Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Mizrahim

The Mizrahi Jews, or Jews hailing from the Middle East, Asia and North Africa, are a group of ethnically distinct Jewish practitioners that faced near-universal expulsion from Arab states following 1948. This is despite the fact that they had been living peacefully alongside Arab peoples for thousands of years, and represents a knee-jerk reaction on behalf of Arab leaders to the Arab-Israeli war. At least, according to the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, an organization whose goal is to level the playing field when it comes to reporting on topics of Israeli history and politics. Some practice Sephardic Judaism, a result of intermingling with Jews who were similarly expelled from Iberia in 586 BCE and Spanish Jews. Most Mizrahim (of both sects) currently reside in Israel, which has absorbed almost a million displaced refugees in the time since the Six-Day War.

                                    Jewish refugees were expelled by the armies of their respective Arab states.

Mizrahim can be found all over the world, and with the exception of the aforementioned Israel the largest displaced populations are in the United States and western Europe. Many were eventually allowed back to their home countries, but not the assets they once owned. The instead live largely in tent cities and refugee camps on the outskirts of major metropolitan areas, denied any monetary compensation for their losses. As reported by notable English-language Israeli news site ynetnews, currently there are political movements that aim to reclassify the refugees are such, with proposed legislation that aims to compensate families for loss of property. The site has a history of accurate reporting, and either way the report doesn't have a slant in one way or the other.

As an ethnic group, the Mizrahi share a genetic history with some of the oldest tribes of Israel, with thousands of years of history behind them. Though sometimes lumped together with the Sephardic, the two groups have very different traditions that include practicing different holidays and alternate interpretations of holy documents. The information repository Wise Geek notes that these religious practices were also likely responsible for many of the religious similarities between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as the Mizrahim in other countries had a knack for integration into their communities. Sephardim, by contrast, are those that chose to return to Israel after the Persian empire kicked out the Babylonian army.
                                                                               Exterior of a Mizrahi synagogue.

The Mizrahim, as is the case with many Jewish groups, has often had been subjected to hardship over the course of its long history. This is according to the Jewish Virtual Library, which, while obviously of Jewish origin, would likely attempt to remain neutral on matters of historical relevance. Mizrahi that chose to live in Christian communities (notably Spain during the Spanish Inquisition) faced second-class citizen status and rampant violence, which included the Portugese expulsion of Jews and the Roman massacre of much of the Isreali population during the time of the Roman empire. Many would flee to Europe and the Mediterranean during these times, scattering the tribe as well as others such as the Sephardic and Orthodox.


Catholic agents would torture and kill thousands, many of them Jews, in an attempt to convert them to Catholicism during the Inquisition.

Contemporary Mizrahi live all over the world, though the sting of their recent expulsion from their Arab homes is still heavy on many of their minds. This article by former refugee Israel Bonan chronicles his ejection from Egypt in 1967, and refutes the notion that the Mizrahi lived peacefully alongside their neighbors up until 1948. His personal experiences don't necessarily define his life, but they do influence his views, as he notes that the black and white view of their history and expulsion s incorrect, as the political and social realities are far more complex. This is a universally true statement when it comes to historic events, especially with an ancient sect of Judaism like the Mizrahim.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Israeli Military

           The Israeli military encompasses a number of interesting concepts. In practice it functions just like an average military force- there's a navy, an air force, ground forces, a code of conduct, etc. Yet the Israeli military is one of the most controversial armed forces in the known world, despite the fact that they don't commit horrible atrocities on civilians and aren't known for random bouts of brutality. This likely stems from the controversial (and highly contested) control of Israel by the Israelis, since most (if not all) of its neighbors want control of the land. Gaza (in particular the even more controversially contested West Bank) is a major source of stress for the army, as they are dealing with displaced civilians setting up homes along the border. Any use of force is therefore seen in an extremely poor light, no matter what the politics of the situation may be.

Soldiers in the West Bank with displaced civilian
            Israeli military, in addition to being one of the most controversial forces, is also one of the most highly trained. In a country that has historically been threatened by all sides at any moment, the training for Israeli soldiers is extremely intensive. It is not uncommon for individual soldiers to outclass foreign units of the same rank with relative ease. Thanks to laws related to dual citizenship and gays in the military, they also have a very cosmopolitan fighting force. Any citizen of Israeli or Jewish descent is possesses "the right of return," which allows the individual to enter Israel at any time as well as join the military, giving them de facto dual citizenship. Proactive laws concerning Gays in the Military also allow homosexuals to serve, which has been in effect since 1993. As a result, the general population is more accepting of homosexuality as well. All in all, a very proactive move on the part of the army.

            It should be noted that the Israeli military is known as the Israeli Defense Force, or IDF. It serves as the military arm of the overlaping Israeli Security Forces, which includes police and security personnel. The military force has often seen conflict, owing to the region, but after a treaty between other countries such as Egypt and Jordan they have since focused on Lebanon and aiding in US operations such as the Iraq war. Various service branches include the airforce and navy, both of which have taken part in operations in various military clashes, with the airforce taking an especially critical role in conflicts with Egypt and Syria. In the 1970's, it would become incredibly apparent just how critical they were, when Egypt, whose own airforce had been utterly destroyed in a bait & switch tactic by Israeli high command, used Israel's air superiority in order to gain territory on the Sinai and simultaneously weaken Syria.

            It's also not uncommon to see armed Israeli soldiers standing guard outside of buildings that house Israeli diplomats (even when other countries do not), as Israel itself has many enemies. This quality makes them an ever present feature of global diplomacy hubs such as Switzerland and Washington D.C., where many Israeli attaches attend political conferences with other world leaders. By and large, the Israeli military is just a national defense force. But underneath it has many unique facets that make it a powerful symbol of the nation of Israel.

One of many examples of military clashes in the west bank.

Israel Defense Force on Wikipedia: