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Avi Shlaim on His Memoir Three Worlds and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

November 14, 2023 @ 19:00 - 20:00


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Respected historian at Oxford and author Avi Shlaim (The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World) was born in Iraq but raised and came of age in Israel. In his new memoir Three Worlds: Memoirs of an Arab-Jew, he describes the bygone world of Arab Jews, reviews the narrative of Zionism and its call to “rescue” eastern Jews from the Middle East, and critiques many of the received ideas about Jews and Arabs.

Journalist Layla Maghribi interviews Avi Shlaim live on November 14 at 7pm CET/ 6pm UK/ 1pm EST. They will discuss Three Worlds, as well as the present war on Gaza and the implications of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This online event is open to all and free to the public; donations are welcome to support The Markaz Review.

RSVP here.

About the speakers

Avi Shlaim was born in Baghdad and grew up in Israel.  As one of the “New Historians” in Israel, he was part of a group that reassessed the history of the country and often shined a light on the repression of the Palestinians. He is now a Professor of International Relations at St Antony’s College, Oxford. His previous books include the critically acclaimed The Iron Wall and he writes regularly for the Guardian, Middle East Eye and other outlets.

Layla Maghribi is a British Arab journalist, currently based in the UK after several years in the Middle East working for international media outlets, including Reuters and CNN International. Raised in England, Layla has lived in Italy, Syria, Lebanon and the UAE, and has a special interest in social issues affecting Arabic-speaking communities, particularly in relation to culture, immigration and mental health. She is currently the host of Third Culture Therapy, a podcast that explores mental wellbeing from a cultural perspective and is writing her first non-fiction book. You can read more of her work here or on Twitter @layla_maghribi.


More about this event

The guest for this upcoming event is Baghdad-born British-Israeli historian, Avi Shlaim and will be guest hosted by writer and podcaster, Layla Maghribi. Shlaim will be discussing his latest book, Three Worlds: Memoirs of an Arab-Jew, and how many of the revelatory themes are relevant to the current war on Gaza.

Evocatively recollecting a bygone era in Baghdad before the 1950s, when some 130,000 Jews lived almost entirely harmoniously alongside their Muslim compatriots, Shlaim’s book was already an intriguing read when it came out earlier this spring. Now, to the backdrop of unremitting violence and upheaval in Israel / Palestine, I reread it with a mixture of searing lament for a lost era and a much-needed inspiration for a possibly peaceful future.

Besides debunking the Zionist-propagated myth that Arabs and Jews have always hated each other, Shlaim’s book lays bare other controversies. Years of research and archival work led him to conclude that it was Israeli-backed militants who were behind many of the bombings targeting Jews in Iraq in the 1950s and not Arab-Iraqis, as was claimed. Israel’s terrorising actions against Iraqi-Jews were inflicted in a bid to encourage massive migration to Israel with the promise that they would be safer, and more prosperous, in country solely for Jews. Shlaim’s revelations shine a painful spotlight on the traumatisation of innocent civilians for political gains as well as the weaponization of antisemitism, issues that remain painfully weighty today.

The memoir is a coming-of-age story between multiple worlds – the Arab, Jewish, Israeli and British. Tracing his early years in Baghdad, where in 1945 Shlaim was born the youngest child and only son of a prosperous Jewish businessman and notable member of Iraqi of community, his happy childhood is upended with the sudden fleeing of his family to Israel when he was five years old.

In Israel, the “promised land” failed to deliver any tangible gains for the Shlaim family who had fallen steeply in economic and social status following their reluctant exile. After centuries of living in and among Arabs, and being an indelible part of the culture, the Shlaim family, like many Arab-Jews of that era, were tragically uprooted from their lives and communities for the sake of an ideology they were reluctantly forced to adopt. Besides not subscribing to the narrowly exclusive Zionist identity, the discrimination they faced for being Arab Jews, or Mizrahim as they are referred to in Israel, compounded his family’s sense of alienation. Robbed of their belonging in Iraq and rejected by their community in Israel, Shlaim recounts with poignant clarity the pains of a cohort of Zionism’s oft-ignored victims.


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November 14, 2023
19:00 - 20:00
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