Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Similar worries
Salam, whose blog I’ve been having difficulty accessing all day, found the IDF's Home Front Command webpage through me and has found it helpful. I’m very moved by this. I hope he manages to implement some of the suggestions. And I hope neither our families need to make use of them.

He wonders “how the proprietors of that site will react if they know an Iraqi is finding their information very useful”. Well, Salam, if they knew what use you were going to make of the information, I am absolutely convinced that they would be just as moved as I am.

It makes me sad that Salam's source for information on how to protect his family and himself in the coming war should be a site set up by the military of a country that his country sees as its enemy.

It's sad, but it also gives me hope.

Diane suggests that Israelis and Iraqis have quite a lot in common these days, on a day-to-day level.

I don’t think of the people of Iraq as my enemies. For me, Iraq and Baghdad have a strangely familiar air to them. I feel as if I have memories of Baghdad, which is weird considering I’ve never been there. It was a romantic childhood fantasy of mine, in a time before the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem and before peace with any Arab country seemed even a remote possibility, that I would one day visit Baghdad.

Iraq’s Jewish community was very ancient. It was believed to have dated back to the destruction of the first temple, when the Israelites were exiled to what is now Iraq and those who remained there must have been those who wrote the Babylonian Talmud.

Israel is now home to the great majority of that community. They left Iraq in a hurry after the state of Israel was established. This was (and still is) a relatively highly educated and well-to-do community and on the whole they have done very well here.

As a child, I heard a lot of stories about Iraq and Baghdad firsthand, from parents of friends of mine who told us of their lives there, when they were young. I couldn’t get enough of those stories. Everything sounded so romantic to me. There always seemed to be an exciting mixture of east and west in them. I suppose this is because the parents of my friends were part of the Intelligentsia and actually did live in a world of both east and west, as maybe Salam does.

We have wonderful writers, such as Eli Amir and Sami Michael, who have also told us about life in Baghdad in their books, often with a combination of fondness, longing and rejection. From them I learnt about the Farhud (massacre) of Baghdad Jews in 1941, which has been a lasting memory for this community and was one of the first steps in a process, which eventually led to their mass exodus, just a few years later.

I am told Iraqi music suffered somewhat from this exodus because some top Iraqi musicians of the day were Jews. These giants found it hard to reach the same fame and fortune in Israel, which at the time had different ideas about music. Today things are changing in this respect. One of their descendants, oud player Yair Dalal, has gained international recognition in his field. Israeli popular music is also becoming more "eastern" although I don't think it has quite the same quality as the stuff I’m told those guys were creating in Baghdad in the1940's.

The story is told of a Jewish family to whom Saddam Hussein owes his life. I heard one of the sons of this family, who wished to remain anonymous, although the family's name is known, telling the story on Israeli radio a few weeks ago. This family apparently had business connections with the Hussein family in Tikrit. When Saddam's mother was pregnant with him, they took her to stay with them in Baghdad, where they tried to help her receive medical help. She was grieving over an older son who had died. One day, she was so distraught that she tried to throw herself under the wheels of a car passing in the street. The father of this Jewish family caught her and pulled her back to safety.

All this didn’t help the city of Ramat Gan, just east of Tel Aviv, in 1991, which absorbed most of the missiles Saddam sent our way. A high proportion of “Iraqi” Jews has traditionally inhabited Ramat Gan (including the same Zilcha family, if I’m not mistaken).

I don't think I'll ever get to see Baghdad with my own eyes. I'm not sure I want to, any more. I'm sorry that so many Arabs, including Iraqis, harbor such intense hatred for us Israelis. I'm sorry that there are Israelis that also hate the Arabs. They don't represent me. I wish we could all just work it out.

* * * *

Eldest will have to choose if to study French or Arabic as her third language, next year. I would really like it to be Arabic and have been attempting to interest her in the beauty and richness of the language (which she can't see), besides it being important for her to study it, and it's being the easier language for her, as a Hebrew speaker. Beats me why Arabic isn't compulsory.

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