On Shavuoth sixty-nine years ago to the day, a terrible pogrom broke out in Iraq which claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews. It is not known how many exactly were murdered - figures vary from 130 to 600. Thousands of Jews were injured, women raped, babies mutilated, property wrecked and looted. Some brave Arabs saved their Jewish neighbours. Others turned against them. The mayhem went on for two days until the British army, camped out on the outskirts of Baghdad, decided to intervene against the rioters. The Farhud, as it was known, became seared in the memory of those who survived, and sounded the death knell for the ancient Jewish community of Iraq. Ten years later the Jews had almost all left.
These had been the facts about the Farhud. Until an Israeli Professor of Arabic studies tried to change them.
The story begins in January 2007, when Point of No Return stumbled upon a lecture which Professor Sassoon Somekh, an emeritus professor at Tel Aviv University, had given at Vanderbilt University, USA, the previous November. You can read the summary report here. One paragraph, though, sounded particularly controversial. Professor Somekh stated:
" We forget that although 150 Jews were killed at least 200 Muslims were killed at the same disturbances and those 200 Muslims because they wanted to defend their Jewish neighbours. And this must be written in letters of fire."
Sensing that something did not ring true, Point of No Return alerted Salim Fattal, a Baghdad-born broadcaster and author who had interviewed 100 survivors of the Farhud for a series of TV programmes. Fattal challenged Somekh, who blamed a reporter on the Vanderbilt newsletter for misquoting him. But Somekh's words had been recorded for all to hear.
Salim Fattal then rubbished Somekh's claim:
"The new theory that 250 Iraqi Muslims sacrificed their own lives only to save or defend their Jewish neighbors is absolute nonsense. This is a new, pathetic attempt to add to the bloody massacre some rosy color and to twist the very simple truth that Arab society was hostile or, in the best case, indifferent to the Jewish tragedy.
"At the time, the Arab public opinion in
"When I started working on my documentary series I interviewed over one hundred Jews who were exposed, this way or another, to the traumatic massacre. None of them claimed that Muslims were killed while defending their Jewish neighbors, or simply killed. On the contrary, I heard that some Muslims joined the rioters in killing or looting their neighboring Jews.
"In his special research about the 1941 uprising in
"Did professor Somekh mention any name or names of such righteous Muslim citizens? I doubt if he really meant what he said.
"Moreover, if 250 Muslims were killed while defending Jews and only 150 Jews were killed, if out of total 400 victims, nearly 65% were Muslims and nearly 35% were Jews, then we can definitely say that the pogrom initiated and carried out by Muslims was not directed against Jews but against Muslims. Can anybody conceive such absurdity?
"Yes! There were some Muslims who gave shelter to their Jewish neighbors. I mentioned that three times in the first chapter of my documentary series. Some Muslims challenged the rioters by telling them that “if you want to kill my neighboring Jews you have first to kill me”. For their part they were noble citizens but none of them were killed. Rioters didn’t kill Muslims.
"And yes, again! There were probably hundreds of Muslims who were killed in the second day of the pogrom. Who were they? Who killed them and why? Were they killed because they were defending Jews or because they were rioters who endangered the political and social order in
The book, published a few weeks ago, has been well received, but Salim Fattal says that he has nothing personal against Professor Somekh, whom he has known for 30 years. One wonders, however, after such a public dressing-down, how Professor Somekh and Salim Fattal can still hope to be friends, if indeed they want to be. Sometimes, it may be worth sacrificing friendship to truth.
* the fight - not the revisionism!