Thursday, June 08, 2006

How the authorities harassed Iraqi Jews after 1948

This extract from Nissim Rejwan's memoir The last Jews in Baghdad (University of Texas Press, 2004) casts light on the systematic harassment of the Jewish community after the 1948 war, when Israelis inflicted a humiliating defeat on seven Arab armies, including a contingent from Iraq.

"The authorities soon penalised the whole of the community in various devious ways. No Jew who had even been involved in 'politics' of any kind was immune to one or another of the variety of rough and arbitrary harassments practised by the police and the makeshift military tribunals. One glaring example, incredbile for sheer transparency, was the way in which active anti-Zionist Jews were apprehended, brought to trial and convicted on charges of Zionist activities.

(..) "leading members were actually prosecuted and imprisoned (..) and it did not take the authorities much time or trouble to prove they were leading members of the Communist party. They duly joined their Muslim comrades for long terms in jail. The anti-Jewish operation, which sometimes looked like a form of revenge the Iraqis were taking for the humiliation their forces suffered at the hands of the Zionists, was waged mainly on the following 'fronts':

Employment: practically all Jewish government employees were given the sack - together with those working for state companies, certain foreign establishments in which the government had obvious interests, and banks, both local and foreign, who simply took the hint.

Trade and commerce: business licences, permits for exports and imports, foreign currency transactions, and all other business transactions that needed official approval were denied to Jews.

Censorship: At some date following the adoption of the Palestine Partition Plan the post office stopped delivering letters coming from Palestine. Later, when the wave of harassment and trials began, the accumulated sacks were opened and all Jewish addressees were summoned to the CID building individually. Without exception they were charged with 'contacting the enemy' and invariably sentenced to imprisonment or a high fine. The Security forces also had a look into their records and located Jews who had visited or stayed in Palestine at some earlier date - and these too were summoned and in may cases similarly tried and sentenced.

Students: Jewish students and high school pupils who had ever been caught taking part - or in any other way involved - in demonstrations were subjected to harassment and trial. Usually this took the form of search warrants which the police brought with them to the house of the 'suspect' and on the strength of which a search was conducted, the person in question taken for further investigation, and then a trial was staged in which no one was ever on record as having been acquitted. Evidence or no evidence, the person in question was almost invariably sentenced to two years in prison or a fine of two thousand Iraqi dinars - then the equivalent of two thousand pounds or $8,000, and a lot of money by any prevailing standard. One had the distinct impression at the time that, were they not quite certain that the Jews would somehow find the money to pay the fines rather than go to jail, the courts would never have passed so many prison sentences. There were simply not enough prisons to accommodate them all.

"On the strictly factual level, these measures notwithstanding, it was ultimately the pressure exerted by the Jews themselves, encouraged and led by the Zionist movements, and the fact that the borders had been forced open - often with the help of high security offcials who were not above accepting bribes - that finally forced the hand of the authorities. Once they were allowed to leave Iraq, the Jews showed an eagerness to leave Iraq that surprised both the Iraqi and Israeli authorities."