BENGHAZI , port city in the district of Cyrenaica (see *Cyrene), Libya. In ancient times it was called Hesperides, but was later renamed Berenice. After 74 b.c.e. it was part of Roman Cyrenaica, but according to an inscription of 13 b.c.e., found at Benghazi, the Jews of Berenice were considered citizens (as in the rest of Cyrenaica) but were ruled by their own Jewish archons and not by an ethnarch as in other parts of the Diaspora. Furthermore they are described as a "municipal community," and appear from the inscription to be observant of the festivals (cig 3:2, no. 5361). Another inscription found in 1938, gives thanks to certain donors for helping to dedicate a synagogue in Berenice in 56 c.e. In both this and the previous inscription the majority of the names mentioned are non-Jewish, testifying to a fair degree of hellenization, as in Egypt. During the revolt of the Jews of Cyrene in 115 and during the Byzantine era the Jews of Berenice suffered the same fate as those of Cyrene in general. After the Arab conquest in 660, Berenice was mostly deserted. In the 14th century it was called by its Arabic name Benghazi (Bin Ghāzī). In the beginning of the 16th century, many Jews from Tripoli helped to repopulate it, earning their livelihood by trade with North Africa and the Mediterranean area, or as smiths or tailors.
Following the Ottoman occupation of 1640, Jewish families from Tripoli were attracted to the city. In 1745 epidemics and poverty drove out the inhabitants, but about 1750 some members of the previous Jewish community returned and reorganized the community, which began to flourish about 1775 with the arrival of Jewish families from Italy. In the 18th and 19th centuries Benghazi had 400 Jewish families divided into two groups: those of the town and the surrounding region (Kahal Bengazi) and those who were born in *Tripoli and Italy. Although both groups recognized the authority of one rabbi, each had its own synagogue. The Muslim brotherhood of the Sanusiya, whose influence was considerable in Cyrenaica from the 1840s onwards, was well disposed toward the Jews of Benghazi, appreciating their economic-mercantile contributions and peaceful attitude. The Jews enjoyed complete freedom and were not forced to live in a special quarter. They lived in affluence, and because of their commercial activity the town became an important trading center for Europe and Africa. Several wealthy families occupied high positions in the service of the Ottoman authorities. Among scholars of this community were Elijah Lavi (1783–1883), author of Sefer Ge'ullot Adonai (1864) and other works written in Hebrew or Judeo-Arabic; Moses Ḥakmon; and Isaac Khalfon. A modernized talmud torah was organized under the leadership of Elia Juili (1890), Ḥai Teshuba, and others. In 1909 when a large fire broke out in the bazaar, the Ottoman soldiery, who were supposed to extinguish it, looted and attacked the population, especially the Jews. Because of this, several families moved back to Tripoli. From 1911 Italian rule attracted more Jews from the interior of the country, as well as from Italy, to Benghazi, and in 1935 the Jewish population numbered 2,236. Until 1936 life under Italian rule proceeded peacefully for the Jews. In 1936, however, the Italians began to enforce fascist legislation aimed at modernizing social and economic structures based on conditions current in Italy. With the implementation of anti-Jewish racial legislation in late 1938, Jews were removed from municipal councils, public offices, and state schools and their papers stamped with the words "Jewish race." When Benghazi fell to the British on Feb. 6, 1941, the Jews were overjoyed, but suffered in attacks by hostile Muslim youth when the city was recaptured by the Italians on April 3, 1941. On Dec. 24, 1941 the British retook the city but Italian-German forces once again conquered it on Jan. 27, 1942. This again resulted in anti-Jewish attacks, the systematic plunder of all Jewish shops, and the promulgation of a deportation order. Almost all the Benghazi Jews were deported to Giado, 149 miles (240 km.) south of Tripoli, a camp in the desert where they lived under severe climatic, health, and living conditions. Consequently, 562 of them died of starvation and typhus. Forced labor, however, was not general, and food distribution was not conditional upon it. The condition of the Jews in Giado improved only when the British entered the camp in January 1943. In November 1945 and June 1948 the Jews of Benghazi did not suffer anti-Jewish pogroms at the hands of Arabs similar to the Jews of Tripoli, though small-scale incidents did occur. Thus, several Jews were beaten up in mid-June 1948, a shop was looted, and a fire broke out in a synagogue, but the local police introduced order and there was no need for the British Army to intervene. Emergency measures were introduced, demonstrations and gatherings were forbidden, and a curfew was instituted. Still, the Jews felt unsafe and feared for their life and property. Violence against individuals as well as cases of kidnapping and forced Islamization of young Jewish women took place, especially in the countryside. As a result, once emigration to Israel was permitted in early 1949, the majority of the community of 2,500 persons emigrated to Israel through the end of 1951, with approximately 200 Jews left in Benghazi in 1967. During the Six-Day War of 1967, unlike other areas of Jewish settlement in Libya, the authorities reacted fairly rapidly to protect the Jews in Benghazi. Almost immediately after word of Israel-Arab fighting came, the Jews were rounded up and put into protective custody in army barracks outside the city. Subsequent to the Six-Day War most of the remaining Jews in Benghazi emigrated, mainly to Italy.
For bibliography see *Libya.
[David Corcos /
Rachel Simon (2nd ed.)]
Originally founded by the Greeks as Berenike on a small natural harbor on the gulf of Sidra, Benghazi (also Marsa ibn Ghazi) was refounded and renamed in the Middle Ages. Its importance was due to its position as the only port between Tripoli and Alexandria, as an outlet for the agricultural produce of northern Cyrenaica, and as a center of local administration. In the early nineteenth century, Benghazi was still an impoverished village of some five thousand people. Its prosperity and importance increased with the spread of the Sanusi order in Cyrenaica and, beginning in the 1840s, in the eastern Sahara and the Sudan. It became the main Mediterranean outlet for the newly opened, Sanusi-controlled trade route to the rising sultanate of Wadai in eastern Sudan (now Chad). In the later nineteenth century, despite being the local seat of Ottoman administration, it was one of the few remaining North African shipment markets for the trans-Saharan slave trade.
Benghazi was still largely undeveloped (with a cosmopolitan population of about 20,000) when Italy invaded in 1911. As in Tripoli, the Italians created a modern, European-style city outside the old Arab quarters, particularly after the defeat of the Cyrenaican rebellion in 1931 and 1932. By 1937, the population was fifty thousand, but expansion was constricted by its position between the sea and an inland saltwater lagoon.
During the North African campaigns of World War II (1940–1943), Benghazi changed hands five times and suffered some 2,000 air raids. Destruction was extensive and the British military administration, set up after the city's final capture by the British Eighth Army in November 1942, could not fund rebuilding. In 1949, Benghazi became the seat of the first Cyrenaican government and was later recognized as the joint capital—with Tripoli—of the independent United Kingdom of Libya (proclaimed December 1951). Over the next five years, the town and port were rebuilt, but rapid urban expansion and development started only with the oil boom of the 1950s and 1960s, with thousands of migrant families forced into shanty settlements. After the 1969 revolution, Benghazi was deprived of its joint-capital status, regaining its traditional role as chief port and city of Cyrenaica, a center of administration, industry, commerce, and education. It houses the University of Gar Younis and an international airport (at Benina). Benghazi is linked by road to Tripoli and Egypt and to the Saharan regions of eastern Libya. The 2002 population was some 708,000.
see also cyrenaica; sanusi order; slave trade.
Bulugma, Hadi M. Benghazi through the Ages. Benghazi, 1972.
Wright, John. Libya. New York: Praeger, 1969.
John L. Wright