Israel wants Iraq to pay compensation (but won’t pay Palestinians)

1 June 2004 | AlJazeera

by Lawrence Smallman

Israel looks set to pursue a compensation claim on behalf of Jews who left Iraq over 50 years ago, despite no such similar consideration for Palestinian refugees.

Tel Aviv has sent copies of over 800 documents to Washington, not Baghdad, in a bid to claim compensation for Israeli citizens who “were forced to abandon their property”.

A diaspora affairs ministry spokeswoman told on Tuesday that records have already been sent to the US State Department.

Comprising “a partial list of Jewish properties as well as hundreds of marriage and death certificates from between 1949 and 2001”, the papers were found by US-led occupation forces in Baghdad.

They had been water-damaged and were difficult to decipher. Nevertheless, spokeswoman Rivka Kanarek said the documents “contribute to an evaluation of properties” in Baghdad.

Sudden emigration

Iraq’s minister for reconstruction and planning, Bayan Sulagh, said on 31 March that Jews who left en masse “after coming under massive pressure in the wake of Israel’s creation” would be entitled to reclaim their property.

“Everyone knows there used to be Jews in Iraq and they owned property. Under the law, every Iraqi has the right to reclaim what belongs to them.”

There are less than two dozen Jews
left in Baghdad today
But any compensation claim will necessarily have to look into the causes of the mass emigration.

Why would a community of 120,000, settled for over 2000 years in Baghdad, suddenly abandon their homes?

The Jewish community was well integrated into Iraqi society, and generally prosperous. Yet during 1950 and 1951, more than 95% of the Jewish population left Iraq for Israel via airlifts known as Operation Ezra and Nehemiah.

Historically accurate?

But historians are now questioning the traditional Zionist explanation for the exodus.

Speaking at a Jewish Studies Conference in Australia earlier this year, historian Philip Mendes of Latrobe University dismissed as simplistic the Israeli claim that the exodus was a response to a long history of persecution.

He contends that the exodus from Iraq can also be attributed to numerous other factors, such as the prominent and popular identification of Jews with Communism and a British-Iraqi fear of political domination by the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, Tel Aviv will continue to push for compensation over an exodus it may have partially helped to engineer while refusing to even consider financial compensation for the Palestinians who have been refugees for over half a century.

No disapora affairs ministry official was prepared to comment on the apparent paradox.

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