Arab-Jewish Refugees, the other Middle
Eastern Refugee problem
In 1945 there were more than 870,000
Jews living in the various Arab states. Many of their communities dated
back 2,500 years. Throughout 1947 and 1948 these Jews were persecuted.
Their property and belongings were confiscated. There were anti-Jewish
riots in Aden, Egypt, Lybia, Syria, and Iraq. In Iraq, Zionism was made
a capital crime. Aproximately 600,000 Jews sought refuge in the State of
Israel.1 They arrived destitute, but they
were absorbed into the society and became an integral part of the state.
In effect, then, a vertible exchange of populations took place between
Arab and Jewish refugees. Thus the Jewish refugees became full Israeli
citizens while the Arab refugees remained "refugees" according to the wishes
of the Arab leaders.
& Gershman, op. cit., p. 168.
Jewish Agency for Israel: The Jewish Refugees 1948-1972
The entire Yemenite community of Jews, who
swarmed almost 50,000 strong into Israel via "Operation Magic Carpet,"
believed that "King David" Ben-Gunion was actually the Messiah calling
them home. Jewish settlements in Yemen existed more than 2,000 years ago,
and some claim the Jews' presence there has been longer -- from the Jews'
Babylonian captivity and the fall of the First Temple in 586 B.C. Yemenite
Jewry fled to Israel from what historian S. D. Goitein described as "the
worst aspect" of the Arab mistreatment of Jews. A Yemenite law decreed
that fatherless Jewish children under thirteen be taken from their mothers
and raised in Muslim homes as Muslims.
"Children were torn away from their mothers,"
according to Goitein. Despite attempts of family and friends to adopt the
children secretly, "very often the efforts . . . were not successful....
To my mind, this law, which was enforced with new vigor about fifty years
ago, more than anything else impelled the Yemenite Jews to quit that country
to which they were very muchattached. ... The result was that many families
arrived in Israel with one or more of their children lost to them ... some
widows ... [were] bereaved in this way of all their offspring."
Persecution was constant and extreme --
stoning Jews, an "age-old" custom, according to "an old doctor of Muslim
law," was still common tradition at the time of the 1948 exodus --
although the bearability of life throughout the centuries of Muslim domination
often depended upon whether the rule was Turkish or Arab.
The Yemenite Jews' situation changed drastically
for the worse in the seventh century, with the Arab conquest. After the
Jews who lived in what is now part of Saudi Arabia were either expelled
by the Prophet Muhammad or obliterated, Jewish communities in the rest
of the conquered Muslim territory fell under the new infidel status.
The Jews of Yemen were subjected to the severest possible interpretation
of the Charter of Omar, plus carefully devised brutal improvisations on
the dhimmi theme. For about four centuries, the Jews suffered under
the fierce fanatical edict of the most intolerant of all Islamic sects.
In the twelfth century the conditions were
so punishing, and formerly repugnant forced conversion to Islam was so
eagerly sought by terrified Jews, that the "Great Rambam" -- the venerated
Rabbi Moses Maimonides -- was prompted to write the famous "Yemen Epistle,"
in which he commiserated with Yemen's Jewry and besought them to keep the
The eighteenth century was one of almost
unbearable burden, bringing the 1724 famine, in addition to insidiously
varied humiliations and violence. Fanatical rulers ordered synagogues destroyed,
and public prayers were forbidden. Many thousands attempted to follow "false
messiah" Shabbetai Zevi on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but they were
attacked on the way, and the Chief Rabbi of San'a was "tortured to death."
One overlord decided to rid the Arabian
peninsula of Jews by ofrering them a choice of religious conversion or
banishment; the overwhelming number chose to leave the capitals and head
for the Red Sea coast. Those who had not died of starvation, thirst, or
illness during the torturous journey -- for many, on foot -- were allowed
to settle in a town called Mauza', where more casualties were caused by
the cruelties of the climate. The Jews' exile at Mauza' was terminated
by decree in 1781, according to one report, because the exiled Jews
had been the only craftsmen in the country and their work was keenly missed.
The latter eighteenth century, with its
more tolerant ruler, allowed Yemen's Jews brief respite from both hunger
and humiliation. One Jew was even accorded an official position as Minister
of Currency -- he was imprisoned for two years by his ruler, however, after
many years of prominence.
A visit was paid to Yemen in 1762 by a
Danish-German explorer who described life in the Jewish ghetto under the
"improved" circumstances of the eighteenth century:
Completely shut off from the city
of San'a is the Jewish village ... where 2,000 Jews live in great contempt.
Nevertheless they are the best artisans, potters, goldsmiths, engravers,
minters and others. By day they work in their shops in San'a, but by night
they must withdraw to their isolated dwellings.... Shortly before my arrival,
twelve of the fourteen synagogues of the Jews were torn down, and all their
beautiful houses wrecked .... 
Throughout the nineteenth century Jews were
victims of hunger and of Arab attacks on the ghetto, which resulted in
murder and pillage.
In the middle of the nineteenth century
a writer from Jerusalem described the Yemenite Jews' plight during the
two years he lived with them:
The Jews who have been living
in Yemen for many hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years, are now in
a position of inferiority, and are oppressed by a people which declares
itself holy and pious but which is very brutal, barbarous and hard-hearted.
The natives consider the Jew unclean, but his blood for them is not unclean.
They lay claims to all his belongings, and if he is unwilling, they employ
force.... TheJews ... live outside the town in dark dwellings like prison
cells or caves out of fear for murderers and robbers. Whoever has any money
or valuables conceals them in the earth or in such secret holes as they
have in their little houses so that nobody may see them....
Beginning at the turn of the century, the
Yemenite Jews were even prohibited from fleeing the country to escape persecution.
"Those who live in a country which discriminates against them most blatantly
want to have, at least, one right: to leave that country," historian Goitein
believes. But the Shi'ite Muslims in Yemen adhered to the "strictly inner
Islamic legal basis" -- that "a Jew, a 'protected' subject, was not allowed"
into "enemy territory"-which to the Shi'ites meant any region ruled by
non-Shi'ites. The few who managed to emigrate "had to leave everything
behind," and "for the great masses ... the old prohibition was a source
of great suffering."
It is particularly bad for the Jew if he
is himself accused of a crime. There is then no mercy. For the least offense,
he is sentenced to outrageous fines, which he is quite unable to pay. In
case of non-payment, he is put into chains and cruelly beaten every day.
Before the punishment is inflicted, the Cadi addresses him in gentle tones
and urges him to change his faith and obtain a share of all the glory of
this world and of the world beyond. His refusal is again regarded as penal
obstinacy. On the other hand, it is not open to the Jew to prosecute a
Muslim, as the Muslim by right of law can dispose of the life and the property
of the Jew, and it is only to be regarded as an act of magnanimity if the
Jews are allowed to live. The Jew is not admissible as a witness, nor has
his oath any validity.
In one town, however, the Jews became the
center of a power struggle between two Arab tribes: as a result, the town's
ruler loosened Jewish restrictions to the extent that some Jews became
wealthy and a few were allowed to have houses even higher than the Muslims'.
There have always been conflicting reports
on the number of the Jews in Yemen, but because famine often struck the
Yemenite Jews, death through starvation was "a common event." (Thus, even
though the birth rate was high and polygamy occurred among the Yemenite
Jewish community, the rate of natural increase was kept down in Yemen,
into the twentieth century.) One visitor wrote, "Nothing moves the Jewish
traveler so much as the sight of many places where all of the Jewish inhabitants
have been carried off by the last famine. The average rate of mortality
A teacher was sent from Beirut in 1910
to assess the constant reports of travail for the Yemenite Jews. He noted
more than a week, I have made
myself acquainted with the life of the Jews in all its phases.... They
are exceedingly unfortunate.... If they are abused, they listen in silence
as though they had not understood; if they are attacked by an Arab boy
with stones, they flee. 
There were some Yemenite Jews who fled on
foot over the desert in pilgrimage to the Holy Land, particularly during
the nineteenth century, and into the twentieth. One group of Jews decided
to sell their possessions for half their worth, and a movement to the Holy
Land commenced. "In 1912 alone, over 2,000 Yemenite Jews disembarked at
Jaffa." They kept embarking on the hazardous pilgrimage even during World
War II, and many had to disguise themselves as Arabs to avoid being intercepted
and imprisoned. Often it was the Jewish children who unwittingly exposed
the disguise -- when the Arabs tested them by offering unkosher food (not
edible by Jewish Orthodox law).
As late as 1946, an American missionary
reported that a Yemenite Jewish mother and son had been put into chains
for accepting a ride in the American's jeep. 
Nearly 50,000 traditionally religious Yemenites,
who had never seen a plane, were airlifted to Israel in 1949 and 1950.
Since the Book of Isaiah promised, "They shall mount up with wings, as
eagles," the Jewish community boarded the "eagles" contentedly; to the
pilot's consternation some of them lit a bonfire aboard, to cook their
"When I stood in the ancient graveyard of
the Jewish community of Aden -- from which tombstones 700 and 800 years
old had been taken away to museums, and looked toward the natural harbor
where ships of local design were still being built, it occurred to me that
King Solomon's ships, not very different from those I saw there, might
have anchored nearby. . . ."
"Archeological evidence puts us on firmer
ground," Goitein tells us. A room in Beth She'arim, Palestine, "dating
from approximately 200 A.D. . . . was reserved for Jews from ... South
Thus Jews are certain to have appeared
in Aden in A.D. 200, and although the Jewish community seems to have eluded
thorough historical documenting, a letter yet remains, "sent by a Jewish
merchant from Aden in South Arabia to Cairo about 850 years ago. In this
letter he asks his business correspondent in Cairo to buy for him all kinds
of goods for the needs of his household."
That there were prominent Jewish merchants
in Aden in the early twelfth century hints at a difference in opportunities
between the Jews of Yemen and Aden at that period. Documentary evidence
exists that some of the Aden Jewish community was substantial enough so
that they could contribute "ample donations to a well-known Spanish poet"
in the thirteenth century.
Still, the general quality of life for
Aden's Jews during the Arab reign was hardly "golden." 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."
Throgh the middle of the nineteenth century,
most of Aden's Jewry continued to languish under the intermittent persecution
and degradation that was the lot of the Jews in that area of Arabia. The
exceptions were the "few Jews in Hadramaut and its environs (an area which
was known as the Protectorate of Aden)." The Jews in the Protectorate paid
their traditional head taxes to the Arabs but in return they were given
"more comfortable conditions" than the hapless Jews of Yemen and of the
rest of Aden.
In twentieth-century Aden,
The Jews ... always knew that
they were living on sufferance; the local Arab population never harbored
anything but hatred towards them. They (the Jews) remembered that "light"
pogrom in 1933, when a few people were beaten up and wounded outside the
Jewish Quarter, when there was some stoning and when a number of rioters
entered a Jewish house and did some looting.
That reminiscence of the 1933 anti-Jewish
uprising in Aden was contained in an eye-witness "memorandum" which described
the "Disaster of the Jews of Aden," the Arab-led mass murder, pillage,
and destruction that came down on Aden's Jews in December 1947. 
An Englishman who was in Aden from 1931,
and was appointed Aden's governor in 1951, later described a traditional
enmity between Arabs and Jews that preceded the Palestine partition by
decades. His report contradicted others, which blamed the bloody pogrom
in 1947 on outside factors and incitement in behalf of the Palestinian
Arabs  Sir Tom Hickinbotham wrote that
The Jews are disliked by the Arabs
whom they fear.... Therefore, we are always liable to have trouble between
the Arabs and the Jews which might well spread to the Hindu community....
The British Commissioner of Police in Aden
testified in 1947 that "Since I arrived in Aden there has been a steady
growing antagonism between Jews and Arabs ... shown by many petty assaults
and by children throwing stones at each other."
[The Jews], generally speaking, kept very
much to themselves, were self-effacing and their contacts with the Arabs
were reasonably good.... The Arabs consider that the Jews are their social
inferiors and, provided they keep their own place, or what the Arabs consider
to be their place, there is no trouble at all and the two communities may
live side by side in peace for years; 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
The antagonism that was evident in 1933
and more so in 1942 was inflamed by anti-Jewish broadcasts from Egypt just
before the partition of Palestine. The messages of hate were relayed in
public meeting places and helped to incite Arabs against Jews in Aden.
In addition to the Egyptian broadcasts,
"Orders [were] issued by the Arab League to arrange strikes and protests
against the decision to partition Palestine," and rumors were spread that
the Jews had been killing Arabs
The pogrom that erupted on December 2,
1947, was devastating -- 82 Jews were murdered and 76 wounded; 106 out
of the 170 existing Jewish shops in Aden were robbed bare and eight were
partially emptied. Four synagogues were "burnt to the ground" and 220 Jewish
houses were burned and looted or damaged.
There were a few wealthier Jewish families
who lived in an area called "Steamer Point," where passengers disembarked
from the large liners." But after the 1947 massacre most of Aden's Jews
were isolated for their own security and "for months did not dare to venture
out of" the Jewish Quarter. A visiting Jewish official reported in January
1949 that "one felt that the pogrom had taken place not a year ago but
a week ago ... the Jews still live in a state of tension and anxiety....
the Jews still erect barricades at night."
Many thousands of the Aden Jews boarded
the "wings of eagles" for Israel along with the Yemenite refugees." In
1958 some were victimized by murder and looting, and those diehard Jews
who had remained in Aden after the 1947 massacre were alarmed. 
A visitor at the time of the 1958 riots
It would seem that the problem
of this Jewish community is not where to turn, but when to turn. They might
be wise to remember that "he who hesitates is lost." They would not be
the first Jewish community that waited too long.
The remnant of the Jewish community in Aden
was victimized again after the 1967 Six-Day War. Murder, looting, new destruction
to the synagogues-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. The Jewry of Aden became virtually "the community
The Jews of Iraq, too, flew to Israel-between
1949 and 1952 alone, more than 123,000 Iraqi Jews escaped or were forced
to flee to Israel and to leave their assets and communal holdings behind.
The Iraqi Jews took pride in their distinguished
Jewish community, with its history of scholarship and dignity. Jews had
prospered in what was then Babylonia for twelve hundred years before the
Muslim conquest in A.D. 634 ;71 it was not until the ninth century that
such as the yellow patch, heavy head tax, and residence restrictions were
enforced. Capricious and extreme oppression under some Arab caliphs and
Mamluks brought taxation amounting to expropriation in A.D. 1000, and in
1333 the persecution culminated in pillage and destruction of the Baghdad
synagogues. In 1776, there was a slaughter of Jews at Basra, and the bitterness
of anti-Jewish measures taken by Turkish-Muslim rulers in the eighteenth
century caused many Jews to flee.
Just after the turn of the present century,
the British vice-consul in Mosul wrote a report that illustrated the nature
of the "traditional relationship" between Muslim and Jew in a less volatile
The attitude of the Moslems toward
the Christians and Jews, to whom as stated above, they ate in a majority
of ten to one, is that of a master towards slaves whom he treats with a
certain lordly tolerance so long as they keep their place. Any sign of
pretension to equality is promptly repressed. It is often noticed in the
streets that almost any Christian submissively makes way even for a Moslem
child. Only a few days ago the writer saw two respectable looking, middle-aged
Jews walking in a garden. A small Moslem boy, who could not have been more
than 8 years old, passed by and, as he did so, picked up a large stone
and threw it at them -- and then another -- with the utmost nonchalance,
just as a small boy elsewhere might aim at a dog or bird. The Jews stopped
and avoided the aim, which was a good one, but made no further protest.
There was a particularly fearsome period just
before the British Mandate; with the outbreak of the First World War, Jews
were forced to finance the military expenses of the army stationed nearby.
If they refused, they were tortured, and if they hid, they were caught
and hanged. The Jews of Iraq actually welcomed the Arab revolt against
the Turkish governors, and they rejoiced after the war when the state of
Iraq was established under British Mandate.
Some Jews were allowed to hold official
posts; under the British Mandate Iraqi Jews were supposed to be treated
as "equals." Many were writers, traders, and physicians, and some became
quite wealthy through commerce and banking.
Near the end of the British reign, Hitler's
accession to power began, and by the time Iraq declared independence in
1932, the German minister in Baghdad had organized an efficient and influential
power base for Nazi propaganda. Within the first year of Iraq's sovereignty,
the new government benignly pronounced that minorities would continue to
have some measure of freedom.
Almost immediately afterward, in August
1933, the Iraqi army massacred the Assyrians and the Jews began to feel
increased foreboding. The London Daily News reported" that ". . . when
the Iraq army returned after the weekend [following the Assyrian atrocity],
not one Christian or Jew was seen on the streets." By now the increasingly
violent demonstrations over the "Palestine problem" added to deteriorating
conditions for the Jewish community; many Jews were murdered by agitated
mobs," nitric acid was thrown by terrorists upon Jews in the street, and
bombs were flung into synagogues.
In 1941 the violence exploded into a bloody
-- massacre -- of the Jews, with the police openly participating in
the attack. The investigating committee appointed by the Iraqi government
determined that "all these attacks were carried out by the army with the
assistance of some civilians"; the massacre was executed "without the police
arresting anyone or protecting the Jews," and "large British forces stood
at the gates of the city, none of them lifting a finger." "Judaism"
was "a threat to mankind," the Iraqi Minister of Justice declared."
According to the eminent Iraqi-born historian
Professor Elie Kedourie, "...once the disorders started, . . . the soldiers
and the police, debauched by Nazi propaganda, and bereft of leadership,
ran amuck and themselves began the attacks on the Jews." None of the officials
"were willing to assume the responsibility ...."
Cowardice was universal.... As
for the police, the report of the investigating committee pertinently pointed
out that they had no need to seek orders from their superiors for firing
on looters and murderers caught in flagrante delicto. The director-general
of police and his assistants and the mutasarrif forgot or feigned
to forget, the report declared, that every member of the police had the
right to fire in such circumstances.
The number killed is uncertain-.estimates
range between 150 and "hundreds," but one member of the investigating
committee "later told the chronicler Hasani (who had the story confirmed
by the then-Baghdad chief of police) that the true figure was nearer six
hundred but that the government was anxious for the lower figure only to
appear in the official report." Hundreds more were wounded, and more
than a thousand Jewish-owned houses and businesses looted and destroyed.
From that time, Arab documents chronicle
a systematic attempt by the government, using official means, to destroy
the Iraqi Jewish community. Jews suffered indiscriminate torture, imprisonment
without charge, and relentless persecutions. When Iraq joined the Arab
war against Israel's independence, in May 1948, government terror increased;
Jews, who had been restricted to some degree from travel, now were forbidden
to leave the country, and many fortunes were extorted or confiscated. Despite
the law, thousands escaped illegally by paying heavy bribes.
After Israel's 1948 victory and official
recognition of Jewish statehood, Nuri Said, fourteen times Prime Minister
of Iraq, who "ruled the country in the 1950s irrespective of whether or
not Nuri headed the cabinet himself," recommended a final Jewish solution
for Iraq. Nuri Said proposed to the British Ambassador in Jordan at that
time, Sir Alec Kirkbride, that "the majority of the Jewish community in
Iraq" should be forcibly evicted "in army lorries escorted by armoured
cars . . . to the Jordanian-Israel Frontier." There the "Iraqi Jews" would
be ordered to "cross the line."
Kirkbride later assessed the fate of Iraqi
Jews, had Nuri Said's plan been enacted: "Either the Iraqi Jews would have
been massacred or their Iraqi guards would have had to shoot other Arabs
to protect the lives of their charge." The likelihood of the Jews'
protection by the Iraqi guards was remote, considering the precedent established
by the police and army participation in the 1941 massacre. Nuri Said's
solution, then, was unambiguous, as was the temper of Iraq toward its Jews.
Zionism became a capital crime, and Jews
were publicly hanged in the center of Baghdad, with an enthusiastic mob
as audience. Although no laws authorized, the confiscation of Jewish property
in Iraq before 1950, the Jews were stripped of millions of dollars
through economic discrimination, "voluntary donations" appropriated by
the government, and other subterfuges."
An Egyptian journal reported in 1948
that all Iraqi Jews who went Palestine and did not return would be tried
in absentia as criminals. Those who were tried in absentia were sentenced
to hang or serve extended prison sentences. There had been more than 130,000
Jews in Iraq in 1947, 100,000 of them living' in or near Baghdad. Although
some part of the Jews' property had already been expropriated, the bulk
still remained in Jewish hands, while vast amounts were taken by officials
who participated in illegal escapes.
Perhaps because of the desperate financial
condition of the Iraqi government, Jewish "emigration" was legalized-upon
confiscation of property and permanent loss of citizenship. In 1950, Iraq
enacted a law that allowed Jews to "leave Iraq for good." The Jews
left their vast accumulated holdings behind, and within the first three
years of the law, most of them were flown to Israel, with the Iraqi government
taking "a handsome share of the profits" produced by the flights. 
Thus, the Jews-who, according to Nuri Said,
"have always been and will forever be a source of evil and mischief "--
had largely been forced from Iraq.
Between 1969 and 1973 at least seventeen
Jews were hanged in a public square, and twenty-six others were "slaughtered"
in their homes or in Iraqi prisons. As of 1982, most of Iraq's Jewry
had found refuge in Israel, and several thousand had found sanctuary elsewhere.
In 1948, 75,000 Jews lived in Egypt, in a
community dating back to before the Babylonian captivity." After the Arab
conquest, Jews in Egypt, as in other Arab countries, lived at the whim
of erratic Arab sovereignty. One Arab caliph invoked sunna ("the
Muslim term for customs ascribed to Mohammed") to tyrannize the Jews and
Christians in Cairo in the ninth and tenth centuries.  Under the caliphs
of Baghdad life was restrictive at times, and generally unpredictable.
One caliph, al-Hakim of the Fatimids, devised
particularly insidious humiliations for the Jews in his attempt to perform
what he deemed his role as "Redeemer of Mankind." First the Jews were forced
to wear miniature golden calf images around their necks, as though they
still worshiped the Golden Calf. But the Jews refused to convert. Next
they wore bells, and after that, six-pound wooden blocks were hung around
their necks. In fury at his failure, the caliph had the Cairo Jewish Quarter
destroyed, along with its Jewish residents, in 1012.
The rule of the Ayyubids (1171-1250) continued
the demeaning dhimma
laws, and during the thirteenth-century
reign of the Burji Mamluks, Jews were particularly sought out for attack,
with the result that the Jewish population "greatly declined." At
the end of the thirteenth century, the poll tax, or head tax, was "reintroduced
in Egypt, where it had fallen into oblivion," and in the fourteenth
century Jews were subject to "anti-dhimmi" mob "riots." With the
reign of "mainly" Circassian-born Mamluks, "the prevailing attitude ...
was more severe than ever."  In the sixteenth century, a religious
fanatic wreaked terror among the Jews in Cairo. "He regarded himself as
a religious and moral reformer and whipped and mulcted the Jews ... in
Cairo, where the Mamluk sultan Kanush al-Ghauri was then in power.""
From even those scholars who have documented
the Arab persecution of Jews, there are accounts of a "flourishing" Jewish
community in Egypt under the Ottoman rule. Yet Edward Lane's definitive
report of the first half of the nineteenth century, which asserts that
"the Jews ... are under a less oppressive government in Egypt than in any
other country of the Turkish empire," puts the Jews' role in general,
and the relatively "flourishing" Egyptian Jewry, into a somewhat more realistic
perspective by that report's description of Egypt's "less oppressed" Jews:
They [the Jews] are held in the
utmost contempt and abhorrence by the Muslims in general . . . the Jews
are detested by the Muslims far more than are the Christians. Not long
ago, they used often to be jostled in the streets of Cairo, and sometimes
beaten merely for passing on the right hand of a Muslim. At present, they
are less oppressed; but still they scarcely ever dare to utter a word of
abuse when reviled or beaten unjustly by the meanest Arab or Turk; for
many a Jew has been put to death upon a false and malicious accusation
of uttering disrespectful words against the Kur-an or the Prophet. It is
common to hear an Arab abuse his jaded ass, and, after applying to him
various opprobrious epithets, end by calling the beast a Jew.
[* It is surprising that Muslims should hang
a Jew against a window of a mosque, when they consider him so unclean a
creature that his blood would defile the sword. For this reason a Jew,
in Egypt, is never beheaded."]
A Jew has often been sacrificed to save
a Muslim, as happened in the following case. -- A Turkish soldier, having
occasion to change some money, received from the seyrefee (or money-changer),
who was a Muslim, some Turkish coins called 'adleeyehs, reckoned at sixteen
piasters each. These he offered to a shopkeeper, in payment for some goods;
but the latter refused to allow him more than fifteen piasters to the 'adleeyeh;
telling him that the Bisha had given orders, many days before, that this
coin should no longer pass for sixteen. The soldier took back the ladleeyehs
to the seyrefee, and demanded an additional piaster to each; which was
refused: he therefore complained to the Bisha himself, who, enraged that
his orders had been disregarded, sent for the seyrefee. This man confessed
that he had been guilty of an offence; but endeavored to palliate it by
asserting that almost every money -- changer in the city had done the same,
and that he had received ladleeyehs at the same rate. The Bisha, however,
disbelieving him or thinking it necessary to make a public example, gave
a signal with his hand, intimating that the delinquent should be beheaded.
The interpreter of the court, moved with compassion for the unfortunate
man, begged to the Bisha to spare his life. "This man," said he, "had done
no more than all the money-changers of the city; I, myself, no longer than
yesterday, received 'adleeyehs at the same rate." "From whom?" exclaimed
the Bisha. "From a Jew," answered the interpreter, "with whom I have transacted
business for many years." The Jew was brought, and sentenced to be hanged;
while the Muslim was pardoned. The interpreter, in the greatest of distress
of mind, pleaded earnestly for the life of the poor Jew: but the Bisha
was inexorable: it was necessary that an example should be made; and it
was deemed better to take the life of a Jew than that of a more guilty
Muslim. I saw the wretched man hanging at a window of a public fountain
which forms part of a mosque in the main street of the city.* One end of
the rope being passed over one of the upper bars of the grated window,
he was hauled up; and as he hung close against the window, he was enabled,
in some slight degree, to support himself by his feet against the lower
bars; by which his suffering was dreadfully protracted. His relations offered
large sums of money for his pardon; but the only favour they could purchase
was that of having his face turned towards the window, so as not to be
seen by the passengers. He was a man much respected by all who knew him
(Muslims, of course, excepted); and he left a family in a very destitute
state; but the interpreter who was the unintending cause of his death contributed
to their support."
One historian has documented persistent
blood libel persecutions throughout nineteenth-century Egypt-six separate
instances between 1870 and 1892 alone, preceded by others-in 1844 in Cairo,
where "Muslims ... despised and sometimes abused the Jews," and even in
such cosmopolitan communities as Alexandria, in 1869. That such acts
"undermined the confidence of the Egyptian Jews" was the cautious conclusion
drawn by the definitive historian of the subject.
Among the populous Muslim peasant (fellahin)
community, the Jews were not better off. A Britisher long connected with
the fellahin through his Egyptian government job, reported in 1888
that "Armenians, Syrians, Circassians, Jews, are all hated as well as the
Turk himself. I think it would be difficult to discover which particular
race is most hated (by the Egyptian fallahin) [sic] but I fancy
that the Jew or Armenian would take the palm. I mention Jews because one
of the most powerful and disliked Pashas ... is spoken [of] by many as
a Jew, and always in terms of disgust."
In 1890 an Egyptian version of the false
charge "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 1880s and 1908, when a Jewish leader in Cairo
wrote of concern for the "insecurity of Port Said's Jews."
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 1930s,
Egyptian nationalism, Arab unity against Zionists, and Nazi propaganda
fused with traditional prejudice to ignite violently against the Jews."
Often the destruction victimized other infidels. One such major incident
was the burning of synagogues and churches, and other communal buildings
belonging to non-Muslims.
Beginning in the forties, many Jews were
killed or injured in organized anti-Jewish riots, putting into fearsome
perspective the 1946 report that "the general position of the Jews in Egypt
is beyond comparison better than any [Arab and Muslim] country so far.
. . " Jews suffered extensive economic losses when the Egyptians passed
a law that largely precluded Jews from employment; the government confiscated
much Jewish property and "wrecked" the economic condition of the Jews within
a few months. In the days following the November 1947 vote to partition
Palestine, Jews in Cairo and Alexandria were threatened with death, their
houses were looted, and synagogues were attacked."
Anti-Jewish riots were rampant in 1948.
According to an eyewitness account, in one seven-day period, 150 Jews were
murdered or seriously wounded." Perhaps the letter to the editor of
an Egyptian newspaper from a Muslim providesan insight to the hazards of
Jewish life then:
It seems that most people in Egypt
are unaware of the fact that, among the Moslem Egyptians, there are some
of white skin. Every time I take the tramway I hear people around me saying,
while pointing at me with their fingers, 'A Jew... a Jew... I have been
beaten more than once because of this. This is why I beg you kindly to
publish my photo, specifying that I am not a Jew and that my name is Adharn
With the outbreak of the 1948 war, Egyptian
Jews were barred from leaving Egypt, whether for Israel or elsewhere. Then,
early in August 1949, the ban was abruptly lifted, and much sequestered
Jewish property was returned.
From August until November of 1949, more
than 20,000 of Egypt's 75,000 Jews fled, many to Israel. There was
a brief and surprising period under the more tolerant leadership of General
Muhammad Naguib, but he was overthrown by General Gamal Abdel Nasser, who
authorized mass arrests and property confiscation. At the beginning of
1955 the Nasser regime hanged two Egyptian Jews as "Zionist spies," an
action the Egyptian Embassy in Washington justified by distributing a pamphlet
called "The Story of the Zionist Espionage in Egypt," claiming that "Zionism
and Communism" both sought "world domination."" After the Sinai Campaign
of 1956, thousands of Jews were interned without trial, while still
other thousands were, served with deportation papers and ordered to leave
within a few days; their property was confiscated, their assets frozen.
Worldwide concern for Egypt's Jews was
evidenced in 1957 by the statement issued at an international conference
of Jewish organizations:
Large numbers of Jews of all nationalities
have either been served with orders of expulsion or were subjected to ruthless
intimidation to compel them to apply for permission to depart. Hundreds
who have reached lands of refuge have testified that they were taken in
shackles from prison and concentration camps to board ships. In order to
ensure that this deliberate creation of a new refugee problem should not
evoke protests from international public opinion, documents proving expulsion
were taken away from expellees before departure. Furthermore, they were
compelled to sign statements that they left voluntarily. The victims of
this barbaric process were deprived of their possessions.
The 1926 Nationality Code, with its racist
tone, was "reinforced" by a 1956 version excluding "Zionists." That
law was "regulated" still further in 1958 by the Egyptian Minister of the
Interior, stating in "unambiguous terms that all Jews between the ages
of 10 and 65, leaving Egypt, are to be added to the list of persons who
are prohibited from returning to Egypt."
In 1964 President Garnal Abdel Nasser declared,
in an interview, that Egypt still pledged allegiance to the old Nazi cause:
"Our sympathy was with the Germans." Nasser gave an example of that loyalty:
"The president of our Parliament, for instance, Anwar Sa'adat, was imprisoned
for his sympathy with the Germans." Anti-Jewish publications deluged
Egypt-including the infamous "Protocols" -- many of them circulated by
the Egyptian government. When the Six-Day War began, Jews were arrested
and held in concentration camps, where they were beaten and whipped, deprived
of water for days on end and forced to chant anti-Israel slogans.
By 1970, these Jews too had escaped the country. "Egypt," according to
the officer in charge of an internment camp, had no place for the Jews..."
From the Maghreb, known as North Africa, more
than 300,000 Jews have crowded into Israel since 1948. Almost 250,000
of them arrived from what is now Morocco, where Jews have lived since 586
B.c. The history of the Jews under Arab rule in North Africa is turbulent
and erratic. The conditions of their lives as infidels under the Charter
of Omar might have been bearable under a more tolerant Arab caliph of one
region, while at the same time, in another, Jews would have been under
siege, or massacred.
Practically from the beginning of the seventh-century
Arab conquest, Jews were forced to live separately - in Morocco the ghetto
mellah, while in Tunisia the Jewish area was a hara.
Some "Jewish tribes" had lived separately for "reasons of convenience,"
in some pre-Islamic periods, but now Jewish Quarters were imposed by the
Arab conquerors of North Africa, with their "special Maghrebi" type of
madhhab, school most intolerant of non-Muslims,"
and "the establishment of the tariqas, mystical fraternities headed by
Because most of the Christian minority
fled -- those who had not been massacred or converted to Islam by the twelfth
century  -- restrictions became increasingly harsh toward the Jew.
Native Jews were the sole dhimmi
group who had neither the inclination
toward conversion nor the Christian's claim to his European community's
protection.  Although the dhimma
law was amended in the eleventh
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 thirteenth
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 managed to accumulate wealth. However, most Jews were outcasts
who suffered not only the traditional contempt of the dhimma code,
but were subject to imaginative interpretations thereof. Slaps in the face
upon payment of the head tax, bullying, and insults were everyday occurrences.
Rapes and looting, burning of synagogues, ripping of sacred Torah scrolls,
even murder-all were "so frequent that it is impossible to list them."
In 1032, 6,000 Jews of Fez were murdered,
and still others were "robbed of their women and their property." 
In 1146, Fez was attacked by the Almohads, leaving "one hundred thousand
persons killed." Marrakesh suffered similarly, when an unbelievable "one
hundred twenty thousand" were slaughtered. According to an account of "eye-witness"
reports, "On entering,. . . the Almohads tried to convert the Jews to Islam
by debate and persuasion. . ." until "a new commander ... solved the problem
by a more efficient method. One hundred and fifty were killed ... the remainder
converted. . . ."
One of the frequent violent power struggles
among Muslims that especially affected the Jews, the Almohad atrocities
left a deep imprint on Jews throughout North Africa. Those few Christians
still in the region were "completely wiped out" by the Almohads, leaving
the Jews as lone infidel survivors to suffer "the spite of the second Almohad
generation."  Forced conversion to Islam, death, or exile were the
choices for the survivors of the Almohad massacres.
It was the brutality of the persecution
against Morocco's Jews that inspired Moses Maimonides to write the "Epistle
Concerning Apostasy," in 1160, exhorting the Jews to remain true to Judaism.
Maimonides reminded the persecuted Moroccans:
Now we are asked not to render
active homage to heathenism but only to recite an empty formula which the
Moslems themselves knew we utter insincerely in order to circumvent the
bigot.... Indeed, any Jew who, after uttering the Moslem formula, wishes
to observe the whole 613 precepts in the privacy of his home, may do so
without hindrance. Nevertheless, if, even under these circumstances, a
Jew surrenders his life for the sanctification of the name of God before
men, he has, done nobly and well, and his reward is great before the Lord.
But if a man asks me, "Shall I be slain or utter the formula of Islam?"
I answer, "utter the formula, and live. . " 
Because of the practical advice Maimonides
gave to the Jews -- keep the faith while appearing to go through the motions
of conversion in order to stay alive -- Maimonides became a marked
man among the Arabs. He had written his letter Arabic, so that all the
Jews in the area would be able to read it, but Maimonides made enemies
among the Muslims, who also read it. He was warned by a Muslim poet that
suspicion had "already fallen on the writer of the Letter."
At the same time, his friend, Ibn Shoshan,
was "attacked and hacked to death in the course of an aroused religious
frenzy." Perhaps that was the moment Maimonides decided to leave his home
Some Jews chose conversion. But those who
chose to be Islamicized, rather than the inexorable alternative, found
they were considered "Muslims of Jewish origin," ordered to continued demeanment
and separateness. A thirteenth-century Arab historian quoted one ruler
of the twelfth century who insisted that "the new Muslims" wear humiliating
garments despite their conversion. Abu Yusif Ya'qub confided,
If I were sure that these Jews
have wholeheartedly embraced Islam, I should permit them to mix with the
Muslims by marriage and in every other way. And if I were certain that
they are infidels, I should put the men to death, sell their children into
slavery and confiscate their property in favour of the believers. But I
am perplexed about the matter.
In the latter part of the thirteenth century,
"immediately before the founding of the New City [of Fez], the Muslims
in the Old City rioted against the Jews."
One of the cruelest of the "forced Muslim"
deprivations was denial of the right to raise children, "who were considered
Muslims from birth," while the converted parents were deemed not to be
true Muslims. "According to Islamic, law, a non-Muslim cannot be the natural
... guardian of Muslim children."
Many Jews among those who had chosen conversion
over death or slavery continued to practice Judaism in secret. Whole Jewish
movements were developed from their furtive but persistent fidelity to
their faith. And into modem times, the words "hypocrite" and "hypocritical"
and other expressions of suspicion run throughout the modem writings of
Arab theologians paraphrasing the Koran-"saying with their lips what was
not in their hearts." "When they meet those who believe, they say: 'we
believe.' " The converts were rarely if ever trusted despite their apparent
renunciation of Judaism.
A relatively small number, particularly
Jewish scholars of the Maghreb, sought asylum and escape from the death-or-conversion
dilemma in Syria, Palestine, Egypt or Italy.' But exile was generally
unlikely -- the North African Jews had hardly anywhere to go. In fact,
it was to Morocco that many of the exiled Spanish and Portuguese Jews escaped,
seeking sanctuary in 1391. Their reception was described thus: ". . . those
who went to Arab countries endured untold suffering. . . . Especially the
villagers rose against them-saying tha they were protecting their religion
-- and put them in chains . . . part we impelled by their tribulations
to say: Let us make a captain, and let us return..."
While Jewish martyrs had impotently defended
themselves against insuperable odds, most Jews learned that the only comparative
safety was to take cover in their mellahs until the storm had passed.
Fez was the scene of repeat anti-Jewish scourges in the early fifteenth
century. Jews were "plundered" by the Moors "from time to time," as "upon
the death of a king." They were eventually "transferred to the new city
of Fez." But anti-Jewish propaganda was used to incite Muslim masses
in a power struggle and many Jewish lives were taken. In 1465 Muslims of
Fez attacked the collective Jewish community, accusing the Jews when they
found a slain Muslim. "Men, women and children were killed ... and only
a few families escaped."
The fact that "a few Jews" were appointed
to the service of the Merenid rulers in the thirteenth through fifteenth
centuries "ought not to be interpreted" as evidence of harmony between
the Muslims and Jews; according to Norman Stillman's comprehensive study
The Jews in Arab Lands, it was the "marginal" status of Jews in Morocco
-- without any "power base" -- that made the Jews a times most desirable
as courtiers: because they found "no sympathy among the Muslim masses,"
they were "totally dependent upon their masters." 
The bulk of Moroccan Jewry suffered still
greater humiliation and brutality when Morocco was cut off from the rest
of the Maghreb. Although a Jewish elite existed -- one that achieved
intellectual recognition as well as commercial and diplomatic success in
the sixteenth century  -"indeed, there were few [Jewish] communities
in Morocco and Algeria which escaped pillage and even massacre."
The "fierce persecution of 1640, called
the al-Khada," was described by a victim of another assault, in a rare
ancient manuscript; this report illustrates that in rare instances of Jew
insulting Muslim, the Muslims reaped vengeance upon the entire Jewish community
with utter disregard for individual innocence or guilt.
... in Fez.... the persecution
... occurred because the Jews had become so arrogant and lawless that they
went to the Great Mosque, stopped up the source of the water pouring forth
there and filled the marble basin from which the water poured with wine
and drank there all night, and at daybreak they went away, leaving one
Jew there drunk and asleep. And the Gentiles came and found him there,
and they killed all the male Jews who were there, and only those escaped
who changed their religion. And they killed children and women and brought
Jews from another place and settled them in their stead. And during the
second persecution, it was decreed that the Jews might only wear a garment
made of hair. All this I found written on some faded paper, and I copied
it in order that it might be remembered. I, the poorest of my clan, the
smallest on earth, the lowliest of all, Moses the son of the honorable
teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Jacob Gavison, may the Lord protect him and keep
him alive. Tuesday, the 17th day of Tammuz (may God turn it to the good),
Down through the nineteenth century, the Jews'
existence in Morocco reamained insecure and tenuous, their misery often
recorded by foreigners. The Jews were subjected at various times under
Islam to "such repression, restriction and humiliation as to exceed
anything in Europe."
Charles de Foucauld, a French officer who
posed for two years as a rabbi an intelligence-gathering mission, was one
of many who recorded Jewish life under Arab rule in nineteenth-century
Bled white without restraint....
they are the most unfortunate of men.... Every Jew ... belongs body and
soul to his seigneur, the sid.... He came into the sid's possession through
inheritance, as part of his personal belongings under the rules of Moslem
law.... If he had settled only recently in the place where he lived then
immediately on his arrival, he had to become some Moslem's Jew. Once
having rendered homage, he was bound forever, he and his descendants...
Nothing in the world protected the Jew against his seigneur: he was entirely
De Foucauld was not sympathetic to the Jews
generally, as many of his descriptions in "Reconnaissance au Maroc" illustrate,
yet his accounts are poignant -- of Jewish children being snatched, slaves
sold at auction, robbery followed by expulsion of whole mellahs and
Arab enjoyment of Jewish wives; when "the sid was headstrong and a spendthrift,
his treatment of his Jews [was] like the squandering of an inheritance."
In even the "most fortunate of mellahs,
" the miserable physical existence of Jews prevailed. Yet those regions
which the Turks had captured for their empire found the Jews less desperate,
occasionally affluent, and even wealthy by contrast. The wealth was accumulated
through those limited occupations that Jews' political subjection would
allow; although there were exceptions, the Jews became mainly occupied
in trades that allowed for quick departure, and in which they could take
their accumulations with them-namely, hard currency.
The brutal carnage, however, did not cease
for long. Five hundred Jews were killed in Marrakesh and Fez by "Muslim
mobs" in 1864. Two decades afterward, a "savage anti-Jewish" attack
on the Jews of Demnate created a furor in the world's Jewish press.
French rule came to Morocco in 1912, and
brought welcome relief for the Jews, despite yet another pogrom in Fez
that killed sixty Jews and left 10,000 homeless.  Because Moroccans
were not granted French protection in the same fashion as Algerian or Tunisian
Jewry, local Arab rule continued and the Jews remained dhimmi, nonetheless,
their confusing situation -- between French rule and Muslim tradition --
was measurably improved.
By 1948, Jews had become nominally involved
in local politics. When Israel was established, French authorities kept
vigilant watch, struggling to maintain an equilibrium between the Muslim
and Jewish communities, and the Muslim sultan appealed to his subjects
to restrain violence against the Jews-reminding them of the protection
Morocco had always given to its Jews.
Early in June 1948, mob violence erupted
simultaneously against the Jewish communities of several towns in northern
Morocco, resulting in dozens of Jewish deaths. Shortly afterward, the first
major group of Moroccan Jews -- 30,000 -- fled to Israel. The fate of Morocco's
Jewish community fluctuated with each strong political wind: Moroccan independence
as an Arab state was declared in 1956,and although emigration to Israel
was declared illegal, 70,000 more Jews managed to arrive in the Jewish
state. The sultan's return was followed by appointment of Jews to major
government posts -- then, in 1959, Zionism became a crime. Two years later
a new king ascended the throne and attempted to ease the panic among the
Jews by legalizing emigration, but when he lifted the ban, another hundred
thousand made their way to Israel.
Israeli victory in the 1967 war brought
heightened hostilities from Muslim mobs, and by 1982 Moroccan Jewry had
shrunk to less than ten percent of its former number.
The fate of Algeria's Jewish community was
harsh; despite some historians' judgments that life for the Jews there
was relatively calmer than nearby Morocco's, the two were often interchangeable.
At the end of the fourteenth century, the Jews of the town of Tlemcen were
persecuted to such extremes that one eminent historian states that there
is no indication of "how the indigenous Jews managed to survive the period
Even on the edge of the Sahara Desert,
the Jews were plundered and murdered. In late-fifteenth-century Tu'-at,
an "oasis" town, a sheikh incited the Muslims by accusing the Jews of "sorcery"
and of the arrogance of their failing to conform to the "discriminatory"
codes; many Jews were killed and others forced to wear conspicuous and
peculiar garb. This took place, ironically, in 1492, when the Jews were
expelled from Spain and were wearily arriving in North Africa in search
of respite from persecution.
In the sixteenth century, Tlemcen was still
a site of tribulation for its Jewish community. The town was an important
power base and, regardless of who the changing parties to the power struggle
happened to be, the Jews were invariably attacked. Some were forcibly converted,
others were sold into slavery, still others "thrown into prison" to await
their redemption, which sometimes came, but in the form of "a heavy ransom."
The Algerian Jewish community continued
to bear the outrages of local "protectors," even after Algeria came under
Turkish domination. In 1801 a would-be ruler promised, in return for assisting
the overthrow of a rival, to give the soldiers "8 times their pay, white
bread and the right to sack the Jews for three days." In the next
fifteen years, hundreds of Jews were massacred; during one episode three
hundred Jews were slaughtered within a few hours, while as the result of
another carnage, the Algerian Chief Rabbi was decapitated. The murder of
a Jew by a soldier sparked yet another bloodletting: while desecrating
a synagogue, it claimed among its victims more than a dozen Jews who were
An American consul in Algiers from 1816
until 1828 described conditions thus:
The Jews suffer frightful oppressions.
They are forbidden to offer resistance when they are maltreated by a Moslem,
no matter what the nature of the violence. They do not have the right to
bear arms of any sort, not even a cane.... A number of times when the janissaries
[army] revolted, the Jews were pillaged indiscriminately; they are still
tormented by the fear of similar occurrences.... Their lives [are] nothing
but ... debasement, oppression and outrage. I believe that today the Jews
of Algiers are perhaps the most unhappy remnant of Israel.
Recognizing the history of frequent ravages,
one historian writes, nevertheless, that "Algeria was relatively peaceful"'
compared with Morocco, while another asserts the Algerian government was
"most oppressive."' Perhaps the reason for what appears to be a historians'
dispute can be clarified somewhat by an eminent scholar's description of
the limitations imposed even upon Jews of ",wealth": because "Jews were
the only non-Muslims, . . . Jews were the only persons who traveled to
European countries on political missions, and were agents and vice-consuls
of European states .... At the same time, that wealthy stratum that had
access to the authorities ... did not enjoy a favored status with the Muslim
rulers; they were subject to the same humiliations as their fellow Jews."
For the relatively few Jews who possessed it, wealth, that universal symbol
of success, tended to be misleading, and the trappings of affluence encouraged
misinterpretation, when applied as a measure of freedom for the Jews in
In 1830 Algeria was occupied by the French,
marking the end of North Africa as a single political entity. The French
colonization also signaled Algerian Jews' release from their unpredictable
fate under Muslim rule. Although the French culture never was to penetrate
local customs or alter religious rites, the French were greeted by
a deliriously happy Jewish community, which burst into freedom with exuberance.
Jews became prime organizers in establishing schools, and in 1870 they
were granted the dignity of French citizenship.
There was resentment at the new Jewish
freedoms, however, and Jews once again became the target for 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 once again desecrated, Jews were robbed and murdered, and anti-Jewish
riots and massacres commenced. 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, which reinforced compatible Muslim attitudes
of the past. "The swastika appeared everywhere." The massacre at Constantine
in 1934 left twenty-five Jews slain, dozens wounded, and Jewish property
once again pillaged. Muslims involved in the massacre were apprehended
and the year afterward they came to trial, where "it became clear that
the almost criminal ineffectiveness of the local authorities" had facilitated
The appointment of a Jew as Premier of
France further inflamed the Nazi --
incited Algerians. Then, in 1940, the
Nazi-allied Vichy government took over. 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. It should be noted
particularly, however, that Messali Hadj, the "father of the Algerian Nationalist
movement," refused to support Nazi Germany's policies. 
The Jews struggled against the Vichy regime
along with the Algerian Resistance. After World War II, when they
attempted neutrality between the French and the Nationalists, during the
struggle for Algerian independence, their neutrality backfired -- the Jewish
Algerians were hit by both factions. In addition, Algeria now had forged
stronger links with the Arab League, which redounded to the detriment of
the Jews. In 1960, Jewish Agency officials were kidnapped and assassinated;
the historic and venerated Great Synagogue in Algiers and the Jewish cemetery
in Oran were desecrated. Jews were threatened ominously by the Arab
The Jews, a people who had "arrived with
the victory of the first conquerors" (the Phoenicians), left 2,500 years
afterward. The Jewish community of Algeria, which had numbered 140,000
in 1948, diminished within months; many thousands of Jews fled to Israel,
and 125,000 went to France. In 1962 Algeria gained independence as an Arab
state -- one that the Algerian Liberation Front had touted as a "secular
democratic state"; that the Jews of Algeria had largely disappeared was
fortunate, because the Nationality Code of 1963 permitted "secular democratic"
Algerian citizenship only to those residents whose father and paternal
grandfather were Muslim.
Tunisian Jewry, along with the other Maghrebi
Jewish communities, has been relegated to "a backwater of Jewish history"-mainly
because of the comparatively meager supply of source material readily accessible
until recently to Jewish historians, and also because, generally, the Arab
historians understandably dwelt upon the Islamic chronicles, touching only
peripherally the infidel communities.  Painstaking research by present-day
scholars has closed the historical gap. The Jews of Tunisia "existed continuously
for about 2300 years," numbering among them important intellectual and
religious leaders, and, sporadically, prominent international traders.
An apparently paradoxical role as detested
dhimmi was allotted to the Jews at the same time: it is important to understand
the special "otherness" of the Jew even in what some historians have judged
to be the periods of "splendour" for the Jews in Arab lands.
For example, perhaps the definitive historian
on the North African Jews, H. Z. Hirschberg, notes that in fifteenth-century
Tunis, several Jews held "positions of honor." To a Western-oriented reader,
the "position of honor" would indicate freedom from persecution. Yet an
authenticated and respected document of that period, written by a visiting
Flemish nobleman, describes Tunisian Jews as "despised and hated." After
noting the privileged positions of local Christians, the nobleman wrote:
The Jews, on the other hand, have
no freedom. They must all pay a heavy ... tax. They wear special clothes,
different from those of the Moors. If they did not do so, they would be
stoned, and they therefore put a yellow cloth on their heads or necks;
their women dare not even wear shoes. They are much despised and hated,
more than even the Latin Christians.... 
When confronting the fact that the Flemish
nobleman's observations contradicted his findings, the historian explained
that the "special yellow headgear of the Jews" was a mark of "native-born
[Jewish] residents and not foreign traders.... The contempt shown to the
wearers of the yellow headgear, and their fear of transgressing the discriminatory
regulations, likewise indicate that the reference is to people not enjoying
the protection of a European state." Those foreign Jewish traders
wore a "round cape" to distinguish them.
Yet the historian notes that even "wearers
of round capes" were subject to similar "humiliations." The point is that,
through the careful, even hair-splitting research that establishes fact,
academic disputes can result in the spreading of erroneous assumptions,
which have had important political consequences in the Middle East refugee
matter. While one scholar might argue that the Arab Muslims' massacres
of Jews were "not necessarily specifically anti-Semitic," and another might
conclude, from a superficial look at the incomplete source material readily
available, that Jews in Arab countries were "better off than Jews in Europe,"
their statements, out of context, are misleading, and when quoted often
enough, can serve as a conduit to the misconception that "harmony" and
"equality" existed for Jews in Arab lands. Such obviously was not the case.
From the seventh-century Arab conquest
down through the Almohad atrocities, Tunisia fared little better than its
neighbors. The "complete expulsion" of Jews from Kairouan, near Tunis,
occurred after years of hardship, in the thirteenth century, when Kairouan
was anointed as a holy city of Islam. In the sixteenth century, the
"hated and despised" Jews of Tunis were periodically attacked by violence,
and they were subjected to "vehement anti-Jewish policy" during the various
political struggles of the period.
An Arab historian offered insight into
the enormous uncertainty of Jewish life in Tunisia at that time: in 1515,
the "fanatically religious" founder of the Saad Dynasty in Morocco incited
the Muslims to anti-Jewish hostilities as he was "passing through Tunis
on a pilgrimage to Mecca" by delivering inflammatory speeches against the
Jews. He even extorted "contributions" from the objects of his capricious
Tunisian Jews were somewhat better off
than either their Algerian or Moroccan brothers at times throughout the
last few centuries, but the separate Jewish Quarter, or hara,
of Tunisia was not much less squalid and miserable than were other North
African ghettos before French rule began. Jews were permitted to live as
and as such, they led an uncertain existence at the alternating inclinations
of their overlords. The smaller community of Jewish elite in Tunisia was
allowed by more moderate sovereigns to engage in commerce and, from earliest
times, eminent scholars and rabbis emerged from the Tunisian ghettos.
Yet, a historian reminds us,
The success that Tunisia's Jews
achieved in the various trades and professions should not ... obscure the
fact that there also existed ... a large group of Jews of the lowest social
status-the Jew of the hara. This urban proletariat was only slightly less
unfortunate than that of the Moroccan mellah and there were many thousands
of people who were permanently unemployed, the . . . misfits .... 
An Italian observer described the hara
the mid-nineteenth century: "the ...hara appears as a labyrinth
of muddy narrow alleys lined with ancient tumble-down buildings, at times
frighteningly so, with middens of filth at the entry to the house. It lodges
thousands of persons who live a life of hardship...."
When Muhammad Bey ascended the throne in
1855, he abolished the special
tax for Jews, the first real
attempt at legal reform of the contemptible infidel status. The reaction
in the Muslim community was hostile and immediate: the old dhimma law-whereby
the word of a Jew was unacceptable in defense 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 Muslim society had been unprepared
for the Bey's attempt at uprooting its traditional persecution, and the
revolution of 1864 sufficiently intimidated the Bey so that he was compelled
to revoke the new liberal laws. Some ravages in the aftermath of that 1864
revolt are described among eyewitness reports. One witness wrote:
Another disaster to report! Muslim
fanaticism ... unleashed against our brethren on the island of Djerba....
Arab tribes ... turned upon ... the Jewish Quarters, which they sacked,
destroying everything .... [On] Yom Kippur ... synagogues profaned and
defiled. The Scrolls ... torn in pieces and burnt ... men injured and trampled
... all the women and girls raped .... My pen refuses to set down the terrifying
... atrocities ... in all [their] horror .... The governor of the island
refused to intervene to re-establish order; ... the pillage did not cease
for 5 days and nights ....
Another complained of the Tunisian ruler's
The Sovereign of Tunis found nothing
better to do to pass the ... Ramadan than to take by force -- on the pretext
that he had become a Muslim -- a Jewish youth ... not yet 15! He had the
victim shut up in the men's seraglio and obstinately refuses to give him
up to his parents .... 
An outraged writer bitterly assailed the government's
Eighteen Jews have already fallen
in a few months to the knives of fanatical [Muslim] murderers; and His
Highness's Government, far from punishing the guilty, protects and apparently
[* "The nineteenth-century complaint about
the "government's wish to appear impartial" to the world while "masking"
its persecution illustrates the sophisticated aptitude for image making
that was practiced more than a hundred years ago. The "invitation" from
the Arab world to its Jews (see Chapter 2 above) is one modem example of
the continued tradition.]
The Government's conduct toward us is macchiavellian
beyond words. We are not directly persecuted but such is the scornful
treatment we receive, when we ask for justice from the Bey or his ministers,
that open persecution would be a hundred times better. Acknowledged persecution
however, would expose the executioner and his victim to the world, and
the Tunisian Government wishes to appear impartial whilst masking
killers surreptitiously. * ... We do not seek an eye for an eye, blood
for blood, but that the guilty should be . . . legally condemned.
A Jew from Tunis protested assassinations
in a neighboring community:
Nabel is a town of fanatics, and
we must unfortunately record six other murders of our co-religionists,
the perpetrators of which have not been punished .... 
The violence spread in 1869 to the city of
Tunis, where Muslims butchered many Jews in the defenseless ghetto. The
French Protectorate was established in Tunisia in 1881, and life improved
considerably for many Tunisian Jews. In 1910 they were allowed to become
French citizens, though they were not fully accepted in Muslim and French
The subsequent Nazi occupation and Vichy
regime did not improve conditions; the Great Synagogue in Tunis was put
into use as a Nazi stable. When Tunisia became independent in 1956, a Jew
was included in the Bourguiba cabinet, while at the same time, paradoxically,
an authoritative report published in 1956 stressed that "the Jew in Tunisia
has lost his position of middle man in the distributive industry-with commerce
becoming more and more the privilege of a Moslem caste ... 
The Jews of Tunisia soon began to flee
from the extremism that the "Arabization" policy of the government had
fostered. Of 105,000 Jews in 1948, 50,000 emigrated tot Israel and roughly
the same number have gone to France and elsewhere.
Jewish history in Syria began in biblical
times. By A.D. 70, 10,000 Jews dwelt in Damascus, and a consistent Syrian
Jewish presence was maintained for more than two millennia. From the time
of the Arab conquest, the Jews' position in Syria was found by a Christian
Arab scholar to be ". . . outside the community; they were not allowed
to carry weapons, to bear witness against Moslems in courts of law, or
to marry Moslem women; ... they were subject to special ... taxation. But
they were permitted to retain their beliefs and their property, . . . and
to manage the internal affairs of the communities according to their own
laws and customs. . . ."
The Jewish community of Syria became a
refuge for Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. For centuries under
Ottoman rule, it has been maintained, the Jews were allowed to live "relatively
secure," often "prosperous" lives-chiefly as merchants-in their mellahs.
Spanish exiles were responsible for establishing many Jewish religious
schools in Damascus and Aleppo, and more than one Jew held the post of
But in Syria, as elsewhere in the Arab
world, the "position of Jews was in many ways precarious." 
A thirteenth-century Syrian Arab writer
provided a classic example of the durability and consistency of the Muslims'
traditional Koran-inspired demoniacal image of "the Jew"-the image through
which the Prophet Muhammad and his followers sought to avenge the Jews
for favoring Judaism over the "new," seventh-century religion. The Syrian
... this [Jewish] group is the
most cursed of all God's creation, the most evilnatured, and the most deeply
rooted in infidelity and accursedness. They are the most evil-intentioned
of mankind in their deeds, even they are the most ostentatious in humility
and self-abasement.... When they manage to be alone with a man, they bring
him to destruction, they introduce, by trickery, a stupefying drug into
his food, and then they kill him.
As dhimmis they paid the special tax,
and their testimony against Muslims was invalid in the Syrian courts. Jews
bore many traditional dhimma discriminatory burdens: forbidden to ride
a horse in town; forbidden to wear Muslim apparel; forbidden to carry arms;
and "usually" prohibited from building or repainng places of worship. To
those consistent humiliations were added the intermittent "oppression,
extortion and violence by both the local authorities and the Muslim population."
One Jew who rose to the post of "treasury
manager," at the end of the eighteenth century, ran the gamut of the schizoid
Jewish existence under Muslim rule. In the first stage of his ascendancy,
he was arrested, an eye was gouged out, and his nose and ears cut.
In the second stage, he gained prominence "unique" for Jews, under the
tolerant reign of a new pasha -- a Christian writer in Damascus wrote that
"Hayim the Jew ... doing whatever he wishes ... a Jewish person dominates
the Muslims and Christians ... without any restriction ."
A Swiss writer observed at the actual time
(1811) of "Hayyim the Jew's" influence, "There is scarcely an instance
in the modern history of Syria of a Christian or Jew having long enjoyed
the power or riches . . . he may have acquired. These persons are always
taken off in the last moment of their greatest apparent glory." True
to this prophecy, "Hayyim the Jew" was executed in 1820 and his property
was confiscated by yet another successor to the Syrian reign. 
According to nineteenth-century historians,
some Jewish families in Aleppo -which, like Alexandria, was an atypically
tolerant cosmopolitan center of international commerce -- were affluent
and relatively safe. Others, even in Aleppo, who were less well-connected
were "subject to violence and oppression from various quarters." Money
was extorted by officials on every pretext, petty bullying was commonplace,
and one Jew reported that "When a Jew walked among them [the Muslims] in
the market, one would throw a stone at him in order to kill him, another
would pull his beard and a third his ear lock, yet another spit on his
face and he became a symbol of abuse.""
In 1831, Egyptian rule improved markedly
the lot of non-Muslims; Christians finally gained full equality. Not quite
so for the Jews, although some at times were now allowed to repair their
synagogues, and extortion through illegal taxes was officially forbidden.
Muslims and particularly Egyptian soldiers were "severely punished" for
According to reports from the Jewish community
in 1839, however, it was the European consuls who insisted on the protection
of the Jews -- not entirely the beneficence of the occupying Arab government:
"Had it not been [for] the consuls' supervision, we would have all been
destroyed and lost, since the gentiles wish but to eat the Jews and to
accuse them falsely. "
A gradual decline of the Jews' position
continued during the Egyptian occupation. European settlers began to usurp
the Jews' role as traders. Then, in 1840 a general economic slump,
and incitement by means of the vicious "ritual murder" canard, exploded
into riots and a pogrom against the Jews-the infamous Damascus blood libel
of 1840. The Arabs adopted the inflammatory mechanism as their own
and have used it until the present day, despite the fact that the false
charge was eventually proved fraudulent in a Turkish court."' As the Egyptians
were forced out of Syria, a Turkish imperial firman was issued, exonerating
the Damascus Jews from the foul accusation,* and stating "that the charges
made against them ... are nothing but pure calumny.... The Jewish nation
shall be protected and defended."
[* Earlier, similar absurd charges were
levied against Syrian Jews in Aleppo -- 1810, in Homs -- 1824, and in Anatakia
During the 1850s the Muslims began to concentrate
violence upon the Christian community in Syria, and the nonplussed Jewish
community remained unharmed. The Jews enjoyed a greater measure of religious
freedom-to the extent that a synagogue was designed by the sultan's architect.
Ottoman officials revered the chief rabbis, and life for the Jewish dhimmi-still
forced to observe the discriminatory practices-was noticeably relieved.
The French were assigned mandatory rights
over Syria in 1920, and in 1925, the time of the Druse revolt against the
French, the Jewish Quarter of Damascus was attacked; many Jews were murdered,
dozens were wounded, and homes and shops were looted and set afire. The
French persistently attempted to protect Jews from the increasing attacks
brought about by Arab resentment of foreigners in general and of the French
But the rise of the Palestine antagonism
crystallized hostility, and anti-Jewish riots were hurled upon the Jews
of Damascus in 1936. The fact that the Jewish community made known its
support of the Arab nationalists"' was to no avail; Syrian Jews were accused
of being Zionists, and the late '30s were fraught with anti-Jewish violence.-
Jews were stabbed by activist Muslims, and demands were made to boycott
the Jewish Quarters.
Damascus was now a headquarters of anti-Jewish
activities, and in 1937 a Nazi delegation, conferring with its Nazi representative
in the Middle East, paid a visit to Damascus. As a result, anti-Jewish
propaganda intensified and closer affiliations grew up between German and
Arab youth organizations. An armed extremist group, the Arab National Youth
Organization, declared a boycott against Arab merchants who bought "Zionist
goods from Palestine."
From Damascus the Arab Defense Committee
warned the Jewish Agency president that "Your attitude will lead you and
Jews of the East to the worst of calamities that has been written in history
up to the present." Despite the then-dominant Nazi-allied Vichy regime,
local French authorities continued to defend the Jews from Arab extremist
attack, although Jews were dismissed from official posts and penalized
by economic restrictions. The Allied occupation in 1941 restored equilibrium
somewhat, but Nazi propaganda continued.
In 1942 the Axis radio in Damascus caused
additional alarm through broadcast of the false report that Roosevelt and
Churchill had promised Syria to the Jews as part of a post-war Jewish state.
The Jewish Quarter was raided in 1944 and 1945  and the end of World
War Il intensified the persecution and restrictions against the Jews. Tens
of thousands of Syrian Jews had fled between the world wars and after.
The Jews numbered roughly 35,000 in 1917; in 1943 about 30,000 still remained.
In June 1945 the director of the Alliance Jewish-affiliated school was
That same year Syria won its independence,
and the Damascus Mufti warned at a religious conference that if Jewish
immigration into Palestine was not halted, all countries of Islam would
declare a "holy war" against the Jews."' Shortly afterward a Syrian student
mob celebrated a Muslim holiday by desecrating the Great Synagogue of Aleppo,
beating upon Jews at prayer and burning prayer books in the street.
Intimidation by the government was initiated,
and Jews were prohibited from leaving. Jewish leaders were informed that
unless they publicly denounced Zionism and surrendered Jewish refugees
en route to Palestine, all refugees captured would be put to death along
with their helpers. When the Jews protested, the Syrian Prime Minister
amended the law to provide life imprisonment instead of death. But he exacted
three conditions from the Jews: "Surrender all persons aiding the movement
of refugees; cooperate with security forces in capturing refugees, and
issue a public statement denouncing Zionism and calling on all Jews in
the Arab states to support the struggle against Zionism."
It was through such scare tactics that
Syrian Jews were induced to testify that "Jews of Syria were happy and
not discriminated against; that their situation was excellent under the
present Syrian government; and that they had absolutely nothing whatever
to do with Zionism." A member of the Anglo-American Committee, investigating
the precarious position of Jewish minorities in Arab states, reported that
after the Syrian Jews raced through the "45-seconds of testimony," they
fled to their seats amid "murmurs of sly amusement from the Moslem audience
which said, as clearly as words, 'They knew what was best for them.'"
By early 1947, only 13,000 Jews remained;
thousands more Jewish refugees had fled, many of them covertly, and the
Syrian government, according to the New York Herald Tribune, 
launched "an investigation into the disappearance of some 17,000 Syrian
Jews since the last government census ."
Letters were smuggled out of Syria; one
the war against Zionism [which]
has turned into a war against the entire Jewish people.... Anti-Jewish
propaganda is rampant in the press, over the radio and in special pamphlets....
Poisonous articles, full of degradation and employing the lowest form of
expression, are read over the radio and in the mosques. The masses follow
faithfully, since the sheikhs promise them ... paradise.... I am writing
anonymously as I cannot give you my name for fear of vengeance .... "
Around the same time as the hate campaign,
various restrictions brought Jewish economic life to a halt. Jewish leaders
accused the Syrian government of "making their livelihood impossible by
denying them jobs in the government, withholding import and export licenses,
and making virtually impossible the admission of Jewish youths into secondary
schools." Jews were still forbidden to leave the country, and terrified
of venturing even near to the edge of the ghettos.
In December 1947 anti-Jewish riots climaxed
in a vicious pogrom; Syrian mobs poured into the mellah of Aleppo, burnt
down most of the synagogues, and destroyed 150 Jewish homes, five Jewish
schools, fifty shops and offices, an orphanage, and a youth club. Holy
scrolls, including a priceless ancient manuscript of the Old Testament,
were burned, while the firemen stood by and police "actively helped the
attackers." In the aftermath, the Syrian president asserted to a visiting
Jewish delegation that "Incidents of this sort occur even in advanced countries
. . . . " and the Minister of Finance rejected the request for a loan
to repair one of the synagogues so that the Jews could continue to worship.
A bomb tossed into the heart of the Damascus
Jewish Quarter, in front of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, caused
inestimable damage; most important, it reinforced terror among the Damascus
Jews. On the eve of the establishment of the State of Israel, in April
1948, several Aleppo rabbis wrote to a Brooklyn congregation:
This is the third day we are in
hiding. The Arab mobs are raging and threatening our lives. Pray for us.
Act in our behalf before your government. Our lives are in total danger
... help us! 
Addressing its Jewish former citizens, the
government ludicrously warned all "Syrian" citizens that unless they returned
immediately, they would lose Syrian citizenship. Compounding the orders
prohibiting Jews from leaving the country, they were forbidden to
change their places of residence,  sell private property, or acquire
land. In 1949 all bank accounts held by Jews were frozen.
In summer 1949, following the ascendance
of a regime that promised "equality," the synagogue at Damascus was bombed
during Sabbath preparations, with more than a score dead and twenty-six
wounded. The new Syrian president called for an investigation and arrests,
and when a Palestinian Arab confessed, the president promised justice based
on the evidence. But the new leader was killed in another military
coup, with his successor's subsequent government becoming more unremitting
in its severity than ever before.
Palestinian Arabs, many militantly anti-Jewish,
were given the Jewish public buildings and the vacant former living quarters
of Jewish escapees in the mellah: there they confronted their Jewish
neighbors with omnipresent threats, often fulfilled. Such was the quality
of terrorizing that some members of the normally close-knit protective
Jewish community became informers when an Israeli escaped from prison in
1953 and sought sanctuary at the Damascus synagogue:
The congregation was in consternation.
The hostile regime and the suffering it had caused them had destroyed their
self-respect. Anyone suspected of aiding Israel only brought disaster on
himself, and now an Israeli prisoner, escaped from jail. ... [His] fate
was sealed the moment he crossed the threshold of the synagogue. ... A
squad broke in and removed the "dangerous Zionist" . . .
The Jews were kept strictly within the confines
of the ghetto, with penalties for escape as harsh as those of a prison.
Yet many remained unintimidated-those Jews took great risks through carefully
guarded secret routes, leaving everything behind, to escape from the oppressive
existence, hundreds of Jews, including women and children, were arrested
and tortured in the attempt to be smuggled out. 
Since then, except for brief periods,
Syria's Jewish community has huddled together, its collective and individual
human rights and dignity distinctly cut off. 
Jews have been in the Mediterranean coastal
region now called Lebanon since A.D. 70, if not earlier.
Although all thirty-five 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. During the Turkish reign, Jews in Lebanon,
as elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire, paid the poll tax to ensure their protection,
along with other infidels in the Muslim state, and at times were subject
to severe dress codes or harsh legal restrictions."
But life for the small Jewish community
in Lebanon-fifty-five families in 1826-was comparatively easy, until
the infamous blood libel charges spread to Beirut in 1824 and to (Lebanese)
Tripoli in 1834.
With the calumnies came the predictable
attacks and suffering, which were compounded by the anti-Jewish attacks
during the Druse Rebellion  -the uprising wiped out the Jewish community
in the town of Dir el-Qamar in 1847.
Under the early twentieth-century French
occupation, Jews were less discriminated against in Lebanon than elsewhere
in the Middle East; only "a few" recorded incidents of anti-Jewish attacks
marred Jewish life there in the thirties. In 1945, the time of Lebanese
independence, twelve Jews were murdered in the Muslim-populated town of
Tripoli; following the 1947 partition of Palestine, houses and synagogues
were attacked by muslims. In 1948 a Beirut Jew was murdered; in 1950
a Jewish school was bombed and its director killed-acts predominantly executed
by Muslim groups. Money extorted from the Lebanese Jews as "contributions"
often went directly to finance Arab Palestinian sabotage.
Yet, on the whole, historians note that
Jews were protected by authorities as Lebanese independence emerged in
1946. During the anti-Zionist demonstrations at the time of Israel's declaration
of statehood, "police forces were posted" in Beirut's Jewish Quarter "day
and night when required"-sharp contrast to the official behavior in other
Arab states at the time.
During the 1948 war, Maronite Christians
as well as Christian authorities protected the Jews from "Muslim fanatics"'
and offered assistance to Jewish refugees fleeing from Iraq and Syria.
Jews retained their jobs, even as civil servants, until 1957, and authorities
continued to guard the Jewish community from the Muslim opposition's attacks.
Until 1958, Lebanon was the sole Arab state
where Jews had increased in number-to about 9,000-after the war of Israel's
independence. When Lebanon officially began to finance terrorist activities
by the newly inspired Arab Palestinian "Revolution" in 1968, many of the
remaining Jews left.
Although no Lebanese Jews were employed
by the government, and the Lebanese could not communicate with the "enemy
territory" of Israel, Jews were allowed to travel freely, even within the
Middle East, before Lebanon's Arab-versus-Arab bloodletting was renewed
in the early 1970s. But few of them visited the Arab countries of their
The Jews of Lebanon enjoyed greater freedom
than any other Jewish group living in the Arab world, primarily because
of the Christian-dominated government. It was not until the advent of Muslim
revolt-the demise of "secular democracy" in the Arab world-that the Lebanese
Jews became sufficiently insecure to flee in great numbers.
Libya's Jewish community has virtually disappeared,
its roots dug up after millennia of deep attachment to the North African
terrain that is Libya today.
Jews were attracted to the country before
the destruction of Jerusalem-many from the "Egyptian diaspora." According
to Josephus Flavius, "100,000 Jews [were] transferred from Palestine" by
Egyptian ruler Ptolemy around 300 B.C., and thousands of those Jews were
"settled" in Libyan cities employed as a human shield to protect Egypt
from its enemies. The Jewish community was reportedly destroyed in
the anti-Roman rebellion Of A.D. 73, reappearing in Tripoli before the
The seventh-ceritury Arab conquest, taking
fifty years to subjugate all of North Africa, brought Libyan Jews under
the same fluctuating oppressive
restrictions as elsewhere
in the Maghreb. Once again the Jews became a buffer against attack-this
time protecting the Arabs of Tripoli against the Byzantines.
From that period forward, the Jewish population
was, in one city or another, 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
at that moment defeated his rival. In addition to the reverberations
of feuds, disease, and poverty, the Jews of Libya -- then Tripolitania
-- were subject to the "nomad invasions, highway robbery and piracy" of
the general populace.
The twelfth century brought the barbarity
of the Almohads to the eastern plains, and the Jews were severely persecuted
"for the purpose of conversion" about 1140.
... the blood of sons and daughters
was spilt on a sabbath day.... There is not a Jew, not a single one, in
DaJayya or al-Mahdiya, and for Sabrat and Tura my eye always weeps."
The remaining historical fragments on twelfth-century
"sufferings of African Jewry" are few: the above was excerpted from one,
and the following mid-twelfth-century description from another:
... years of distress, oppression
and persecution to Israel, and they were exiled from their localities:
such as wer6 for death, to death and such as were for the sword, to the
sword, and ... to the famine, and ... to the captivity.... and such as
were destined to leave the community left because of the sword of Ibn Tumart,
who went forth into the world in the year 4902 (1141/2) and who had decided
to eliminate Israel .... And so he left no name of them in the whole of
his kingdom nor remnant .... from the end of the world to the city of al-Mahdiya."
European travelers through the region have
recorded the persistence of various compulsory dhimma demeanments
inflicted by the Berber and Arab Muslims, who "despised and vilified" the
Jews. Though there are writers who speak of the relative "haven" Spanish
exiles found as refuge from the Inquisition, Tripolitania proffered something
short of the sanctuary that the fleeing Spanish Jews had hoped for.
Because of the Maghrebi Jews' imposed "otherness"-the
miserable living conditions in many ghettos and the stubbornness that resistance
to conversion must spawn-the more cosmopolitan Jewish refugees from Europe
reportedly "scorned" the peculiar, unfamiliar North African Jewish "locals,"
with whom the Spaniards were reluctant to identify. One historian admitted
the difficulty of "merging the two strata"-which "took centuries and is
still not complete" in the 1970s. Another claimed the "confrontation
... passed on the whole harmoniously . . . with a minimum of communal damage.
. . . [the] diversity . . . minimized." Yet he, too, later reported
the "friction" that developed between native and newcomer.
In the late sixteenth century many of the
Libyan Jews whose ancestors had fled the forced conversion of Spain ironically
were faced with the choice of death -- or conversion to Islam. "Hundreds"
of Jews were murdered during the persecutions of Ali Gurzi Pasha's reign.
The Ottoman conquest of Tripolitania in
1835 brought a measure of relief to Jews in Tripoli and some other cities.
At the same time, Jews in other regions of ripolitania did not benefit
from the Turkish rule; they were subjected to forced conversion and anti-Jewish
pogroms, and they shared the ghetto miseries suffered in other parts of
North Africa. Numerous complaints were registered by Jewish leaders in
Tripolitania. A few excerpts might color one's perspective regarding
the "relative security" of Jews among the Arab Muslims. Regarding the burning
of a synagogue in Zliten-
... everyone knows what the Arabs,
the Cadi [judge], the Ulema were doing to the Israelites.... If
the Governor here had rendered justice to the Jews of Zliten, both with
regard to their cemetery and their synagogue, the people of Zliten would
not have dared to carry out this disgraceful act ... if, God forbid, they
do not obtain ample satisfaction.... the Jews will be obliged to emigrate
to save their lives and their few possessions.
Also at Zliten-
... some Muslims attacked the
house of a Jew, and stole all he had after seriously injuring him.... [others]
entered the house of another Jew, stripped him of all his possessions,
struck and injured both him and his wife, and killed his son aged about
20.... robbed [another] Jew ... injured him and killed a young child at
its mother's knees. Finally. . . at Zawiya Gharibya, only 7 hours away
from here, the Sacred Synagogue was plundered and profaned in every ...
way .... 
Another plea came from the entire Jewish community
... The situation of the Jews
in all parts of Tripolitania is very dangerous. From all the rights ...
we are unfortunately excluded by reason of extreme ill-treatment and persecution
at the hands of the Muslims in our country, under the ... present [Governor]
... who does not wish to ... protect us against the cruel and inhumane
Muslim population.... Last Thursday, a Jew on the way to his village was
killed by Arabs and his companion was injured.... the authorities have
not attempted to find the criminals.... to the Muslims, Jews are of no
account, and our personal safety is in jeopardy and our belongings are
not our own.
A final example is from the Sahara region-
... In these out-of-the-way places
... the Jew may not ride a horse or ass in an Arab's presence. The Jewish
rider, on seeing an Arab coming, must dismount quickly and go on foot,
leading his mount until the Arab disappears.... If the Jew forgets this
or takes too long to dismount, the Arab brutally reminds him ... by throwing
him to the ground.... The Jews of Gebel (one of these regions) told me
that within the last 20 years three Israelites had been killed in this
way. The testimony of a Jew is not accepted and he would never dare to
accuse anyone of robbing him.... Along all this part of the Tripolitanian
coast, small communities of Jews are living amongst the Arabs, more or
less subjected to them.
The Libyan Jews, enjoying the "easier" conditions
under the Ottomans, confronted arbitrary anti-Jewish cruelties, and taxation
amounting to extortion, in most of the country through the end of the nineteenth
century. Jewish religious institutions survived, but the hara, or
ghetto, was at best barely above poverty level. With the Italian occupation
in 1911, the Jews escaped from dhimmi status and the Jewish community
thrived until the mid-thirties, when Libya, as the only Arabic-speaking
Italian possession, became Mussolini's Muslim center for fascist propaganda.
The Second World War brought a great wave
of persecution-in 1941 and 1942 Benghazi's Jews were attacked; Jewish
property in Benghazi 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 towns were condemned to forced
On the eve of the Allied victory in Tripoli,
Axis troops stormed the Jewish Quarter and slaughtered the leaders of the
Jewish community. As the Allies freed he Jews from concentration camps
and the British took control of Libya, anti-Jewish crowds stormed Tripoli
and other communities. Nonetheless, Jewish activities were revived.
"Palestinian Jewish soldiers serving with the British army opened Hebrew
schools for liberated Jewish children," and peace brought some restoration
of security to Libya's Jews.
The struggling community was totally unprepared
for the violent anti-Jewish loodbath that began November 4, 1945. The Tripoli
pogrom was inspired by anti-Jewish riots in Egypt a couple of days earlier,
but the ravages in Tripolitania were even more devastating. Whereas the
Egyptian violence was directed to pillage and looting, Arab nationalism
and religious fanaticism in Tripoli was aimed at the physical destruction
According to the New York Times' Clifton
Many of the attacks were premeditated
and coldly murderous in intent.
Forced conversion, girls raped with their
families looking on-the Muslim gangs' bestiality was directed specifically
against Jews, and only Jewish dwellings and businesses were devastated.
Just one week after the atrocity had ended, an Arab leader was interviewed:
he warned that because of "Zionist activity"- Libyan Jewish Boy Scouts
sang "Zionist" hymns and Zionist clubs were formed -- the Arabs "have become
annoyed" and the Jews must disavow "militant Zionism." In the short period
following the November 1947 vote to partition "Palestine" into a Jewish
state and an Arab state, the Libyan mobs murdered more than 130 Jews. 
Another Tripoli horror was perpetrated the following year, with impassioned
zeal, and the erstwhile unswervable Jewish community began to flee. Libya's
Jewish population in 1948 was 38,000; by 1951 only 8,000 Jews remained.
Babies were beaten to death with iron bars.
Old men were hacked to pieces where they fell. Expectant mothers were disemboweled.
Whole families were burned alive in their houses. Two brothers lost 27
relatives in one attack.... When the riots were raging, the thirst for
blood seemed to have supplanted the desire for loot and revenge.
The precarious position of Libyan Jewry
deteriorated further when the British began to move Arab families into
the former homes of departed Jews, in the walled hara. Where before
the Jews had felt some measure of security in isolation, now there was
hostility on the doorstep.  By the time Libya achieved independence
in 1952, there were relatively few Jews left to take advantage of the purported
equality offered under the new constitution. From the time of Libya's entry
into the Arab League, Jewish clubs were closed, and life, while less violent,
was no more secure.
By the 1960s, only some hundreds of Jews
remained, and with the renewal of Arab mob violence after the Six-Day War,
practicafly all of Libya's remaining Jewish population was forced literally
to run for their lives. Leaving behind everything they owned, most
became a part of the 37,000-member Libyan refugee community in Israel.
In 1970, President Qaddafy confiscated
Jewish-owned property that the fleeing Libyan-born Jews had left behind.
The expatriate Libyan Jewish community in Rome protested the property takeover,
claiming that such action contradicted the Libyan constitutional decree
of citizen equality. Thereupon a Libyan official invited the Libyan Jews
to return to the country, and assured them that their property would then
be released. Libya's "invitation" came on the heels of a new government
regulation that prohibited those few Libyan Jews who remained from leaving
Libya, no matter how short the duration of the requested visit.
When Qaddafy visited France during the
1973 Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War to press the Arab oil embargo and negotiate
arms, the Tunisian-born writer Albert Memmi responded to Libya's invitation
to Jews in a personal address to Qaddafy:
Is it true that you have said
that the Jews have always lived at peace in the Arab countries? And that
you have nothing against Jews, only Zionists? ...
The Arab world had been virtually emptied
of its Jews, and the fledgling Jewish state would bear the burden of its
hundreds of thousands of Jewish Arab-born refugees almost in secret.
The error which may have been made at Deir
Yassine* is constantly being thrown in our faces. Ali, but we have undergone
a hundred Deir Yassines, a thousand Deir Yassines!~' And not only in Russia,
Germany or Poland, but also at the hand of Arab people; yet the world has
never been upset over it! ...
...if you really wanted to avoid having
us come together on this particular bit of land, . . . Israel . . . , then
why did you hound us and expel us from the regions over which your power
Do you believe that the Jews born in Arab
countries can go back and live in the countries from which they were expelled,
before being plundered and massacred? ...
... your constant affirmation [is] of the
unity of the Arab nation.... When you come right down to it, the Palestinian
Arabs' misfortune is having been moved about thirty miles within one vast
nation. Is that so serious? Our own misfortune, as Jews from the Arab countries,
is much much greater, for we have been moved thousands of miles away, after
having also lost everything. And today [we] are ... half the population
of Israel.... And no one has the right to challenge our possibility of
taking in our past and also, alas!, our future survivors.
So unknown and undisclosed are these Arab-born
Jews and the plight they have faced-the camps, squalor, uprooting, loss
of property and security, discontent, unemployment, and what they sensed
to be neglect of their problems in Isael -- that in countless conversations
outside the Middle East with academics or professionals, from university
graduates to blue-collar workers, including Jews as well as non-Jews, when
the question of the "Middle East refugees" is raised, almost without exception
the response is, "You mean the Palestinians-the Aabs, of course." It is
as though the sad and painful story of the Arab-born Jewish refugees had
been erased, their struggle covered over by a revision of the pages of
This page was produced by Joseph
Middle Eastern Political and Religious
Brooklyn, New York
to a friend
Source: "From Time Immemorial" by Joan
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