Volume II, DIVISION B: JEWISH HISTORY DURING THE MISHNAH AND TALMUD PERIOD, IN THE MIDDLE AGES AND MODERN TIMES; THE HISTORY OF THE JEWISH LABOUR MOVEMENT; JEWRY IN ISLAMIC COUNTRIES; CONTEMPORARY JEWISH HISTORY – THE HOLOCAUST; ZIONISM AND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL / כרך ב, חטיבה ב: תולדות עם ישראל בתקופת המשנה והתלמוד; תולדות עם ישראל בימי הביניים ובעת החדשה; תולדות תנועת העבודה היהודית; יהדות ארצות האיסלאם; יהדות זמננו; השואה‎ || יחסיהם של יהודי טריפולי עם שכניהם המוסלמים / THE RELATIONS OF THE JEWS OF TRIPOLITANIA WITH THEIR MOSLEM NEIGHBOURS

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  • World Union of Jewish Studies /

    /THE RELATIONS OF THE JEWS OF TRIPOLITANIA WITH THEIR MOSLEM NEIGHBOURSAuthor(s): Harvey Goldberg and 'Source: Proceedings of the World Congress of Jewish Studies / Volume II, DIVISION B: JEWISH HISTORY DURING THE MISHNAH AND ,, TALMUD PERIOD, IN THE MIDDLE AGES AND MODERN TIMES; THE HISTORY OF THE JEWISHLABOUR MOVEMENT; JEWRY IN ISLAMIC COUNTRIES; CONTEMPORARY JEWISH HISTORY THE HOLOCAUST; ZIONISM AND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL / , ... : Published by: World Union of Jewish Studies / Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23529117 .Accessed: 14/06/2014 02:05

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  • THE RELATIONS OF THE JEWS OF TRIPOLITANIA

    WITH THEIR MOSLEM NEIGHBOURS

    Harvey Goldberg

    Jerusalem

    Introduction

    The large scale immigration of Jews from countries of the Maghreb represents a significant social event whether viewed from the standpoint of their former home countries, or in terms of the impact of these groups on the new State of Israel. While the historian may rightly claim that

    the perspective of time is necessary to interpret these events with a

    balanced view, it is equally true that much valuable information and

    insight will be lost if studies on the social life of the Jews of North

    Africa ignore the importance of live informants who grew up in those

    countries and whose testimonies complement and elaborate the under

    standing gained from documentary research.

    During the past 5 years, I have been collecting data on various aspects of the traditional socio-cultural life of the Jews of Tripolitania. While

    the anthropologist's stock and trade is to study customs and institut

    ions, the daily repetitive events which make up "social life", I have

    recently turned my attention to a single historical episode, a series of Anti-Jewish riots which took place in Tripoli and other towns in that

    province in November 1945. Beyond the fact that more than 130 indivi

    duals were killed in the space of a few days, these events attracted my attention because breakdowns in social and communal relations often

    provide ways of understanding how these relationships operate under

    "normal" circumstances. In addition by taking a regional perspective and considering various Jewish communities in Tripolitania, it is possible to compare those communities where riots erupted with those where

    they did not and systematically consider a number of different factors.

    This investigation is currently in its exploratory stage, but I shall never

    theless begin by briefly describing the situation of Tripolitania at the

    time of the riots, and then tell the story of one small community where

    the riots almost broke out, but didn't. Lastly I shall elaborate some of

    the issues raised in this account, with data collected from other commu

    nities affected by the riots.

    123

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  • 124 HARVEY GOLDBERG

    Background of the Riots

    Tripolitania, in the years following the British conquest of the province, was faced with an uncertain political future in the hands of the inter

    national community. No less eager for independence than their "com

    patriots" in Libya, the inhabitants of Tripolitania had not received any

    promise from Great Britain concerning their ultimate sovereignty. The

    various suggestions bandied about in international circles included

    renewed colonial status under Italy and trusteeship of the Soviet Union.

    It is Khadduri's1 interpretation that this state of political anomie pro vided the background to many demonstrations in the province, including the riots which turned against the Jews.

    There are a number of different explanations concerning the immedi

    ate cause of the riots, explanations which refer to Moslem-Jewish

    relations, in Palestine as well as in Tripoli. One version tells of a rumour

    that the Jews attacked the Qadi of Tripoli, whose office was close to

    the Jewish quarter. Another tells of rumours that the Jews of Palestine

    had murdered Moslems praying at the Aksa Mosque, a rumour that

    spread through some of the villages of the region. A more secular

    explanation recalls that the radios had carried news of anti-Jewish riots

    in Cairo, on November 2, the anniversary of the Balfour declaration.

    All the "public" accounts of the riots, however, including those of

    the Jewish community, indicated that the riots were completely unex

    pected, and cited the exemplary relations that had maintained between Moslems and Jews during the past thirty years under the Italian regime.

    An Overview of the Riots

    The riots began on a Sunday evening, November 4 (1945) at various

    places within the city of Tripoli. The then head of the Jewish community, Yitzhak Habib, went to the headquarters of the British Police, but was unable to find a single officer, and was told that they could not be located. Things quieted down that evening. The following morning rioting resumed, and many Moslems from the neighbouring villages had verged on the city of Tripoli. The leaders of the Jewish community went again to the British Police, and requested that the Military inter vene because the police force (which included many native Moslems)

    1. M. Khadduri:, Modem Libya'. A Study in Political Development, (Baltimore, The

    John Hopkins Press, 1963), p. 84. A similar expalnation is offered by F. Rennell, British Military Administration of Occupied Territories in Africa During the Years

    1941-1947. (London, His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1948), p. 466.

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  • JEW AND MOSLEM IN LIBYA 125

    would be unable to handle the situation. They were received by a Colonel

    Olton who promised to look into the matter urgently. No official action

    was taken on that day and a curfew was announced only on the following

    day to take place in the evening. While a headline of the London

    Times of November 8 reads "Firm British Action1' the report of the

    Jewish community states that no effective measures were taken till the

    morning of November 7. During this period 38 Jews of the city of

    Tripoli were killed, 40 in the nearby village of Amrus, 34 in Zanzur,

    (12 km. from Tripoli) 7 in Tajura, 13 in Zawia and 3 in Mesallata.

    There were many injuries and widespread looting. Nine synagogues were burned and 35 Torah-scrolls ruined. Further details are found in

    an official report of the Jewish community.2

    Riots in the Villages : The case of the Gharian

    A quick glance at a map of the region shows that the spread of the

    riots reflects geography. The villages closest to the city suffered the

    most, and except for the case of Mesallata, no one in the mountain

    communities suffered a loss of life. In every community about which

    I have information, however, news of the riots became quickly known

    and a tense situation developed, in which Moslems began to gather in

    crowds and a possibility of riots became imminent. I would like to pre sent the case of one community, the Jews of the Gharian, where the

    possibility of riots developed, but did not materialize. Elsewhere, I

    have discussed the social structure of this community in greater detail3,

    and transmit the details of this case as reported to me by Halifah Hassan, who was then sheikh of this Jewish community of about 400 individuals.

    Halifah Hassan had been appointed sheikh of the Jewish community of the village of Tighrinna, after the British takeover in the beginning of 1943. He rather quickly succeeded in establishing links with the new

    rulers of the region, outside of his capacity of Sheikh, by selling supplies to the military and police outposts, and selling local handicraft items

    to individual officers. Quite by coincidence, he was approached on

    Sunday, November 4, by the driver of the local British commander

    who invited Halifah to come with him to Tripoli the following morning.

    2. Communita lsraelitica dlia Tripolitania, I Tumulti Antiebraici in Tripolitania 4,

    5, 7 e 8, Novembre 1945. Relazione aggiorniata al 31 Dicembre 1945 corredata di

    elenchi nominativi, prospetti statistici, pubblicazioni di stampa, communicati uffi

    ciali, awisi, proclaim, ecc. 55p. (dactylographie; Ben-Zvi Institute collection, 1724).

    3. H. Goldberg, Cave Dwellers and Citrus Growers: A Jewish Community in Libya

    and Israel, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1972).

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  • 126 HARVEY GOLDBERG

    Halifah, who was in need of supplies for his shop, accepted, and was

    told to meet the driver early the next morning. The next morning Halifah

    set out, with the driver, and a Moslem official named Elghud, second in

    command to the British provincial "governor". They arrived at the

    Municipality of Tripoli several hours later, and immediately Elghud was warned to "watch your friend" because of the riots that had already started. Elghud went about his business, making sure that Halifah was

    always kept at a safe place. By the time the afternoon arrived, Elghud had told Halifah he should stay in Tripoli, at the Mehary Hotel, but

    Halifah insisted that he wanted to return to the Gharian. Elghud said

    that might be dangerous because he did not know what was going on

    there. He then ordered the driver to take Halifah back to the Gharian, and stay by him, wherever he wanted to go. They returned there, to

    Halifah's village of Tighrinna, and found that Halifah's mother had

    gone to Gharian town the capital of the province to phone Tripoli in order to find out what happenned to Halifah. She had gone with one

    Mohammad Kebbar, who also lived in Tighrinna, but who was active in national politics (Kebbar's brother, I believe, had been hanged by the Italians for his resistance to their rule), to phone from the court house there. Upon his arrival in Tighrinna, Halifah was greeted by the leaders of the Jewish community, together with four sheikhs of the Moslem communities in the region who asked him what had happened in Tripoli. Halifah replied that nothing special had happened that he knew of, but it war clear that the news of the rioting had reached the Gharian. Another notable of the the Jewish community, Rabbi Shmu

    el,said that they should go to the police and request reinforcement. The four Moslem sheikhs, and five members of the Jewish community (including Halifah) went to the police headquarters in Gharian town, four kilometers away. At the headquarters, the policeman on duty said that no one was there (note the similarity to the situation in Tripoli). Halifah then decided to go to the home of the police captain, a British official who visited Halifah on almost a weekly basis. Halifah went and rang at the Captain's gate, the Captain answered him but insisted that he did not have time to talk to Halifah that evening. Halifah claimed that the Captain obviously knew what was going on, but offered no ex

    planation for his behaviour.

    Halifah then returned to Tighrinna, and further conferred with the Moslem Sheikhs and Jewish leaders. At this point, one of the Moslems, Sheikh Ghit, who Halifah and others credit for his special concern for the Jews, said that "we don't needtheBiitish"we have 4 sheikhs and

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  • JEW AND MOSLEM IN LIBYA 127

    let each sheikh bring 5-7 men who can help guard the Jews. They went

    away and did this. Sheikh Ghit told Halifah to get together with the

    other members of the Jewish community and set up a sort of "open house". Halifah thus had members of the community contribute food, sug ar, tea and so forth and sat in his house from Monday night till Tuesday

    night with members of the Moslem and Jewish community coming and

    going, eating, drinking, chatting. Throughout this 24-hour celebration

    of solidarity people stressed how "we are brothers", "we have lived

    together for thousands of years", "your father is our father", "each

    person has his own religion" and so forth. The Moslem Sheikhs said

    that "we" do not have to pay attention to what happened in Tripoli. Another argument, which probably was not voiced publicly, was that

    if one group of Moslems would attack the Jews and loot them, various

    Moslem factions might then begin fighting one another over the booty. In any event, this ceremony "worked" and no rioting broke out in the

    region. One member of the Jewish community was struck by a Moslem

    "trouble-maker", but the latter was quickly grabbed and put in jail.

    By Tuesday night, the commander of the province came announcing that he had provided for a reinforcement of the local police, and brought 4 truckloads of Sudanese soldiers to help guard the Jews. The reinforce

    ment of soldiers remained for 3-4 months, and after 1-2 months, a

    police station was set up near Tighrinna. The first local commander

    of this station was named Frankenstein, and the Jews of Tighrinna

    suspected that he was Jewish. During the time the extra reinforcements

    stayed, they were frequently feted at the homes of the Jewish community leaders. On the occasion of the Moslem festival 'ed eddhayah\ the Jews

    gave a gift of three or four sheep to the Sudanese troups.

    Comparison with other Jewish communities. The Logic of Protection.

    I would like to take the case of the Gharian Jews and use it as a starting

    point of comparison with other communities on which I have been

    able to find or gather data. I am still in the process of gathering data on

    the subject, but would like to use the present occasion to indicate some

    directions of my inqu...

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