Friday, August 17, 2007

Could Israel revive ties with Iraqi Kurds?

Although ties were severed with Israel in the 1970s, Kurds still have fond memories of Jews, Zvi Bar'el of Haaretz reports:


NORTHERN IRAQ - "Do you want an answer on the record or a real answer?" asked a senior member of the Kurdistan Regional Government. I said I wanted both.

"On the record, I will tell you that the political conditions today do not make it possible to maintain independent relations with Israel. Iraq is one country, which includes Kurdistan, and the decision must come from Baghdad."

The real answer was: "We would like very much to develop relations with you, but not publicly. There are ways you can help us today far more than ever before."
The ties between Israel and the Kurds were severed almost in one fell swoop in the mid-1970s, and since then Israel has vanished from the scene. But not the memories.

At every corner, office, street and booth where I could say I was from Israel, the response was a thumbs-up, sometimes with both thumbs, or the word "brothers," spoken in English. Some spoke of a feeling of betrayal or abandonment, others as though they had lost family.

At every opportunity, someone spoke longingly about a Jewish friend or neighbor who had emigrated to Israel, and one person even had images from Israel as his screen saver.

The memories and nostalgia for friendship with Israel are now awaiting revival because the list of needs in Kurdistan is very long: an infrastructure for banks and insurance companies; agricultural technology of the sort Israel rushes to sell every fraction of a tribe in Africa, the Caucasus and East Asia; delegation exchanges of physicians and academics; scholarships for students from the University of Sulaimaniya and Salah al-Din University in Erbil; donations of books and medicines so it will no longer be necessary to buy only substandard medicines from the countries of the region; and solar technology, which will save the expensive fuel that Iraq is not supplying in sufficient quantities.

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