Friday, August 20, 2010

Support full compensation for the nakba!

Superb article over at CiFWatch, about The Tragedy of Iraq’s Jews. As always, ORFTORFU is applied when it comes to talk of compensation and a "right of return" for Palestinian "refugees" (the definition of what constitutes a refugee is different for Palestinians compared to any other group of refugees). 

The Israeli government should be insisting that our own nakba is resolved alongside theirs. It might just highlight the issue that any meaningful peace accord will need to encompass a viable agreement with the rest of the Arab and Muslim world. The Arab League and Saudi grand plans so far consist of carefully ensuring Israel takes full responsibility, past, present and future, for the Palestinian issue. The settlement of the devastating wrongs wrought by these countries (in some cases led then by the fathers and grandfathers of the current rulers) must surely be part of the deal. But it won't be.

Anyway, here is the article:

We hear much from the Palestinian spokesmen and their Arab and other supporters about their  right to return to what is now Israel, and their demands for compensation for Israel’s alleged displacement of them, but woefully little by comparison about the atrocities perpetrated against Jews from Arab countries, who lived (and in some cases still live) as second-class citizens or dhimmis, at the mercy of the Arab/Muslim governments throughout the Middle East (see also here in respect of the Jews of the Yemen).  Lynn Julius, using the ready overidentification of CiF with its Palestinian focus, wrote about the plight of Jews from Arab lands on CiF and called their treatment in Arab/Muslim countries the Jewish Nakba.

She tells us that ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab countries began when the Arab League, then comprised of Egypt, Iraq, Trans Jordan (or Jordan), Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen, contemplated passing a law in November 1947 which would brand all their Jews, some of whom had been resident in their respective countries for many generations, as “enemy aliens.”  Their governments’ treatment attitude to and treatment of them was not therefore a reaction to the declaration of independence of the Jewish state and although the “enemy aliens” law was contemplated, it was enacted in their behaviour towards their Jews.

Lynn Julius tells us that
“The Jewish “Nakba” – Arabic for “catastrophe” – not only emptied cities like Baghdad (a third Jewish); it tore apart the cultural, social and economic fabric in Arab lands. Jews lost homes, synagogues, hospitals, schools, shrines and deeded land five times the size of Israel. Their ancient heritage – predating Islam by 1,000 years – was destroyed.”
It suits the anti-Zionists to ignore this ethnic cleansing in their gadarene rush to accuse Israel of the ethnic cleansing of its Arab population, often without foundation.  I shall focus on the circumstances of Iraqi Jews, for reasons which I will explain later, but their circumstances may be said to be typical of all Jews who found themselves in Muslim countries:

Iraq arose out of ancient Babylonia and Assyria and has the oldest Jewish community in the world.  There has been a continuous Jewish presence there from 721 BCE to 1949 CE, which is two thousand six hundred and seventy years.   The status of Iraqi Jews fluctuated, some even held high positions in government, but at the same time they had to pay the jizya tax levied on non-Muslims.  They fared reasonably well until Iraq became independent in 1932.

In June 1941, a pro-Nazi coup, inspired by Hajj Amin Al-Husseini and led by Rashid Ali, led to riots and pogroms in Baghdad.  180 Jews were murdered and over 1,000 wounded.   More anti-Jewish rioting took place between 1946 and 1949.   When Israel was established in 1948 it became a capital offence for an Iraqi Jew to be a Zionist.

The following sets out the Nakba of the Iraqi Jews from 1948 until the early 1970′s when, in response to international pressure, the then government in Baghdad allowed many of the remaining Jews to leave quietly.  Those Jews who remained, only 61 in number as at 28 March 1998 according to the Associated Press, are too old to leave:
1950 – Iraqi Jews permitted to leave the country within a year provided they forfeited their citizenship.
1951 – Jews who emigrated had their property frozen and economic restrictions were placed on Jews who chose to remain in the country.
1949 to 1951 - 104,000 Jews evacuated from Iraq (Operations Ezra and Nehemiah); another 20,000 smuggled out through Iran.  The Jewish population of 150,000 in 1947 dwindled to a mere 6,000 after 1951.
1952 – Jews prevented from emigrating.
1963 – The rise of the Ba’ath factions resulted in additional restrictions being placed on those Jews who remained in Iraq.  Jews forced to carry yellow identity cards and sale of property was forbidden.
1967 (After the Six Days War) – many of 3,000 Jews who remained were arrested and dismissed from their jobs. More repressive measures were introduced, including the expropriation of Jewish property, freezing of Jews’ bank accounts, shutting of Jewish businesses, trading permits were cancelled, telephones were disconnected.  Jews were placed under house arrest for long periods of time or restricted to cities.
1968 – Persecution at its worst.  Scores of Jews were jailed allegedly for spying and eleven Jews sentenced to death in staged trials.
27th January 1969 – Fourteen men – eleven of them the Jews mentioned previously – publicly hanged in Baghdad and others died of torture.  (Source: Judith Miller and Laurie Mylroie, “Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf”, p. 34)
(A sample list of Discriminatory Decrees and Violations of Human Rights of Iraqi Jews, which is not exhaustive, may be found at )

Why then, have I singled out the plight of Iraqi Jews when the life and human rights of any Jew who may remain in an Arab country or state is equally dire?

During the Gulf war I was forwarded a copy of a letter from Rabbi Carlos C Huerta, Jewish chaplain of the 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles), immortalised by Stephen Spielberg in “Band of Brothers.” He was writing from Mosul in Iraq, sited in the ancient city of Nineveh, birthplace of the prophet Jonah, and shared his feelings about being in that ancient and holy place.   The letter is very movingly written.  I can identify with his feeling that the ghosts of the past were all around him, and with his urgency to bring back to the light and into consciousness again the life of those past times.   However, I would ask you to note the following in particular when this Rabbi happens upon the ancient synagogue:

“.. My heart broke as I climbed over the garbage piles that filled the room where, for hundreds of years, the prayers of Jews had reached the heavens. I realised I was probably the first Jew to enter this holy place in over 50 years. Over three-and-a half meters of garbage filled the main sanctuary and what appeared to be the women’s section. I could barely make it out because of the filth, but there was Hebrew writing on the walls…..
” Tears came to my eyes, but I had to hold them back lest I put myself and the soldier with me in a dangerous situation. I had to pretend that I was only mildly interested in what they were showing me.* (emphasis mine). How does one absorb this kind of experience? How do I convey the feeling of hearing all those voices reaching out in prayer at the synagogue as I stood on top of all that garbage? How do I recover our history, how do I bring honour to a holy place that has been so desecrated? I have no answers. I only have great sadness, pain, and loneliness…”

*(This in itself should give rise for concern.  Why should this Rabbi have to hide his feelings about the Jews of Mosul-Nineveh who had been so cruelly treated?  Why should it have been “dangerous” for him to show them openly?)

The final impetus was provided by an article dated 16th January 2010, in the archives of Ha’aretz, in which Iraq urges the USA to give back the archive of Hebrew books and Jewish texts found in Iraq in 2003.  The books and texts were found soaking in sewage in the basement of a secret police building, presumably in Baghdad, although the article does not say. Iraq’s reasons for wanting back the treasured relics of the oldest Diaspora community in the world are a mixture of the mind-boggling insults and out-and-out lies and the usual utter lack of sensitivity towards the extent of the pain Iraq has caused its Jews.  

To quote from the Ha’aretz article:
“….But to Saad Eskander, the director of the Iraq National Library and Archives, it is part of a larger effort to rescue the cultural history Iraq lost during the invasion, and to put Iraqis on a tentative path to coming to grips with their past.
“Iraqis must know that we are a diverse people, with different traditions, different religions, and we need to accept this diversity… To show it to our people that Baghdad was always multiethnic,”  said Eskander. ..”

The Iraqi government could demonstrate to the world that it is acting in good faith if it made reparations towards the survivors for the hundreds of thousands of Jews it has killed or caused to flee their homes, for the billions of dollars of assets it has expropriated from them,  for the fear and terror it has caused to them since well before the birth of the state of Israel.  Until it does this the first paragraph quoted above represents bad faith reasoning.
That being the case, I hope that the archive remains where it is in the United States so that the remaining Jews in Iraq can know that it will be safe and be accorded the respect it deserves.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Shongololo's African Adventure: Part 4 (Cape Town-PE-Jozi)

People say she's crazy
She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes
Well that's one way to lose these walking blues
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes

She was physically forgotten
Then she slipped into my pocket with my car keys
She said you've taken me for granted because I please you
Wearing these diamonds

And I could say oo oo oo
As if everybody knows what I'm talking about
As if everybody would know exactly what I was talking about
Talking about diamonds on the soles of her shoes

After an excellent breakfast in Swellendam, I took the recommendation of the local tourist office and headed off through the magnificent Tradouw Pass...

... and down the Scenic Route (R62), rather than the official Garden Route (N2). This mainly allowed me to avoid most of the tourists, grab a little picnic lunch at a nice country park, and take in some serious port-tasting  at Boplaas in Calitzdorp.

Following that, and needing to soak up a bit of alcohol before continuing, I forced down a couple of mugs of decent coffee with a huge icing-rich slab of cake at a very nice little cafe nearby. Oddly, there was a full-size snooker table in this cafe, so I moseyed in to see if anyone fancied a frame. Now I haven't played snooker for about 2 years, since beloved Wifey #1 buggered off to Melbourne. And it didn't help that the one guy who was there happened to be an ex-pro! I kept the score down to a respectable 40 point loss, though I suspect he was going easy on me.

Now fully sober, I got back on the road and headed to the Robinson Pass. Now this is one spectacular piece of road:

I got the timing right, and made it through the pass as the sun was starting to set, meaning a panoply of fabulous colours and glorious views (snapped with my phone camera on the move)...

I pulled into Mossel Bay in the early evening, and chuntered up the ludicrously steep hill to the Bar-T-Nique Guest House, where I had a vast room with great bay views. I pottered down into town for a bite to eat at a local pub, watched some sport, played some pool with the local talent, and conked out. Next morning, a vast spread for breakfast, set in an atrium overlooking the bay, then off on the main stretch of the Garden Route.

Some pesky work issues arose, so I drove into the rather dull town of George and found a very nice cafe with wifi, where I got a couple of hours of emails in, whilst wolfing down a decent spinach and feta crepe, before finding the lovely little "old road" from George to Knysna, which winds its way out of the back of the town, around some hairy little bends and over minuscule Brio bridges, before dropping back down through the Wilderness National Park lagoons to rejoin the N2.

I had timed my run so I could get to Knysna in time for a little stroll around and to watch the South Africa vs. France match, which SA needed to win by 3 or so clear goals to have any chance of going through. The French had managed to have a massive sulk the day before, and were in total disarray, but the Saffers showed about as much competence in front of goal as Emile Heskey. So they went out, but at least it was with a win.

From there, it was a simple drive up to Plettenberg Bay, where I was staying at the quite incredible Aquavit. Again I had a cavernous sea view room, and the hosts were utterly charming and urbane, greeting me at the door with a goblet of decent wine and recommending a phenomenal place for dinner, Emily's, which was off a small path off tan unbeaten track off the beaten track.

After a great night's sleep in their super-king-sized bed, and a heck of a breakfast on the terrace, I was back in the car and zooming towards Port Elizabeth in time for the 4pm kick-off of England vs. Slovenia. I had time to take in the lovely Storms River, the world's highest bungee jump, and this bizarre bridge to nowhere:

Arriving in PE, I had time for a quick drive around the town centre, which is quite attractive for the most part, then headed out to King's Beach where I met AJ and we took a spot of lunch before jumping on a shuttle bus to the game. Suffice to say there were no real highlights to speak of - England were better than they had been against Algeria but still not setting the world on fire, and the thing that cheered me up the most in the stadium was this flag belonging to the "Gants Hill Hammers":

About as close as Israel got to this World Cup...

After the match, we enjoyed a couple of swift Windhoek Lights before AJ headed back out to the Grahamstown Festival and I got on a plane from PE to Joburg. Needless to say, use of the lounge was a necessity, not least because the entire airport was littered with the paralytic bloated human detritus that accompanies the England football team (or do I mean IS the England football team?) wherever they travel. I literally had to step over one such corpse to get into the lounge.

Several rounds of buffet and port later, and I settled into my front row seat (low-cost was the only option here, it was as good as I could do to slip the check-in girl 50 rand for that and keeping an empty seat next to me). Then a cacophany of "it's coming home, it's coming home, it's cooooooming!" as David Baddiel himself sheepishly boarded the plane. And indeed it would all come home only too soon, but that is for the final chapter of Shongololo's African Adventure. Stay tuned.

She makes the sign of a teaspoon
He makes the sign of a wave
The poor boy changes clothes
And puts on after-shave
To compensate for his ordinary shoes

And she said honey take me dancing
But they ended up by sleeping in a doorway
By the bodegas and the lights on Upper Broadway
Wearing diamonds on the soles of their shoes

And I could say oo oo oo
As if everybody here would know what I was talking about
I mean everybody here would know exactly what I was talking about
Talking about diamonds

Monday, August 02, 2010

Disabled Israeli children provoke rocket attack

Isn't that how it happened, British Ambassador Tom Philips, for whose charm and diplomatic rhetoric I actually fell on more than one occasion? Did the special needs children of Sderot help to, in your words, "breed radicalism" in Gaza, thus bringing this on themselves? Perhaps they were using their motorized wheelchairs to tow rockets onto the centre's roof to launch at innocent civilians, then hoping for a deadly and accurate response so they could reap the media reward of the collateral damage.

Full story here.

I think Dry Bones has got it just about right:

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Shongololo's African Adventure: Part 3 (Jozi-Cape Town)

In early memory
Mission music
Was ringing 'round my nursery door
I said take this child, Lord
From Tucson, Arizona
Give her the wings to fly through harmony
And she won't bother you no more

After a hefty breakfast at Hippo Hollow, I made the long drive back down the N4 to Johannesburg, arriving just in time for the end of the opening ceremony and a massive braai at M&J's place. We watched the first game together while scoffing chops, chicken and boerewors. SA didn't completely embarrass themselves, and Tshabalala's goal was a masterpiece, but Mokoena's shambolic decision not to move up with the rest of his defenders cost them a cheap equaliser. It was clear (other than to the myriad people who had clearly never actually watched a footy match before) that they were going to struggle to get out of the group, let alone win the tournament as some people on crack had been suggesting.

Thus began a glorious few weeks of up to 4 matches a day to enjoy. I say "enjoy", as at that point I had not had to sit through 360 minutes of England playing. The first instalment of this utter misery was the following day, when we headed 90 mins north-west to Rustenburg, which is about as unattractive as it sounds. Before we went into the ground, there was a buzz of anticipation, mostly among people who are drunk at most England games and people who had never been to an England game. 

I swiftly set about crushing the hopes of any young England fans in the vicinity by pronouncing that they would play great footy for 15 mins, score a nice goal too early, and spend the rest of the game on the back foot before conceding a comical equaliser. Now why on earth did I not put money on that?

The Royal Bafokeng Stadium is pretty horrible - reminiscent of a dodgy UK council athletics track with broken signboards, catering that consisted totally of watery hot dogs, and some concrete stands that are too shallow to allow any decent perspective. This was in fact so bad that the advertising hoardings blocked our view of the goal line, so when Dempsey hit a tame shot, it looked like Rob Green had got down comfortably and saved it, until suddenly people started cheering. Lame.

Oh and the sodding vuvuzelas. Like having bees actually build their hive in your skull.

On the Sunday I headed to OR Tambo and ensconced myself in the BA lounge, which is surprisingly delightful, and looks after the funny little mini-BA operation that runs in South Africa. Top marks for the cheese cake and some excellent triple-distilled local brandy which I supped whilst lounging on a nice sofa watching Ghana continue the trend of Africans who promise much but never seem to finish anything off. At football. Not making a general slur here.

One courtesy upgrade (classic BA trick of moving the curtain back one row and leaving the middle seat empty) later, 2 hours of light snacking, and I landed in Cape Town where Dr Blond awaited. But what is this? Pissing rain? I did not sign up for that.

Luckily it did clear up for a scenic drive up Table Mountain:

A week in Cape Town passes pretty quickly, especially in the esteemed company of one of the great Jewish theologian-philosophers of our generation:

Or at least that's what Dr Blond said to me when I left.

I fitted in all the standard stuff - Robben Island, Waterfront, drive along the bays down to Cape Point with the delicious Vanessa, via some serious prawnage at Hout Bay, and back via some rather odd fish and chips at Kalk Bay, mooch around Long Street on game night, and hang out in Italian bars with Knuffelgirl:

Cape Town has that same blessing as Sydney - topographical porn. It just never gets boring when from almost any vantage point, there is a delightful combination of rugged coastline and jagged mountain to look at. Much the same as Joburg, I felt pretty unthreatened most of the time, with the most tense moment being at the end of the dreary England-Algeria game, when some England "fans" near us set upon a guy wearing a clown wig that they didn't find very amusing.

Particular culinary mentions need to go out to Dr Blond's amazing soup, the kilo of prawns at Hout Bay, and a sweet restaurant, wine bar and boutique hotel complex, the Cape Heritage Hotel. After a week of such delights, I waddled into the car and headed out for what is known as the Scenic Route via a late afternoon potter through Stellenbosch (wine heaven) and Franschhoek (food heaven).

I wound up at about 10pm in Swellendam, staying at a quaint and rather lovely B&B called The Hideaway. I stayed in the Queen Elizabeth Suite, complete with four-poster bed (pre-warmed by my lovely hostess), Cadbury's hot chocolate, and a jar of the most spectacular home-made shortbreads. In the morning I stumbled out of bed to a sumptuous mountain view, and took breakfast overlooking the lawn with a nice couple who were FCO bods based in Cairo but pretty much wishing they were in Tel Aviv.

The Garden Route officially begins just east of Swellendam at Heidelberg, and there begins Part 4 of Shongololo's African Adventure...

(a-wa) o kodwa u zo-nge li-sa namhlange
(a-wa a-wa) si-bona kwenze ka kanjani
(a-wa a-wa) amanto mbazane ayeza
She's a rich girl
She don't try to hide it
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes

He's a poor boy
Empty as a pocket
Empty as a pocket with nothing to lose
Sing ta na na
Ta na na na
She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes
She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes