Monday, January 26, 2015

10,000 Jews In Damascus and What Happened to Them

Nadene Goldfoot                                              
Forced to leave Jerusalem 70 CE-Fall of Temple
Jews were in Syria since biblical times.  In 70 CE when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in Jerusalem, there were already 10,000 Jews who had moved over to Damascus.  It was only 135 miles or several days by horseback.  For 2,000 years, Jews continued to live in Syria.
Great Synagogue in Aleppo, Syria

A Christian Arab scholar was one who reported about their history.  They were considered to be outside the community.  There were not allowed to carry weapons or to bear witness against Muslims in courts of law or to marry Muslim women.  This is what it's like to be Jewish there.  They were 2nd class citizens called dhimmis.  Because of this they even had to pay more than Muslims in taxes.

But, and this is a big but; they were permitted to keep their religious beliefs and their property.  They could manage the internal affairs of the communities according to their own laws and customs.  It became a refuge for Jews around 1492 who were fleeing from the Spanish Inquisition.
Jewish man of Ottoman Empire
For centuries under Ottoman rule, the Jews were allowed to live fairly secure and often prosperous lives as merchants in their mellahs.  Spanish exiles were responsible for establishing many Jewish religious schools in Damascus and Aleppo, and more than one Jew held the post of Finance Minister.  What else?

However, as all over in the Arab world, being a Jew was precarious.  A 13th century Syrian Arab writer, not Joan Peters, writer, who dug into her research and found this fact, provided an example of the durability and consistency of the Muslims' traditional Koran-inspired demoniacal image of the Jew.  It's the image through which the Prophet Muhammad and his followers sought to avenge the Jews for favoring Judaism over the new 7th century religion of theirs. Here's what they held over the Jews' heads.
"This Jewish group is the most cursed of all God's creation, the most evil-natured, and the most deeply rooted in infidelity and accursedness.  They are the most evil-intentioned of mankind in their deeds, even they are the most ostentatious in humility and self-abasement....When they manage to be alone with a man, they bring him to destruction, they introduce, by trickery, a stupefying drug into his food, and then they kill him."  

All this hatred towards Jews simply because the Jewish tribes in Arabia were not falling head over heels for Islam that Mohammad presented to them.  They were adamant about remaining as Jews.
Dhimmitude continued in 1840 when the Blood Libel was accused of some Jews.  They said that a priest had been killed by the Jews who wanted his blood to make Matzos for Passover.  People were no more sophisticated than they had been in the year 1.  They believed this horrid lie.  The facts are that Jews don't eat any blood under any conditions at all of animals.  They cannot eat all animals, first of all, and only certain ones like cows and sheep and goats, and not a drop of their blood.  So to accuse Jews of using human blood in their cooking is still like saying you can't sail too far in the ocean or you will drop off the edge.  Yet, people still, to this day, will slander Jews with such a belief.  Of all the people in the world to accuse, they are accusing the wrong people for such vomit-wretching ideas of eating human blood.
Syrian soldiers in French Army 1917
The end of WWI caused the Arabs, who aligned with Germany, to lose the war, not just any war but the WORLD WAR, the biggest war the world had ever seen which involved the most lives taken.  The French were given the mandate rights over Syria in 1920.  In 1925, the Druse were revolting against the French, and the Jewish Quarter of Damascus was attacked.  Many Jews were murdered and dozens were wounded.  Home and shops were looted and set afire.  It was like Kristelnacht in Germany.  The French persistently attempted to protect the Jews from the attacks that were increasing brought about by Arab resentment of foreigners in General and of the French in particular.
Jewish Wedding in Aleppo, Syria 
The Arabs' antagonism crystallized hostility.  Anti-Jewish riots were hurled on the Jews of Damascus in 1936.  The Jewish community was supporting the Arab nationalists but it didn't help their position.  Syrian Jews were accused of being Zionists, and the late '30s were full of anti-Jewish violence.  Jews were stabbed by Muslims who were activists, then, possibly acting like terrorists of today.  Demands were made to boycott the Jewish  Quarters.

Damascus became the headquarters of anti-Jewish plotting.  By 1937, a Nazi delegation, talking with its Nazi representative in the Middle East, paid a visit to Damascus.  This caused anti- Jewish propaganda to become even worse and closer ties grew between German and Arab teens and their organizations.  A terrorist group, the Arab National Youth Organization, declared a boycott against the Arab merchants who bought "Zionist goods from Palestine."

The Arab Defense Committee in Damascus warned the Jewish Agency president that "your attitude will lead you and Jews of the East to the worst of situations that has been written in history up to the present."   At the time the Nazi-allied Vichy regime of France was in effect, so local French authorities continued to defend the Jews from Arab extremist attacks, though Jews were dismissed from official posts and were penalized by economic restrictions.  The Allied occupation in 1941 restored equilibrium somewhat, but Nazi propaganda continued.                      
Leader haj Amin al Husseini in Germany with Hitler plotting against Jews
Talk about propaganda that people swallow!  In 1942, the Axis radio in Damascus caused alarm by broadcasting a false report that President Roosevelt of the USA and Churchill of Great Britain had promised Syria to the Jews as part of the post-war Jewish state.
Hotel Beit Wakil in Aleppo, Syria in Jewish Quarter
The Jewish quarter was raided in 1944 and 1945, and the end of World War II in 1945 intensified the persecution and restrictions against the Jews.  Tens of thousands of Syrian Jews had fled between the world wars and after.  The Jews numbered about 35,000 in 1917.  In 1943, about 30,000 still remained in Syria, mostly in Aleppo and Damascus.  The Arabs murdered the director of the Alliance Jewish-affiliated school in June 1945.

In 1945, Syria won its independence, just like Israel did in 1948.  The mandates given in the League of Nations at the end of WWI were finished.  The Jews of Damascus had to deal with the Damascus Mufti who warned at a religious conference that if Jewish immigration into Palestine was not halted, all countries of Islam would declare a "Holy War" against the Jews.  They figured the Jews would turn around in Israel and attack them, and after the way they had been treating Jews, knew they had some bad days coming.

After this speech, a Syrian student mob celebrated a Muslim holiday by desecrating the Great Synagogue of Aleppo.  They beat up Jews at prayer, just like what happened in Jerusalem a month ago, and these Syrians burned their prayer books in the street.
Hafez al Assad of Syria
Hafez al-Assad became President of Syria in 1971 and stayed in till 2000.
 His son, an eye doctor, Bashar Assad, then took over.  Jews had been kept locked up in a Ghetto.  They could not leave.  They carried on life without the comfort of even having telephones.  Finally, the remaining Jews were rescued by a brave Jewish mother from Canada, Judith Feld Carr,  who got them out and most went to Brooklyn, New York.  Some were able to get to Israel, but were not supposed to as the Assads were still afraid of their reprisal against them for their past deeds.

Resource: From Time Immemorial by Joan Peters, page 60-61. Reference 215: Abd al-Rahim al-Jawbari, quoted by CE Bosworth, "Jewish Elements in the Banu Sasan," in MOshe Ma'oz, ed., Studies in the History of the Jewish Communities in Muslim Lands (in preparation), cited by Ma'oz in The Image of the Jew in Official Arab Literature and Communications Media (Shazar Library, U of Jerusalem, 1976, p. 12; also see Stillman, The Jews, pp. 61, 75-77.

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