The Rise and Fall of Jewish Sudan

June 20 2016

In the 100 years following 1885, the Jewish population of Sudan went from six families, to some 1,000 members, to complete disappearance. In an essay describing efforts to preserve Khartoum’s Jewish cemetery, Elli Fischer tells the community’s story:

When the Sudanese rebel leader Muhammad Ahmad bin ‘Abd Allah (known as the mahdi) took Khartoum and Omdurman [a large city located directly across the Nile from Khartoum] in 1885, he forcibly converted the eight Jewish families he found there to Islam.

The fall of the mahdi in 1899 to a joint Egyptian-British force, led by General Kitchener, inaugurated the period of Anglo-Egyptian rule over Sudan—a period that lasted until 1956. It was during this period that the Jewish community flourished. Six of the eight forcibly converted families returned to Judaism, forming the nucleus of the renewed community, and new economic opportunity attracted Jews from all over the Arabic-speaking world.

After World War I, the bulk of the community gravitated . . . from Omdurman to Khartoum. At its height in the 1930s and early 1940s, the Sudanese Jewish community numbered approximately a thousand souls. . . . [Its] members were primarily retailers, merchants, and senior officials in the British administration.

The community began to decline in earnest after Sudanese independence in 1956, and its dissolution was all but complete by the end of the 1960s. That said, relative to most communities in the Middle East, the Jews of the Sudan left slowly and freely, scattering mainly to Israel, the United States, England, and Switzerland.

Read more at Sephardi Ideas Monthly

More about: African Jewry, History & Ideas, Mizrahi Jewry, Sudan


How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad