Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Monument unveiled to Iraq's Jewish victims

Minister Binyamin (Fuad) Ben-Eliezer ( left) attending the unveiling of Ramat Gan's new monument

All the Jewish communities in Arab countries suffered - but Iraq was the only country to execute Jews just for being Jews. What this article on the Babylon and Beyond blog does not mention is that in addition to 11 Jews hanged in 1969, some 50 - 60 Jews disappeared at the time, presumed murdered.

When talking about life in the old country, Israel's Iraqi-born Jews acknowledge two eras: before the Farhoud, and after. In June 1941, during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, nearly 200 of Baghdad's Jews were slain in a killing rampage that went on for several days. Things were never the same after the pogrom that marked the beginning of the end of the Jewish community that had lived in Iraq since antiquity. Most of Iraq's Jews -- about 150,000 -- left for Israel within a few years of the massacre.

Around 6,000 remained of the community that had lived in Iraq for more than 2,000 years.

In 1969, dwindled Iraqi Jewry suffered another shock, when nine men from Baghdad and Basra were rounded up and accused of spying for Israel. The trial concluded quickly and their inevitable execution was a public event that crowds were encouraged to witness and cheer. The Baghdad hangings followed closely on the heels of the Baath coup of 1968; Saddam Hussein was President Ahmed Hassan Bakr's right-hand man.

That day, the Israeli parliament stood silently in their memory. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol said that they had approached heads of state, religious authorities and even the United Nations secretary-general to intervene with the Iraqi rulers to reverse the sentence but to no avail. The charges were false, the trial a charade and the nine were killed just for being Jews, he said.

In a memorial ceremony this January, Salima Gabbay, whose husband, Fouad, was among those hanged, expressed the hope that their remains could one day be brought to Israel for burial.

Last week, a monument was dedicated to the victims of both incidents. A 16-foot bronze sculpture titled "The Prayer" by artist Yasha Shapira was placed in the town of Ramat Gan, home to a large community of Iraqi Jews. The dedication was attended by Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, minister of industry, trade and labor.

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