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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

1948: When Iraqi Jews found out that they were doomed

Perhaps the most comprehensive book on the topic of Iraqi Jews being forced to move to Israel is Moshe Gat's "The Jewish Exodus from Iraq, 1948-1951." Here is his description of a seminal event that showed that Iraq's Jews - who were an important part of Iraqi society and had explicitly distanced themselves from Zionism as early as the 1930s in order to prove their loyalty and to integrate as well as possible - were doomed anyway:

[In 1948] Jewish millionaire Shafiq Ades, chief agent of the Ford Company in Iraq, ...was charged before a military tribunal in Basra with purchasing surplus military equipment - tanks, tnrcks and other equipment — from British camps in Iraq and sending them, dismantled, through Italy to Israel. This equipment. the prosecution charged, was being used by the Zionists against the Arab forces. He was also accused on giving financial support to the National-Democratic Party (a left-wing, non-Marxist party) and encouraging this party's demonstrations, with the aim of fostering unrest to the advantage of the Zionists." During and after the war, Ades had in fact accumulated capital by purchasing surplus British military equipment and selling it to Italian companies. It is, of course, difficult to trace what was done with this surplus equipment. lt was never proved in court that it had been sent on from Italy to Israel. Ades himself was not the only entrepreneur engaged in buying and selling surplus equipment, and his share in the companies engaged in these deals was no more than ten per cent. Moslem businessmen, such as the wealthy merchant Nagi al-Hadeiri. and members of the Iraqi cabinet, were among his partners, but were never brought to trial." The presiding judge, Abdullah al-Naasni. a member of the Istiqlal, the anti-Jewish party which repeatedly demanded the expulsion of the Jews and confiscation of their property. was a pro-Nazi who had been detained during the war in a British detention camp.” "His trial lasted only three days - 11-13 September — and the defendant was given no opportunity to plead his case. The court refused to hear witnesses. probably in order to avoid embarrassing well-known persons who had been his business partners. Ades was sentenced to death by hanging and to a fine of five million dinars to be paid into the state exchequer. as compensation for the damage he had caused the state and army through his ‘treachery'.

lt was clear that the Ades trial was stage-managed, that he was a scapegoat for Iraq‘s defeat in the war with Israel; and that revenge was being taken against the Jewish community through this attack on one of its eminent members. ...

Ades was hanged in Basra on 23 September. and his body left exposed for several hours. There was public rejoicing among the Moslems of Basra. The execution stunned the Jewish community. Ades had not been a prominent figure in the community. He was assimilated and could be regarded as a symbol of Jewish integration in Iraqi society, having displayed no interest in Zionism and having been on close terms with senior officials in Basra. He had even donated considerable sums to the Palestinian cause. All this aroused considerable apprehension in the Jewish community. lf this well-placed Jew -  closely associated with ruling circles, and able to use his money for any purpose he saw fit - had fallen victim, could they hope for a better fate?

The hopes that had been nurtured by the advocates of Jewish integration in Arab society. were dashed by the hanging of Ades. lt destroyed all faith in the future consummation of this ideal, and demonstrated, in the most brutal fashion, that there could be no security for Jews on Iraqi soil, and that they were at the mercy of a regime which had proved itself powerless and inept. The sight of the celebrants around Ades‘s corpse was evidence of the true sentiments of the Arabs. But the execution was not the end of the affair. The Iraqi Ministry of Defence continued to arrest rich Jews. On 22 September, a day before Ades's execution, three Jews were arrested — two businessmen and a banker - and on the 24th two wealthy merchants were detained. The arrests were not carried out solely for purpose of extortion; the military authorities were seeking evidence of contacts between the detainees and Israel.
This was the start of the Jewish Naqba in Iraq, that culminated in a large and wealthy community being forced to abandon all their extensive properties and assets to save their lives.