"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Last Notes and Lessons Learned from Stories of Jews in Muslim Lands

Last notes from In Ishmael's House: A History of the Jews in Muslim Lands by Martin Gilbert.

I finished the book! Ah, what an interesting read.  Definitely a side of the story I'd never heard especially the part pertaining to how the Jews were treated in Muslim lands leading up to and after Israel was created. What a mess!  Several times I got the impression that Arabs were simply frustrated at the British presence (like in Egypt) and angered by the creation of Israel so they took out their hostility on the local Jews. It is no different than Americans' mistreatment of Japanese living in the United States during World War II and blaming American Muslims for the sins of Al Qaeda or a rogue Muslim extremist. Or even our bombing of Iraq for what 19 mostly Saudi nationals did on 9/11. It's sad that the human race is such that we take out our wrath on innocent people when we feel injustice has taken place and we are lusting for revenge or dignity or whatever term we use to justify "making someone pay!"

Yesterday's post left off with Iraq and since then I've read about Egypt and the 1954 Lavon Affair in which the Israeli intelligence agency along with at least one Israeli Government Minister tried to implicate the Muslim Brotherhood in acts of terror!  "The plan was to have Israeli agents explode bombs against Egyptian, American and British targets while at the same time making the attacks look like a Muslim Brotherhood operation."  (pg. 253)  I suppose you can guess that this plan's failure only increased the difficulty for Egyptian Jews.

Oh, and also in my last post I talked about the Arab mistreatment of Jews only bolstered Israel, right?  If his stats are correct, the author states around 75% of the immigrants to Israel were from Muslim countries and not Europe where (I am assuming) the root of the problem started!  Weird how that works.  Interesting tidbit: even though the white, 'westernized' Jews make up only around a quarter of the Jewish population in Israel, most all of the big-time leaders have been from this group. The author said the Ashkenazis often looked at Jews from Arab countries - the Sephardi - as "primitive" and "fit mainly for manual labour and domestic service."  (pg. 311)  Racism exists from Jews towards Jews. Imagine.

Also I wondered yesterday why Arab countries would allow so many Jews to leave for Israel. Well continuing the book, I found not all of them did. Syria, for example, basically trapped their Jewish population for decades.  Finally in the 1990s after much international pressure, President Hafez al-Assad agreed that "all 3,886 Jews in Syria were free to leave -- for anywhere but Israel."  (pg. 308)  Some Arab countries were similar in not allowing travel to Israel while others like Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco seemed fine with it.

The last chapter discussed the roughly 50,000 Jews still living in Muslim lands today. Many of those are in Iran, by the way. (Jews in Persia predate Christianity and Islam.) The ones that made me smile most were stories of the one Afghan Jew who stays because he wants to represent the Jewish culture that was there for a thousand years and the three Jews, the Pinchas family, in Kamishli, Syria.  Also I think it's cute that two Jews are registered to vote in Sidon, Lebanon.


Here are two final stories I wanted to share.  One good, one bad. They represent to me much of the last half of the book which dealt with quite a bit more of modern Jewish/Muslim history than I recall from Zachary Karabell's book last year.  (Karabell seemed to detail more of the older history while this book dealt more with modern times.)

After some problems in Egypt between the Muslims who took out their anger for the creation of the State of Israel on local Jews ...

"In spite of the return to order, an Egyptian Arab wrote a revealing letter to the Bourse Ć©gyptienne newspaper on July 22: 'It would seem that most people in Egypt are unaware of the fact that among Egyptian Moslems there are some who have white skin,' he wrote.  'Every time I board a tram I see people pointing at me and saying "Jew, Jew."  I have been beaten more than once because of this.  For that reason I humbly beg that my picture (enclosed) be published with an explanation that I am not Jewish and that my name is Adham Mustafa Galeb.'"  (pg. 225)

YET ...

"Amidst all the political turmoil, incitement and violence, relations between Muslims and Jew were still possible.  In the Aboukir internment camp, Egyptian-born Abraham Matalon met the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria, who had also been imprisoned.  'At first,' Matalon remembered later, 'I didn't know he was a member. We embraced, and we started meeting every day.  He said he wanted to learn Hebrew, and I wanted to learn Koran, so this is how we spent our time. I wanted to have a dialogue with the Muslims, and they loved me for it!  I did the call to prayer in the camp and the soldiers admired it, they even answered me.  And they knew I was a Zionist, but they did not manifest any attitudes against me. They said we are friends in life. When you come to talk to your enemy, you see that he is a different person, you can see his human side."  (pg.221)

Perhaps we can learn lessons from the stories I shared from this book.  Thoughts?


Becky said...

I had NO idea about the racism amongst the Jews in Israel itself. Although I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. I also didn't realize that so many Arabs settled in the few years before Israel was declared a Jewish state. Only muddles the issue even more :(

As for the Palestine issue, I'm hoping that maybe one day there will be something approaching peace, like what happened in Northern Ireland. Maybe. God willing.

Susanne said...

And in the book I just finished this week, the Jewish author mentions Sephardim racism towards Ashkenzis when they all lived together in Europe, I believe. I just shake my head and think "you reap what you sow?"

Thanks for your feedback!