The Forgotten Exile
Translated from French by Suzy Pirotte-Vidal, 04/2004
Presented by Elliot Israel
I am indeed very happy and flattered to be in your midst today. It honours my work and consequently honours me. I thank you. I am extremely conscious of the privilege of being received in your Association. I thank Alec Nacamuli for his praise and eloquent presentation.
Being here tonight with those of "there" is highly moving. With this book I shall most certainly awaken memories among some of you and perhaps with this story, our story, their story put on paper, try to heal old wounds.
I was not predestined to write this book. I am more of a lyric poet of our memory, or as Micheline Weinstock, one of my friends, said with great indulgence in a fine article she dedicated to my work, a memorialist. A lyric poet or memorialist is someone who fixes memory, who transmits it, who tries not to make it rigid, stiff, to bring it to life, vividly and close to us.
That is what I am attempting, probably with some awkwardness, but with all my heart and sincerity.
Nothing in my life predisposed me to put down on paper this difficult duty of memory that is slowly fading away. It is probably unconsciously that I respected this teaching: "thou shalt transmit".
I have always been interested in Judaism. Its beauty has constantly attracted me. I studied, very little, read, more widely. Very early in my life, I felt close to those shtetel Jews, those of the Hara (Jewish quarter), or those in the mellah, of those Jews of yesteryear that so many authors have rendered familiar. My soul was stirred and still is by the characters of Albert Cohen, Sholeim Aleikhem, Haim Potok, Cyrille Fleishman…
I have attempted to safeguard this Sephardic memory, this Judeo-Spanish memory that is slowly but surely disappearing by putting on paper, Rhodes, a Slice of our Memory. I followed the "Rodeslis" to the Congo with Shalom Bwana, the Saga of the Jews of the Congo and I had to bring them back to Brussels and integrate them in this beautiful Sephardic Community, in the very wide sense of this word, that makes Belgian Judaism so rich. This gave birth to The Jews of the Sun, portraits of Belgian Sepharads.
As far as I can remember, I have always attempted to defend the honour of the Jewish people and that of Israel when these were, in my eyes, unjustly attacked. Like you, I have entered this endless combat sometimes extremely discouraging. You and I respect this essential injunction of Pirke Aboth, The Maxims of Fathers: "none can ask you to finish that work, but you must not shy away from your obligations." This meaning that each of us can bring his little touch to the edifice.
Current events have pushed me to write more committed books, less nostalgic. Books which, according to me had to transmit a message, mine. The message not to forget, to explain to others what we are, what I am. The desire to make myself heard and understood, to make ourselves heard and understood and consequently respected.
This book on the Forgotten Exile was unconsciously running through my head for months and even years. One morning, it was four or five o'clock a.m., I woke up; the book was written in me and compiled in my head. All that remained to be done was simply to make the indispensable research and put it down on paper.
Perhaps what triggered it all was an article “I am also a refugee“ written in B’nai B’rit newspaper. Both Jewish and none-Jewish newspapers relayed that article. It circulated on the net from North to South, East to West and it even makes a re-appearance once in a while.
Here is what I wrote some years ago: I quote:
"I am also a refugee; our house was taken, the fruit of my family's hard labour stolen, our tombs desecrated, our places of worship vandalised, my stamp collection wrenched. I have turned the page, It had to be done and I have retained neither hatred nor rancour for those who kicked me out
I am a refugee as well but have not taught my children to throw bombs, or petrol bombs (Molotov cocktails) or stones.”
End of quotation.
Among the many souvenirs, there are some, which from time to time, re-surface inflicting the same wounds, the same fears the same anguish as before.
We were in May 1948. In a mere three months, I would be celebrating my fourth birthday.
Those who have been there remember! We had received strict orders to cover up our windows with a heavy "kraft" paper, the dark blue colour preventing any electric light from peeping out. There were also very heavy curtains to keep out the light. The Egyptian government had enjoined us to seal hermetically all the openings so as to prevent the Israeli planes from taking Cairo as target.
We were living in Heliopolis, a suburb of the capital sheltering Almaza, the airport.
One evening – was it the 15th, 16th May or later, the exact date is unclear, the sirens started wailing! It was night and the town was pitch black. I do not know what urged me: I moved the curtain slightly. The blue paper did not cover up the entire pane, some millimetres escaped its vigilance. I can still hear the Shawish, soldier, blowing on his whistle and crying out in hate: “taffi el nour ya Yahudi ya kalb.” Turn off the light Jew, son of a dog. (Egyptians often follow the word Jew by son of a dog, whereas Moroccans consider it a very serious offence to call someone a Jew)
The cerberus climbed the stairs four by four to catch the dangerous spy that I was! My mother, shaking all over for me implored him: Maybe she even bribed him, I don't know. No doubt this policeman (gendarme) was not really a bad guy and had children of his own. We were not worried any further. For a child of four to see his mother, the most cherished person on earth, terrorised, and because of me, was unbearable!
Sometimes I still hear this resounding "taffi el nour, Yahudi ibn kalb."
Some were arrested because they had smoked in the street. The incandescent tip of their cigarette signalled – thousands of meters away - the presence of all-important military objectives.
Another very vivid souvenir of that same period.
Egypt becoming independent in 1922 had granted the Egyptian Nationality, which did not exist then, to all persons born in the Ottoman Empire and residing on the banks of the Nile when this same Turkish Empire was dismembered. My grandfather and my father became Egyptians.
In July 29,1947 King Farouk decreed the 638 law making it compulsory for all Egyptian enterprises to take on 75% Egyptians (and 90% of the labour force also had to be Egyptian), requiring at the same time that the majority of the capital of these enterprises equally be detained by Egyptians. More than one Jew, citizen of other states or stateless opted for the Egyptian nationality to safeguard their jobs, save their enterprises and businesses.
After Egypt's defeat in May 1948, the Egyptian government digs up an obsolete Ottoman degree requiring a presence of more than a hundred years to become national citizens. This law, in fact, targeted only Jews. Tens of thousands were concerned: those who won their nationality in 1922 and those that were naturalised in 1947. We consequently became by a pitiless stroke of a pen stateless people.
That meant that we lost our rights, we no longer had a legal existence and moreover that my father was liable to lose his job.
I remember as a child trudging hand in hand with my father from lawyers' chambers to ministries, from embassies to consulates to try and get that booklet that would insure us a legal existence: a passport. I remember, my hand in his, hearing him talking to friends we met in the street of the kind of welcome they received by one or the other diplomatic authority. I still recall their utter helplessness. It is terrifying for a child to see his father, that epitome of strength, that rock, that beacon representing fortitude, the ideal man being so terribly disarmed.
We had become stateless against our will.
According to Islam the whole world is born Muslim. That is why, in Yemen for instance, up to 1948, orphans were wrenched away from their families and given to other families that would raise them in the Muslim faith. I remember my mother's terror relating to the kidnapping and conversion of children.
Finally, I also recall my mother's tears when leaving her native birthplace, tearing herself away from her family and friends, forsaking our dead, having a foreboding that this exile would perhaps kill her a short time after. It is also heartbreaking to see one's mother crying and not understanding why!
We did not deserve that punishment. We had not done anything.
Concerning our dead we left behind, this exile also forced us to bury the ones that in turn unfortunately left us, having to leave them far from their loved ones and the uncertainties of life that made us in turn orphans far from them.
As far as I am concerned, I had to leave my mother in Elizabethville, in the ex Belgian Congo. She died on January 4, 1959.
We had to resign ourselves to leave the Congo after the turmoil that ravaged the country following its accession to independence on June 30, 1960.
My father was slightly luckier, if we can say this. He sleeps next to his mother in Cape Town in South Africa. Having a premonition of his not too distant death, he wanted to say goodbye to the members of his family. He left us on February 22, 1972.
It is indeed an immense pain not to be able to bring, on the days of the Haskara, of the Jahrzeit, as well as the afternoon preceding the Kol Nidre this tiny stone that testifies of our love, that shows that they are not forgotten. It is heartbreaking to know that their tombs will be bare.
I shall probably be alone too when the time comes. As the deported Sepharads of Salonica, of Rhodes, and of the Balkans said: "en tiera ajena no kiero morir": I do not want to die in a foreign land. This "tiera ajena", this foreign land, is the one that does not shelter your parents.
A man can leave his country for countless reasons: whether they be economic, sentimental or political, but he remains closely linked: it's his. He knows he can go back, whenever he feels like it. But when the country he imagines as his, no longer wants him, rejects him, a deep wound leaves a scar that can never heal.
Jews in Islamic lands generally had, all things considered, a rather peaceful life till 1947. But this euphoria disintegrated with the birth of the State of Israel and when the Arab States generally won their independence. There were undoubtedly extortions and killings in Algeria, Morocco, and Yemen, in Iraq, Aden, Syria, in Tunisia and in Egypt. Everywhere the Jew was tracked down.
.We were Egyptians as were Syrians those of Syria, Iraqis those of Iraq. We first became Jews from Egypt and Jews from Arab countries before being defined once and for all as Jews from Egypt, from Syria, or Iraq. With one stroke of their pen, these regimes forged us a new identity
Our parents' generation as well as ours have put off recalling these memories, of that hurt that kept gnawing at us. Otherwise why the meeting of friends from there, the "ex" to remind us of "the life that was" with as much melancholy and regrets tucked away deeply inside us?
Certainly a number of persons when questioned will talk, sometimes in extravagant terms, more often with great nostalgia, of the country of their birth. They will praise the excellent inter-community relations forgetting that these very relations were mainly due to a circle of friends, schoolmates or even colleagues at work, relatives, or neighbours. Most of us, as we stand here today, were children, sometimes adolescents, and rarely young adults. As those of my generation I left my native country when I was eleven. Consequently I can only remember pleasant memories, festive and family memories, memories of those close to us and of friends, maybe some childhood secret love: reminiscences that are heart-warming.
We, the young exiles had and still have our eyes "tinted with pink" as my friend Alec Nacamuli says poetically. We see that period with the eyes of our childhood prone to distort images. We were protected, loved. We lived in our families, among friends. Our contacts with the Arabs were those of classmates who came from families similar to ours: people who were "bné adam" Coptic or Muslim or with our servants we treated with respect and to which a mutual affection bound us. And with some modest shopkeepers…who were to a certain extent servile. We had few, to say the least, and practically no contacts with the natives. It is therefore normal that our memories are pleasant and that we have embellished this myth of pacific co-existence.
As children, we had no knowledge of the pogroms that plunged into mourning our Arab-Muslim regions. We were not aware of what the newspaper "La Tribune Juive d 'Egypte" reported in its issue of February 8, 1938: “Any Muslim who plunges a knife in the entrails of a Jew wins his place in paradise”. I repeat this date, February 8, 1938 keep it in mind; long before the decision to partition Palestine. Before even the Second World War. More than ten years before the independence of the State of Israel. Has the preaching changed today?
Rony, my childhood friend who lives in Israel: our mothers - who were close friends – had raised us together, after thirty years of separation has offered me a sumptuous priceless present, the letters my mother wrote his who had taken refuge in Haifa. It took me more than twenty years to open them. She noted, talking of a family that had succeeded to flee the country that she had "escaped the Egyptian yoke." My mother a former French teacher knew the deep meaning of words. Would she have spoken of "yoke" had that land been idyllic? No! she would have chosen another term. Throughout her letters can be felt a great deal of sadness, some bitterness towards the Egyptians and a considerable dose of hatred for Nasser and his government! (N.D.L.R. May he rot in hell!)
No acrimony troubles my words. No rancour! I have no personal grudge to settle. I wrote this book so that my children and these nine hundred and forty thousand eight hundred men, women, young and old, kicked out of their homes because they were Jews DO NOT FORGET!
I wrote this book so that my non-Jewish fellow-citizens and Muslim cousins know our history which is also partially theirs.
I wrote this book in memory of our parents who had to start all over again.
Finally, I wrote this book so that the beloved dead we left behind, abandoned against our will, with no one to place a stone on their tombs know they are not forgotten.
It may be that we have delayed telling our own story out of respect for the Shoah. Our tragedy was infinitely less horrendous than the one that befell six million of our brothers. We had lost a home, our jobs, our friends, our property, and our country. Perhaps – often as well – our families were broken up, dispersed. But we cannot compare the incomparable! The drama of the Holocaust, all these lives destroyed!
We did not feel we had the right to complain and we didn't. The world, probably weary, did not want to hear another Jewish tragedy. As did the survivors of Nazi hell, we had to rebuild our lives in circumstances that were nowhere even close to their atrocious circumstances: They had no one; we had our parents, our children. We had an aim: rebuild. They felt guilty of their own survival. Moaning would have been more than indecent.
More than forty years have gone by. It is time to re-assemble our souvenirs, to pour forth our memories, to open our hearts and to say out loud: we are also refugees of the conflict between the Arab States and Israel! Resolution 242 of the United Nation's Security Council foresees a fair solution of the refugee problem, of all the refugees. We are Jewish refugees of the Arab Muslim States and the world has forgotten us.
We must also state that the pacific co-existence between Jews and Muslims is a fable. This co‑existence lasted uniquely during the protectorates (allow me to even doubt that) but never before. As Albert Memmi in Jews and Arabs, Gallimard ed., Paris 1974, wrote, it's just a legend, a delusion and Memmi reports on Father Charles Foucauld who wanting to explore incognito Arab countries disguised himself as a Jew. His account of this event, and no one can possibly suspect him of philosemitism reveals all the humiliations he had to suffer.
In a remarkable study, Protected Peoples in Islamic lands, Information and Document Centre on the Middle East, Geneva 1977, David Littman and Bat Ye'Or quote Bernard Lewis, an authority on Islam and co-editor of a brilliant encyclopaedia on Islam, in an article entitled The Pro-Islamic Jews, which appeared in the Judaism magazine, Vol.17, N°4, New York 1968:
“…The golden age of equal rights was a myth and the fact of believing in it, rather than the cause resulted in the sympathy of Jews for Islam. This myth was invented in the 19th Century by Jews as a veiled criticism of Christians….and taken up by the Muslims of our time as a reproach against the Jews.”
Europeans travelling in the Orient in the days of liberalism and emancipation, almost unanimously deplore the precarious and degrading situation of the Jews in Muslim countries and the dangers and humiliations to which they are submitted. Jewish learned men, knowing the history of Islam and the usual situation in Islamic countries, can have no illusions on that subject. Armin Vambery, a Hungarian traveller states in 1904, without any possible ambiguity:
“I know nothing more miserable, impotent and pitiful on God's earth then the "Jahudi" in these countries”. (Bernard Lewis, in The Pro-Islamic Jews, previously mentioned.)
Bat Ye'Or, the undisputed specialist on dhimmitude wrote and I quote her:
The spiritual chief of the Muslim Brethren Movement, Chiekh Yousel Al-Qaradawi, responding to an interview on the subject of a visit the Cheikh of Al Azhar [Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi] on December 15 by the Chief Ashkenas Rabbi of Israel [Israel Lau], said that Islamic law divided the People of The Book - Jews and Christians – in three categories:
1) The non-Muslims of countries at war
2) The non-Muslims of countries in a temporary truce
3) The non-Muslims protected by Islamic law, i.e. the dhimmis (*)
Those that live in countries at war are those that are fought because they are opposed to the instauration of Islamic Law in their country. These infidels have absolutely no rights, their person and goods can lawfully- to use the usual formula – be given to any Muslim. This explains the murders, assassinations against civilians on the roads, when the opportunity presents itself. Their very existence is illegal.
The infidels of the countries in a temporary truce are in a situation of respite between two wars. The Dhimmis are former Harbies who have passed from one category to another, that of the countries at war (the dar el harb) to the category of the "protected" (in the dar-el-Islam). These have put an end to the Jihad that threatened them thanks to a magical formula "the territories against peace and the security of the dhimmitude". They have ceded their country to become protected. Islamic Law defines their rights that they protect under certain conditions (the dhimma). This means that non-Muslims have no rights whatsoever except those specified and protected by Islamic Law. It is that very law which is the source of Non-Muslim rights today. Today in all the societies mobilised by the Jihad, it is this interpretation that prevails…and even in Egypt. Today we could qualify the Jihad as a genocidal war, because it orders the massacre of men, the enslaving of women and children in case of resistance. These rules, which were applied in the 20th Century, are still true today in southern Sudan with the slavery of both the wives and the children of rebels.
The laws of the "dhimmitude" that is to say the relation with non-Muslims, obey three essential principles.
- the inferiority of non-Muslims in all the spheres of life. This situation exists in practically every Arab country, in Iran, Afghanistan and other countries.
- The vulnerability of the infidel, brought about in the past by the prohibition of wearing arms, of testifying against a Muslim, which implies a mortal danger when an accusation of blasphemy is made, still exists today mainly in Afghanistan and has caused the assassination of innocent Christians. A Pakistani Catholic Bishop, John Joseph committed suicide on May 6, 1998 to draw the world's attention to this injustice.
- The humiliation and degradation of non-Muslims imposed by a series of very precise rules.
Apart from these military, legal and social fields I mentioned and which constitute the very foundation between Muslim and non-Muslim relations for over a millennium, the differences equally appear in particular in the theological field, on the one hand between Jews and Christians and on the other Muslims. Islamists profess, basing their theories on numerous verses of the Koran that Islam appearing at the very origin of the Creation, therefore preceded Judaism and Christianity. Adam, Eve, Noah considered as the genitors of humanity were Muslims and professed Islam! It therefore logically follows that humanity is Islamic and according to a "hadith" all children are born Muslims. This belief has authorised the kidnapping of children from the dhimmi communities, a scourge that was endemic in Dar-el-Islam.
According to this interpretation, the prophets and characters evoked in the Koran in a version that differs from the Biblical account are Muslims. Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Jesus and the apostles are venerated as Muslims and prophets having professed Islam. It therefore results that the Bible is a falsified account and that all the salvable action of Israel to which Christianity is also attached is an Islamic story. That is why the rights of Israel are not recognised in his (their?) country. Jews have no history, the Bible is nothing else than an account of fables. The history of Israel is found in the Koran and is an Islamic story. It is consequently clear in this context that when Israel refers to the Bible as being theirs, to their kings, to their towns and villages, to the Judaic character of Jesus, of Mary and the Apostles, it can only exasperate Islamists. Naturally this "Islamisation" of the Bible concerns both Jews and Christians.
End of quotation.
Let it be reminded that the leader of the Muslim Brethren (to which Hamas claims its adherence) professes that the non-Muslim world is composed of three entities and I very much fear that this same doctrine is also that of the rest of the Muslim world.
1) The non-Muslims of the countries at war
2) The non-Muslims of the countries under the temporary truce
3) The non-Muslims protected by Islamic Law, that is to say: "the Dhimmis" (*)
If we translate correctly, according to fundamentalists, the d'himmis apart, non-Muslims are people against who they are or will be at war.
Let us also recall that famous Hubbadiya Peace, which allows a truce limited in time, with a Maximum of ten years, renewable once on pain of nullification, but which can be broken at any moment by the Muslim.
I quote passages from different sources. For the sake of truthfulness I have taken them as they are without any correction. I have not chosen to deal with the subject of Palestinian refugees, their flight after the innumerable Arab incitements to leave their homes. That is not the aim of this work.
Without doubt there are Palestinian refugees. Some were driven away, a lot of them fled fearing the fighting, numerous were those who listened to the Arab incitement to leave Palestine. Paul Giniewski quotes them in "Les Combats d'Israel”, the Fights of Israel, published in Paris by the Anthropos editions in 1987, and I in turn quote him in Noah's Response that I published in Brussels, at the I.S.E. Editions, in April 2003. But all this is eclipsed, is concealed, is ignored; none of this must be divulged.
I will take as proof an article in the Figaro of May 12, 2003: Sadam Hussein pampered these hunted Palestinians,. signed by the very hand of Isabelle Lasserre, special envoy of the Figaro in Baghdad. I quote:
They came from Houbaya, a quarter at the West of Baghdad where they spent the last seventeen years in houses graciously allotted by Sadam Hussein's regime. In the hope of obtaining one of the tens of white tents lined up in a stadium of the capital where most of the recently expelled Palestinians by their neighbours or Iraqi landowners have sought refuge. The man with deep black circles round his eyes caused by the ten days he spent ‘in an iron shack built in a Godforsaken wasteland.’ The woman, ill, verging on a nervous breakdown in a long black robe, her face full of uncontrollable nervous spasms. (Please note the romanticism of the declaration… Poor Palestinians. Once again Israel is to blame! We shall come to that.) Former employee at the Iraqi Ministry of commerce, Youssef Abdullah Sulaiman, as most Iraqi Palestinians, arrived in 1948 after being expelled from Haifa by the Israeli army. "In 1948, says he, Sadam gave us a house because we were Palestinians. We were promised that we would live there all our lives."
After being driven away from Haifa by the Israelis in 1948 !, It seems that the reporter ignored or wanted to ignore, the pleas of Aaba Kushi, the then Mayor of that town begging, with tears in his eyes, the Arabs to stay.
She also seems to forget what the London newspaper, The Economist, published on the Haifa events on the 2nd October 1948. The account of an eyewitness of the Arab Exodus of Haifa:
“There is no doubt whatsoever that the decisive factors (concerning the decision to flee) were the radio appeals of the High Arab Committee asking the Arabs of Haifa to leave. The reason given being that with the British evacuation, the united armies of the Arab States would invade Palestine, and throw the Jews in the sea. It was clearly asserted that those Arabs who stayed in Haifa and accepted the Jews' protection would be considered as traitors.”
She also forgets this testimony which appeared in the Cairo Newspaper, El Yom, The Day, dated 12th April 1948:
“March 15, 1948 arrived…and the last British soldier left Palestine. That very same day the Mufti of Jerusalem asked the Arabs of Palestine to leave the country, to leave Haifa, Jaffo and other towns…. because the Arab armies were on the verge of penetrating into the country and ready to fight in their names against the bands of Jews and to kick these out of Palestine.”
And last but not least the very opinion of Abou Yiad, non other than the head of the security services of the PLO, in an interview with Eric Rouleau, "Palestinians without a homeland"
editor Fayolle, Paris 1978:
…“Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians decided to leave their homeland to find shelter. All the more so as certain "national committees", constituted by militant nationalists, mainly in Jaffa assured those who wanted to leave that their exile would be a very short one, a few weeks or months, the time needed by the coalition of Arab armies to defeat the Zionist forces.”
And in spite of that, the Press goes on deluding people, May 12, 2003, by speaking of “the Palestinians of Iraq, who had arrived in 1948 after being expelled from Haifa by the Israelis !”
Is it known that the Arabs living in what we call today "Arab countries" have only done so since the seventh century? Are people aware that the Jewish presence dates seven hundred years before that, maybe even a thousand years? And an even longer presence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. Many ignore the fact that up to the tenth century, more than ninety percent of the world's Jewish population lived in these countries.
We tend to imagine, wrongly, that life in Islamic lands was always idyllic. During the centuries that preceded the French, English Protectorate and The Italian one for Libya, if life was less painful than in Europe, these were not spared their lot of exactions, pogroms and massacres.
In his Jews of Arab Lands already mentioned, Albert Memmi claims that, exception made for the Shoah, “the total amount of victims of the Russian, Polish, and German pogroms probably do not exceed that of the small yet successive pogroms perpetrated in Arab countries”.
The vexations were daily and existence hung suspended to the mood of rulers or …neighbours!
Here are some examples of vexations (harassment) imposed by Omar's Pact, 634-644 but which only came into effect between 714 and 720 and has remained unchanged up to the abolition of the dhimmis in the Ottoman Empire in 1839 and in Morocco in 1864 !
- Only the Synagogues and Churches prior to the Islamic period could be maintained.
The sale of Pork meat to Muslims was prohibited.
- They could not have a faithful of Allah at their service.
- The Dhimmis had to honour the Muslim and stand up in his presence.
- They could not prevent anyone from converting to Islam.
- They could not dress or wear a headdress as Muslims.
- The Jews had the obligation to wear clothing, belts (which could not be made of silk) and wear hats of a yellow colour, for Christians it was blue.
The colour of their shoes had to differ from that of a Muslim.( Do you know for example that in Morocco up to the arrival of the French, Jews had to take off their shoes when passing next to a mosque?)
They were allowed to enter public baths as long as they wore a sign to distinguish them from others.
Women's' separate baths had to be built for their womenfolk so that these did not bathe with Muslim women.
They were forbidden to go out when it rained because the wet contact with a Muslim would soil him. I relate this account in my book, that in 1860, the ancestor of a cousin, surprised by sudden rain was burnt alive because he had inadvertently splashed a mullah.
It was forbidden to carry weapons, to ride a horse or a mule. Only an ass was allowed. They could not have a saddle but only a cover, without any ornaments was allowed. Moreover they could not gallop astride the ass but uniquely mount sidesaddle both feet dangling on the same side.
Their homes and tombs had to be lower that those of Muslims.
Neither Jews nor Christian could pray out loud in the premises of their religious cults, and Christians could not display a cross outside their churches.
Still today in Arabia, just you try to wear a cross around your neck…
� Dhimmis could not be employees in an administration or exercise any activity giving them authority over a Muslim. I cite in my book, a Fatwa rendered on February 5th, 1993 in Saudi Arabia: Is the authority of a non-Muslim allowed?
Inheritance procedures had to follow Islamic laws.
Each and every transgression represented a danger for everyone. Punished by sudden death was the refusal to pay the djeziya, having sexual intercourse with a Muslim woman, the murder of a Muslim, spying for the enemy. Cursing the Prophet was the worst crime of all.
We must also remember that the testimony of a non-Muslim cannot be opposed to an adept of Islam. This therefore opens the door to all kinds of social injustices.
Life changed with the arrival of the colonisers. Emancipation in their luggage, they granted Jews equal rights. They instituted "mixed tribunals" that were the only ones apt to judge European citizens whereas the natives were submitted to local courts. A number of Jews, wanting to get rid of their statute of Dhimmis, attempted to buy a foreign nationality. The reason being that by so doing they would evade these jurisdictions where the unique law in place was that of the Charia, the rigid civil code that controls the hours of each Muslim and that disadvantaged the dhimmi. Let us remember that among other humiliations imposed the testimony of a Dhimmi whether Jewish or Christian could by no means be opposed to a Muslim.
With equality, life became generally pleasant. The country is beautiful, the climate mild, days went by peacefully. Relations between the communities were more harmonious. Arabs are often charming people, helpful, hospitable and generous.
Jews in order to acquire equality hitherto refused, discover a nationalist fibre even more than the Arabs themselves…. They will fight for the rights of the inhabitants to self-rule themselves. Among the pioneers of the emancipation movements you have people like James Sanua (nicknamed Abou Nadara) who founded several newspapers and was to be exiled by the English. (He is buried at Le Père Lachaise). Henri Curiel, son of a banker, one of the initiators of the Egyptian Communist Party, (his son, he would not have disowned, is Alain Gresh and is the chief editor of Le Monde Diplomatic), Doctor Leon Benzaquen, among the familiar of Mohamed Fifth, minister of the Post offices in the first Moroccan government between 1957 and 1958, André Bessis or André Baruch in Tunisia. For these same reasons we shall equally find Christians living there and Armenians among the Arab countries nationalists. Similarly we find both in Europe and the Orient numerous Jews in communist movements who in their programs grant equal rights to each and everyone.
“Dina de malkhuta dina”. For almost two thousand years our wise men have stated "The Law of the Land is the Law." And they added: "do good for your city."
I love (like?)Arab countries and get along very well with their inhabitants. I appreciate them as long as they in turn consider me as one of their equals, benefiting of the same rights, a rare privilege in the past as was explained.
Why is it that Arab Muslims cannot admit that Jews and Christians share a common land, Egypt for example, that they could be equal citizens in the real sense of the word? Why can they not conceive that a state, Israel, be ruled by its Jewish majority together with its Arab Israeli citizens? Let us note that the latter live much better in Israel than in the neighbouring countries. They enjoy the same rights as Jews, are represented by their own political representatives and politicians who defend them.
I quote in Ma Réponse de Noa a poll that took place between November 14 to November 22 in the region where Palestinians live under the authority – or better still, the yoke – of Arafat. If 72.7% are opposed to equality between men and women, you find 62.3% who reject the idea of a Christian Palestinian president. And Palestinians are considered "moderate " compared to their Arab brothers.
We know the problems endured by the Christian minorities in the Land of Islam.
Copts in Egypt, Maronites in Lebanon, Nestoriens and Chaldeans in Syria or in Iraq, Christians in Sudan and under the Palestinian authority. Not to mention Asiatic Islamic countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan ?
The Egyptian delegate to the United Nations, Heykal Pacha, declared, during the 1947 session, that the lives of one million Jews living in Arab countries would be in danger if a State of Israel were created and moreover the Jews of Egypt would be hostages. The mufti of Jerusalem, the sinister Hadj Amin el-Husseini, friend of Hitler and founder of the Muslim legions of the German army, warned that the situation of the Jews in Arab countries would be very precarious, that the governments would not be able to prevent the violence of the mob.
Have we forgotten the three "Noes" of Khartoum after the Six- Day War?
No to the recognition of Israel.
No to negotiation with Israel.
No to peace with Israel.
Article 15 of the Hamas Charter stipulates: The day when enemies usurp a land of Islam, Jihad becomes the individual duty of each Muslim. Must we consequently deduce that Spain which was Muslim for almost eight hundred years, must necessarily become once again a land of Islam and that a Jihad will be declared against it? That France conquered up the to region of Poitiers also is?. That Europe, from Turkey to Vienna will be so as well?
On August 27, 2002, I read in "Le Soir", an important Brussels newspaper, that almost fifty thousand Palestinians had fled the West Bank and the Gaza strip (no doubt these will be included in the number of refugees). But why not make it clear that the great majority are Christian Palestinians fleeing from their Muslim compatriots? Why forget to say that Bethlehem, a Christian city if any, now counts a majority of Muslims and that a plan to build a mosque just in front of the Basilica of Nativity created an enormous scandal at the time provoking the indignation of the Pope, and occidental anger … against Israel?
Certain Arabs trumpet that their civilisation – which was certainly brilliant for some decades in the days of Haroun El Rachid (766-809) and brought a certain number of things to humanity – is unequalled, unmatched, superior and must substitute itself to others. They then become unbearable.
The reader will comprehend, for his own information, the interviews of two Muslim leaders: Sheikh Abu Hamza, the Egyptian imam of the Finsbury Park Mosque and manager of Al-Shari'ah Organisation, as well as sheikh Omar Bakri, of Syrian origin, who constituted and manages the Islamic religious court in London (he also presides Al Muhajiroun Islamist Organisation).
They are published in the London daily English speaking Al-Hayat: “We shall transform the Western countries into an Islamic regime from the outside or by cultural invasion.”
This pages can be found on my Internet site ( www.sefarad.org ) under http://moise.sefarad.org/belsef.php/id/91/. as well as in the following site http://www.memri.org of the Middle East Media Research Institute, MEMRI).
According Alexander del Valle in his masterly Islamic totalitarianism at the assault of Democracies, Syrtes ed., Paris 2002, page 308: “during the Friday preaching (khotba) given at the mosque situated at the Cinquantenaire in Brussels, a preaching recorded by an undercover Belgian agent, the rector of the Mosque publicly presented his vision of the ideal Islamic regime, attainable one day in Europe. All the native population would be submitted to a special tax and the problem of the Islamic veil solved by the compulsory wearing for "true believers." This is the vision that we are promised in Europe: Minority citizens, dhimmis!
We cannot deny that Arabs can legitimately be proud of their heritage, but they must nevertheless accept that of their non-Muslim fellowmen.
To think or state that a religion, a civilisation, no matter which, is "superior" to another is an aberration and a heresy. According to Jewish tradition, taken up both by Christianity and Islam, one man was created at the origin so that none could claim: "my father is superior to yours". And if God's word was given to Moses in the desert, which belongs to no one, it is because it is addressed to all without exception.
Let us say a word about Saudi Arabia that banned all the "infidels" forbidding, on pain of death, their entrance in the Hedjaz for centuries. That country finally accepted to receive occidentals – uniquely non-Jewish – since the discovery of petrol, its only wealth, the revenues of which are so misused.
Is this a proof of tolerance?
We must also inform that an unaccompanied woman cannot enter the country?
Let us remember this Frenchwoman of Moroccan origin. Raped by three citizens of emirate, she was sentenced to a prison term for having had sexual relations outside marriage.
That was a few days ago.
Up to the year 1948 fifty-four thousand Jews lived in the Arab peninsula, mainly in Yemen. Some ten or so, mere handfuls lived in Kuwait, Bahrain and the Emirates. They were expelled in 1948 and today practically no Jew is allowed in.
Occidental leaders have a very selective and short memory. They forget these hundreds of thousands of Palestinians expelled from Kuwait, after the "liberation" of the country from the Iraqi forces in 1990, Arafat having rallied Sadam Hussein's cause before that war. Who worries or is interested in them? Undoubtedly these will figure in the statistics of Palestinian refugees that Arab countries attribute to Israel!
This remark has no place in the context of this study but only proves that when a regime is based on the belief of the superiority of race or religion, Human Rights are very quickly trampled. And if by chance the dhimmi is a Jew, a second-class citizen, he will be shown no consideration.
I read this fear in the eyes of some veterans of the Cairo Jewish Community. I remember having organised a trip to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, I wanted to interview one of the rare Jews, a delightful octogenarian, (eighty-year-old gentleman), and deceased today. Mr. Japhé answered my questions graciously but when I questioned him on the relations between Jews and the government, he turned pale and begged me:"don't talk about politics, please."
I also remember, it must have been around the year 1948, I had finally learned the first two lines of our Shema that my mother murmured in both my and my sister's ear before putting us to bed. We were at the Heliopolis Sporting Club where my parents were members and I wanted to shine before mother and one of her friends by reciting our act of faith. I had hardly said “Shema” when she put her finger on my lips: the unpronounceable Israel could not be pronounced in public.
An education of several centuries cannot be undone. The Jew was not allowed to draw attention, or put himself forward. He had to adopt what we call "a low profile."
Our elders had a fear bordering on panic of the one "dealing with politics " because the risk of putting the whole community in danger by his acts was very serious indeed. They had inherited this anguish from the days of the Ottoman Empire that granted its minorities all cultural and religious rights but forbade these minorities to engage in politics: the risk of even contemplating opposing the authority of the Sultan was enormous.
The few Jews who, during history, advised princes or ministers, ended tragically and worse still put their fellow-Jews in great danger.
It is for this reason that we do not often see, still today, a lot of Sepharads in public affairs.
My passion sometimes carries me away. I put a lot of myself in this book. I wrote this Forgotten Exile having in mind our parents who had to rebuild their lives elsewhere. A lot of them, already old, accepted painful jobs, labour that no one wanted, for the dignity of earning their livelihood and that of their families, so that they would not be a burden to anyone. They who had stores became warehousemen, they who were employers, became salesmen at department stores, they who were managers became travelling salesmen.
If I do not consider myself in exile, I have undeniably been exiled. I bear no grudge, (not anymore) against Egyptians for having made my parents' life difficult forcing them to leave, cutting them off from their roots that were their families, their friends, their work, compelling them to abandon their dead. A verse from Baudelaire comes to my mind: "the dead, the poor dead are in great distress" (taken from La servante au grand cœur.)
I quote countless testimonies: haphazardly, that of Shaul Amor, Israeli Ambassador in Belgium up to December 31, 2002, whose grandfather was hacked down by an axe, in front of his very eyes by his Moroccan neighbours. He was going to the Boujade Synagogue on August 21,1955…Trouble had broken out between the French troops and the Moroccan population.
Or that of Armand Azuelos who lived through the massacres of Djerada and Oudja in Morocco in June 1948…
Let us talk of that of Marcello Ortona, a Libyan Jew who relates the massacres of Tripoli in 1945. (Note that the partition plan did not yet exist…)
Let us mention the poignant testimony of Marc Khedr taken away for a questioning that was supposed to take five minutes and released three years later from the sinister prison of Abou Zaabal , then that of Tourah, on the outskirts of Cairo. He was 19.
Let us talk of that of Berto Farhi, a Jewish journalist whose article in the "Express" was published in 1967. The title was "The Jews of Nasser" and who ended his article on a note of hope: the driver who took him from prison to the airport sang him a song of goodbye as a gift "Wassalni", accompany me, and hugged him asking his forgiveness.
And that of Maurice Shohet who crossing the Iranian border after fleeing Baghdad in 1970 shed tears for his homeland.
On this subject read the masterly "Adieu Babylone" by Naim Kattan, who speaks with great restraint of the events of 1941 (one thousand Jews assassinated). The "dream" of that author was to be an Iraqi of Jewish faith and a writer in the Arabic language.
I could not alas cite that of my parents. When you are young, busy building up a life, you are not interested in the past of your family. And when it's time to put one's thoughts to it, oftentimes there is no one who can answer! It is unfortunately my case, with the loss of my parents, my family's library has also gone forever.
Let us also mention…. but allow me to refer you to my work. Forty testimonies from all over the world of slices of lives. I repeat and insist there is no bitterness. We are refugees, but we have not taught our children to throw stones or petrol bombs. We have perfectly integrated ourselves as responsible persons in the countries that have welcomed us.
Before concluding this presentation here are some figures. They speak for themselves.
Population juive 1948 2002
Algeria 150.000 no figures but an estimation of less than 50.
Bahrain 400 20
Egypt 90.000 50
Iraq 140.000 less than 100. Today we speak of less than 30
Lebanon 5.000 70
Libya 40.000 0
Morocco 300.000 2.500
Sudan 400 0
Syria 35.000 120
Tunisia 120.000 1.500
Yemen (including Aden) 60.000 200
Total 940.000 4.260
The 1948 figures are taken from "The forgotten million, Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries" published by the World Organisation of Jews originating from Arab countries (WOJAC) on March 4, 1988 in Geneva.
Those of 2002 are based on the estimations of the Jewish World Congress.
More than seven hundred and fifty thousands Jews found refuge in Israel.
Arab countries: A Garden of Eden did you say?
In conclusion allow me to end by a note of hope, by a text I wrote, already eleven years ago for the fiftieth number of Contact J, a Jewish Belgian monthly, in May 1992.
Here is what I wrote then:
My Ideal Community.
Among other things I wrote: This ideal community is one in which a grandfather goes on foot through any quarter of Brussels with his grandchildren to the Synagogue on Friday night. That Synagogue is wide open. No need for security agents – what for? People are chatting at the doorstep, as many outside as inside. Neighbours, Christians or Muslims wishing them "Shabbat Shalom."
That ideal community would be to listen to Om Kalsum on Radio Judaica and Hava Naguila on the Arab wavelength during the messiba of the annual Judeo-Muslim feast. On that occasion there would be a big tournament of "shesh-besh, of tric-trac". The comments would as usual be full of flavour.
The Dror would entice youths from the Maghreb to join in a Hora, and these in turn would teach us belly dancing and we would share a spicy chwarma and the delightful humus drinking Kosher Sidi Bishr, the Israeli alcohol-free beer…and the silence of friendship.
This ideal community as I imagine it, receives Postcards from the Friendship Club visiting the archaeological sights of Palmyre, before "deliberately choosing to take" a Damascus-Tel Aviv coach because these travellers chose the Israel, Palestine, Jordan Syria and Lebanon circuit. This trip is already outdated. The place to be "in" is Chatt el Arab or in a Noria club that has just recently opened.
This ideal community is to see in Jerusalem as well as in Ryad, Rome and Paris, including Baghdad, Sanaa, Teheran, Gaza and Jericho inaugurate a school of The Translators of Toledo where Jewish, Christian and Muslim researchers worked in unison to transmit to our children, and that the children of our children in turn transmit all this heritage of the Golden Age: tolerance, respect of the other. Where the extremes whether they be from right or left would uniquely be the seats at table and where the Great Satan would be the devil and nothing else.
This ideal community would be lack of astonishment when the head of The State of Israel goes to an Arab country and when one of his Muslim counterparts visits Israel. When the Commemoration medals coined both in Jerusalem and Cairo will be for the launching of an Arab-Israeli communication satellite. Or the first heart transplant of an inhabitant of Tel Aviv or one of Tripoli would come from a common bank of organs. When the world final football match for the world cup would include a selection of Judeo-Christian-Muslim players and when Christians, Muslims and Jews would join in the V of Friendship.
This ideal community…Dring! The alarm clock brings me back to reality. Outside the weather is depressing, rain is spitting. The radio as well: attacks, kamikaze, bombs, reprisals, summary executions…The infernal cycle.
I would like to go back to sleep and plunge into my dream again. Difficult to do that! But one day, inch'Allah; be ezrat Hashem, if God wills, this dream will become reality!
I thank you for taking the trouble to come and listen to me. If you have any questions, I shall do my very best to answer them. I am at your entire disposal.