Settling Debts with Gaddafi

Published: December 20th 2010
in News » World

Jewish community in Libya
Pic: Or Shalom Foundation

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.


The move cost an estimated NIS 110 million ($30,540, 446). The eligibility of Libyan Jews is based on their exposure to Nazi persecution during WWII and their fearful escape from their homes. "The Jews suffered much more than the Muslims under Italian rule," said Deputy Finance Minister Itzhak Cohen, who is of Libyan descent. "My aunt was sent to the death camps with her children. We're entitled to compensation."


Kahlon and the other initiators are very much aware of the importance of the US in the move. They hired Gershon, who is experience in affairs like this, as their lawyer for a reason. The agreement states: "We appreciate that these days Libya needs US support and sympathy more than anything else, which is why the hub of our activities will be carried out by Gershon and his team, which has experience in dealing with the Libyan government, in the US.


It seems that the Lockerby terror attack families' compensation agreement, which Gershon oversaw, brought on an about-face in Libya's image around the world. "Libya wants to open up to the west" said a foreign ministry official, "and wants to promote relations in the US, where the main pressure to allocate compensation funds to the Jews according to their relative part in the population exists.


"Libya has given up its revolutionary image as the world's 'bad boy', has begun to develop relations with most of its sworn enemies, has given up weapons of mass destruction and has compensated the Lockerby attack families."


Following the activities in US, the operation will focus on the Italian government. Israel will also be included in this phase of the initiative, and members of the team have already met with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. In addition they are planning on requesting aid from the Israeli embassy in Rome, the Italian embassy in Israel a parliamentary organization and the 'Friends of Israel, Italy' organization.


Expectations in Israel are high. If received, the compensation isn't intended as personal compensation to the families. It will be used for infrastructure projects in Israel, "like the train to Eilat," says Cohen. The agreement would have the same terms as the one with Libya, where the funds from Italy would be invested in developing infrastructure in Libya over a 20 year period, through Italian companies.


Today, there are 16 Israeli towns that have large populations of Jews of Libyan descent; these include Porat, Dalton and Alma. Some are already dreaming of what they will do with the funds. "These towns need extensions, refurbishment, community centers and institutions and more," said Kahlon.


Never forget


Libyan Jews who lived through that difficult period find it hard to forget the history that led them to their quest for compensation. On the eve of WWII the Libyan Jewish community numbered 30,000. More than half resided in Tripoli, and a few thousand in Bengasi.


In 1935 the Shabbat Edict was put into force and Jewish merchants were all forced to keep their businesses open on the Sabbath. As Italy grew closer to Nazi Germany, racial and anti-Jewish laws were legislated in Italy. After Italy joined the axis in WWII, orders called for Jews to be locked up at the Jado concentration camp 150 kilometers from Tripoli, though this was only done partially.

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

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