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Thursday, 23 July 2009

Jews’ Own Ethnic Cleansing

As the heart is beating
Deep inside it burns
Soul of a Hebrew
Knows for what it yearns
Turning to the east
Forward to our land
Eyes look for Zion
Through the desert sand
Twenty centuries, hope was never lost
Hope we carried on despite the cost
To be free people in our homeland
Land of Zion and Jerusalem.

"It is written in the Holy Qur'an that God granted the Land of Israel to the Children of Israel and ordered them to settle therein (Qur'an, Sura 5:21) and that before the Last Day He will bring the Children of Israel to retake possession of Their Land, gathering them from all different countries and nations (Qu'ran, Sura 17:104). Consequently, as a Muslim who abides by the Qur'an, I believe that opposing the existence of the State of Israel means opposing a Divine decree."

I’ve opened this post with the heart-wrenching video above although it’s now about a year old. It has received more than 12,000 hits on YouTube but a mere 56 comments. I wonder why.

Many Jewish viewers may object to the tag ‘Jewish Naqba’ (‘disaster’) as it is sometimes claimed that Palestinian Arabs coined the phrase only lately in response to the Shoah (‘Holocaust’)

One might argue further that Jews have ever been the victims of ‘ethnic cleansing’ since they were forced to leave Biblical Egypt and wonder in the Sinai Desert for 40 years. All their other tribulations followed, culminating in the Holocaust.

When Palestinians claim, sometimes correctly in my view, that they have been thrown off their land, we must remember that all wars and military occupations result in displacement, dispossession and an exchange of population. C’est la guerre!

So yes, it’s appropriate that the ‘poem’ which accompanies the clip is a translation of Hatikva - ‘The Hope’ – Israel’s national anthem.

But much more startling are the quotations from The Koran which are also there. I have to ask ‘why?’ once more. Who exactly, has what agenda?

Indeed, before including them, I checked on a website to assure myself that they are not an elaborate hoax. They appear to be real.

However, I have removed the name of the ‘Muslim sheik’ who is supposed to have used the quotations as I am unsure whether he is also genuine. He may be a real person using a pseudonym. If he is honest, apologies in advance!

But all this speculation is mere preamble to my review of a painfully written memoir by an Iraqi-born Israeli. I’ve waited for a ‘right’ moment to discuss it and spotting the video makes as good an entree as any.

I first chanced upon Saul Fathi’s Full Circle almost 12 months ago via an interview in the excellent Free Writers’ Newsletter.


This online publication incidentally gave me some gracious help when I organised a meeting at synagogue to highlight the work of Chawton House – the home of Jane Austen’s family in Hampshire, England -which now houses much of her memorabilia.

I have the third edition of Fathis’s memoir. The version I have contains some astonishing stories about himself, early Israel and a collection of entertaining pictures, including an astounding photograph he claims to have snapped of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and the ‘father’ of the atom bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer at the Weizmann Institute in 1957.


But most important is how Fathi – now aged 71 – still recalls with bitter clarity ‘The Farhood’ - Iraq’s own ‘Kristallnacht – Night of Broken Glass’ in Baghdad during 1941; his escape to Israel and subsequent wandering around the world before settling in the U.S.A.

After an initial read, I ‘interviewed’ Fathi on-line, coincidentally just after Bahrain appointed a Jewish woman ambassador to the US.

How did he feel about this?

… This is just ‘window dressing’ on the part of Bahrain … By the way it was once part of Iraq, just like Kuwait. They are trying to be ‘Democratic’ – American-style, to please (former President) Bush and other ignorant political leaders.

His book title implies that he has returned to Iraq but mentions no such visit. Did he intend going now that hostilities had ceased?

When I began writing my memoirs I wanted to return to Iraq to write the last chapter of my life … but the Saddam regime repeatedly denied me a visa. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003 I kept asking for a visitor’s visa through the State Department.

I was refused again and again with a ‘No Official Business’ excuse. I think they were aware that Iraqi Jews were not allowed to return or visit Iraq and wanted to avoid tension with the Iraqi government. I ended up closing my story with the death of my mother. I would still love to visit my birthplace and have a dialogue with the Iraqi people.

Fathi and his brother escaped to Israel before their parents and other siblings. But it seems that his father, a wealthy high-ranking civil servant in pre-World War 2 Iraq never regained his previous status or income in Israel. Was this due in part to Ashkenazi snobbery?

No, my father never found his old position and lifestyle in Israel. He suffered greatly there but his Zionism would not allow him to criticise the State of Israel , ever.

My mother, however, sometimes expressed disappointment in Israel and wished she had never left Iraq. Also, not being able to visit her parents’ grave in Baghdad was a source of pain.

The Ashkenazi factor did play a part in my father not being able to find a job for two full years after his arrival in Israel. He was told: ‘You are over-qualified for the jobs available and you have eight children to feed’.

Did he see himself fighting to regain his family’s old property in Basra like European Jews seeking restitution from the governments of their homelands?

No, I have no illusion about recovering anything from Iraq.

Could the Ashkenazi attitude also explain why until recently so little has been known about the modern Arab-Jewish experience and how it mirrored that of European Jewry? I was unaware of ‘The Fahood’, for example, until I read his book.

Your being unaware of The Fahood is typical of Ashkenazi and European circles. Because when they compared it to the Holocaust they could not find sympathy for us. Bu there are more than 50 Iraqi Jews who have written over 100 books about their experiences. Many of them blame the Zionist movement and the State of Israel for much of their misery.

Fathi made his escape to Israel from Basra – which episode reads as appalling, frightening and thrilling by turn. Now he’s considering a ‘peace mission’ to Iraq.

In view of how Jews and Israel are hated so much in the region does any such mission have a chance of starting, let alone of reaching fruition?

The Jews of Iraq were the oldest Jewish community in the world, going back over 2,600 years. They thrived under many conquering powers. But when Islam came to Iraq in the 7th Century, followed by the Turks and their Ottoman Empire, things took a turn for the worse.

However, most of the later antisemitism was the fault of the British and French Mandates in the Middle East (I lecture extensively about this).

Further, I see no prospects for a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians so long as the 22 Arab countries desire the destruction of Israel.

Fathi was only in his early 20s when he left Israel to start travelling. Was it because of the social divide there and did he ever think of returning to offer the nascent State his many talents? Or did he view Israel like his own extended family – that he had to love them both dearly from a distance?

I left Israel aged 22 feeling the country was too small for my ambitions and adventurous spirit. I love and support Israel regardless of my disagreement with its various governments. Without Israel the Jewish people will disappear.

The world has to be reminded periodically of our contribution to world civilisation. If another Holocaust were forced upon us we would not go quietly. We would ‘take down the house’ with a few million Arabs. If peace came to Israel I would move back to live and die there.”

At about the time I first encountered Fathi and his book, the U.K.’s Jewish Renaissance magazine published a striking interview-profile with Jewish members of the London-based refugee writers’ organisation, Exiled Refugees Ink. Bart Wolffe from Harare, Zimbabwe, but from a Lithuanian background described himself as “a black man with a white skin.”

This feeling of internal as well as physical exile is part of the writer’s lot but is all the more concentrated when artists are cut from their roots. It is distilled further when such people are from lands where they have been dismissed as ‘dhimmi - second class’ and must have been condensed to an agonised mulch by such Jews suffering similar mistreatment in re-born Israel.

Fathi, although multi-talented, is not a natural writer. I consider his book to be all the more poignant for that.

* Full Circle is Published @ $24.95 (£15.00 approx.)

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