearable burden when along with varied humiliations and bouts of violence; famine; and expulsion whereby many died on the torturous journey to the Red Sea; synagogues and homes were destroyed and public prayers were forbidden.
  • During the nineteenth century, Jews were victims of hunger (death through starvation was a common event) and of Arab attacks on the ghetto which resulted in murder and pillage. For the least offense, they would be sentenced to outrageous fines which they were unable to pay. In case of non-payment, they were put in chains and beaten every day.  Starvation took many lives.  They were also prohibited from leaving the country in order to escape persecution.  If they did manage to escape, they had to leave all possessions behind.
  • Nearly 50,000 Yemenites were airlifted in Israel in 1949 and 1950 via ‘Operation Magic Carpet’.

ADEN

  • Evidence of a Jewish presence in Aden dates to 200 C.E..
  • While there is evidence that some of the community there were well-to-do, the proximity to Yemen and the same dominating power indicate that Jews of Aden suffered conditions of humiliation under Muslim rule similar to those of the Yemenite Jews until Aden was conquered by the British in 1839.
  • If the Jews, considered social inferiors by the Arabs, kept ‘their place’, there was generally no trouble but as soon as the Jews tended to forget that they were Jews and began to assert themselves as men, then there was always a likelihood of serious trouble.
  • In 20th century Aden, there was a minor pogrom in 1933 when a few people were beaten up and wounded outside the Jewish Jewish Quarter; some were stoned and rioters looted a Jewish home. In December 1947, Arab-led mass murder, pillage and destruction befell the Jews.  Eighty-two Jews were murdered and 76 wounded; 114 out of 170 existing Jewish shops were robbed, most of them emptied.  Four synagogues were burned to the ground and 220 Jewish homes were burned and looted, or damaged. The Jews lived in a state of tension and anxiety after this, still erecting barricades at night a year later.
  • Both the 1933 and 1947 incidents were incited by anti-Jewish broadcasts from Egypt which were relayed in public meeting places, as well as by orders from the Arab League to arrange strikes and protests against the decision to partition Palestine. Rumors were spread that the Jews had been killing Arabs.
  • While many thousands of Aden Jews flew to Israel along with the Yemenite refugees in 1949 and 1950, those who stayed behind were victimized again after the 1967 Six Day War. Murder, looting, new destruction to the synagogues – all the Jews were finally evacuated with the help of the British when they discovered the Arabs were planning to massacre what remained of the Jewish community.

IRAQ

  • Jews had prospered in what was then Babylonia for 1200 years before the Muslim conquest in 634 C.E.
  • Dhimma laws began to be enforced in the 9th century and throughout the following centuries, Muslim attitudes towards Christians and Jews was that of a master towards slaves who he tolerates as long as they keep their place. Taxation amounting to expropriation was one of the ways the Jews were oppressed in 1000 C.E. In 1333, the Baghdad synagogues were pillaged and destroyed.
  • In 1776, there was a slaughter of the Jews at Basra and the bitterness of anti-Jewish measure taken by Turkish-Muslim rulers in the 18th century caused many Jews to flee.
  • With the outbreak of WWI, Jews were forced to finance the military expenses of the army stationed nearby and, if they refused, they were tortured; if they hid, they were caught and hanged.
  • In 1933, many Jews were murdered by agitated mobs, nitric acid was thrown upon Jews in the street and bombs were flung into synagogues.
  • In 1941, there was a massacre of hundreds of Jews with the open participation of the police. Even the British forces stood at the gates of the city and offered no help. Hundreds of others were wounded and more than 1,000 Jewish homes and businesses were looted and destroyed.
  • From that time on, Jews suffered indiscriminate torture, imprisonment without charge, and relentless persecutions at the hands of the government. When Iraq joined the Arab war against Israel’s independence in May 1948,  government terror increased and, they were now forbidden from leaving the country while many fortunes were extorted or confiscated.  Thousands escaped illegally by paying heavy bribes.
  • After Israel’s 1948 victory, the Prime Minister of Iraq recommended a final Jewish solution in Iraq; the majority of the Jewish community in Iraq should be forcibly evicted in army lorries escorted by armoured cars to the Jordanian-Israel Frontier. If his plan had been enacted the Jews would have either been massacred or their Iraqi guards would have had to shoot other Arabs to protect the lives of the Jews…a very unlikely scenario.  Zionism became a capital crime, and Jews were publicly hanged in front of an enthusiastic audience.  Others were stripped of millions of dollars through economic discrimination, government appropriations and other subterfuges.
  • In 1950, emigration was legalized upon condition that all property would be confiscated and they would lose citizenship. In three years alone, more than 123,000 Jews escaped or were forced to flee; many were airlifted to Israel.
  • For those who were left behind, between 1969 and 1973, at least 17 Jews were hanged in a public square and 26 others were slaughtered in their homes or in Iraqi prisons. By 1982, most had found refuge in Israel, a minority in other countries.

EGYPT

  • The Egyptian Jewish community dates back to before the Babylonian captivity.
  • One caliph forced Jews to wear miniature golden calf images, then bells, then six-pound wooden blocks around their necks in an attempt to have them convert to Islam. Furious at his failure, he had the Cairo Jewish Quarter destroyed, along with its Jewish residents in 1012.
  • The Jewish population greatly declined due to frequent attacks in the 13th century and in the 14th century the Jews were subject to anti-dhimmi mob riots. In the 16th century, a religious fanatic wreaked terror among the Jews in Cairo.
  • A report of the first half of the 19th century states that the Jews were detested by the Muslims far more than the Christians. At times they could be beaten merely for passing on the right hand of a Muslim and many Jews had been put to death due to a false accusation of uttering disrespectful words against the Koran or the Prophet. All this under “relatively good conditions” under the Ottoman Empire.
  • Persistent blood libel persecutions took place throughout the 19th century as well as other forms of antisemitism. In 1890, a book ‘documenting’ the ‘Human Sacrifices in the Talmud’ was published In Cairo.  Anti-Jewish agitation and persecution of the Jews in Port Said was frequent between the 1880’s and 1908.
  • In 1926, the first Egyptian Nationality Code established that Egyptian citizenship would be offered only to those who belonged racially to the majority of the population of a country whose language is Arabic or whose religion is Islam. From the late 1930’s, Egyptian nationalism, Arab unity against Zionists, and Nazi propaganda fused with traditional prejudice to unite violently against the Jews.  One such major incident was the burning of synagogues and churches, and other communal buildings belonging to non-Muslims.
  • Beginning in the 1940’s, many Jews were killed or injured in organized Jewish riots, putting into fearsome perspective the 1946 report that the general position of the Jews in Egypt is beyond comparison better than any in other Arab/Muslim country. They suffered extensive economic losses and hardship when a law was passed that largely precluded Jews from employment, and the government also confiscated much Jewish property.  In the days following the November 1947 vote to partition Palestine, Jews in Cairo and Alexandria were threatened with death, their houses looted, and synagogues were attacked.  In one seven-day period, 150 Jews were murdered or seriously wounded.
  • With the outbreak of the 1948 war, Jews were barred from leaving Egypt. Then in early 1949, the ban was lifted and Jewish property was returned.  From August until November of 1949, 20,000 of Egypt’s 75,000 Jews fled.
  • Once Nasser took power, he authorized mass arrests and property confiscation. At the beginning of 1955, his regime hanged two Jews as ‘Zionist spies’.  After the Sinai campaign of 1956, thousands of Jews were interned without trial, while thousands of others were served with deportation papers and ordered to leave within a few days; their property confiscated and their assets frozen.  Hundreds later testified that they had been taken in shackles from prison and concentration camps to board ships.  Documents proving expulsion were taken away and they were compelled to sign statements that they had left voluntarily.
  • In 1964, Nasser declared that Egypt still pledged allegiance to the old Nazi cause. Anti-Jewish publications deluged Egypt, many of them circulated by the government.  When the Six-Day War began, Jews were arrested and held in concentration camps where they were beaten and whipped, and deprived of water for days on end.  By 1970, these Jews too had escaped the country which ‘had no place for the Jews.’

MOROCCO

  • From North Africa, more than 300,000 Jews have emigrated to Israel since 1948. Almost 250,000 of them arrived from what is now Morocco, where Jews have lived since 586 B.C.E.  Since the Arab conquest of the Maghrabi (North African) Jews have been forced to live in a ghetto-like mellah.
  • In 1032, 6,000 Jews of Fez were murdered, others robbed of their women and property. In 1146 the Almohads attacked leaving 100,000 people killed in Fez and 120,000 slaughtered in Marrakesh.  Forced conversions, death, or exile were the choices for the survivors.
  • Because most of the Christians who had not yet been massacred or converted to Islam had fled, Jews were the sole dhimmi group who had neither the inclination towards conversion nor the protection of other communities. Although the dhimmi law was amended in the 11th century to allow a Jew to hold office – with authority limited to taking orders, not giving them – the one Jew who rose to real power in the 13th century was murdered with his family when he became the object of envy among his Muslim rivals.
  • Despite their general misery and deprivation, some Jews manage to accumulate wealth. However, most Jews suffered not only the traditional contempt of the dhimma code, but were subject to additional humiliation:  slaps in the face upon payment of the head tax, bullying and insults were everyday occurrences, rape, looting, burning of synagogues, ripping Torah scrolls, and murder were very frequent.
  • Maimonides (1160) advised Jews to keep the faith while appearing to go through the motion of conversion in order to stay alive. This meant that many Jews who had chosen conversion over death or slavery continued to practice Judaism in secret.  This made Maimonides very unpopular among the Muslims.  His friend was hacked to death; perhaps this precipitated Maimonides’ exit from Fez.
  • Even those Jews who chose conversion were considered ‘Muslims of Jewish origin’ and continued to suffer. The new Muslims had to wear humiliating garments and were denied the right to raise children  considered Muslim from birth and whose parents were deemed to not be true Muslims.  According to Islamic law, a non-Muslim cannot be the natural guardian of Muslim children.
  • In the latter part of the 13th century, Muslims rioted against the Jews. In the early 15th century, Fez was the scene of repeated anti-Jewish scourges where Jews were plundered by the Moors, sparked by any random occurrence such as the death of a king or a slain Muslim.  In 1465, only a few families escaped death in such an attack.  In 1640, a Jew insulted a Muslim and the Muslims wreaked vengeance upon the entire Jewish community.
  • It continued down through the 19th century that the Jews’ existence in Morocco remained insecure and tenuous. According to French lawyer Andre Chouraqui, the Jews were subjected at various times under Islam “such repression, restriction, and humiliation as to exceed anything in Europe”.
  • Every Jew and his descendants was bound to his Muslim seigneur, of ‘sid’. Nothing in the world protected the Jew against his seigneur: he was entirely at his mercy.  At this time Jewish children were being abducted, slaves sold at auction, robbery followed by expulsion of whole mellahs and Arab enjoyment of Jewish wives.
  • Those regions which the Turks captured found the Jews less desperate and occasionally affluent. Wealth was accumulated through those limited occupations that political subjection would allow, i.e. trades that allowed for quick departure.
  • In 1864, 500 Jews were killed in Marrakesh and Fez by Muslim mobs. Two decades later there was a savage attack on Jews in Demnate.
  • When French rule came in 1912, there was some relief for the Jews despite yet another pogrom in Fez that killed 6 Jews and left 10,000 homeless.
  • By 1948 Jews had become nominally involved in local politics. When Israel was established, French authorities struggled to maintain equilibrium between the Muslim and Jewish communities and the Muslim sultan appealed to his subjects to restrain violence against the Jews.  Even so, in June 1948, mob violence erupted simultaneously against the Jewish communities of several towns, resulting in dozens of Jewish death.  Shortly afterwards, 30,000 Jews fled to Israel
  • When Moroccan independence as an Arab state was declared in 1956, 70,000 more Jews managed to arrive in Israel, despite it being illegal. In 1959, Zionism became a crime.  When a new king ascended the throne in 1961 lifted the ban, another 100,000 made their way to the Jewish state.
  • By 1982, Moroccan Jewry had shrunk to less than 10% of its former number.

ALGERIA

  • Despite some historians claims that the Jews of Algeria were in a better situation than other Arab Jews, in the late 1400s, the Jews of the town of Tlemcen were persecuted to such extremes that their survival of this period is surprising.
  • In the late 15th century, Tu’at, a sheikh incited the Muslims by accusing the Jews of sorcery and of failing to conform to the discriminatory codes; many Jews were killed and others were forced to wear conspicuous clothing.
  • In 16th century Tlemcen, Jews were forcibly converted, others sold into slavery or imprisoned, only to be let go with a heavy ransom.
  • In 1801, a would-be ruler promised, in return for assisting the overthrow of a rival, to give soldier 8 times their pay, white bread, and the right to sack the Jews for three days. In the next 15 years, hundreds of Jews were massacred.  During one episode, 300 Jews were slaughtered within a few hours and the Algerian Chief Rabbi was decapitated.  The murder of a Jew by a soldier sparked another bloodletting: while desecrating a synagogue, more than a dozen Jews at prayer were killed.
  • A report for the period of 1816 to 1828 stated that the Jews were forbidden to offer resistance when maltreated by a Muslim, no matter what the nature of the violence was. They did not have the right to bear arms, not even a cane.  They were pillaged indiscriminately and lived in a state of fear until the French occupied Algeria in 1830.
  • In 1870, the Jews were granted French citizenship but there was resentment at the new Jewish freedoms, so Jews once again became the target of hostile action – in Tlemcen, 1881; Oran, 1883; and Algiers, 1882, 1897, and 1898. This time, however, the Muslims were not solely responsible; it was the European political element that incited a smear campaign in the press.  Synagogues were desecrated, Jews were robbed and murdered, and anti-Jewish riots and massacres began.  In 1898, anti-Jewish riots erupted in all the principal communities of Algeria.
  • The ascent of Nazi Germany gave rise to new waves of anti-Semitism. The swastika appeared everywhere.  The massacre at Constantine in 1934 left 25 Jews slain, dozens wounded, and Jewish property was pillaged.  In 1940, the Nazi-allied Vichy government took over and Jews were stripped of French citizenship, banned from schools and public activities and rendered ‘pariahs’ through the passage of a new law.  Only the Allies’ landing prevented the transfer of Algerian Jews to European death camps.
  • In 1960, Jewish Agency officials were kidnapped and assassinated; the historic Great Synagogue in Algiers and the Jewish cemetery in Oran were desecrated.
  • The Jewish community that had begun 2,500 years earlier and numbered 140,000 in 1948 diminished within in months. Many thousands of Jews fled to Israel and 125,000 went to France.

TUNISIA

  • The Jews of Tunisia existed continuously for about 2,300 years and included among them important intellectual and religious leaders, and occasionally prominent international traders.
  • In the 13th century, there was a complete expulsion of Jews Kairouan when it was anointed a holy city of Islam.
  • In a 15th century document by a visiting Flemish nobleman described Tunisian Jews as despised and hated; that they had no freedom; paid a heavy tax; wore special clothes, otherwise at risk of being stoned.
  • In the 16th century the Jews of Tunis periodically suffered violent attacks and were subjected to vehement anti-Jewish policy such as the hostilities incited by inflammatory speeches against the Jews by a fanatical religious Moroccan passing through Tunisia.
  • While there were some Jews who were able to be successful in various trades and professions, there were many thousands of people who were permanently unemployed, living in squalid and miserable conditions.
  • Muhammed Bey abolished the jizya tax for Jews in 1855, the first real attempt at legal reform regarding infidel status. The reaction of the Muslim community was hostile and immediate:  the old dhimma law, where the word of a Jew was unacceptable in defence of a Muslim’s charge of blasphemy against Islam, was invoked against a Jew. The Bey refused to intervene and the Jew was decapitated.  The revolution of 1864 sufficiently intimidated the Bey so that he was compelled to revoke the new liberal laws.
  • In the revolt of 1864 on the island of Djerba for five days and nights Muslims sacked and destroyed everything: synagogues were profaned and defiled; Torah scrolls were torn and burnt; men were injured and trampled; all the women and girls were raped.
  • In 1869, Muslims butchered many Jews in the ghetto of Tunis. The French Protectorate was established in 1881 and life improved considerably for many Tunisian Jews.  In 1910 they were allowed to become French citizens, although they were not fully accepted in Muslim and French societies.
  • During the Nazi occupation, the Great Synagogue in Tunis was used as a Nazi stable.
  • In the 1950’s the Jews of Tunisia began to flee from the extremism that the Arabization policy of the government had fostered. Of 105,000 Jews in 1948, 50,000 emigrated to Israel and roughly the same number went to France and elsewhere.

SYRIA

  • Jewish history in Syria began in biblical times. By 70 C.E., 10,000 Jews lived in Damascus and a consistent Syrian Jewish presence was maintained for more than two millennia.  Although it has been claimed that Syrian Jews were allowed to live ‘relatively secure’ and ‘prosperous’ lives during Ottoman rule, the position of Jews was in many ways precarious.  Syria’s Jewish community became a refuge for many Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquistion.
  • Muslims considered Jews to be the most evil-natured and evil-intentioned of all of mankind. Along with the traditional dhimmi restrictions, they were forbidden to ride a horse in town, wear Muslim apparel, carry arms, and build or repair synagogues.
  • In the rare case of “Hayyim the Jew” who managed to rise to power and wealth in the early 19th century, he paid the price by having an eye gouged out and his ears and nose cut off in the first stage of his ascendancy and then was executed in 1820, his property confiscated by his successor.
  • Some Jewish families in Aleppo, a relatively cosmopolitan city, were affluent and relatively safe. Others, who were less-well connected, were subject to violence and oppression from various quarters.  Money was extorted by officials on every pretext and petty bullying was commonplace including stone-throwing, beard-pulling, and face-spitting.
  • In 1831, at the insistence of European consuls, things relaxed somewhat and at times Jews were allowed to repair their synagogues and extortion through illegal taxes was officially forbidden. Muslims and particularly Egyptian soldier were severely punished for abusing Jews. Nine years later, a general economic slump and the ‘Damascus blood libel of 1840’, brought riots and a pogrom against the Jews.
  • The Jews experienced some relief in the 1850s when Muslims focused their violence on Christians.
  • The French were assigned mandatory rights over Syria in 1920. During the time of the Druse revolt against the French in 1925, many Jews were murdered, dozens were wounded and homes and shops were looted and set afire. In spite the attempts of the French to protect Jews, the rise of the Palestine antagonism crystallized hostility and anti-Jewish riots and violence were common in the late 1930’s.  Jews were stabbed by activist Muslims and demands were made to boycott the Jewish Quarters. In 1937, anti-Jewish propaganda intensified after a Nazi delegation paid a visit to Damascus.
  • In 1942, a false report on the radio that Roosevelt and Churchill had promised Syria to the Jews caused additional alarm. The Jewish Quarter was raided in 1944 and 1945 and the end of WWII only intensified the persecution and restrictions.  Between 1917 and 1943, about 5,000 Jews had fled.
  • In June 1945, the year of Syrian independence, the director of the Alliance Jewish-affiliated school was murdered. That same year a Damascus Mufti declared that if immigration into Palestine was not halted, all countries of Islam would declare a holy war against the Jews.  Shortly afterwards a Syrian student mob celebrated a Muslim holiday by desecrating the Great Synagogue of Aleppo, beating Jews at prayer and burning prayer books in the street.
  • Intimidation by the government was initiated and Jews were prohibited from leaving. Agreeing to change the consequence to life imprisonment instead of death, Jews were required to surrender and assist security forces in capturing refugees, and to publicly denounce Zionism.
  • In spite of this by early 1947, only 13,000 Jews remained and the government launched an investigation into the disappearance of some 17,000 Syrian Jews.
  • Along with a hate and smear campaign, the Syrian government denied Jews jobs in the government, import and export licenses, and made entry into secondary schools virtually impossible.
  • In December 1947, a pogrom saw most synagogues burnt down and the destruction of 150 Jewish homes, five Jewish schools, 50 shops and offices, an orphanage, and a youth club. Holy scrolls, including a priceless ancient manuscript were burned. A bomb was thrown in front of the Damascus Alliance building and Jews went into hiding.
  • Further actions were taken against the Jewish community: they were forbidden from changing their places of residence, selling private property or acquiring land.  In 1949 all bank accounts held by Jews were frozen and the synagogue in Damascus was bombed during Sabbath preparations, leaving more than 20 dead and 26 wounded.  Palestinian Arabs were given the Jewish public building and the vacant former living quarters of Jews who had escaped.  There, they confronted their Jewish neighbours with omnipresent threats, often fulfilled.
  • Hundreds of Jews, including women and children, were arrested and tortured in the attempt to be smuggled out. But many left by various, secret means.

LEBANON

  • Jews have been in the region now called Lebanon since A.D. 70 if not earlier. Although all 35 Jewish families living in Beirut were slaughtered by the Crusaders, Jews survived elsewhere in Lebanon and their population was infused with Spanish Jews who fled from Spain in 1492.
  • Although subject to the same tax, and legal restrictions, life for the 55 families in 1826 was comparatively easy until the blood libel charges spread to Beirut and LebaneseTripoli in 1824 and 1834 respectively.
  • During the Druse Rebellion in 1847, the Jewish community of Dir el-Qamar was wiped out.
  • In 1945, 12 Jews were murdered in Tripoli and following the 1947 partition of Palestine, houses and synagogues were attacked by Muslims. In 1948, a Beirut Jew was murdered, and in 1950 a Jewish school was bombed and its director killed.  Money extorted from Lebanese Jews often went directly to finance Arab Palestinian sabotage.
  • Yet, on the whole, Jews were protected by authorities and during the anti-Zionist demonstrations, police forces were posted around the clock when required. Mostly Christian authorities protected Jews from ‘Muslim fanatics’. Until 1958, Lebanon was the sole Arab state where Jews had increased in number – to almost 9,000 – after the war of Israel’s independence.
  • Many Jews left when Lebanon officially began to finance terrorist activities in 1968.

LIBYA

  • Jews were attracted to Libya before the first destruction of Jerusalem. In addition 100,000 Jews were transferred from Palestine by Egyptian ruler Ptolemy around 300 B.C. settling thousands of those Jews in Libyan cities – employed as human shields to protect Egypt from its enemies.  This community was likely destroyed in the anti-Roman rebellion of A.D. 73, reappearing in Tripoli before the fourth century.
  • After the 7th century Arab conquest, the Jews once again became a buffer against attack – this time protecting the Arabs of Tripoli against the Byzantines.
  • From that period on, the Jewish population in various places was sacked, cheated, and pillaged alternately by nomads and Bedouins, with sterner penalties and banishment meted out arbitrarily according to the whim of whichever Muslim tribal leader had managed to gain power.
  • About 1140, the Jews were severely persecuted by the Almohads and the few remaining documents suggest the community was wiped out during the next two years. Later, Jews fleeing the Spanish inquisition sought sanctuary there.  But In the late 16th century, hundreds of the descendants of Jews who had fled Spain were murdered during the persecutions of Ali Gurzi Pasha’s reign.
  • Although the Ottoman conquest in 1835 brought a measure of relief to Jews in Tripoli and some other cities, Jews in other regions were subjected to forced conversion and pogroms and they shared the ghetto miseries suffered in other parts of North Africa. Besides beatings, robbery, burning, and murder – in some remote areas Jews could not ride a horse or ass in the presence of an Arab without the risk of violence and death.  Although Jewish religious institutions survived, conditions in the ghetto were barely above poverty level.
  • With the Italian occupation in 1911 things improved for the Jewish community when its dhimmi status was lifted–until the mid-1930’s when Libya became Mussolini’s Muslim center for fascist propaganda. World War II brought a great wave of persecution.  In 1941 and 1942 Benghazi’s Jews were attacked, Jewish property was pillaged and nearly 2,600 Jews were sent to a forced labor camp in the desert where more than 500 died.  Later in 1942, thousands more Jews from Tripoli and other twons were condemned to forced labor.
  • On the eve of the Allied victory in Tripoli, Axis troops stormed the Jewish Quarter and slaughtered the leaders of the Jewish community. However, Jewish activities were subsequently revived and peace brought some restoration of security to Libya’s Jews.
  • Thus, they were totally unprepared for the violent anti-Jewish bloodbath that began November 4, 1945. Babies were beaten to death with iron bars; old men were hacked in pieces; expectant mothers were disemboweled; whole families were burned alive in their homes; forced conversions, girls raped in front of their families.
  • In the short period short period following the November 1947 vote to partition Palestine, Libyan mobs murdered more than 130 Jews. After another Tripoli horror the following year, the Jews began to flee reducing the population from 38,000 in 1948 to 8,000 in 1951. By the 1960’s only some hundreds of Jews remained and with the renewal of Arab mob violence after the Six-Day War, practically all of Libya’s remaining Jewish population was forced to run for their lives leaving behind everything they owned to join their brethren in Israel.

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