World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Jewish Communities across the Middle East (418) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: FRI 23, 9-11 am

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Chair: Jens Scheiner (Professor, University of Göttingen, Germany)

Paper Presenter: Kerstin Hünefeld (Scientific Assistant, Institute for Jewish Studies (Judaitik), Free University of Berlin) “The Protection-Relationship (Dhimma) Revisited”
The dhimmi-status is an ambivalent and flexible issue. Even in the concrete case of Imam Yahya (1869-1948) and his relationship with the Jews, accounts seem to be ambiguous: once being mentioned as destroyer of synagogues when he first came to power in 1905 and later ordering forced conversion of Jewish orphans, Yemenite Jews generally remember him as a righteous ruler and their protector. But do these different accounts necessarily point to a contradictory, arbitrary behaviour on the part of Imam Yahya Or may his different attitudes portray two sides of the same system which is conclusive within a wider frame, looking beyond the bilateral relationship between the Imam and the Jews? At first, I will focus on the question whether the relationship between Imam Yahya and the Jews was rather determined by security or by discrimination? I will outline an exemplary case study which is based on handwritten Arabic petition-documents composed by representatives of the Jewish community in San'a and answered by Imam Yahya during the 1930ies. Another source for reconstructing the micro-managed relationship between the Imam, deputies of his government and the Jews are the memories of the san'ani rabbi Salim b. Sa'id al-Jamal (later called Rabbi Gamliel), who worked as a mediator between Imam Yahya and the Jewish Community from the mid 1920ies until his emigration to Palestine in 1944. Tightly connected to the question of how and why did the dhimma-relationship function, my focus than shifts to a deeper layer of the presented case study. By scrutinizing all the people (actors), who where directly or indirectly involved in the concrete case, it will be possible to expose causes for Imam Yahyas seemingly ambiguous behaviour towards the Jews. It will be concluded that the relationship between Imam Yahya and the Jews was determined rather by security than by discrimination. Resulting from an actor-centred analysis of the case study(ies), it must be retained that the dhimma-relationship went beyond being a bilateral relationship between the Jews and the Imam. It was a much wider 'social space' in which Muslims and Jews fought out political, struggles, legal and religious tensions, personal arguments and court intrigues. An analysis of this 'Dhimma-Space' thus enlightens not just the Muslim-Jewish relationship, but entails for a deeper understanding of Islamic statehood in Yemen and beyond.

Paper Presenter: Lena Gorska (Teaching assistant - Ph.D student-Department of Political Science University of Opole and University of Haifa) “Jewish refugees from Middle East – a forgotten aspect of the Arab-Israeli conflict”
For millennia during the Diaspora, Edot Ha Mizrach, which means Jewish Eastern communities, spread into North African countries, including Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East, and even Central and Eastern Asia. Historically, Jews and Jewish communities have existed in the mentioned area sometimes for even more than 2,500 years. One thousand years before the advent of Islam, Jews in substantial numbers resided in what are today Arab countries. Following the Muslim conquest of the region Jews lived under Islamic rule and were given the privileged status of ahl az-zimma - second class citizenship but with given permission for limited religious, educational, professional, and business opportunities. The result of protection and guaranteed autonomy created a unique identity of Arab Jews, separate but interrelated to the Islamic culture at the same time.The establishment of Israel as a Jewish State in 1948 within the heart of Dar al Islam caused an uncontrollable outbreak of one of the bloodiest conflicts of our times. Centuries of relatively harmonious Jewish and Muslim coexistence on Islamic land ended. Regrettably, newly born Arab nationalism and anti-imperialistic movements adopted the Zionist discourse in which Jewishness and Arabness were perceived as mutually exclusive. The increase of anti-Zionists and anti-Jewish sentiment in Muslim countries, accompanied frequently with various symptoms of discrimination, endangered the safety of these ancient communities. Consequently, a refugee crisis followed. Most of those ancient Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa were coerced to leave their previous homelands as a result of physical safety and political insecurity. Ironically, in almost parallel to the exodus of Oriental Jews, a comparably equal number of Arab refugees crossed the borders of Israel. The saga of the Modern Jewish exodus from Arab countries is a historic double drama. In their previous home countries they were recognised as strangers and in the land of their ancestors as not equally Jewish. Discrimination and the loss of the illusions were the common feelings for the majority of the new comers arriving to Israel at that time, after experiencing a social and cultural “clash of civilization”. The Zionistic ideology as an offspring of European nationalism was marked with typical Saidian Orientalism as its main trait, fighting the spirit of Levant. On the verge of independence, Israeli “Modern” society was strongly bound up with Western customs and traditions which would be unchangeable for the next couple of decades. Lagging behind the European standards, which is considered synonymous with enhancement of cultural and technological development. Oriental Jews lived virtually in isolation from the rest of society until the mid 60s’ having a really hard time adapting to their new situation. Israeli establishment, integration, and absorption policy was insufficient. Previously propagated egalitarian slogans did not have much in common with what was actually being practiced, and these methods where extremely controversial. An example of standard practices within the Israeli Ashkenazi establishment, with regards to Mizrahim and Sephardim, was spraying the newcomers with an insect killer DDT and holding them in transit camps ( the Ma’abarot) in fear of diseases. This constitutes one of the black pages in the history of Jewish immigration to Israel. The Arab Jews consequently underwent a process of de-socialization, casting last restiges of their Arabness, and re-socialization, acquiring "modern" affiliations and assimilating to the European Jewish standards.
In contrast to the high profile Arab refugees issue, publicly inconsiderable attention has been paid so far to the question of Jewish refugees from Muslim, and dominantly Arab countries, mostly due to a combination of international cynicism and domestic Israeli suppression of the matter. Numerous scholarly analyses relating to the Arab – Israeli conflict or process of shaping the contemporary society of Israel tend to treat the matter of Jewish refugees from Muslim countries in a superficial manner or indicating its existence for countering the Palestinian demand for the "right of return".
This study is aimed at focusing on the objective scrutiny of the Jewish-Oriental chapter in the history of the Middle East conflict and Peace Process by posing a question of historical relationship between Arab Jews and Zionist Ideology and re-examining the origins of the Middle Eastern refugee crisis while in the process also reflecting on Arab- Israeli conflict. Modern day research needs to look into this problem of Jewish refugees as an integral issue within the Middle Eastern conflict that also needs to be solved. For this study I will use extensive scholary literature, as well as digitalized articles published online, and also electronic feedback to them. My research will require use of archives resources belonging to British and Israeli academic institutions specialising in the history of the Middle East and North Africa, such as: The National Archives, SOAS Library, Yad Ben Zvi Institute, Misgav Yerushalayim: Center for Research and Study of the Sephardi and Oriental Jewish Heritage, The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, Babilonian Jewry Heritage Center or Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies.

Paper presenter: Dora Carpenter-Latiri (Senior Lecturer-University of Brighton), "The Jewish Tunisian website identity, nostalgia and memory of the senses"
The website is aimed at and produced by Jews whose origins are in Tunisia. Once a significant minority in Tunisia’s population, large numbers of Tunisian Jews emigrated mainly to France or Israel following independence and Arab-Israeli conflicts. The popularity of the site shows that a strong attachment to Tunisia persists among these émigrés and their descendants. For this paper I will explore how the attachment to Tunisia is reflected and expressed in the site and how this allows a specific Jewish-Tunisian identity to be defined. The website as a whole allows the complex identity of post-migration Tunisian Jews to be renegotiated and expressed. I will also explore various expressions of nostalgia, in particular through narratives underlining a strong memory of the senses located in the Tunisian experience. This will be through the exploration of fragments in Tunisian Judeo Arabic within the mainly French website and also through the exploration of Judeo-Arabic music, traditional recipes, sensory memories and the narratives around them on the website. I will show how through interaction with other members of the website, a new and flexible sense of community and continuity with the Tunisian Jewish way of life is asserted. Taking a cue from Seremetakis (1994) influential work on perception and memory as material culture in modernity, I will also explore how the site is a materialisation of marginalised historical representations based on perceptions, senses and emotions reinvented and redefining the meaning of Diaspora for Tunisian Jews.