Ideas and reminiscences of the Jews of Lebanon and the Close to East

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Ideas and reminiscences of the Jews of Lebanon and the Close to East

In November 1994, I printed an eight-part sequence of articles concerning the historical past of the Jews within the Arab world in Asharq Al-Awsat, a sister publication of Arab Information. That sequence was appreciated by many however criticized by some, together with a veteran Arab journalist who questioned why I wrote one thing about “our enemies,” and what was the purpose of “realizing something about them.”

This perspective I discovered a little bit unusual from somebody who, not like me, will need to have recognized many Jews previous to the institution of Israel. I can recognize that individuals who had been born after 1948, and opened their eyes on politics within the 1960s and 1970s, might really feel anger and bitterness towards Israel; much less so towards the Jews as a folks.

Nonetheless, for individuals who had been adults earlier than 1948, I anticipated many would have totally different narratives, if not totally different emotions.

In Lebanon, the place I used to be born and lived till 1977, I recall chats with my father and maternal grandfather concerning the historical past of our village and the Shouf District in Mount Lebanon province. From their reminiscing, I discovered that, within the early 20th century, two Jewish silversmiths had lived in my village. They by no means recalled their surnames, however they had been recognized within the village because the “Jewish” Amin and Saleem. They lived in peace with their neighbors for years.

The story of Dawood Bakhkhour (Bikhor) was totally different. I knew him personally and do not forget that he lived in a neighboring village till the 1970s. I additionally keep in mind his spouse, who predeceased him and was the main make-up woman for the brides of our district within the days earlier than magnificence salons.

After the passing of his spouse, Dawood grew to become the one Jew dwelling in that village, or certainly the entire district. Neither his look — together with his “sherwal” and felt cap — nor his accent distinguished him from different villagers of his age group. His spouse, so far as I can recall, got here from a special background. She was a red-cheeked blonde woman with a definite Damascene accent.

Years after her dying, my mom advised me concerning the day Mrs. Bakhkhour came around my grandmother (her mom) and advised her that the spouse of Damascus’ chief rabbi was passing by way of our village on her solution to go to the spouse of Sidon’s chief rabbi. She then kindly requested if my grandmother would honor her by welcoming the rabbi’s spouse, including: “I shall be proud to introduce her to the respectable households whose properties I frequent.” The go to passed off, to the good delight of Mrs. Bakhkhour.

The founding of Israel by non-Arab Jews brought on the preliminary injury to the belief and goodwill that had lengthy existed between Arab Jews and their compatriots.

Eyad Abu Shakra

In a while, I acquired to know extra concerning the Jews of Beirut. I keep in mind there have been fellow college students on the college from the Attiyeh and Mezrib households. Many main retailers in downtown Beirut had been Jewish, particularly in Souq Al-Bazarkan and Bab Idriss on the street instantly behind the imposing Beirut municipality constructing, popularly referred to as “Wara Al-Baladiyyeh” (behind the municipality). Among the many main names had been Safdie, Qatri, Isaac and Menahem Saad, Isaac Panjel, Hakim-Dwek, Politi, Picciotto, and lots of others.

Moreover, the bus journey between the Nationwide Museum — a stone’s throw from our dwelling in east Beirut — to Ras Beirut within the western a part of the town handed by two Jewish landmarks. The primary was a cease close to the Jewish cemetery overlooking Damascus Street (Tariq Al-Sham) in Ras Al-Naba’ neighborhood, whereas the opposite was in Georges-Picot Road, which is the northern boundary of Wadi Abu Jamil, Beirut’s Jewish neighborhood. The return route eastward handed by way of France Road within the southern a part of Wadi Abu Jamil, the place I recall a bus cease close to Selim Tarrab College.

These days had been reduce quick by the Lebanese Civil Struggle, which drove me to depart Lebanon and reside in first Saudi Arabia, then the UK.

Within the UK, and later throughout my frequent travels to the US, I met many Jews from Lebanon and different Arab nations. In London, I knew a college colleague from the distinguished Sudanese El-Eini household, in addition to two distinguished Iraqi Jews, Meir Basri and Yeheskel Kojaman (Hasqeel Qojman), who wrote useful books about Iraq and its historical past, tradition and music. They had been all proud to profess their Sudanese and Iraqi identities.

Rosa El-Eini didn’t reside in Sudan, however she advised me that her household by no means selected to depart Khartoum, as they had been effectively to do there. Nonetheless, they grew to become apprehensive about their security after the 1967 battle and the following Khartoum Arab League summit, which rejected any form of dialogue with and recognition of Israel. Feeling threatened, they left for the UK, the place they resided in Sussex.

Basri and Kojaman belonged to a special technology. They had been lively members of the social, enterprise and political circles of Baghdad. They spoke excellent Arabic, Basri loved classical Arabic poetry and literature, and Kojaman — an lively anti-Zionist communist — wrote spectacular works about Iraqi music and the Iraqi Jews’ contributions to it.

The same attachment to Arab roots I found in Prof. Jack Sasson, who I met within the US when he taught Close to Jap classics on the College of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, later becoming a member of Vanderbilt College. Sasson is at the start a proud Syrian. He enjoys talking in Arabic with any Arab he meets. He was born in Aleppo, leaving for Beirut solely within the late 1940s after the troubles that badly affected the previously distinguished Jewish neighborhood there. He then left Beirut for the US, the place he nonetheless lives now, however by no means forgetting his roots as a Syrian and as a Jew.

He stated: “I’m happy with my Syrian heritage, proud to be Syrian and Aleppine. Each time I attended conferences and was launched to my Arab hosts or colleagues, they might mechanically speak to me in English. Nonetheless, I all the time stopped them quick by saying: Please, I’m Syrian and converse Arabic.”

In conclusion, I might say that the founding of Israel by non-Arab Jews brought on the preliminary injury to the belief and goodwill that had lengthy existed between Arab Jews and their compatriots. Arab Jews had been by no means on the forefront of the Zionist motion. They had been both already dwelling within the Close to East or had been pushed to North Africa throughout the “Reconquista,” along with Muslims from Iberia. In Morocco, they had been really protected and felt protected. Moreover, they had been already dwelling with fellow Semites, so the notion of anti-Semitism that appeared in Europe didn’t apply to them.

Nonetheless, the 1948 and 1967 defeats, which fueled nationalist fervor and later guerrilla resistance actions, drove the entire area right into a vicious circle of mistrust, dehumanization and demonization, which has weakened all voices of moderation and helped extremists on either side of the Arab-Israeli battle.

  • Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @eyad1949

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers on this part are their very own and don’t essentially replicate Arab Information’ point-of-view

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