Friday, June 24, 2005

A Shi'i Muslim friend of Israel

How could an erstwhile Shi'i Muslim fighter for the PDFLP become a fervent supporter of the Jews? Read this slightly ancient, but fascinating article from the Jerusalem Report.While his idea of bringing the Iraqi Jews back to Baghdad seems somewhat fanciful, one wishes there were more Dia Kashis about. (Note : since this article first appeared two years ago, Saddam has of course been toppled, the writer Samer Naqash has died, but Kashi is as enthusiastic about the Jews as ever.)

"Ironically, Kashi arrived at his own politics after a dramatic flirt with a radical Palestinian organization as a youth. In 1970, the 18-year old Kashi, having failed his university exams and on the suggestion of a friend, found himself on a bus headed toward Damascus to fight for the leftist Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He thought he was going to be a freedom fighter in the battle for democracy and basic human rights.

"Three months later he returned, worse than disillusioned, to Baghdad. The experience changed his view of the world. "I thought I was helping my brothers. What the Palestinian lecturer told me before sending me out to fight was that, should I run out of ammunition, I must surrender not to my fellow Arabs, but to the Israelis. The Arabs would kill me for fighting without permission, and they would rob me, whereas the Israelis, he said, would simply put me in jail. Then I could hear the fighters bartering, wheeling and dealing, discussing how much money they would get if they killed an Israeli soldier or officer, and how much if they captured him. I couldn't believe it. There was no ideology. I was risking my life for the Palestinian struggle, and I just couldn't take it." And so began his curiosity about, and affection for, Israel.

"Contemporary Iraq's relationship with its 2,700-year-old Jewish community has not been happy. In 1941, 180 Baghdad Jews were killed and about 1,000 injured in a pogrom by pro-Nazi and Palestinian elements. With the establishment of Israel in 1948, Zionism became a crime, and between 1949-51, over 100,000 Jews were evacuated from Iraq, while another 20,000 were smuggled out through Iran. Most ended up in Israel. After that, economic restrictions were placed on the Jews who'd chosen to stay and the gates were closed.

"By the time Kashi was born in 1952, all that was left of Iraq's ancient, once thriving Jewish community was a fractional percentage, probably fewer than 6,000.

"Kashi, however, has his own, fonder memories of how things were in Baghdad. It all began in Baghdad's Battaween district, where rich Jews and Arabs lived as neighbors. Daoud Hayim, the Chief Rabbi of Iraq, resided two doors away from the Kashi's extended family household. The rabbi's wife once called the 6-year-old Kashi to her home. Afraid of the old woman, he ran back to the safety of his devout grandmother. What the rabbi's wife wanted was for someone to turn on the lights and the stove on the Sabbath. Kashi's Shi'ite grandmother, who prayed five times a day, explained that these people were not only neighbors, but were like relatives. Read the whole thing!

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