The Cultural Heritage of Middle Eastern Jews is Theirs, Not Iraq’s and Not Yemen’s

In accordance with a 2004 act of Congress, the massive archive of stolen Jewish books, documents, and artifacts that had long been in the possession of Saddam Hussein’s government—and is now in the U.S.—will be handed over to the current Iraqi government in September. Memoranda of understanding between Washington and the respective governments of Syria, Libya, and Egypt could concede the same rights to those countries as well. Carole Basri and David Dangoor want to ensure that Mizraḥi Jews don’t lose their communities’ treasures:

At the beginning of the last century, nearly one-million Jews lived in the Middle East and North Africa. Living in what is today known as the “Arab world,” these Jews had preceded Islam and the Arab presence in much of the region by around a millennium.

However, this all came to an end during the middle and latter part of the last century when these indigenous communities were forcibly expelled en masse, leaving no more than a few tens of Jews left in the Middle East outside of Israel.

In May 2003, with the Jewish community long since being forced to flee—leaving their assets and property, personal and communal, behind—more than 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents, records, and religious artifacts were discovered in the flooded basement of the Iraqi intelligence headquarters by a U.S. army team. This archive is a testament to the 2,600-year-old Iraqi Jewish community. As a result of their poor and neglected state, the archives came to the United States to be preserved, catalogued, and digitized, and have been on exhibit in a variety of cities for several years. Now, against the will and objections of the Iraqi Jewish diaspora, the U.S. government is preparing to ship the archives back [to Iraq], where its original and legal owners will never have access to or even be able to see it. . . .

On January 31, the International Council of Museums (“ICOM”) announced the release of a [document know as a] Red List for Yemen. The Red List directly targets Hebrew manuscripts and Torah finials, while reaffirming the Yemeni government’s claims to Jewish property. . . . Frequently, issuing a Red List is the first step in a process to hold public hearings and, ultimately, pass memoranda of understanding between the United States and foreign governments (like Yemen) that blockade art and cultural property, and deny U.S. citizens the rights to their historic heritage. . . .

The Iraqi Jewish Archives should be returned to its private and communal Iraqi Jewish owners, who were never consulted on the expropriation of their property or on the agreement made between the United States and Iraq on the return of their property to Iraq.

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More about: Iraqi Jewish Archive, Iraqi Jewry, Jewish World, Mizrahi Jewry, Yemenite Jewry

 

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat