Saving the Remnants of Jewish Life in the Arab World

Feb. 22 2017

In 2008, Jason Guberman began a project to map and collect photographs of synagogues and Jewish shrines and cemeteries throughout the Middle East, creating for posterity a digital museum of the physical remnants of these ancient, and almost entirely defunct, communities. Diarna, the organization he founded, has been able to take advantage of the recent upheavals in the region to expand its reach even as Islamic State and other groups have been destroying what little remains. Emily Feldman writes:

Many places were still off-limits when Diarna started its project, some three years before the Arab Spring uprisings toppled dictators in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Many of those autocrats clung to anti-Semitic policies. Libya under Muammar Qaddafi was particularly difficult to access for researchers working for a Jewish nonprofit. Qaddafi was notoriously anti-Semitic—canceling all debts owed to Jews, among other things—and Diarna’s efforts to recruit local researchers failed. . . .

When fighting erupted in Libya, for example, reporters descended on the country, including one familiar with Diarna’s work. She contacted Guberman, offering to help him. Her only condition was anonymity. In May 2011, Guberman sent her a map of the Hara Kabira, the old Jewish quarter in Tripoli, to help her locate the Dar Bishi synagogue, the most beautiful in the city when it opened in 1928. After Qaddafi took power in the late 1960s, the government seized and shuttered all Jewish property in Libya. . . .

Guberman was cautiously optimistic that the rebels who ousted Qaddafi in 2011 might make it easier to access Jewish sites. A Libyan Jew named David Gerbi tested those expectations a few months later by returning to Tripoli from exile in Italy to restore the Dar Bishi synagogue. . . . Guberman wondered how locals would react. He soon found out. A group of protesters opposed to the synagogue’s restoration gathered in central Tripoli with signs denouncing Zionism and some declaring “there is no place for Jews in Libya.” Fearing for his safety, Gerbi abandoned his project and returned to Italy.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Arab anti-Semitism, Arab Spring, ISIS, Jewish World, Libya, Mizrahi Jewry

To Israel’s Leading Strategist, Strength, Not Concessions, Has Brought a Measure of Calm

Aug. 14 2018

Following a long and distinguished career in the IDF, Yaakov Amidror served as Israel’s national-security adviser from 2011 to 2013. He speaks with Armin Rosen about the threats from Gaza, Hizballah, and Iran:

For Israel’s entire existence, would-be peacemakers have argued that the key to regional harmony is the reduction of the Jewish state’s hard power through territorial withdrawals and/or the legitimization of the country’s non-state enemies. In Amidror’s view, reality has thoroughly debunked this line of reasoning.

Amidror believes peace—or calm, at least—came as a result of Israeli muscle. Israel proved to its former enemies in the Sunni Arab world that it’s powerful enough to fill the vacuum left by America’s exit from the region and to stand up to Iran on the rest of the Middle East’s behalf. “The stronger Israel is, the more the ability of Arab countries to cooperate [with it] grows,” Amidror explained. On the whole, Amidror said he’s “very optimistic. I remember the threat that we faced when we were young. We fought the Six-Day War and I remember the Yom Kippur War, and I see what we are facing today. We have only one-and-a-half problems. One problem is Iran, and the half-problem is Hizballah.” . . .

In all likelihood the next Israeli-Iranian confrontation will be a clash with Amidror’s half-threat: the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hizballah, Iran’s most effective proxy in the Middle East and perhaps the best armed non-state military force on earth. . . . “We should neutralize the military capability of Hizballah,” [in the event of war], he said. “We should not destroy the organization as a political tool. If the Shiites want these people to represent them, it’s their problem.” . . .

“It will be a very nasty war,” Amidror said. “A very, very nasty war.” Hizballah will fire “thousands and thousands” of long-range missiles of improved precision, speed, and range at Israeli population centers, a bombardment larger than Israel’s various layers of missile defense will be able to neutralize in full. . . . This will, [however], be a blow Israel can withstand. “Israelis will be killed, no question,” Amidror said. “But it’s not going to be catastrophic.”

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Lebanon