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Tunisia to Jews: Keep Coming to Djerba for Lag B’Omer

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

The annual Jewish Lag B’Omer pilgrimage to the oldest synagogue in Africa should be maintained as a symbol of Tunisian openness, according to Tunisia’s tourism minister on Tuesday.

Jews have been living on the island of  Djerba since 500 BC, with the local synagogue believed to be the oldest in Africa.  In the 1960s, Tunisia’s Jewish community numbered 100,000.  Most Jews left following the 1967 Six Day War.  Now, almost all of Tunisia’s 1,500 Jews reside on the island near the border of Libya.  Djerba was once called the “Island of Cohanim” because so many of the Jewish families there could trace their ancestry back to Moses’ brother Aaron, the first High Priest and father of the priestly class.

Elyes Fakhfakh’s public support for the annual Jewish event comes as the rise of fundamentalist Islamic Salafi groups threatens to drive out Tunisia’s remaining Jewish population.  Anti-Semitic rhetoric has increased since the overthrow of longtime president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 as part of the Arab Spring.  Unrest in Tunisia led to the cancellation of Lag B’Omer events that year.  Several thousand Jews – many of whom immigrated to France from Tunisia – are anticipated to attend this year.  On March 9-10, they will celebrate the victory of the Jews over the Romans prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, as well as the passing of the writer of the mystical Zohar, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Fakhfakh called the annual Jewish celebration in Djerba a rite which “should not change because it illustrates the openness of Tunisia to the world.”  Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali of the Ennahda party Monday concurred with Fakhfakh, saying “the Jewish pilgrims are welcome to Djerba”.

On April 11, Tunisian President Moncep Marzouki, accompanied by Tunisian grand rabbi Haim Bitan, laid a wreath and observed a moment of silence to remember the victims of an Al-Qaida truck bombing, which killed 21 people at the El Djerba synagogue on Djerba ten years ago.  Included in the killings were 16 tourists – 14 from Germany and 2 from France.  At the event, Marzouki called discrimination against Jews and attacks on their person or property “forbidden” and called Jews “an integral part of our people.”

On March 25, Salafi activists demonstrated in favor of the implementation of sharia Islamic law, chanting slogans to “prepare for the fight against the Jews”.

Under the rule of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Jews enjoyed official protected status, a privilege which has not been renewed by the new Islamist government.

Mordechai Kedar: Radical Islam in Africa

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Before Islam appeared on the scene, the Arab tribes would contend with each other in endless wars that continued for hundreds of years and cost many lives. When Islam appeared in the first quarter of the seventh century CE, it was meant to be a new, religious basis for the definition of the individual and the group; a unifying focus of ideological identification that would substitute for the divisive tribal identification from which the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula suffered. The tragedy of Islam is that it failed in this important task, so the Islamic peoples and the tribes remained divided and fragmented, bickering with each other and quarreling with each other as if they had forgotten the explicit saying in the Qur’an, (Chapter 3, verse 103): “Cleave, all of you, to the religion of Allah and do not part from each other”. The worst thing is that throughout history, Islam has been used as fuel for the fires of internal conflicts, and many times in the course of the history of Islam, both sides of an internal conflict justified the conflict in terms of Islam, and each declared jihad against the other.

European colonialism left behind it in Africa heterogeneous states, each of which is an aggregation of tribes that differ from each other. Therefore, for many years, most of the African states have been afflicted with violent conflicts that leave in their wake many thousands of dead and wounded. Cases of genocide, in Biafra in the late sixties and in Rwanda in 1994, are the direct result of the conflicts between tribes within African states. In cases where one side of a conflict is Muslim and the other side is Christian or Animist (pagan), the religious element becomes part of the reason for the war, fueling the conflict and turning it into a holy jihad, thus justifying acts of mass slaughter.

When conflicts between the tribes are colored with a religious hue, situations are created in which Muslim dictators behave with total brutality: Idi Amin, the dictator of Uganda between 1971 and 1979 eliminated about a half million Ugandans in cold blood. Some of them he threw into Lake Victoria, teeming with crocodiles, to be food for the predators. These days a film is circulating on the nternet of a different case: a mass murderer in Uganda, Joseph Kony, who forcefully enlisted children, armed them, and turned them into mass murderers totally lacking in compassion or conscience.

For about fifty years, in the second half of the twentieth century, a terrible and destructive war was carried out in Sudan, between the Arab-Muslim North and the Christian-Animist South. Over the years, this war has caused about two million fatalities, and it ended in an agreement in July 2011 that brought about  the division of Sudan into two states, a northern state which is Arab and Muslim, and a southern state with a Christian and Animist population.

In the Darfur region of Sudan, genocide has been taking place since 2003, in which Arab Muslim militias, aligned with the Sudanese government, have been methodically eliminating African Muslim tribes, burning their villages, slaughtering the men and making abused slaves of their wives. As of today, about half a million people have been killed as a result of the battles, arson, and starvation that have afflicted the population of Darfur, and millions of its people were forced to flee to Libya, Chad or Nigeria. At the crux of this conflict is the popular belief that prevails among Arab Muslims, that Muslims who are not Arab are not true Muslims, but rather second class Muslims only pretending to be Muslims, and therefore it is permissible to shed their blood.

It is important to note that in Arabic, a person with black skin is called “abd”, “slave”, and Arabs were the biggest slave merchants, selling Africans to work in America. This view of the people of Africa turns them into easy and legitimate prey. In the countries south of the Sahara – Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania – there is a Muslim majority, because most of their inhabitants converted to Islam during the course of history in order not to be considered as slaves. Therefore Arab Muslims consider them not to be true Muslims.

In the battles over Darfur there are organizations with an Islamic character such as “Jamaat Ansar al-Sunnah” or “Group of the Followers of Sunnah”; “Jamayat al-Kitab wal-Sunnah Alh’irih” – “Charity Association of Koran and the Tradition”; and the “Salafion” – “The Glorious Past”. And the texts that these organizations distribute are reminiscent of the texts of Usama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, past and present leader of Al-Qaeda respectively. It is important to note that during the 1990s, Al Qaeda had bases in Sudan. In 1988 the terrorists who struck the American embassy in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya and Dar-es-Salam, the capital of Tanzania emanated from these bases; those attacks resulted in more than two hundred fatalities.

Israel, UN, Worried about Growing Hizbollah Base in West Africa

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor warned the UN Security Council Tuesday that Hizbollah was increasing its power base in western Africa. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his own concern about dangerous ties between the Lebanese terror group and African crime organizations.

Ambassador Prosor added: “Israel is particularly concerned over Hezbollah’s use of the area as a base of terror operations. Criminal initiatives bolster Hizbollah’s efforts to create sleeper-cells in the area. The world can’t stand idly by – this endangers more than just Africa but innocent lives the world over, as we have seen in New Delhi, Tbilisi and Bangkok.”

Israel Moves to Stop Flood of Illegal Immigrants

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

The Knesset on Tuesday passed a law allowing foreigners caught illegally entering the country to be held in detention facilities for up to three years, without trial. The law also sets penalties of up to 15 years in prison for Israelis who assist in such infiltrations.

The new regulations, which update a 1954 law passed in response to Palestinian terrorist raids, are meant to stop the flow across the Egyptian border into Israel of tens of thousands of Africans seeking work or asylum. Current regulations allow authorities a much shorter period of detention, in many cases forcing the government to release illegal immigrants.

Opponents of the law said it infringed on human rights, and called its provisions for holding immigrants without trial unconstitutional. The law’s sponsors said that those who provide humanitarian assistance to illegal immigrants already in the country would not be subject to penalty.

Illegal immigration from Africa has become a major concern for Israel. The first wave began in 2005, when a few hundred people fleeing fighting in Sudan travelled through Egypt to seek protection in the country. Tens of thousands of Sudanese, Eritreans and other African nationals soon followed, seeking better living conditions in Israel.

Knesset Passes New Bill to Prevent Infiltration

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

New legislation targeting illegal immigration passed its second and third readings in the Knesset on Tuesday. Among the measures included in the bill are the power to detain illegal migrants for up to three years without charge, prison terms of up to 15 years for anyone convicted of aiding migrants involved in smuggling humans, weapons or drugs into Israel, faster construction of the border fence with Egypt, and a new detention facility.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahi, who had called the issue “a national calamity” and made the legislation a cornerstone of his plan to tackle illegal immigration, cast a vote in favor of the legislation.

Detractors claim the bill is undemocratic and runs counter to Israel’s obligations to human rights. But Likud MK Zeev Elkin stressed that there were similar laws on the books in many other countries, and that the legislation was required to stem the growth of illegal immigration. According to figures, there were 52,487 illegal immigrants in Israel at the end of last year, most of whom arrived from Africa.

Israel Prepares Africa For Mass Circumcision

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

A delegation of Israeli mohels (ritual circumcisors) returned from a two week trip to Africa last week, where they prepared a UN medical team for a mass African circumcision.

 

Over the next five years, an estimated 20 million African men will be circumcised by UNAIDS, the UN organization dedicated to reducing the spread of the AIDS virus, which is contagious through sexual and blood-to-blood contact.

 

Since 2007, Israeli volunteer physicians and nurses have been performing circumcisions in Swaziland and South Africa, as part of Operation Abraham. Operation Abraham is a program of the Jerusalem AIDS Project, operating in coordination with the Hadassah Medical Organization, which promotes conducting circumcisions in Africa as a way of curtailing the spread of disease.

 

On Monday night, the UN and the Obama administration announced the program, with the support of Operation Abraham.

 

A team of 40 Israeli surgeons and nurses is providing professional guidance on setting up clinics and performing adult and teenage circumcisions safely and effectively.

 

The program about to get underway in Africa is expected to prevent 3.4 million people from being infected by HIV, and save $16.5 billion in related funds.  Studies from 2006 proved that circumcision reduces the risk of male infection by HIV by 60 percent.

 

The State of Israel has experience with mass circumcision, having performed large numbers of youth and adult ritual circumcisions for waves of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.  Jewish ritual circumcision typically takes place on the eight day after the birth of a boy, but was either prevented or not practiced by many Jews from those countries.  Men of all backgrounds who convert to Judaism must also undergo circumcision.

Human, All Too Human: To Survive, We Need To Look Behind The News

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

We Jews are already accustomed to irony, but – only rarely – does the subject in question rise to the daunting level of human survival. Here, however, is one of those rare subjects. Considering it carefully, we can begin to appreciate the obligation to look at our world with genuinely larger questions in mind. In other words, we should quickly begin to recognize a distinct imperative to look behind the news.

The “story” I have presently in mind begins at the airport (any airport). There, each time I get on a plane, I am promptly struck by the profoundly ironic contradictions. As a species, it seems, we can take tons of heavy metal and shape them into vehicles of air travel. Yet, we must also take off our shoes and segregate our “liquids and gels” before being allowed to board. After all, we understand, some on board may always be trying to murder their fellow passengers.

What is wrong with us? Surely, the gap between technical intelligence and empathy is now more glaring than ever. Where precisely, have we humans gone wrong? This is not an academic question. It is the single most practical question that we must answer. Until we do, all proposed solutions to war, terror and genocide will be irremediably partial, limited and temporary.

Like it or not, we Americans are part of a much wider human family. This imperiled global community continues to reveal, without humiliation or embarrassment, the plainly delicate veneer of social coexistence. Recalling William Golding’s shipwrecked boys in Lord of the Flies, we must also admit that behind this veneer lurks a dreadful barbarism. Reading the latest world news, we must unhesitatingly acknowledge that an entire world could once again become “bloodless,” a global “skeleton.” We inhabit a badly-despoiled planet; we now face genuinely existential crises with nary a serious remedy in mind.

Why? How has an entire species, scarred and miscarried from the start, managed to scandalize even its own creation? Are we all the potential murderers of those who live beside us? Looking at history, we know that this is not a silly question.

Today, in all-too-many places, the human corpse remains a grotesque object of supremely high fashion. Soon, especially with spreading weapons of mass destruction, whole nations of corpses could become the rage. Following even a small nuclear war, cemeteries the size of entire cities would be needed to bury the dead. Before anything decent could be born into this post-apocalypse world, only a snarling gravedigger could wield the forceps.

Unremarkably, the silence of “good people” is vital to all that would madden and torment. Yet these good people, here and in other countries, normally remain quiet. To be sure, there will always be deeply impassioned reactions to the latest exterminations in Africa or Asia or Europe, but here, in America, amidst our indisputably “advanced civilization,” the audible sighs are never so bothersome as to interfere with lunch.

How much treasure, how much science, how much labor and planning, how many centuries have we humans ransacked to allow a seemingly unstoppable carnival of chemical, biological and nuclear harms? Frightened by the always irrepressible specter of personal death, and also by the sometimes desperate need to belong – to be an acceptable member of a state, a faith, a race, a tribe, often for the wrong reasons, at literally all costs (even at the cost of killing outsiders), how much longer can so many be permitted to project their own private terrors on to public world politics?

I don’t know the answer. I do know, however, that we cannot remain unmindful that these are the critically important questions before us. Finding answers to them will thus be indispensable to solving our more particular and insistent survival, security and economic problems.

French philosophers of the eighteenth-century Age of Reason wrote of a siècle des lumieres, a century of light, but the early twenty-first century is still mired in a bruising darkness. This can be changed, but only if we first learn the core difference in human affairs between cause and effect. To succeed, we must learn to base our national and international remedies on conquering the real “disease,” not just on mitigating symptoms.

It is nice to believe in progress, but usually history reveals only intermittently catastrophic patterns of decline.

In the end, all of the visible Earth is made of ashes, but even ashes can have very tangible meaning. Through the obscure depths of history, we should now struggle heroically to make out the phantoms of sunken ships of state and to learn more about the then-foreseeable disasters that had sent them down.

All too often, the barbarians are not found “outside the gates.” The destructive human inclination to reject compassion, to tolerate evil and to turn away from serious learning still lies latent within many, relentless; recalcitrant; heavy, and (above all) dangerous.

We humans build impressively complex machines to fly us through the air, but we must continuously fear that some among us will transform these marvelous vehicles into instruments of annihilation.

The ironic contradictions of the present age remain stark, and dense with implication. It is high time to look behind the news and figure them out.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and publishes widely on international relations and international law. The author of ten major books on world affairs, he was born in Zurich, Switzerland, on August 31, 1945. Professor Beres is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/louis-bene-beres/human-all-too-human-to-survive-we-need-to-look-behind-the-news-2/2010/07/07/

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