The Jews of Libya: Coexistence, Persecution, Resettlement


This book investigates the transformative period in the history of the Jews of Libya (1938–52), a period crucial to understanding Libyan Jewry’s evolution into a community playing significant roles in Israel, Italy and in relation with Qaddhafi’s Libya. … Against a background of a reform conscious Ottoman administration (1835–1911) and subsequent stirrings of modernization under Italian colonial influence (1911–43), the Jews of Libya began to experience rapid change following the application of fascist racial ...
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This book investigates the transformative period in the history of the Jews of Libya (1938–52), a period crucial to understanding Libyan Jewry’s evolution into a community playing significant roles in Israel, Italy and in relation with Qaddhafi’s Libya. … Against a background of a reform conscious Ottoman administration (1835–1911) and subsequent stirrings of modernization under Italian colonial influence (1911–43), the Jews of Libya began to experience rapid change following the application of fascist racial laws of 1938, the onset of war-related calamities and violent expressions of Libyan pan-Arabism, culminating in mass migration to Israel in the period 1949–52. … By focusing on key socio-economic and political dimensions of this process, the author reveals the capacity of Libyan Jewry to adapt to and integrate into new environments without losing its unique and historical traditions. … The evolution of Libyan Jewry between 1938 and 1952 is characterized by three pivotal developments: The first (1938–43) was one of disruption and dislocation, brought about by the oppressive colonial administration allied with Germany. … In the second (1945–48), riots and pogroms by Muslim Libyan mobs, agitated by pan-Arab and Palestinian sympathies, against Jewish communities left unprotected by the post-war British administration, ushered-in an awakening to the fact that its millennial presence in Libya was about to end. Incipient Zionism among Libyan Jews, particularly in youth movements, matured into fully shared decisions to migrate to Israel where the third pivotal development (1949–52) – encompassing resettlement, economic, social and religious adaptations –began to unfold. … The book concludes with an analysis of the success story of Libyan Jewry in Israel, and in Italy where a group of post-1967 refugees reconstituted a thriving, influential community in Rome. “Jerusalem and Rome” have thus become the two poles of the renewed Jewish community of Libya, exhibiting political advancement in Israel, and commercial prosperity in Italy, along with a cultural renaissance and potential contributions to the ongoing process of reconciliation of the new Libya (as of 2005) with the West.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In this pioneering work, examining the crucial period from the Italian racial laws of 1938 to the final Jews exodus from Libyan soil in 1967, Dr Maurice Roumani builds on the foundations laid by the scholars of the Jewish communities of the Maghreb – H.Z. Hirschberg, Shlomo Dov Goitein and Michel Abitbol – giving us for the first time a full, clear and remarkable picture of what is now a lost community, alive and flourishing only as a world-wide diaspora, with Israel as its centre. ... The extent of Dr Roumani’s scholarship illuminates the story of Libyan Jewry in its final five decades: its early Zionism, its period under Italian monarchist and then Italian Fascist rule, its torments during the war years, its literal liberation and mass emigration under the British, and its final years under Arab and Muslim rule. He gives the reader an impressive account of the workings of the Jewish community, its personalities, its strengths and its achievements. ... There is much in Dr Roumani’s final chapters that is dramatic, much that is tragic; yet the extraordinary efforts to secure the emigration of Libyan Jews is an inspiring story. In telling it, as in each phase of this book, Dr Roumani uses a wide range of archival and oral sources, many of which have never been used before. Throughout the book, he reveals a mastery of the social and political history, and a fine understanding of the lives, hopes, fears and aspirations of Libyan Jews. His book is a testimony to their suffering and their fortitude.”  —From the Foreword, Sir Martin Gilbert

“This is a significant contribution to the modern history of the smallest and, regrettably, least studied Jewish community of North Africa. It is an important case study of Jewish modernization in an Islamic land under colonial rule and national independence, and while exhibiting certain parallels with the diaspora communities in the French Maghreb, it also exhibits no-less-important differences due not only to nature of Italian rule, but to the distinct character of the Libyan Jewry itself. Maurice Roumani has given us an impeccably researched, richly documented, and keenly insightful survey of Libyan Jewry’s social and political evolution in the twentieth century. He brings to the study not merely the observations of a trained scholar with all of the requisite linguistic and methodological skills, but also the real life experience of someone who lived through the turbulent events of the period and was an actual witness to some of them. It is to Roumani’s great credit that he is able to achieve an admirable balance of overall scholarly dispassion with the intimate poignancy of personal engagement. The Jews of Libya will surely take its place alongside the pioneer studies of Renzo De Felice and Harvey Goldberg.”  —Norman A. Stillman, University of Oklahoma

“Roumani examines the modern history of Libyan Jews from ca. 1911 to ca. 1969 with chapters chronologically covering the Libyan Jews under the Italian colonialism, the British military administration, the role of international Jewish organizations in the rehabilitation and protection of minority rights between the end of British occupation and the independent Libyan state, the exodus to Israel, settlement in Israel, and the final exodus following the outbreak of hostilities in 1967. An appendix includes copies of historical documents such as newspaper articles, letters, and others pertinent to the topic. Roumani writes in a clear voice, and the book will prove valuable to students and scholars of modern Jewish history.”  —Reference & Research Book News

“Libya had a Jewish community for millennia. Within a matter of years, it collapsed. The Libyan Jewish community may not have been the Arab world's largest or most prominent, but The Jews of Libya, nevertheless, should become standard reading not only for students of Jewish history but for those professing expertise in modern Arab or North African history as well.”  —Middle East Quarterly

“Twenty-eight years ago I reviewed Harvey E. Goldberg’s The Book of Mordechai: A study of the Jews of Libya, and it is a pleasure to again review an outstanding book on the vibrant Jews of Libya. They had a rich history of over two thousand years including many good years, but then the community, within a few turbulent decades, was forced to undergo tremendous persecution, including Nazi detention and concentration camps, and anti-Semitic riots and attacks from Arab nationalists that forced them to leave their homeland. But they established successful lives in Israel and other places. Roumani has produced an outstanding detailed, sensitive, and accurate history, including social, religious, economic, political, and personal analyzes. The inclusion of over 900 footnotes, 70 photographs of people, places, events, documents, or newspaper headlines, and a good writing style make this book easily understood by both lay people and academicians. Roumani’s The Jews of Libya is highly recommended to both academicians and lay people.”  —Shofar – An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781845191375
  • Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2008
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 310
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Maurice M. Roumani, born in Benghazi, Libya, is a Senior Lecturer in Political Sociology and the Middle East at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel where he is also the founder and Director of the J.R. Elyachar Center for the Study of Sephardi Heritage. A graduate of Brandeis University, the University of Chicago and the University of London, he has held teaching and research positions at Harvard University.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations viii

Foreword Sir Martin Gilbert xii

Preface and Acknowledgments xv

List of Abbreviations xx

Introduction 1

1 The Changing Fortunes of Libyan Jews under Italian Colonialism 6

The Development of Zionism in Libya 7

The Beginning of Zionist Activity 8

Zionism in the 1920s 10

Zionism in the 1930s 11

Mussolini, Fascism and Libyan Jews 12

The Appearance of Anti-Jewish Incidents in Libya in the 1920s 16

The Sabbath Crisis 18

The "Racial Laws" and their Impact on the Libyan Jewish Community 22

Second World War and the Plans to deport Libyan Jews to Concentration Camps 28

The Deportation of Cyrenaican Jews to Tunisia 29

The Expulsion of Libyan Jews of British Nationality to Italy and Bergen-Belsen 31

Labor Camps in Libya 33

Conclusion 36

2 The British Military Administration: Hopes and Disillusion 38

The Dawn of the British Administration 39

The Arrival of the Palestinian Jewish Units 41

Strained Relations between Jews and Arabs 45

The Pogrom of 1945 48

British Reaction to the Riots and the Compensation Debate 51

Attempts to Repair Arab-Jewish Relations 55

The Anti-Jewish riots of 1948 56

The Emergence of Libyan Nationalism and its Impact on the Country's Political Development 61

A Reassessment of the British Occupation 65

Conclusion 67

3 The Role of International Jewish Organizations: Rehabilitation and Protection of Minority Rights 69

International Jewish Organizations in Libya 70

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's Medical Operations 74

Welfare Services and Education 80

Approaching Libyan Independence 83

The United Nations, the AJC and the Libyan Jewish Community 86

The Structure of Transitional Institutions and the Minority Debate 88

Approaching Libyan Independence in Resignation 92

End of an Era: Jews in the Independent State of Libya 100

Conclusion 104

4 Exodus: The Choice of Israel 106

Israeli Policy toward Middle Eastern Jewish Immigration 107

Ben-Gurion's "One Million Plan" 108

Illegal Immigration between 1943 and 1948 133

Palestinian Jewish Soldiers Immigration Assistance 133

Immigration to Israel via other Countries 134

Immigration through Benghazi 134

Immigration through Italy 135

Immigration through Tunisia 136

Legal Immigration between 1949 and 1952 136

Preparation for Aliyah 137

The Aliyat Hanoar Movement 137

The Emissaries 140

Aliyah during Barukh Duvdevan's Term 141

Yitzhaq Rafael and his Influence on Libyan Immigration 144

The Period of Max (Meir) Varadi 146

Meir Shilon and Haim Solel 150

The Period of Meir Shilon 150

The Period of Haim Solel 151

A Profile of the Aliyah from Libya 154

Conclusion 156

5 Settlement in Israel: The Pains of Displacement and the Difficulties of Absorption 159

The Pains of Displacement 161

The Hardships of Resettlement 163

Upon Arrival 165

The Elements of Adaptation among Libyan Jews 168

The Integration of Libyan Jews: An Assessment 169

Demographic Data 169

Family Size 171

Ethnic Intermarriage 171

Education 172

Occupations and Status 176

Distribution of Libyan Jews in the Professions 177

Politics 178

Army and Police 179

Management 180

Professions and Academic Institutions 180

Other Professions 181

An Evaluation of the Integration of Libyan Jews in Israel 183

Conclusion 184

6 Closing the Circle in 1967: The Final Exodus and its Challenges 187

Creeping Sanctions and Denial of Basic Civil Rights 187

The Outbreak of Hostilities in 1967 194

The Beginning of the End 195

The Evacuation: Air and Sea Lift and Italian Hospitality 199

Between Libya and Italy: Attempts to Recover Funds and Obtain Citizenship 204

1969: Qadhafi's Coup 206

The Struggle for Citizenship 208

Recovery and Integration: A Fractured Identity 211

The Pilgrims Incident 217

Conclusion 220

Appendixes: Documents 223

Notes 242

Bibliography 286

Index 295

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