Special Uses of Violence: ‘Cruel Zionism’ or the ‘Ingathering of
It was the last day of Passover,
April 1950. In Baghdad, the Jews had spent it
strolling along the banks of the Tigris in
celebration of the Sea Song. This was an old custom of the oldest Jewish
community in the world; the 130,000 Jews of Iraq attributed their origins to
Nebuchadnezzar, the destruction of the FirstTemple
and the Babylonian exile. A good 50,000 of them thronged the esplanade. By in the evening the crowds
were thinning out. But on Abu Nawwasstreet
young Jewish intellectuals were still gathered in the Dar al-Beida coffee-shop.
Suddenly, the convivial atmosphere was shattered by an explosion.
A small bomb, hurled from a passing car, had gone off on the pavement just
outside. By chance no one was hurt. But the incident shook the Jewish
community. They were convinced that Iraqi extremists wanted to kill them. The
fainter-hearted began to murmur 'it is better to go to Israel'. The next day there was a
rush to the offices where Jews wishing to renounce their Iraqi citizenship had
to present themselves for registration. Their right to emigrate had been
officially acknowledged by the government on the foot of Purim a month before.
Its object was to prevent emigration by illegal means. As the newspapers had
explained, 'the encounters between the police and the emigrant groups showed
that some Iraqi Jews do not want to live in this country. Through their fleeing
they give a bad name to Iraq.
Those who do not wish to live among us have no place here. Let them go.'30 There had been little response. Police officers had appeared
at synagogues and explained that all Jews had to do in order to leave Iraq
peacefully was to sign the necessary form. But the Jews were afraid that this
was a trap to unmask the Zionists among them; and Zionism, under Iraqi law,
"was a grievous offence.
In all, about 10,000 Jews signed up to leave after the bomb; the
big Ezra Daud synagogue had to be set aside as a
registration office; police officers and volunteer clerks worked day and night
to complete the task. A special kitchen was set up to feed them. Most of the
would-be emigrants were poor, with little to lose. The panic did not last very
long, however, and registration tapered off. Moreover, they were to leave by
air, but only one aeroplane came to take 120 of them,
via Cyprus, to Israel.
Then there was another explosion. This time it was at the US
Information Centre, where many young Jews used to come and read. Again the
theory was that an extremist Iraqi organization had planted the bomb, which
only by chance failed to hurt anyone. Once again, therefore, there was a rush
on the Ezra Daud synagogue; only this time the
panic--and the number of would-be emigrants--was less than before. The year
ended, and March 1951, the time-limit set for the renunciation of citizenship,
The third time there were victims.
It happened outside the Mas'udaShemtov
synagogue, which served as an assembly point for emigrants. That day in January
the synagogue was full of Kurdish Jews from the northern city of Suleimaniyyah.
Outside a Jewish boy was distributing sweet meats to curious onlookers. When
the bomb went off he was killed instantly and a man standing behind him was
badly wounded in the eyes.
And this time there was no longer any doubt in Jews" minds:
an anti-Jewish organization was plotting against them. Better
to leave Iraq
while there was still time. The queues lengthened outside the Ezra Daud synagogue, and on the night before the time-limit
expired some were paying as much as £200 pounds to ensure that their names were
on the list. A few days later the Iraqi parliament passed a law confiscating
the property of all Jews who renounced their citizenship. No one was allowed to
take more than 70 ponds out of the country. The planes started arriving at a
rate of three or four a day. At first the emigrants were flown to Nicosia accompanied by an
Iraqi police officer. But after a while even that make-believe was dropped and
they went directly to Israel's
Lydda airport-the police officer returning alone in
the empty plane. Before long all that was left of the 130,000 abandoning home,
property and an ancient heritage was a mere 5,000 souls.
It was not long before a bombshell of a different kind hit the
pathetic remnants of Iraqi Jewry. They learned that the three explosions were
the work not of Arab extremists, but of the very people who sought to rescue
them; of a clandestine organization called 'The Movement', whose leader, 'commander
of the Jewish ghettoes in Iraq', had received this letter from YigalAllon, chief of the Palmach commandos, and subsequently Foreign Minister
Ramadan my brother.... I was very satisfied in learning that you
have succeeded in starting a group and that we were able to transfer at least
some of the weapons intended for you. It is depressing to think that Jews may
once again be slaughtered, our girls raped, that our nation's honour may again be smirched ... should disturbances break
out, you will be able to enlarge the choice of defenders and co-opt Jews who
have as yet not been organized as members of the Underground. But be warned
lest you do this prematurely, thereby endangering the security of your units
which are, in fact, the only defence against a
The astonishing truth-that the bombs which terrorized the Jewish
community had been Zionist bombs-was revealed when, in the summer of 1950, an
elegantly dressed man entered Uruzdi Beg, the largest
general store in Baghdad.
One of the salesmen, a Palestinian refugee, turned white when he saw him. He
left the counter and ran out into the street, where he told two policemen: 'I
recognize the face of an Israeli.' He had been a coffee-boy in Acre, and he knew YehudahTajjar from there. Arrested, Tajjar
confessed that he was indeed an Israeli, but explained that he had come to Baghdad to marry an Iraqi
Jewish girl. His revelations led to more arrests, some fifteen in all. Shalom Salih, a youngster in charge of Haganah
arms caches, broke down during interrogation and took the police from synagogue
to synagogue, showing them where the weapons, smuggled in since World War II,
were hidden. During the trial, the prosecution charged that the accused were
members of the Zionist underground. Their primary aim-to which the throwing of
the three bombs had so devastatingly contributed-was to frighten the Jews into
emigrating as soon as possible. Two were sentenced to death, the rest to long
It was Tajjar himself who first broke
Jewish silence about this affair. Sentenced by the Baghdad
court to life imprisonment, he was released after ten years and found his way
On 29 May 1966
the campaigning weekly magazine Ha'olamHazeh published an account of the emigration of Iraqi Jews
based on Tajjar's testimony. Then on 9 November 1972, the Black
Panther magazine, militant voice of Israel's Oriental Jews, published
the full story. The Black Panther account includes the testimony of two Israeli
citizens who were in Baghdad
at the time. The first, KaduriSalim
is 49 but looks 60. He is thin, almost hunch-backed, creased-face and with
glass-eye: he lost his right eye at the door of the Mas'udaShemtov synagogue. He recounts: 'I was standing there
beside the synagogue door. I had already waived my Iraqi citizenship, and
wanted to know what was new. Suddenly, I heard a sound like a gun report. Then a terrible noise. I felt a blow, as if a wall had
fallen on me. Everything went black around me. I felt something cold running
down my check, I touched it-it was blood. The right eye.
I closed my left eye and didn't see a thing. The doctor told me: 'It's better
to take it out.'
He remained in Iraq
for three months after leaving the hospital. Then his turn to leave for Israel
arrived. The ex-clerk was sent to an immigration camp. Since then, all his
efforts to receive compensations have been in vain. He claimed: 'I was hurt by
the bomb. The Court of Law established that the bomb was thrown by "The
Movement". The Israel Government has to give me compensations.' But the
Israel Government does not recognize its responsibility for the Baghdad bombs and, anyhow,
cannot recognize him as hurt in action. 'I am ready to be a victim for the
State,' he said, 'but when the situation at home is bad, when my wife wants
money and there isn't any, what is the self-sacrifice and goodwill worth?'
The second witness was an Iraqi lawyer, living in Tel Aviv. He
told the Black Panther that after the first bomb was thrown at the Dar al-Bayda coffee-house, many rumours
started running around about the responsible being communists. But the day
after the explosion, at ,
leaflets were already being distributed amongst the first worshippers at the
synagogue. The leaflets warned of the dangers revealed by the throwing of the
bomb and recommended the people to come to Israel.
Someone who saw in it something strange was Salman
al-Bayyati, Investigating judge for South
Baghdad. He declared that the distribution of the leaflet at such
in early hour showed prior knowledge of the bombing. He therefore instructed
the police to investigate in this direction, determining at the same time that
those who threw the bomb were Jews trying to quicken the emigration. Indeed,
two youngsters were arrested.
Unexpectedly, the Ministry of Justice intervened. The two boys
were set free. The case passed over to the hands of the Investigating Judge KamalShahin, from North Baghdad. In other words, at this stage, there was
still a willingness not to see. For the whole emigration movement came as
results of a willingness not to see-or perhaps even of a more active agreement
between the Government, the Court and the Zionist representatives.
But after two more bombs and after the arrest of the Israeli
envoy-it was too much. The police started acting, and it was impossible to stop
the wheels. There is only one more thing to add: in the objective conditions of
the issue, the trial was made according to international law. The evidence was
just such that it wasn't difficult at all to pronounce such sentences.
When Bengurion made his impassioned
pleas for immigrants to people the new-born State of Israel he was addressing
'European' Jews (from both the New and the Old Worlds) in particular. Not only
had European Jewry fathered Zionism, it was the main source of that
high-quality manpower, armed with the technical skills, the social and cultural
attitudes which Israel
needed. But with the Holocaust over, the source was tending to dry up. So the
Zionists decided that 'Oriental' Jewry must be 'ingathered' as well. It is
often forgotten that the 'safeguard' clause of the Balfour Declaration-'it
being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the
civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,
or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country'-was
de-signed to cover Diaspora Jews as well as native Arabs. But the uprooting of
a million 'Oriental' Jews showed that, for the Zionists, it was a clause to be
ignored in both its parts. Every-where they applied the same essential
techniques, but nowhere, perhaps, with such thoroughness as they did in Iraq.
'Cruel Zionism', someone called it.
If Zionism, as a historical phenomenon, was a reaction to anti-Semitism,
it follows that, in certain circumstances, the Zionists had an interest in
provoking the very disease which, ultimately, they hoped to cure. Herzl himself was the first to note the usefulness of
anti-Semitism as an incentive to Jewish immigration. 'Anti-Semitism has grown
and continues to grow-and so do I.'  There were dedicated Zionists
who considered that it was the duty of the Rabbinate, Jewish nationalists and
community leaders to keep the prejudice alive. In the early fifties the
need for immigrants was such that a columnist in Davar,
influential voice of the Israel trade union movement, wrote:
I shall not be ashamed to confess that if I had the power, as I
have the will, I would select a score of efficient young men-intelligent,
decent, devoted to our ideal and burning with the desire to help redeem
Jews-and I would send them to the countries where Jews are absorbed in sinful
self-satisfaction. The task of these young men would be to disguise themselves
as non-Jews, and plague Jews with anti-Semitic slogans such as 'Bloody Jew',
'Jews go to Palestine' and similar intimacies. I can vouch that the results in
terms of a considerable immigration to Israel from these countries would
be ten thousand times larger than the results brought by thousands of
emissaries who have been preaching for decades to deaf ears.
Zionism had much less appeal to Oriental than it did to European
Jews. In the pre-State period only 10.4 per cent of Jewish immigrants came from
'Africa and Asia'. In their vast majority, the Oriental Jews were actually
Arab Jews, and the reason for their indifference was simply that, historically,
they had not suffered anything like the persecution and discrimination of their
brethren in European Christendom. Prejudice did exist, but their lives were on
the whole comfortable, and their roots were deep. They were nowhere more at
home than in Iraq,
and a government official conceded --tongue in cheek-- that their Mesopotamian
pedigree was much superior to that of the Moslem majority:
Many of us consider the Jews to be the original inhabitants of
this country. We believe, according to the Koran, they are descendants of
Abraham and that goes back nearly 4,000 years, Compared to them, therefore, we
Muslims are interlopers because we have been here only about 1,500 years.
At one time, Baghdad
numbered more Jewish than Arab residents. In this century, as an already
prosperous, educated community, they were particularly well placed to benefit
from the rapid development and modernization of the country. They controlled
many national institutions, most of the banks and big shops. The poorest Jews
were better off than the average Iraqi. Under the
constitution, the Jews enjoyed equality with other citizens. They were represented
in parliament, worked in the civil service, and from 1920 to 1925 a Jew was
Minister of Finance.
On the rare occasions in Arab history when Moslems --or
Christians, for that matter-- turned against the Jews in their midst, it was
not anti-Semitism, in its traditional European sense, that drove them, but
fanaticism bred of a not unjustified resentment. For, like other minorities,
the Jews had a tendency to associate themselves with, indeed to profit from,
what the majority, regarded as an alien and oppressive rule. In recent times,
this meant that from Iraq to
the local Jewish communities found varying degrees of special favour with the French or British masters of the Arab
world. If Arab Jews must themselves take some of the blame for the prejudice
which this behaviour generated against them, they
deserve much less blame for that other cause of Arab hostility-Zionism-which
was ultimately to prove infinitely more disruptive of their lives.
Zionist activities in Iraq and other Arab countries date
from the beginning of the century. They were barely noticed at first. There was
actually a time, in the early twenties, when the Iraqi government granted the
local Zionist society an official licence, and even
when the licence was not renewed, it continued to
function, unofficially, for several years. At first it was the British, rather
than local Jews, who bore the brunt of Arab animosity. In 1928, there were
riots when the British Zionist Sir Alfred Mond
The following year demonstrations in mosques and streets, a two-minute silence
in Parliament, black-edged newspapers and telegrams to London marked 'Iraqi
disapproval of the pro-Jewish policy of Great Britain'. It Was not
until the mid-thirties, when the troubles of Palestine were reverberating round
the world, that Arab Jews began to excite suspicion and resentment. In Iraq
these emotions came to a head in 1941 when, in a two-day rampage, the mob
killed some 170 to 180 Jews and injured several hundred more.
It was terrible. But it was the first pogrom in Iraqi history. Moreover, it
occurred at a time of political chaos; the short-lived pro-Nazi revolt of
Rashid Ali Kailani was collapsing, and most members
of his administration had taken flight as a British expeditionary force arrived
at the gates of the city.
There was no more such violence. On account of this, and their
economic prosperity, the Jews felt a renewed sense of security."
Nevertheless, the Zionists were still active in their midst. In the
mid-forties, they disseminated booklets entitled 'Don't Buy from the Moslems'.
However, they did not have the field to themselves. Left-wing Jews, who
considered themselves 'Jewish and Arab at the same time', set up the League for
By the end of Israel's
'War of Independence', there were still 130,000 Jews in Iraq. The Movement organized the
'Persian underground railway' to smuggle Jews to Israel
There were occasional clashes between the police and the caravan guides. It was
these which prompted the government to legalize Jewish emigration. But, whether
by legal or illegal means, very few actually left. As the Chief Rabbi of Iraq,
Sassoon Khedduri explained a few years later:
The Jews --and the Muslims-- in Iraq just took it for granted that
Judaism is a religion and Iraqi Jews are Iraqis. The Palestine problem was remote and there was no
question about the Jews of Iraq following the Arab position ... 
But Bengurion and the Zionists would not
give in so easily. Israel
desperately needed manpower. Iraqi Jews must be 'in-gathered'. As Khedduri recalled:
By mid-1949 the big propaganda guns were already going off in the United States.
American dollars were going to save the Iraqi Jews-whether Iraqi Jews needed
saving or not. There were daily 'pogroms'--in the New York Times and under
datelines which few noticed were from Tel Aviv. Why didn't someone come to see
us instead of negotiating with Israel
to take in Iraqi Jews? Why didn't someone point out that the solid, responsible
leadership of Iraqi Jews believed this to be their country --in good times and
bad-- and we were convinced the trouble would pass.45
But it did not. Neither the Iraqi Jews themselves, nor the government
of what, by Western standards, was still a backward country, could cope with
the kind of pressures the Zionists brought to bear:
Zionist agents began to appear in Iraq-among
the youth playing on a general uneasiness and indicating that American Jews
were putting up large amounts of money to take them to Israel, where everything would be
in applepie order. The emigration of children began
to tear at the loyalties of families and as the adults in a family reluctantly
decided to follow their children, the stress and strain of loyalties spread to
brothers and sisters.
Then a new technique was developed:
Instead of the quiet individualized emigration, there began to
appear public demands to legalize the emigration of Jews-en masse ... in the United
States the 'pogroms' were already underway and the Iraqi government was being
accused of holding the Jews against their will ... campaigning among Jews
increased.. . The government was whip-sawed ... accused of pogroms and violent
action against Jews... But if the government attempted to suppress Zionist
agitation attempting to stampede the Iraqui Jews, it
was again accused of discriminations.46
Finally there came the bombs.
'Ingathered' for what? The Iraqi Jews soon learned; those of them,
that is, who actually went to Israel,
or, having gone, remained there. For by no means all of uprooted Oriental Jewry
did so. A great many of them --particularly the ones with money, connections,
education and initiative-- succeeded in making their way to Europe or America.
But what the irretrievably 'ingathered' learned was the cruellest
and most enduring irony of all: Oriental Jewry was no more than despised
cannon-fodder for the European creed of Zionism.
What did you do, Bengurion?
You smuggled in all of us!
Because of the past, we waived our citizenship
And came to Israel.
Would that we had come riding on a donkey and we
Hadn't arrived here yet!
Woe, what a black hour it was!
To hell with the plane that brought us here!
This was the song which the Iraqi Jews used to sing. Nothing the
rulers of Israel
could do quelled the bitterness which the newcomers nurtured against them. They
were lectured, in their transit camps, by teams of Zionist educators. But, long
after they left the camps, they continued to sing that song, even at weddings
and festive occasions. It remained popular throughout the fifties. Then it
eventually disappeared, but it can hardly be said that nostalgia for the 'old
country' disappeared with it. For the contrast between what they once were, 'in
exile', and what they became, and remain, in the Promised Land is too great.
One of the 'most splendid and rich communities was destroyed, its members
reduced to indigents'; a community that 'ruled over most of the resources of Iraq
... was turned into a ruled group, discriminated against and oppressed in every
aspect'. A community that prided itself on its scholarship subsequently
produced fewer academics, in Israeli universities, than it brought with it from
A community sure of its own moral values and cultural integrity became in Israel
a breeding ground 'for delinquents of all kinds'. A community which 'used to
produce splendid sons could raise only "handicapped" sons in Israel'.
30.Black Panther (Hebrew
journal), 9 November 1972,
see Documents from Israel,
Ithaca Press, London,
1975, P- 127.
31.Allon, Yigal, The Making of Israel's
Army, Valentine, Mitchell and Co., London, 1970, PP. 233-4-
32.Black Panther, op. cit.,
33.Ibid., P. 131.
34.Herzi, The Complete Diaries, op. cit.,
Vol. 1, P. 7.
35.Lilienthal, Alfred, The Other Side of the
Coin, Devin-Adair-, New York,
36.Ibid., P. 47.
37.Central Bureau of
Statistics, Statistical Abstract of Israel, No. 16, p. 96.
38.Berger, Elmer, Who Knows Better Must Say So, Institute for Palestine
39.Black Panther, op. cit.,
40.Longrigg, Stephen Helmsley, Iraq, 1900 to
1950, Oxford University Press, London, 1953, PP. 19-23.
J., The Jews of the Middle East 1860-1972, John Wiley and Sons, New York and
Toronto, 1973, P. 30.
42.Ibid., P. 30.
43.'The League for Combating
Zionism in Iraq', Palestine
Affairs, (Arabic, monthly), Beirut,
November 1972, P. 162.