ALL WAITING TO BE HANGED

by Max Sawdayee

 

THE STORM

PART ONE

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The beginning of May 1967 preludes nothing ominous in Iraq.  Except for the worrying probability that the Tigris and the Euphrates might overflow their banks, a probability that preoccupied every Iraqi government during the spring season, everything seemed to run relatively smoothly.


The month of May is usually warm and sunny.  Everybody feels the exciting liveliness of the season.  In 1967 it is particularly refreshing and I take my family for a vacation in the north.   Upon my return I get back to my work desk, and with my Muslim partner plunge deep into a project of setting up a big tissue paper factory in Iraq.  Our main business is the control of almost all advertising activities in the country.


Towards the middle of May the weather begins to grow warm.  This is usual every year.  The middle of that month introduces the summer season.  But a heat wave is unwelcome.  In Iraq, as in all Arab countries, heat means trouble.  Small or big.  Heat inspires a feeling of some agitation ahead.  How?!  When?! Where?!  Nobody can tell.  Nobody knows.  Anyway, people keep going their usual way, hoping for the best.



Monday May 15, 1967


The people of Israel celebrate their 19th Independence Day. 


Egypt rushes heavy armour and tens of thousands of troops to Suez, with an order to cross over to the Sinai Desert.


Iraqis, always over zealous, and quickly carried away, stop working for one minute and stand in silence for the occasion.  The moved made by Egypt kindles the hope that the end of Israel has come.  Its destruction is sure and imminent.  In this round the Arabs must win.  The Israelis will be thrown into the sea, to the last woman and child.



Monday May 22, 1967


Egypt closes the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping.


Jordan declares the general mobilization of its armed forces.


Iraq offers to send an army to the eastern front to help Jordan against Israel, and also to put its air force at the disposal of Arab armies.


In the beginning it looks a little serious.  Only Nasser appears to be in a hurry.  King Hussein of Jordan might possibly act out of fear from Arab public opinion, but his army stands fully prepared for the attack.  President Aref of Iraq is simply following the hue and cry, yet unhesitatingly orders his army to move, and in an encouraging address to his troops he expresses the hope to meet his “eagles and heroes” shortly in Tel Aviv!!  Syria, always driven by extremism, promises the complete extermination of Israel and the Israeli people, in a tone far more venomous than its partners’.


As for Israel itself, no sign can be detected of any serious worry on its part.  It appears peaceful and calm. Is it wearing a mask?  Is this peaceful calm merely pretence?  We here cannot tell.  We can only guess that its attitude is one of “wait and see”, but it seems to be well prepared for any emergency.


Nevertheless, tonight my wife and I are apprehensive and thoughtful.  Are Arab armies really so powerful?  Or is Israel so sure of itself?  And what about us the Jews of Iraq?  My wife objects to my keeping a diary.  It could be very dangerous.  But I insist on recording every important development and every event, assessing the situation and drawing my personal conclusions, particularly in connection with our country Iraq and the Jewish community here.  I feel it’s worthwhile.  Even a must.


Wednesday Evening May 31, 1967


The BBC reports that a hundred thousand Egyptian troops have crossed over to Sinai.


King Hussein of Jordan has signed a pact with President Nasser.  The pact is qualified as one of steel.


Ahmed Shukri noisy speaker of the Palestinians (whom Amman radio broadcasts previously awarded the title of master clown) already deafens his listeners with shrieks of victory.


Rumours run around that the Iraqi third armoured division is ready to cross into Jordan tonight or tomorrow.


President Atassi of Syria hurries to Moscow to receive last instructions.  His armies are said to be standing alert and waiting for the word to hack every Israeli to pieces.


Forces from all parts of the Arab world converge on the scene.  The battlefield is to be Israel itself.


Meantime, Soviet battleships cross the Dardanelles.  They will stand in the Mediterranean, in close proximity to the fighting armies.


The stream of events is rushing with violence.  This is not a joke, by heavens!  Tonight I feel a little afraid of further developments.  No fewer than two hundred and fifty thousand soldiers, fully armed to the teeth by Soviet Russia, and covered by hundreds of aircraft, may very soon fall upon Israel like birds of prey.  The Israeli Prime Minister broadcasts a speech that can hardly match the bellicose threats of his Arab neighbours.


If war really breaks out…?!



Midnight – Wednesday May 31, 1967


Disturbance and uproar have characterised the last fortnight.  When the Iraqi people is agitated to excessive enthusiasm, the ground and all that is on it begin to rumble.  Everybody is excited, from the president down to the smallest man.  However, nobody knows when the fighting will break out, nor even whether it will break out at all !  Tons of words are spoken around the clock, with explosive passion and excitement, and all focus on war.  For two weeks now, war is king !


Newspapers are naturally the broadest medium of propaganda, and it is they who are holding up the banner of “Jihad”.  But they are unnecessarily electrifying the atmosphere to such a high tension as to render it extremely intolerable.  Their tone is poisonous, and, as usual, pickled with hyperbole.  They speak of tens of thousands of battle-tried soldiers on the move, of thousands upon thousands of volunteers ready to join the battle, of innumerable guns at the point of blasting the enemy, of hundreds of aircraft that will only need a moment’s notice to take to the air and fulfil their holy mission.  Along with these statements come the accompanying caricatures, the gist of which is to describe Israel as a helpless midget crushed under the feet of an Arab giant, or a Waiting Wall razed to the ground, and from beneath it crooked nosed Jews fall down into the Mediterranean.


And the inflated speeches streaming endlessly from the top.  All would like to see Israel pulverised.  They are determined to ‘extricate that cancer from the region once and for all’.


Radio and TV broadcasts shriek night and day.  ‘The ‘Jihad’ draws near!  Be ready!’ – with fillers of martial songs and music.


And demonstrations in the main streets, carrying signs and posters with slogans such as, ‘We want war! Give us arms!’


Actually, few know what is really going on and what it’s all about.  But Iraqis need action – whatever action means and wherever it may lead.  And here there’s provocation in abundance, and action galore.


Concerning us Jews, so far nothing special has occurred, nor anything serious has yet taken place.  We are used to such noises, most of which we regard like a storm in a teacup.  We are attending work as usual.  Business goes on.  We keep going to movies and clubs, though we cast a look behind our shoulders now and then.  And we listen to radio broadcasts from abroad, including Israel, to be able to form an idea of the situation.


Yet two things annoy us all the time.  One is the sinister plays broadcast on television, feeding the public around the clock, incorporated with such remarks as ‘Heskel, surrender!’  The implication is very clear.  The other annoyance is the constant army movements: tanks, armoured trucks and vehicles, running the streets and heading west.



Thursday June 1, 1967


The situation wears a more serious phase.  The news reports a reshuffle in the Israeli cabinet.  Two appointments bear special influences: Moshe Dayan has been assigned the portfolio of Defence, and Menachem Begin (the national opposition leader) is a minister without portfolio.  The presence of these two militant men in the Israeli government causes fearful echoes throughout the area.  Is war a reality?  Is it imminent?



Saturday Evening June 3, 1967


Iraqis are tense, excited, alarmed.  Our military forces cross over the Jordan.  War is indeed closer to reality now than mere shouts and cries.  A little disturbed, I attend my business as usual. 


Today I discuss urgent matters with my partner, burn important but undesirable personal papers, and draw some cash.


I hear from a friend, an army officer, that a former Iraqi Prime Minister who was recently in Cairo, said that if war came the Arabs were bound to lose. 


From the window I see huge demonstrations calling for war.  It was wise to get home.


Tonight we have a guest, a gentleman who spent his life working in public economy.  We listen to news broadcast from Israel, when he remarks that if war does break out between Israel and its neighbouring countries, we should be ready for any eventuality.  Things could be serious this time, as both sides are powerful, he says.  As to us Iraqi Jews, he predicts that should the Arabs lose the war, the outcome could be very seriously damaging. Not only property and business possibilities may be lost, but also a number of our men may fall victim.  He urges my wife to stop me from going to work in the case of an Arab defeat, as it could be hazardous, he adds.


Later on I tell my wife that it is rather funny what this gentleman has said, but that it could very well be true.