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COEXISTENCE OF LIBYAN MUSLIMS AND JEWS 2/6/07

Si è svolta nei giorni 31 maggio e 1 giugno nell’Istituto di studi mediorientali(Lmei) del Soas di Londra, un convegno di studi sugli ebrei di Libia in occasione dell’ultimo esodo da quel paese avvenuto quarant’anni fa. La presenza del direttore del Centro di studi libici di Tripoli, insieme con altri due studiosi libici, ha sottolineato la volontà libica di aprire un processo di riconciliazione tra i vari componenti della società di quel paese. Hanno partecipato alla manifestazione e alla tavola rotonda, oltre agli studiosi venuti dalla Libia anche ebrei libici e ricercatori venuti europei e italiani tra i quali Adel Darwish, giornalista ed esperto di problemi mediorientali, il professor Maurice M. Roumani (storico), Dr. Faraj Najem (scrittore e studioso), Mr. Ahmed Rahal (scrittore e giornalista), Prof. Vincenzo Porcasi (economista), Eric Salerno (scrittore e giornalista), Prof. Salah Al Din H. Al Suri (esperto nella storia moderna della Libia), Dr Khalifa Al Ahwal (Esperto nella storia degli ebrei di Libia)
Pubblichiamo qui l'intervento tenuto ieri da Eric salerno

Posted

Sabato 2 Giugno 2007

Libyan scholars from Tripoli and Benghazi, Jewish libyan scholars and other researchers dealing with the history of the Jewish community in Libya, which goes back 1300 years, met for two days at the London Middle East Instute of Soas to promote dialogue between cross sections of the people of Libya. The Jewish community formed one of the largest minorities there together with Berbers and Bedouins, they co-existed peacefully in the country and were positively and constructively active in all fields of Libyan society. Thousands where forced, one way or another, to leave their homelands through the years until the last exodus of 6,500 persons following the street riots that took place at the beginning of the 1967 Israeli-Arab war.
The presence of the Dr. Mohammed Jerary, director of the Libyan studies centre of Tripoli and two other libyan scholars was considered a very significant beginning in the promotion of dialogue between cross sections of the people of the North African country. The event celebrated the rich and deep-rooted culture of Libyan Jewry and will hopefully re-build the confidence to generate goodwill and friendship towards re-conciliation, having provided information and historical facts as tools to learn and plan for a better future between Jews and Muslims.

Title: Coexistence Of Libyan Muslims and Jews: Lessons from the Past and Plans For The Future; Proposal To Create an Organised Platform For Cooperation. Moderator: Mr. Adel Darwish,
Journalist & Middle East expert; Panel Participants: Prof. Maurice M. Roumani (Historian and Writer), Dr. Faraj Najem (Writer and Scholar), Mr. Ahmed Rahal (Writer and Journalist), Prof. Vincenzo Porcasi (Economist), Dr. Eric Salerno (Writer and Journalist), Prof. Salah Al Din H. Al Suri (Expert in Libya’s modern history), Dr Khalifa Al Ahwal (Expert in History of Jews of Libya)


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In the course of my research into the more violent aspects of Italian colonialism in Libya - the repression of the arab population starting from 1911 with the initial invasion and in 1929-32 in what general Graziani defined the “pacification of Cyrenaica”, and later the treatment of the Jewish comunity after the promulgation of the Racial Laws in 1938, I came across a very interesting aspect concerning the relationship between the different Libyan comunities. Over the course of centuries, Arabs, Berbers and Jews, had in different moments fought each other, but also had experienced a very interwoven and in many cases fraternal relationship. That to some extent was put to task by the attempt, at times successful of the prevailing colonial power to “divide and rule”.
The Jewish comunities in Tripoli e Benghazi had maintained longtime relations with the communities in Italy. Many of the Jews carried British passports, others were considered French nationals. When Italy invaded, most of the Jews found it natural, after years of Ottoman rule, to support the new governors, but there were - and they should be researched - cases in which Libyan Jews, especially those of the Gebel (the troglodites or cave dwellers that can trace their presence in the region back two thousand years) fought with the Arabs and the Berbers against the Italian army.

One of the most horrible aspects of the repression of the population of Cyrenaica was the establishment of the concentration camps. It is an experience that, in different periods of the Italian colonial adventure, connects both the Arab and Jewish comunities. As time goes by, it is more and more difficult to assemble oral testimonies about those tragic events. I first encountered this problem when collecting, in the 1970s, stories about Sollum and el Agheila, just to mention a two of the Italian concentration camps in Cyrenaica in which something like 40.000 men, women and children that had been uprooted from their lands died. Today the situation is even more difficult: the people that suffered most have passed away, those that still conserve memories tend to be very old and are not always able to concentrate on facts. Emotions, important as are perceptions but not necessarily historical proof, take a major place in their stories. And the archives, though more and more accessable, are not always complete. The documentation from that period in the Italian archives – I refer both to the camps set up in Cyrenaica in 1930 and to the plight of the Jews of Libya and the concentration camps, and forced labour camps that were set up by the fascists in 1941-1942 - is not very rich. One gets the feeling that some papers have been destroyed, or maybe those that underlined the ferocity of the actions of the Fascists, were never placed in the official files. Maybe they were never written. What is clear from the documents that do exist, is that had World War II lasted longer, the Jews of Libya would have suffered the same fate as the six million that died in the Nazi extermination camps in Europe.

In the last few years, as I did in the ‘70s, for lack of documentation I dedicated more time to oral testimonies. In Libya, I was able to meet with Libyan arab veterans of the Second World War, men who had been forced to fight with and for the Fascists, and who had clear memories of the concentration camp in Giado, although less of the forced labor camps to which other Libyan Jews had been taken. In the archives of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, I found recordings made over the last 20 years or so and I myself was able to speak with many Libyan Jews both in Israel and in Rome where hundreds of those that left Tripoli and Bengazi still reside.
The repression of the Jewish community of Libya started with the imposition of Racial Laws in Italy in 1938. Mussolini was following in the steps of Hitler. For a few years the discrimination against the Libyans of Jewish decent was minor but the situation became intolerable with the war. The Racial Laws, first imposed in Italy and only later in Libya (for economic reasons as the Jews were considered fundamental to the wellbeing of the Colony) were just the beginning. Things got worse when Mussolini received word that members of the Jewish community in Benghazi, demonstrated their happiness with the arrival of the Allied soldiers (very understandably as they were accompanied by elements of the Jewish Palestine Brigade), that had entered Libya from Egypt. It was a difficult situation, the front was going back and forth and in 1942, Mussolini ordered that all the Jews of Cyrenaica be transported to concentration camps in Tripolitania. Giado, high on the Gebel south of Tripoli, was to be the major one. It was clear, by that time, that had the war in North Africa lasted longer, the Jews of Libya would have met the same fate as the six milion in Europe.

One of the most complete stories about that period was told by a man by the name Ofek. When the British retreated, and Italian and German troops reentered Cyrenaica and Benghazi, his family as hundreds of other Jewish families were deported to Giado. What follows is part of his testimony. .

Yehuda Chachmon, from Benghazi, where he was born in 1932 said that before the war the Italians .

Many of the Libyan Arabs that I spoke with, insisted in describing the good relationship, often on a personal basis, with the Jews in their towns and villages. This confirms what the historian Yacov Haggiag-Liuf writes in his History of the Jews of Libya: .

I believe that this aspect – the relationship between the different comunities that deteriorated only with the political and emotional situation that emerged with the foundation of the State of Israel – is important as it shows that once a political solution to the Palestinian question and peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors the anti-Israeli antagonism that in many cases is portrayed not as anti-zionism but also anti-semitism would slowly disappear.


Eric Salerno



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