Libya's Jewish community traces its origins back to Ptolemetic Egypt (3rd century BC). The Jewish community in Libya was closely associated with the Jews in Jerusalem and thus were targetted by the Ronans in the Jewish Revolts (73 AD and 115 AD). Rome while supressing the Jewish Revols provided the environment for Jews and other to freely travel and settle throughout the Empire. The surviving Jews seem to have vecome isolated. The Libyan Jews seem to have prospered under Arab rule. Few Iberian Jews, however settled in Libya after the Soanush and POortugese expulsuons (!5th century). They were attacked during a brief period of Christian control (16th century). Libyan Jews were again isolated during the Ottomabn era. When the Italians seized Libya before World Wae I (1911), there was a small Jewish population of 21,000 people. It was an almost exclusively urban population. More than half lived in Tripoli. The rise of Italian Fascism did not at first affect Italian Jews, but as Mussolini increasingly became dependent on Hitler, his Axis partner, Italian anti-Semetic laws were passed (1939). And it was Tripoli where Rommel and the Afrika Korps landed to rescue the retreating Italian Army (1941). Many Jews from Tripoli were also sent to forced labor camps. Conditions did not greatly improve following the liberation. During the British occupation, there was a series of Arab pogroms aimed at the Jews, the worst of which resulted in the deaths of more than 100 Jews in Tripoli and other towns and the destruction of five synagogues (1945). With the outbreak of fighting between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, the position of Libyan Jews eventually became untenable.
Libya's Jewish community traces its origins back to pre-Roman times (3rd century BC). The first known Libyan Jews appear have come from Egypt. Cirenaica at the time was under the control of the Ptolemetic Greek-Egyptian dynasty.
The Jewish community in Libya like that of other Jewish communities in the Mediterreanean expanded during the Roman Empire and the limited available information suggesrs that they prospered.
The ancient historian Josephus reports the size of the Libyan Jewish population at 0.5 million (1st century AD). The Emperor Augustus granted Cyrene's Jewish population privileges through Flavius, the Roman governor. At the time, Cyrene's Jews maintained close contact with the Jews in Jerusalem. As a result, they were apparently included in the Roman supression of the Jewish Revolt. The Romans decimated the Libyan Jewish population. Rome while supressing the Jewish Revoly (1st century AD) provided the environment for Jews and other to freely travel and settle throughout the Empire. There were Jewish revolts which were brutally supressed. Jonathan the Weaver led the poor of the Jewish community in Cyrene to revolt (73 AD). The Romans reacted with swift and predictable vengeance. The killed Jonathan and his supporters and executing other wealthy Jews in the community as aeprisal. A few decades kater, another Jewish revolt broke out in Cyrenecas, Egypt, and Cyprus (115). The Romans also brutally supressed these rebels. Little is known about the Jews in Libya after these revolts. The population may have been reduced as aesult of the Roman repression. Some authors report interaction with the Berber people and converts. Some Spanish Jews emigrated to Libya (6th century).
Little is known about Libyan Jews after the Arab Conquest (8th century AD). Some reports suggests that Jewd prospered under Arab rule and a significant Jewish population developed (11th century). Few Spanish and Portugues Jews appeared to hae settled in Libya following the Catholic expulsions (1490s).
The Spanish and Knights of Malta seized control of Libya (1510-51). There seems to have been actions against Jews atvthis tgime, although we have few details.
Reports suggest a rather small and mostly rural population by the time Libya was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire (1551).
The Ottomam Empire seized Libya and launched extended campaigns to take Malta. Actual Ottoman control varied and at times was oerfunctory at best. Occasional Jewish emigrants fleeing persecultion in Italy and other countries reached Libya. The Lib\yan Jewish community was mostly isolated during the Ottoman era. The Libyan Jewish community numbered about 30,000 peopleat the turn-of-the 20th century. DNA researchers report a distinctive genetic signatures in Libyan Jews. [Rosenberg et.al.]
The Italians seized Libya before World War I (1911). After World War I, Mussolini oversaw a vicious military action using poison gas to quell an Arab revolt. There was a small Jewish population of 21,000 people. It was an almost exclusively urban population. More than half lived in Tripoli. Italian rule was a tumultous tiome for Libya Jews with major fluctuations as Itlian policies developed and changed over time. The rise of Italian Fascism did not at first affect Italian Jews asit was not as vurulntly ant-Semetic as the NAZIS woulappeared later in Germamy. Jews in Italy had full civil rights and the small Jewish community prospered under Italian colonial rule. The Italians wanted to promotion their commercial and industrial interests in Libya. And the small Jewish comminity affored a local, albeit small, group that was not hostile to Italian control. Thus for a time, conditions in Libya improved for Jews. Italian control offered the the Libyan Jewish community the opportunity to reform its own education system and its rabbinate along modern European lines. This was something that Muslim Libyans were unwilling to do. This changed as Mussolini aftter the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (1935) and with Mussolini moved closer to Hitler and NAZI Germany. This was accompanied by a major shift in Italy's Muiddle-Eastern North Adrican policies. Mussolini proclained himself to be the 'Protector of Islam'. This might have fallen on death ears in Libya, given the brutality of the supression of Arab/Islamic resistance in Libya. It was, however, a useful foreign policy tact as Britain was unpopular in both Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, and Iran, areas of interest to Mussolin's dream of reestablishing the Romn Empire and turning the Mediterranean into n Italian Sea--Mare Nostrum. Mussolini’s anti-Jewish regulations (1938) theoretically applied to Libyan Jews. They were unevenly applied, but gradually severly affected Libyan Jews. The attitude of the Italian authorities in Libya towards its Jews began to change. Mussolini's 1935 feclaration and even more the anti-Semetic regulations set in motion a process of de-legitimizing the activitives of the Jewish community. At first this affected Jewish education and Zionist activities. It eventually extendd to commerce and trade meaning the ability of Jews to make a living.
Italy after the Germans had essentially defefeated France, declared war on Britain and France (June 1940). A massive Italian Army invaded Egypt from Italy (September 1940). This sent in motion the Western Desert campaign which was fought in western Egyot and Eastern Libua. The British smashed the Italians and drove into Libya (December 1940)And it was Tripoli where Rommel and the Afrika Korps landed to rescue the retreating Italian Army (1941). The Germans arrived in Libya to bolster the Italias (March 1941). Rommel's Afrika Korps waged a sea-saw campaign with the British 8th Army until defeat at El Alemaine (October 1942) and a lomg retreat across the coast of Libya to Tunisia where the Germans and Italians made a last stand in North Africa.
Italian authorities during World war II arrested many Jews from Tripoli and sent them to forced labor camps. Italian authorities in Libya eventually interned about 5,000 Jews. Conditions in these camps was very harsh. [Arbitol] There are reports of German soldiers ransacking Jewish shops. Some Libyan Jews were deported to the death camps. [Ward] Defeat of the Axis and British occupation saved the bulk of the Libyan Jewish community. Conditions did not greatly improve following the liberation. During the British occupation, there was a series of Arab pogroms aimed at the Jews, the worst of which resulted in the deaths of more than 100 Jews in Tripoli and other towns and the destruction of five synagogues (1945).
Libyan Jews continued to encounter difficulties after liberation. Arabs began attacking Jews. Often these attacks occurred as a result of mob actions. In one such riot over 100 Jews were killed by Arabs, most in Tripoli (1945). The Arab mobs also destroyed five synagogues. This and other violence caused Jews to leave Libya in large numbers.
The British attempted to prevent emigration, however, about 3,000 Libyan Jews managed to leave, many managed to reach Palestine.
The creation of Israel only fueled Arab violence against Libyan Jews (1948). It also created a refuge for Jewish refugees. More than 30,000 Jews subsequently fled Libya (1949-51). Colonel Qaddafi's led a coup against the monarchy (1969). By that time only 500 Jews were still in Libya, mostly elderly people. Qaddafi confiscated all Jewish property and cancelled debts owed to Jews. There are no known Jews still in Libya. As so often in history, Col. Qaddafi's eractic and commonly predatory policies did not end with the Jews. It would take the Liyan people four decades to overthrow Qaddafi as part of the Arab Spring. And now their is evidence that another minoity is being targetted--Libyan Christians.
Abitbol, Michel. History of the Jews of Arab Lands (In Hebrew, Merkaz Shazar).
De Felice, Renzo. Jews in an Arab Land, Libya, 1835-1970 (Austin: University of Texas, 1985).
Rosenberg, Noah A., Eilon Woolf, Jonathan K. Pritchard, Tamar Schaap, Dov Gefel, Isaac Shpirer, Uri Lavi, Batsheva Bonné-Tamir, Jossi Hillel, and Marcus W. Feldman. "Distinctive genetic signatures in the Libyan Jews," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (January 30, 2001), Vol. 98, No. 3., pp. 858-863.
Ward, Seth. "The Holocaust in North Africa," May 10, 1999.
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