In a letter titled “Ruh Jedida: A New Spirit for 2011,” young Jewish descendants of the Arab and Islamic world living in Israel write to their peers in the Middle East and North Africa
We, as the descendents of the Jewish communities of the Arab and Muslim world, the Middle East and the Maghreb, and as the second and third generation of Mizrahi Jews in Israel, are watching with great excitement and curiosity the major role that the men and women of our generation are playing so courageously in the demonstrations for freedom and change across the Arab world. We identify with you and are extremely hopeful for the future of the revolutions that have already succeeded in Tunisia and Egypt. We are equally pained and worried at the great loss of life in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and many other places in the region.
Our generation’s protest against repression and oppressive and abusive regimes, and its call for change, freedom, and the establishment of democratic governments that foster citizen participation in the political process, marks a dramatic moment in the history of the Middle East and North Africa, a region which has for generations been torn between various forces, internal and external, and whose leaders have often trampled the political, economic, and cultural rights of its citizens.
We are Israelis, the children and grandchildren of Jews who lived in the Middle East and North Africa for hundreds and thousands of years. Our forefathers and mothers contributed to the development of this region’s culture, and were part and parcel of it. Thus the culture of the Islamic world and the multigenerational connection and identification with this region is an inseparable part of our own identity.
We are a part of the religious, cultural, and linguistic history of the Middle East and North Africa, although it seems that we are the forgotten children of its history: First in Israel, which imagines itself and its culture to be somewhere between continental Europe and North America. Then in the Arab world, which often accepts the dichotomy of Jews and Arabs and the imagined view of all Jews as Europeans, and has preferred to repress the history of the Arab-Jews as a minor or even nonexistent chapter in its history; and finally within the Mizrahi communities themselves, who in the wake of Western colonialism, Jewish nationalism and Arab nationalism, became ashamed of their past in the Arab world.
Consequently we often tried to blend into the mainstream of society while erasing or minimizing our own past. The mutual influences and relationships between Jewish and Arab cultures were subjected to forceful attempts at erasure in recent generations, but evidence of them can still be found in many spheres of our lives, including music, prayer, language, and literature.
We wish to express our identification with and hopes for this stage of generational transition in the history of the Middle East and North Africa, and we hope that it will open the gates to freedom and justice and a fair distribution of the region’s resources.
We turn to you, our generational peers in the Arab and Muslim world, striving for an honest dialog which will include us in the history and culture of the region. We looked enviously at the pictures from Tunisia and from Al-Tahrir square, admiring your ability to bring forth and organize a nonviolent civil resistance that has brought hundreds of thousands of people out into the streets and the squares, and finally forced your rulers to step down.
We, too, live in a regime that in reality—despite its pretensions to being “enlightened” and “democratic”—does not represent large sections of its actual population in the Occupied Territories and inside of the Green Line border(s). This regime tramples the economic and social rights of most of its citizens, is in an ongoing process of minimizing democratic liberties, and constructs racist barriers against Arab-Jews, the Arab people, and Arabic culture. Unlike the citizens of Tunisia and Egypt, we are still a long way from the capacity to build the kind of solidarity between various groups that we see in these countries, a solidarity movement that would allow us to unite and march together–all who reside here–into the public squares, to demand a civil regime that is culturally, socially, and economically just and inclusive.
We believe that, as Mizrahi Jews in Israel, our struggle for economic, social, and cultural rights rests on the understanding that political change cannot depend on the Western powers who have exploited our region and its residents for many generations. True change can only come from an intra-regional and inter-religious dialog that is in connection with the different struggles and movements currently active in the Arab world. Specifically, we must be in dialog and solidarity with struggles of the Palestinians citizens of Israel who are fighting for equal political and economic rights and for the termination of racist laws, and the struggle of the Palestinian people living under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and in Gaza in their demand to end the occupation and to gain Palestinian national independence.
In our previous letter written following Obama’s Cairo speech in 2009, we called for the rise of the democratic Middle Eastern identity and for our inclusion in such an identity. We now express the hope that our generation – throughout the Arab, Muslim, and Jewish world – will be a generation of renewed bridges that will leap over the walls and hostility created by previous generations and will renew the deep human dialog without which we cannot understand ourselves: between Jews, Sunnis, Shias, and Christians, between Kurds, Berbers, Turks, and Persians, between Mizrahis and Ashkenazis, and between Palestinians and Israelis. We draw on our shared past in order to look forward hopefully towards a shared future.
We have faith in intra-regional dialog—whose purpose is to repair and rehabilitate what was destroyed in recent generations—as a catalyst towards renewing the Andalusian model of Muslim-Jewish-Christian partnership, God willing, Insha’Allah, and as a pathway to a cultural and historical golden era for our countries. This golden era cannot come to pass without equal, democratic citizenship, equal distribution of resources, opportunities, and education, equality between women and men, and the acceptance of all people regardless of faith, race, status, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnic affiliation. All of these rights play equal parts in constructing the new society to which we aspire. We are committed to achieving these goals within a process of dialog between all of the people of Middle East and North Africa, as well as a dialog we will undertake with different Jewish communities in Israel and around the world.
We, the undersigned: