Videa: The Discovery and Rescue of Iraqi Jews' Patrimony in Baghdad. Will It Now Be Lost

(Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs) Harold Rhode interviewed by Lenny Ben-David - At the time of the American liberation of Iraq in 2003, Harold Rhode was in Baghdad as an analyst on Islamic culture for the Pentagon. A religious Jew, Rhode was taken by an Iraqi contact - Ahmed Chalabi - to the basement of the central office of Iraqi intelligence, where he found Jewish Torah scrolls and holy books from the Iraqi Jewish community immersed in water because of a leak due to bomb damage. Without official permission, he began to work with the help of Chalabi to pump out the water and take out the books. After nearly all of the Jewish community left Iraq by 1951, the remaining Torahs, Jewish books and communal records were stored upstairs in the women's section of the only remaining functioning synagogue, until one day in the early '80s when two trucks pulled up in the middle of the night and took everything to the intelligence headquarters. Why did they bother? In the Middle East, if you steal someone's heritage, you've got their soul, it's as if you've won. It's a way of defeating the Jews. Fortunately, word of the books reached Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who raised the issue at the National Security Council. Suddenly it became a mission for the American government and the material was eventually brought to the U.S. for restoration. There were 2,700 items, the oldest of which was printed in 1547 in Venice. The State Department decided that according to international law, you cannot steal the patrimony of another country that you take over. It has to go back to Iraq, which has no Jewish community and nobody who can read these things nor cares. The Iraqi government is still basically anti-Israel and cannot be seen as allowing these books to come to Israel, which would shame them in the eyes of their Arab brothers. But the books don't belong to Iraq. They belonged to the Jewish community and were stolen by Saddam Hussein. Most Iraqi Jews and their descendants today live in Israel. From a legal point of view, the American government took millions of documents from Iraq about the Baathist leadership and has no intention of giving this material back, but the Jewish material is a different story. Dr. Harold Rhode, a Fellow at the Jerusalem Center, served for 28 years as an advisor on the Islamic world in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense.

2017-09-29 00:00:00

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