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Norman A. Stillman continues the saga he so eloquently began in his first volume, The Jews of Arab Lands, up through the dramatic events of the twentieth century.
At a time when hostilities and violence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf continually threaten the world with war, anyone seeking to understand the current situation must become familiar with the interrelationships of the Jewish and Arab cultures.
This book focuses on the forces, events, and personalities that over the past 150 years have shaped the Jewish communities of the Arab world, changing the relations between Jews and Arabs more radically than anything since the rise of Islam nearly 1400 years ago. Barely a generation ago, 800,000 Jews lived in the Arab world; today there are less than 16,000.
Stillman portrays the tremendous but very different impact of the West, with the stresses and challenges of modernity, upon the Moslem majority and the Jewish minority in the Middle East and North Africa. What most Muslims perceived as a threat to their civilization, most Jews perceived as a way out of their traditional subordinate status – an unprecedented opportunity for economic and social advancement.
Stillman details the conflicts within Jewish communities between secularists and the rabbinical authorities, between young reformers and the old merchant elite, between Zionists and non-Zionists. In the aftermath of World War I, Jews found themselves torn between the contending forces of Zionism, European colonialism and imperialism, and Arab nationalism. Stillman’s broad survey of the development of Zionism within these Jewish communities fills a void left by every other major academic or popular study.
He weaves into his historical narrative the tensions between the Ashkenazim and Sephardim, the darkening shadows cast by the bloody riots in Palestine in 1929 and 1936, the incendiary role played by the Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the growing anti-Semitic orientation of pan-Arab and pan-Islamic nationalism, the impact of Nazism and Italian Fascism upon the Arab world, the close encounter of several Arabic-speaking Jewish communities with the Holocaust, the solidarity of Jewry after the devastation and upheaval of World War II, the increasingly violent nature of Arab nationalism, and the mass migration of Jews from Arab communities after the founding of the State of Israel.
Stillman begins with an interpretive vision of the events of history; he then provides a wide-ranging collection of sources, giving the reader a rare opportunity to see the raw material upon which the history is based, to hear the voices of the actual participants in the events, and to form his or her own opinion based on these sources, many of which make gripping reading. Taken from Jewish, Arab, European newspapers, eyewitness accounts, diaries, correspondence, and archival documents, these sources provide the flesh, blood, and sinew that bring alive the historical account.
Norman A. Stillman is Professor of History and Arabic at the State University of New York at Binghamton. He is the author of The Jews of Arab Lands and The Language and Culture of the Jews of Sefrou, as well as numerous works in English, French, and Hebrew on the history and culture of the Jews of the Islamic world. He was co-editor and translator of Samuel Romanelli’s Travel in an Arab Land and is currently editor of The Association for Jewish Review.
Stillman has frequently been a visiting teacher and lecturer in North America, Europe, Israel, and Morocco. He has received numerous awards for scholarship and teaching, including the SUNY – Binghamton Award for Undergraduate Teaching and the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
NOTE ON STYLE
PART ONE - HISTORY
PART TWO - SOURCES
A GALLICIZED ALGERIAN MUSLIM REFLECTS UPON THE CONSTANTINE POGROM OF 1934
Ever since the fifth of August (1934), there has been a lot of talk about the natives’ resentment of the Jew. It has been stressed that the explosion was the result of a profound discontent provoked by the traditional arrogance of the nouveau-riche Jew, by the airs of superiority that he has been putting on ever since he became a French citizen and has been sticking his hands a little bit everywhere in local politics thanks to the ballot. This privileged position, which had been granted him by the Cremieux Decree of October 24,1870, has created a feeling of jealousy among the Muslims and has caused an injury to their amour propre, which could only get worse since they were the former masters who had been used for centuries to having precedence over their submissive neighbors.
That a certain arrogance that really does exist among some Jewish elements—particularly the young—could have antagonized the urban native population, which is in continual contact with them, is possible. But that this sentiment had developed to the point of pushing the Muslims of Constantine to commit their horrors—we cannot subscribe to that. We have clearly stated that this resentment could only be found among the townspeople. However, the perpetrators of the lootings and murders of August 5 were all, or almost all, country folk, people who only see the Jew when they come to town to shop or to ask him for his financial services. For this reason, the man from the bled has something of that kind of consideration for the Jew which a rich man inspires in one who might have need of him.
As for the rights of citizenship, only some intellectual natives, mainly those who know the value of the vote, have made reproaches—not against the Jews, who had known how to take advantage of a moment of disarray to get a good deal—but against France, which had agreed to a veritable social upheaval in Algeria. The rest of the Arab population is incapable of understanding the significance of the Crémieux Decree and makes no mention of it in its complaints. Moreover, the natives, having no taste for citizenship, which had been made available to them since the Senatus-Consulte of 1865, cannot be jealous of the Jews for an advantage that they still disdain after a century of contact.
The natives, therefore, cannot harbor resentment toward the Jews either in the political sphere, because that still does not interest them, or in the economic sphere, since they are aware of their own inferiority and take account of the special attributes of their neighbors in business.
It is a completely different story with the Europeans of this country, almost all of whom have the spirit of domination by virtue of their being conquerors and who do not like being caused trouble of any sort in their business dealings. Now the Jew, who has evolved quickly, profiting from his particularly brilliant racial qualities, constitutes a tough adversary, or rather, a tough opponent, for the European who is in a hurry to get rich.
With whom can one work in Algeria? From whom can one extract serious profits? And who is the most numerous clientele which needs to consume, and who will allow for the increase of business? It is the native, always naive, always improvident, and always easy to fleece. It so happens that the Jew has more facilities for entering into relations with Muslims, whose language he knows and whose needs he understands. The European finds himself handicapped in the commercial realm and looks resentfully at the business dealings of even the most ordinary Jew prospering while he encounters all sorts of difficulties because he cannot succeed in reaching the native and in breaking the ice that stands between them. There, the resentments against the Jews are serious. The European, whose amour propre is offended and whose material interests are affected, manifests toward his competitor feelings which are not always very elevated and maneuvers to belittle him and to discredit him for his own profit. There is the source of Algerian anti-Semitism.
R. Zenati, “La question juive: le problème algérien
vu par un indigène,” Renseignements Coloniaux,
no. 6 (May-June 1938): 121–22.
This account is well written and contains a wide variety of reprinted historical sources. It is, however, clearly partisan. Readers are never told, for example, why it was that Arabic-speaking Jews, unlike their Christian counterparts, did not opt for Arab nationalism. Nonetheless, the book is a good introduction to the subject and a valuable resource for those who want to learn more.
- B. Masters, Choice
The documents cover the whole of the Arab world from Basra to Tetouan and from Aden to Mosul, with occasional excursions further a field, for example to the small but significant Iraqi Jewish colony in turn-of-the-century China. Stillman has a novelist's eye for the telling detail and he conveys some of the flavor of daily life and the range of possible social relationships and interactions among Muslims, Christians and Jews under Ottoman, European imperial, and Arab nationalist regimes. … This handsomely produced and appositely illustrated book provides the fullest documentation and analysis available in English on this subject. It is a pity that Stillman's focus tends to be primarily political; social and religious trends receive less attention. While the narrative is generally accurate, there are some puzzling minor lapses. … Stillman follows the Jews of Arab lands briefly into their exile or homecoming in Israel.
- Bernard Wasserstein, The Times Literary Supplement
The book is valuable for its ability to enrich understanding of this important part of Jewish history by placing it within the political, economic and cultural life of the Arab world. Mr. Stillman also includes several hundred pages of source materials--ranging from a 1907 exposition by the chief rabbi ofCairo on the propriety of prostitutes making donations to synagogues to a heart-rending account of anti-Jewish rioting in Libya in 1945--that help to vivify his dispassionate historical analysis.
- Jerrold D. Green, The New York Times Book Review
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