Breaking the silence

She was seconds away from murder most foul on a dusty Tripoli highway.

Regina Bublil Waldman, a Libyan Jew, was caught up in a spasm of anti-Semitic violence across the Arab world in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War. Attempting to flee the country, she and her family were nearly burned alive in a bus but for the last-minute intervention of British diplomats.

Waldman, now a San Rafael resident and member of the organization JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) recounted her story before a congressional caucus in Washington, D.C., on July 20. She is one of hundreds of thousands of Jews forced into exile from their Arab homelands. Her own family traced its roots in Libya back hundreds of years.

“Today I am here to break the silence,” Waldman told the panel, “to awaken the numbness and the apathy surrounding the history of oppression of my people.”

The Human Rights Caucus heard testimony from refugees like Waldman in support of legislation requiring any Middle East peace deal to take into account the suffering of expelled Jews. San Mateo Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos was joined on the panel by Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

Nonbinding resolutions in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate address the displacement of Jews, Christians and other minority groups living in Arab-dominated countries and instruct the president to address all refugees of the Middle East — not just Palestinians — at future international forums.

Hastings, who has traveled extensively in the Middle East, including to Israel, pointed out that the U.N. General Assembly since 1947 “has adopted 681 resolutions on the Middle East conflict, including 101 resolutions on Palestinian refugees. During that same time period, there were no U.N. resolutions, nor any recognition or assistance from the international community for Jewish and other refugees from Arab countries.”

In her testimony, Waldman described growing up as second-class citizens in the Libyan capital. After the Six-Day War, Tripoli’s 36,000-strong Jewish community was besieged, with many killed and the rest driven out.

“We were stripped of our property, our assets, our homes and our personal belongings,” she said. “Everything was confiscated.”

On the way out of town, with only one suitcase per person allowed, Waldman’s family nearly died when the driver of their bus stopped the vehicle and prepared to blow it up with gasoline. Waldman’s quick phone call to the British embassy thwarted the murder attempt.

In addition to Waldman, other former refugees testifying included Sabin Dazin, of Algerian and Moroccan descent and Sir Charles Dahan, formerly of Morocco.

Stanley Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, and professor Henry Green both spoke of the 2,600-year history of Jews in the Middle East and the expulsion of nearly 900,000 Jews from Arab countries after the formation of Israel.

Concluding her remarks, Waldman told the panel, “I appeal to you to restore our narrative to its rightful place in history, to speak forcefully on the discriminatory treatment of the expulsion of the Jews from the Arab countries.”


JTA contributed to this story

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.