by Dr. Edy Cohen
Today, the property left behind by Iraqi Jews upon immigrating to Israel or other countries is estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Humam Hamoudi, the Iraqi parliament's first deputy speaker, recently said his country was prepared to sue Israel for reparations for bombing the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. A potential lawsuit is justified, according to Hamoudi, because Israel recently marked the 35th anniversary of the military operation. In other words, the "celebrations" were a public affront to Iraqis and to Hamoudi himself.
Hamoudi's announcement amazes me only because of its timing, which coincides with Israel's recent commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the 1941 Farhud massacre. In that massacre, hundreds of Muslim Iraqis raided Baghdad's Jewish neighborhoods, murdering hundreds of Jews in cold blood and stealing their property. To this day, Farhud survivors essentially suffer from post-trauma. It is important to note that Iraqi Jews arrived in Babylon before Islam did.
The assault on the Jews of Iraq didn't end with Farhud; quite the opposite. From the establishment of the State of Israel and throughout the entire 20th century, Jews in Iraq were targeted. On March 15, 1951, Iraq introduced racist anti-Jewish legislation. The most prominent of these laws called for the national seizure of money and property belonging to thousands of Jews. This law essentially led to the waves of immigration to Israel in the 1950s -- beginning with Operation Ezra and Nehemiah in 1951 and 1952, which airlifted between 120,000 and 130,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel -- following the Iraqi government's decision to allow Jews to leave the country if they renounced their citizenship and surrendered their property.
During the rule of the Baath Party in 1968 to 1973, the remaining Jews in Iraq were harassed by the authorities, which denied them freedom of movement and seized their property. In 1969, some 50 Iraqi Jews were murdered in the Baghdad hangings and in other incidents, which further accelerated Jewish emigration.
Today, the property left behind by Iraqi Jews upon immigrating to Israel or other countries is estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Those Jews came to this barren land as disinherited and downtrodden refugees, struggling tooth and nail to forge lives for themselves out of nothing. The majority of them integrated into society and contributed greatly to the country. Others, having had their wealth and property stolen in Arab lands, remained mired in multi-generational poverty. Hamoudi can choose from among the aforementioned events how to balance out the money he wants from Israel.
Israel needs to sue Iraq for reparations, not just for the Farhud victims and their looted property, but also for the damage caused by Saddam Hussein when he bombarded Tel Aviv with Scud missiles in 1991. In addition, the issue of property belonging to the Jewish communities of Iraq, Egypt and other Arab countries needs to be put on the national agenda, especially as the Saudi peace initiative is currently being discussed.
Dr. Edy Cohen is a research fellow at Bar-Ilan University.
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