“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.