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We’ll Never Return to Babylon

The hardest thing in life to learn is which bridge to cross and which to burn - David Russell

By the Rivers of Babylon we sat and wept … Psalm137
---we shall cry no more Bye! The Rivers of Babylon!

Today, we hear news from "the Voice of Baghdad" calling for the Jews to return to their homeland. "They are welcome! We miss them ……. We are sorry for the injustice, for the unfair treatment, for the Pogrom of June 2, 1941 ….. Baghdad will open its arms to welcome them if they choose to return!" Muqtadha el-Sadr preaches with many sentences wooing the Jews of Baghdad, the very sons of Baghdad who were persecuted and prosecuted …

Much more had been publicly broadcasted by the Iraqi Communication Services and on Israeli TV "Come back, sons of Baghdad, we miss you!" the TV anchor, Anwar el-Hamdami, broadcasts. And the Prime Minister or whoever leads the people there says: "Seventy years later, we must apologize!"

No, thanks, the wounds haven't healed yet. They hurt, too many scars are left on our injured bodies. Many bereaved families are still mourning their dear lost ones.

We shall cry no more, our home is Israel.

When pains subside, memories take over. Here is a pithy, short history of a Jewess - "Yehudiyyah" - who has something to say, to remember and to remind, a message for the homeland of her birth, a message for Israel, a state in the making, a state in continuous terror and wars for survival, and a message for those who look for a homeland and wonder which bridge to cross and which to burn.

She speaks in the voices of those who were silenced for decades of terror and oppression. History is history, and many stories have been woven on this issue, but this intelligent woman finds it hard to keep silent. Her story is almost every Iraqi Jew's story, at times intimate, at other times hilarious, sometimes sad and sometimes adventurous, but it is all set against a backdrop of unvarnished, untarnished historical realities. You will learn more about the despoiled Jewish community of Iraq. Today, many Iraqi Moslems beg Jews to return to their homeland, but none dares to do so. Today, they realize how great was the contribution of the Jewish community to the welfare of their country as they count their losses.

This Jewess "Yehudiyya" remembers as the pictures file past in her mind:
1948: State of Israel born. Jews were no longer allowed to go to university, work in banks or government offices.

1951: Most of my family left for Israel. Neighbors, too. New faces came instead, none of them Jewish. My school closed because teachers left for Israel. In February, I had to go to a school run by a Christian principal. They called me there "Yehudiyyah". Three years after the establishment of the State of Israel, Iraqi Jews were given an opportunity to leave Iraq en masse provided that they gave up their citizenship and all their property.

1953: We moved to a neighborhood with some Jewish homes. Mother gave birth to my brother. I changed school, moved to a Jewish school. I had to finish my studies and graduate.

1958: Revolution, monarchy was overthrown. New leader, Abdul Kareem, wanted everyone to be equal, including Jews. Allowed Jews to go to university. Sweeten the pill for the Jews.

1962 – 1967: revolving door, coup after coup.

1966: Married. Husband worked in a large company owned by Jewish and Muslim partners. At age 25, he was head of the accounting department. We remained in Baghdad, thought things would take better shape.

1967: Six Day War. My husband lost his job because a company that employed Jews would be closed down. He accepted any simple job including doing bookkeeping for a chicken farm where he was paid in live chickens. I continued to work at a company owned by an Armenian family. I was paid from their pocket, my name not entered in books. Jewish people were thrown into prison including my brother, the one born in 1953.

1968: I became pregnant. On October 6, young High School boys were taken from their homes in Basrah and there was no news of them. Three business men were taken from Basrah and Baghdad. They, too, vanished in the same way. I knew all of them, and we braced ourselves. Fear and hunger embraced us.

1968: December, our daughter was born. Five days later, Saddam came to power and announced that Iraq had been defeated by Israel because "there are spies and they were caught and will be brought to justice". Fictitious trials were held and broadcast every night on the radio. I requested three weeks of maternity leave and when I returned I was told that I had lost my job.

1969: January 27 - nine Jews were hanged in the main square in a mood of jubilation. Bodies were left hanging all day and buses conveyed passengers free in order to enjoy the spectacle.

1969-1972: we lived under constant terror, not knowing when our men would be taken.

1971: Parents were smuggled out of the country. We couldn't do that because my in-laws were too old and wouldn't be able to make the trip over the mountains on a mule.

1972: February, owing to a huge miracle we were able to leave Iraq. Went to Israel. We were emotionally broken. In Israel my husband worked for an insurance agency as an accountant. I worked for a foreign embassy as a confidential secretary.

1973: The October Yom Kippur War was a tragedy, but we realized that we had no other home. I made friends with those who had made it to Israel illegally. They had just escaped, most of them under the guidance of the clandestine organization called "the Underground Movement" by the southern route - Baghdad-Basra over the Karoun river to Abadan in Iran, or the northern route - Baghdad-Kirkuk-Mosul - and on donkeys to northern Iran. Iran hosted us, fed us, and kept us warm in the Iranian cold winter until planes arrived from Israel to take us "home"!

They spat me out as if I were poison. No, Baghdad, never again 

I reflect on the past as I hold my Baccalaureate Certificate, signed by the Ministry of Education of Iraq and with all the necessary stamps showing the face of the young King, the stamp of King Faisal, and my photo at top left as a seventeen year-old boy, with a boyish, shy smile. I read the words inscribed therein: "This is to certify that ........has finished his studies for High School Education successfully and passed all examinations, and is eligible and entitled to all the rights as allowed by the Law of The Iraqi Ministry of Education, which makes Mr........ welcome to all the Higher Studies anywhere he chooses."

It makes me hate them more! My book "THE QUAGMIRE" tells how the C.I.D. (Criminal Investigation Department) of The Ministry of the Interior in 1949 spat on my face and tore a photo copy of this very certificate to pieces when I applied for a visa to further my studies at Harvard University, Boston, in the United States.

I remember my childhood days when we lived with Moslems like one family, never locked the doors when we went to sleep, even up there on the fourth floor on the roof under the open sky in summer nights. But then the bitter taste came:

I was seventeen when I left Iraq illegally. I tasted the sweet and the bitter, childhood, adolescence, and had just been embarking upon these next years when I was taken away from my warm bed to the unknown by the Clandestine Underground Movement. All my dreams about America remained in the dark, back there in my subconscious, and I had to forge my way, determine my present and future for myself, through the opportunities and possibilities which came my way.

I'm still angry that Baghdad had thrown me up, vomited and spewed me out as if I were poison. I trust them no more. I will not walk the streets nor go freely to cinemas as I used to in the pre-farhud (pogrom) period.

No, Baghdad ……never. Whenever I think of Israel, the words "Home, sweet home" ring in my ears, and my heart throbs with the desire to embrace the world ….and life.

 

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Monday, 20 September 2021

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