Damascus (Mar. 18)
Amid reports that a high Syrian Government official met with Jewish community leaders last week and instructed them as to what they might and might not say, three Jewish representatives testified here before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine.
Each made a hasty one-minute speech, the substance of which was that “We are Syrians, like every other Syrian. We enjoy full freedom. We are prosperous and well treated. We have no relationship whatever with the Zionist movement.”
Chairman Joseph Hutcheson remarked admiringly: “You Syrians certainly are brief. Thank you. Is there anything else you would like to say?” The three Jewish spokesmen–David Totah, Sabri Kignado and Dr. David Pinto–shook their heads negatively and, obviously relieved, hurried back to their seats.
It is quite apparent that Jewish leaders here are so fearful of the position of the Jews and so frightened regarding reactions to anything they might say or do, that they are unwilling even to be seen in the presence of members of the inquiry committee or representatives of the press.
JEWISH COMMUNITY IN DAMASCUS IS DISINTEGRATING; ONLY 3,000 REMAIN
Of the 3,000 Jews in Damascus, about half are so poor that they would starve, if not for the money collected by Damascus Jewish groups from Jews abroad, as well as personal gifts from relatives abroad. Of the other half, 30 percent are peddlers or small merchants, 15 percent are of the middle class and five percent are wealthy.
Practically all of the Jews who live above subsistence level are of the merchant class. There are only six doctors, no lawyers, no industrialists, no engineers and no Architects. Prior to World War I, Damascus had a Jewish community of about 30,000, which was one of the most prosperous in the Middle East. Now it is a dying community, fearful of its existence, unprotected and living virtually completely in a single Jewish quarter, which can only be called a ghetto. There are no more than five Jewish families living outside this section.
It is estimated that 90 percent of the Damascus Jews would emigrate to Palestine, if they were permitted to do so. However, one of the hardest things in the World is for a Syrian Jew to obtain a passport. It is necessary to specify race and religion in all official documents. Visas for business trips to Palestine cannot be obtained. The authorities investigate any connection local Jews may have in Palestine.
Economically, the Damascus Jews are being ground between the stones of Arab nationalism and general anti-foreignism. A violent press campaign has been launched against the Jews. A typical headline appearing in the newspaper “Eastern Times” states Arabs Will Resist Jews’ Attempt to Force Way into Palestine.”
The situation of the Jews, from the point of view of education is equally unfortunate. The famed Jewish school here, founded by the Alliance Israelite of France, such was attended by 1,300 students between five and sixteen years of age, was closed down by the authorities when the French were ousted as the rulers of Syria. As a result there is no general Jewish school, except for the Maimonides School, which is a Emud Torah attended by about 300. The other students are either forced to attend a suit school, or no school, if they cannot afford tuition.
ARAB STUDENTS DEMONSTRATE OUTSIDE COMMITTEE HEARINGS
As the committee conducted its two-hour hearings, 300 students demonstrated outside, chanting; “Palestine for the Arabs.” Among those heard in opposition to Zionist mens were Moslem and Christian spiritual leaders, representatives of cultural, political, women’s and press organizations, and a chamber of commerce spokesman.
The latter, George Asfar, charged that the Zionists were “dumping” goods in the Far East, which were made without regard to loss or profit, because the Zionists are jacked by foreign capital. Other speakers charged that Zionism was dangerous because it combines economic, political and cultural motives for political ends.
Yubrau Chamieh, speaking for political and cultural groups, asserted that Jews could go to England or America. Sheikh Mutapha Zarka, professor of Moslem law at the Syria University, declared that Palestine is a Moslem country, and Jews should not be committed. Representatives of the press also stressed the “dangers” of Zionism.
Hutcheson expressed surprise that the press in Syria was so completely united, observing that “in Texas when we have three papers, we always have different views.” that is not so here,” the press spokesman replied in chorus.
A memorandum from the Syrian Government supporting claims of Palestine Arabs, has presented to the committee. The memorandum declared that Syrians make common cause with the Palestine Arabs in opposing with all their powers what it described as the danger of Zionism. It expressed the hope that the democratic powers would enable Palestine to enjoy complete independence on an equal footing with other Arab countries.