History of the Jews in Libya

History of the Jews in Libya

Jews have lived in Libya since the 3rd century BC, when North Africa was under Roman rule. During World War II, Libya's Jewish population was subjected to anti-Semitic laws by the Fascist Italian regime and deportations by German troops. After the war, anti-Jewish violence caused many Jews to leave the country, usually for Israel. Under Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, who has ruled the country since 1969, the situation deteriorated leading to the emigration of all of the Jews. Al-Gaddafi's attempts to become a respected member of the international community again since the 1990s, have, however, led to a more friendly policy towards Jewish people.

Ancient history

During the Greco-Roman period Libya corresponded approximately with Cyrene and the territory belonging to it. Jews lived there - including many that moved there from Egypt; Augustus granted Cyrene's Jewish population certain privileges through Flavius, the governor of the province. At the time, they had close contact to the Jews in Jerusalem. In 73 BC during the First Jewish-Roman War in Iudaea Province, there was also a revolt by the Jewish community in Cyrene led by Jonathan the Weaver, which was quickly suppressed by the governor Catullus. Jonathan was denounced to the governor of Pentapolis. Gottheil, Richard; Krauss, Samuel: " [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=385&letter=L&search=libya Libya] " in Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 14, 2006.] Gottheil, Richard; Krauss, Samuel: " [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=949&letter=C Cyrene] " in Jewish Encyclopedia. Retrieved July 14, 2006.] In vengeance, the Romans then killed him and many wealthy Jews in Cyrene. In 115, another Jewish revolt broke out not only in Cyrene, but also in Egypt and Cyprus." [http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/JewsofLibya/LibyanJews/thejews.html History of the Jewish Community in Libya] ". Retrieved July 1, 2006] Several Libyan Jews from this period are known today, such as Jason of Cyrene, whose work is the source of the Second Book of Maccabees, and Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross of Jesus as Jesus was taken to his crucifixion.

Italian colonization and World War II

In 1911, Libya was colonized by Italy. By 1931, there were 21,000 Jews living in the country (4% of the total population), mostly in Tripoli. The situation for the Jews was generally good. But, in the late 1930s anti-Semitic laws started being passed by the Fascist Italian regime. Among the laws were that Jews were fired from government jobs, some were sent away from government schools and their papers were stamped with the words "Jewish race". Despite the repression Libyan Jews were subject to during this time, 25% of the population of Tripoli was still Jewish in 1941 and 44 synagogues were maintained in the city. In 1942 as German troops were fighting the Allies in North Africa, they occupied the Jewish quarter of Benghazi, plundered shops, deported more than 2,000 Jews across the desert, where more than one-fifth of them perished, and sent many Jews to work in labor camps.

After World War II

In the years after the liberation of North Africa by British troops some of the worst anti-Jewish violence occurred. From November 5 to November 7, 1945, more than 140 Jews were killed, many more were injured, almost all synagogues were looted and 5 were destroyed along with hundreds of homes and businesses in a pogrom in Tripoli.Selent, pg 20-21] Shields, Jacqueline." [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/jewref.html Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries] " in Jewish Virtual Library.] In June 1948, rioters killed another 12 Jewish people and destroyed 280 Jewish homes; this time the Jews did, however, attempt to defend themselves with arms.

The insecurity, which arose from the attacks from the Libyan population as well as the founding of the state of Israel led many Jews to emigrate. From 1948, especially after this became legal in 1949, to 1951, 30,972 Jews moved to Israel, in other words made Aliyah. On December 31, 1958 the Jewish Community Council was ordered to be dissolved by law. In 1961, another law required a special permit to prove true Libyan citizenship, which was, however, denied to all but six Jewish inhabitants of the country.

ix-Day War

By 1967, the Jewish population of Libya was down to 7,000. After the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arabic neighbours more revolts by the Libyan population led to another series of attacks on Jews. During these attacks 18 people were killed and more were injured. Leaders of the Jewish community then asked King Idris I to allow the entire Jewish population to "temporarily" leave the country; he consented, even urging them to leave. The Italian navy supplied an airlift and the aid of several ships to help evacuate more than 6,000 Jews to Rome in one month; the evacuees were forced to leave their homes, their businesses and most of their possession behind. Of these 6,000 more than 4,000 soon left Italy for Israel or the United States. The ones who remained built up a Jewish community in Rome, which now consists of 15,000 people including many from Libya and their descendants, which have a large influence on the community. Gruber, Ruth Ellen:" [http://www.jta.org/page_view_story.asp?strwebhead=Libyan+immigrants+a+force+in+Italian+Jewry&intcategoryid=2 Unknown immigration from Libya has swelled ranks of Italian Jewry] " in JTA October 11, 2004. Retrieved July 1, 2006.]

Qaddafi's rule

By the time Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi came to power in 1969 only about 100 Jews remained in Libya; under his rule, all Jewish property was confiscated, all debts to Jews were cancelled and emigration for Jews was illegalized. Still some Jews succeeded in leaving the country and by 1974, only 20 Jews lived in Libya. In 2002, the last known Jew in Libya, Esmeralda Meghnagi, died and it was thought that the long history of Jewry in Libya had ended;in the same year, however, it was discovered that Rina Debach, a then 80-year old woman, who was born and raised in Tripoli, but thought to be dead by her family in Rome, was still living in a nursing home in the country. With her ensuing departure for Rome, there were no more Jews in the country. [ [http://www.theforgottenrefugees.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=65&Itemid=38 Timeline about Jews in Libya] ]

In 2004, Qaddafi indicated the Libyan government would compensate Jews who were forced to leave the country. In October of that year he met with representatives of Jewish organizations to discuss compensation. He did, however, insist that Jews who moved to Israel would not be compensated. [Shuman, Ellis." [http://web.israelinsider.com/Articles/Diplomacy/4062.htm Gadhafi ready to compensate Jews who fled Libya] " in israelinsider September 1, 2004. Retrieved July 1, 2006.] Some suspect these moves were motivated by his son Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, who is considered to be a likely successor of his father. In the same year Saif had welcomed Jews back into the country, saying that they are Libyans, that should "leave the land they took from the Palestinians". [Pommerance, Rachel. " [http://www.jta.org/page_view_story.asp?intarticleid=14598&intcategoryid=2 As part of his ‘charm offensive,’ Gadhafi courts former Libyan Jews?] " in JTA October 11, 2004. Retrieved July 1, 2006.] On December 9, Qaddafi also invited Moshe Kahlon, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, to Tripoli. [Schwartz, Stephen." [http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/029vfaxa.asp Is Libya Contagious?] " in Weekly Standard December 13, 2004. Retrieved July 1, 2006.]



*de icon Selent, Karl. "Ein Gläschen Yarden-Wein auf den israelischen Golan". ca-ira Freiburg. November 2003. ISBN 3-924627-18-5

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