The United Arab Emirates’ Lone Synagogue Hesitantly Comes out of the Shadows

For ten years, Jews in the emirate of Dubai have gathered in a building known as “the villa,” where they have a small synagogue—oriented so that the congregants face northwest, in the direction of Jerusalem, when they pray. But until this week the community’s existence was a closely guarded secret, and its leaders agreed to speak with the press only on the condition that the villa’s location be kept secret. Miriam Herschlag writes:

The villa [is] a converted residence the community rents, with a sanctuary, full kitchen, areas for adults to socialize and for children to play, an outdoor pool, and several rooms upstairs where religiously observant visitors can stay for Shabbat.

Since its formation in 2008, the community has been vigilant in maintaining a low profile. No dedicated website. No listing on Jewish travel sites. Almost no mentions on social media. Visitors learn about it via word of mouth, and the villa’s address is supplied only after a careful vetting.

The cover of the synagogue’s Torah scroll states that it has been “dedicated in honor of His Excellency Mohamed Ali Alabbar”:

Mohamed Alabbar is the chairman of Emaar Properties, one of the world’s largest real estate-development companies. . . . Alabbar and his business are intimately entwined with the UAE government. He also has a close friendship with an Orthodox Jew from New York. [Alabbar’s] patronage affords the community a modicum of security. At the same time, Jewish residents exercise prudence in the Islamic city-state, which has long considered Israel an enemy, and where just a few years ago Saudi-trained imams preached anti-Israel diatribes until the government expelled them.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Jewish World, Middle East, Synagogues, United Arab Emirates

 

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