Land dispute involving a Jew led to colonisation of Tunisia

How did North Africa come to be colonised by the French in the 19th century? The European powers seized the slightest pretext to intervene in local affairs. Some involved Jews.

According to Ron Boublil’s book Silencing the Past, a land dispute in 1880 in Tunisia led to the colonisation of the country by the French.

Silencing the Past: The Arab Spring, Israel and the Jews of Tunisia by [Ron Boublil]

A Tunisian general by the name of Kahyar tried to sell 250,000 acres of agricultural land between Tunis and Sousse to a Marseille company for two million francs. The Bey of Tunis objected, claiming  that the land was the property of the General for personal use and could not be transferred to foreigners. Also objecting was  Youssef Levy, a naturalised English Jew who owned the land adjacent to the property. He wished to buy the land in dispute.

The British sent battleships to uphold Levy’s rights. The French withdrew their support, not wanting to confront the British over this land deal. Levy remained in control of the disputed land until 1882, when it was purchased by the French soon after the Treaty of Bardo, by which Tunisia became a French protectorate.

Some argue that a property deal to a  non-Muslim was what triggered the colonisation of Tunisia. Land in Tunisia was then governed by Koranic law: in theory, it belonged to no one. Only God owned the land and claims to private property  could be made by individuals who proved their connections to the land – ergo, only Muslims. Koranic law allowed those who proved they worked the land and produced ‘the fruits of their labour’ to own land. But in 1887, under pressure on the Bey from the British and the French, the law was changed to allow anyone to own land.

Until the French showed up there were no official deeds, especially in the south of the country where the Berber population did not register land ownership in order to escape heavy taxes. In 1901,  certain tribes were given some rights of use with government permission.

Boublil argues that the pre-colonial land ownership allowed the Beys, the local Ottoman governors,  to exploit the population without giving anything in return: “The corrupt  land and economic system was designed to  guard the fortunes of the elites under the umbrella of Islam.”


Rabbi Ovadia Yosef served as cantor for Sheikh Jarrah

It is not often that we hear the inside story of the Sheikh Jarrah properties from which Palestinian families are claiming they have been unfairly evicted. One home was owned by the Jewish Haddad family and has come into the ownership of Jonathan Yosef, grandson of the late Sephardi Chief Rabbi  Ovadia Yosef. Via Honestreporting:
Grandson of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to marry boyfriend
The late Sephardi chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef


Some eight months after the Hamas terror group used an eviction battle in eastern Jerusalem as a pretext to start an 11-day armed conflict with the Jewish state, another Palestinian family in the Sheikh Jarrah/Shimon HaTzadik neighborhood has received an eviction notice.

Fatima Salem, 69, has been requested to leave by her home’s new owner, Jerusalem city council member Yonatan Yosef. Initially scheduled for the end of December, Israel Police have now asked for a flexible eviction order for between late January and early February.

While Salem maintains that she has lived in the two-story home her entire life, the property was until recently owned by the Haddad family, who were expelled from Shimon HaTzadik when Jordan occupied Jerusalem in 1948. After Israel gained control over the holy city in the 1967 Six-Day War, the Haddads, a Jewish family, reclaimed ownership.

According to their lawyer, following a 1980s legal fight, the Salem family paid rent to the Haddads through the Jerusalem district court. However, when Yonatan Yosef bought the house from the family, he successfully won a new eviction order from Israel’s civil enforcement agency.

Yosef’s grandfather, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef — who between 1973 and 1983 was Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi — in the 1930s served as a cantor for Sheikh Jarrah’s Jewish community. “This place rightfully belongs to Jews, and I’m acting according to the law,” said Yosef, who previously lived in a different house in the neighborhood and acted as the community’s unofficial spokesperson.

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Jordanian document proves Jewish ownership

More about Sheikh Jarrah


Antisemitism rears its ugly head – again

The deportation of Levi Meir Clancy, a Jew who made his home in Kurdistan, is just the latest example of an age-old strategy in the region to  eject Jews as security risks, writes Lyn Julius in Times of Israel:

There was a time when sympathies with Israel could be displayed openly in Kurdistan, but not now

A young American has blamed his deportation from Kurdistan earlier this week on antisemitism.

Arriving at Erbil International Airport on 12 January, Levi Meir Clancy, 31, learned that he was blacklisted as a security threat by the Kurdish authorities.

Clancy had broken no laws, yet he was detained overnight and his passport confiscated before he was put on a ‘plane to Doha in Qatar. He was then made to board a flight back to the US.

Clancy had made the journey from his native California with the intention of returning to the home he had lived in and owned in Erbil since 2015. Collecting his possessions is now impossible, as he has been told that he will never be allowed back in the country.

The authorities detained Clancy overnight but did not subject him to any political or security questioning. However, he was asked his religion and family background. His crime was that he was a Jew. ‘That feeling,’ he lamented,’ when the airport asks your religion when you go to passport control, then they ban you for life and your home is gone.’

Clancy arrived in Kurdistan as a tourist in 2010 and returned to teach English in 2014. He ‘fell in love’ with the country and decided to buy an apartment in Erbil.

Clancy has heard of other Jewish passengers being denied entry to the Kurdistan region in recent weeks. Indeed, the accusation of being a security threat is reminiscent of the strategy employed for decades against the Jewish community of Iraq, which included Kurdistan. As a result, a community numbering 150,000 in the 1940s, stripped of its citizenship and dispossessed, has been driven out. Only three Jews remain in Baghdad.

In one of the worst episodes of persecution, 53 years ago this month, nine Jews were executed in Baghdad on trumped-up spying charges for Israel. Half a million Iraqis came to sing and dance beneath the corpses strung up in Liberation Square.

The oppression suffered by Jews in Iraq predated the creation of Israel. Already in the 1930s Nazi influence grew: Jews were sacked from their jobs and subject to quotas. Then in 1939, the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al Husseini moved to Baghdad and was the driving force behind a pro-Nazi coup and the Farhud massacre of hundreds of Jews in 1941. Thereafter he and his entourage spent the rest of the war as Hitler’s guests and set up SS divisions in the Balkans. After the war, Nazi-inspired antisemitism spread throughout the Arab world.

Yet the historical record and the experience of Mizrahi Jews are being continually denied and downplayed to preserve good interfaith relations. One of the most dramatic exoduses of the 20th century – that of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa – is blamed on the Zionists, or portrayed as an understandable backlash to Arab grievances.

Any mention of Arab or Islamist antisemitism is open to accusations of racism or ‘islamophobia’. Jews are gaslighted into believing that relations between Jews and Muslims were always peaceful and harmonious before Israel was created. In truth, until the colonial era gave them equal rights, Jews and Christians under Islam were dhimmis for 13 centuries –  a  subjugated minority at the mercy of the ruler, vulnerable to outbreaks of violence.

Nowadays, Iran carries the torch for radical Islamist antisemitism, denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel’s destruction. Its tentacles extend as far as Israel’s borders through its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas. In recent years it has increased its influence in Iraq. Levi Meir Clancy fell foul of a policy of aggressive Iranian antisemitism which was not present in the Kurdish region in 2015, when he bought his Erbil home.

The great French writer Albert Camus once said: ‘to fail to call things by their proper names is to add to the misery of the world.’

And if we can’t call antisemitism by its proper name, if we hedge and obfuscate and minimise it, what chance is there of fighting it?

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Deported from Kurdistan – for being a Jew

Point of No Return exclusive

A young American  has blamed his deportation from Kurdistan earlier this week on  antisemitism.

Levi Meir Clancy: blacklisted

Arriving at Erbil International Airport on 12 January, Levi Meir Clancy, 31, learned that he was blacklisted as a security threat by the Kurdish authorities.

Clancy was detained overnight and his passport confiscated before he was put on a ‘plane to Doha in Qatar. He then boarded a flight back to the US.

Clancy had made the journey from his native California with the intention of returning to the home he has lived in and owned and  in Erbil since 2015. Even collecting his possessions  does not now appear possible, as he has been told that he will never be allowed back in the country.

The authorities detained Clancy overnight but did not subject him to any political or security questioning  However, he was asked his religion and family background. He was deported for no reason other than being a Jew.

Clancy visited Kurdistan as a tourist in 2010. He returned to teach English in 2014. He ‘fell in love’ with the country and decided to buy an apartment in Erbil.

His expulsion could be linked to death threats and ‘attacks on his Jewishness’ received over the past two years which he claims are  ‘supported and enabled by multiple officials’. The FBI visited  to warn him that he was at risk while he was in the US completing his Master’s degree.

Clancy has heard of other Jewish passengers being denied entry to the Kurdistan region in recent weeks. Indeed the accusation of being a security threat is reminiscent of the strategy employed for  decades against the Jewish community of Iraq and Kurdistan. As a result, the 150,000-member community, stripped of its citizenship and dispossessed,  has been driven out. Only three Jews remain Baghdad.

In one of the worst episodes of persecution,  53 years ago this January, nine Jews were among 14 Iraqis executed in Baghdad on trumped-up spying charges for Israel.

Iraq and Kurdistan have come under increasing Iranian influence in recent years. It is thought Iran was also behind the Kurdish Jewish Affairs Directorate, which claimed to speak on behalf of a phantom Jewish community of 400 families, although the last Jew had left Kurdistan in 1950.

More about Levi Meir Clancy



Fifty years since I left the hell of Iraq

David Kheder Basson is celebrating a special anniversary – 50 years since he left his country of birth for good. But first he and his family under went a rollercoaster of shocks, raised and dashed expectations,  before he could obtain a precious passport to freedom. He told his story in the Arabic Al-Gardenia:
No photo description available.
David Kheder Basson: waiting for a passport
Dedicated to all those who sought freedom from tyranny and persecution by leaving their birth homeland.
Fifty years ago, on Sunday  Jan 9 1972, for the first time in my life I boarded a plane –  a BOAC flight that originated in Karachi, stopped in Baghdad and was bound for London. This is how I left the hell of Iraq, never to return again.
Following the Six Day war in June 1967, when Israel defeated the combined three armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, the remaining Jews, particularly in radical Arab countries,  became scapegoats.
Iraq at that time was ruled by a nationalist government headed by prime minister Taher Yahia and president Abd al-Rahman Aref. Iraqi Jews numbered  3,500, mostly living in Baghdad and Basra, with a few families in other towns.
Soon after the war, persecution of the community resumed at a level not seen before – houses and  businesses were under constant surveillance, telephones were disconnected, bank accounts were frozen  and only limited withdrawals were allowed, and import licenses were either rescinded or not granted. In addition, secondary school graduates were not allowed to attend university, men were fired from their jobs, families and individuals were expelled from social and sports clubs and our community and sports club (Mahlab Menahem Daniel) was expropriated by the army.
Dozens of men were imprisoned and tortured. Many were later released but other measures remained, including restrictions on movement beyond five kilometres, with the need to inform the security authorities and getting  prior permission to travel.
In July 1968, after a coup d’état led by the Ba’ath party, the status of Iraqi Jews deteriorated  further. The presidency and government were headed by Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr from the military wing of the Ba’ath party, but the strongman was Saddam Hussein from the civil arm of the party. To show force and frighten potential opponents as well as the people in general, the government started attacking the weakest component in Iraqi society – the Jews. They rounded up Jews from Basra and Baghdad, threw them in jail and tortured them. Then they claimed they caught a spy ring for Israel and under torture some of those imprisoned died, others confessed to the fabricated charges.
A kangaroo court headed by a clown Colonel Ali Hadi Woutwout sentenced nine Jews to death by hanging in mid-January 1969.
Horror struck on the morning of Jan 27, 1969 when the bodies of nine innocent Jews, who were hanged in prison a few hours earlier, were displayed in Baghdad’s Tahrir square and Um Albrum square in Basra. Also hanged were another five innocent people, one whose father was Jewish, two Christians and two Muslims (just to show that this farce was not directed against the Jews only). Some half a million Iraqis chanted pro-government chants and danced in Tahrir Square on that terrible date. They even consumed  food with the bodies in full view.
Members of the government attended this cannibalistic display. They delivered revolutionary speeches that inflamed the masses. They affirmed their intention to eradicate the fifth column (the Jews). Despite international protests, the government and its security forces continued, for the next two years, to execute, kill and torture Jews, and by the spring 1973, the number of executions and murders reached nearly 50 men and women. The Jews realized that there was no hope in Iraq, but they were trapped. They were eager to get out of Iraq, whenever the opportunity arose.
The central government in Baghdad was at war with the Kurds in northern Iraq in intermittent rounds  since Iraq gained its independence. In the spring of 1970, a ceasefire was reached between the government in Baghdad and Kurdish forces and large-scale military operations ceased. Northern and Iraqi Kurdistan became open to “tourism” and the Jews were keen to travel to the north for recreation, after the lifting of restrictions on internal travel, and to explore how and what routes they would take to escape.
In June 1970, the Jewish family of Fouad Sawdayee managed to escape to Iran, taking a very difficult and dangerous road through the mountains. In the summer months, dozens of individuals and families escaped with the help of Kurdish smugglers (most of them through Erbil to Haj Omran and from there across the border). They left their homes, with all their contents, carrying one suitcase of clothes.  They continued to escape until mid-September, when a large number of Jewish men, women and children were arrested in Kurdistan as they were waiting to escape. They were returned to Baghdad and imprisoned in a center belonging to the Baha’i’s. They were later released after paying a very large bail arranged by an Iraqi Jewish lawyer, Yaqoub Abdel Aziz (who was kidnapped in 1972  – his body was never found).
The escapes resumed during the harsh winter months through Sulaymaniyah and then to the Iranian border. They stopped for a few months. In the summer of 1971, fleeing Iraq resumed again in a serious and more organized way with the help of the Kurds and in coordination between Iran and Israel. Iran allowed escapees to stay for a few weeks in Tehran until the procedures were completed to transfer them to Israel or to other countries granting entry visas.
With many of my friends escaping and no future in Iraq, I was also anxious to flee, but  my father being a well-known figure and reluctant to leave illegally, I was afraid he would be arrested and harmed. So I waited with growing frustration every day – My father was one the pioneering journalists in Iraq, thought of himself as an Iraqi patriot and did not leave in the mass emigration of Iraqi Jews in 1950-51. Now, several events came altogether.
First, I finished my first degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Baghdad in 1970. I applied to universities in England, on the basis that it could help my departure. I was not expecting to be accepted because the university refused to supply me with a graduation certificate, being a Jew. But based on recommendations from the head of  the Chemical Engineering department, the late Dr. Suham al-Madfai, and from other foreign lecturers as well as my school headmaster, I got accepted to study for my Master ‘s degree in several British universities.
Second,  my secondary school – Shamash, where I taught for couple of years – was able to revitalize a scholarship funding program in England for Iraqi-Jewish students.  I was informed by those responsible for the management of the Fund (who had not received a request for more than eight years), that they had agreed to grant me a scholarship for the scholastic year 1971-72, whenever I could reach England.
Third, in the summer of 1970, my father convinced me to give him a chance to use his political and journalistic connections to try to get me a passport rather than my having to flee.  At that time, in the government of Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr there were two ministers who were good friends of my father – Aziz Sharif and Saleh al-Yousefi. My father had known Aziz Sharif, who was  Minister of Justice, since the mid-Forties when Sharif founded the al-Shaab (People) Party. My father was member of another party, al-Ithad al-Watani (National Union), headed by Abd Al-Fattah Ibrahim, editor of its newspaper. The two parties merged and my father was appointed editor-in-chief of al-Watan (the Motherland) newspaper which the mouthpiece of the new party. After the dissolution of this new party, Sharif joined the Iraqi Communist Party and also issued a left-wing liberal magazine called al-Thaqafa al-Jadidah 
( “the New Culture”) in which my father published articles. In the early 1970s, Sharif was invited to join the Ba’ath government as representative of the “National Democratic Forces” sympathetic to the liberal democrats and communist parties.
In March 1970,  a ceasefire (“The March agreement”) was signed between the government of Iraq and the Kurdish forces headed by Mustapha al-Barazani. Saleh al-Yousefi was elected on behalf of  the Kurdistan Democratic Party to be in the government as minister without portfolio. My father befriended al-Yousefi in the 1960s when he founded the al-Taakhi ( Brotherhood) newspaper as the mouthpiece of the party. My father wrote for al-Taakhi in the early sixties when he retired as a full-time journalist after the 1963 coup d’état against Abdul Karim Qasim.
As far as I know, my father asked the two ministers to mediate with the government (Saadoun Ghaidan was the Minister of the Interior) on my behalf to allow me to travel to England to continue my studies. The request to the two ministers was on the groundsthat my father, though an Iraqi Jew, was  an Iraqi patriot who had served his country faithfully and had suffered imprisonment and deportation, and remained in Iraq after most of the Jews had left. His son is now accepted into universities in Britain and would like to travel for postgraduate studies.”
 No passports were granted to Jews since 1964, except for very rare cases such as the family of Dr. Gourgi Raby, Shaul Sasson Kadoorie, son of the chief rabbi and his wife(Shaul was imprisoned and tortured in Qasr alNahaya (the Palace of the End) for a year and a few elderly Jews known for their well-connected ties. Therefore, being able to obtain a passport for a young Jew was at that time an impossibility.
The first stage in applying for a passport was to obtain the approval of al-Amen (the Public Security Directorate), headed by the notorious butcher Nazim Kazar – assuming that one does not have  an open “file” in al-Amen. After the mediation of Aziz Sharif and Saleh al-Yousefi, the minister of the Interior, Saadoun Ghaidan, presumably gave instructions to the al-Amen, signaling his approval. Accordingly, al-Amen gave its approval on 7th September 1971. It was big news that a young Jew had obtained this approval.
The next stage, after al-Amen approval, was to send the file to the Ministry of Interior, and within a few days the approval was given routinely. Then the file was  transferred to the Department of Travel and Nationality to issue a passport. So, we waited impatiently to get the approval of the Ministry of Interior, with no idea that there could be a problem on the horizon.
Weeks passed without news, and finally, after more than three weeks, the Ministry rejected the request. It was an unexpected shock.
We went back to the al-Amen, and after a week, they told us that the application was approved and that there was no update to withdraw the approval. My file was transferred again to the Ministry of Interior and after a few weeks we were told that the Ministry of Interior also declined to give approval, for the second time. Meanwhile, the university course for a Master’s degree had started and I had to write to inform them of the delay in my departure and to request a deferment. This they  agreed to.
With more than half of Iraq’s Jews fleeing (we don’t know the exact number), the Iraqi government seemed to conclude that it would be easier to allow Jews to leave legally and confiscate their property after they leave. Meanwhile, the government could claim that it was not violating human rights and discriminating against the Jews. In any case, the Jews in the early Seventies became a secondary issue, as Saddam began to liquidate his rivals before seizing power at the end of the decade. The Iraqi authorities slowly began to grant approval for passports to elderly Iraqi Jews and then to others, including young people (as long as they were not on the banned list).
But  my own approval was not forthcoming. I and my parents were mentally exhausted and my father felt remorse for not “being able to do what he had promised”. We went back for the third time to al-Amen, and their response was, “What is your problem, why do you come back to us – the application was approved!  “
From the documents in my possession, it appears that Aziz Sharif or Saleh al-Yousefi presented the matter to Saadoun Ghaidan again, and he gave his consent. As a result, the Ministry of Interior wrote to the Directorate of Nationality (Identity Division) on November 23, informing it of its approval, but when we went to the Identity Division, it informed us that it was necessary write to the Ministry of Interior again to get its opinion because there was a previous refusal, despite the approval of the minister!
So, the obstacles persisted and after more than three weeks of not hearing from the Ministry of Interior, we decided that there was no point in approaching the Ministry in the same way we had done before. What made matters worse for me psychologically was that it was now December and the beginning of the harsh winter in northern Iraq, where it was difficult and dangerous to escape through the mountains of Kurdistan. I was like a bird imprisoned in a cage.
To make matters worse, I was granted an entry visa to Britain even without the need for a passport. This is another sub-story worth mentioning. The British government knew that any Iraqi Jew leaving Iraq, by any means, would not return, and therefore would seek asylum as a refugee. Hence the British Consulate in Iraq was instructed not to grant any entry visa to Iraqi Jews. The entry visa had to come directly from the Home Office in London after a guarantor promised to take financial responsibility. Therefore, the head of the Jewish community asked the British Embassy to send, via diplomatic mail, my visa application with the necessary supporting documentation to the Anglo-Jewish Association (AJA). The AJA, based in London, was responsible for administering the Iraqi Jewish Students Scholarship Fund, hence they would act as the guarantor (with the Jewish Refugees Committee). At the time, it was not known to me which of these Jewish organizations would be helping or financing me. I found out about AJA only after I opened a sealed letter on my flight from Iraq. That letter was given to me a few days earlier and was told not to open it until after I left Iraq. Three weeks after contacting the AJA, I was informed that I had an entry visa to Britain waiting for me at the British Consulate.
Now I go back to the main story. I was without hope and very angry after getting my British visa because I was not able to leave –  legally or illegally. I remember how I had a gold chain on my neck with the word Shaddai in Hebrew engraved on it. Shaddai is one of the names of God. My mum ordered the gold chain for me as a safety net – if I needed money I could sell it. Out of  desperation, I took off the chain and gave it to my mother saying: “I have everything a young man dreams of – admission to the most prestigious universities in Britain, a scholarship, an entry visa, but I am forbidden from traveling and there is no way to escape. Why does God do this to me? I am like a hungry person standing at the door of a room with a table laid with the most delicious foods, but I am only allowed to look at them.”
We decided to write a letter addressed to the Minister of Interior on December 15, in which I would raise my case and plead for his mercy. But how could we ensure that he got  it? Now the bravest woman I’ve known – my mother (maybe like other mothers) –  decided to take the letter and deliver it personally to the minister! She went to the ministry and waited for Ghaidan to leave. After several hours of waiting in the cold December weather, she saw the minister’s car leaving the gate and jumped in front of it and stopped it. The guards leapt up with their machine guns, but the minister realized that she was a relatively oldish woman (in her mid-forties), so he lowered the car window and inquired about the matter. My mother pushed the letter in front of his face and told him that this was a letter from her son, Khedher Selim al-Basson, requesting a passport. He replied, “I remember his name mentioned in the cabinet months ago, and we agreed to issue him a passport.” My mother answered bravely: “Yes, but your ministry refuses the request”. With an angry face, he said “What?” and took the letter and signed his approval.
Now, of course, no one in the ministry or Directorate of Travel and Nationality could refuse, so the approval came within days on December 21. We  thought my problem was over.  We discovered that it still lay with the Ministry of Interior. A low-ranking clerk put up obstacles to show other Jews that he could stop even a solid application like mine, so they had better pay him a bribe. My mother cursed him and months later he had a traffic accident:  he broke his legs and could never walk again.
My mother took the file containing the approval of the al-Amen and the Ministry of Interior to the Directorate of Travel and Nationality. A few days later, on December 25, the Travel Directorate issued its approval : a passport was issued to me on December 27, 1971. Although the passport was valid for two years, for Jews it was for a period of  three months:  hence they had trouble obtaining entry visas. I went to the British Consulate just a few days before it was closed due to a dispute with the Iraqi government and I was able to get the entry visa stamped on the passport.
I booked to travel to London by BOAC from Karachi on Sun 2 January 1972. Since I was only allowed to take only 200 dinars  and since we didn’t know what financial aid I would receive in the UK, my mother decided she should supply me with four suitcases, full of clothes and many other necessary and non-essential items, so that I would not need to spend money for the next 10 years! “. I also packed useful college Engineering books and  personal items including my stamp collection, photos, etc. My father sent some of his books with me in preparation for his future departure. In total, on Saturday 1 January 1972, we sent about 120 kilograms of unaccompanied luggage!
I said farewell to the few remaining childhood friends who had not left Iraq by then and two of my college friends. On the morning of Sunday  January 2, my mother threw water behind me in the front yard (an Iraqi custom symbolizing travelling and returning safely) and I left with the family for Baghdad airport. There at the inspection desk, I received the greatest shock of all. The security officer in charge of checking took my passport, looked at it, then looked at some papers and disappeared with the passport for what seemed to me ages. What now? I asked myself.
After more than half an hour the officer appeared again to say that I was forbidden to leave Iraq.
What ? The passport was newly issued!
He replied” “Yes, we have a travel ban on an engineer born on September 2, 1949, with all your descriptions, his name is Khedher Selim al-Basoom – (not al-Basson, a common mistake mixing n & m), but despite the misspelling of your name, it is certainly you”. He then added that the delay was due the difficulty in reconciling how I obtained the passport on December 27 while my name was on the “No Travel List” in a memo issued on December 16. We asked who initiated the memo and he told us that the ban request was issued by the University of Baghdad.
I went home and we couldn’t believe what had happened – ‘the bite reached my throat,’ as the Arabic saying goes, and stopped there. We checked the next day about the issue of Baghdad University requesting a travel ban. We discovered that the university required, before approving the rescinding of the ban, that I pay 1000 dinars – 250 dinars for each academic year. This was because I got a free college education. Usually, a graduate serves four years in a government job ( as a chemical engineer it meant working in a factory). After that his debt was paid.  But jobs were not available to Jews! and I was already working in our private school as a teacher. Now we had to solve this problem. We did not have such an amount  to pay in a short period (large in those days – equivalent to 12-18 months of a good salary).
I pledged to pay the full amount in monthly instalments of twenty dinars for “violating the commitment to service.” My mother guaranteed me for the one thousand dinars, and we were able to find a joint guarantor for my mother – a school colleague where she worked. This was how we were able to lift the ban on my travel on January 4, 1972. I was only interested in the airport but my name was on the travel list ban at more than 40 border crossing and exit points.  After I left Iraq, my mother started paying the monthly instalments. When my parents got ready to travel in July 1973, my mother paid the remaining amount to her colleague – about 600 dinars, so that so she would not bear any responsibility in case she wanted to leave Iraq and lift any potential travel ban.
Again, we booked the flight to London on January 9, 1972 – 50 years ago. That morning I forbade my mother from throwing water behind me: I didn’t want to return! This time I really boarded the flight in the middle of the morning – I couldn’t believe I was actually on board. I was afraid that at the last minute I would be blocked and even thought that the ‘plane would return to the airport. After 20 minutes of flying, the air hostess came to me where I was sitting in economy class, having bought a cheap ticket as a student. Fear returned for a moment, but the air hostess told me that she was arranging the seats and asked me if I wanted to move to first class! What a surprise and of course I said yes – perhaps luck finally smiled at me. I sat next to a Frenchman who worked for the French Oil Company ERAP. Since I knew French, I told him it was my first time flying, but talked no more.
I looked out of the window and saw a large body of water. I asked him what it was, and if I remember correctly, it was al-Tharthar lake, north west of Baghdad. After about an hour into the flight, I saw mountains and asked him again where we were. He told me that we had crossed the Iraqi border and these were the mountains of Turkey. I shouted “Thank God”. He looked at me with a surprised and questioning face. Only then did I realize that there was no chance of forcibly returning me to the hell that I had left behind.
I told him my story.
To be continued







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