If the archive must be returned, let it go to Kurdistan

 Harold Rhode was in Baghdad when waterlogged Jewish documents and books were discovered in the basement of the secret police headquarters in 2003. In this interview with the JCPA’s Lenny Ben-David, he pays tribute to Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi leader who first drew Rhode’s attention to the trove. If the collection has to go back to Iraq, Rhode says that it should go to Kurdistan, where the population is sympathetic to Israel. (With thanks: Imre)

 Harold Rhode being interviewed by Lenny Ben-David of the JCPA. Click here to see video.

Harold Rhode: Here’s the problem. According to international law, you cannot steal
the patrimony of another country that you take over. So the Americans,
the State Department decided you can’t allow this material, it has to go
back to Iraq. But the question really is, and periodically it comes up.
Now, the Iraqi government – because it is still basically anti-Israeli –
the Iraqi government cannot be seen to allow this to be coming to a
place like Israel, because then all their Arab brothers are going to get
upset with them and they will be shamed and Middle East shame is more
important than anything. Shame is what other people say about you and
they lose honor, so they can’t agree to us. So how do you solve this
problem? Well about five years or so ago, the Iraqi government
graciously agreed to let the material stay in the United States for
about five years, if I’m correct, and they had exhibits all over the
place in the United States. And the material in the meantime remained in
the American archives. Now we’re getting to the end of that five-year
period…what do we do? Well, the American government wants to return it
to the rightful owners by international law which they have decided,
since they signed an agreement with an American, that it belongs to
Iraq. Well no, it didn’t belong to Iraq! It is the heritage patrimony of
the Jewish community; it is their materials, their documents. Who and
where are these people? About ninety percent of them today are here in
Israel. That’s who it belongs to!

Lenny Ben-David: So it’s going to go to the Iraqis and they’re going to put it in another basement? Can that move be stopped?

Harold Rhode: Well, here are some possibilities. First of all, from a
legal point of view, the American government took from Iraq millions
and millions of documents about the Baathist leadership in Iraq. Now
that is the patrimony and heritage of the Iraqi people. America has no
intention of giving this material back, but the Jewish material, well
who cares about the Jews? And they want to give this back, why don’t
they want to, since they took the all of this material, shouldn’t they
be responsible for giving it all back? Well, no one wants to handle that
issue. That could create an international problem, and God forbid that
should happen. Now, here are the solutions that we could come up with.
The Iraqi government could, if it wanted and if the State Department
wanted, keep the material in the United States under the guise of going
through additional exhibitions, here, there, or God knows where.

Lenny Ben-David: And I assume there are Jewish communities in the United States that would be happy to host such exhibit.

Harold Rhode: Not a question of a doubt. It’s been all over the
United States so far, since there were twenty-seven hundred items, they
chose 27 items. That’s one possibility. If it has to go back to Iraq,
the Kurds in northern Iraq who, on September 25th, which is a
few days from now, are going to have a referendum for independence. The
Kurds in northern Iraq love Israel; they would be very happy, I’m sure,
to have this material. If it has to go back to Iraq, send it Kurdistan.

Lenny Ben-David: I would also add that they have got very good relations with the Jews who still live in Kurdistan.

Harold Rhode: Yes, there are not that many, but there are. This is
the patrimony of the Jews who lived in Iraq – that’s who it belongs to.
We know that Saddam stole it. We have a witness of someone who saw it
being stolen from the last functioning Jewish synagogue. That’s who it
belongs to. That’s where it should be returned to. And hopefully, in the
future, it possibly could end up in the only museum in the world which
is dedicated to the history of the Jews of Iraq or the Jews of Babylonia
– the ancient title of what is Iraq – and that is in Or Yehuda, that
museum being outside of Tel Aviv.

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  • Yes Kurdistan doesn't have enough problems because of two Kurdish-Israeli imbeciles with one Israeli flag.

    Kurdistan as far as I know is still in Iraq and independence is not in the foreseeable future. So sending it to Kurdistan is in effect sending it to Iraq.

    This kind of negotiation is better kept discrete. Stop being so strident and start doing things the Jewish way. The quiet way.


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