Mohamed Ben-Galbon's Letter To Raphael Lozon
Jews of Libya
Dear Raphael Lozon,
Your above mentioned speech expressed the longing of a Libyan for his country and a natural yearning for home that can be understood by all who have experienced the suffering of being away from home and the consequences of forced exile.
We in the Libyan Constitutional Union (LCU) dearly hope that your mother's wish to visit her birthplace Benghazi is realised soon. We also support your right to receive the remains of relatives who were lost during the security disturbances which engulfed many Libyan towns, and which appeared to be a spontaneous public response to the 6-day war in 1967. We also support your wish to have the remains taken to their final resting places in the appropriate manner.
We have previously expressed our views in this paper regarding what happened to your community in 1967, long before the case began to be publicly discussed and became one of America's conditions for the rehabilitation of the current Libyan regime and for prolonging its lease to reign. (a copy of an article published on 9th March 1995 may be seen in the pages allocated to this case on the LCU archive web site: http://www.lcu-libya.co.uk/libjews.htm). We expressed our views again in an open letter to you, dated 10th June 2005, which was published in many Libyan internet sites, and therefore there is no need to reiterate these views here. We continue to share your sorrow and pain and fully understand your ordeal.
However, you were not completely accurate in your speech when you compared your situation with that of the Palestinian's and equated your ordeal with theirs. You were also far from accurate when you described the Israeli-Arab struggle as a conflict between a democracy and a dictatorship. I do not wish to elaborate further on this particular matter because I wish to focus our dialogue on the Libyan case in the hope that we succeed in building stronger friendly links based on truth and good intentions to bridge the regrettable sad gap that clearly exists between us.
In the above mentioned speech, you stated that in 1967 a decision was made to expel the Jewish community from Libya and that they were allowed only one small suit case and twenty pounds per person. Here I do feel that it is in the benefit of all concerned that this information is made accurate.
Travelling with this meagre amount of money was in accordance with the then existing currency regulations which prevented any Libyan national from taking abroad more than 20 pounds in cash. The regulation was not applied specifically or only to the Libyan Jews. It was possible to transfer any amount in accordance with the currency regulations of the bank of Libya in the form of traveller's cheques, bank credits or bank guarantees.
With regard to the decision to leave Libya hurriedly, it was a decision taken by the leaders of the Jewish community and was not an order of expulsion by the Libyan government. The Jewish historian, Renzo De Felice, published a book in 1978 entitled "epri in un paese Arabo", which was dedicated to this matter. On page 278 of the English translation of the book, he wrote: "The First official step was taken by Lillo Arbib on 17th June. He sent a message to Prime Minister Hussein Mazegh asking him to allow Jews so desiring to leave the country for a time, until tempers cool and the Libyan population understands the position of Libyan Jews, who have always been and will continue to be loyal to the State, in full harmony and peaceful coexistence with the Arab citizens at all times." The Government quickly agreed: the emigration office started work on June 20 preparing the documents necessary for departure."
In order to enable Al-Hayat readers to follow this dialogue, I wish to introduce a brief account of some relevant aspects of the case of Libya's Jewish community:
According to Jewish sources a community of about 40,000 Jews lived in Libya during the period prior to 1948. Only some were routed in Libyan society since before the Islamic era, others migrated to Libya from the neighbouring countries of North Africa, while others were refugees from Andalusia who fled the Spanish Inquisition. The community lived in peace and dignity among the rest of the Moslem communities of the Libyan society, until the Zionist movement crept into its fabric and preached the idea of migration to the "Promised Land" to colonise and establish a Jewish state. This prompted the attitude of the young towards contempt and defiance against the society - a behaviour against the interests of any minority in a multicultural society.
The first clash, Libya witnessed in all its history, between Jews and Moslems was on 3rd November, 1945 when a wave of strikes spread in many Arab countries marking the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. The clashes were repeated in 1948 as a reaction to the bloody news from Palestine. According to official British Government documents the Libyan Moslem uprisings were spontaneous and without pre-planning, sticks and stones were used. Whereas, the documents recorded, the Libyan Jewish uprising was premeditated and guns and ammunition were employed. This testimony is from an independent and responsible party - The British Government when it ruled Libya at the time during the UN mandate. A party that may not be accused of being biased to Moslems or indeed of being anti Jewish.
We have previously written on the subject in Al-Hayat and included the said British Government official papers in a three-part documentary series (21-23 September 1997). A copy of the series may be found through this link:
Following the 1948 clashes, the British authorities in Libya "encouraged" the Libyan Jews to migrate to Israel after selling off properties and taking their few possessions with them. Libya at that time was more or less devoid of resources and all citizens suffered from severe poverty, illiteracy and diseases resulting from decades of Italian colonisation and the war between the Allies and Axis (Second World War) which was fought on its land.
Despite these hardships and a lack of any sign of recovery in the foreseeable future, about 7000 Jews were not influenced by the Zionist calls nor by The British "encouragement" and chose to remain in Libya. The stand shown by that section of the Libyan Jews at that time requires no rhetoric or further emphasis of loyalty or true belonging to their Libya.
The surprise came with the discovery of oil in the country after independence. Prosperity and wealth spread among all sections of the society. With that momentous change came suspicious interests in Libya by the International Zionist Organisations, wickedly employing the existence of the small Jewish minority in Libya. At the front of these organisations and most active in the sudden dubious interest was the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the president of which (Mr Louis Caplan) visited Libya in the summer of 1961. Following that visit the Jewish community leaders (Lillo Arbib, Hai Glam, Clemente Habib, Angelo Nahum, and Pinhas R.Naim) submitted a written complaint to the Libyan Prime Minister (Mr Mohammed Othman Assaid) demanding a list of rights for the Jewish community in the country. The International Organisations succeeded to convince the former UN envoy to Libya, Mr Adrian Pelt, to carry out a discrete investigation about the affairs of the Libyan Jews during his visit for the 10th anniversary of Libya's independence. His report, published on page 230 of Renzo De Felice's book, was disappointing to the organisations. "The former U.N commissioner wrote that anti-Semitism, in the sense in which it is understood in the west, did not exist [in Libya], but that there was strong feeling against Israel ((....)). In the field of personal relations there was not much animosity against Jews. ((....)) Arabs and Jews would meet privately...((...))". However, in spite of that, the Zionist international organisations continued to subject the newly born Libyan state to sustained pressure, intimidation and embarrassment portraying it internationally as an anti-Semitic country (as De Felice recorded). The sustained pressure forced the Libyan government to ask the leaders of its Jewish community to issue a statement to the UN contradicting the accusations of anti-Semitism. This request of assistance was refused.
In order to add additional useful material to this important dialogue, we believe that it is helpful to make reference to an interesting letter dated 15th October 1964 from Canada's Secretary of State for External Affairs to the British Ambassador in Tripoli. In this letter, the Canadian official requested specific information about the Libyan Jewish community following allegations by Canadian Jewish Organisations that Libyan Jews were being persecuted. The British Ambassador in Tripoli, Mr. Rod Sarell, replied on 28th November, 1964. The following are short extracts from his letter (kept in the British National Archives, file No: FO371/178894, Document No. VT 1571/2).
"I have the honour to refer to your letter of October 15, 1964, concerning the position of the Jewish Community in Libya.
There are probably between 6,500 and 7,000 Jews in Libya, the majority of whom are resident in Tripoli. With the exception of a few manual workers, usually engaged in carpentry or the ritual preparation of Jewish food and wine, their means of livelihood are mainly commercial. They are merchants, commission agents, or shop keepers. At present it is probably true to say that they are experiencing, in common with Libya as a whole, prosperity unparalleled in the long history of the community.
There is no official discrimination against the Jews but the tension between the Arab States and Israel results from time to time in attacks in local press, which allege that some members of the community are agents of Zionism. This has on occasions resulted in local disorders, of whatever origin, taking on an anti-Jewish bias. ((....)) It is only fair to say however, that a very large part of local business is in Jewish hands including many of the most valuable British agencies. ((….)).
For this reason and because the Jews here are essentially a Mediterranean people, whose history can be traced back to Roman times, it is unlikely that any significant number would wish to emigrate to Canada unless under extreme duress ((....)). In fact about 300 are entitled to British passports facilities mostly on the basis of ancestors born in Gibralter in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The latter class of Jews are, of course, eligible to apply for permits to emigrate to Canada under existing regulations. It is perhaps indicative of the attitude to migration that the only recent application in this category dealt with by the Consular Section of the Embassy, that of the Habib family - which is the subject of your letter of 30 August 1963 - resulted in one member of the family leaving for Canada although the others were eligible to do so."
The question that forces itself here is: How and why the Jewish leaders in Libya took the decision on behalf of their community to leave the country in 1967? A choice which members of this small community refused to make in 1948 at a time of extreme poverty and hardships, with the lure of the Zionist movement on one hand and by the British "encouragement" on the other. Furthermore, the bloody clashes of 1948 were more serious than what they were subjected to in the riots of June 1967. How and why the leaders took the decision while the Jewish Libyan community were among the earliest to become wealthy from the returns of oil? It was clearly obvious to all that the economic improvements were only the beginnings of greater fortunes. Here we wish to introduce a testimony by Renzo De Felice about the state of affairs of the Jewish community in Libya during that period. On page 269 of the English translation of "epri in un paese Arabo", De Felice states: "Over less than six years [after discovery of oil in the country], the Jewish community's economic situation went from the "disastrous" condition of 1957 to one in which half of its members might be described as "well off"; there were cases for being "very wealthy" ((...))".
In the answers to these questions there is concealed the secret behind the 1969 Libyan Coup d' Etat and an explanation of its eccentric behaviour; factors that have baffled all for more than three decades. In order to systematically introduce possible answers, one should include a relevant series of historical facts with direct links to this convoluted case. In the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish international organisations were divided in their selection of a national homeland for Jews. While there was a section among them not prepared to accept anything less than Jerusalem and mount Zion, there was another equally significant section who were cautious of this choice, believing that it was an impossible dream to realise. They sought alternative destinations easier to colonise and convince the world by historical rights to the claim, where resistance would be minimal as well as being far from the religious hotspots of conflict. The choice of the latter party, after several expeditions and relevant research, settled on Libya to be the dream national homeland for the Jews. The idea was put forward by the British Jewish traveller, Sir Harry Johnston, who introduced it to Mr Israel Zangwill, Head of the Jewish Territorial Organisation in London. The organisation sent a scientific expedition to Libya in 1906 led by Mr Nahoum Sloush, a professor at the Sorbonne, which was followed by another in 1908. The reports of both expeditions were very encouraging to the extent that Mr Zangwill stated that Cyrenaica (a province in the east of Libya), rivals Palestine itself in becoming a Jewish national homeland. For more details about this subject and the reasons behind the choice of Libya as a Jewish homeland, one may consult the documentary book by Mr M. Bayou, published in March 1975 entitled: "The Zionist Project to Inhabit Libya". In addition, Al-Hayat published a brief account of the subject on 20th September 1997: Jewish Emigration to Palestine and the Story of the Alternative Homeland:
The Jewish International Organisations approached the Ottoman Empire with their intentions. The Ottoman Empire agreed to the requests but offered only the area of Sirt and its surroundings as a destination (an area on the Western Libya coast which had been a refuge for the Jews of Cyrenaica following their revolt against the Roman Empire in year 115 AD). In addition, the Ottomans made it a condition that only the Jews from Ottoman territories would be allowed to migrate into the allocated areas. However, the Zionist organisations were insisting on being given all of Cyrenaica, and planned to relocate large numbers from Ottoman territories to outnumber the local inhabitants, which was small at the time (the inhabitants of all of Libya totalled less than 1 million). The intention was to create a new geographical reality on the ground that would be difficult to dispute, and then continue to open the doors for the Jews of Europe and Russia to flood into the new occupied areas. They (the Jewish international organisations) offered much needed financial and political facilities to the Sultanate which softened its position regarding the choice of Cyrenaica. The negotiations were going speedily in favour of the Jewish interests, when the coup of 1908 against the Sultan took place in Turkey. The new rulers (in Istanbul) would no doubt have gone on to grant all of the Jewish desires without conditions, however, the swift move by Italy to invade Libya in 1911 put an end to that dream and united the focus on Palestine.
We in the Libyan Constitutional Union are certain that the self-confidence of the Zionist movement after accomplishing the dream of fully colonising Palestine, achieving significant influence over the international public opinion and securing supremacy on the Arabs in every field, coupled with the discovery of vast reserves of oil re-kindled the dream to exploit Libya. This explains the conspiratorial and suspicious interests in Libya by the Zionist organisations immediately after the discovery of oil and the sustained campaigns to embarrass and portray the Kingdom as an anti-Semitic country. It is quite clear that the organisations succeeded in attracting the loyalty of some leaders of the Libyan Jewish community as evidenced by their refusal to support the government with a testimony to the UN (when the government faced persisting false accusations of anti-Semitism). Here I am not accusing the Libyan Jewish community of conspiracy or treason, their loyalty to Libya was demonstrated in making the difficult choice in 1948 as mentioned above, but pointing the finger at some of its leaders.
We are seriously concerned that the influence of the Jewish organisations inside the American institutions responsible for the Middle Eastern policies were employed to materialise the Zionist desires to control Libya politically and exploit it economically as soon as the Palestinian case reaches a solution and the two sides arrive at some sort of accord that satisfies the Arabs and forces peace between them and the Israelis. Thus came the Libyan coup d'Etat of 1969. A first step to prepare, with its extraordinarily narrow vision, the required environment for realising the scheme. The coup ruined the infrastructure of the country, spread anarchy and confusion in the nation and tarnished the reputation of the country until it was expelled from the international community and lost the respect and sympathy of all.
With a deep American sense of history and realisation that political secrets are only temporary, and with a full commitment to the reputation of America, these institutions planned that when the conspiracy is eventually exposed, it would appear to be an angry, vengeful reaction against a savage nation that ravaged a God-fearing minority. An act against every human standard and against the basic rules of the Islamic faith itself -expelling a minority from their own country, allowing each one only "a small brief case and twenty pounds". This (the plot) would appear to be a justifiable angry response and would result in few prepared to condemn it in defence of a country who's coup lost it its respect, credibility and every friendship of note. Neither would there be defence for the interests of a nation now retarded several centuries in every civilised field by the peculiar practices of the coup.
For history not to record that America conspired against a friendly nation and a loyal government, your community, Mr Lozon was manipulated and sacrificed to create that cover and to punish you for preferring Libya in 1948. Furthermore, your community is to be used for the return to Libya in a planned fashion as an organised, trained and united community with many of its members brainwashed and a new generation brought up with first loyalty to Israel. You have been convinced, as we are, that you were innocent victims. However, this is an undisputed fact, exploited to achieve an evil. Returning your community to a society in the grips of anarchy, ignorance and deep confusion will inevitably make you a leading elite minority in the society enjoying international respect and sympathy. The outside world would no doubt choose to with the country through you on political and economic affairs. The coup apparatus, once forced to realise that its existence and continuation are directly linked to the satisfaction of the elite minority, will endeavour to protect and serve it. Additional analysis related to this subject may be found in an article entitled "Gaddafi and the abandoned constitution":
Relationships can only be established and sustained on the basis of the fairness and righteousness that the heavens and earth were created upon. Therefore, Dear Rapahel, I hope that your community joins us in demanding an international inquiry into the case to unveil its mystery before final decisions are made. Perhaps the inquiry will unveil the most sordid conspiracy of the last century and save your community from being a Zionist tool (and enable you to realise the real reasons behind your exile) and participate in saving Libya's independence without jeopardising your right to an honourable return home.
Chairman Libyan Constitutional Union
1. English Translation of: (Jews in an Arab Land: Libya, 1835-1970. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985) by the Jewish historian, Renzo De Felice.
2. The British National Archives
3. Mustafa Bayou's book: "The Zionist Project to Inhabit Libya", published in March 1975.