Mordechai Ben Porat rues the day he ever agreed to go shopping in Baghdad with a friend. The spree cost him a great deal of pain, much of his hearing as a result of torture, and a week in jail. But his companion, Yudka Tajer, paid a greater price: a lengthy term in an Iraqi jail.
The two were working for Mossad, the Israeli secret service. It was 22 May 1951. Ben Porat's mission was coming to an end: the Baghdad native had returned from Israel to organise the arlift of over 100,000 Jews out of Iraq as part of Operation Ezra and Nehemiah.
It was in Orosdi Bak, the Harrods of Baghdad (also known as Prix fixe, because it was the only store where bargaining was not allowed), that a Palestinian clerk from Acre recognised Tajer. He tipped off the police and the two were bundled into a car and taken to secret police headquarters. In the car Ben Porat frantically emptied his pockets and managed to destroy an incriminating newspaper cutting.
The jail was in an old stable, with horse chains suspended from the walls. Ben Porat was tied to the horse chains and for several days and nights was beaten and tortured in the hope that he would divulge a wealth of contacts and information about the Zionist underground. But Ben Porat never spilled the beans. He was released and Mossad helped to organise his escape back to Israel. Later, he was sentenced to death in absentia.
Tajer was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour on spying charges. When he was eventually released from prison nine years later, Ben Porat's first words to him were: "now, whose bright idea was it to go shopping?"
Mordechai Ben Porat was a guest speaker at the JJAC London conference. He is the author of 'To Baghdad and back.'