Saturday, September 04, 2004

IRAQI JEWISH ARCHIVE UPDATE: The Lebanon Daily Star has some details that are new to me in the article "Israel tallies up compensation claims by Iraq's Jews":
It appears that many of the manuscripts, Torah scrolls and books were confiscated from synagogues and libraries after the mass exodus of the Iraqi Jewish community in 1950-51. Most went to Israel. With the permission of the interim Iraqi Culture Ministry, the Coalition Provisional Authority had the water-damaged documents shipped to Texas, whereupon they were freeze dried and sent to the US National Archives and Records Administration in Washington for restoration and preservation. Archives officials are presently seeking between $1.5 million to $3 million in donations to further the restoration work. The final disposition of the documents remains an open question.

The Americans also discovered documents in the General Intelligence headquarters basement relating to Jewish property in and around Baghdad, property that had been sequestered by the Iraqi government beginning in 1951, during the mass emigration. The Israeli government has long campaigned to have the value of Jewish property abandoned in the Arab world deducted from any compensation the Israelis may one day pay to Palestinian refugees for the property they abandoned in Israel in 1948. Indeed, Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Natan Sharansky asked the Americans in 2003 to look for anything relating to Iraq's Jewish community after conquering the country.

After the property records were discovered in Baghdad, the State Department in late May 2004 passed along to Sharansky 800 black-and-white photocopies of the Arabic-language documents. After translation, they will be turned over to the Israeli Justice Ministry, whose director-general, Aharon Abramovitz, co-chairs the Israeli government's Compensation Committee for Jews Who Left Arab States. The Justice Ministry maintains an archive of 12,000 files dealing with property claims of Jewish immigrants from Arab countries and Iran. The unit responsible for this archive was first established in 1969, disbanded in the early 1990s, and recently revived.

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