Israelis from Iraq remember Babylon

Amarah in Iraq

From Middle East Online:

Many who came over to Israel as part of the mass migration that followed the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, look back with nostalgia and fondness for the life that they had left behind, says Lipika Pelham.

“During the Shia festival of Muharram we would take part in the procession and along with our Arab friends, beat our chests to remember the epic battle of Karbala,” said Yakov Reuveni, remembering his youth in 1940s Iraq.

“My best friend was the son of the mayor of Ammara.

After school we would go out to the date palm grove with the freshly caught fish from the river Hidekel, which we would barbeque in the fields over an open fire.”

The river Hidekel, Hebrew for the Tigris, runs through his home province, Ammara, 380km (236 miles) south-east of Baghdad.

Among his most cherished memories, says Yakov, is the after-school stroll along the riverbank with his Arab friend. …

It was an easy, happy life. Jews shared almost all aspects of life with their Arab neighbours, reminisces Yakov.

He was 17 years old in 1951, when his family emigrated to Jerusalem. …

But many who came over to Israel as part of the mass migration that followed the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, look back with nostalgia and fondness for the life that they had left behind.

Israel has a vibrant Iraqi Jewish community who arrived throughout the 1950s. Many Iraqi Jews settled in the area known as Mahane Yehuda in the heart of west Jerusalem. ..

“The most memorable taste was the fish called maskuf, from the river Hidekel,” says Yakov.

“After the Sabbath, we would wander off to the fields and have a feast with fish cooked on the spit, Iraqi pita and arak.” …

Yakov recalls, with vivid, powerful details, the life that he had once led, a life that was changed overnight by the political realities of the time.

“We used to eat with them, sleep with them, go to school with them, the Arabs and the Jews went to the same high school.

“We never thought of who was Jewish and who was Arab, until 1947. It all suddenly changed.

The people that you knew as good people turned into bad people for you and you became bad for them. It was very sad.”

Anti-Jewish sentiment flared up after the creation of Israel and the subsequent Arab-Israeli war in 1948-49.

This led to the departure of most of Iraq’s ancient Jewish community. By 1952, 120,000 Jews had left Iraq for Israel. …

“I still think in Arabic, still I can’t string together all my thoughts in Hebrew. You have to understand, my mother tongue is Arabic,” says Yakov.

Now living in a small cottage with his wife in south Jerusalem, Yakov keeps himself busy recreating sweet pickled orange from his youth, while longing to someday return to Babylon.

Some Iraqi Jews in the 1950s had to flee for their lives for being involved in the anti-British colonialist Iraqi independence movement and being wanted by the British; Israel then being the only country to accept them as immigrants.

Today, still many more people, millions, flee Iraq.

Ramat Gan Committee of Baghdadi Jews: We most sincerely thank the Israeli government for confirming our status as refugees following a rapid, 62-year-long evaluation of our documents. Now it remains to investigate if it is true that in 1950 Israeli PM Ben-Gurion secretly authorized Iraqi PM Nuri as-Said to take possession of the property and assets of Iraqi Jewry provided the Jews themselves were sent to Israel. Also should be investigated is whether the Israeli Mossad was involved in bombing the Masouda Shem-Tov Synagogue in Baghdad, so as to frighten Iraqi Jews and make them flee to Israel: here.

Iraqi Jews in Israel: here.

Gabriel Kolko on Zionism, US anti immigration laws, Israel: here.

Jews of Arab countries: here.

Iranian Jews: here.

4 thoughts on “Israelis from Iraq remember Babylon

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