Iraqi Jew’s story: betrayal by a ‘brother’

 Exclusive to Point of No Return

History books  tell us about major events as they happen. They fail to tell us the specific stories of
individuals who suffer  as a result of those events. Many remain unrecorded, and are eventually forgotten. However, Iraq-born Sami Sourani has made sure to record this story for Point of No Return. Every word is true, although names have been changed.


Sami Sourani

The following is a true story:
it
happened in Baghdad after the establishment of the State of Israel. Jews
in
Arab countries, especially in Iraq, had a very hard time at the hands of
the Iraqi government. Eventually, the Jews had to leave Iraq, bringing
an end to a Diaspora
that had lasted about 2,600 years.

This is a story about two men,
one Jewish (
let us give him a name: Yusef) and the other Muslim  (let us call  him
Hamid). They were partners in cultivating fruit orchards located by
the Tigris river not very far from Baghdad. Both partners inherited this
land
from their ancestors who owned it for many generations.

For many years, the partners divided their
profit in a way called “share cropping”. This means that they shared all costs
involved – such as the cost of irrigation, fertilizers, seasonal workers,
etc. Then they divided the crop equally: for example, one ton of oranges for this
partner and one ton for the second partner. The produce was then delivered to
the fruit market n Baghdad and sold by public auction.

Over the years, the two partners
became
very friendly. Hamid called Yusef, “my brother” and had  great respect
for
him. At the end of Jewish holidays, Hamid used to send to Yusuf’s house a
big
tray of fresh Iraqi pita, vegetables, fruits of the season and yogurt.
When
Hamid was sick, Yusef took him to the best Jewish doctors in Baghdad and
took
care of all his needs. He also looked after Hamid ‘s wife when she was
seriously ill. On her death bed, she told her husband,” Take care of
Yusef and do not
betray him. He is more faithful to you than your brothers of your own
flesh and
blood”. Hamid replied, ”Yusef is my brother: I shall always protect
him.”

In the 1950s, as the situation of the Jews
became intolerable, Yusef’s  family escaped Baghdad  for Israel illegally. Yusef stayed in Baghdad hoping that he could sell
his property and join his family soon.

It happened that Hamid had a son who
finished high school and wanted to study further. Hamid did not like his son’s idea: he
wanted his son to be a farmer like himself. Yusef convinced Hamid to let
his son further his education. The son went to study at a university,  but at
the end of the year he failed.  While  a student, he was  swept up in a fanatical 
Muslim movement. He returned home and  tried to convince his father
to tell the Iraqi authorities that Yusef  was a Zionist. This way, Yusef would be
put in jail and his father  would benefit from the whole land, not just half of
it. Some Muslim friends who overheard that scenario between  father and  son,
came to Yusef telling him that his freedom was in danger. Yusef smiled, saying,
‘Hamid is my brother –  he will never betray me’. A few days later, Yusef was
arrested. He was taken for interrogation and jailed. For five years, Yusef
was in and out of prison in Baghdad for interrogation and torture. As a
result of the torture, he could not sleep on his back for the rest
of his life.

There  were  still some good
people in this
world, Jews and Muslims, who knew Yusef. They tried to bribe the
authorities to let him out of jail. The Iraqi government took possession
of all his
property. He was given a one-way permit to leave Iraq. He had to sign a
document 
to say that he was giving up his birthright,  assets, and that he would
be persecuted
for any attempt to come back to Iraq. He had no other choice but to
accept
this condition. His friends got him some clothes and  food and drove him
to
Iraq’s international airport where he boarded a plane to Beirut, Lebanon
and from
there to Cyprus. He was allowed by the Iraqi authorities to take with
him only five
Iraqi dinars .

 Iraqi-Jewish merchants (Photo: Beit Hatfutsot)

At the airport in Cyprus, custom officers
opened his suitcase as they did for all passengers. They were surprised to find that
it contained no clothes, only garbage and scraps of old newspapers. It
seems that the Iraqi prison guards who inspected his suitcase before he left
had taken his clothes and replaced them with garbage.

In Cyprus, an Israeli agent arranged his
flight to Tel Aviv. Yusef was re-united with his family in Tel Aviv, after five years. He was
overwhelmed. He cried, saying that the Iraqi government had taken away all his assets
and he had come empty-handed, with only five Iraqi dinars in his pocket. 

It is
very hard to accept defeat. The situation  had been imposed on him. His
confidence and willpower  were gone. He was a mental and
physical wreck. The family tried to calm him down: the main thing was
that he was 
alive. A few days later, he realized that there was no other choice but
to accept his situation. Like many Iraqi businessmen who lost their
property, he
went to work as a laborer in construction, thanking Hashem that he was
alive. Friends who knew him from Baghdad could not believe that he had
lost his
assets. It was hard for him to speak about his situation and how he had
suffered at
the hands of the Iraqi prison guards.

A few years later, Yusef and his family
decided to leave for Canada. A week before leaving Israel, an elderly close relative of
the family arrived  in Israel.  Because of his  advanced age, that
person had been allowed to leave Iraq.  He had tried very
hard to reach Yusef: he had a message for him  from
Hamid, his Muslim partner. Yusef was
anxious to hear it. ” My dear
brother Yusef, I am sending you those words and I am on my death bed,
dying of cancer,” Hamid ‘s message said. ” I do not know how many days I
have left in this world. I lost all the
money I took from you,
and I have nothing to pay you back. I can
feel how hard life was for you and for your children, I left you penniless. My
final request from you is just to send me a piece of paper saying that you
forgive me for the hardship I caused you and your family. I want to stand before
God and confess my sins, as long as you agree to forgive me. This is my last wish,
dear brother. Please forgive me.”

 

When Yusef heard those words, he cried like
a child. He said that they were like brothers in one family. “We respected each other,
but it seems that he was motivated by greed to do what he did to me. ” 

Yusef’s children were very surprised that their father still felt pity for his
partner. They told their father that they had had a hard time, until they had managed
to study and stand on their feet. It was not easy to accept defeat and it is
also very hard to stand  up to  the challenges of life when you are penniless,
and all  you have is blind ambition. Yusef said that mistakes could
happen in many families and that life was simply give-and-take. We had to
learn to forgive  and forget. This is the only way to live in peace and harmony.

Upon arrival in  Canada, Yusef  wrote a letter to Hamid. He did not tell his
family the contents of the letter. Yusef waited patiently for a reply from his
partner, but no reply was ever received.

This episode or similar ones could have
happened to many Jewish families, but they were kept unrecorded and eventually
forgotten. However, many questions rise to the surface. Are there Iraqi Muslims
who feel sorry for what was done to the Jews of Iraq, a country which made them leave
after 2,600 years? Will there come a day when Jews and Muslims may
live together under one roof,  working together to build the Middle East? At
present this seems a mirage. Yet miracles can happen!

Let us pray for miracles.

Video of Sami Sourani

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.