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Friday, May 14, 2010

US to return rare Jewish archives to Iraq

The Washington Post reported in April:

The soldiers came looking for weapons of mass destruction. What they found in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein's secret police headquarters was a legacy of destruction -- the demise of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world.

There was a treasure trove of Torahs and Haggadas, centuries old. And there were marriage records, university applications, financial documents -- the living record of a community, seized by the Mukhabarat from the homes of Jews as they fled Iraq under pressure and amid persecution, with only a handful remaining.

Now comes the historical conundrum: Who owns these materials?

In the chaotic aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of 2003, the thousands of sodden documents were spirited out of the country with an assist from then-Vice President Richard B. Cheney's office and a vague promise of their return once they had been restored. With the materials still sitting in a College Park office building, stabilized but with mold on them, the Iraqi government is demanding that they be shipped back, saying they are the property of the Iraqi people.

"They represent part of our history and part of our identity. There was a Jewish community in Iraq for 2,500 years," said Samir Sumaidaie, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States. "It is time for our property to be repatriated."

But others, including many involved in saving the materials, say that they belong to the Jews who fled, or their descendants -- many of whom live in Israel.

"I don't see any reason for it to go back to Iraq, because if it is the patrimony of the Jewish community of Iraq, then wherever they are it's theirs," Harold Rhode, a former Defense Department official, told the Jerusalem Post last month. "When they left, they would have taken it with them had they been able to take it with them. You don't abandon Torahs."
And the US decided that they really belong to Iraq:
THE United States has agreed to return to Iraq millions of documents, including the Jewish archive, which were seized by the US military after the 2003 invasion, a minister said on Thursday.

'We have reached an agreement with the United States, after negotiations with officials at the State Department and the Pentagon, over the return of the Jewish archives and millions of documents that were taken to America after the events of 2003,' Deputy Culture Minister Taher Hamud said.

'The Jewish archives are important to us - like the rest of the documents, it is a part of our culture and sheds light on the lives of the Jewish community,' he told a news conference.
Iraq persecuted its Jewish community, forcing them to flee and leave behind their possessions; Iraq stole their possessions, and now Iraq is claiming that these stolen items really belong to them?

And the US agrees with them!

This is a more fundamental problem. This indicates that the State Department does not consider the Jewish people to be a nation with the rights to own their own treasures.

The religious and cultural items do not belong to the persecutors - they belong to the victims.