We all “know” that riots and attacks against Jews in the Middle East are due to ”the destruction of the Al Aqsa mosque, settlements, occupation, oppression, poverty, colonization, theft of land, genocide, denial of statehood to Palestinians, despair of the population and the like”. So let`s have a look at why Jews were attacked with stones and knives (does it sound familiar?) in Tunisia in March 1928.
March 8, 1928
Tunis (Mar. 7)
(Jewish Telegraphic Agency)
A prohibition on football games throughout Tunis was the only means found practicable by the French authorities to prevent racial and religious outbreaks.
The outbreaks followed the victories of a Jewish football team over the French, Italian and Maltese teams. Repeatedly, following the conclusion of matches won by the Jewish team, the mob in jealous rage shouted: “Down with the Jews” and employed pistols, knives and stones in attacks on the Jewish population.
The Government increased the police force in the Jewish quarters and issued a declaration that all further disturbances will be severely punished. A group of French students marched through the city yesterday protesting against the prohibition of football games. The students’ demonstration denounced the Jews. Many passersby were attacked.
Summary: In the neglected history of Jews from Arab countries, 1941 is remembered as the year of the (1/ 2 June) Farhud, the brutal Nazi-inspired pogrom against the Jews of Iraq, which claimed at least 179 lives. But a mini-Farhud also took place in Tunisia in 1941, an event scarcely mentioned by Tunisian Jews eager to reminisce about their idyllic childhoods.
In Tunisia too, feverish pro-Nazi sentiment had spread. On 20 May 1941, the Arabs of Gabes, fired up by the propaganda of the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al- Husseini and the defeat of France by the Nazis, murdered seven Jews on the Place de La Synagogue in what became know as the Gabes pogrom.
In actual fact, the Gabes pogrom in Tunisia was not unique – it was the culmination of a series of disturbances. In August 1940, the towns of Kef, Ebba, Ksour, Moktat, and Siliana were the scene of riots and pillaging against Jews, triggered by rumours that the Jews had kidnapped a Muslim girl. Antisemitic sentiment rose further when the Jews were blamed for wartime shortages. Anti-Jewish riots erupted in November 1940 in Degache and in early 1941 in Gafsa.
|Ancient Jewish community endures on Tunisian isle|
The Jewish community on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba traces its roots back to the Babylonian exile of 586 B.C.E., and is one of the few communities of its kind to have survived the turmoil around the creation of Israel.
Associated Press and Israel Hayom Staff
|Yona Sabbagh in his Brik restaurant at Hara Kbira, the main Jewish neighborhood on Djerba
Photo credit: AP
A kosher restaurant
Interior of El Ghriba Synagogue
Rabbis at the entrance of El Ghriba synagogue, Tunisia, 1940’s. Beit Hatfutsot,
When school lets out, the streets around the ancient synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba fill with rambunctious boys wearing kippot and girls in long skirts, shouting to each other in Hebrew, Arabic and French.
The Jewish community in the resort island traces its roots all the way back to Babylonian exile of 586 B.C.E, and is one of the few communities of its kind in the Arab world to have survived the turmoil around the creation of Israel, when more than 850,000 Jews across the Arab world either emigrated or were driven from their homes.
Here the faithful pray at the La Ghriba synagogue — widely believed to be Africa’s oldest synagogue — beneath intricate tile walls bearing blue and yellow geometric shapes that would not seem out of place at a mosque. The synagogue’s name can be translated as “strange” or “miraculous.”
The surrounding streets include a kosher butcher, a bakery that sells a traditional tuna-filled pastry known as “brik,” and schools that teach in Hebrew, French and Arabic. During the annual Lag Ba’omer festival, the streets throng with Jewish pilgrims who venerate Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a second-century mystic.
“We’re almost 1,500 now across the country, maybe fewer than residents of a building in New York,” says Jacob LaLoush, 55, the owner of Mamie Lily, a popular kosher restaurant in the capital, Tunis. “But we have a perfect Jewish life: schools, synagogues, and kosher shops. Even if they are not many.”
Tunisia’s Jewish population has dwindled from 100,000 in 1956, when the country won independence from France, to less than 1,500, mainly as a result of emigration to France and Israel. But unlike in much of the rest of the Arab world, Tunisian Jews have seen little direct persecution and have only rarely been targeted by extremists.
LaLoush says their situation is “completely different from other Arab countries, where there were laws and policies that forced the Jewish communities out.” But he says there have been times when they were “not pushed out of Tunis, but were shown the doors.”
A suicide truck bombing carried out by al-Qaida outside the Djerba synagogue in 2002 killed 19 people, mainly German tourists. To this day the neighborhood and the synagogue are heavily guarded by police.
“We have coexisted with our Muslim friends for a long time. We share food, music and tradition,” said Ariel Houri, who works in his father’s furniture shop in Djerba. As to the occasional friction, “it’s mostly the hot-headed youth; they get affected by the news. But the older ones are still sitting in cafes, sharing drinks every day.”
Jews had a presence in Libya at least since the time of Hellenistic rule under Ptolemy Lagos in 323 B.C.E. in Cyrene. Once home to a very large and thriving Jewish community, there are no longer any Jews in Libya due to anti-Jewish pogroms and immigration to Israel.
A savage pogrom in Tripoli on November 5, 1945, killed more than 140 Jews and wounded hundreds more. Almost every synagogue was looted. In June 1948, rioters murdered another 12 Jews and destroyed 280 Jewish homes.
Thousands of Jews fled the country after Libya was granted independence and membership in the Arab League in 1951. After the Six-Day War, the Jewish population of 7,000 was again subjected to pogroms in which 18 were killed, and many more injured, sparking a near-total exodus that left fewer than 100 Jews in Libya.
1948: 75,000 | 2013: <50
Egyptian Jews constituted one of the oldest communities in the world. For instance, the history of the Alexandrian Jews dates from the foundation of the city by Alexander the Great, 332 BCE, at which they were present. There followed many periods of calm and growth as well as murder and expulsion.
Let`s go straight to the 12th century. About 1160, Benjamin of Tudela was in Egypt. He gives a general account of the Jewish communities which he found there. Basically, the Jewish communities were left alone. In Cairo there were 2,000 Jews; in Alexandria 3,000, in the Faiyum, there were 20 families; at Damietta 200 persons; at Bilbeis, east of the Nile, 300 persons; and at Damira 700. Importantly, Saladin‘s war with the Crusaders (1169–93) does not appear to have adversely impacted the Jewish population.
Under the Mamelukes (13th to 16th century), the Jews both enjoyed and suffered mixed fortunes. There were periods when synagogues and churches were closed and heavy taxes imposed. However, there do not appear to be reports of murder or massacres; the occasional mob violence was directed mainly against synagogues and churches.
On January 22, 1517, the Ottoman sultan, Selim I, defeated Tuman Bey, the last of the Mamelukes. According to Manasseh b. Israel (1656), “The viceroy of Egypt has always at his side a Jew with the title ‘zaraf bashi,’ or ‘treasurer,’ who gathers the taxes of the land. At present Abraham Alkula holds the position.” Despite the occasional trial and death sentence, on the whole, it would appear that Jewish communities were left alone and governed themselves. In particular, Talmudic studies flourished. Despite blood libels occurring in Alexandria in 1844 and in 1881, at the turn of the 20th century, a Jewish observer noted with ‘true satisfaction that a great spirit of tolerance sustains the majority of our fellow Jews in Egypt, and it would be difficult to find a more liberal population or one more respectful of all religious beliefs.’
According to the official census published in 1898, there were in Egypt 25,200 Jews in a total population of 9,734,405.
Following the defeat of the Ottomans in World War One, the British ruled Egypt. During British rule, and under King Fuad I, Egypt was friendly towards its Jewish population although about 90% of Egyptian Jews did not possess Egyptian nationality. Jews played important roles in the economy, and their population climbed to nearly 80,000 as Jewish refugees settled there in response to increasing persecution in Europe. Many Jewish communities had extensive economic relations with non-Jewish Egyptians, and Individual Jews played an important role in Egyptian nationalism.
The impact of the well-publicized Arab-Jewish clash in Palestine from 1936 to 1939, together with the rise of Nazi Germany, also began to affect the Jewish relations with Egyptian society, despite the fact that the number of active Zionists in their ranks was small. Groups including the Muslim Brotherhood circulated reports in mosques and factories that Jews and the British were destroying holy places in Jerusalem, as well as sending other false reports that hundreds of Arab women and children were being killed. Much of the anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 40’s was fueled by a close association between Hitler’s new regime in Germany and anti-imperialist Arab powers. By the 1940s, the situation worsened. Sporadic pogroms took place in 1942 onwards. In 1945, the Jewish quarter of Cairo was severely damaged. As the Partition of Palestine and the founding of Israel drew closer, hostility strengthened, which was fed also by press attacks on all foreigners accompanying the rising ethnocentric nationalism of the age.
On 24 November 1947, the head of the Egyptian delegation to the General Assembly, Muhammad Hussein Heykal Pasha, said that “the lives of 1,000,000 Jews in Moslem countries would be jeopardized by the establishment of a Jewish state.” On 24 November 1947, Dr Heykal Pasha said: “if the U.N decide to amputate a part of Palestine in order to establish a Jewish state, …Jewish blood will necessarily be shed elsewhere in the Arab world… to place in certain and serious danger a million Jews. Mahmud Bey Fawzi (Egypt) said: “Imposed partition was sure to result in bloodshed in Palestine and in the rest of the Arab world”.
After the foundation of Israel in 1948, and the subsequent 1948 Arab–Israeli War, in which Egypt participated, difficulties multiplied for Egyptian Jews, who then numbered 75,000.The first casualties occurred between June and November 1948, when bombs set off in the Jewish Quarter of Cairo killed more than 70 Jews and wounded nearly 200. As a result, many Egyptian Jews emigrated abroad. By 1950, nearly 40% of Egypt’s Jewish population had emigrated. About 14,000 of them went to Israel, and the rest to other countries.
In the immediate aftermath of trilateral invasion during the Suez Crisis of 1956 by Britain France and Israel, a proclamation was issued in November 1956 and read aloud in mosques throughout Egypt stating that ‘all Jews are Zionists and enemies of the state’ and it promised that they would be soon expelled.
The expulsions followed almost immediately with the Egyptian government expelling almost 25,000 Egyptian Jews and confiscating their property. They were allowed to take only one suitcase and a small sum of cash, and forced to sign declarations “donating” their property to the Egyptian government. Approximately 1,000 more Jews were sent to prisons and detention camps. Foreign observers reported that members of Jewish families were taken hostage, apparently to insure that those forced to leave did not speak out against the Egyptian government.
After the Six-Day War in 1967, more confiscations took place. Nearly all Egyptian Jewish men between the ages of 17 and 60 were either thrown out of the country immediately, or taken to the detention centers of Abou Za’abal and Tura, where they were incarcerated and tortured for more than three years. The home and property of the remaining Jews were confiscated. Most of the remaining Jews left Egypt, taking with them one suitcase each and a small sum of cash. The eventual result was the almost complete disappearance of the 3,000-year-old Jewish community in Egypt. Most Egyptian Jews fled to Israel (35,000), Brazil (15,000), France (10,000), the USA (9,000) and Argentina (9,000).
Following the Israel-Egyptian Peace Treaty, the Egyptian Jewish community became in 1979 the first in the Arab world to establish official contact with Israel. Israel now has an embassy in Cairo and a consulate general in Alexandria. At present, the few remaining Jews are free to practice Judaism without any restrictions or harassment. Shaar Hashamayim is the only functioning synagogue in Cairo. Of the many synagogues in Alexandria, only the Eliahu Hanabi is open for worship.
Anti-Semitism continues to be rampant in the government-controlled press, and increased in late 2000 and 2001 following the outbreak of violence in Israel and the territories. In April 2001, columnist Ahmed Ragheb lamented Hitler’s failure to finish the job of annihilating the Jews. In May 2001, an article in Al-Akhbar attacked Europeans and Americans for believing in the false Holocaust. On March 18, 2004, ’Bad al-Ahab ’Adams, deputy director of Al Jumhuriya, accused the Jews of the terrorist attack in Madrid on March 11 as well as of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Despite these anti-Semitic press attacks, there have been no anti-Semitic incidents in recent years directed at the tiny remaining Jewish community.
On October 30, 2007, the Sha’ar Hashamayim synagogue in Cairo was rededicated by the city’s small Jewish community. Many guests from Egypt and around the world attended the event which celebrated the synagogue’s 100-year anniversary. The Egyptian government assisted with the renovation of the synagogue.
As of 2013, the Jewish community in Egypt numbered only a few dozen and is quickly fading into extinction. In May 2013, the Egyptian government announced that it would be canceling its annual $14,000 stipend to the Jewish community which has been part of the state budget since 1988. The stipend had been used to pay for renovations to the Bassatine cemetery, the second-oldest Jewish cemetery in the world behind only the Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem. The funds also helped to pay for security.
On September 9, 2011, angry and violent protestors descended upon the Israeli embassy in Egypt, forcing the diplomats and other officials inside to evacuate immediately. In 2012, former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi recalled the previous ambassador to Israel in protest of Israeli treatment of Palestinians in Gaza. However, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi appointed an ambassador to Israel in June 2015, following a significant three year lapse in diplomatic relations between the countries. The Israeli embassy in Egypt was re-opened on September 9, 2015, after a closure due to security concerns during the Egyptian revolution that began in January 2011. Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, stated at the re-opening ceremony on September 9, 2015, that, “Egypt will always be the biggest and most important state in the region. This event taking place in Cairo is also the beginning of something new.”
Well, something new occurred. For the first time since the State of Israel’s creation in 1948, Egyptian representatives at the United Nations voted in Israel’s favor, in October 2015. Egypt was one of 117 countries who voted in favor of Israel joining the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space Affairs.
According to Talmudic references, Jews have lived in Bahrain since ancient times. It was also recorded in Arabic sources that Jews lived in Hajar, the capital of Bahrain, in 630 C.E. and refused to convert to Islam when Muhammad sent an army to occupy the territory.
Benjamin of Tudela recorded in the 12th century that nearly 500 Jews lived in Qays and that a population of 5,000 resided in al-Qatifa. Benjamin also recounted that these Jews controlled the local pearl industry.
In the late 19th century, Jews from Iraq, and some from Iran and India settled in Bahrain, beginning with the Yadgar family, who came to Bahrain from Iraq in 1880. The community thrived in local commerce and crafts. For instance the Yadgars became wealthy from the textile trade. Other prominent Jewish families, such as the Nonoos, became wealthy in the banking industry. One local Jewish man, Rouben D. stated, “My family came to Bahrain in 1914. Nothing happened to make us leave Iraq. My grandfather was a trader and when he came here, he just decided he wanted to live here.” The Jewish community consecrated a small synagogue in Manama, the capital of Bahrain. Nancy Khedouri, a Bahraini Jew writing a book on the community, estimates that at its largest, Bahrain was home to as many as 1,500 Jews.
Before the establishment of the State of Israel, nearly 600 Jews lived in Bahrain. In fact, in the 1930’s and 1940’s, there were so many Jewish-owned businesses along Al-Mutanabi Road that it was called “Jews’ Street” and all the shops would close for the Jewish Sabbath. Things changed with the birth of the Jewish State. Anti-Semitic riots erupted and the synagogue was burned down. In 1947, many Jews immigrated to Israel after several anti-Semitic attacks on the Jewish community.
In 1948, many Muslims foreigners came into Bahrain and initiated massive protests over the creation of Israel; it was these foreigners, and not the Bahrainis, who caused the destruction of the local synagogue and several Jewish homes. Many Jewish families hid from the conflict in Bahraini Muslim homes, until things settled down. Nevertheless, after a few years, most of the Jewish community left Bahrain for the United States or England. By the 1960s, about 200 to 300 Jews remained in Bahrain, but once riots broke out again following the Six Day War in 1967, virtually the entire Jewish community left the country.
Today, there are about 30 Jews in Bahrain out of a total population of 700,000. While the community can rarely make a minyan, Bahrain is the only country in the Persian Gulf with any kind of Jewish community or synagogue. The community also maintains a small Jewish cemetery. Abraham David Nonoo, the Jewish community’s unofficial leader and a member of Bahrain’s forty-man Shura, or parliamentary council, recently renovated the country’s synagogue with his own funds. Since the synagogue is no longer in use, the Jewish community had considered converting the building for another use or donating it to charity, but the Bahraini government insisted it remain a synagogue. However, both the synagogue and cemetery are always closed. The government has also offered the Jewish community a piece of land to rebuild the synagogue that was destroyed in 1948.
The Jewish community in Bahrain has no rabbi, so religious ceremonies are conducted abroad. The last Jewish funeral in Bahrain was in 2001, and the community barely managed to get a minyan. On religious holidays, services are conducted in a congregant’s home. According to Houda Ezra Nonoo, “We keep Rosh Hashana and Pesach and the other holidays in our homes. When my son had his Bar Mitzvah, I flew a rabbi over from London for it.” There are no yeshivas or Jewish schools in Bahrain so all Jewish education takes place in the home. Furthermore, children are sent to one of three schools: public school, Catholic school, or private “American” school. The majority of Jewish boys were sent to public school, where much of the religious education was centered on the Koran. The majority of Jewish families sent their daughters to the American school. Most of the Jewish families of Bahrain do not believe that boys and girls should be educated together. Today, most of the Jews who remain in Bahrain are single, as there are so few Jews in Bahrain and Jews and Arabs rarely intermarry.
Ironically, in a region filled with religious tension, the Jews in Bahrain feel comfortable and welcomed. Bahraini Jews have equal rights along with their Muslim neighbors. “When the late Amir (Shaikh Isa bin Sulman Al Khalifa) passed away last year, the present Amir (Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa) called the Jewish community together and told us there was nothing to worry about, the government would continue with its same policy. He assured us nothing would change.”
Indeed, those Jews remaining in Bahrain today claim they feel no discrimination. The Khedouri family is Bahrain’s leading importer of tablecloths and linens. Ninety-five percent of customers at Rouben Rouben’s electronics business are Bahraini and the government is his largest corporate consumer.
The only restriction on Bahraini Jews is that they are unable to visit Israel because they hold Bahraini passports. Relations between Israel and Bahrain seemed to be improving in the early 1990s when a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict seemed to be approaching. In 2004, Bahrain agreed to drop its boycott of companies that do business with Israel in exchange for a free-trade agreement with the United States.
In 2008, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa issued a royal decree officially appointing female Jewish lawmaker Houda Nonoo as the Bahrain ambassador to the United States. Nonoo, whose family is originally from Iraq, lives in Bahrain with her husband and two sons and had previously served for three years as a legislator in Bahrain’s all-appointed, 40-member Shura Council. She is the first Jew, much less the first Jewish woman, in the Arab world to become ambassador.