Tag: Iraqi Israelis

The tragedy of Kibbutz Be’eri: from the Farhud to 7 October

Shortly after the Hamas massacre of 7 October, Point of No Return was informed about the link between the Farhud of 1941, which broke out 83 years ago on Shavuot, and   Kibbutz Be’eri, devastated by Hamas, which a group of Farhud survivors helped establish. In a tragic irony, Shahar Zemach, the grandson of the late Farhud survivor Yaakov Zemach, died defending the kibbutz against Hamas terrorists. Report in The Librarians: (with thanks: Daniella)

A family album photo of Shahar Zemach with his baby son, and (right) his father Yaakov Zemach. Both are now dead.

“We immigrated from Iraq to Israel so that Arabs could not enter the homes of Jews and murder them,” say members of Kibbutz Be’eri who survived the Farhud. In Be’eri, a kibbutz that also includes immigrants from Iraq, there is also a memorial to the victims of the pogrom that the Iraqi Jews went through, more than 80 years ago, on the eve of Shavuot in 1941. They did not know that years later their children and grandchildren would face a similar horror, but this time in the Jewish state.

Riots and disturbances accelerated the process for the majority of Iraqi Jews to leave and immigrate to Israel, with the help of Zionist activists sent by the Zionist leadership in Israel. Prof. Esther Meir-Glitzenstein, head of the research institute at the Babylon Jewish Heritage Center, explains that at that time the kibbutz movement was very central to Zionist activity in the diaspora. and saw the potential of Iraqi Jews as a significant part of the Zionist settlement in Israel. The idea was to educate the activists to immigrate to Israel and participate in pioneering groups. Starting in 1942, hundreds of young people from Iraq began immigrating to Israel. Some of them were put in ‘training’ kibbutzim waiting to found their own  settlement.

The “Pioneer” movement from Babylon collected donations totalling 3,500 shekels to plant a forest in memory of those murdered in the Farhud. Yosef Weitz, chairman of KKL in the Gaza envelope decided, a forest would be planted in their memory.

The monument to the Farhud victims at Kibbutz Be’eri

The Be’eri monument  is located next to the Be’eri forest, and adjacent to it is a playground, a water point, toilets and shaded seating areas: on beautiful spring days it would be filled with visitors and vacationers. On 7 October, the forest near the monument was used as one of the assembly points for the Hamas terrorists before they went out to attack Be’eri  and other towns.

Read article in full (Hebrew)

A 100-year history of pogroms in the Arab world

 

 


 

October 7 was the second massacre of Jews for Hamas’ oldest hostage

The eliminationist antisemitism of the Farhud, the 1941 anti-Jewish massacre in Iraq, still animates Hamas. As we mark the 83rd anniversary of the Farhud, thoughts are with Israel’s oldest hostage in Gaza, Shlomo Mansour, who survived the Farhud, but whose fate is uncertain. Lyn Julius writes in the Jewish Chronicle:

Shlomo Mansour, Israel’s oldest hostage in Gaza

In March, the family of Shlomo Mansour marked his 86th birthday. Since the Hamas massacre of October 7, his children have not received any sign that he is alive or dead. Mansour is the oldest Israeli hostage in Gaza.

Mansour was abducted from Kibbutz Kissufim, one of several Israeli villages and towns attacked by Hamas. He was among hundreds of hostages dragged across the border into Gaza. But what makes Mansour unique is that he is the only person to have survived two massacres – not just the slaughter of October 7, 2023, but also the Iraqi Farhud of 1-2 June 1941.

In order to convey the enormity of the catastrophe that befell Israel on October 7 – the worst pogrom since the Holocaust – journalists, politicians and analysts have cast around for parallels with pogroms suffered by the Jews of Europe. Few have recalled comparable events in the Middle East itself, where the Jews (contrary to the false narrative that Jews are settler colonialists from Europe) were indigenous for more than two millennia, living in the region over 1,000 years before Islam and the Arab conquest.

The Farhud (Arabic for “forced dispossession”) of 1941 – seven years before the creation of Israel – mirrored the slaughter of October 7 in Israel. Mobs screaming Itbah al-Yehud! (“slaughter the Jews”) murdered hundreds of Jews, wounded 1,000, mutilated babies, raped women, looted and destroyed 900 homes and 586 Jewish-owned businesses.

Jews were thrown into the river Tigris. Iraqi doctors and nurses refused to treat the injured or, worse still, poisoned patients. Police joined the rioters.

The Farhud massacre was a watershed moment for the Jews of Iraq. A third of the inhabitants of Baghdad, they were unmatched in their loyalty and contribution to that country’s economy, culture and heritage. After the Farhud Iraqi Jews realised they had no future in Iraq.

The family of Shlomo Mansour was among the 135,000 Jews – 95 percent of the community – who fled Iraq for Israel as soon as emigration was permitted. Among the founders of Kibbutz Be’eri on the Gaza border (which lost a tenth of its residents on October 7) were a group of young Iraqi Jews who had trekked across the desert to Palestine in 1947. They too were survivors of the Farhud and had turned to Zionism to save them.

Memories of the Farhud and similar episodes across the Middle East and North Africa reside deep in the psyche of more than half of Israel’s Jews – refugees fleeing antisemitism in Arab and Muslim countries, or their descendants. Over 850,000 Jews became refugees – a greater number than Palestinians. Iraq today has just three Jews. Libya has none. Syria has none. Yemen has one. This was ethnic cleansing – and Hamas now wants to finish the job.

Unlike the Arab Palestinian refugees from Israel (who have not been resettled in the Palestinian Territories or Arab countries and who pass down their refugee status from generation to generation, even if they had acquired another nationality), Jewish refugees were granted citizenship in Israel and have long ago been absorbed. They view the Palestinian jihad as just the latest in a long tradition of anti-Jewish violence. Their trauma has spawned a legacy of bitterness and mistrust of their Arab neighbours, which is why many Israelis consistently vote for hardline, right-wing parties.

The roots of Hamas lie in the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist, Islamist group founded in the Nazi era. Antisemitism was – is – at the very core of its philosophy: the Muslim Brotherhood’s conspiracy theories of Jewish power have been carried over into the Hamas Covenant.

There is a link between Hamas and the Farhud. The driving force behind the Farhud was the wartime Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, an ideological antisemite and close associate of the Muslim Brotherhood who spent two years in Baghdad. The Mufti allied with the Nazis, spent most of the war years as Hitler’s guest in Berlin and vowed to “kill the Jews wherever you find them”.

The Mufti’s antisemitic legacy, and that of the Muslim Brotherhood, are still with us. People who want to kill Jews will not settle for a diplomatic or two- state solution, especially when they think they are winning support for an international campaign to delegitimise the Jewish state. The eliminationalist spirit of the Farhud still animates Hamas and is shared, knowingly or unknowingly, by those western sympathisers who chant for the destruction of Israel “From the river to the sea”.

As Carl Sagan once said, “In order to know the present, you need to understand the past.” The antisemitism which led to the Farhud and the uprooting of Jews from their millennial communities in the Middle East and North Africa is alive and well, and is the engine driving Hamas’s war against the Jews of Israel. Past massacres in the Muslim world may not be well known, but they are key to understanding the anti-Jewish animus of today.

Read article in full

Iranian barrage recalls Gulf War missiles on Iraqi Israelis

Iran’s huge barrage of hundreds of missiles and drones on Israel  is stirring memories of the First Gulf War in 1991 when Saddam Hussein lobbed  42 SCUD missiles on Tel Aviv. At the time, Israel  had no effective defence system.

SCUD missiles landing on Israel on 18 January 1991

Israelis were issued with gas masks for fear of an Iraqi chemical attack and rigged up ‘secure rooms’  festooned with plastic sheeting.

According to Wikipedia, two Israeli civilians died as a direct result of the missile attacks. Others died from incorrect use of gas masks, heart attacks, and incorrect use of the anti-chemical weapons drug atropine. A total of 4,100 buildings were damaged and at least 28  buildings destroyed.

The area that sustained the most damage was  Ramat Gan. The Tel Aviv suburb had so many Iraqi-Jewish residents that it was laughingly nicknamed Ramat Baghdad. Ironically,  Iraqi Jews now found themselves targeted by the country which had driven them out as refugees. The Jerusalem Post reported on a 74-year-old, Aliza Yosef, who narrowly escaped being injured by a falling window.

The SCUD missiles episode inspired David Ofek to make the short documentary Home. (1994). The son of Iraqi Jews living in Ramat Gan, Ofek looks back on the first Gulf War. Huddled in their secure room, and wearing their gas masks, his parents are fascinated with television news reports of the bombing of Baghdad and excitedly point to the area where they used to live.

 

 

 

Sami Michael expressed the post-Farhud pain of Iraqi Jews

Sami Michael, who died this week aged 97, experienced the 1941 Farhud massacre as a betrayal of Iraq’s Jewish community. Michael was one of Israel’s greatest writers. For Shulamit Binan, writing in the Times of Israel, he embodied the essence of humanist Zionism.

Sami Michael: ‘A prince and a revolutionary’

The first Sami Michael book I read was “A Storm among the Palm Trees,” as part of a master’s thesis at CUNY in New York on “The Attitude of Arabs and Jews to the Farhud,” the pogrom against the Jews of Bagdad in June 1941.

I found many references to this event in Arabic by Iraqi historians and politicians. Still, I could not find any reference by Iraqi Jews to this terrible pogrom. Sami Michael’s book, “A Storm among the Palm Trees,” expressed his longing for the Iraqi homeland, for his rowing as a young man on the Tigris River when the future of Iraq, including of its Jews, looked so promising.

He gave pronunciation to the Jewish pain and disillusionment in the Iraqi homeland that betrayed its Jewish citizens who dared take an active role in the development and construction of an independent Iraq. Thus, Iraqi Jews, including those who left Iraq in 1951, have hidden and suppressed the traumatic event for many years. However, later on, mostly in the last decades, many articles have been written about the Farhud, a milestone in the history of the Babylonian community that led to mass immigration to Israel (and elsewhere) a decade later.

“A Prince and a Revolutionary” is how literary critic Prof. Yigal Schwartz entitled the book he edited for Sami Michael’s literary and scholarly work. This book compiles articles based on a conference held at Northwestern University in Chicago a year earlier. Michael’s work gained recognition and appreciation in Israel and was translated into many languages. Indeed, his very description as “A Prince and a Revolutionary” encapsulates Michael’s personality and long-standing writing more than anything else. He was a literary prince who left his mark on Hebrew literature and a socially conscious revolutionary throughout his life and work.

Born in Baghdad in 1926 as Kamel Salah Menashe, he grew up in a wealthy modern Jewish family. He was educated at the Shamash Jewish School, which emphasized the study of English and French, and modern Arabic literature, which flourished in Baghdad in those years. His fine Hebrew prose writing later expressed these foundations. At the age of 15, after the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali al-Kilani revolt and the ensuing pogrom against the Jews of Baghdad in June 1941 (known as the Farhud), he joined the Iraqi Communist Party, like many young Iraqi middle-class Jews. They viewed communism as a secular and enlightened solution to the mosaic of religions and ethnic groups in Iraq. They also considered it as a remedy against the antisemitism that surged in Iraq, especially in light of the discussions on the UN partition resolution towards the establishment of a Jewish state.

Read article in full

 

 

 

Celebrated Iraq-born novelist Sami Michael has died

A refugee from Iraq, Sami Michael, who died on 1 April aged 97, published 11 novels and three non-fiction books focusing on cultural, political and social affairs in Israel, three plays and a children’s book. It took him 15 years for him to transition from writing in Arabic to Hebrew. Times of Israel reports:

Sami Mchael in 2004 (Photo: Flash 90)

Author Sami Michael has died at the age of 97, Hebrew-language media reports.

Michael, born in Baghdad as Kamal Salah, became active in the underground Communist movement in Iraq after the rise of pro-Nazi and antisemitic elements in the country, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

He was forced to flee the country in 1948, and moved to Iran, before immigrating to Israel a year later.

Michael won dozens of awards for his literature, including the Prime Minister’s Prize for Hebrew Literary Works and the Hans Christian Andersen Award.

His best known works include “Victoria” and “A Handful of Fog.”

Read article in full

More about Sami Michael

 

Iraqi Jews are still baking heavenly Purim sweets

A bakery in Petach Tikva, a suburb of Tel Aviv, is preserving the Iraqi-Jewish tradition of making Baba qadrasi (also known as Gaz in Persian, or Manna from Heaven)  for the festival of Purim. Baba was one of nine traditional sweets eaten on Purim and involves the baker stirring by hand a mix of flour, egg whites, sugar, pistachios and cardamon for three hours. Elyahu Freedman visits Konditorei David for the Times of Israel (with thanks: Edna, Philip): 

Five days a week, 78-year-old Tzvi (Sabah) David rises at 4:35 a.m. and dons an all-white baker’s outfit before heading out to open up Konditorei David, the last-of-its-kind Iraqi pastry shop in Petah Tikva that was opened by his father David Tsalah. Three days before the Purim holiday, David is getting ready for one of the busiest times of the year as multiple generations of Iraqi customers will soon stop by to purchase sweets that have been synonymous with Purim for Iraqi Jews for centuries, if not millennia.

“I love the work. It is a very tiring and difficult job and I am not 18 anymore, but I feel young in the morning when I get up,” David tells The Times of Israel on a recent visit to the small shop, which doubles as a window into the pre-modern world of Middle-Eastern pastries.

His first item of business today is making a fresh batch of baba qadrasi, also known in Arabic as “mann el-sama” or “manna from heaven,” named after the legendary food that God miraculously delivered from the sky to feed the Israelites in the Exodus story. If not truly the biblical food itself, an early recipe for baba qadrasi was found in a 10th-century Abbasid cookbook.

David’s grandson Maor, has helped for six years at the family-run shop during busy periods before the Jewish holidays. “From 7 to 10 a.m., he mixes for three hours by hand” the ingredients of baba qadrasi — flour, egg whites, sugar, pistachios, cardamom — in a large bowl with a wooden stick, “then he lets it cool for a few hours, cuts it up into pieces and rests it on the floor to cool,” explains Maor.

Read article in full

No sign of life from hostage Shlomo Mansour, now 86

Sunday 17 March should have been a day of celebration for Shlomo Mansour. He should have been marking his 86th birthday. The Iraq-born Farhud survivor was abducted from Kibbutz Kissufim which was attacked on 7 October. His family have still not received confirmation that he is still alive. Report in Ynet News (with thanks: Edna):

Shlomo Mansour, who immigrated to Israel at the age of 13 after the Farhud riots in Iraq, is one of the founders of Kibbutz Kissufim, from where he was kidnapped on October 7.

‘It hurts me that, on this day, the man who is always the first to greet everyone on their birthday because he always remembers everyone, is not here with us,’ says his sister Hadassah Lazar.

Shlomo Mansour with his grandchildren in happier times

She said on Sunday that: “Today Shlomo is 86 years old, there are 16 years between us and I am his little sister forever. Every year he celebrates with his family, the children surprise him with a cake, with congratulations, with songs. He has five children and 12 grandchildren. He lives it up with beer, sometimes wine too.”

Read article in full

Video appeals for release of Baghdad-born hostage

 

Two Israelis with Iraqi roots launch music and film projects

The great-grandson of one of Iraq’s foremost musicians  has been performing  popular Iraqi music in a premier Israeli venue, the Times of Israel reports:(with thanks: Boruch). Below, an Israeli film director of Iraqi origin  is touring the world with his timely documentary on the massacre and rapes at the Supernova film festival on 7 October 2023:

La Falfula Groove Iraqi is performing popular Iraqi music in Jaffa

On a recent Thursday evening in Jaffa, the band La Falfula Groove Iraqi takes the stage at the East-West House, one of Israel’s premier venues for Middle-Eastern and acoustic music. Wearing tailored suits, floral shirts and sporting sidaras, the distinctive Iraqi version of the Turkish fez, the five Jewish musicians launch into a set of traditional music from the bygone era of pre-World War II Baghdad.

The multi-generational crowd of aficionados claps and sings along as the ensemble, consisting of oud, violin, qanun (zither) and two percussionists, take turns singing songs that were once considered mainstream popular music in the Arab world. A lively dancer — herself an integral part of the group — comes out several times for specific tunes and deftly engages with the crowd, each time marked by a different outfit and dance.

The evening is a record release party for La Falfula Groove Iraqi, led by Tel Aviv native David Regev-Zaarur, whose great-grandfather, Yusuf Zaarur, was one of the most prominent Iraqi musicians of his time.

Read article in full

A new documentary recording the events at the Supernova music festival on 7 October 2023 by Duki Dror, an Israeli film director with Iraqi roots, is being screened around the world. He told Deadline:

“We knew we had to start filming the survivors, document their experiences, and collect a wide variety of materials as quickly as possible,” added Israeli producer and director Dror. “The story of the massacre at the festival is unique not only due to the staggering number of victims and the brutal terrors they endured, but the fact that these events were captured in real-time by multiple sources on a massive scale, including the Hamas’ own cameramen and GoPros attached to the perpetrators, by the victims on their mobile phones, CCTV footage, dash cams and the first responders on site.”

Read article in full

 

 

‘I don’t have to apologise for cooking Israeli food’

Iraq-born Moshe Basson’s Jerusalem restaurant Eucalyptus has closed its doors, and the cookbook Basson has worked on for 10 years has received scant media attention. He must fend off accusations that he cooks ‘Palestinian’, not Israeli food, Rob Eshman writes in the Forward (with thanks: Linda):

Moshe Basson at his restaurant, Eucalyptus

“I was born in Iraq,” said Basson. “I speak Arabic. I read and write in Arabic. Nothing here is yours or mine.”

He pointed out that foods like falafel and hummus arose from cultures where Jews and Arabs lived together, long before there were modern states. Even maqluba, as close to a Palestinian national dish as any, has roots in Iraq, first mentioned in the 13th-century Kitab Al-Tabikh (“Book of Dishes”) written in the Abbasid period by Muhammad al-Baghdadi.

“I don’t have to apologize that I’m cooking Israeli food,” he went on. “Someone will say that it’s also Palestinian, and I say ‘Welcome, yes, it’s also Palestinian. And it’s biblical and it’s Iraqi and it’s Syrian.’”

In her introduction to Basson’s cookbook, Claudia Roden, the acclaimed Jewish and Middle Eastern food expert, took note of the “harmony that reigns” in Basson’s restaurants.

Basson’s assistant manager is an Arab Christian who started as a waiter (“Now he tells me what to do,” Basson told me). Muslims, Christians and Jews worked side by side in the kitchen.

“They argued about how you cut the parsley, nothing about politics,” he said.

With the restaurant closed, the workforce has scattered. Basson stays in touch with them still, helping to arrange government financial support while the conflict drags on.

Other attempts at harmony have petered out. Many years ago, Basson co-founded Chefs for Peace, an organization of top Jewish and Arab chefs created to strengthen cultural understanding through food. Since Oct. 7, it has gone dormant. Its last Facebook post, in late December, promised the organization would resume some time in the future.

Basson wrote a gem of a cookbook — one of the most original, interesting and heartfelt Jewish cookbooks of the year. He created and ran a wonderful restaurant where East Jerusalem met West.

Whether any of it has a future, what normal will look like when this war is over, is anyone’s guess. Will the brutality of this conflict radicalize chefs and their staffs — and cookbook buyers — as it has so many others? Food is a way to connect cultures and bridge differences, but it’s not fairy dust. The hostages must come home. The fighting must stop. Ultimately a just solution to the conflict is what will enable Israelis and Palestinians to cook and eat in peace. But none of that, for now, is on the menu.

 

Read article in full

 

Video appeals for release of Baghdad-born hostage

The son of Salman, an elderly hostage born in Iraq, has made a video appeal for his release.

The video features on ‘X’ by Zechariah Sharabi. It is in Arabic and argues that the kidnapping and mistreatment of Salman, who was abducted by Hamas, is contrary to the values of Islam.

The video does not give Salman’s full name, but it is possibly Shlomo ben Marcelle Mansour. We do not know the circumstances of his kidnapping on 7 October.

About

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.