February 28, 2021

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Mosul misses its Jewish neighbours


This article by Judith Neurink in the Jerusalem Post claims that the northern city of Mosul want to revive the diversity it once boasted. But except in Kurdistan where there is sympathy for Israel, the delusion persists that Jews are more loyal to Iraq and might again return there. The derelict synagogue is a symbol of the extinct Jewish presence, but we are told that its ‘owner’ wishes to sell it for $2 million. Since its ‘liberation’ from ISIS it has been looted. (with thanks: Lily)

Once ISIS was gone, the people of Mosul saved as many books as possible from what was left of the university library, and foreign institutes and private individuals sent books to replace the ones that were lost. As for the Great Mosque of al-Nuri with its historic Hadba minaret, where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the Caliphate in summer 2014 and which the group bombed when they were chased out of it, reconstruction is planned with financing from the Emirates.

 ISIS would tolerate only the things it had a use for, Fetah points out: “Like the tunnels in our quarter which the Jews had dug and which gave them the idea of digging tunnels elsewhere, too.” His hypothesis is probably flawed, because when officers from former dictator Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party and the Iraqi army joined ISIS in droves, they brought their knowledge of tunneling with them. The tunnels in the Jewish quarter were originally dug to give the inhabitants an escape route in case of danger.

Until the ISIS takeover, they were probably last used when anti-Jewish riots erupted throughout the country after the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. In Mosul too, thousands of angry Iraqis poured into the Jewish quarter. Because of these rising anti-Jewish tensions, thousands of Iraqi Jews fled across the Iranian and Turkish borders with the aid of human smugglers, usually ending up in Israel. But the main exodus happened in the early 1950s, after the Iraqi government adopted a law that sought to control illegal emigration. Under it, Jews were allowed to leave if they gave up their Iraqi nationality. When this led to massive queues at the registration centers, the authorities modified the regulations to require the emigrants to leave behind almost all their property. Even so, the exodus continued until about two thirds of Iraq’s 150,000 Jews had left. Others followed suit during another period of persecution, this time by Saddam Hussein in the 1970s. Many who wanted to stay in Iraq converted to Islam, or to a lesser extent, Christianity – leaving only a handful of Jews in the present day.

 The Jewish quarters emptied in every town and city. The houses of the first owners to leave remained their property or were sold; those who left later had their homes confiscated, sold or rented out by the government. They were popular because of their construction quality, but many were neglected through the years and the quarters slowly changed into slums. Still, says Imad Fetah, even though many houses are now derelict and empty because their inhabitants could not afford their upkeep, he has lived here happily for many years.

 All of his neighbors are aware of the Jewish history of the quarter, he says, and they are even proud to live there. In the only shop that reopened in the nearby Bazaar St., Younis Abdullah, 62, confirms this. “My parents bought our home in 1948 from a Jewish family. My 90-year-old mother still knows all the details, and fondly recounts how she liked our Jewish neighbors and misses them.”

After many years in which imams and politicians fed their constituents anti-Jewish sentiments, these loving memories are no longer a taboo in Iraq. Since ISIS attacked the diversity of the Iraqi community, diversity is now valued far more consciously, and this trend’s most surprising consequence is related to the Iraqi Jews – who since they left Iraq have been ignored at best, and more often branded as enemies and spies for Israel. The change started in the Kurdistan Region, where the Kurdish government appointed a Jewish representative in 2015 to find and reunite (Muslim) Kurds with Jewish roots. A rabbi was allowed to investigate the possibility of forming a Jewish community once more. Kurdish Jews who had emigrated to Israel traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan to meet long-lost family members who had converted to Islam. Some even decided to stay. Jewish visitors from abroad were welcomed as “brothers.”

More recently, the popular Shi’ite Imam Moqtada al-Sadr declared in an important statement that Jews who left Iraq would be “welcome if their loyalty is to Iraq” – his meaning being “and not to Israel.” The statement has the power of a fatwa (a religious decision). The rebellious clergyman, whose family also fell victim to Saddam Hussein’s rule, said that Jews who want to return to the country could receive full citizenship rights again. Al-Sadr, who won the Iraqi parliamentary elections in May on a religious diversity ticket, broke a huge taboo. For years in Iraq, Jews and Israel have been painted with the same brush.

Al-Sadr was the first to openly acknowledge that many Iraqi Jews were more loyal to their motherland, Iraq, than to Israel, and had only emigrated after being persecuted with anti-Jewish regulations, desert prison camps and executions.

 A recent video on the website of the Iraqi media outlet Yalla shows a Jewish man, dressed in black with sidelocks and a hat, walking through the Iraqi city of Basra holding a map and looking for the house his grandfather left in the 1950s. As he walks around, people help him in a friendly manner and even invite him into their homes. The message: “We have no problem with this Jew, as he is an Iraqi.” But the man is an actor, engaged to record the prevailing sentiment toward the Jews after al-Sadr’s statement. On Facebook, within days, the video had been viewed over 220,000 times and shared 1,300 times with mostly positive reactions.

 And a poll by the popular Facebook page Al-Khuwwa al-Nathifa (‘The Clean Brotherhood,’ over 1.7 million followers) recently showed that 77% of 62,000 respondents were in favor of the return of Jewish Iraqis. In Mosul, Jews are mainly remembered as good neighbors, Faisal Jeber says. “Those good memories are precious. Nobody had any problems with the people as such. The negative sentiments all concern the State of Israel,” and that has not changed as Iraq has moved closer to neighboring Iran, which considers Israel a major enemy. Yet this does not apply to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where most Kurds look at Israel longingly as an example for their own Kurdish state.

 Read article in full

This video by the Arabic medium Yalla shows an actor posing as an orthodox Jew – inexplicably dressed as an Ashkenazi Haredi –  walking the streets of Basra to test the local reaction to Jews. Conclusion: he got a universally friendly reception. 

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