The tragic Jews of Iraq: ‘real’ ethnic cleansing

With allegations of ‘ethnic cleansing’ hurled liberally by The Guardian at Israel, Medusa thought it was time to focus on the real victims of ethnic cleansing in the Middle East – the Jews. Writing on CiF Watch, she spotlights the story of the Jews of Iraq. The so-calledJewish archives, now being restored in the US, should only be returned to Iraq, she believes, when it pays reparations to Iraq’s Jews for their losses and suffering (With thanks: Independent Observer, Silke):

We hear much from the Palestinian spokesmen and their Arab and other supporters about their right to return to what is now Israel, and their demands for compensation for Israel’s alleged displacement of them, but woefully little by comparison about the atrocities perpetrated against Jews from Arab countries, who lived (and in some cases still live) as second-class citizens or dhimmis, at the mercy of the Arab/Muslim governments throughout the Middle East (see also here in respect of the Jews of the Yemen). Lyn Julius, using the ready overidentification of CiF with its Palestinian focus, wrote about the plight of Jews from Arab lands on CiF and called their treatment in Arab/Muslim countries the Jewish Nakba .

She tells us that ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab countries began when the Arab League, then comprised of Egypt, Iraq, Trans Jordan (or Jordan), Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen, contemplated passing a law in November 1947 which would brand all their Jews, some of whom had been resident in their respective countries for many generations, as “enemy aliens.” Their governments’ attitude to and treatment of them was not therefore a reaction to the declaration of independence of the Jewish state and although the “enemy aliens” law was contemplated, it was enacted in their behaviour towards their Jews.

Lyn Julius tells us that

“The Jewish “Nakba” – Arabic for “catastrophe” – not only emptied cities like Baghdad (a third Jewish); it tore apart the cultural, social and economic fabric in Arab lands. Jews lost homes, synagogues, hospitals, schools, shrines and deeded land five times the size of Israel. Their ancient heritage – predating Islam by 1,000 years – was destroyed.”

It suits the anti-Zionists to ignore this ethnic cleansing in their gadarene rush to accuse Israel of the ethnic cleansing of its Arab population, often without foundation. I shall focus on the circumstances of Iraqi Jews, for reasons which I will explain later, but their circumstances may be said to be typical of all Jews who found themselves in Muslim countries:

Iraq arose out of ancient Babylonia and Assyria and has the oldest Jewish community in the world. There has been a continuous Jewish presence there from 721 BCE to 1949 CE, which is two thousand six hundred and seventy years. The status of Iraqi Jews fluctuated, some even held high positions in government, but at the same time they had to pay the jizya tax levied on non-Muslims. They fared reasonably well until Iraq became independent in 1932.

In June 1941, a pro-Nazi coup, inspired by Hajj Amin Al-Husseini and led by Rashid Ali, led to riots and pogroms in Baghdad. 180 Jews were murdered and over 1,000 wounded. More anti-Jewish rioting took place between 1946 and 1949. When Israel was established in 1948 it became a capital offence for an Iraqi Jew to be a Zionist.

The following sets out the Nakba of the Iraqi Jews from 1948 until the early 1970′s when, in response to international pressure, the then government in Baghdad allowed many of the remaining Jews to leave quietly. Those Jews who remained, only 61 in number as at 28 March 1998 according to the Associated Press, are too old to leave:

1950 – Iraqi Jews permitted to leave the country within a year provided they forfeited their citizenship.

1951 – Jews who emigrated had their property frozen and economic restrictions were placed on Jews who chose to remain in the country.

1949 to 1951 – 104,000 Jews evacuated from Iraq (Operations Ezra and Nehemiah); another 20,000 smuggled out through Iran. The Jewish population of 150,000 in 1947 dwindled to a mere 6,000 after 1951.

1952 – Jews prevented from emigrating.

1963 – The rise of the Ba’ath factions resulted in additional restrictions being placed on those Jews who remained in Iraq. Jews forced to carry yellow identity cards and sale of property was forbidden.

1967 (After the Six Days War) – many of 3,000 Jews who remained were arrested and dismissed from their jobs. More repressive measures were introduced, including the expropriation of Jewish property, freezing of Jews’ bank accounts, shutting of Jewish businesses, trading permits were cancelled, telephones were disconnected. Jews were placed under house arrest for long periods of time or restricted to cities.

1968 – Persecution at its worst. Scores of Jews were jailed allegedly for spying and eleven Jews sentenced to death in staged trials.

27th January 1969 – Fourteen men – eleven of them the Jews mentioned previously – publicly hanged in Baghdad and others died of torture. (Source: Judith Miller and Laurie Mylroie, “Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf”, p. 34)

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