Boy from Iraq ‘has always felt Israeli’

Although he had never been to Israel before, Iraqi-born Simon Al-Moshe, 22, says he has felt Israeli his whole life. A touching story by Daphna Berman in Haaretz (with thanks:Lily).

“I was always treated like I was Israeli and so that’s the way I was made to feel,” he said of his childhood in Baghdad. “It was an identity that was forced on me from an early age, and that’s one of the reasons that it’s so important for me to finally be here and see the State of Israel.”

For Al-Moshe, a participant in a recent 10-day trip sponsored by Birthright-Taglit, seeing Israel for the first time was a closure of sorts.

“I was taught that [Israel] was the source of all evil, that it was the perpetrator of all that is bad in the world,” he says. “I always knew that wasn’t true, that it was unfair, but I was never allowed to express that.”

Al-Moshe left Iraq in 1997 at age 14, and lived in Amman for several months with his family before immigrating to Britain, where he is now a fourth-year medical school student in London.

Since he had never been to Israel, Al-Moshe, like thousands of his Jewish peers in the Diaspora, qualified for the UK birthright program, which took him all over the country to must-see places including the Western Wall, Masada, Mount Herzl and Yad Vashem.

“Iraq always felt foreign to me. My family always knew that we would eventually leave. It came to the point where there was just no community left there for us and it was harder to be in touch with our traditions. And so we finally made the decision,” he said in fluent English.

As the only Jewish student in his primary school and secondary school, Al-Moshe says that he was always “discriminated against in Iraq and told that I should just go to Israel.”

There were no Jewish kids growing up in the dwindling Baghdad Jewish community, but rather “one Jewish kid,” he says, stressing the singular form of the word.

Though his classmates were not “physically hostile,” Al-Moshe says that he was always made aware of his differences. “They didn’t harm you, but they wouldn’t be your friend either,” he explained.

“The longer we stayed, the harder it was getting,” he said of Jewish life in his native city. “I was proud of who I was, but I couldn’t express myself, I wasn’t allowed to be proud of being Jewish. I couldn’t say that I was a Zionist or that I loved Israel.”

Under Saddam Hussein, Al-Moshe says that life was quieter – despite the racism he describes as “part of the culture.” His family, though not wealthy, was also better off than the average Iraqi family. Still, his parents could not study what they wanted in university, and his father was jailed for several days on charges of helping Jews escape the country.

“Growing up, I didn’t think it was weird because I was Jewish,” he says of his father’s imprisonment. “But now that I’ve left Iraq, I realize, so what if someone is trying to help someone else leave the country?”

Al-Moshe still isn’t sure why his family didn’t leave earlier, although he says that his parents, unlike him, really did see Iraq as their homeland.

During his years in London, the friendly physician-to-be hasn’t really looked back at the world he left behind. News of battles on the streets of Baghdad, he admits, don’t really interest him. “I get worried when I hear there’s an explosion in Israel, but honestly, I don’t get worried when I hear about explosions in Baghdad. I just don’t feel like it’s my country.”

But being in Israel, he says, is different: “Here, I feel that I’m in my land.”

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2 Comments

  • A really cool story.
    A view into the insanity of Jews treated as foreigners and aliens in their Semitic homnelands.
    Thanx,
    Dry Bones
    Israel’s Political Comic Strip Since 1973

    Reply

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