Thursday, April 16, 2009

Iraq claims Jewish book collection as its own

The Iraqi government is demanding the return of thousands of Jewish religious books and documents, some very valuable, kept in the attic of the Messouda Shemtob synagogue in Baghdad, the Israel newspaper Maariv NRG reports: (with thanks Iraqijews, Niran)

An Iraqi Jew, David H, who had difficulty adapting to Israel and returned a few years later to his home in Baghdad, tried to distance himself from his Israeli past by helping the authorities and acting as agent of the Jewish community. The Jewish books were hauled from the Messouda Shemtob synagogue into Saddam's security headquarters.

The collection was found in the basement of the security headquarters by US troops after the American invasion in 2003. The building had suffered bomb damage and was flooded.
The books were then transported out to Washington and those that could be salvaged were restored at a cost of thousands of dollars. A press report in 2008 revealed that some books had found their way to Israel.

Regarding Iraq's ownership claim,"According to international law, the occupier is not allowed to take out items of property belonging to the state, because then it would be considered robbery," say Jewish-American sources associated with the government in Washington, "but in this case, the claim that the collection is the property of the Government of Iraq is not absolute. It was the property of the Jewish community, which is now outside Iraq. "

מרדכי בן פורת
Mordechai Ben Porat (Photo Archive: Reuven Castro)

Mordechai Ben-Porat, head of Babylon Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, argues that
the collection belongs to the Jews of Iraq in the whole world. A new organization is being set up that will be responsible for handling property of the Jewish community in Iraq - schools, synagogues, markets, shops, cemeteries, shrines and holy books. The organisation will be based in London.

"Official contacts between the Israeli government and the government of Iraq will not take place soon and will not discuss these issues," Ben-Porat says, "but I predict that Baghdad will be open for dialogue with non-governmental organizations. This property will remain the hands of Jews."

Original article in Hebrew

Google translation in English

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