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Iraqi lawyer calls for establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel

 

In an exclusive interview, Iraqi lawyer Ammar Al Hamadani stated: “I love and support the State of Israel as well as the Jewish people across the world. I congratulate both the American and Israeli governments for transferring the US Embassy to Israel’s eternal capital city of Jerusalem. In addition, I ask for the establishment of diplomatic relations and economic ties between Iraq and Israel, which would initiate with the opening of an Israeli Embassy in Baghdad and an Iraqi Embassy in Jerusalem.”

This is not the first time that Al Hamadani spoke out in favor of the Jewish community. Last year, in an interview he gave to Israel Hayom, he proclaimed that the expulsion of Iraq’s Jews and the seizure of their property was “unconstitutional and inhumane,” stressing with sadness that the laws that prompted the Iraqi Jewish community into exile remain in force today “despite the political change that took place in Iraq in 2003 and the enactment of a new Iraqi Constitution in 2005 in which we had some hope for change for Iraqi Jews in a democratic, federal and multi-cultural Iraq.”

During the interview, Al Hamadani emphasized that it is unlawful to strip any Iraqi of their citizenship for any reason and it is the right of “any Iraqi who has lost his citizenship for either political, racist or sectarian reasons to request the restoration of citizenship.” However, Al Hamadani noted that while the Iraqi Constitution permitted the restoration of Iraqi citizenship for those who lost it for the above reasons, Iraqi Jews were excluded: “Iraqi Jews remain depraved of justice under the new Iraq in such a crude violation of the constitution.”

Today, Al Hamadani is working to defend the rights of Jews in Iraq and the greater Middle East. In an exclusive interview, he stated: “I will not withdraw or retract my defense for the Jewish people and Israel despite the threats to my life by the Iranian militias in Iraq. I defend the human rights of the religious minorities in Iraq. My work is motivated by humanity and professionalism.” The Jews of Iraq indeed have suffered greatly. Salima Shachouda was a member of Baghdad’s ancient Jewish community who recently passed away. She once told me in an exclusive interview about all of the suffering that she endured during the Farhud pogrom, which was one of the many massacres implemented against Jews in the Arab world in the period leading up to Israel’s Independence: “During the Farhud, they came and killed everyone, making mass graves. They were the size of my house.”

Iraqi Jewish women’s suffering was immense during the Farhud. They would cut open the stomachs of pregnant women and rape young girls en masse. She noted that if a Jewish woman left her home without wearing an abaya (Islamic face covering), the masses in Iraq at that time interpreted it as an invitation to rape her. According to Shachouda, the Iraqi Arabs committed many atrocities against the Jewish people during this period of time including cutting off the leg of a child and playing with the amputated leg.

For many Iraqi Jews, the horrors of the Farhud pogrom and other instances of persecution that they experienced in the period leading up to their expulsion from the country are quite livid. The Jewish refugees from Arabic speaking countries remember the atrocities that they experienced as if it was yesterday for to date throughout the Arab world, the Jewish people are deprived of their legal and historical rights. In 1945, around a million Jews lived in the Arab world. Some of these Jewish communities pre-dated the existence of Islam itself. Between 1948 and 1972, around 850,000 Jews were compelled to flee these countries due to the existence of anti-Jewish pogroms, massacres and state-orchestrated oppression. Some countries like Iraq and Egypt literally expelled their Jewish community. The Jews from Arab countries had their property confiscated by the government. These refugees and their descendants were never compensated for their suffering.

According to Kurdish Jewish dissident Sherzad Mamsani, to date, Iraqi Kurdistan is the only region of Iraq where Jews can reclaim their stolen assets and property: “In April 2015, the Kurdish Parliament passed a piece of legislation where all of the lands and assets taken and confiscated by the Iraqi government in the name of sectarianism, religious violence and domestic politics can be returned to their rightful owners. For the past 70 years, this piece of legislation is the first time that we see this much veracity and equality shown to our religion and cause.”

However, he noted that the Iraqi authorities do not share the same mindset as the Kurdistan Regional Government: “To this day, this kind of legislation and law doesn’t exist in neither the Iraqi legal framework nor in the mindset of the people who lead the Iraqi government. They are not united and they are fighting among themselves about the differences between Sunnis and Shias. Therefore, it is a far-fetched idea that they will accept other religions as well. They have occupied all of the assets and the lands belonging to Jews, Christians, moderate Sunnis, Yezidis, Kakaes, Faylis and Zoroastrians.”

Nevertheless, a growing number of non-Kurdish Iraqis are increasingly sharing views that differ from the ruling Iraqi government when it comes to the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Not too long ago, Miss Iraq Sarah Idan visited Israel, where she proclaimed to Israel’s Channel 2 News: “I don’t think Iraq and Israel are enemies. I think that maybe the governments are enemies with each other. With the people, there are a lot of Iraqi people that don’t have a problem with Israelis and the Jewish people.”

In addition, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli Foreign Ministry recently launched an “Israel in Iraqi Dialect” Facebook page after numerous followers on the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Arabic Facebook page requested a page that was more geared towards an Iraqi audience. According to the report, Yonatan Gonen, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s Arabic branch on digital diplomacy, stated: “We are seeing an openness and an understanding that Israel is an established fact” in countries like Iraq, Morocco and even some of the Persian Gulf countries.

According to Levana Zamir, the head of the Central Organization of Jews from Arab and Islamic countries, many Arabs today recognize that expelling the Jews from the Muslim world was a mistake: “In Egypt, Amin Al Mahdi, an Egyptian journalist, wrote a book titled The Other Opinion. The book was translated into Hebrew. He said that when Egypt is a democratic country, we will have peace. He cried in his book that Nasser expelled the Jews. He said only Egypt lost by it. Now after Al Mahdi, we have other people saying the same thing. Maged Farag said all of this on the Egyptian TV. He came to Israel for an art exhibition.”

Zamir stated that an Egyptian Jewish painter had an exhibition on what Egypt looked like based on her memories of her life in the country before the Jews were expelled. Farag originally invited her to Egypt to display her artwork in his country club but when Mubarak fell, his country club was bombed and the country was not safe so she had her exhibition in Jerusalem instead: “We were all there, all of the Jews from Egypt. We came with two buses. Magid Farad met my grandchildren and we continued by Facebook. Once he was back in Egypt, the TV wanted to interview him and asked him how he could do such a thing. They accused him of normalizing Israel. He said, look, we have normalization between the governments, so why not the people? It’s time to finish all of these wars. He is very courageous. We all applauded him.” According to Zamir, peace will only come to the Middle East when Arabs like Ammar Al Hamadani, Amin Al Mahdi and Magid Farad speak out against the injustices experienced by the Jews in the Arab world.

Zamir is a strong advocate of establishing an international fund to compensate both Jewish and Palestinian refugees who were compelled to flee their homes either during or following Israel’s War of Independence: “We have to do what Bill Clinton said. I have $21.5 billion from Europe, Japan, the US and Ehud Barak will add to this fund. We will give compensation but no right of return, not for us and not for them.” She noted that Jews cannot live in Arab countries today as churches and even mosques are getting blown up, so it is only fair that both sides receive compensation without a right of return.

Zamir believes that establishing a fund like this is a tool for peace for it will give the Jewish refugees from Arab countries the peace of mind that they deserve. At the same time, she believes that it can help foster a solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by removing grievances held by both sides. Therefore, Zamir argues that such a fund should be established irrespective of the status of negotiations for it will remove a major stumbling block for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She thinks that this international fund should be pursued for it is our best hope of reducing tensions between both sides and encouraging a more peaceful tomorrow.

However, David Bedein, who heads the Center for Near East Policy Research and Israel Resource News Agency, stressed that a process needs to be introduced to ensure that the money that goes to help Palestinian refugees is used for its intended purposes given that the Palestinian Authority and its officials have pocketed foreign aid for themselves or used it to pay the salaries of terrorists imprisoned inside Israeli jails. He feels that it is critical that any money that is given as part of such an international fund is only used to compensate Jewish refugees from Arab countries and to help Palestinian refugees build homes, start businesses to finance themselves, educate their children, provide health care, etc.

However, while Zamir argues for an international fund to compensate refugees and Bedein warns about the importance of adding safeguards for such a fund, David Dangoor, the Vice President of the World Organization of Jews from Iraq, stressed in an article that he wrote in the Jerusalem Post that dialogue between Iraqis and Israelis as well as Jews and Muslims is badly needed for a brighter future: “Greater interaction can only be beneficial for greater harmony, understanding and acceptance in our region and beyond.”

 

Author

Rachel Avraham
Rachel Avraham

Rachel Avraham is the President of the Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi Center for Human Rights in Middle East (under formation) and is a political analyst at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights. She is also a fellow at the Haym Salomon Center, a news and public policy group. For over 6 years, she has been an Israel-based journalist, specializing in radical Islam, abuses of human rights and minority rights, counter-terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Syria, Iran, Kurdistan and other issues of importance. Avraham is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media," a ground-breaking book endorsed by Former Israel Consul General Yitzchak Ben Gad and Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara that discusses how the media exploits the life stories of Palestinian female terrorists in order to justify wanton acts of violence. Avraham has an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Ben-Gurion University. She received her BA in Government and Politics with minors in Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Maryland at College Park.

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