As part of B’nai Brith Canada’s week-long series to commemorate the nearly 1-million Jews who fled their homes across Arab countries and Iran, we spoke to Asad Muallim from Iraq.
Although Asad left Iraq illegally in the early 1960s, his family that stayed endured many hardships, including arrests and property seizures due to their Jewish heritage. Many, Asad says, were hung and tortured by the government.
The history of the Jewish community of Iraq dates back to the destruction of the first Temple when they were driven to Babylon (current day Iraq) by the Babylonians.
When modern Iraq was established in the 1920s, the Jewish people were prominent in trade, the railway industry, medicine and literature. In the aftermath of the failed Anglo-Iraqi War in 1941, however, soldiers and civilians carried out a “Farhud” (Arabic for pogrom) on the Jews of Baghdad. Jewish homes and businesses were looted, an estimated 200 people were killed, and 2,000 more were injured.
During the 1940s, while some 135,000 Jewish people still lived in Iraq, an estimated 16,000 fled as a result of religious persecution. Immediately following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Iraqi government passed laws making Zionist activity punishable by execution, forbidding Jews to engage in banking, and dismissing them from all government jobs. Jewish citizenships were revoked, Jewish assets accumulating $80 million (U.S.) were seized and public hangings and synagogue bombings became frequent.
In 1950, the Iraqi government enacted a bill that gave Iraqi Jews one year to renounce their citizenship and right of return if they registered with the authorities and left for Israel. About 110,000 people registered but when the year passed, the government froze their assets, with many winding up in refugee camps in Israel.
Within a three-year period beginning in 1948, Israel absorbed approximately 121,633 Jews from Iraq under Operation Ezra and Nehemiah.
By 1968, when the Jewish community in Iraq had dwindled to 10,000, the situation had severely worsened. Several Jews were falsely accused and jailed on charges of “spying for Israel” and 14 men (nine of them Jewish) were hung.
Part 5, SYRIA: Tomorrow
The first three parts of the series can be viewed below:
Part 1, Irene Beunavida, EGYPT
Part 2, Noemi Lieberman, LIBYA
Part 3, Ronit Eskenasi, LEBANON
Part 5, Olga Esses, SYRIA