Monday, October 24, 2005

"The Jews of Syria," By Robert Tuttle

The Jews of Syria
By Robert Tuttle
Published by Syria Comment
October 24, 2005

Robert Tuttle is a freelance writer living in New York. He was a Fulbright student in Syria from 1994 to 1997 and speaks Arabic. The story on Syria's Jews was written as a master's project for Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Robert kindly agreed to let me publish his excellent article on Syria Comment. It deserves to find many other publishers. He can be reached at
On a Sunday night in February 1975, the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes broadcast what would become one of the most controversial episodes ever aired. Titled “Israel’s Toughest Enemy,” Mike Wallace traveled to Syria just a year after the Yom Kippur War and was permitted to film interviews with members of Syria’s then roughly 4,500-strong Jewish community.

In the United States and internationally, pro-Israel groups had portrayed Syria’s Jews as persecuted minority, who lived in ghettos, whose movements were restricted and who faced constant risk of arrest. Their identity cards were stamped with the words Mossawi, a polite Arabic expression for Jew, in big red letters.

“I knew it was a deeply controversial subject,” said Wallace, “And the Israelis particularly were raising a lot of money on the plight of the Jews in Syria and I wanted to find out for myself, so we went there.”

What Wallace discovered in Syria surprised him. He found that Jews were indeed subject to special surveillance and restrictions not imposed on other Syrians. But “having said that all,” he noted in his broadcast, “It must be added that today life for Syria’s Jews is better than it was in years past.”

The broadcast included interviews with a Jewish pharmacist who claimed that assertions of mistreatment were mere “Zionist propaganda” and a Jewish school teacher who said she could never become true friends with an Israeli.

In the days and weeks following the broadcast, CBS received a barrage of letters from viewers and Jewish groups, complaining that Wallace presented an inaccurate picture of Syria and that the Jews featured could not have possibly expressed themselves freely. The American Jewish Congress called the program “inaccurate and distorted” and filed a complaint with the National News Council, a defunct organization that followed up complaints on the accuracy and fairness of news reporting.

The attention generated by the segment prompted 60 Minutes to re-air the broadcast the following June and return to Damascus to film a follow-up segment.

While filming the second segment, Wallace met Dr. Nassim Hasbani, a young, distinguished Jewish physician who ran a successful medical practice in the heart of Damascus. A member of a seven-man committee that governed Jewish affairs, Hasbani was one of just a handful of leaders who spoke publicly for the community.

Hasbani told Wallace that Jews were living well in Syria. He showed Wallace his new ID card, one without the word Mossawi stamped on it.

“The government said to us, they want to give us the card identity like all Syrian people,” he said, “Without religion. And this is for all the people.”

Then Wallace asked Hasbani a pointed and somewhat awkward question.

“Dr. Hasbani,” he said, “If all the Jews of Syria were told they could leave the country, go to the United States, or Mexico, or Israel, or wherever – how many of them would go?”

“I think,” Hasbani replied, “That not more than five percent to, to Israel. And perhaps if they want to leave to the United States, to Brazil, to other… other country, perhaps the number is 20 or 30 percent.”

A decade and a half later, Syria’s Jews were granted permission to freely emigrate abroad. Within a few short years, almost the entire community had left the country, a little less than half for Israel. Out of approximately 30,000 Jews who lived in Syria in 1947, less than 50 remain today, according to community leaders in the United States. All but a handful of those live in Damascus.

Today, most Syrian Jews live in the close-knit neighborhoods of south Brooklyn, in single-family homes located in a few-square mile area around where Ocean Parkway and the thriving market street of Kings Highway intersect. The area, in no way, resembles centuries old Jewish quarters of Damascus, Aleppo and Qamishli, but Syrian Jews have recreated bustling new neighborhoods. Walk down any street in South Brooklyn and one hears neighbors chatting with one another in Arabic. Shops sell items like rolled apricot paste, lentils and fava beans, all familiar ingredients in Syrian cuisine.

This is where Hasbani now lives in a modest home he rents with his wife. Now in his sixties, Hasbani is no longer an energetic doctor he was nearly 30 years ago. After moving to the United States in the early 1990s, he stopped practicing medicine and tried unsuccessfully to open a few businesses. He lives on meager savings and suffers a heart problem that limits his movement.

Hasbani prefers to speak in Arabic and smiles wryly when recounting his brief moment of fame on American television. In a community that generally shuns publicity, Hasbani is outspoken, passionate and animated.

In the highly emotive debate over the Arab-Israeli conflict, the true story of Syrian Jewry was more complicated than either Wallace or his critics fully appreciated, Hasbani said.

On the one hand, critics of 60 Minutes were correct to doubt Hasbani’s rosy portrayal of Jewish life in Syria. In a country considered Israel’s most formidable enemy, Syrian Jews had long been subject to special restrictions, mistrust and, at times, outright persecution. In the northern city of Aleppo, Synagogues were burned and vandalized shortly after the United Nations voted to partition Palestine in 1947. In 1949, a bomb was placed in a Damascus Synagogue killing 12 people. During the 1967 Arab-Israeli War - in which Syria lost control of the Golan Heights overlooking the Galilee – armed Palestinian fighters broke into the homes of Jews and pointed guns at family members. No one was shot but the incident was a reminder to the community of its vulnerability.

For most of Syrian history after 1947, Jews could not travel outside their country except on rare occasions and travel within Syria required permission. The Jews who did leave Syria escaped covertly through Turkey or Lebanon. Most continued onto the United States or Israel. Those who were caught were imprisoned.

Hasbani said that his glowing portrayal of Syria was intended to win favors from Syrian authorities. Yet, he added, the 60 Minutes broadcast was not totally false either. Conditions were beginning to improve for Syria’s Jews and would continue to improve in the months and years after Wallace’s visit.

For a man who says he spent most of his years at Damascus University’s Medical School lying about his religion, and whose own brother was stabbed to death by a person who bragged he killed a Jew, Hasbani is surprisingly nostalgic about the land of his birth.

“I live in the past,” he said, which is evident from the reams of newspaper clips, photos and other memorabilia he saves from his time in Syria.

He carefully unfolded a wrinkled old identity card with the word Mossawi written across it. He displayed a photo of himself posing with his family next to Edward Djerijian, American Ambassador to Syria from 1988 until 1992, at the ambassador’s opulent Damascus residence.

But among the assortment of memorabilia, the Syrian doctor is particularly fond of a small stack of folded newspaper clips that show him and other Jewish leaders shaking hands with the late Syrian President Hafez al-Asad.

Asad, who rose to power in a coup in 1970 and remained in authority until his death thirty years later, is regarded by much of the world as an oppressive dictator who permitted virtually no dissent and crushed it violently when it emerged. Along with the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, he launched a daring, if largely unsuccessful, surprise attack against Israel in 1973 in an effort to wrestle back control of the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and Syrian Golan Heights. Both territories were captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War. But unlike Sadat, who combined bold military action with bold peacemaking by traveling to Jerusalem four years later to address the Israeli Knesset, Asad remained wedded to the struggle against Zionism.

He opposed the 1978 Camp David Treaty between Egypt and Israel, and was cool toward the Oslo accord between Israel and the Palestinians signed 15 years later. He also criticized Jordan for signing peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and backed the Lebanese militia Hezbollah in its fight against Israeli forces in South Lebanon and a myriad of Palestinian groups opposed to the Oslo process. Although the Syrians did participate in on-and-off American-mediated negotiations with Israel, coming remarkably close to a final settlement toward the end of Asad’s life, publicly they remained decidedly stand-offish in their approach toward the negotiations. In 2000, when Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa met with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak during negotiations in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, he refused to publicly shake hands with the Israeli leader.

Many of Syria’s Jews, however, remember Asad differently.

“For us, of course, he was like the Messiah,” Hasbani said. Before him “you could not walk for four kilometers [without permission]. You could not buy and sell [property]. Walking in the street, you were afraid to say I am a Jew. There were [Jewish] schools. But there was someone from the government sitting on your head, and capable of doing whatever he wanted.”

Asad, Hasbani said, was different from past Syrian leaders in that he was the first president to truly pay attention to the concerns of Syria’s Jews.

“When we met with him in 1976, people [the Jews] rose,” Hasbani said. “When you sit with the president, people outside would not dare to do anything to you. He who is against you can do nothing to you because he saw the president receiving you and taking pictures with you.”

Such sentiments about a man long regarded as Israel’s most formidable enemy might surprise some people who follow the pulse of the Middle East. But they are quite typical among the approximately 3,000 Syrian Jewish émigrés who left for Brooklyn and Israel more than a decade ago.

Many complain bitterly about the abuses and discrimination they suffered in Syria during the decades before they were permitted to leave. Like Jews everywhere, many also profess sympathy for the state Israel and its policies. But, in almost the same breath, many credit Asad, the man who built his public persona on upholding Arab honor in a gallant struggle against the Jewish state, as the man most responsible for granting them their freedom.

“Before Hafez al-Asad, the people were scared to say, I am Jewish,” said Jack al-Boucai, a Syrian Jewish businessman who owns a cell phone store on Kings Highway. “So when he helped in making the situation improve, I saw him as being good for us.” Boucai spoke in Arabic.

The 1976, Asad met with Jewish community leaders including Hasbani; Ibrahim Hamra, Chief Rabbi of Damascus; and the late Salim Totah, head of the Syrian Jewish community. Hasbani recalled telling Asad about the bomb that was placed in a Damascus Synagogue in 1947.

“President Asad didn’t know about it,” Hasbani said. “When I told him, he was astonished. ‘Who did it, the government?’ I told him not the government, some lowlife.”

The meeting turned was historic, Hasbani said. In the months and years that followed, most restrictions on Jews were lifted. The Mossawi stamp was eventually removed from all forms of identification, although not as quickly as Wallace may have been led to believe from his interview with Hasbani. Domestic travel restrictions on Jews were lifted. Businesses that had previously been closed to Jews, such as import-export, were opened. Jews could buy and sell property and the community began to prosper.

The only restriction that remained on Jews was a prohibition against free Jewish emigration abroad with family members, a rule that remained in effect until 1992. But there were exceptions. Following a meeting between Asad and American President Jimmy Carter in 1977, the Syrian president began to permit around two dozen Jewish women each year to join grooms-to-be in the United States to correct a gender imbalance in the community.

The Syrian president’s increasing leniency toward Jews probably stemmed, in part, from international pressure applied on his regime by the United States, other foreign governments and the international media. Indeed, Syria’s Jews became something of diplomatic bargaining chip that the Syrian government could play when it wanted better relations with the United States or an improved negotiating position with Israel.

What is more, after Asad lifted restrictions on the community, many hardships persisted. Jews caught trying to escape continued to be imprisoned. Many complain that they continued to face harassment from Syrian intelligence officers and other low-level officials.

One member of the community recalled visiting the Department of Motor Vehicles in Aleppo to renew his driver’s license, armed with a presidential order rescinding the requirement that Mossawi be stamped on all Jewish identity documents. The official behind the desk told him he could not renew the license at that moment because he did not have his Mossawi seal. When the man protested, brandishing the presidential order, he recalls the official telling him: “‘I’m not going to stamp it in red. I’m going to stamp it in purple.”

But whatever hurdles Jews continued to face, the late president’s image remains largely untarnished in the eyes of many in the Syrian Jewish community. Although Asad was known as a micromanager of his countries affairs, few Syrian Jews blame him, even indirectly, for difficulties suffered during his 30 years of power.

The story of Albert Fouerti is revealing. Fouerti came to the United States in the early 1990s, during the final wave of Syrian Jewish emigration to the United States. He is shy but becomes passionate and animated when speaking about his life. He spoke mostly in Arabic.

Fouerti once owned a factory that made children’s clothes but today manages a small thrift store along McDonald Avenue in Brooklyn. Coming to America was not joyous.

In 1949, two of his sisters were evacuated to Israel along with other Jewish children following the Damascus Synagogue bombing. Fouerti’s family planned to join the two girls, but shortly after the children were evacuated, Syria closed its doors on Jewish emigration. For the next twenty years, Fouerti’s family was unable to communicate with the girls.

In the early 1970s, Fouerti obtained permission to travel to Great Britain so that his son, who was ill, could receive medical treatment. During the visit, he secretly made arrangements, through the Israeli embassy, to fly one of his sisters to London so he could see her. The other sister was ill and could not travel.

The two siblings were reunited but the visit was fleeting.

“I must come back,” he remembers thinking. “I have no choice.”

Fouerti returned home and told his mother about the reunion. Nearly twenty years passed before the Syrian government finally allowed Jews to emigrate. As Syrian Jews began to sell their homes and businesses and leave for America, Fouerti applied for passports for his entire family so they could travel to the United States. His wish, he said, was to witness the reunion of his elderly mother with her two lost daughters.

Days later, the Syrian authorities granted the family passports. But one of Fouerti’s sons was denied for unknown reasons. Fouerti did not want to leave his son behind so, for two years, he returned to the office of the secrete police chief in charge of Jewish affairs.

“Every day, I visited him in the office,” he said. “I knew what he was doing. He was just giving me a hard time.”

Finally, in late 1994, after most Syrian Jews had already left, Fouerti’s son was finally granted a passport and the family began to make travel arrangements. Then, just days before their scheduled departure, as his sisters waited in Brooklyn, Fouerti’s mother died suddenly.

Later, on his way to the airport, Fouerti stopped at the Jewish cemetery and peered down at her grave. “I said mom, I’m sorry. I can’t help you to see your children,” he said. “The last picture I see in Syria is my mother.”

Fouerti was deeply bitter. “I feel no one can let me forget what happened to me,” he said. “Why did they do that to me? Why?”

But after an emotional recounting of his experience, he became calm.

“I miss Syria. I miss my friends. But I am scared,” he said. “Our only problem [in Syria] was with the Mukhaberat [secrete police]. We lived with Muslims, Christians. We were like one family. They loved us.”

President Asad, Fouerti said, could not possibly have known about the harassment he and some other Jews suffered. “He was good with Jewish people,” he said. “He gave us our freedom… He should put this person [head of Jewish affairs] in prison. He damaged the reputation of Syria. If he [Asad] knew, he would not have let them.”

Surprisingly, some Syrian Jews are almost apologetic about the restrictions placed upon them by the Syrian government.

“I lived with Syria,” said Hasbani. “I ate and drank, whatever they did not give me, it would be perfectly fine. In my view, I don’t ask for all my rights because [they] will not give me all my rights because I have feelings for Israel which is the enemy of Syria.”

In 1987, two Jewish brothers from the Swed family were arrested for secretly visiting family members in Israel, which was illegal for all Syrian citizens. The brothers spent the next five years in prison until they were pardoned by President Asad in 1992. The Sweds’ plight became a major focus of concern for Jewish groups around the world and a personal crusade for a Canadian activist named Judy Feld Carr.

Hasbani saw the situation of the Sweds differently. Traveling to Israel was a capital offence, he said, and had the Sweds not been Jewish, they would likely have been executed.

“What kind of heroism did the Sweds show?” he asked. “They were in Syria then went to Argentina and from there they went to Israel then went back to Syria. Israel is an enemy state. Why did they go there? Do they want Hafez al-Asad to say welcome back?” (The Sweds actually traveled to Italy, not Argentina).

Another member of the community added that the Sweds trip put the whole community in jeopardy. “If you are a lamb, you cannot play with lions,” he said.

When Asad died in 2000, three pro-Likud Jews of Syrian origin – a prominent Syrian-Jewish rabbi named Jack Kassin, Hassidic community leader Jack Avital, and another businessman named Sam Domb - placed an ad in the New York Times offering their condolences, although Domb later complained to The Jewish Week that Kassin had added his name without consent. Kassin was invited to attend the funeral but a Syrian official informed him that his security could not be guaranteed because of threats posed by Asad’s brother and rival Rifat, according to The Jewish Week.

Asad’s cult of personality did not end with his passing. His son and successor, Bashar, is not held in the quite the same esteem as his father. A British-trained optometrist, some Syrian Jews privately said they consider Bashar young and inexperienced, overly reliant on what are often unscrupulous advisors. But most also said they were confident that he would eventually be able to carry on his father’s legacy.

“It appears that he took his father’s track,” said Hamra, the former chief Rabbi of Damascus who now lives in Israel. “Thank God the stability in Syria remained. His existence in the government and the permanent stable situation in Syria are a proof of his success. It will take time to become as wise as his father.” Hamra spoke in Arabic.

Another Syrian Jew added: “Asad is the best bet for America and for everyone. If he was strong enough and could manage, he would do a lot of good things. He is the best thing for America and Israel, no matter what he talks.”

In contrast to the refined, diplomatic style of his father, Bashar has made a few remarks that have sparked sharp condemnation from world leaders. He was widely criticized for making what many perceived as an anti-Semitic comment to the Pope in 2001. “They tried to kill the principals of all religions with the same mentality in which they betrayed Jesus Christ and the same way they tried to betray and kill the Prophet Muhammad," Asad was quoted as saying.

While the remark sparked widespread outcry from Jewish groups in the United States and Israel, some Syrian Jews said they consider the whole controversy to be frivolous, the result of inexperience or poor advising.

“I don’t think he’s anti-Semitic,” said one member of the community. “He say something to please the people around him.”

Hasbani agreed. “Alak,” he said of Asad's remark, a colloquial Syrian expression meaning “nothing important.”

Such words would likely come as welcome news to Damascus’ embattled government. Not since America’s disastrous intervention in Lebanon in 1982 have relations between the United States and Syria been as strained as they are today. A member of the U.S. Department of State’s list of nations that support terrorism, Syria is currently under intense pressure to prevent insurgents from crossing its border into Iraq, stop interfering in the affairs of neighboring Lebanon, and cut all support for groups fighting Israel including Hezbollah and Hamas.

Just last year, President Bush signed into law the Syrian Accountability Act, which imposed a range of mostly symbolic sanctions on Syria. He threatened new sanctions if the Syrians did not change their behavior. In September, the United States and France won passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, demanding that Syrian troops leave Lebanon.

The recent assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a fiery explosion in downtown Beirut sent relations to yet a new low. Although Syria condemned the killing, many in Lebanon and abroad strongly suspect the involvement of Syrian intelligence agents.

His assassination prompted mass anti-Syrian protests – as well some pro-Syrian rallies – on the streets of Beirut. The United States and France, joined by Russia and a number of Arab states, renewed their calls for an immediate Syrian pullout from Lebanon in time for Lebanese Parliamentary elections in May. At the time of this writing, Syrian soldiers had begun to decamp and withdraw across the border.

In the midst of all this, Syria’s unusually outgoing Ambassador to the United States, Imad Mustapha, has been on a public relations campaign trying to smooth over some of the rougher edges of his country’s image. He has appeared on television regularly and, since assuming his post two years ago, has reached out to groups and legislators long at odds with Syria. Last January, he escorted former Democratic Presidential candidate and drafter of the Syrian Accountability Act, John Kerry, to Damascus for a meeting with Syrian President Asad.

Over the past year, Mustapha has been making rounds in South Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish neighborhoods, introducing himself to members of the community, making friends, and encouraging Syrian Jews to visit their country of origin. Last year, he accompanied a delegation of prominent Jews of Syrian origin, some with close ties to members of Israel’s Likud government, on a visit to Syria. There, the group held a meeting with President Asad and toured prominent Jewish sites around the country.

Mustapha said he is aware of the links that some Syrian Jews have with Israel and he hopes that his recent outreach in the community might eventually help lead to the restarting of negotiations between his country and the Jewish state.

“We don’t expect [Syrian Jews] to do anything vis-à-vis the Syrian-Israeli conflict, but we are realistic,” Mustapha said, speaking under a large portrait of President Bashar al-Asad that hangs in the Syrian embassy. “We understand what’s happening. They have contacts with other Jews from Israel and at least, at least, they can tell them the true story about us. So yes, they can play a role, not a direct role, an indirect role.”

In the meantime, the ambassador has been trying to counter a rising chorus of so-called neoconservatives calling for the overthrow of regimes across the Middle East. Despite the continuing instability in Iraq, foreign policy pundits like Richard Perle, former chairman of the U.S. Defense Advisory Board and a confidant to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, have said openly that Syria is an appropriate second target for regime change: part of a grand strategy to democratize the Middle East.

Many Syrian Jews prefer not to delve into serious political matters, saying they would rather leave issues of war and peace to the wisdom of kings and presidents. But those who did speak made clear that regime change, in Syria’s case, would be unwise. Some said they hold little sympathy for Syria’s policies, particularly its support for groups like Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas. But they also argue that, while the United States may need to prod and push Syria to change some of its ways, attempting to undermine Asad’s secular government would be a mistake. Bashar al-Asad, they argued, is a source of stability in a turbulent region and a potential peacemaker.

“I think that his [Hafez al-Asad’s] son wants to make the country better,” Fouerti said. “I think he likes the Jews. If there is peace, it’s good for Israel and Syria.”

Hasbani, for his part, does not hide sympathies in the Arab-Israeli dispute.

“My heart is Jewish,” he said. “I cannot say that I am not Jewish and I love the Jews, regardless of Syria. And I love Israel much more than Syria, for sure, even though I lived, ate and drank in Syria.”

But Hasbani is also remarkably understanding of Syria’s predicament. He spoke about the country’s current difficulties with the United States with the cold eye of an independent observer giving an objective analysis. “I am speaking theory,” he said repeatedly, as though the opinions he expressed were not his own but rather were grounded in common sense.

The nationalist persona that Hafez al-Asad created for his country, Hasbani said, makes complying with the wishes of United States or engaging in the kind of dramatic peacemaking that characterized the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s efforts almost impossible for Bashar.

“They make themselves out as holding up the Arab Nation,” he said. “It supports them.”

But Syria’s government is also flexible and pragmatic, Hasbani said. When faced with stark choices of bending to the will of the United States or facing isolation or worse, the Syrian government will opt for safety over posturing. The United States, he said, cannot rule out the use of force against Syria but it must be careful.

“If America wants to pressure Syria,” he said, clinching his fist. “It must put pressure, tighter and tighter and tighter, economically and politically. If [Syria] continues to help Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others, and America sees that as against its interest, [the United States] needs to strike them, but without occupying Syria: essential centers for aircraft and so forth, just to show the Syrians that the temperature has risen. Then its possible Syria will back off.”

But there is a second option, Hasbani said, leaning back in his chair.

“They can create reconciliation between Israel and Syria,” he said. “If there were reconciliation between Syria and Israel, and there was a peace agreement, that was official and guaranteed by the United Nations, in that case, Syria will no longer be able to support Hamas and Hezbollah. They will come with Syrians to the dinner table.”

How to create such reconciliation is, of course, a question that has plagued successive U.S. administrations. During the 1990s, a settlement between Syria and Israel, two of the Middle East’s most intractable enemies, seemed at imminent. Then Secretary of State Warren Christopher was shuttling between Jerusalem and Damascus on an almost weekly basis, but the negotiations consistently stumbled on the question of the strategic Golan Heights. Syria demanded a full return of the territory in exchange for a peace treaty. Israel wanted to retain control of, at least, some of the Golan for security reasons.

A few months before Hafez al-Asad’s death, U.S. President Bill Clinton met with the Syrian leader in Geneva in a last ditch effort to broker a settlement. The talks failed and Asad died. Shortly thereafter, the Camp David talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians also broke down and the second Intifada erupted.

The deterioration of the peace process was something that Rabbi Hamra had not anticipated when he made a highly publicized but surprise aliyah from Brooklyn to Israel ten years ago.

“Everything indicated that the peace was on the door,” he said, sitting in the Brooklyn home of his daughter. “We imagined that we could work in Syria and spend the weekend in Israel or visa versa.”

A solid-looking man with a bushy black beard, Hamra resembles a lumberjack. He lives in Israel but travels to the United States regularly to visit some of his children.

Hamra became head of the Syrian Jewish community in the late 1980s, after the then leader Totah passed away. Hamra said he met with Asad four times during his life and once organized a march to the Presidential Palace in support of the president’s predictable reelection. He became an international figure during his time in Syria.

“I had interviews with many countries, I mean journalists from Spain, Argentina, Brazil, America and Europe,” he says. “I received many senators and congressmen.”

By the end of the 1980s, a movement to free Syrian Jewry was actively lobbying the American government to pressure Damascus to allow Jewish citizens to emigrate. In 1992, Syrian Jewish leaders, including Hamra and Hasbani, met with Asad and the Syrian president ordered restrictions lifted on Jewish emigration, although not directly to Israel. Hamra spent the next two years traveling between the United States and Syria until 1994 when he moved to Israel.

Sitting at his daughter’s home, Hamra glimpsed at the television. Al-Jazeera - a popular source of news in many Syrian Jewish households - was reporting that Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat was dieing in a Paris hospital bed.

Hamra met Arafat once. Shortly after moving to Israel, he received a letter from then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had just been nominated to share the Nobel Prize with Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Perez.

“He felt that many people in Israel deserve the Prize and [I was] one of them,” he recalled the letter saying. “I would be very happy if you could come with me. I chose you among 30 people… As I remember I met Arafat at that time.”

When Hamra first moved to Israel, he saw himself as an emissary of peace, expecting that a final settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute was imminent. That changed five years ago when the second Intifada erupted.

“Everything returned to the old situation, like in the beginning with more hostility,” he said. “Personally, I was not influenced by the failure of the peace process. But the whole region was influenced by it. I was influenced by the fact that I am a person who calls for the peace.”

The Syrian Jewish community in Israel, he said, was shaken by the deteriorating security situation, unaccustomed to the threat of suicide bombers and violence.

Hamra remains decidedly apolitical, saying he simply dreams of the peace he expected a decade ago. He still thinks of his home and friends in Syria and the vision he had of traveling between Syria and Israel on weekends.

He heard about Syrian Ambassador Mustapha’s outreach in the Brooklyn community. “I wish I could talk to him,” he said, and paused. “But I do not know how positive he will be. I do not know if the fact that I am from Israel will put him in an embarrassing situation. And I do not wish that… Perhaps if the Intifada never took place and things remained the same, it would be normal to contact him.”

Perhaps, Mustapha said, but in the meantime communicating with Hamra would be problematic.

“An Israeli citizen is a different case,” he said. “I’m not saying I don’t meet with him. I’m saying that Syria is publicly inviting Israel to rejoin the peace process. The minute that Israel says yes, we will. We will start meeting with them and engaging with them.”

Mustapha became acquainted with Brooklyn’s Syrian Jewish community through his wife. While a student at Damascus University, she was friends with a Syrian Jewish woman named Salim al-Boucai, the daughter of the Brooklyn businessman Jack al-Boucai.

Jack al-Boucai immigrated to the United States a decade ago but said he maintains strong connections with officials in the Syrian government. Until two years ago, he said he would travel regularly to Syria to import brass and copper decorations that now adorn his small store.

Mustapha, who sought to strengthen relations between the embassy and the Syrian expatriate community, telephoned Boucai and introduced himself.

“He asked me if I needed anything,” Mustapha said. “I said yes. I would like to meet with the Syrian Jewish community. And after a little while they came back to me and said, if I would be interested in visiting with them, they would like to meet with me at their community center in Brooklyn.”

Boucai, Rabbi Kassin, Hassidic community leader Avital and others, spent a day with the ambassador, taking him on a tour of the neighborhoods. Mustapha said he had never had contacts with Syrian Jews before, including in Syria.

“They are like us,” he said, “Their food, their habits, their social customs, they are like us. We, us and them, are different from the Americans… This taught me a lesson.”

The visit ended cordially.

“For the final time, they asked, can we do anything for you,” Mustapha said. “I said yes, actually you can. Whenever you have a wedding or a barmitsfa, invite me, I want to come.”

Shortly after that meeting, the ambassador was invited to a Syrian Jewish wedding held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. There he was approached by an elderly man from a prominent Syrian Jewish family in Mexico called the Sabas.

“He says to me, ‘I’m 72 or 73 years old, I have a dream.’ I said to him, what’s your dream? He said, ‘I want to visit Aleppo. This is the birth city of my parents.’ I didn’t hesitate. I immediately said to him consider you dream come true.”

After the wedding Avital, a personal acquaintance of Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon, telephoned Mustapha and asked him about organizing a visit to Syria.

“He [Avital] had a curiosity about Syria,” Boucai said. “He would love to visit Syria so he requested permission to visit Syria and they welcomed him… nothing official just personal.”

A delegation of a dozen Jews of Syrian origin visited Syria in the spring of 2004, accompanied by Mustapha.

Some American Jewish leaders disapproved of the trip. "It is wrong for American Jews or any Americans to help sanitize the Syrian regime by visiting Syria," said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

The group toured the country, visiting a Jewish cemetery near Damascus, the markets of Aleppo and meeting with members of the tiny Jewish community that still lives in the country. During the visit, the group met with President Asad and presented him with a gift: a traditional Jewish Shofar or rams horn. When the meeting was over, Hasbani said the group asked the president if he would invite them back to Syria.

“He said no,” Mustapha said. “They were surprised. He said to them, ‘I can’t invite you back. I can’t invite Syrians back to Syria. You are always welcome.’”

Mustapha recalled the men’s reaction.

“They were so amazed,” he said. “We were still inside the Presidential Palace, we had not left, and they came to me and said, ‘We are so amazed. Back in America they told us, this is an evil guy. Don’t go and meet with him. But look at the way he treated us. He was so sincere with us.”

Repeated calls to Avital for and interview went unreturned.

A few months after Avital returned home, Boucai invited the ambassador to his son’s wedding. Over 500 people attended the ceremony, the majority of them immigrants who had come to the United States a decade ago, Boucai said.

“When Dr. Mustapha came to the wedding, he said he was coming to congratulate [us],” Boucai said. “He made a small speech; he made a very beautiful speech. I sent a video of the wedding to Syria, to the people in Syria, so they could see it. And the people in the community were very happy about the reception.”

The Ambassador, Boucai said, offered his services to the community. If anyone wished to renew his or her passport or return to Syria for a visit, Mustapha was willing to help.

Few Syrian Jew have returned to Syria permanently, but many say that they would like to visit, if only to see the homes in which they once resided, the Synagogues in which they worshiped or the graves of their ancestors. A small, but growing minority are returning to do business and reestablish old ties. Boucai counts at least 10 individuals who are trading with Syria or own businesses there, up from five a few years ago.

Yousef Jajati is one such individual. Jajati replaced Hamra as head of the community in 1994 and was one of the few Jews to remain in Syria throughout the 1990s. He said he traveled frequently to Europe and the United States.

The small number of Jews who remained in Syria since all travel restrictions were lifted worship at a single Synagogue in Damascus and no longer have a full-time Rabbi. But, Jajati said, they enjoy freedoms that members of the community could not have imagined thirty years ago. In the mid-1990s, Jajati became the first Jew living in Syria to speak before the World Jewish Congress. During his trips abroad, he mingled with leading political figures in the United States and Europe including ardent critics of Syria like U.S. Representative Tom Lantos, who invited Jajati to his office.

The Jajatis owned what was widely considered the smartest clothing store in Damascus. The family sold the business but still owns a factory in the Jewish Quarter that is managed by one of Jajati’s sons: Khalil. The Jajatis transferred the retail end of the business to New York, where they sell their Syrian-made clothes wholesale to such high-end stores as Porta Bella.

Jajati met with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad shortly after he was sworn in as president in 2000.

“I hope and wait for the day that you go to Jerusalem and sign a peace treaty,” he recalled telling Asad. “Bashar said, ‘Speak with your friends in the Israeli government, with [then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak.’ I said you are my friend, not Barak.” Jajati spoke in Arabic.

Before the meeting was over, Jajati recalled Bashar telling him: “I really was sad that the Jewish community left and I would have preferred them to stay and I hope they return.”

One year later, Jajati moved to New York, where most of his children reside. But he says he remains proud of his Arab identity and loyal to his country of birth. If negotiations between Israel and Syria resume, he said that he is willing to play a role.

“I hope that Syria appoints me to carry out negotiations with Israel,” he said, “To represent my country.”

It is easy to dismiss Jajati’s glowing comments about Syria and its president. He, after all, continues to maintain strong business links to the country and would naturally want to remain on good terms with its government. It is much harder to explain why individuals who suffered during their time Syria and cut their ties with the country long ago, like Hasbani, Hamra, Fouerti, would continue to speak fondly about the country and its leader.

Some might argue that Asad’s cult of personality is the legacy of the regime. Syria is country where the president’s photo adorns every store front and is plastered on billboards, where deference to authority is the norm. But such a view overlooks two very real benefits Asad provided Syrian Jews: stability and relevance.

The years proceeding Hafez al-Asad's rise to power were time of immense chaos in Syria. A succession of coup d'états resulted one repressive regime after another. For Jews, instability brought some of the worst abuses and there was always the uncertainty about the future. Asad, by contrast, quickly consolidated his power, exiling or imprisoning rivals.

Ironically, the very power that made Asad feared was also the power that gave him the leverage to improve the status of those Syrians who had been most marginalized, including Jews.

Asad was himself a member of a minority group: the Alawis. Concentrated in the mountains near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, the Alawis had been victims of a long history of persecution, said Patrick Seale, author of the leading biography of Hafez al-Asad and personal acquaintance of the late Syrian leader.

“They were very poor and downtrodden,” Seale said. “They were thought of as collaborationists with the French,” the former colonial rulers of Syria. Many Alawi men served as tenant farmers for Sunni landowners and Alawi women sometimes worked as domestic servants.

The Alawi faith is somewhat secretive but it is known to blend Shia’a Islam with aspects of Christianity. Many Muslim clergy initially questioned Asad’s own Islamic credentials.

Some Syrian Jews said they believe that Asad’s minority status may have inspired sympathy for their plight. “The Asads were a family oppressed like any Jews,” said one member of the community.

Seale is more circumspect. The late Syrian president’s policies toward Jews probably stemmed more from a general opening up that accompanied his rise to power. But, he added, “He [Asad] had a feeling for downtrodden peasantry particularly. His regime was made up of country boys, not just Alawis, but Sunnis, Druze and Ismailis.”

Asad made the struggle against Israel a central plank of his leadership, but Israel never posed a mortal threat to his regime and never were Syrian Jews ever implicated in spying for Israel. Asad’s only true threat, in fact, came from the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, who staged an insurrection in the city of Hama in 1982, which Asad violently suppressed.

“The Jews in Syria never had a spy,” said Hasbani. “They also never had a problem with Israel or another country. Their only problem was that some of them wanted to leave. The President understood that.”

In a hierarchical society like Syria, where a resident of Damascus could go an entire lifetime without catching a glimpse of the president except on television, a public meeting with Asad was the highest of honors. That is why Hasbani’s newspaper clips of Asad shaking hands with Syrian Jewish leaders are significant. Those photos made Jews relevant in Syrian society, he said, and gave the community a level of respect it had never enjoyed before. In effect, Asad brought Syrian Jews into the national tent.

But all this begs a question: if life was so good under Asad, why did nearly all of Syria’s Jews leave when given the opportunity?

Most left behind successful businesses and expensive homes in order to start over all again in Brooklyn or Tel Aviv. Most Syrian Jews received housing and financial assistance from local Jewish and civic organizations for one year after their arrival, but many continued to struggle. Hasbani, once a respected doctor, has watched his life sink into anonymity in a country that he himself characterized as being impersonal and lonely.

Some Syrian Jews like Hasbani said that fear of the future prompted the mass departure. Although Asad had treated the Jews of Syria well, there was no guarantee that his predecessor would do the same.

Jajati attributed the exodus to inertia. By the time the Syrian president lifted restrictions on emigration, most Syrian Jews had already escaped Syria for Brooklyn or Israel, where they had established thriving new communities. As life slowly drained out of the ancient Jewish neighborhoods of Damascus, Aleppo and Qamishli, the remaining families saw few reasons to remain.

Then there was the Syrian government’s own dithering that might have contributed to the mass flight of Syrian Jews. Asad opened the door for Syrian Jews to leave in 1992 and then, for reasons no one entirely understands, the door was shut a year later and then reopened shortly after that. Many of those who had not left, when first given the opportunity, felt that if they did not leave immediately, the door would close again, said Hasbani.

Fouerti explained his reason for leaving with a simple metaphor. “If you have a bird and locked it in a cage and later opened the door, it will fly away,” he said. “I had one choice: to go see the outside.”

Yet living on the outside, Syria’s Jews continue to look back in. Much like Palestinian-Israelis, they straddle the very dividing line of the Arab-Israeli dispute. Although this awkward position has caused many to suffer pain and torment, it has also provided them with unique insight into a conflict that has festered for far too many years. Syrian Jews will likely never play a role in resolving who gets what part of the Golan Heights. But they may someday be able foster a warm peace.

“If there is peace between Syria and Israel, and I am sure there will be peace, we will bring them together,” Fouerti said. “We must be a bridge between Israel and Syria.”


At 10/24/2005 08:05:00 PM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...

It is a long article, and was not able to read most of it at this time, but read few lines.

Let me say from what I read that I feel furious that human beings treat other human beings according to what kind of religion, or race one was born in, and I have a great sympathy and love for Jews world wide, and Syrian Jews in particular. I am glad that one president of Syria improved their conditions and tried to eleimnate the diffreneces between them and the rest of Syrians. It is a shame that any one would hate any one else based on things that one has no control on. I did not choose my race or origin, and that goes for every one else.

I hope that the Jews that left Syria would come back, and I know that they dearly love Syria. I am hopeing that mankind will evolve to meet God's expectations when he created us!


At 10/24/2005 09:53:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

I did not read this article, just glimpsed over it. Like to add my comment and thoughts on this unique subject.

First of all, SSPRS recognizes Jews as being part of Syria. They are Syrians in fact. Just because they adopted a certain god “Yahweh” and followed him, it does not make them any different Anthropologically from the rest of the people that inhabited the Fertile Crescent Region.

Many Jews in Syria have Christianized long time ago, some are even Sunni Moslems. There are the very obvious one such as Kaplan, Kaalb and Shahla. But there are not so obvious one that I would not want to mention their adopted Islamic and Christian surnames here. If you do some homework, you will figure it out.

I remember when I was at the Jesuit School though, in the good old days when Syria was nice cosmopolitan place, prosperous, free, Democratic, and Internationally respected country (before the CIA started supporting the Baath) that Jewish students who were Christianized were not treated by their fellow Christians as good as they were treated by the Moslem students. As an example, one pupil from the Kaplan family, whose daddy owned an Aluminum kitchenware factory in Homs used to always be harassed and asterisked by the Christian students because he was a Jew (murdered Jesus), even though he attended the local Catholic church. At one time, even father Habib told him once, “you are not Christian, you are a Jew” at which the pupils was fighting back that, so what he is Christian now, and that he should accept him as a Christian because even Jesus was a Jew. Kaplan, was one of my best friends and so as Shahla.

Growing up in Syria, no one really ever talked about religion, until the Baath came in illegally to power with the help of the lower classes of Syrian Moslems. This country had never had the kind of religious wars or even any small conflicts such as you will find in other countries, like ridiculously backward and idiotic Lebanon. In fact up to 1948 Jews enjoyed all the civic rights and were required to perform all the civic duties expected from any other Syrians. Christians were in fact very prominent if winning independence for Syria from the Turks and the French.

Back in 1990, in California, when California was nice, grayish, free and Democratic ( before the CIA brought the Bush-Cheney into power) I was in the business of exporting Yarns to the Textile industry in Syria. One day, I was baffled and surprised when this salesman representing an American Textile Conglomerate showing me his company yarn sample with tear in his eyes. I mean his eyes for an hours were red and in tears. Was too embarrassed to ask him why he was crying, thought he may had allergy to Acrylic and poor man, it is his job, he got to do it.

When we all done, he asks me when was the last time I visited Syria. I never mentioned to him that I am from Syria or doing business in it, I was surprised by his questions. I replied that never gone back since I left it in 1970 and have no intention in even visiting the damm place and asked him how did he know I am Syrian. He replied, that he loves Syria, he misses it so much and broke up crying. He said, He would love to live in there again. He was Jewish from Damascus, immigrated with father and been in the States for less than a decade.

15 Million Syrians lives in Diaspora, representing every town, region, sect and economic background. Many can’t even return if they wanted to. Hundred of thousands escaping the compulsory military service. Others, If they returned, they could risk imprisonment, and torture. It is a sad, sad, sad state of affairs in Syria.

At 10/24/2005 10:00:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

Forgot to Sign the above article.

Metaz K. M. Aldendeshe
Syrian Republican Party

At 10/24/2005 10:45:00 PM, Blogger Abhinav Aima said...

If only Arabs wre treated the same way in Israel as Jews were treated in Syria.

I know, it is a brain bender.

At 10/24/2005 10:46:00 PM, Blogger norman said...

SRO, you deffinetly did not read the article as i did not see anything about syrian of any religion harrasing the syria jews,they seem to love Syria and Hafez Asad more than some syrian amd mst lebanese.

At 10/24/2005 11:01:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

asterisked = ostracized
grayish = gayyish

I am compiling a list of the great leaders and exceptional rulers that the CIA brought to power or supported in every way in the past 5 decades. Also, compiling a list of the good noble deeds and excellent leadership skills of these individuals that are deemed worthy of CIA and American support. Please feel free to add your favorites, this is what I got so far:

Saddam Hussain
Reza Pahlevi
Idee Amin
Jamal Abd Al Nasser
Hafez Assad
Bashar Assad
Pol Pot
Augusto Pinoche
Osama Bin Ladin
Sultan Kabus
Sultan of Brunai
Manuel Noriega
Muammar Khaddafi
Carlos Castillo Armas
Rafael Leónidas Trujillo
Sani Abacha
Hugo Banzer
Fulgencio Batista
Hassanal Bokhia
P.W. Botha
Humberto Branco
Raoul Cedras
Vinicio Cerezo
Chiang Kai Shek ( I admit that he was worthy of support)
Roberto Suazo Cordova
Alfredo Christiani
Ngo Dihn Diem
Samuel Doe
Francois Duvalier
Jean Claude Duvalier
Fahd bin Abdul Aziz
Francisco Franco
Adolf Hitler
Hassan II
Ferdinand Marcos
Maximiliano Martinez
Sese Seko Mobuto
Efrain Rios Montt
Turgut Ozal
George Papadopoulos
Chung Hee Park ( another worthy Nationalist)
Sitiveni Rabuka
Halie Salassie
Antonio D.E. Salazar
Anastasio Somosa
Ian Smith
Alfredo Stroessner
Rafael Trujillo
Jorge Rafael Videla
Mohammad Zia Al Haqq

At 10/24/2005 11:14:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

Don't be fool. No one loves Hafez except few corrupt Lebanese Bankers, Henry Kissinger and that Tenet guy that Bush kicked his ass out. Jews just say so to save hide, remember Syria was the number one Soviet Satellite crony, back then, they had clout. Bashar, had a good chance at taking the Syrian populace support and building a notable dynasty of good rulership that can be remembered in history in positive light. Instead, he choose to be ousted as a lousy, weak, corrupt dictator. He and his Hafez will be remembered as the one that brought Syria to it's end and ceased to be a country.

At 10/24/2005 11:29:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

MadMax said (previous post):

For the arabs it's "the jews in America conspired with the jews of Israel to set up Syria to fail."

Diana died in car accident? "the jews of America and the jews of Israel conspired to kill her to set up the arabs to fail"..


It seems that the we have moved from ou r fatalist beleif that it is Iradit Allah to the neoFatalism (it was planned by the Jews)

Basically we want to avoid any responsability for our actions.

And now we are waiting patiently until the Jews through their instrument Bush free us from the murderers who killed thousands of us and made us live like their personal slaves for decades.

At 10/25/2005 01:28:00 AM, Blogger dan said...

I'm surprised that he writes there are only about 50 Jews left in Damascus. I sat down with a Lebanese Jew yesterday (who told me there are about 60 here) and who claimed that the Damascus Jewish community was significantly larger, closer to 1,0000.

You can read a bit more about it here:

At 10/25/2005 07:31:00 AM, Blogger الدومري السوري said...

Hey Josh may I ask why did you remove my earlier comment.
You don't even mention that a comment was removed by the blog adminstrator. Is it because I said that the article was too boring? Are you becoming too sensetive to criticism like our ex-interior minister? Or Is this your way of giving us an example of the American freedom of speach?

At 10/25/2005 08:38:00 AM, Blogger Eric said...

Thanks. I'm used to the complexity of royalist/communist/islamist/none-of-the-above relations in farsi/arabic cosmo/farmer Iran, so this was an interesting piece, as are some of the comments.

In case blogger mungles identity, I write at wampum.

At 10/25/2005 01:07:00 PM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...

President George W. Bush has reiterated today his desire to do some thing about Syria. I think the battle with the Syrian regime, if not Syria has started. I hope he is differentiating between Syria and its regime.

Strange as it may seem, I have a mixed feeling regarding this whole situation. Firstly, I am so happy that it is the regime's turn now to be afraid and to taste fear for the first time in its history. I was hoping that the Regime would understand that it is living its past days no matter what is going to happen in the world situation, and that this by itself may render the Assad family more apt to be humans, and to start feeling like every body else among humanity's 6 billion people, but their arrogance and their criminal mentality continues, and they are keeping the imprisonment of their people up until today. Instead of releasing all prisonners and form a united front with their people, they are still so arrogant and with a criminal mentality that is unequal in the human history. My other confused feeling is that this regime will fall by the superpower, the US that I wished for it to use moral stands and reasons, and not to use Mehlis report to accomplish its aims. To me , Mehlis report was trash. It contained absolutely nothing we have not heard through rumours in Arabic web sites and Arab Newspapers, and I have a strong feeling that it was produced via intemidations and lies. I and others, I am sure, would like to really know the truth of who killed Hariri, and who really killed president John Kennedy.

As I said earlier, I am against the principles that the ends justify the means, and wished that a great superpower be really greater than to use fabricated evidence to accomplish justice.

Still, the fear that is now in the hearts of the Assad family tilts my feelings toward being a bit more happy than sad.


At 10/25/2005 01:39:00 PM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10/25/2005 01:40:00 PM, Blogger The Yellow King said...

Syrian Christians, from present-day Lebanon and Syria, faced the same dilemma after WWI. However, this group left Syria between 1893 and 1920 seeking greater economic opportunities in America and fully intended on returning to Syria. For example, as late as 1910, the village of Zahleh was receiving thousands of dollars a day in remittances from America. After WWI, this group of approximately 200,000 "Syrians" (90% from Lebanon and Syria) chose to remain in the United States rather than return to Syria to assist in creating a new nation. Who knows what changes they could have made? Who knows if they could have lobbied the U.S., Britain, France and Russia to stear away from a French Mandate, which no one in Syria, except the Maronites, wanted? Who knows if they could have resisted the French successfully? The point is, they didn't try. They waited and hoped some more powerful nation would come and save them. But it never did.

Are the Jews of Syria in a similar situation today? I think history says don't wait to find out. Act now. The Syrian Jews here in America should assert themselves politically, because they have a unique perspective on Syria and its politics. What does it take in Syria for minority rights to be respected? Based on Tuttle's article, simply being endorsed by the political leaders. That seems to me a fairly doable standard. African-Americans had to endure 100 years of persecution following a Civil War where they were subject to public lynchings for any reason before gaining real protection as a minority group in America. Another reason is that Americans need badly to disabuse themselves of the notion of "anti-semitism." Anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism. Zionism is a nationalistic racist ideology for the exclusion of all other races and religions except Judaism. It should be stood up against. The issue in Syria (and the entire Arab world) is minority rights: religious minorities, ethnic minorities, and women. The term "anti-semitism" is all too often bandied about by academics and policy weenies of the West who want to take the focus away from Israel's atrocities toward the Palestinians. Moreover, it is required dogma in most academic circles. But it is a much overused term and it simply has no application in the current political crisis with Syria.

America has no right to tell another nation to accept its brand of democracy and any nation would be wise to doubt America's dubious claim to hold the answer to democracy. The current U.S. policy towards Syria is filled with both deception and an ignorant, yet calculating, ideology. If it prevails, only a few policy wonks from the U.S. and their patrons in the Middle East will benefit, much like the French position after WWI. Everyone else will have to deal with the ensuing humanitarian crisis, including the average Arab citizen and the American taxpayer, neither of which wants to do so.

Americans, not Syrians, need to stand up to the U.S. government and speak out against military-induced regime changes, aka, War. The first Syrians to America convinced themselves that they had no say and no power. But that claim is disingenuous. They won a 10-year battle in US’ courts for the right to naturalization, which was denied to all others except free "whites" and African-Americans. In their fight to be determined "white," they gained the right to be called "American," but lost their homeland. I think they picked the wrong battle. The Jews of Syria must speak up now, or forever hold their peace.

At 10/25/2005 01:51:00 PM, Blogger Nick Frayn said...

As part of the minority Alawi sect, Hafez used Syria's minorities (Kurds, Jews, Christians, Palestinians, Druze) to strengthen his position against the majority Sunni elite. Of course, this didn't mean that the minorities enjoyed liberty (I have Alawi friends who claim that theirs is the worst position in Syria--after all their whole community has been co-opted by the regime allowing them no space at all for free expression), but he relied on their support which gave them greater privileges.

I believe this is the primary reason why conditions for the Jews improved, not due to US pressure as the article suggests.

At 10/25/2005 03:09:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

Jews and all other minorities were much better before the Baath and Assads. To say that Minority or as Nick said "I believe this is the primary reason why conditions for the Jews improved, not due to US pressure as the article suggests." Is either ignorant of the history or facts or being deliberately and cunningly deceptive. I tend to think it is pure deception by the regime men signing on as Nicks and Dicks.

At 10/25/2005 06:30:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

What is the point of this artcile?
Are we to believe that Hafez was a humane leader who loved Jews? This affection does not seem inter-generational judging by his son's rant against Jews right in front of the Pope and fot the world to hear. I guess the father did not have to establish his manhood every time he got the chance.

JAM and all other conspiricy theorists, You would like the current regime to fall but not as a result of American power or "fabrication of evidence". If the evidence is so fabricated, why doesn't the Syrian Government book a plane to the Hague, take all the suspects in the report, Demand an International trial and show the world how America is fabricating evidence. Let us get real!

Lastly, you seem to want to your cake and eat it. You want the syrian regime to fall but you don't want the Americans to do it for you. Why don't you guys go down to Damascus and do it instead? The fact is that were America not to get involved, Saddam and Assad would stay in power for the next 100 years

At 10/25/2005 08:34:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

Gladly IHSANI2, just give us 10 Millions and a green light from Washington. We will do it ourselves.

What you are missing is our and Jam previous comments.

Jam understand that this new /old way of sanctions have been tried in Iraq with horrible results. It would seems, that to do it the same way all over again, shows a deliberate disregard to everything on the American and Syrian people sides, and the only consideration is to weaken and fail the Baathist government. Which is by itself is a good idea that almost all Syrians will be thanking America for it.

The problem is sanctions only impoverish the people and not the dictator. Sanction may work in a non-dictatorship system because the leader will be held accountable for his misdeed. Who the hell is going to account for the Alawite Dictator?

It is either the US have already someone/ s that they will put in power right away, another dictator, or just wanted it Syria to fail, period, so it can be torn into various sectarian, resource and Israeli security parts.

Why not the United Nation and the West demand from the Assads Baathist Government to implement all the International Laws and Treaties including those of the United Nation and Human rights declarations immediately and fully? Why not Organize, fund and arm opposition groups to fight for their country under U.S. supervision and agreement. Why not use all the tools to force Assad and Baathist cronies to negotiate with a body of oppositions organized and funded by Washington. I say funded again, because it takes money to promote the oppositions among the Syrian masses, to educated them about the plan, and what they have to do, so the Baathist don't use them as they already doing, using brainwashing and Islamist means to direct them against America.

Any intelligent person can ascertain that there is something sinister about all of this, when you account for the missing important steps and parts. It is not that Washington leaders are stupid. NO, they know what are they doing, and that is the worry JAM and others you call conspiracy theorists have.

At 10/25/2005 09:29:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...


First, I actually do not share your proposition that he USA is interested in imposing economic sanctions on the 18 million poor Syrian citizens. The U.S. knows full well that a prosperous ME is more benefitial to US National and economic security. To be sure, they do haev their own interests in mind. Policy makers in Washington have concluded that the ME is deep into an economic black hole. Close to 4 million jobs have to be created every year in the Arab world JUST TO HOLD THE UNEMPLOYMENT RATES CONSTANT AT THIS ALREADY ALARMING RATES. You correctly ask, why not the UN and the west demand from Assads to implement al International lawa and treaties?
the more relevant question is how does the US ENFORCE such resolutions? The answer simply is it CANNOT. Suppose it does this tonite, do you think Assad Will oblige unless he feared direct and imminent military action? I would argue not. Indeed, it was precisely the direct military intervention in Saddam's Iraq that has made the U.S. credible and feared. The ME has experianced enough resolutions and threats. Dictators only react to credible threats of force. Even now, when the U.S. is making such "threats" , the Syrian leader thinks it is a mere bluff. Hence his reactions thus far. The U.S. Could well indeed be arming, supporting and working with a non-Baathist as an alternative to Bashar as we speak. In reality, it is not as easy as most people would like it to be. These regimes are extremely good at what they do. Finally, look at what the U.S. did at the U.N. today. They did not impose economic sanctions. They did not invade. They asked for the Syrian Government to make every suspect available to the Commission and to freeze their travel and bank accounts till the investigation is complete. Let the Syrian leader comply if his Governmeent is as innocent as it is claimed.

At 10/25/2005 10:30:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

For all the U.S. Bashers out there,

A special prosecuter spent the past two years investigating who leaked the indentity of a CIA operative to the press. It now appears that some indictments could be issued for some of the most powerful people in Washington.
People as high as Dick Cheney and Karl Rove are rumoured to be on that list.

I wish to see that day when one Arab country can experiance such "accountability"

At 10/25/2005 10:40:00 PM, Blogger Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Ehsani, don't lose your time with these people

At 10/25/2005 10:44:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10/25/2005 10:49:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

What they did today at the U.N. regarding the resolution is great starter. Very well thought and the best setup. Smart, I would say.
Hopefully they can pass it without delution.

At 10/25/2005 10:59:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

I suggest that you keep it civil. I have been enjoying the exchange. Clearly, you do not feel the same. I am glad that you like the outcome at the UN. Smart it was . Smart it will prceed.

At 10/25/2005 11:00:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

No one bashing the United States. We are trying to make sure that they do not repeat the Iraq mistakes all over again. No, they are not preparing anyone, if they are, then he is another dictator. They should prepare a Syrian Congress and opposition front that America and the west will back to force the Baathist to give in. They also can start prepare the Syrian street, which the Baathists are already doing, including Islamist. We need funding to be able to get our messege to them and let them know how we feel and so as the People of Syria. And so on and so forth.... too long to mention.

At 10/25/2005 11:10:00 PM, Blogger EHSANI2 said...

I have no doubt that the ME is in the process of turning the corner. Syria, in particular could well be staring at its low point. I am an optimist. Now that the U.S. is interested and watching, I feel that the tide has turned. Events like these take long to accomplish. In the history of nations, events in the ME are moving at a blistering speed to be sure.

At 10/25/2005 11:20:00 PM, Blogger Nafdik said...

I finally understand what is hapening on this blog!!!

Josh has been asked to clear all posts by the Mukhabarat before posting. This is why the blog entries are getting more and more Assad loving and less and less informative and frequent.

At 10/25/2005 11:27:00 PM, Blogger Syrian Republican Party said...

The fact is the Baathists like that of Saddam, will never believe that the turning point is here. They will always think it is a bluff or time will pass. In the meantime they are already preparing for Iraq style insurgency in both Syria and Lebanon. By the time the U.S. realize it has only one option, it is too late. The problem is small now, and can be fixed very quickly to the liberators advantage, with very little effort. It will be very hard Six months or a year from now. Will loose the advantage. It will be Iraq all over again, even if the U.S. found another dictator from within or without, Riffat or any others that have blood on him will only intensify the insurgency, because you will confront an alliance of Baathists, Islamists and Syrians who will not want to be ruled by such a dictator all over again. Therefore, as the U.S. begin to pay attention to Syria, it needs to pay attention and start working on other fronts just as well.

At 10/26/2005 01:22:00 AM, Blogger BP said...

Now we know that five jews are happy to live a good life in syria. But their is a new danger coming with the bird flu. Is it topic in damascus, josh? Bush or cia involved? Or Mehlis? First they tried this new weapon in china and now in syria? Government, researchers, physicians, pharmacies ready to master this challenge?

Btw, josh, you lost most of your serious commentators, do you know why?

At 10/26/2005 02:38:00 AM, Blogger BP said...

Syria, Iran and the Power Plays over Iraq

In assessing the current phase of events in the Middle East, it is essential to link events in Syria with events in Iran. These, in turn, must be linked to the state of the war in Iraq and conditions in the Arabian Peninsula. The region is of one fabric, to say the least, and it is impossible to understand unfolding events -- the pressure against Syria involving the murder of a former Lebanese prime minister; feints and thrusts with Iran and talk of direct political engagement with the United States; the emergence of a new government in Baghdad, or obstacles to one -- without viewing them as one package.

Let's begin with two facts. Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Tehran has had close collaborative ties with Damascus. These have not been constant, nor have they been without strains and duplicity. Nevertheless, the entente between Iran and Syria has been a key element. Second, one of the many goals behind the U.S. invasion of Iraq was to position U.S. forces in such a way as to change a series of relationships between Islamic countries, not the least of which was the Iranian-Syrian relationship. Therefore, to understand what is going on, we must look at this as a "key player" game (Syria, Iran and the United States), with a serious of interested onlookers (Europe, China, Russia, Israel), and a series of extremely anxious onlookers (the states on the Arabian peninsula in particular).

The Roots of Alliance

Let's begin with the issue of what bound the Iranians and Syrians together. One part was ideological: Syria is ruled by a minority of Alawites, a Shiite offshoot that is at odds with Sunni Islam. Iran, a Shiite state, also confronts the Sunnis. Therefore, in religious terms, Syria under the Assads had a common interest with Iran.

Second, both states were anti-Zionists. Syria, as a front-line state, confronted Israel alone after Egypt's Anwar Sadat signed the accords at Camp David. Iran, ideologically, saw itself as a committed enemy of Israel. Syria looked to Iran for support against Israel, and Iran used that support to validate its credential among other states -- Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia -- that were either collaborationist or merely symbolic in their opposition to Israel's existence. Syria and Iran could help each other, in other words, to position themselves both against Israel and within the Islamic world.

But ideology was not the glue that held them together: that was Saddam Hussein. Syria's Assad and Iraq's Saddam grew out of the same ideological soil -- that of Baath socialism, a doctrine that drew together pan-Arabism with economies dominated by the state. But rather than forming a solid front stretching from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, the Iraqi and Syrian brands of Baathism split into two bitterly opposed movements. That difference had less to do with interest than with distrust between two dynastic presidents. Syria and Iraq had few common interests and were competing with each other economically. The relationship was, to say the least, murderous -- if not on a national level, then on a personal one. It never broke into open war because neither side had much to gain from a war. It was hatred short of war.

Not so between Iraq and Iran. When Iraq invaded Iran following the Islamic Revolution, a war lasting nearly a decade ensued. It was a war that cost hundreds of thousands of lives -- making it, for the size of the nations involved, one of the most brutal wars of the 20th century, and that is saying something. The issue here was fundamental. Iran and Iraq historically were rivals for domination of the Persian Gulf. The other countries of the Arabian Peninsula could not match either in military strength. Thus, each had an interest in becoming the dominant Persian Gulf power -- not only to control the oil, but to check the political power that Saudi Arabia had as a result of oil. So long as both were viable, the balance of power prevented domination by either. Should either win the war, there would be no native power to resist them. Thus, each side not only feared the other, but also had a great deal to gain through victory.

The Iranians badly wanted the Syrians to join in the war, creating a two-front conflict. Syria didn't. It was confronted by Israel on the one side and Turkey, another tense rival, on the other. Should its forces get bogged down fighting the Iraqis, the results could be catastrophic. Besides, while the Syrians had serious issues with Iraq, their true interests rested in Lebanon. The Syrians have always argued, with some justification, that Lebanon was torn from Syrian territory by the Sykes-Picot agreements between France and Britain following World War II. Nationalism aside, the Syrian leadership had close -- indeed, intimate -- economic relationships in Lebanon. It is important to recall that when Syria invaded Lebanon in 1975, it was in opposition to the Palestinians and in favor of Maronite Christian families, with whom the Alawites had critical business and political relations. It was -- and is -- impossible to think of Lebanon except in the context of Syria.

A Delicate Web of Relations

It was Damascus' fundamental interest for Lebanon to be informally absorbed into a greater Syria. Damascus used many tools, many relationships, many threats, many opportunities to weave a relationship with Lebanon and extend Syrian influence throughout the state. One of those tools was Hezbollah, an Islamist Shiite militia heavily funded and supported by Iran. From the Syrian point of view, Hezbollah had many uses. For one thing, it put a more secular Shiite group, the Amal movement under Nabih Berri, on the defensive. For another, it helped to put the Bekaa Valley, a major smuggling route for drugs and other commodities, under Syrian domination. Finally, it allowed Syria to pose a surrogate threat to Israel, retaining its anti-Zionist credentials without directly confronting Israel and incurring the risk of retaliation.

For Iran, Hezbollah was a means for asserting its claim on leadership of radical Islam while putting orthodox Sunnis, like the Saudis, in an uncomfortable position. Iran was fighting Israel via Hezbollah and building structures for a revolutionary Islam, while the dominant Sunnis were collaborating with the supporters of Israel, the United States. Hezbollah was, for the Iranians, a low-risk, high-payoff investment. In addition, it opened the door for financial benefits in the Wild West of Lebanon.

Both Iran and Syria maintained complex relations with both the United States and Israel. For example, Syria and Israel -- formally at war -- developed during the 1980s and 1990s complex protocols for preventing confrontation. Neither wanted a war with the other. The Syrians helped keep Hezbollah operations within limits and maintained security structures in such a way that Israel did not have to wage a major conventional war against Syria after 1982. There was far more intelligence-sharing and business deal-making than either Jerusalem or Damascus would want to admit. Lebanon recovered from its civil war and prospered -- as did Syrian and Israeli businessmen.

Iran also had complex relations with Washington. During the Iran-Iraq war, the United States found it in its interests to maintain a balance of power between Baghdad and Tehran. It did not want either to win. Toward this end, as Iran weakened, the United States arranged to provide military aid to Tehran -- not surprisingly, through Israel. Israel had maintained close relations with the Iranian military during the Shah's rule, and not really surprisingly, those endured under the Ayatollah Khomeini as well. Khomeini wanted to defeat Saddam Hussein more than anything. His military needed everything from missiles to spare parts, and the United States was prepared to use Israeli channels to supply them. It must always be remembered that the Iran-Contra affair was not only about Central America. It was also -- and far more significantly -- about selling weapons to Iran via the Israelis.

Intersection: Iraq

Now, if we go back up to 50,000 feet, we will see the connecting tissue in all these relationships: Iraq. There were plenty of side issues. But the central issue was that everyone hated Iraq. No one wanted Iraq to get nuclear weapons. We have always wondered about Iran's role in Israel's destruction of the Osirak reactor in 1981; but no matter here. The point is that the containment of Iraq was in everyone's interest. Indeed, the United States merely wanted to contain Iraq, whereas Iran, Syria and Israel all had an interest in destroying it.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq was in the direct interest of two countries, in addition to the United States: Iran and Israel. Other countries had a more ambiguous response. The Saudis, for example, were as terrified of Iran as of Iraq. They, more than anyone, wanted to see the balance of power maintained and viewed the American invasion as threatening to their interests.

Syria's position was the most complex.

Syria had joined the coalition fighting Saddam Hussein during Desert Storm -- at least symbolically. The Syrians had complex motives, but they did not want the United States interfering with their interests in Lebanon and saw throwing in with the coalition as a means of assuring a benign U.S. policy. At the same time, Syria was in the most precarious strategic position of any country in the region. Sandwiched between Israel, Turkey and Iraq, it lived on the lip of a volcano. The outcome of Desert Storm was perfect for the Syrians: It castrated Iraq without destroying it. Thus, Damascus needed to deal with only two threats: Israel, which had grown comfortable with its position in Lebanon, and Turkey, which was busy worrying about its Kurdish problem. In general, with some exceptions, the 1990s were as good as it got for Syria.

The U.S. invasion in 2003 upset the equation. Now Syria was surrounded by enemies on all sides again, but this time one of the enemies was the United States -- and immediately at the end of conventional military operations, the United States rushed forces to the Iraq-Syria border, threatening hot pursuit of the fleeing Baathists. The Syrians had not calculated the American intervention, having believed claims by Saudi Arabia and France that the United States would not invade without their approval. Now Syria was in trouble.

Syria and Iran: A Parallel Play

For the Iranians, this was the golden moment. Their dream was of a pro-Iranian Iraq -- or, alternatively, for Iraq's Shiite region to be independent and pro-Iranian, or at least to have a neutral Iraq. The Sunni rising put the Iranians in a perfect position: Using their influence among the Shia, they held the cards that the Americans had dealt them. They adopted a strategy of waiting and spinning complex webs.

The Syrians saw themselves in a much less advantageous position. They were in their worst-case scenario. They could not engage the United States directly, of course. But the only satisfactory outcome to their dilemma was to divert U.S. attention from them or, barring that, so complicate the Americans' position that they would be prevented from making any aggressive moves toward Syria. What Damascus needed was a strong guerrilla war to tie the Americans down.

The Syrians hated the Iraqi Baathists, but they now had two interests in common: First, a guerrilla war in Iraq would help to protect Syria as well as the Baathists' interests; and second, the Iraqis were paying cash for Syrian support -- and the Syrians like cash. They had been selling services to the Iraqis during the run-up to the war, and once the war was over, they continued to do so. The strategy proved rational: Syrian support for the Sunni guerrillas and jihadists was important in bogging the Americans down.

The Iranians liked it too. The more bogged down the Americans were in the Sunni region, the more dependent they were on the Shia. At the very least, they urgently needed Iraq's Shia not to rise up. At most, they wanted the Shia to form the core of a new government. From the Iranian point of view, the Sunni guerrillas were despicable as the enemies of Shiite Iran and yet were the perfect tool to increase their control over the Americans.

Thus, as before, Syria and Iran were engaged in parallel play. They shared a natural interest in a weak Iraq. If the United States was the dominant power in Iraq, then they wanted the United States to be the weak power. For a very long time, the United States was unable to get out of the way of the complexities it had created. It used the Iranian Shia and then, when trying to pull away from them, would stumble and return to dependence. And while Iraqi and Iranian Shia are not the same by any means, in this particular case, both had the same interest: increased leverage over the Americans.

The United States had two possible strategies. The key to controlling Iraq lay in ending the guerrilla war. One part of the guerrilla war -- not all -- was in Syria. The United States could invade Syria -- not a good idea, given available forces. It could ask Israel to do it -- which would be a bad move politically, nor was it clear that Israel wanted to do this. Or, it could use a strategy of indirection.

The Situation at Hand

The thing that Syria wants more than anything is Lebanon. The United States has set in motion policies designed to force Syria out of Lebanon. It is not that the United States really cares who dominates Lebanon -- in fact, its Israeli allies rather like the control that Syria has introduced there. Nevertheless, by threatening its core interests, the United States could, leaders thought, begin to leverage Syria.

The Syrians were obviously not going to go quietly into that good night -- not with billions at stake. The assassination of Rafik al-Hariri was the answer. Even when Syria drew its overt military forces out of Lebanon, covert force remained there perpetually. The result of the assassination, however, was overwhelming pressure on Syria -- coupled with a not-too-convincing threat of the use of force by the United States.

For Iran, the fate of Syria is not a major national interest. The future of Iraq is. Iran's view of events in Iraq is divided into three parts: First, a belief that Syria is an important but not decisive source of support for the Sunni guerillas; second, the view that the United States has already maneuvered itself into a de facto alliance with a faction of Iraq's Sunnis; and finally, the belief that Iran's interests in Iraq were not endangered by evolving politics in Lebanon.

The most important feature of the landscape at this moment is the decision by Iran that it is time to move toward direct discussions with the United States. To be sure, the United States and Iran have been talking informally for years about a variety of things, including Iraq. But this week, the Iranian foreign minister did two things. First, he stated that the time was not yet right for talks with the United States -- while acknowledging that talks through intermediaries had taken place. And second, he described the conditions under which discussions might occur. In short, he set the stage for talks between Washington and Tehran to move into the public eye.

It appears at this point that Iran has taken note of the U.S. pressure against Syria and is adjusting for it. However, what is holding up progress on public talks between the United States and Iran are not the reasons stated by the foreign minister -- doubts about Washington's integrity and unclarity about its goals -- but rather, the status of the presidency in Washington. Support for President George W. Bush is running at 39 percent in the polls. He still hasn't bounced upward, and he still hasn't collapsed. He is balanced on the thin edge of the knife. Indictments in the Plame investigation might come this week, which would be pivotal. If Bush collapses, there is no point in talks for Tehran.

Thus, the Iranians are waiting to see two things: Does the United States really have the weight to back the Syrians into a corner? And can Bush survive the greatest crisis of his presidency?
The Middle East is not a simple place, but it is a predictable one. Power talks, and you-know-what walks.

At 10/26/2005 03:43:00 AM, Blogger Mr.B said...

Stockholm syndrome.

At 10/26/2005 05:21:00 AM, Blogger BP said...

A widespread disease in syria.

Good diagnosis.

At 10/26/2005 08:47:00 AM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10/26/2005 09:23:00 AM, Blogger Abu Arab said...

I think its unfair to describe the Jews of Syria as victims. If so, then why millions of Jews who left their conutries, especially Russia, and came to settle in Palestine are not so? They were not forced to leave, instead supported and funded by Israeli goverments and the international community.

In a world of democracy and equal opportunity you don't expect people to have two identities or nationalities. I mean the second one is relegion as a nationality. Otherwise, all the Christians should go and live in Rome or vatican, and all Muslims should live in Mekka and Alquds.

Lets not forgett that Israel always discriminates between Jews and Arabs, although they (arabs)are living in their own homeland and outnumbered the jews. so talking about 50 to 100 Syrian Jewish is far less important than what happened and still happening in Israel.

Abu Arab

At 10/26/2005 03:48:00 PM, Blogger Peter said...

First of all, I found this to be a very interesting article. It's not an apology for Asad, and people who are claiming it is haven't read the article carefully.

As for Eshani2's comment about the Patrick Fitzgerald investigation, what's your point? Other than a few paranoid morons (and I concede they sometimes comment on this weblog), nobody doubts that the United States is far more democratic and committed to the rule of law than Arab countries. That's a totally separate question from the justice and wisdom of American foreign policy.

There is no reason to believe that competing for the support of domestic groups means supporting just policies at the international level. Just look at the connection between the competition for Jewish votes and campaign contributions in the United States and American right-wing positions on the Israel-Palestinian conflict (I am Jewish and live in New York City, btw). As Harry Truman is reported to have said during the 1948 presidential election, "How many Arab voters are in my constituency?".

At 10/26/2005 03:53:00 PM, Blogger Peter said...

By the way, I strongly disagree with Abu Arab's comments. It's true that most Jews in Arab countries were not literally forced to leave, but they faced discrimination and persecution, especially after 1948. It became very difficult for them to stay in these Arab countries. Of course, Abu Arab is correct that Israel also encouraged these Arab Jews to emigrate, but I don't see how that exculpates countries like Syria and Iraq.

Of course, none of this justifies Israeli policies towards Palestinians.

At 10/27/2005 06:32:00 AM, Blogger Abu Arab said...

When I meant the all Jews not Arab Jews. Don’t you think that all Jews should only belong to their countries regardless of their faith? Why a Syrian or Russian or Polish Jew cannot accept that they should belong to Syria, Poland or ect. rather than Israel.

Why every now and then we hear that a senior US "Jewish" official has links with the Israel intelligence? Why two identities. This is not Syria problem , why know now where the problem lies.

At 2/03/2006 06:08:00 AM, Blogger Joseph ALi Mohammed said...


At 8/20/2006 10:31:00 PM, Blogger Syriano said...

I was surprised to see this article, as a Syrian citizen we don’t hear a lot about Syrian Jews these days.
I took time to learn and figure things about them, even do I didn’t have any contact with them and never lived as the same period as they did in Syria.
But I show a lot of respect and concern to this graceful Sephardic community they brought a lot to the Syrian history, family names like ATTAR, DARWICHE, FARHI, HADDAD, HAKIM, HALABI, HALLAK, HAMADANI, JAMMAL, KHAYAT, KRAYEM, MALAH, MOUSSALLI, STAMBOULI, ZEITOUNE…
I was born in Aleppo both parents “Halabi and Sunni” with Turkish and Iraqi origins, talking about Jews was always a big taboo and a great mystified subject!!! LOL
I took time to ask a lot of people about Syrian Jews especially relatives, teachers and close friends…
My grand father told me that during his childhood, he lived with his family in the Jewish neighbourhood, known as Jamiliéh.
When I use to walk by there, we could see a lot of beautiful houses, that where left empty …
They had a special architectural design very different of what we use to see in typical Aleppo (big buildings)…
These houses where some sort of villas, three foot steps and you where right on the street, the architectural design was very stunning and unique.
Most of these private properties where left hunted, nobody lives there anymore, probably only rats and insects.
The Syrian government showed concerned, all of these buildings where left intact, because they remained in the hands of Jewish owners.
Asked my grandmother about Jews, she use to tell me during her childhood her father use to organise big party’s welcoming everybody from different backgrounds.
My grandmother runs to a lady and she asked her: What are you doing?
The women said: Cloth, cloth for the new arrivals in Palestine…
Asked our taxi driver, he use to tell that we all once lived together in peace, my father used to work with them, we use to trade and do business together.
Asked a relative: Oh!! I remember having a Jewish working for me, I use to send him to buy me some cigarettes he use to take a lot of time to come back, while I felt there was something wrong because there was a shop not fare from my office.
So I sent somebody after him to see what was he doing, the young boy used to go next to the citadel where he knew a Jewish seller, he use to buy from him and make his road back to the office.
When I find out about the whole thing, I kicked him out!!!
Asked my father: You can’t trust Jewish people, they will always stab you in the back, I remember having Jewish people during my studies in medicine, they use to dress in a very bad way and my God they use to stink.
We don’t want peace with them, it’s our land!!!
Asked my teacher: There was a Jewish lady, she use to give me Arabic lessons, they lived in the same building as ours.
Suddenly on a night, they all left the building without saying a word goodbye to anybody. We all wondered where they went she, her sister and father.
Asked a person once worked in our shop: I once heard that there was a girl and her brother (Jewish) that refused to go elsewhere, they stayed in Aleppo, the brother stayed Jewish while his sister converted to Islam and wear the Hijab.

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