At Shavuot, we remember the Farhud

Professor Shmuel Moreh, emeritus professor in Arabic literature at the Hebrew University

This Shavuot marks 71 years since the outbreak of the pro-Nazi pogrom in Iraq known as the Farhud. Professor Shmuel Moreh will not allow the event to be forgotten:

Jihad is considered no less important than the five pillars of Islam (أركان الإسلام) but this aspect of militant Islam had been neglected during the first decades of the 20th century: The testimony to the unity of Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet, prayer, fasting, charity and pilgrimage were the essence of Islam. The cause of such neglect was not only European military and industrial power, but also the fact that Arab Hashemite Hejaz family led by Sharif Hussein Ben Ali and his sons Princes Faisal and Abd – Allah cooperated with the British and French Powers, against the Caliph, the religious head of the Ottoman Empire, the protector of Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt preached to restore the Jihad, “the forgotten pillar” of Islam.

Muslims found many similarities between Nazi doctrine and Islamic military power: the rise of Islam as a doctrine which united all the Arab tribe, by a charismatic leader, which must be spread by the sword, protects its followers against hellfire. The British, who saw the rich oil wells of Iraq as a strategic area of utmost importance, always strove to maintain friendly relations with the Hashemite family. Therefore, they crowned Prince Faisal king of Iraq.

Britain’s agreements with the new state fanned the hatred of nationalists in the secular Iraqi army. With the founding of Iraq in 1921, most army officers studied in the German military and education system in Ottoman Turkey. The Nazi doctrine advocated force, racism and superiority of the Aryan race and favored Germany and hatred of Jews. King Ghazi, who hated the British because they betrayed his grandfather’s Sharif Hussein Ben Ali dream to establish a new Arab empire, was disappointed with British support of the Jewish national home in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, the young King worked to cement a friendship with Hitler and founded the Fituwwa, an Iraqi youth paramilitary organization in the fashion of Hitler Youth scouts.

The organization was taken over by exiled Palestinians in Iraq. It spread hatred of Jews and harassed them in the streets. Sunni Palestinians took over the school system and replaced Iraqi Shi’ites. The predominance of Jews in commerce and in the new state as directors of financial departments of all Iraqi ministries, bookkeepers and financial policy makers’ advisers to the British in the running of Iraq’s economy, aroused the envy and hatred of the people. The incitement was fuelled by the Palestinian students at the School of the Templars, who were hostile to the British for the Balfour Declaration.

In the midst of the Second World War the Germans sought to control the Iraqi oil wells. They promised air support and political patronage to the Iraqi nationalist officers. The Palestinians, headed by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al – Husseini, were given a free hand. Palestinians and Syrians exiles incited the masses against the Jews in the press, in radio broadcasts and educational institutions.

On the advice of Haj Amin al – Husseini, they surrounded the British Army Air Force base at Habbaniya in western Iraq. Major Glubb Pasha (G. John Bagot) engineered a British counterattack. Defeating the Iraqi forces at Khaan Nuqta, fifteen miles from Baghdad, the British forces were in control of the Iraqi telephone switchboard. They planned to spread false information that “a powerful tank attack was on its way” to Baghdad. The fact that the British defeated the Iraqi army and the false information that heavy tank columns were advancing on Baghdad caused panic among the Iraqi pro- Nazi government and they fled to Persia and Turkey. Rashid Ali al – Gailani and Haj Amin al – Husseini and their entourage fled to Berlin and joined forces with the Nazis in Eastern Europe, especially Muslims in Bosnia.

The defeat of the Iraqi army by Glubb Pasha, commander of the British Legion in Jordan, and the flight of the leaders of the revolt to Iran, Turkey and Germany, with the British Army at the gates of Baghdad, left a political vacuum. Defeated and humiliated soldiers and the mob vented their anger against the Jews. They murdered 138 Jews, injured hundreds, and raped girls and women, and robbed and burned their property over the two days of Shavuot in 1-2 June 1941.

A returning monarchist government headed by Regent Abd al – Ilah and the pro- British Jamil al-Madfa’i were put in place. Iraqi soldiers opened live fire on the looters when they began to rob the stores of Muslim merchants. Dozens of looters were killed by troops loyal to the royal family Today some amateur leftists and Arab nationalists argue brazenly to flatter that about 200 Muslims were murdered to protect the Jews. Two scholars from Iraq are fighting unfounded allegations: journalist, broadcaster and writer Salim Fattal – whose uncle was murdered in the first hours of the Farhud wrote a book, An idol in the Temple of the Israeli Academy, in 2010: and Dr. Nissim Kazzaz wrote a book too. His father died and so did Salim Fattal’s uncle when trying to rescue his racehorse-breeder partner at the Shiite neighborhood of Bab El – Sheikh in Baghdad.

After the Farhud the Iraqi government established a committee to investigate the events of the 1-2 June 1941 and submitted its report on July 8, 1941. A list of victims recorded by Dr. Zvi Yehuda came to 146. Some community sources put the number of victims at 179. We still do not have a final tally because from time to time families of relatives that are not included in the list come forward.

From a Lecture given at the Zalman Shazar Center in Jerusalem on 24/5/3012.

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