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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 January 2007, 17:42 GMT
Israel checks WWII Arab 'saviour'
Khaled Abdulwahab
Abdulwahab heard of a plan to put Jewish women in a brothel
Israel's main Holocaust memorial centre has for the first time nominated an Arab to be recognised as a "righteous gentile" for saving Jewish lives.

Researchers at Yad Vashem will now examine the life of Khaled Abdulwahab, who died in his native Tunisia in 1997, to see if he is eligible for the award.

He is said to have sheltered Jews on his land during the Nazi occupation.

The Righteous Gentile award has already been bestowed on about 22,000 non-Jews, including 60 Muslims from the Balkans.

The request to recognise Mr Abdulwahab was submitted by Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who has researched the situation of Jews in North Africa in the 1940s.

More than 1.5 million Arabic-speaking Sephardic Jews lived in North Africa, before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

Tunisia, home to 100,000 Jews, was the only North African country to come under direct Nazi rule during World War II.

Fine example

Tunisian Jews were subject to persecution during the Nazi occupation, but they were not sent to death camps as happened in Europe.

Neighbouring countries which also had sizeable Jewish communities were at the time governed by Vichy France.

Contemporary accounts say Mr Abdulwahab, who had a role co-ordinating with the German army in his hometown of Mahdia, got wind of a plan to rape a Jewish women and put others in a brothel.

He is said to have taken about two dozen Jews, including the intended victims, to his farm near and looked after them there until the end of the occupation.

"Khaled is the finest example, though not the only one, of an Arab who saved Jews from persecution during the German occupation," Mr Satloff said.

Academics say Morocco's King Muhammad V also intervened on behalf of Jews, although the situation there was not as difficult as Tunisia.

A spokesperson for Yad Vashem said it was not possible to speculate regarding Mr Abdulwahab's eligibility for the honour, which is known as Righteous Among the Nations.

"The commission will decide based on the strict criteria for recognising the Righteous Among the Nations," Estee Yaari said,.




SEE ALSO
Arab Holocaust centre reaches out
28 Jan 06 |  Middle East

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