09 May 2007

Iraqi Israelis long for homeland

Jewish Israelis of Iraqi origin still retain strong emotional ties to Iraq, even after 50 years after much of the Iraqi Jewish community immigrated to Israel.

Yakov Reuveni, originally from the southwestern Iraqi city of Amara, fondly remembers joining Shi'ite processions commemorating the Battle of Karbala in his childhood.

Eli Mizrakhi, who was born in Israel but whose family came from Iraqi Kurdistan, says, "most of us still feel connected to the country where we or our ancestors came from. Our parents and our grandparents still remember many things from their Iraqi past and they bring them to us, with food, music, language."

As for life in Iraq before the migration to Israel, Reuveni observes that "
we never thought of who was Jewish and who was Arab, until 1947. It all suddenly changed. The people that you knew as good people turned into bad people for you and you became bad for them. It was very sad" (BBC).

So while the founding of Israel on what used to be Arab land set off repercussions that forced almost the entire Iraqi Jewish community out of Iraq, the community's continuing sense of attachment to Iraq may one day, perhaps, be used as a way to build bridges between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Iraqi Israelis could be great ambassadors for their adopted country if peace is established in the region.

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