Friday, August 30, 2013

Would you return stolen property to a thief?

 The 'Jewish archive' was seized from the ladies' gallery of Bataween synagogue

One day in 1984, Saddam sent his henchmen to Bataween synagogue to seize Jewish books and documents from right under the noses of the remaining Jews of Baghdad. It may be the legal thing for the US, which shipped the trove to Texas for restoration, to return the archive to Iraq, but is it the moral thing for the US to do? Lyn Julius blogs in the Times of Israel:

Click here to sign the petition to stop the archive being transferred back to Iraq 

The World Organisation of Jews from Iraq has gained permission from the Iraqis to bury unusable or pasool fragments of Torah scrolls in the US. The National Archives in Washington DC will be putting the archive highlights on display. (The exhibition opens on 11 October and will run until 6 January 2014). When the digitizing process is complete, the archive will go back. 

But resistance is building to the transfer. Almost 2,000 people have signed a petition, and several articles have appeared calling for the archive not to go back to Iraq.

Iraq is adamant: It wants the archive back. “They represent part of our history and part of our identity. There was a Jewish community in Iraq for 2,500 years,” said Samir Sumaidaie, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States. “It is time for our property to be repatriated.”

Repatriated? That assumes that the archive was Iraq’s property to begin with. There is a bitter irony in Iraq, which has driven its pre-Islamic Jewish community to extinction, demanding the return of ‘our property’. 

The US government did the legal thing to sign an agreement with the Iraqis, but was it the moral thing to do?

The archive is the cultural property of the Iraqi-Jewish community, and save for five Jews still in Baghdad, that community no longer lives in Iraq, but in Israel and the West. To return the archive to Iraq will be to compound a crime: returning stolen property to those who stole it.

When Iraq did have a Jewish community, it took every step to persecute and destroy it. What is there to stop Iraq losing interest in the archive the minute it arrives back on Iraqi soil?

There are practical objections to return, too. Despite assurances to the contrary, Iraq itself does not have the resources to conserve and store the archive safely but would need to call in experts from the United Arab Emirates.

Even if the archive is digitized and accessible online, Iraq’s Jews and their descendants, 90 percent of whom are in Israel, will be debarred from access to the original documents.

The issue of the archive not only draws attention to the mass spoliation of nearly a million Jews driven from the Arab world, but is a test case. Here at last is a unique opportunity to return Jewish property to its rightful owners. Will the US take it up?


Anonymous said...

How many signatures are necessary?.
I've already voted can I vote as many times as I want????
Cheeky Iraqis!

bataween said...

No just once is enough! Thanks Sultana!