Religious Persecution of Jews by Arabs
Before the Jewish state was
there existed nothing to harm good relations
between Arabs and Jews.
-- The late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia,
November 1973, to Henry Kissinger
We are not against the Jews.
On the contrary, we are all Semites
and we have been living with each
other in peace and fraternity, Muslims,
Jews and Christians, for many centuries.
-Yasser Arafat, head of the PLO
Since the rebirth of Israel, hundreds
of thousands of Jews from Arab lands have swarmed into the new state. In
1948 more than 850,000 Jews lived in the Arab world. Today there are fewer
than 29,000, a shadow of the former ancient community. Most of those Jewish
refugees fled to Israel. Where did they come from with such urgency --
Contrary to the myth that Jews lived in
harmony with the Arabs before the Zionist state, innumerable authoritative
works document decisively the subjugation, ppression, and spasmodic anti-Jewish
eruptions of violence that darkened the existence of the Jews in Muslim
In truth, before the seventh-century advent
of the Prophet Muhammad and Islam, Jews and Arabs did have harmonious relations,
and words of praise regarding the noble virtues of the Jews may be found
in ancient Arab literature.1
Before the Arab conquest, in fact, some
rulers of Arabia "had indeed embraced Judaism," as Muslim historians attest.
The Koran itself has been witness to the
Jewish nature of the "Israelite communities of Arabia": Koranic references
appear about the rabbis and the Torah which they read, and the prestige
and reverence with which the earlier community viewed them.2
The Koran contains so many legends and
theological ideas found in Talmudic literature that we are able to draw
a picture of the spiritual life of the Jews with whom Mohammad must have
come into contact.3
It was the Prophet Muhammad himself who
attempted to negate the positive titage of the Jew that had been prevalent
earlier. According to historian Bernard Lewis, the Prophet Muhammad's original
plan had been to induce the Jews to adopt Islam;4
when Muhammad began his rule at Medina in A.D. 622 he counted few supporters,
so he adopted several Jewish practices-including daily prayer facing toward
Jerusalem and the fast of Yom Kippur-in the hope of wooing the Jews. But
the Jewish community rejected the Prophet Muhammad's religion, preferring
to adhere to its own beliefs, whereupon Muhammad subsequently substituted
Mecca for Jerusalem, and dropped many of the Jewish practices.
Three years later, Arab hostility against
the Jews commenced, when the Meccan army exterminated the Jewish
tribe of Quraiza.5 As a result of the Prophet
Muhammad's resentment, the Holy Koran itself contains many of his hostile
denunciations of Jews6 and bitter attacks upon
the Jewish tradition, which undoubtedly have colored the beliefs of religious
Muslims down to the present.
Omar, the caliph who succeeded Muhammad,
delineated in his Charter of Omar the twelve laws under which a dhimmi,
or non-Muslim, was allowed to exist as a "nonbeliever" among "believers."
The Charter codified the conditions of life for Jews under Islam -- a life
which was forfeited if the dhimmi broke this law. Among the restrictions
of the Charter: Jews were forbidden to touch the Koran; forced to wear
a distinctive (sometimes dark blue or black) habit with sash; compelled
to wear a yellow piece of cloth as a badge (blue for Christians); not allowed
to perform their religious practices in public; not allowed to own a
horse, because horses were deemed noble; not permitted to drink wine in
public; and required to bury their dead without letting their grief be
heard by the Muslims.7
As a grateful payment for being allowed
so to live and be "protected," a dhimmi paid a special head tax
and a special property tax, the edict for which came directly from the
Koran: "Fight against those [Jews and Christians] who believe not in Allah
... until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low."8
In addition, Jews faced the danger of incurring
the wrath of a Muslim, in which case the Muslim could charge, however falsely,
that the Jew had cursed Islam, an accusation against which the Jew could
not defend himself Islamic religious law decreed that, although murder
of one Muslim by another Muslim was punishable by death, a Muslim who murdered
a non-Muslim was given not the death penalty, but only the obligation to
pay "blood money" to the family of the slain infidel. Even this punishment
was unlikely, however, because the law held the testimony of a Jew or a
Christian invalid against a Muslim, and the penalty could only be exacted
under improbable conditions-when two Muslims were willing to testify against
a brother Muslim for the sake of an infidel.9
The demeanment of Jews as represented by
the Charter has carried down through the centuries, its implementation
inflicted with varying degrees of cruelty or inflexibility, depending upon
the character of the particular Muslim ruler. When that rule was tyrannical,
life was abject slavery, as in Yemen, where one of the Jews' tasks was
to clean the city latrines and another was to clear the streets of animal
carcasses-without pay, often on their Sabbath.
The restrictions under Muslim law always
included the extra head tax regardless of the ruler's relative tolerance.
This tax was enforced in some form until 1909 in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon,
and Turkey; until 1925 in Iran; and was still enforceable in Yemen until
the present generation. The clothing as well as the tax and the physical
humiliation also varied according to whim. Thus, in Morocco, Jews had to
wear black slippers,10 while in Yemen, Jewish
women were forced to wear one white and one black shoe.11*
[* The edict set by the Sultan of Morocco
in 1884 varies somewhat, as did most interpretations of the dhimma law.
His restrictions also included insistence that Jews work on their sacred
day of rest; carry heavy burdens on their backs; work without pay; clean
foul places and latrines; part with merchandise at half price; lend beasts
of burden without payment; accept false coinage instead of negotiable currency;
take fresh skins in return for tanned hides; hold their beds and furniture
at the disposal of government guests, etc.]
Jews were relegated to Arab-style Jewish
ghettos -- hara, mellah, or simply Jewish Quarter were the names
given the areas where Jews resided -- recorded by travelers over the centuries,
as well as by Jewish chroniclers. A visitor to four-teenth-century Egypt,
for example, commented in passing12 on the
separate Jew-quarter, and five hundred years later another visitor in the
nineteenth century verified the continuation of the separated Jewish existence:
"There are in this country about five thousand Jews (in Arabic, called
'Yahood'; singular, 'Yahoodee'), most of whom reside in the metropolis,
in a miserable, close and dirty quarter, intersected by lanes, many of
which are so narrow as hardly to admit two persons passing each other in
In 1920, those Jewish families in Cairo
whose financial success had allowed them out of the ghetto, under relatively
tolerant rule, had been replaced by "poor Jewish immigrants." Thus, although
the character of the population may have changed, the squalor and crowding
remained. As one writer, a Jew, observed:
Our people are crowded and clustered
into houses about to collapse, in dark cellars, narrow alleys and crooked
lanes choked with mud and stinking refuse, earning their meagre living
in dark shops and suffocating workshops, toiling back to back, sunscorched
and sleepless. Their hard struggle for existence both inside and outside
the home is rewarded by a few beans and black bread.14
Under no circumstances were Jews considered
truly equal. Among the Jews in Arab lands were many individual personal
successes and regionalized intermittent prosperity, but the tradition of
persecution was characteristic throughout most of Jewish history under
Arab rule.15 If the dhimmi burdens
were light in one particular region, the Jew had the residue of fear left
from the previous history of pogroms and humiliations in his area. These
harsh and ancient dhimma restrictions persisted even up to the present
time to some degree, in some Arab communities, and their spirit -- if not
their letter -- continued generally throughout the Arab world.16
Throughout the centuries, the Jews were
the first to suffer persecution in times of economic turmoil or political
upheaval,17 and the cumulative effect of the
sporadic mass murders left their mark on the Jews even in periods of relative
quiescence. In Syria, the infamous blood libel of 1840 brought about the
death, torture, and pillage of countless Jews falsely accused of murdering
a priest and his servant to collect the blood for Passover matzoth!18
Before the Jews were finally vindicated of this slander, word of the charges
had spread far from Damascus, causing terror in numerous Jewish communities.
The scurrilous blood libel has not been
purged from Arab literature, however. In fact, the Arabs seem in the past
two decades to have seized upon this primitive old calumny with renewed
vigor. In 1962 the UAR (Egyptian) Ministry of Education published "Human
Sacrifices in the Talmud" as one of a series of official "national" books.
Bearing on its cover the symbol of the Egyptian Institute for Publications,
this modem book is a reprint of an 1890 work by a writer in Cairo.19
In the introduction, the editor shares his discovery: "conclusive evidence
... that this people permits bloodshed and makes it a religious obligation
laid down by the Talmud." The editor's description becomes more vile as
it purports to become more explicit regarding the "Indictment."20
Two years later, in 1964, a professor at
the University of Damascus published his own affirmation of the nineteenth-century
blood libel, stating that the wide attention given the story served a valid
purpose: to wam mothers against letting their children out late at night,
"lest the Jew ... come and take their blood for the purpose of making matzot
for Passover."21 Still another version, also
published in the 1960s, "The Danger of World Jewry to Islam and Christianity,"
alleges that thousands of children and others disappear each year, and
all of them are victims of guess who?22
They've even dramatized the infamous canard
for the theater. In November 1973, a former minister in the Egyptian Foreign
Service published a play based on the 1840 blood libel in Damascus-replete
with gory descriptions-in a widely circulated Egyptian weekly.23
During the same month the late Saudi Arabian King Faisal stressed the importance
of the blood libel of 1840 in Damascus as a requisite to understanding
"Zionist crime."24 And in 1982, shortly after
Israel transferred its much coveted Sinai territory to Egypt for a more
coveted peace, the Egyptian press (govemment-run) dredged up inflammatory
variations on the horrible theme. Two examples: ". . . The Israelis are
Israelis and their favorite drink is Arab blood... ."25
and "A Jew ... drinks their blood for a few coins."26
The departure of European colonists in
the twentieth century brought into being a highly nationalistic group of
Arab states, which increasingly perceived their Jews as a new political
threat.* The previous Arab Muslim ambivalence -- an ironic possessive attitude
toward "their" Jews, coupled with the omnipresent implementing of the harsh
-- was gradually replaced by a completely demoniacal and negative stereotype
of the Jew. Traditional Koranic slurs against the Jews were implemented
to incite hostility toward the Jewish national movement. The Nazi anti-Semitism
in the 1930s and 1940s flourished in this already receptive climate.
[* The Arab reaction seems not dissimilar
to that of a Ku Klux Klansman in the United States, responding vehemently
to the question I once asked about his attitude toward integration: "They're
our 'Niggers,' and we've taken good care of'em, but I'll be damned if I'll
let 'em take over.... Our 'Niggers' don't really wanna vote, y'know." (The
epithet is his.) Chicago Daily News, April 10, 1965.]
Although Arabs themselves frequently speak
of "anti-Semitism" as synonymous with anti-Jewishness -- before the 1947
partition, for example, Egyptian UN Representative Haykal Pasha warned
the General Assembly that partition would bring "anti-Semitism" worse than
Hitler's27 -- frequently they justify or obscure
an anti-Jewish action by saying, "How can I be anti-Semitic? I'm a Semite
myself." According to Professor S. D. Goitein, "the word 'semitic' was
coined by an l8th-century German scholar, concerned with linguistics....
The idea of a Semitic race was invented and cultivated in particular in
order to emphasize the inalterable otherness and alien character of the
Jews living in Europe."28
Another eminent Arabist, Bernard Lewis,
dates the invention of the term "anti-Semitism" to 1862, although "the
racial ideology that gave rise to it was already well established in the
early 19th century. Instead of -- or as well as -- an unbeliever ... the
Jew was now labeled as a member of an alien and inferior race... "29]
As early as 1940 the Muffi of Jerusalem
requested the Axis powers to acknowledge the Arab right "to settle the
question of Jewish elements in Palestine and other Arab countries in accordance
with the national and racial interests of the Arabs and along lines similar
to those used to solve the Jewish question in Germany and Italy."30*
[* For a discussion of Jewish-Arab relations
in Palestine, see The Myth of Palestinian
Nationalism, narrowly defined, anti-Semitism]
Hitler's crimes against the Jews have frequently
been justified in Arab writings and pronouncements. In the 1950s, Minister
Anwar Sadat published an open letter to Hitler, hoping he was still alive
and sympathizing with his cause. Important Arab writers and political figures
have said Hitler was "wronged and slandered, for he did no more to the
Jews than Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, the Romans, the Byzantines, Titus, Mohammed
and the European peoples who slaughtered the Jews before him." Or that
Hitler wanted to "save ... the world from this malignant evil..." 31
Arab defense of the Nazis' extermination
of the Jews has persisted: prominent Egyptian writer Anis Mansour wrote
in 1973 that "People all over the world have come to realize that Hitler
was right, since Jews . . . are bloodsuckers . . . interested in destroying
the whole world which has . . . expelled them and despised them for centuries
... and burnt them in Hitler's crematoria ... one million ... six millions.
Would that he had finished it!"32
Mansour alleged at another time that the
vicious medieval blood libel was historical truth: "the Jews confessed"
that they had killed the children and used their blood; thus he justifies
persecution and pogroms of "the wild beasts."33
That article was followed by a "report," after Mansour returned from representing
Egypt at the Fortieth International PEN (writers') Conference in 1975 in
Vienna. In it, Mansour continued the theme: "The Jews are guilty" for Nazism;
". . . the world can only curse the Jews ... The Jews have only themselves
to blame." Mansour was angry that "the whole world" protested "all because"
a "teacher" told the Jewish waiter serving him in Vienna that
Hitler committed a grave error in not doing away with more of you ....'"34
It was from such a climate that the Jews
had escaped, seeking refuge in Israel.
Lewis, The Arabs in History, 4th rev. ed. (New York, Evanston, San Francisco,
London: Harper-Colophon Books, 1966), pp. 31-32; S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean
Society, vols. I and 11 (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: 197-1), p. 28;
see also H.Z. Hirschberg, The Jews in Islamic Lands, 2nd rev. ed. (Leiden,
Jews and Arabs, Their Contacts Through the Ages, 3rd ed. (New York: Schocken
Books, 1974), p. 49.
Arabs in History, p. 42; also see Norman A. Stillman, The Jews ofArab Lands.-
A History and Source Book (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society
of America, 1979), pp. 113-114. For further information and fascinating
reading, the Stillman work provides new and in-depth insights into the
"Jewish social history in the Arab world, spanning 1500 years," with original
translations from Arabic and other languages.
Arabs in History, p. 45, pp. 38-48. See Chapter 8.
in Chapter 4; also see Stillman, The Jews, "Some Koranic Pronouncements
on the Jews," pp. 150-151.
Between East and West, A History of the Jews of North Africa, trans. from
French by Michael M. Bernet (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society
of America, 1968), pp. 45-46; D.G. Littman, Jews Under Muslim Rule in the
Late Nineteenth Century, reprinted from the Weiner Library Bulletin, 1975,
vol. XXVIII, New Series Nos. 35/36 (London, 1975), p. 65.
of the Glorious Koran, Surah IX, v. 29, Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, ed.
(New York: Mentor Books, 1953).
Between East and West, p. 46. Also see Hayyim Cohen, The Jews of the Middle
East 1860-1972 (New York, 1973); S.D. Goitein, Jews and Arabs.
Jewish Congress, The Jews ofFrench Morocco and Tunisia (New York, 1952).
Friedman, "The Myth of Arab Toleration," Midstream, January 1970; Goitein,
Jews and Arabs, p. 67T
Battuta, Ibn Battuta Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354, trans. and selected
with introduction and notes by H.A.R. Gibb (London, 1929), p. 125.
William Lane, Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians 1833-1835 (London,
New York, Melbourne: 1890), p. 512.
visit to Harat al-Yahud, Cairo's Jewish Quarter, was recorded in letters
from a journalist in Arabic dated June I I and June 18, 1920, cited by
Jacob M. Landau, Jews in Nineteenth Century Egypt (New York, 1969), pp.
J. Cohen, The Jews ofthe Middle East 1860-1972 (Jerusalem, 1973), pp. 1-3.
interviews in Chapter 6.
Jews and Arabs, pp. 6-7, 87, 88, for examples.
Graetz, History of the Jews, 5 vols. (New York, 1927), vol. 5, pp. 634-639.
19. By Habib
Faris, 1890, original title in newspaper, 1890: "The Cry of the Innocent
with the Trumpet of Freedom," originally published in Egyptian newspaper
al-Mahrusa, then as 1890 book, Human Sacrifices in the Talmud Book republished
in 1962 as one of a series of information pamphlets, "National Books,"
no. 184, 1962, 164 pages, listed as one of the publications by UAR Ministry
of Education, # 393 1, edited by Abd a]-Ati Jalal, introduction dated June
16, 1962. Cited by Y. Harkabi, Arab Attitudes to Israel (Jerusalem, 1971),
cited in Harkabi, Arab Attitudes, p. 271.
Gharayiba, Suriyyafi al-Qarn al-TosiAshar 1840-1876 (Cairo, 1961-62), p.
47, cited by Moshe Ma'oz, The Image of the Jew in Official Arab Literature
and Communications Media (Jerusalem, 1976), p. 21.
al-Tall, The Danger of World Jewry to Islam and Christianity (in Arabic)
(Cairo, 1964), p. 104, cited by Harkabi, Arab Attitudes, pp. 273-274.
Sa'adani, "The Tragedy of Good Father Thomas," Akhir Saah, November 28,
1973, cited by Ma'oz, The Image of the Jew, p. 22.
November 29, 1973, as cited by Ma'oz, The Image of the Jew, p. 23.
War and Hating Peace," by Salem al-Yamani, Al-Gumhuriya, June 22, 1982.
Arabs and the Jews-Who Will Destroy Whom?" by Dr. Lutfi Abd Al-Azim, AI-Ahram
Iktisadi, September 27, 1982.
Records of the Second Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Summary Record of Meetings 25 September-25 November, 1947, p. 185. During
the proposed partition of Palestine, in November, 1947, Egyptian Representative
in the United Nations General Assembly, Haykal Pasha, declared that "The
Arab governments will do all in their power to defend the Jewish citizens
in their countries, but we all know that an excited crowd is sometimes
stronger than the police. Unintentionally, you are about to spark an anti-Semitic
fire in the Middle East which will be more difficult to extinguish than
it was in Germany." The Egyptian spokesman's threat made clear that the
Arab world has interpreted the term "anti-Semitism" correctly -- in the
only sense it has been used historically -as a definition of anti-Jewish
attitude and action. Arabs do not, as Egypt's President Sadat and others
have occasionally claimed, use it themselves as a term connoting both Arabs
Mediterranean Society, vol. II, p. 283.
Lewis, Islam in History: Ideas, Men and Events in the Middle East (New
York: The Library Press, 1973), p. 136.
Grobba, Manner und Machte im Orient (Zurich, Berlin, Frankfurt, 1967),
p. 194-197, 207-208. Bernard Lewis notes that "this draft was an Arab request
to the Germans, not a German offer to the Arabs." Also see: Jon Kimche,
The Second Arab Awakening (London, 1970); L. Hirszowicz, The Third Reich
and the Arab East (London, 1966), particularly regarding Mufti's 1937 contact
with the Nazis: p. 34.
letter, AlMusawwar, No. 1510, September 18,1953, cited in D.F. Green, ed.,
Arab Theologians on Jews and Israel (Geneva, 1976 ed.), p. 87. Quoted also
by Gideon Hausner, November 16, 1971, at New York. Also see Harkabi, Arab
Attitudes, pp. 276-277, for other examples.
August 19, 1973.
Saah, Cairo, April 10, 1974, cited by Ma'oz, The Image of the Jew, p. 22.
Saah, Cairo, December 3, 1975.
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