The U.S. National Archives is readying an exhibit of Iraqi Jewish artifacts due to open on Oct. 11. Appallingly, the U.S. government has agreed to then return the Iraqi Jewish archives – including holy books – to Iraq, which systematically expelled its Jewish community, by June 2014.
After American forces entered Baghdad in May 2003, the head of the Jewish and Israel section of Saddam Hussein’s Mukhabarat (intelligence agency) told of Jewish archives hidden in the basement of the Mukhabarat headquarters. The basement was flooded, but over four weeks we rescued books, papers, and other materials.
Finally, American archival restorers arrived and took possession of the archive in June 2003. The materials were flown to Texas where they were vacuum-freeze-dried, and in fall 2003 they were brought to the National Archives. In 2011, the State Department kicked in over $3 million for stabilizing, digitizing, and packing the material.
After Israel became a state in 1948, martial law was declared in Iraq and many Jews left in the mass exodus in 1950-51. Almost all of those who remained behind left by the 1970s. They were allowed one suitcase with clothing and were forced to leave everything else behind. Do the Iraqi authorities have the right to demand the archives back? The Iraqi government “acquired” this material by stealing it from the Jewish community.
The stolen property must be returned to its original owners – according to international law. Today, about 85% of the Iraqi Jews and their descendants live in Israel. These people are the rightful owners of the Iraqi Jewish archives, not the Iraqi government, which has never taken responsibility for Iraq’s role in destroying the more than 2,500-year-old Jewish community. The most logical place for the material is the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center outside of Tel Aviv, the only museum in the world dedicated to the history of Iraqi Jewry. Read more here.