Settling Debts with Gaddafi

As Italy agrees to revolutionary compensation package over its occupation of Libya during WWII, Jews of Libyan descent launch initiative to receive their part in compensation package – over $500 million.

Published: December 20th 2010
in News » World

Jewish community in Libya
Pic: Or Shalom Foundation

From afar, the pile of documents on the desk of Libya's President Muammar Gaddafi may look like just another bureaucratic list that the ruler can doodle on as he continues with his daily agenda. But these documents hide a story that involves senior Libyan, Italian, American and Israeli government officials.


A few weeks ago, an unusual secret meeting took place at the United Nations offices: On one side, a close associate of Gaddafi's, and on the other, an American Jewish lawyer. The agenda: Deliberations over an operation materializing as we speak – 400 million euros ($529,389,440) compensation being requested by Libya's 120,000 Jews, mostly Israeli residents, for years of suffering under Italian rule.


Alan Gershon, the lawyer hired by the Libyan expats, held the position of legal advisor to the US mission to the UN, and has already succeeded in making the Libyan government pay huge sums in compensation to the families of those killed in the 1988 Pan Am flight terror attack over Lockerby in Scotland.


Jews of Libyan descent decided to act after Berlusconi's government signed an agreement stating that it would pay Libya 5 billion euro ($6,617,368,000) – compensation for the Imperialist regime of 1911-1943.


Gershon, who together with former Knesset Member and lawyer David Mena and a group of Italian lawyers is representing the Jews in the affair, is demanding the money from Italy and not Libya. Former Italian foreign minister and Jewish Italian parliament members from Berlusconi's party were enlisted for the mission.


Their main claim is that Jews weren't just like everyone else among the conquered; rather they suffered from the Italian rule under Benito Mussolini more than the Muslims. They were sent to work camps, evicted from their homes, suffered under the 'Shabbat Laws' which forced them to work on Shabbat and some were even sent to concentration camps and murdered in the Holocaust.


"We were among the conquered, we suffered more and so we want our share of the compensation," said Chairman of the International organization for Jews of Libyan Descent Meir Kahlon. "We will not ignore the fate of the dozens of Libyan Jews murdered during the Italian regime's rule.


Joined by the team of lawyers, Kahlon formed an agreement that outlines the plan. "The operation will focus at first on the Libyan government, for an understanding that part of the compensation funds were meant for the Jews." The agreement stated.


"This will mainly be done in the US, without any noticeable Israeli activity but through the activities of Gershon and his team with the Libyan representative in Washington and the Libyan mission at the UN. At the same time we will ask international forums with connections to Libya, Gaddafi and his son to join the operation."


At the moment, the demands haven't been formed into legal action. "We will attempt to reach a settlement with the Libyan and Italian governments without involving the courts," said Kahlon. "The Italian ambassador has announced that they are willing to compensate Libya's Jews, but that the agreement must come from Libya."


The issue has already been brought to Gaddafi's attention, and conversations held in Italy reveal that there is no fundamental problem with the solution of reaching a settlement with Jews in Israel, so long as he gives his consent. It is no surprise then that the former Jewish Libyan community is all a flutter at the potential.


Libya heading west


The story is not a simple one – this is a community whose members weren't seen as Holocaust survivors for decades. It was only two months ago, nearly 60 years too late that the government offices finalized the addition of the 5,000 Jews of Libyan descent to those eligible for compensation according to the Nazi persecution disability law.


Related articles: (Italy, Libya, Gaddafi, WWII, )

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