Don’t Send the Iraqi Jewish Archive Back to Iraq

October 26, 2017 | Joseph Samuels
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In 2003, U.S. forces in Iraq discovered thousands of books, Torah scrolls, and documents belonging to the local Jewish community in the flooded basement of the headquarters of Saddam Hussein’s secret police. They sent the collection, which includes many manuscripts dating to the 16th century, to Washington, DC, where it has been preserved and restored. But, following an agreement between the Obama administration and the Iraqi government, the State Department plans to return the archive to Iraq next year. Joseph Samuels, who was born in Baghdad in 1930, urges them to reconsider:

[T]hese artifacts belong to the Iraqi-Jewish community and their descendants. Returning the trove to Iraq is tantamount to returning stolen treasure to a thief. President Trump and the State Department should do all that they can to prevent such an injustice. . . .

After the failed Arab war against Israel in 1948, the Jews of Iraq and other Arab countries faced anti-Semitism and open hostility. We suffered arrest, torture, public execution, and confiscation of property. The Iraqi-Jewish artifacts are a rare example of what was stolen from more than 850,000 Arab Jews and the historical Jewish presence that Arab regimes are attempting to erase. At present, there are only about 3,000 Jews living in Arab countries who are continuing our story.

Decades later, the Baath Party, led by Hussein, looted and confiscated public and personal items from synagogues, Jewish schools, and community properties. . . .

[Today’s] Iraq has proved itself an unreliable custodian, and we fear these historical treasures could be lost forever. . . . I implore the Trump administration, on behalf of all Jews from Arab lands and our descendants, to keep our icons of history from being sent back to those who stole them from us.

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