‘Jews of the Levant’ exhibition traces group’s millennial presence in Arab Maghreb

‘Jews of the Levant’ exhibition traces group’s millennial presence in Arab Maghreb
Jewish mosaic with tree of paradise, Roman synagogue of Naro (Hammam Lif, Tunisia), 6th century from the Brooklyn Museum in New York. (Hakima Bedouani)
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Updated 26 November 2021

‘Jews of the Levant’ exhibition traces group’s millennial presence in Arab Maghreb

‘Jews of the Levant’ exhibition traces group’s millennial presence in Arab Maghreb
  • Exhibition covering 1,100sqm billed as cultural event of international importance
  • General curator highlights need to preserve heritage, ensure its transmission to future generations

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron recently attended the opening in Paris of an exhibition organized by the Arab World Institute (IMA).

“Jews of the Levant, a Millennial History,” now open to the public, covers 1,100 square meters of exhibition space and has been billed as a cultural event of international significance.

Documenting centuries of Jewish presence in Arab countries, it includes displays of archaeological remains, liturgical objects, jewelry, costumes, ancient manuscripts, paintings, and photographs, along with music and audiovisual installations.

Items have been brought together from international collections in France, the US, Spain, the UK, Belgium, Brazil, and Morocco, to highlight the ancestral cohabitation between Jewish and Muslim communities. Exhibits mark periods of rich artistic and intellectual creations as well as erratic violence.

General curator of the exhibition, Benjamin Stora, a university professor and historian specializing in the Arab Maghreb, is from the historic city of Constantine, in northeastern Algeria.

He noted that Jews were present in North Africa before the arrival of Christianity and that the Arabic language was imposed on the Jewish community from the ninth century.

“The Jewish community in the Arab Maghreb spoke only in Arabic, except in certain regions where they either spoke Berber or Latin, a mixture of Spanish, Hebrew, and Arabic,” he said.

Stora pointed out that there was an interpenetration of the three languages that reflected the cohabitation of the two communities which included expatriate rabbis from Andalusia who settled in Tlemcen, Constantine, and other cities in the Maghreb countries.

An undeniable imprint

He added that the Jews left an undeniable imprint on the cultural heritage of the region, especially when it came to craftsmanship. “My family members, originally from Constantine, were jewelers and made snake-shaped objects that women wore at parties and weddings.”

On political and religious clashes between the two communities, he said: “The period of French colonization and the Cremieux Decree of 1870 (granting French citizenship to Algerian Jews but not to Muslims) marked the separation between the two natives, Muslim and Jewish.”

He added that the outbreak of the war of independence saw four generations of French Jews position themselves alongside France, completing the rupture in relations between Muslims and Jews.

Preservation of memories

Stora, who has worked for more than 40 years on the history of the contemporary Arab Maghreb, highlighted the theme of the preservation of ancient memory.

He said: “We cannot reduce this essential question of clashes to the Palestinian issue, the colonization, or the departure of the Jews. It is also a question of preserving memories, which cannot wait for all political questions to be resolved.”

Denis Charbit, a professor of political science at the Open University of Israel and member of the exhibition’s scientific council, is responsible for the link between the IMA, the Israel Museum, and the Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi Institute.

A specialist in 20th-century Jewish history, he said the exhibition had an important role to play in the fight against ignorance and pointed out that the Jewish presence alongside the Arab and Berber populations dated back 2,000 years.

He noted that it was necessary to integrate the disruption and exile of Jews from Arab countries into the exhibition and that while relationships were not always smooth, they were not part of a black book either.

On the reasons behind the rupture, Charbit said that Arab nationalism had not shown itself to be sufficiently inclusive. “It was considered that the Jewish populations, who were also indigenous, Arab, and non-Muslim, were not part of the Algerian, Tunisian, Iraqi, or Yemeni nations.”

He added that the birth of Zionism and creation of the state of Israel presented Jews with the possibility for a final departure. Others who have benefited from the cultural and linguistic project of the Alliance Israelite Universelle organization in Baghdad, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, and other parts of the Mediterranean, have gone into exile in France.

Stora said it was necessary to protect the heritage and ensure its transmission to future generations. “It is not a question of a single history, a single religion, a single culture, but a plurality of interventions, cultures, civilizations of languages, as well as a passage of populations,” he added.


Charbit said: “In Israel, the Jews have a history with the Palestinians, even if it is written in tension and in blood. There are bridges and things in common.”

The Jews of the Levant in Israel had a sweet and sour relationship with their countries of origin, partly due to a feeling of exile, but they also felt nostalgia for the stories of a once harmonious social life, he added.

“The Holocaust black hole did not prevent European Jews from remaining connected to their European heritage. Maintaining this link is the great ambition of this exhibition,” Charbit said.

This story originally appeared in French on Arab News en Francais

Phone call shows brother pleading with Texas hostage-taker

Phone call shows brother pleading with Texas hostage-taker
Updated 5 sec ago

Phone call shows brother pleading with Texas hostage-taker

Phone call shows brother pleading with Texas hostage-taker
LONDON: A British man who held four people hostage in a Texas synagogue ranted against Jews and American wars in countries like Afghanistan.
This happened as his brother pleaded with him to give up and free the captives, a recording of the conversation shows.
In the expletive-filled recording posted on the website of The Jewish Chronicle, 44-year-old Malik Faisal Akram said he was “bombed up” and equipped with “every ammunition” as he talked to his brother Saturday from inside Congregation Beth Israel in the Dallas suburb of Colleyville.
Gulbar Akram urged his brother to lay down his weapons and return to his children alive.
“You don’t need to do this. Why are you doing this?” he said. “Just pack it in. You’ll do a bit of time, and then you’ll get out.”
“These guys you’ve got there, they’re innocent people, man,” he said.
In response, Akram became increasingly agitated and said he hoped US authorities would take notice of the Jewish hostages and agree to his demand that they release Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted of trying to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan.
Akram said he had prayed about the attack for two years. He said he was ready to become a martyr and that his children shouldn’t cry at his funeral.
“I promised my brother when I watched him on his deathbed that I’d go down as a martyr,” he said at one point. One of his younger brothers, who contracted COVID-19, died a few months ago.
“I’ve come to die, G, OK?″ the hostage-taker told his brother. “I’ve prayed to Allah for two years for this ... I’m coming back in a body bag.”
Saturday’s 10-hour standoff at the synagogue ended after the last hostage ran out of the synagogue and an FBI SWAT team rushed in. Akram was killed, though authorities have declined to say who shot him.
In a webinar Thursday hosted by the Anti-Defamation League, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the agency understands that such acts are terrifying to the entire Jewish community.
“This was not some random occurrence. It was intentional. It was symbolic, and we’re not going to tolerate antisemitism in this country,” Wray said.
The FBI continues to search phones and other devices as it investigates why Akram targeted this particular synagogue, Wray said.
The Chronicle said the recording was part of a longer 11 1/2-minute recording that it obtained from a “security source.” The Associated Press was not able to independently confirm the authenticity of the recording, but experts believe it to be genuine.
Meanwhile, British police said Thursday that they have arrested two people in connection with the hostage-taking.
Counter Terrorism Police North West said one man was arrested Thursday in Birmingham and another in Manchester. They were being held for questioning and have not been charged.
The police did not disclose details about the two people. British police do not release names and details of detainees until they are charged.
On Sunday, police arrested two British teenagers in Manchester as part of the investigation. The teens were Akram’s sons, two US law enforcement officials told AP. They were later released without charge.
Malik Faisal Akram was from Blackburn, an industrial city in northwest England. His family said he had been “suffering from mental health issues.”
He entered the United States on a tourist visa about two weeks earlier and spent time in Dallas-area homeless shelters before the synagogue attack.
The FBI has called the incident “a terrorism-related matter” targeting the Jewish community.
British media, including the Guardian and the BBC, have reported that Akram was investigated by the domestic intelligence service MI5 as a possible “terrorist threat” in 2020. But authorities concluded that he posed no danger, and the investigation was closed.
The White House said Tuesday that Akram had been checked against US law enforcement databases before entering the country but raised no red flags.

France to ease Covid restrictions starting Feb. 2

France to ease Covid restrictions starting Feb. 2
Updated 43 min 38 sec ago

France to ease Covid restrictions starting Feb. 2

France to ease Covid restrictions starting Feb. 2
  • Implementation of a "vaccine pass" starting Monday to enter restaurants, cinemas and other public venues would allow an easing of tighter rules
  • In a second stage, nightclubs that have been shut since December will be allowed to reopen on February 16

PARIS: France will begin a gradual lifting of Covid restrictions from February 2 amid “encouraging signs” that the wave of infections due to the omicron variant is ebbing, Prime Minister Jean Castex said Thursday.
Even though authorities registered a record 464,769 new daily cases on Tuesday, Castex said the implementation of a “vaccine pass” starting Monday to enter restaurants, cinemas and other public venues would allow an easing of tighter rules imposed since December.
In a first step, the audience capacity limits for concert halls, sporting matches and other events — 2,000 people indoors, and 5,000 outdoors — will be ended from February 2.
Working from home will also no longer be mandatory for eligible employees, and face masks will not be required outside, Castex told a press conference alongside Health Minister Olivier Veran.
“We are a bit more confident in saying we can relax some of these constraints and let people return to life as normal as possible,” Veran said.
Previously, the health pass could also be obtained with a recent negative Covid test, a possibility the government ended in its bid to convince more people to get Covid jabs — Castex said 93 percent of French adults now had at least one dose.
“Since the announcement of the vaccine pass, one million French people have gotten vaccinated. That’s good, but it’s not enough,” he said, adding that booster shots would be extended to children aged 12 to 17 starting Monday.
In a second stage, nightclubs that have been shut since December will be allowed to reopen on February 16, and standing areas will again be authorized for concerts and sporting events as well as bars.
Eating and drinking will again be allowed in stadiums, movie theaters and public transport on that date.
Castex also said he hoped to be able to ease face mask rules for children in schools after winter vacation breaks in late February.
Some 17,000 classes are currently shut across France after students or staff caught the virus, and parents must get a series of tests for exposed children before they are allowed to return.
The highly contagious omicron variant has sparked a surge in infections, but the number of Covid patients in intensive care has been falling since early January, to around 3,850 people currently.
“We have seen that incidence rates are still rising, but we also know that the omicron variant results in fewer serious cases than the Delta variant,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said earlier Thursday.
“There are hopes the omicron wave could peak soon,” he added.
Castex insisted that studies have shown omicron to be less dangerous than other virus variants, which have prompted several governments worldwide to pull back on restrictions.
The British government said Wednesday that most restrictions would be lifted starting next week, including the requirement for a Covid pass proving vaccination to enter public venues, citing data that showed infections had peaked.
Spain’s government is also pushing to begin treating Covid-19 as any other endemic respiratory virus like seasonal flu — though Castex warned against underestimating the threat from the virus.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also insisted this week that the pandemic was “nowhere near over,” warning that new variants were still likely to emerge.

Indonesia denies rumors of interaction with Israel

Indonesia denies rumors of interaction with Israel
Updated 20 January 2022

Indonesia denies rumors of interaction with Israel

Indonesia denies rumors of interaction with Israel
  • Israeli Army Radio said Monday that a delegation of Indonesian officials had visited Tel Aviv
  • Indonesia has no formal ties with Israel, has repeatedly called for end to occupation of Palestinian territories

JAKARTA: The Indonesian government on Thursday denied reports by Israeli media that officials from the two countries had recently held meetings in Tel Aviv.

Home to the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia has no formal ties with Israel and has repeatedly called for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and for a two-state solution based on borders before the 1967 war.

Israel’s Army Radio reported on Monday that a delegation of Indonesian officials had visited Tel Aviv to discuss strategies related to the coronavirus pandemic but gave no details about when the meeting had taken place.

Addressing a virtual press conference, Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Teuku Faizasyah, said: “What we can emphasize here is that there was no interaction between officials of the two countries, because we do not have diplomatic relations.”

He pointed out that despite the lack of formal ties, people-to-people interactions had taken place, including Indonesian pilgrims visiting religious sites in Jerusalem.

“But between governments, let me emphasize there are no formal interactions,” he added. “Please differentiate things that are official in nature and business relations or people-to-people, which are out of the government’s hands.”

Faizasyah said Indonesia’s stance on the Palestinian issue remained unchanged and its government was actively working “for Palestinian independence under the frame of a two-state solution.”

Last year, the Israeli ambassador to Singapore said Tel Aviv would be willing to work toward establishing ties with southeast Asia’s Muslim-majority nations — Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei — in the wake of the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco agreeing to normalize relations with Israel under US-brokered deals.

During a visit to Jakarta last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed with Indonesian officials the possibility of normalization, a move Indonesia said it had declined to take.

“Indonesia’s foreign minister conveyed Indonesia’s consistent position toward Palestine, in which Indonesia will always stand with Palestine in the struggle for justice and independence,” Faizasyah said at the time.

Reunited 74 years after India-Pakistan split, brothers hope to spend rest of life together

Reunited 74 years after India-Pakistan split, brothers hope to spend rest of life together
Updated 20 January 2022

Reunited 74 years after India-Pakistan split, brothers hope to spend rest of life together

Reunited 74 years after India-Pakistan split, brothers hope to spend rest of life together
  • Partition in 1947 following India’s independence from Britain triggered one of the biggest forced migrations in history
  • Brothers Sikka and Sadiq Khan, who remained on opposite sides of India-Pakistan border, were reunited last week

PHULEWALA: In August 1947, as British India was being partitioned into two independent states, Sikka Khan’s father and elder brother, Sadiq, left Phulewala village — which became the Indian part of Punjab — and returned to their paternal village of Bogran, which became part of Pakistan. 

Just two-years-old at the time, Sikka was too young to go and stayed behind in India with his mother. The family was to be reunited soon. The parents only wanted to wait until it was safe for the toddler to travel. 

But the promise of being together again was cut short by a bloody orgy of violence and communal rioting that marred one of the biggest forced migrations in history. Following the partition in 1947, about 15 million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, fearing discrimination and violence, swapped countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives. 

It was in these circumstances that Sikka and Sadiq lost their father, mother — who committed suicide when she found out about her husband's death — and the bond that was only restored last week. 

“I told you we would meet again,” Sikka, 76, said through tears, as he embraced his 84-year-old brother when they met in Kartarpur, Pakistan on Jan. 10.

Kartarpur is a border city where Pakistan, in late 2019, opened a visa-free crossing to allow Indian Sikh pilgrims access to one of the holiest sites of their religion, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib. After the partition, the site found itself on the Pakistani side of the hastily drawn-up border.

The brothers’ reunion did not last long, as each of them had to return to their countries. For the past seven decades, cross-border visits have been limited by tensions and conflict.

“It was an emotional moment for us, and I could not believe that I was meeting my brother and his family,” Sikka told Arab News in Phulewala village, where he has remained since 1947. 

“Life has given me the opportunity to reunite with my brother and I don’t want to live without him,” he said. “I need the company of my brother more than ever before. I want to live the rest of my life with my elder brother.”

They got in touch in 2019, when Pakistani YouTuber Nasir Dhillon visited Bogran village, where Sadiq still lives, and heard his story. He shared the footage on social media and soon received a message from Jagsir Singh, a doctor in Phulewala, who connected him to Sikka. 

The YouTuber and the doctor helped the brothers meet virtually.

“The brothers for the first time saw each other over a video call two years ago,” Singh told Arab News. “Since then, they have remained in touch with each other through WhatsApp.” 

They have been talking to each other at least 15 minutes every day, but it took them two years to meet in person as even the visa-free Kartarpur corridor was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic until late last year.   

“The opening of the Kartarpur corridor in November last year allowed us the opportunity to organize the meeting between the brothers,” Singh said. 

When he arrived in Kartarpur on Jan. 10, Sikka, who does not have his own family, was accompanied by a dozen villagers from Phulewala. 

“For me, my village has been family,” he said, as he chatted to Sadiq through a video call. “Now I want to go to Pakistan and live with my elder brother for some time. I hope the Pakistani government gives me a visa.” 

Sadiq, too, wants to go to his birthplace.   

“I want to meet Sikka in his village,” he said during the video call with his brother. “We want to live together and make up for the time we have lost.”

Taliban storm Kabul apartment, arrest activist, her sisters

Taliban storm Kabul apartment, arrest activist, her sisters
Updated 20 January 2022

Taliban storm Kabul apartment, arrest activist, her sisters

Taliban storm Kabul apartment, arrest activist, her sisters
  • A Taliban statement appeared to blame the incident on a recent women's protest, saying insulting Afghan values will no longer be tolerated
  • The activist, Tamana Zaryabi Paryani, was among about 25 women who took part in an anti-Taliban protest on Sunday against the compulsory Islamic headscarf

KABUL, Afghanistan: The Taliban stormed an apartment in Kabul, smashing the door in and arresting a woman rights activist and her three sisters, an eyewitness said Thursday.
A Taliban statement appeared to blame the incident on a recent women’s protest, saying insulting Afghan values will no longer be tolerated.
The activist, Tamana Zaryabi Paryani, was among about 25 women who took part in an anti-Taliban protest on Sunday against the compulsory Islamic headscarf, or hijab, for women. A person from the neighborhood who witnessed the arrest said about 10 armed men, claiming to be from the Taliban intelligence department, carried out the raid on Wednesday night.
Shortly before she and her sisters were taken away, footage of Paryani was posted on social media, showing her frightened and breathless and screaming for help, saying the Taliban were banging on her door.
“Help please, the Taliban have come to our home . . . only my sisters are home,” she is heard saying in the footage. There are other female voices in the background, crying. “I can’t open the door. Please . . . help!”
Associated Press footage from the scene on Thursday showed the apartment’s front door, made of metal and painted reddish brown, dented and left slightly ajar. The occupants of a neighboring apartment ran inside their home, not wanting to talk to reporters. An outer security door of steel slats was shut and padlocked, making it impossible to enter Paryani’s apartment.
The witness said the raid took place around 8 p.m. The armed men went up to the third floor of the Kabul apartment complex where Paryani lives and began pounding on the front door ordering her to open the door.
When she refused, they kicked the door repeatedly until it opened, the witness said. “They took four females away, all of them were sisters,” the witness said, adding that one of the four was Paryani, the activist.
The witness spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing Taliban reprisal.
The spokesman for the Taliban-appointed police in Kabul, Gen. Mobin Khan, tweeted that Paryani’s social video post was a manufactured drama. A spokesman for the Taliban intelligence, Khalid Hamraz, would neither confirm nor deny the arrest.
However, he tweeted that “insulting the religious and national values of the Afghan people is not tolerated anymore” — a reference to Sunday’s protest during which the protesters appeared to burn a white burqa, the all-encompassing traditional head-to-toe female garment that only leaves a mesh opening for the eyes.
Hamraz accused rights activists of maligning Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers and their security forces to gain asylum in the West.
Since sweeping to power in mid-August, the Taliban have imposed widespread restrictions, many of them directed at women. Women have been banned from many jobs, outside the health and education field, their access to education has been restricted beyond sixth grade and they have been ordered to wear the hijab. The Taliban have, however, stopped short of imposing the burqa, which was compulsory when they previously ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.
At Sunday’s demonstration in Kabul, women carried placards demanding equal rights and shouted: “Justice!” They burned a white burqa and said they cannot be forced to wear the hijab. Organizers of the demonstration said Paryani attended the protest, which was dispersed after the Taliban fired tear gas into the crowd of women.
Paryani belongs to a rights group known as “Seekers of Justice,” which organized several demonstrations in Kabul, including Sunday’s. The group’s members have not spoken publicly of her arrest but have been sharing the video of Paryani.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the crackdown, saying that since taking over Afghanistan five months ago, the Taliban “have rolled back the rights of women and girls, including blocking access to education and employment for many.”
“Women’s rights activists have staged a series of protests; the Taliban has responded by banning unauthorized protests,” the watchdog said in a statement after Sunday’s protest.
The Taliban have increasingly targeted Afghanistan’s beleaguered rights groups, as well as journalists, with local and international television crews covering demonstration often detained and sometimes beaten.
Also Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement asking the Taliban to investigate a recent attack on a documentary film maker Zaki Qais who said two armed men, who identified themselves as Kabul police officials, entered his home and beat him. One tried to stab him, according to Steven Butler, the CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.
“Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers must immediately launch an investigation to identify and bring to justice those who attacked journalist Zaki Qais,” said Butler. “The Taliban’s continued silence on these repeated attacks on journalists undermines any remaining credibility of pledges to allow independent media to continue operating.”
Last week the CPJ sought information on an attack on another Kabul-based journalist, Noor Mohammad Hashemi, deputy director for the nonprofit Salam Afghanistan Media Organization, who was beaten up by three unidentified men.