Since 1948, the two words “Jew” and “Arab” in the same sentence have widely been understood to refer to polar opposites, suggesting mutual distrust and enmity, war and violence, pointing to a supposedly unbridgeable gap between the two. It is timely to remember that this was not always the case. In reflecting on the history of the Jews in Arab lands, one can say there was an earlier time before Jews were hostile to Arabs, and Arabs hostile to Jews, a time when a Jew might even be an Arab.
Jews in Arab lands not only spoke Arabic, but were part and parcel of Arab civilization and made their specific contribution to it. Before 1948, there were about one million Arabic-speaking Jews who were at home in countries stretching from Morocco to Iraq, with important Jewish centers in Casablanca, Tunis, Tripoli, Cairo, Alexandria, Sana’a, Beirut, Damascus, Aleppo and Baghdad as well as in Jerusalem, Hebron, Jaffa and Tiberias.
In the aftermath of the recent attack on the Palestinian town of Huwara near Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank by Jewish settlers seeking revenge for the murder of two Israelis nearby, it was striking that there were more voices from among the members of the ruling coalition that condoned the brutality against Palestinians than voices that condemned it. Among those who did condemn the violence were several members of the Jewish religious Shas Party, a fascinating segment on the Israeli political map.