Sunday, January 31, 2010

Remember 14 'spies' hanged in Iraq 41 years ago

Forty-one years have passed since that terrible day in January when fourteen people were hanged in Baghdad and Basra on trumped-up charges of spying and treason - nine of them Jews. It was an occasion for the Ba'ath regime to orchestrate wild popular celebrations under the gallows, while the 3,000 Jews remaining in Iraq quaked in fear. Lital Levin of Haaretz researches the newspaper reports of the time: (with thanks: Iraqijews)

Preparations for a public spectacle were made at night, just after Baghdad radio broadcast the verdicts on the defendants. Speakers were placed in the streets of Baghdad about a hundred metres of each other, people from the countryside began swarming into the capital. People took their places near Liberation Square to watch the executions. Thirteen bodies hung in the square in the end, eight of them Jews. Another Jew was executed in his hometown of Basra.

"Two weeks before, Israel had launched an appeal for help to the world," declared a Ha'aretz editorial on 28 January 1969, following the hangings. "It was known then that death sentences had been issued against three Jews accused of treason and espionage; that out of seventeen defendants facing the same charge, eleven were Jews; that the risk of death hovered over the heads of more than three Jews and that the Iraqi government was planning to pass more sentences of this type. Today we have to state that our darkest fears have been realised."

"The trial", explained the (Ha'aretz) newspaper commentators, "was merely a revenge campaign against Israel dressed up in legalities": it was revenge for the Israeli air force attack on the Iraqi Army on the Jordan border after it had shelled agricultural settlements in the Jordan Valley.

The bodies of five non-Jews hanging on the gallows were removed from the square, leaving the bodies of Jews displayed there. (..)

The next day the celebrations subsided. In Israel flags were lowered to half-mast and there was an outburst of condemnation worldwide. Iraq officially announced that the espionage trials would continue and more executions by hanging were to be expected. The Iraqi Information Minister at a press conference expressed the widespread fear of retaliation by Israel.

For a long time the Iraqi minister tried to explain to journalists that in fact there was no persecution against the Jews: "The Jews executed were hanged not because of their Jewishness but because they were found guilty of spying for Israel." (..)

Israel demanded international intervention to stop the death sentences. The Iraqi Minister of Education declared to the crowd that "this was only the beginning". The Iraqis, on the other hand, said it was "purely an internal matter."

The British Foreign Minister said that he could not formally intervene as the executed were Iraqi citizens. On Baghdad radio the Chief Rabbi of the small Jewish community in Iraq, numbering around 3,000 people, said (obviously under duress - ed) that he "does not question the justice of the Revolutionary Court in Iraq."

Read article in full (Hebrew)

Note: It is thought that only 10 (including 8 Jews) were hanged in Baghdad (Saht Al-Tahrir) while the other three (including one Jew) were hanged in Saht Um Al-Broom in Basra. The Jew was Ezra Naji Zilkha, the Christian was Zaki Zeito and the Muslim was Haji Jetta Baie Kokel.

Update: Samir Zeito, son of Zaki Zeito, contacted Point of No Return to say that he believed his father was hanged in Baghdad, not Basra. He and his family have since moved to Sweden. He was four at the time and still seeks to know why his father was murdered.

Remembering the horror: names of the Jewish martyrs

10 comments: said...

Bravo for reminding the world of the plite of Iraqi Jews, the oldest Jewish community on the face of the earth.

Read more in my book: "Full Circle:Escape from Baghdad and the return" (Farhood)
Saul Silas Fathi

Anonymous said...

I remember the entire event. I was a small boy and the son of one of them was my good friend, I dont know what happened to him later. I am now writing a novel on them, cos it has affected me. This was the beginning of what Iraq has gone through !

bataween said...

Yours is a very moving story. Do let us know when your novel is finished.

Anonymous said...

I will do so.
I was following up with the Anniversary of Mir Basri in baghdad by Al Mada, who passed away in 2006.
Basri was geneous in economy, business, a poet, historian, and above all, the great personality he had. I was not lucky to meet with him, though read about him.
Iraq has mistreated its Jewish and other minorties, we remember the "Farhood" word where some Iraqis have treated the Jewish community worse than German SS,

Nassar F.Nasralha said...

I can say that I know almost the whole story behind the excution of those 17 Iraqis. In Baghdad 14 men were excuted at the main square (Sahat Al-Tahrir), and the other three in Basrah. Now I am reading a book writen by the daughter of one those three Jews whom he got excuted in 1969. The title of the book is the terrorists hunter. It is a very interesting book to read. I am reading it in Dutch language.
If anyone would like to know more about this era, he can contact me through the facebook.

Anonymous said...

Timelines for Jan 27 state "9 jews killed in Baghdad" and it also says "9 jews killed in Damascus, Syria"

Which is it? Or will the use of more fake stats remain uncorrected because it favors a larger number of presecuted jews to be recorded as fact? TIRED.

bataween said...

Baghdad not Damascus

Klartexten said...

Saddam Hussein became president in Iraq in 1979, 10 years after the hangings. So of course he wasnt responsible!

bataween said...

technically you are right but as al-Bakr's deputy he had control of the security services and wielded the real power in Iraq during the 1970s.

Layth Adnan Fadhil said...

my name is Layth Adnan Fadhil.I was so touched by the sad history of those brave men and well known names and one of them is my uncle( my mom's brother) Zaki Zeito. His faith,love and care towards others in Basra Iraq cost him his life. I remember my mom used to cry for hours and hours after his death and as a kid i used to ask my mom why are you crying for hours over my uncle pictures and memories and she used to tell me that he died of medical reasons be cause she wanted to hide the pain away from me and not until i grew up around the age of 13 them my parents told me about the acutal facts of my uncle death sentence and i was enraged because as i remember when i was a kid my mom used to send me to Basra during summer school 3 months and spend time with Zaki Zeito sons(my cousins) and I discovered that my uncle Zaki was a well known man with a strong grip in Christian faith and power to help the weak and needy people of Basra and i was so humbled by his blessings and memories. Myself and my family left Iraq in 1991 and we now live in Dallas Texas USA