Iraqi Jews reject ‘cynical manipulation’ of their history by Israel, Zionists, writer Almog Behar tells EI

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Yacoub Youssef, an Iraqi Jew, holds his prayer book in his house in Baghdad’s Tanaouine neighborhood, 19 April 2003.

(Awad Awad / AFP/Newscom)

“It is far from the first instance of tampering with, exploiting, and deleting our history, but it is the straw that broke the camel’s back, and so … we formed the Committee of Baghdadi Jews in Ramat-Gan.”

This is how writer, poet and activist Almog Behar described a decision by a group of Jews from Arab and Kurdish backgrounds to speak out forcefully against renewed Israeli government propaganda efforts to counter Palestinian refugee rights by using the claims of Jews who left Arab countries for Israel in the 1950s.

Israeli diplomats, Haaretz reported last week, “have been instructed to raise the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries at every relevant forum. This is part of a new international campaign to create parity between the plight of Jewish and Palestinian refugees, Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon announced on Monday.”

“The way the Israeli establishment uses our history from the 1950s, is not in order to give us our rights back, but in order to get rid of the rights of the Palestinians, and avoiding a peace agreement with them,” Behar wrote to The Electronic Intifada.

The idea is that Palestinian refugee and property rights are negated by equivalent claims from Jews from Arab countries, thus absolving Israel of having to make any restitution to Palestinians. Jews who left Iraq and some other Arab countries in the 1950s for Israel were deprived of their property and citizenship.

The Israeli government does “not represent us”

But in an extraordinary statement posted on Facebook last week, the newly-formed Committee of Baghdadi Jews in Ramat-Gan, of which Behar is a founding member, hit back:

We are seeking to demand compensation for our lost property and assets from the Iraqi government - NOT from the Palestinian Authority - and we will not agree with the option that compensation for our property be offset by compensation for the lost property of others (meaning, Palestinian refugees) or that said compensation be transferred to bodies that do not represent us (meaning, the Israeli government).

The statement went on to demand an investigation of Israel’s complicity in the departure of Iraqi Jews from their homeland including in terrorist acts against Jews:

We demand the establishment of an investigative committee to examine:

1) If and by what means negotiations were carried out in 1950 between Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri as-Said, and if Ben-Gurion informed as-Said that he is authorized to take possession of the property and assets of Iraqi Jewry if he agreed to send them to Israel;

2) who ordered the bombing of the Masouda Shem-Tov synagogue in Baghdad, and if the Israeli Mossad and/or its operatives were involved. If it is determined that Ben-Gurion did, in fact, carry out negotiations over the fate of Iraqi Jewish property and assets in 1950, and directed the Mossad to bomb the community’s synagogue in order to hasten our flight from Iraq, we will file a suit in an international court demanding half of the sum total of compensation for our refugee status from the Iraqi government and half from the Israeli government.

Zionist role in flight of Jews from Iraq

The role of Israel and Zionist undercover agents in helping precipitate the departure of Jews from Iraq has long been suspected.

Naiem Giladi, an Iraqi Jew who joined the Zionist underground as a young man in Iraq and later came to regret his role in fostering the departure of some 125,000 Jews from Iraq, wrote that, “Zionist propagandists still maintain that the bombs in Iraq were set off by anti-Jewish Iraqis who wanted Jews out of their country.” But “the terrible truth,” Giladi said, “is that the grenades that killed and maimed Iraqi Jews and damaged their property were thrown by Zionist Jews.”

Giladi, who was born Naeim Khalaschi, gave his account in an article published by Americans for Middle East Understanding in 1998 which summarizes his book, Ben Gurion’s Scandals: How the Haganah and the Mossad eliminated Jews.

After being sentenced to death in Iraq for his Zionist activities, Giladi fled to Israel. Because his native language was Arabic, Giladi was assigned to assist the Israeli military occupation authorities expel Palestinians from their homes in al-Majdal (“Ashkelon”) by pressuring them to sign documents stating they were leaving to Gaza willingly:

I was there and heard their grief. “Our hearts are in pain when we look at the orange trees that we planted with our own hands. Please let us go, let us give water to those trees. God will not be pleased with us if we leave His trees untended.” I asked the Military Governor to give them relief, but he said, “No, we want them to leave.”

I could no longer be part of this oppression and I left. Those Palestinians who didn’t sign up for transfers were taken by force—just put in trucks and dumped in Gaza.

Giladi, who died in 2010, served in the Israeli army from 1967-70, but then became active in the anti-Zionist Black Panther movement of Mizrahi Jews, and eventually abandoned Israeli citizenship and moved to the United States. He gave this hour-long interview in 1994.

Jews of Arab and Kurdish origin reclaim their history

I asked Behar by email to provide more background on the formation of the Committee of Baghdadi Jews in Ramat-Gan. Behar said he shared my questions with members of the committee and compiled and translated their answers.

Can you tell me more about the Ramat Gan Committee of Baghdadi Jews? When was it founded? Who does it involve?

The committee was founded because of the Deputy Foreign Minster’s refugee campaign, but it will deal with other issues. We decided to establish the Committee of Baghdadi Jews in Ramat-Gan following the attempt by the Deputy Foreign Minister and the Government of Israel to take advantage of our history in their cynical political manipulation.

It is far from the first instance of tampering with, exploiting, and deleting our history, but it is the straw that broke the camel’s back, and so yesterday morning we formed the Committee of Baghdadi Jews in Ramat-Gan.

The committee includes young and old, men and women, from Baghdad (and from Mosul and Basra), as well as some who were born in this country, in the first, second, and third generations, and those with mixed Kurdish and Moroccan ancestry.

We began the committee in order to reclaim our history and our culture (and of course our property), and to prevent others, including Zionist movements and the State of Israel, from possessing it for themselves.

So, we wrote our statement on September 14th in response to the government, and we will continue to be vigilant on a daily basis in the act of claiming our history. We believe that as a multigenerational Iraqi-Jewish community, we can write the story of our past, present, and future in Iraq and in Israel.

How widespread are the sentiments which the statement expresses?

We believe that those sentiments are very widespread among Iraqi Jews – of course more among the older generation, that is less affected by Israeli propaganda, and remembers more the Iraqi past – and knows that our property in Iraq is something between us and Iraq, and not between us and the Palestinians, and remembers also that most of Palestinian property from 1948 was taken by the Ashkenazim and the state, and not by Jews of the Arab world.

We believe that there should be a direct dialoge between Jews of the Arab world and the Arab states, and we hope that after a peace agreement the question of our property will be solved.

But the way the Israeli establishment uses our history from the 1950s, is not in order to give us our rights back, but in order to get rid of the rights of the Palestinians, and avoiding a peace agreement with them.

We do not want to be used, nor our history and personal stories to be used. We hope that the Arab world will understand that a dialouge with us, even before a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, is important to it too. We are a part of Arab memory and history and culture, and it is wrong of the Arab world to forget our part in it, exactly as it was wrong of Israel to ask us to erase our Arabness or forget our past and language.

Were you aware of the account of Naeim Giladi?

We didn’t know Naeim Giladi’s work, but of course what happened in Iraq in the 1950s is an open wound for us, and we wish an investigation about the connections between Nuri as-Said and Ben-Gurion.

You can find out more about the Committee of Baghdadi Jews in Ramat-Gan on its Facebook page.

Comments

The Jews of Tunis were subjected to a direct Nazi rule between November of 1942 and May of 1943. The state of Israel hasn't to this day given our community any help in collecting the names of those who died in those terrible days or in getting proper compensation from Germany. Alone, a community of survivors is collecting names and has so far 670 names of our dead. And that is even before considering the pain and suffering caused when we were forced to leave Tunis with nothing.
My mother was 4 years old when she became a refugee. She lived in a tent with 9 other family members until that tent burnt down during a severe winter. The family was then given a hut and afterwards lived in a 30 square meter apartment. This poverty was the cause of being forced to leave with nothing. No money, no clothes, no chance of getting any real compensation for other goods - the house and so on. Israel was more interested in proclaiming my grandfathers Zionism then in helping him get justice from German and Tunisian authorities.
I therefore join the statements of the Iraqi Jews in saying that compensating us must be a separate issue from any negotiations with the Palestinians.

Sarit, you wrote "when we were forced to leave Tunis with nothing".
Who forced you to leave and when ?
The only time in history - a part from the Vichy-period - when Jews were obliged to leave Tunis was when the Touensa - the indigenous Tunisian Jews - asked the Bey of Tunis to expel the Granas, the Jews from Livorno, into the surburbs, if I recall correctly because of their 'strange' religious rituals (cf. Paul Sebag: Histoire des Juifs de Tunisie).
A documentary from France 5 (in French and Tunisian Arabic) on Tunisian Jews in France, with historians Lucette Valensi and Sonia Fellous.There is absolutely no record of Tunisian Jews being forced out of the country (the same is true for Morocco), the documentary presents many Jews saying that their Arab neighbours begged them to stay, many still have their Tunisian citizenship, their houses back in Tunisia and go there all the time. I don't know enough about Zionist activity in Tunisia, but in Morocco, the Jewish Agency managed to convince people to leave without their full agreement.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJAY6D...

I only know what my grandmother said once: A good Arab is a dead Arab. And she did not say it with any hate. She said it in great sadness. Because many Tunisians helped the Nazis to control, starve, rob and kill the Jews and after the Nazis were no longer there, still there was a lot of violence against us. A few Tunisians helped and they were afraid they will be punished for that and others said they would love to help but are afraid of what will be done to them.
After the Western powers left, the Arabs wanted to show the Jews again that they are considered low in the eyes of Muslims. Jews were beaten, robbed, women were raped and much more was done. 1941 in Iraq, 1945 in Lybia and smaller attacks daily in all the Muslim lands. No one would have gone if staying was an option. In all the Muslim lands life for the Jews became impossible. Many left when they could, others ran away later and for the most part - even if they could sell what was theirs - the price paid was nowhere near the real value.
My grandfather faced the option of staying in France but said that he had had enough of foreign rule and even if in Israel all he would get will be water and stale bread - that is the only place for him. He barely survived the Nazi times and the years after that were just as bitter. Not everybody shared his views - I have many relatives who live in France.
The Jews of Egypt were given a stamp in the passport saying they are not allowed to come back. I don't know if my mother is welcome today in Tunis or if we will ever get our property back. Palestinian property is governed by an Israeli authority so that it or its worth can be given back in time.
Can Arab lands say the same about Jewish property taken, stolen or left behind?
I sometimes see Palestinian propaganda saying that all the Jews came to Israel from Europe and that they need to go back there. But I am half from Tunis and half from Romania - so where will they send me if they had the chance?

Please, let's cut the usual hasbara, jumping around from one case to another, and stick to the Tunisian case.
You claim :"Because many Tunisians helped the Nazi to control, starve, rob and kill the Jews..."
This is simply not true ! First of all because the Tunisians had control of nothing, they'd been under French occupation for decades ! In that documentary I posted, Tunisian Jews explain how they were hidden by their Arab Muslim neighbours during WWII.
Robert Satloff, a neo-con Zionist hard-liner from WINEP, wrote a book some years back "Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach Into Arab Land" and a documentary was made based on his research. There's only a short extract on the net (in English) where he goes to Paris and Tunisia, and there are testimonies from Tunisian Jews who were saved by Arab Muslims. The case of Khaled Abdul Wahab, a Tunisian aristocrat who hid many Jews in his barn is mentioned. Even Satloff - a Zionist hardliner - claims that Abdul Wahab is not among the Righteous at Yad Vashem for purely political reasons.
At minute 8:55, the Likudnik Silvan Shalom tells how he would hug, kiss and embrace the Arab Muslim that saved his family.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JxL1i...

Here'as a Tunisian Jew woman living in Israel who's longing to go home - from Michel Khleifi & Eyal Sivan's great documentary "Route 181" (min 3:55):
www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqzgBH...

I'm sorry but there is simply no historical evidence of your initial claims. This is a
Zionist rewriting of history to justify the taking-over of Palestine.

Erratum: 'Tunisian Jewish woman'

I also suggest that Sarit reads Gilbert Achcar's Arabs and the Holocaust, which I have many disagreements with (see my review in Journal of Holy Land Studies May 2011 - http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2...). There is no evidence that Tunisians were complicit in the attempted extermination of Tunisian Jewry. Of course there would have been some fascists who were but that is true of all European countries and much less so in the Arab countries. Just 1% of the Jews under Nazi Occupation in the Arab countries were murdered. Compare that to the 60%+ in European countries, bearing in mind that apart from Denmark, the only European country where no Jews under Nazi occupation were exterminated was Muslim Albania.

I have also written a much longer article on 'The Zionist Destruction of the Iraqi Jewish Community'
When the Zionist Underground Planted Bombs Outside Baghdad’s Jewish Cafés and Synagogues
http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2...