[Marxism] Re: Nasrallah interview (and Jews in Lebanon)

Michael Karadjis mkaradjis at theplanet.net.au
Thu Aug 17 23:40:00 MDT 2006

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Yoshie Furuhashi" <critical.montages at gmail.com>
To: "Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition"
<marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>
Sent: Friday, August 18, 2006 12:09 PM
Subject: Re: [Marxism] Re: Nasrallah interview (or,

>> What if
>> anything does Hezbollah's programme say about Lebanese Jews (i've
>> vague things about religious minorities, but never explicitly about

>From what I have read, there are fewer than 100 Jews left in Lebanon
> (mainly in Beirut).  Before the civil war, there were at least 20,000
> Jews in Lebanon.  Most left to escape the civil war.  Lebanon is one
> of the many countries in the Middle East that lost most of their
> Jewish communities.

A very interesting site constructed by Jews living or formerly living in
Lebanon, showing how they lived there in peace for decades after the
creation of Israel in 1948. Interestingly, the Israeli invasion of 1982
seemed to be the end for them, both due to being killed by Israeli
bombs, and then repurcussions in the aftermath:

For example, re the israeli invasion we read in an article on the home

"An article published in the New York Times in 1982 relates how shortly
after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in that year, an Israeli shell
targeted the Maghen Abraham synagogue, blowing a hole in its roof while
some 60 Jewish and Muslim refugees were sleeping there. The assault came
after Israeli artillery had fired from East Beirut and gunboats cruising
offshore had been persistently pounding Wadi Abu Jmil, a district well
known for being a Jewish quarter, said neighborhood residents."

Far from the heavy PLO  presence in the same district of Beiruit being a
source of attacks on these Jews, it seems it was the PLO presence that
brought Israeli attacks on them:

"Others argue, however, that a heavy PLO (Palestine Liberation
Organization) presence in Wadi Abu Jmil was the reason for Israeli

One particularly interesting aspect is the relationship between the PLO
and these Jews. I had long long ago read that the PLO had sent guards to
protect Lebanese Jews during the Lebanese civil war, presumably against
any radical Isalmist forces that might have decided to take it  out on
them, but I could never find much concrete info. In the article below,
while it does not exactly say that, we read that:

"Located near the old city center, Wadi Abu Jemil was caught between the
warring factions (ie during the civil war in 1975). The army rescued
members of the community, but even before then Palestinian leader Yasser
Arafat sent food and water to Jews trapped inside the Magen Abraham

So there you go: the terrible "anti-Semitic" PLO (as the Zionists would
have you believe) helped the Lebanese Jews trapped inside the synagogue.
Great piece of history.

Unfortunately, the horrors of the Israeli invasion also dealt a blow to
the left secular forces nboth among Palestinians and Lebanese. In the
immediate years after the invasion, there was a proliferation of
nihlistic "Islamist" groups reacting to the Israeli occupation.
According to the article:

"in 1984, at the height of the hostage-taking era, 11 Jewish community
leaders were kidnapped by Islamist groups and killed."

It is unclear who these "Islamists" were (Hizbullah was officially
formed in 1985 and has over the years thrown off various sectarian and
"fundamentalist" inheritances). This was a time when Israel occupied
up to Beiruit and so there was no Lebanese security cover as such. But
it seems likely that, apart form being killed by Israeli bombs, the
small Jewish community also suffered from a chauvinistic backlash by
some sects of Muslim Lebanese who may have targetted them in revenge
killings for the terror of the Israeli invasion and occupation,
something that often occurs in nationalist-led liberation struggles. Or
simply that these were criminal attacks aiming for ransom, using
"Islamist" cover, given the situation of total insecurity at the time.


Here's the second article:

Lament Lebanon's lost tribe

June 24, 2006 @ 4:35 pm · Filed under News Articles

The Daily Star: Wednesday, October 20, 2004
By: Roland Tomb

It's often forgotten that Lebanon's vanishing Jewish community, whose
presence in the country dates back to 1000 BC, is officially recognized
by the state, included merchants, physicians, soldiers, civil servants,
bankers and craftsmen, and was once fully integrated into Lebanese
economic, social, cultural and political life.

This reality casts doubt on the view that Jews in the Middle East were
invariably second-class citizens and suffered from restrictions and pers
ecution. It also highlights Lebanon's political and social dynamics,
which make it so different from countries in its neighborhood.
Unlike Jewish communities in other Middle Eastern countries, the
Lebanese community grew after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and it was not
until the civil wars of 1958 and 1975 that Jews started emigrating.
Throughout the 20th century, Jews unequivocally considered Lebanon their
home, defined themselves as Lebanese and, when political stability
collapsed, emigrated to places with existing Lebanese expatriate
communities such as Paris, New York, Montreal or Sao Paulo.

According to the Bible, Solomon and Hiram, king of Tyre, shared the same
language, if not the same beliefs. In 132 AD, following the Bar Kokhba
revolt, several Jewish communities moved to geographical Lebanon. The
Beirut synagogue was destroyed in 502 AD in the famous earthquake that
demolished the town. Caliph Muawiya (642-680) established a Jewish
community in Tripoli, and another existed in Sidon in 922. The Jewish
Palestinian Academy chose Tyre to establish its seat in 1071. Under the
reign of Emir Bashir II, the Jewish community flourished. It had its own
synagogue and cemetery at Deir al-Qamar as well as at Mukhtara in the
Chouf. However, hostilities between the Druze and the Maronites in the
19th century led to the departure of many Jews from Deir al-Qamar, and
by the end of the century most had moved to Hasbayya.

Around 1911, Jews from Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Greece and even Persia had
settled in Beirut, expanding the community to almost 5,000. The French
Mandate marked the beginning of a new era of prosperity for Jews. The
Jews of Souq Sursock began moving toward the Wadi Abu Jemil district,
which became the cultural, religious, social and economic center of the
community. A synagogue was built in Bhamdoun in 1915, and together with
the Aley synagogue built in 1890 it catered to the middle classes who
took to the mountains in summer.

Jews welcomed the proclamation of Greater Lebanon in 1920, and six years
later, when a new Constitution came into force, they were the only
Middle Eastern Jewish community to be constitutionally protected. Two
Jewish newspapers were created during this period, Al-Alam al-Israili
(the Israelite World) and Le Commerce du Levant, an economic periodical
still publishing, though under non-Jewish ownership. Those were also the
years when the main Magen Abraham synagogue was built in Wadi Abu Jemil,
as were 10 additional synagogues.

In 1937, the Jewish community asked for a seat in Parliament. While
President Emile Edde expressed sympathy for the idea, the French high
commissioner turned down the request. Maronite Patriarch Antoine Pierre
Arida, who had earlier made a triumphal visit to Wadi Abu Jemil, also
publicly condemned the treatment inflicted by the Nazis on German Jews.

In light of subsequent history, there was an interesting incident in
1946. The borders were then still open between Lebanon and Palestine,
and the British mandatory authorities refused to allow the Zionist
leader David Ben-Gurion to travel. As a result, a Jewish travel agent in
Beirut chartered a Middle East Airlines aircraft to carry Ben-Gurion and
his colleagues Moshe Sharett and Golda Meir to a Zionist congress in

In Lebanon, a timid Zionist movement tried to recruit candidates for
emigration to Palestine; however, few Jews were interested. Life in a
kibbutz wasn't appealing and, to the despair of Zionist officials,
Lebanese Jews remained generally opposed to Aliyah. Their sympathy for
Israel was never strong enough to counterbalance their attachment to
their life in Lebanon. Nor did they ever find themselves threatened,
considering themselves full Lebanese citizens.

Despite the 1948 war, the Jewish community grew to almost 9,000 by 1951,
thanks to the influx of refugees from Iraq and Syria. Lebanon was the
only Arab state that saw its Jewish community increase after the
establishment of Israel. Moreover, there still were substantial numbers
of Jews in the Lebanese Army, which took part in the 1948 war.

Nevertheless, change was unavoidable. Jewish students at the American
University of Beirut left, fearing anti-Semitic reprisals. However, at
Universite St. Joseph, Jews were invited to remain. Al-Alam al-Israili
changed its name to Al-Salam (Peace). Jewish celebrations were no longer
official holidays and the state no longer supported Jewish charities. A
few Jewish army officers chose to resign, but none was forced to do so,
nor were Jews pushed out of government positions.

Jewish celebrations still prompted multi-denominational gatherings. In
1952, 3,000 people attended a Passover ceremony. In attendance were
officials from all religious groups, including Sami al-Solh, Abdullah
al-Yafi, Rashid Beydoun, Joseph Chader, Charles Helou, Pierre Gemayel
and the Maronite archbishop of Beirut. The liberal atmosphere in the
country allowed the community to grow to 14,000 before the 1958 civil
war. However, the ethnic configuration of Wadi Abu Jemil began changing.
The Jewish bourgeoisie moved to more residential areas, while Kurds
entered the neighborhood.

The 1958 conflict convinced many Jews to leave Lebanon for Europe, the
U.S. and South America. Very few went to Israel. Lebanese Jews remained
attached to their homeland, but Lebanon's slow disintegration
discouraged even the more optimistic. By 1967, following the June
Arab-Israeli war, only 3,600 Jews were left in Lebanon, though two
Jewish banks remained active: the Safra Bank and the Zilkha Bank, which
later became the Societe Bancaire du Liban.

The civil war of 1975 blew away all remaining hopes. Schools and
synagogues were closed, Wadi Abu Jemil was deserted, and, for the first
time, Jews, like all Lebanese, felt physical danger. About 200 were
killed in the hostilities. Located near the old city center, Wadi Abu
Jemil was caught between the warring factions. The army rescued members
of the community, but even before then Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
sent food and water to Jews trapped inside the Magen Abraham Synagogue.
The head of the National Movement, Kamal Jumblatt, evacuated Chief Rabbi
Shreim and his family to Bhamdoun.

Paradoxically, the Israeli invasion of 1982 led to the darkest period
for Lebanese Jews. They were offered Israeli citizenship but none
accepted. This did the community little good, however, since in 1984, at
the height of the hostage-taking era, 11 Jewish community leaders were
kidnapped by Islamist groups and killed. In 1991, only two Jews remained
in Wadi Abu Jemil, and with a population of around 60, the community
more or less ceased to exist.

What remains of this 3,000-year presence? A ruined synagogue, a cemetery
and fond memories. Lately, it was decided that Magen Abraham would be
restored. It will be surrounded by a garden open to downtown strollers.

Roland Tomb is head of the dermatology department at the Hotel Dieu de
France hospital in Beirut. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR


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