[This is a long version of the introduction that we wrote for the book “Echoing Identities: Young Mizrahi Anthology“. Mati Shemoelof, Nafthalie Shem-Tov, Nir Baram (Eds.), Am-Oved Publishers, 2007]
A New Spirit – A Letter from Jewish Descendents of the Countries of Islam
We, the daughters and sons of parents who immigrated to Israel from Arab and Muslim countries, hereby express our support for the new spirit presented by president Obama in his Cairo speech. A spirit of reconciliation, realistic vision, striving for justice and dignity, respect for different religions, cultures and human beings, whoever and wherever they are.
We were born in Israel and we are Israelis. Our country is important to us, and we would like to see it secure, just, and prosperous for the benefit of its inhabitants. Yet, the recent conflict into which we were born cannot erase the long history of hundreds and thousands of years, during which our parents and ancestors lived in Muslim and Arab countries. Not only they have lived in the region from time immemorial, but were also part of the fabric of daily life and have contributed to the development of the region and its culture.
Nowadays, the cultures of the lands of Islam, Middle East, and the Arab world, are all still part of our identity; a part which we cannot, and do not wish to repress nor uproot.
Surly, the Jews living in Muslim countries endured some difficult times. Nevertheless, those painful moments should not conceal nor erase the well known and documented history of shared life. Muslim rule over the Jews was much more tolerant and lenient compared with non-Muslim countries. The fate of Jews in Muslim regions cannot be compared with the tragic fate of Jews in other regions, Europe in particular.
One can view the last decades as a period during which a deep chasm has been opened between the Jews and Israel and the Arab and Muslim world.
We however, prefer to perceive these last decades as a painful yet temporary crack in a history that goes longer than that. We have a shared past and a shared future. Thus, when we look at the map, we see Israel as part of the Middle East, and not solely from a geographical perspective.
Judaism and Islam are not far apart from religious, spiritual, historical and cultural point of views. The alliance between these two religions dates back many generations. Yet the memory of this partnership and the unique history of Jews originated from the Muslim and Arab world (which today constitutes 50% of the Jewish population in Israel!) has unfortunately faded, both in Israel as well as in the majority of the Muslim world. In the necessary reconciliation process between West and East, oriental Jews can and should embody a live bridge of remembrance, healing and partnership.
From our point of view the rift between Israel/Jews and the Arab/Muslim world cannot last forever, it is splitting our identities and our souls. As for the tragic Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we hope that a fair solution of mutual respect and mutual recognition will be reached very soon. A solution that considers the hopes, fears and pains of the Palestinian side, as well as those of the Israeli side.
We therefore, express our support for the new spirit set forth by President Obama in Cairo. We wish to join the vision for a future in which bridges of mutual respect and humanity will replace walls of suspicion, aggression and hatred. All this in the spirit of justice and humanism shared by both Judaism and Islam.
Signatories: Kobi Oz (Tunis), Alon Aboutboul (Egypt/Algiers), Yossi Ohana (Morocco/Berberia), Hedva Eyal (Iran), Netta Elkayam (Morocco), Almog Behar (Iraq), Moïs Benarroch (Morocco), Navit Barel (Tripoli, Libya), Yael Berda (Tunis), Yitzhak Gormezano-Goren (born in Egypt), Bat-Shachar Gormezano-Gorfinkel (Egypt/Iraq), Yali Hashash (Libia/Yemen), Claris Harbon (Morocco), Yael Israel (Iran/Turkey), Shlomit Lir (Iran), Dr. Nathalie Messika (Tunis), Shimon Marmelstein (Afghanistan), Orli Noy (born in Iran), Yonit Naaman (Turkey/Yemen), Tsvi Noah (Iraq), Dror Nissan (Tripoli, Libya), Yehezkel Nafshy (Iraq), Yuval Ivri (Iraq), Ktzia Alon (Kurdistan/Bukhara), Adamit Pere (Yemen), Yechezkel Rachamim (Iraq), Yudit Shahar (Turkey), Mati Shmueloff (Syria/Iraq/Iran), Naftali Shem-Tov (Iran-Kurdistan/Iraq), Sigalit Banai (Yemen/Iraq), Yaron Avitov (Morocco), Ilan Shaul (Turkey/Egypt), Reuven Abargel (born in Morocco), Adi Assis (Haleb, Syria), Shira Ohaion (Morocco), Shlomit Benjamin (Syria/Turkey), Avshalom Elitzur (born in Iran), Yael Ben-Yeffet (Iraq/Aden), Orna Yehuda (Iran), Boaz Cohen (Azerbigan/Afghanistan).Read More »