ALL WAITING TO BE HANGED

by Max Sawdayee

 


Wednesday June 7, 1967


High tension and anxiety prevail among all Iraqis, Jews and non-Jews alike.  All foreign broadcasting stations report that Israeli forces are advancing in both fronts and have a firm grip of the situation.  Arab armies are retreating everywhere with heavy losses, whether on the Sinai front in the south, or in the West Bank of the Jordan in the east.  Even Arabic broadcasts are beginning to tell the truth, after having transmitted only lies and vague threats so far.


At 1:00 p.m. the news from abroad is alarming.  We hear of burning and looting of Jewish homes and shops in Tunis, of murders in Aden.  Father, brother and a number of friends come to see me about worrying news.  We talk it over, yet we see no alternative but consider it as coolly and as patiently as possible.  We can do nothing except watch what will happen here.


More news from abroad.  The Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Dayan arrives at the Wailing Wall.  The Israelis must now be thinking of it as the climax of operations, the very symbol over victory.  The Wailing Wall in the hands of the Jews!  And it isn’t Nebuchadnezzar or Titus at the Wall, but Moshe Dayan!  The Jewish people have moved in the circuit since the destruction of the Temple!


It must all be fascinating to the Israelis.  They must be drunk now.  But what repercussions will it cause in the near and the not too distant future?


Late in the afternoon, as news of violence against Jews continues to stream from Arab countries, we go to the market.  It’s a big shopping campaign.  My wife and I buy all our requirements for the next two weeks.  Many Jews here do likewise.  We must keep inside our homes for a time. 


At night we see on TV Israeli pilots taken prisoners.  We are keen to see what they look like.  It must be said in fairness that they appear to be well treated.


The news from Jordan is a little funny.  That country is seeking a cease-fire, but meanwhile King Hussein’s order to his troops is, ‘Kill them!  Fight them with your teeth and your nails!’  It reminds me of a joke a Muslim friend of mine told me a few days ago.  He said that Arab leaders do not regard their soldiers as fighters but as middle-aged prostitutes quarrelling in Soho or Pigalle!


Friday June 9, 1967


It is almost incredible.  After only four or five days of fighting, and following a desperate tank battle last night, Egypt opts for a cease-fire along the Suez Canal.  Syria desperately stands alone against Israel, refusing to accept a cease-fire.


Local newspapers and the radio today make it quite clear that the situation is getting from bad to worse – to put it mildly.  However, they hint that the war is completely lost.


This morning something new has cropped up in the field of social relations.  It is rather strange, and gives way to a more serious anxiety.  For the first time in many years, virulent anti-Jewish speeches are publicly made in mosques. Holy places were always reserved for purely religious sermons and rites, never for political purposes.  But today, worshippers in the mosques and crowds in the streets are treated to a special Friday prayer.  The muezzins call for a Holy War against bad Jews everywhere in the world, and urge the rulers and people of every country to chase them away and clean their soil of them.  There is no doubt that ‘bad Jews’ could eventually mean all Jews, especially the nearest victims still living in Iraq.


In the afternoon the shock of Egypt’s defeat is fully realised.  It is so big and unexpected that the shock can extend to far-reaching proportions.  I’ve just heard that Nasser will deliver a speech tonight.  All of us know what he is going to say to Egyptians and Arabs.  So it isn’t important what his speech will contain as much as its consequences in those Arab countries which respect his leadership.


I ring up my brother and advise him to be careful tonight.  It is better to be at home and not out anywhere.


With a friend of mine I set to hear the fateful speech of Egypt’s President.  I have a feeling of anxiety and apprehension, but also of expectation that he will be realistic, courageous and as truthful as he can afford to.  When the hour comes and we hear him addressing his people and other Arab nations, I’m deeply struck by the amount of truth and common sense his words spell out, his objectivism, his admission of weakness, and finally his resignation.  Though he did distort a lot of facts, he is the only Arab leader that fearlessly admits mistakes and courageously faces realities.  However, so far as Jews in Arab countries are concerned, we discern that in the wake of his speech lies the seed of violence that may sprout eruption, even to the extent of all out massacres.


I take my friend to his house in my car and return home quickly.  I try to adjust myself to any eventualities, and at home I pretend to be taking things easy. 


One thing takes hold of my thoughts.  It is Nasser.  He was quick to mobilise his forces and move them to the Sinai Peninsula.  He was quick to close the Straits of Tiran.  He was quick to dismiss the U.N. personnel who observed the ‘peace’ between Egypt and Israel.  He was quick to be drawn into battle.  He was quick to retreat, with heavy losses.  He was quick to surrender.  He was quick to resign.  He was also quick to admit his errors!  And later on, quick to withdraw his resignation.


Undoubtedly Nasser is a man of quick decisions!



Saturday June 10, 1967


Never has this country witnessed such a huge and violent demonstration as the one of today, calling for Nasser to withdraw his resignation and take the helm again.


Fighting continues on the Syrian front.  A savage battle is waging there.  Damascus radio screams for help.  The screams are terrorizing.


Baghdad looks like a house of mourning.  The Jews are especially concerned, pessimistic about their future.  If they could only leave… by any means!


Today my Muslim partner tells me never to attend the business again.  He is afraid lest both of us should get arrested.  I have actually expected that, not without the heart breaking sorrow and pain for a very successful and profitable work I have faithfully served and cherished, and in which so much time and effort have been invested.


I’ve just heard that our Deputy Premier Tahir Yahya arrived from Cairo this morning with a broken hand.  His warplane made a forced landing after being shot by an Israeli aircraft while he was touring the Egyptian front on the first day of the war.  He is highly offended, and rumours spread that he will order the arrest of many Jews here in order to satisfy himself and the public.

  

A little before noon father comes to see me, pale and disturbed.  He announces that two Jews have already been arrested.


In the afternoon I juggle with the probability of getting arrested, and my wife shares with me this anxiety.  I give her seventy Dinars (about one hundred and eight dollars) and ask her to go to town and buy me a dozen books – some fine novels, history books, books on politics, philosophy and yoga.  I decide this must be the best way to keep busy, whether in prison or at large – to read.


In the evening we hear that Syria accepts a cease-fire. The war is over now, on all fronts.  We shall have to watch its outcome.


We also hear that the Iraqi government is asking for blood donations, as wounded soldiers start arriving home.  It sounds a little strange, because the army spokesman said earlier that only a few were wounded and very few were killed.


The arrest of two heads of Jewish families is known to the entire community.  The fate of these two men, and the probability that more Jews may be arrested or tortured, preoccupy the mind of every family.   Past experience does not paint a bright picture.  The police come raiding a house at night, searching it from end to end and turning it topsy-turvy, shout, terrorise the family for some two or three hours, then take away the head of the family.  There are so many grim memories of this miserable experience. Whenever the country was in trouble, our community had to suffer in this manner, because the government could not grapple with the problems facing it.  So it finds a scapegoat to busy the people with; to focus their attention on something else.  And if arbitrary arrest meant only being in jail, it might be tolerable.  But in abnormal circumstances it always meant torture also, and in some cases the victims were never seen again.  I myself remember quite well when my father was taken away in May 1941, accused as an English spy, when the then Nazi-oriented government was at breaking point as the British army had closed in from three sides, and by miracle he got released just before the notorious massacre of Jews and looting of their homes on June 1 and 2 of that year.  Today appears like another link in the chain. 


At 10:00 a.m., the strain reaching a head-shattering climax, I drink a double whisky and decide it is time to begin my first yoga lesson.



Commentary on the Six-Day War and Conclusion


The most significant outcome of this war, so far as Iraq is concerned, is CHAOS:  A chaos that may prove devastating and even fatal to the very existence of a shaky political regime. 


Now the country passes through a state of utter frustration and defeat.  Confusion and tension reach a high pitch.  Everybody realises that the war is definitely lost, but a top-level, appeasing explanation is essential to placate the riotous crowds.  The truth becomes an issue, the search for it an obsession.  How and why could such a great military campaign, carefully prepared for a considerable time, be lost?!  And so soon, in almost no time?!  How and why could such huge quantities of the best war material in the world, turn to scrap within six days?!  How and why could such an immense war machine be brought to a halt in a single week, and wiped out?!  And last but not least, indeed the most crucial question of all, how could the Israelis escape the fate of being thrown into the sea – nay, how were they left alive, and victorious to boot, having managed to swallow large chunks of territory on three fronts?!


Few or no answers at all can be provided to these burning questions at present.  The Iraqi government, like most of its allies, did not go to war in order to win a battle.  In fact, it did not consider the war on a purely military or technical basis, and one may even correctly guess that it did not have any purely military objective. What did happen is actually following a war cry, and in the ensuing hubbub our leaders did not look at winning the war as the principle target.  No.  The principal target was looting, burning, destruction, murder and rape.  Never did they take into account that they might lose the war.  Never did they consider the possibility that Israel could beat the combined forces of Arab armies.  They joined the cry as they might do a ball, singing and dancing, sure that there would be a lot of fun there to kill and destroy!


Hence the frustration.  The disappointment is so vast that our leaders cannot even dare answer questions.  They are afraid they may have to pay with their heads sooner or later.


The army is no less humiliated than its masters the politicians.  The third armoured division is back from the front.  It must now be one-third of a division and without armour!  For the Iraqi General Staff, that is too much to bear.  They must have been badly guided by the government.  And with the Kurds fortifying their strongholds in the north, the Iranians hardening the situation in the east, and the Ba’athist party conspiring all along, the heads of our army find the burden too onerous.  How long would the army continue to bear this burden?


The simplest thing one can say is that this country is heading for serious trouble, and may witness dark hours before long, if not another upheaval.  The turmoil, presently just beneath the surface, will burst at any moment.  The sound of the gun may be our sole guide here once again.


As to Nasser, one cannot help but admire him, and at the same time feel sorry for him.  This man understood the secrets of talented statesmanship, yet forgot how to continue as a talented personality, but no unifier like Lenin or Mao.  He tried hard to urge the Arab peoples to unite, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf, to no avail.  He could offer them nothing substantial.  His own country lacks heavy industry, raw materials and know-how; and with the population explosion in Egypt, other Arab leaders feared they might be the targets for Egyptian colonisation.  He resorted to intrigue blended with force in some stages of his career, aiming at blowing out regimes undesirable to him.  His leadership enjoyed great admiration, yet also suffered profound distrust.  The prestige he had won during the first years of his presidency was thinning out.


Finally he concentrated his efforts against Israel.  The destruction of that country became the finest ambition he might realise, but towards that ambition he proceeded almost like any other Arab leader: with a burning zeal rather than with realistic calculations.  There he committed his abysmal error and sank down.  The dénouement of the Six-Day War made him discern that error.  He found out that he had behaved neither like a leader nor like a statesman, but like an adventurer.  He frankly admitted his error.


As for us, the Jews of Iraq, it is the beginning of a big and painful drama.  Unless intensive endeavours are made to achieve peace in the area, the drama could very easily turn into a tragedy.  Jews have recently been murdered in Tunisia, Libya and Aden.  Iraq has no doubt got the message but prefers to adopt slower methods of persecution.  Blind fanaticism is sure to feed a hunger for such a development.  It is very much alive and ardent.  It may grow more acute in the days or weeks to come.  Arab governments wanted to liquidate Israel.  If they failed to achieve their object in this war, they could at least relish the satisfaction of destroying their Jewish minorities.  From now on every Jew here must consider himself a persona non grata – because that is what he will be – but without the prospects of a safe exit.  He will have no protection either from inside the country or from outside it.

PART ONE :  THE STORM

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