The Jews of Kurdistan, the Jewish State, and the Kurdish State That Might Be

Nov. 28 2018

The ancient Jewish community of Kurdistan traces its roots to the first Babylonian exile; its members, like their Assyrian Christian neighbors, spoke Aramaic, the language of the Talmud. And unlike Jews nearly everywhere, they tended to be illiterate even into the 20th century. While Kurdistan, however defined, stretches from Syria and Turkey to Iran, the majority of Kurdish Jews lived in Iraq, a country they left en masse, with the rest of Iraqi Jewry, in the 1950s. Alongside this history, there is a separate history of Israeli outreach to Iraqi Kurds, and a tendency among Israelis to see them as kindred spirits. Mardean Isaac, an Iraqi Assyrian Christian, explores these connections, in part by interviewing Kurdish Jews living in Israel:

“In the 1940s, [when Zionism became a major concern], Muslims started to hate us. Kurds, however, were neutral,” [one informant stated], a point that would recur throughout my conversations. The ultimate kindness the Kurds performed for the Jews was allowing them to escape the nightmare of Iraq and return to Israel, in contrast to the institutionalized anti-Semitism and violence directed against Baghdadi Jews in the years prior to their flight. This collective memory, of a rare act of empathy by a majority group toward Jews, has percolated up to the [Israeli] political class, where it is taken as evidence of the moral caliber of Kurds, as well as their capacity for sympathy based on minority suffering and self-determination. . . .

Another old man, wearing a striking gold cap, overheard us talking, and joined us. He came to Israel at the age of thirteen, he said, from a village on the border with Iran. His father made shoes. My translator told him I’m Assyrian. . . . He started singing in Assyrian: “I climbed the mountain in a caravan!” For the first time in my life, I spoke Assyrian to a Jew. . . . My Assyrian Aramaic and his Jewish Aramaic were largely mutually intelligible. . . .

Yona Mordechai, . . . who came to Israel from [Iraq] at age twelve in 1950, is a community leader who speaks in favor of Kurdish independence. He teaches spoken Aramaic to his community, including younger members born in Israel, and has written a Hebrew-Aramaic-English dictionary. . . .

“I remember everything,” [he said of his childhood]. “Our education was all oral. One of us learned from the other, by mouth. We learned in knuhsta [the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew word knesset, or assembly, here meaning synagogue]—the Torah, the Tanakh—but didn’t understand the language. We would [recite] the words in Hebrew, but didn’t understand their meaning, because we spoke in Aramaic.

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More about: Aramaic, History & Ideas, Iraqi Jewry, Jewish education, Kurds

Hizballah Prepares for War, and UN Peacekeepers Do Nothing

Dec. 10 2018

According to last year’s UN Security Council Resolution 2373, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)—the peacekeeping force created after the Second Lebanon War to keep both Israel and Hizballah out of southern Lebanon—is authorized “to take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces, and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind.” If anything ought to rouse UNIFIL to action, writes Elliott Abrams, it should be the IDF’s recent discovery and destruction of tunnels dug by Hizballah to move troops into the Galilee:

The existence of these tunnels, dug from precisely the area of southern Lebanon that UNIFIL is meant to patrol, means that this area is indeed “utilized for hostile activities.” What, then, is the meaning of [UNIFIL’s statement in] response that it “will communicate its preliminary findings to the appropriate authorities in Lebanon”? The meaning is that UNIFIL will likely do nothing.

UNIFIL is not supposed to be merely a means of communication, or the Security Council would have bought cell phones instead of paying for a military force. Moreover, there are no “appropriate authorities” in Lebanon; if there were, Hizballah would never have been able to dig its tunnels.

The tunnels are hardly the only brazen Hizballah violation of the Security Council resolutions undertaken right under UNIFIL’s nose. Consider this: Hizballah is blocking roads in southern Lebanon to smooth the path of missiles it is moving into the area. . . . Then there is the village of Gila, just north of the Israeli border, where there is a Hizballah headquarters and according to the Israelis about twenty warehouses with weapons, combat positions, lookout points, and dozens of underground positions. All this was built in an area supposedly patrolled by UNIFIL. . . .

This is a test of UNIFIL and its new commander, [Stefan Del Col, who took over in August]. “Communicating” to “appropriate authorities” is a euphemism for doing nothing at all. Hizballah is preparing for war. UNIFIL is supposed to get in its way. If it cannot hinder Hizballah’s war preparations in any way, and is even ignorant of them, UNIFIL is a waste of time and money.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Lebanon, United Nations