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November 18, 1977 - Image 72

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1977-11-18

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72 Friday, November 18, 1977

The Forgotten Refugees: The Jews From Arab Lands

Israel and had immediately
been executed. They were
hanged publicly in the
downtown area of Baghdad.
The Iraqi regime carried
out the venomous act with
apparent pride.
It was during the day
before the hangings took
place that I was seized by
an overwhelming sense that
we were up fora repeat of the
same drama we expe-
rienced about two decades
earlier, and that now the
very few still left in Iraq
were • about to be taken
away from us.
To an outsider this may
be just a number, a news
item. perhaps a sad one—
nine people were killed; a
few others were jailed.
I recall similar conditions
when we were still in Bag-
hdad in the late 1940's.

lation in Iraq in the middle
of the Seventh Century may
have amounted to about a
million people. Thirteen-
hundred years later, there
were only 150,000 of us.
Jews in Nazi-occupied
Western Europe had to
wear a yellow Star of David
for identification. Iraq has
the dubious distinction of
being the first country in
history, as far as I know, to
impose such a restriction.
Only the form was different.
It was a yellow scarf rather
than a yellow star.
I remember with horror
the events that spelled the
final demise of this
On Jan. 27, 1969, Baghdad
Radio informed the world
that nine Jews had been
convicted by a military tri-
bunal of espionage for


(Editor's note : Dr. Khaz-
zoom is director of the
Institute for Research in
Energy and Economic Mod-
eling in San Francisco. This
story was provided by the
World Organization of Jews
from Arab Countries.)
NEW YORK—Too few are
aware of the conflicting
extremes that characterize
the history of the Jews of
Iraq—the unsurpassed con-
tribution to Jewish culture
and heritage on the one
hand, and the very often
harsh environment in which
these accomplishments
were effected.
Perhaps a measure of
what this time-honored
community had to go
through can be found in the
fact that, according to some
estimates, the Jewish popu-


more than 100 Iraqi dinars per month for sale of
immovable property ( in 1948 the Jewish
community had been made to pay 250,000 dinars
towards the Iraqi war effort against Israel, and
towards the Palestinian Arab refugees)
1969 Nine Jews hanged for'Zionist ' activities in
January; 2 hanged for 'spying for Israel and
the CIA' in August; 2 killed in September;
4 killed in November
October 1972 Many Jews arrested. 16 disappear
without trace._ More than 20 murdered
April 1973 A '.arnily of 5 Jews murdered in
their home


•- •` •
•e Zakho


1933 20 Jews murdered

October 1948 President of



Fishkhabur .


3 March 1968 Law N9 10 forbids Jews to receive

1935 Jews removed from Government Service.
Many Jews forbidden to travel to Palestine
1936 Ten Jews killed by Arab riots in Baghdad
and Basra. Teaching of Hebrew prohibited
1947 No Jewish children accepted in Government
August 1948 Zionism declared a crime (with
Nazism, Communism, Atheism and Anarchism)
Many Jews imprisoned, some hanged
10 March 1950 Official decree confiscates all
property of Jews leaving for Israel, and appoints
a special custodian to sell it by public auction.
All emigrants bank accounts seized by the State
25 February 1958 Abolition of Jewish Community
Status. All community property, including
schools and hospitals, transferred to Government




e •.•
. 1

the local Jewish Community
arrested on charge of
maintaining contact with
his sons in Israel

Agra L .
Dehok ()
C) e ?


Arbil ®

Dec 1947 A Jew accused
of trying to inject cholera
germs in water drunk by
Arab children

Kirkuk .

® /



Tuz Sulaimaniya




0 „,



May 1947 Following

destruction of much
Jewish property by mob
attack, Jews forced to
move to Baghdad


Bakuba C• '\
• N. Mandali






Hi ndiya


O Towns with Jewish
in 1947









demonstrations. Jewish property destroyed
June 1941 During riots following collapse of
pro- Nazi Government of Rashid Ali, 175
Jews killed and 1,000 injured. Much looting
of Jewish property. 900 Jewish houses
destroyed. Many Jews tortured
July 1946 Anti-Jewish riots. Hundreds of
Jews wounded and much property destroyed
May 1947 A Jew murdered by a mob which
accused him of giving poisoned sweets to
an Arab child
Dec 1949 Anti-Jewish riots, many injured

0 Martin Gilbert 1975

■ •


July 1937 Violent anti-Jewish


Kut -al- Hayy

— .





... .

.....• ...• ".....

/ •
•— •.,


1948 Many wealthyJews
arrested. One,a millionaire,hanged and his
fortune seized. His cousin died after four
months in prison. All were accused of
allegedly supplying arms to the 'Zionists'

September - October

Courtesy the Israeli Consulate, Chicago


When all seemed dark and
we had almost crumbled
under the wave of hangings.
prison tortures. and mock
trials, a proud son of the °
community, the late Senator
Ezra Menahem Daniel, took
the floor of the Senate. In a
defiant mood, he reminded
the Iraqis of their
ingratitude to a community
that had brought everything
good that is in Iraq.
I recall the boost his cour-
age gave to our souls. Some
of the defiant spirit of this
noble man seemed to have
seized us as well. The press ,
demanded his head. But it
was one of those rare occa-
sions when the Iraqi author-
ities correctly appraised the
situation, and decided they
had better retreat than risk
touching, him.
Few people know how this
community was finally
tricked out of its possessions
before the mass immigra-
tion in the early 1950's. Dur-
ing the late 1940's, Jews
were generally not allowed
to leave the country.
Under a hastily enacted
law, Jews were told that
they could leave the country
if they declared in writing,
within a year from the date
of the enactment of the law,
their desire to leave Iraq.
A Jew who so declared
would be stripped of his citi-
zenship and would then be
allowed to leave the- coun-
try. To most of us, losing
Iraqi citizenship was not an
item we would lose much
sleep over. It does, how-
ever, create problems, since
statelessness is a hindrance
to landing almost anywhere.
Our greatest fear was that
this was a trap. Many
feared that the Iraqi author-
ities planned to use the list
of Jews who had declared
their desire to leave the
country as an excuse for
extending the terror from
the selected few to the
There was no date men-
tioned in the law that stipu-
lated when these people
could look forward to leav-
ing the country. And we
would not trust Iraqi laws
anyway. Some hardy souls
did go to declare their
desire to leave. Most of the
community took a wait-and-
see attitude.
The British government
declared that it would allow
such Jews to land in Cyprus
if Iraq were to let them go.
In a few months. the first
few who had signed a decla-
ration were flown out of the
. country. The evacuation
went at a very slow pace.
We held our breath and
wondered if they ever did
arrive safety, or whether
we were about to witness a
repeat of the story of the
Then. many of the Span-
ish Jews who paid , for the
sea journey to escape from
the Iberian Peninsula were
murdered on the boat or

else thrown into the sea.
It was well into the sev-
enth month of the registra-
tion year when we received
several letters from Aus-
tralia that confirmed the
fact that the few hundred
Jews who' had renounced
their citizenship and had
flown out of Iraq did eventu-
ally arrive in Israel. There
was then a big rush to
enroll. People wanted to
believe that there was no
The lines for registration
were long, and the registra-
tion centers were jammed
during the last four months
of the registration_ year.
There were over 100,000
Jews who registered.
But the flights were then
proceeding at a snail's
pace—sometimes not more
than 100 Jews left Iraq in a
week. At that rate, many
could not count on leaving
the country before 1960 or
The alternative of liqui-
dating their assets and sit-
ting and waiting until their
turn for the trip came was
simply no real alternative.
Unfortunately, that was the
The day the registration
year ended, the Iraqi
authorities declared that all
Jews who had signed the
declaration to leave Iraq
had now lost title to their
assets—businesses, real
estate, bank accounts and
all other possessions.
Thus, the wealthiest- Jew-
ish community of the
Middle East was converted
overnight into a community
of mostly penniless refu-
gees. In spite of it all, we
managed to pay our own
way to Israel. We were
never a burden on the Jew-
ish Agency.
Those Jews who could not
afford to pay their fare
were paid for by those who
did not register and who
still retained title to their
possessions. The latter
enjoyed relative ease, but
only for a short spurt.
Some were allowed to
eventually leave for the
U.S., England, or France,
but only after they had for-
feited their right to their
Others were not accorded
even that "privilege." They
escaped to Persia literally
only with the clothes they
- wore, leaving behind every-
thing they and their ances-
tors had ever had in Iraq.
The luckier ones made it
to the U.S. and other West-
ern countries through Per-
sia. Many were apparently
murdered by their smugg-
lers; others were caught by
Iraqi patrols, brought to
- Baghdad for trial and never
heard of again.
Three messages should
come out loud and clear
from the tragedy of the
Jews of the Arab lands:
• Pressure should be
brought to hear on the Arab


governments to let go of
their Jewish citizens—to
allow them to emigrate
from their native lands. The
perverse pleasure that the
Iraqis and the Syrians
derive from depriving their
Jewish citizens of basic
human rights and at the
same time from the right to
emigrate should not be
viewed with equanimity
civilized men.
Let no one be misled by
the appearance of peaceful
existence that one sees in a
synagogue in Baghdad. The
real suffering is in the
homes of that community,
which has been systematic-
ally pauperized by the
Every means of pressure
should be brought to bear on
the Iraqis and the Syrians to
honor the human rights of
their Jewish citizens and
particularly, their right to
• The State Department
was a party to several dis-
cussions about a settlement
of the problem of the Arab
refugeesin the Middle East.
Often, compensation to
Arab refugees was dis-
cussed as one part of an
overall settlement.
I do not envy the Palesti-
nian refugees. They suf-
fered, and they are entitled
to whatever humanity can
do for_them to compensate
for their losses. But what-
ever the final settlement
may be, the State Depart-
ment should never overlook
the plight of the Jewish ref-
ugees from Arab lands.
They lost a great deal,
and by many accounts, - they
left behind much more than
the Palestinian refugees
did. Jewish refugees are
entitled to compensation for
their assets, just as much as
the Arab refugees are.
The State Department
should actively seek to
incorporate in any "just"
settlement of the Middle
East problem terms that
bind the Arab governments
- to provide compensation to
Jewish refugees.
The State Department
should press for a change in
the one-sided claims for
compensation made by
Palestinian refugees and for
an equally adequate com-
pensation for the Jewisl- - -f-
ugees from Arab land.
live now in Israel.
• On a more local level,
many Jews from Arab lands
are now U.S. citizens. Most
of them left behind all their
belongings in order to -save
their lives. The majority
left behind relatives in Arab
lands and are not free to
speak up, for fear of Arab
retaliation. Whatever the
case may be, the usurped
rights of these individuals
_ should be a major issue ,of
concern of the U.S. Con-
gress and should be brought
up by the State Department
in its dealing with Arab


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