On September 25, over 300 Iraqis from all over Iraq - Sunni and Shi'a alike - gathered in the Kurdistani capital of Irbil to call for normalization of relations with Israel. This alone would have been remarkable...
That several speakers spoke forcefully about recognizing the mistreatement of Iraqi Jews, their dispossession by the Iraqi government, and their role in Iraqi History and Culture is even more remarkable!
At the beginning of World War II, over 40% of the people in Baghdad were Jews. The rise to power of the "Golden Square", a group of pro-Nazi Iraqi officers, created a difficult situation for Jews. When the Golden Square was ousted and King Ghazi returned to Iraq with British support, a popular uprising took place in the form - among others - of a pogrom against Iraqi Jews which came to be known as "The Farhoud" (Arabic for "violent dispossession"). This was in 1941. Over the following decade, the Iraqi government incrementaly limited the rights of Jews - culminating, after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, with laws limiting Jewish participation in Iraqi civil amd economic life. When most Jews eventually left in 1950-1951 in "operation Ali Baba", organized by the Jewish Agency, they were required to renounce their Iraqi citizenship, promise never to return, and leave behind their property. Those Jews who remained in Iraq were subjected to harsher discriminatory policies. Iraq declared "holding Zionist ideas" a capital crime and Jews were automatically suspect of it. Communication with family in Israel was considered grounds for prosecution. In 1964, leaders of the Jewish community in Baghdad were hanged in the public square as "Zionist spies". Today, if there are any Jews in Iraq, they are keeping a very low profile and there is no organized Jewish life at all. A community first started in the sixth century before the common era, over 2,600 years ago, is no more.
But Iraqis, like others in the Middle East, are changing. After over 120 years of the beginning of the Jewish drive for self determination, the neighbors are starting to accept the presence of the Jewish State (some reluctantly). Iraq fought Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973 - and is the only Arab Confrontation line country never to acknowledge even a cease fire with Israel. The Ba'ath (Saddam Hussein) regime was particularly harsh in its treatment of Jews and expropiated much of the communal Jewish property including Torah scrolls and synagogues, as well as sacred sites like the Tomb of the prophet Jonah, taking them over. Some of these Torah scrolls were rescued by American troops during the invasion of Iraq.
That Iraqis, of all Arabs, given their history of relations with Jews, are coming together to ask for normalization and to make a "Mea Culpa" for the ways Jews were treated sound like nothing short of a Copernican Revolution in the Middle East. Of course the Iraqi government threatened those who participated in the conference, but still over 40% of the Iraqi people supports immediate normalization with Israel. Why is this happening? look to the East. Rejection of Iran and its imperial designs is behind this revolution. Rejection is, ironically, stronger among Iraqi Shi'as.
The recent change of government in Israel is also making it more palatable for other moderate Arab regimes to test the waters about joining the Abraham accords. Israel is at its strongest diplomatic position ever in the Middle East, and the new situation is starting to percolate into Europe. The conflict is not over (the Palestinian situation still needs to be solved), but the overall position of Israel is improving. Maybe the Irbil conference will be seen in a future as the beginning of the end of the conflict...
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