Heartbreak in Iraq
CARLOS C. HUERTA
am writing from Nineveh, the city
of the prophet Jonah. Its present
name is Mosul. I have had the
privilege of seeing its ancient walls,
of touching its stones and of going to the
grave that Islamic tradition says is the
I am the rabbi of the 101st Airborne
Division, the division that Steven
Spielberg immortalized in his epic HBO
miniseries "Band of Brothers."
We, the soldiers of the 101st Airborne,
fought our way up from the south, from
Kuwait. The battle took us past Ur, the city
where Abraham was born. We maintained
contact with the enemy, passed the site of
the great Talmudic academies of Sum and
Pumpaditya, to the city of Babylon, where
the prophet Daniel was taken.
There we engaged the
Nebuchadnezzar Iraqi Armored Division
and beat them. We continued the battle
to Baghdad, where so many Jews lived
and were massacred in the summer of
1948. It was the city of so many of our
sages, including the Ben Ish Chai.
Rabbi Carlos C. Huerta is an Army
chaplain serving in Iraq. This column
first appeared in the Jerusalem Post.
Now we are in Mosul. I ask about the
Jews who lived here, and very few
remember them. Many say Jews never
lived here; but my heart tells me differ-
ent. The old ones tell me there was a
Jewish quarter, a synagogue, study halls
and a cemetery.
One day, while searching the streets of
the ancient city I came across a building
missing half of its roof. The site was a
garbage dump and the building's interior
was three-quarters full of rotting garbage,
feces and sewage. I had to crouch down
low to get inside as the doorway was
almost completely buried.
As I entered, light came through the
half-open roof and I could just make out
writing engraved on the walls. It was
Hebrew. It was then that I knew I had
stumbled into the ancient synagogue of
the city of Mosul-Nineveh.
My heart broke as I climbed over the
garbage piles that filled the room where,
for hundreds of years, the prayers of Jews
had reached the heavens. I realized I was
probably the first Jew to enter this holy
place in over 50 years.
Many Iraqis congregated around me,
wanting to know what I was doing. My
translator said that the American army was
interested in old archeological sites of all
kinds. I asked them if they knew what this
place was, and they all said in an instant:
If The Road Map Fails
hen Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon
visits with President
George W. Bush this
week, he will ask a question on the
minds of many Israelis: What if the
road map for peace fails?
While Sharon will reaffirm his gov-
ernment's commitment to seeking
ways to make the U.S.-backed plan
work, the increasing evidence that the
Palestinians are unable or unwilling to
keep their end of the bargain is rais-
ing the obvious question of what to
do if the peace efforts collapse.
To date, it seems, none of the four
architects of the so-called road map
— the United Nations, the European
Union, Russia and the United States
— has given much thought to the
prospect of failure.
They appear more interested in
meeting their own self-imposed road-
map deadlines than in the realities on
Tom Neumann is executive director of
the Jewish Institute for National Security
Affairs. His e-mail address is
The United States, for example,
which declared last year that it would
no longer deal with Palestinian
Authority President Yasser Arafat, is
turning a blind eye to the reality that
Arafat is continuing to call the shots.
And all four sponsors of the road map
are ignoring the reality that the
Palestinians have refused to disarm
their terrorist organizations, one of
the plan's most urgent requirements.
The Palestinian leadership claims it
is powerless to disarm the terrorists or
dismantle their infrastructure. And
instead of insisting they comply, the
sponsors are taking the easier route:
pressuring Israel to make even more
concessions than called for in the
So far, while the Palestinians have
done little or nothing, Israel has with-
drawn troops from parts of Gaza and
the West Bank, dismantled dozens of
unauthorized settlements, eased road-
blocks and other travel restrictions,
released hundreds of Palestinian pris-
oners and offered the Palestinian gov-
ernment millions of tax dollars.
Instead of reciprocating, the
Palestinians say they can't move for-
ward unless Israel does more. They
It was the house where the Jews prayed.
They told me that the houses in the
streets surrounding the synagogue had
been filled with Jews. They took me to
the children's yeshivah, a marbled edi-
fice that no longer had a roof, only
walls and half-rooms.
As I walked through the quarter, I was
shown the grave of the prophet Daniel,
once a synagogue. I saw that many of the
doorposts had an engraving of the lion of
Judah on the top.
I felt the presence of our people, of
their daily lives as merchants, teachers,
rabbis, doctors and tailors. I felt their
rush to get ready for Shabbat, felt their
presence as they walked to the synagogue
on Yom Kippur. I could almost hear the
Pesach songs echoing through the narrow
streets late into the night.
And the children, I could see their
shadows as they raced down the alleys
and around the corners, playing. I heard
their voices learning the alef beth in the
yeshivot as they prepared for their bar
and bat mitzvot.
But I also heard the babies crying, and
I could see the young daughters of Zion
clinging to their mother's skirts, asking
why the bad people were killing them
and making them leave their homes of
thousands of years.
How does one absorb this kind of
experience? How do I convey the feeling
of hearing all those voices reaching out in
prayer at the synagogue as I stood on top
of all that garbage? How do I recover our
history, how do I bring honor to a holy
place that has been so desecrated?
I have no answers. I only have great
sadness, pain and loneliness.
Since then, I have gone back to the
Jewish quarter of old Mosul with mem-
bers of my congregation, Jewish soldiers
of the 101st: infantrymen, artillerymen,
medics, pilots, lawyers, doctors — all
proud to be Jewish and serving their
country. Together we have found five
more synagogues, more yeshivot and
many Jewish homes. They have all come
away profoundly affected by what they
saw They are saddened, but yet proud to
be connected to such an ancient and rich
tradition in this historic city of Nineveh.
I have not yet discovered the ancient
Jewish cemetery of the Jews of Mosul-
Nineveh. My instincts tell me it is near-
by, but in the last 60 years, it has proba-
bly been desecrated and obliterated.
There is a great history to be written
here, a great opportunity to recover the
lost narrative of our people, the
Sephardim of Iraq. My prayer and hope
is that when the gates finally open for
scholars, the remnants of our people will
still be here for historians to recover. ❑
are now calling for the release
who has declared that the
of all prisoners, including
United States will not deal
known terrorists and murder-
with Arafat, and has demand-
ers, faster dismantling of
ed that the terrorists be dis-
Jewish settlements, further
armed and their infrastruc-
withdrawal of Israeli troops
ture dismantled. They also
— and removal of all restric-
insult Israel, without whom,
tions on Arafat.
needless to say, no progress
This is not the way it was
can be made.
supposed to be. The demands
Sharon is well aware of the
go well beyond the road map.
involved, and the
Yet incredibly, the other road
the United States to
map sponsors — the
not only bring peace to the
European Union, Russia and
Middle East but to improve
the United Nations — are providing
its still strained relations with Europe.
the Palestinians with public support
He will tell Bush that he will contin-
on these issues.
ue to do all he can to make the road
Worse, they have declared that they
intend to continue to deal directly
But he will also remind the presi-
with Arafat as the recognized leader
dent that his primary responsibility is
of the Palestinians, regardless of the
the security of the Israeli people.
wishes of the United States and Israel
Neither he nor any other Israeli leader
and of the many Palestinian moder-
can compromise on this. They cannot
ates who are sick of Arafat's corrup-
be expected to make concession after
concession without any indication
By conferring this recognition on
that the Palestinians are willing to
Arafat, the United Nations, European
move against the terrorists.
Union and Russia are seriously under-
Sharon will also make it clear that
mining the authority of Palestinian
unless things change, the road map is
Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas
as good as dead.
while they torpedo their own road
Does the United States have a fall-
back plan? It should. As things are
At the same time, they appear to be
going, it will almost certainly need
deliberately snubbing President Bush,