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Plight of Syrian Jews Described by Eyewitness

November 19, 1971
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A story of harassment, imprisonment, the forced commission of unnatural acts, beatings and other barbarous tortures was revealed today by a 17-year-old Jewish youth who escaped four months ago from the terror under which he says the Jews of Syria now live.

The youth, who uses the fictitious name of Eli Levy to protect friends and relatives still in Syria, spoke in Arabic and had the services of an interpreter as he answered questions put to him by Gen. (Retired) Lucius D. Clay, chairman of the Committee of Concern, a non-sectarian group concerned about the plight of minorities in Arab countries.

Levy stated that the Jewish community in Syria today numbers about 5,000, with about 3,500 living in the capital city of Damascus, 1,000 in Aleppo, and 500 in Kamishlie. He said each city’s Jews live in a segregated community and there is no contact between the communities. Jews are barred from leaving the country and may not travel outside a three-mile radius of their homes.

Other harassments described by Levy include the requirement that identity cards carried by Jews have the word “Jew” prominently written across both the face and back of the card in red ink. A photostat of what was said to be a Syrian Jew’s identity card was displayed at the press conference. Also, according to Levy, Jews are subjected to a variety of economic restrictions and are kept under constant surveillance by the secret police.


The young man said he was arrested three times, though once his offense was not related to his being Jewish. During the total of twelve days he spent in prison, Levy said, he witnessed brutal floggings and other degradations of prisoners. The soft-spoken Levy, with hands cupped in anguished fists and his voice rising, said that during their imprisonment, his brother contracted typhoid fever and he himself suffered an ear injury and displacement of spinal discs as a result of beatings. He says he is still afflicted by those ailments.

Levy said that on occasions, when foreign dignitaries have visited Syria, the government has taken special precautions to disguise the true situation. Jews who try to escape from Syria and are captured, he said, face a minimum sentence of one year in prison. The relatives and sometimes even acquaintances of escapees or those suspected of trying to leave the country are interrogated and often held in prison for indefinite periods of time.

The youth stated that he knew personally 12 young Jews who have been kept in Syrian prisons for the last three months on the charge of attempting to leave the country. Eleven range in age from 18 to 24 and the twelfth, the son of one couple imprisoned, is four years old. Levy’s two brothers are now in Israel and his parents are dead. As he spoke, he kept his back turned to the news cameras. He was brought to the US from Paris.

General Clay reiterated his earlier appeals to the Syrian authorities to release the Jews now in prison, to end their persecution of the Jewish minority and to permit all those who wish to leave to do so. He called on the United States to help in this cause. In answer to a reporter’s question. Clay stated that there is “obviously no absolute check” on Levy’s claims, but he said Levy’s story has not changed in the half dozen times he has told it and independent sources have verified aspects of it, including the list of prisoners.

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