Tuesday, June 21, 2005

To fill or not to fill in form:the Iraqi Jews' dilemma

A long feature in the Jerusalem Post explores the ambivalence among Jews who survived the Ba'athist regime towards the Iraqi government's property compensation offer.

"Sitting at his computer, (Samy) Hilleli shuddered as his mind flashed back to his childhood. Hilleli and his family fled Iraq in 1971, but not before a terrible tragedy befell them that would go down infamously in Jewish history. A year after Saddam and other Ba'athist revolutionary officers took over the country in 1968, Hilleli's brother, Naeem, was arrested along with seven other Jews from Basra and a Jew from Baghdad. They were accused of being members of spy and bomb cells working for Israel. Shortly thereafter, 20-year-old Naeem was taken to Baghdad, where he and the others were strung up on gallows in Liberation Square.

That black episode was enough to set the rest of the Jewish Iraqi population running. The majority – some 120,000 – had left by the early fifties. By the time the Ba'athists came to power, there were only a few thousand Jews left. They had little more than the clothes on their back as they made their escape. It took two years for Hilleli and his family to escape the country with the help of Kurds in northern Iraq to Iran and then to Turkey. There they contacted the Israeli consulate which arranged for them to be flown to Israel. He was 18.

Now, at the age of 52, he is exploring the question of compensation for all that his land-owning family left behind.

"I want to fill out the forms, but I haven't passed the psychological barrier," Hilleli told The Jerusalem Post this week. "It's like we are changing our pain into money. It's like the feeling of Holocaust survivors who are critical of getting money from [Germany]."Read article in full.

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