chapter  11
18 Pages

From Emigration to Expulsion: The Mass Immigration of Iraqi Jewry to Israel

In late 1949, the Zionist underground began to play a major role in the Iraqi Jewish community, both among the Jews at large and among the community leadership. Through its connections with the leadership of the Jewish community, the underground even had some influence on the Iraqi government. The Zionist movement’s main challenge was to rehabilitate Hehalutz, Hehalutz Hatza’ir, and the Haganah. A count of members found that there were about 700 left; another 250 had moved to Israel, 50 were in prison and 50 had quit. Of the 64 counsellors and other activists, only 14 remained, most of them young and inexperienced. Hehalutz and the Haganah opened new courses for counsellors and instructors and accepted new members.1 Developments in the realm of aliyah were especially impressive. On 12 December, Nuri al-Said’s government resigned; a few days later the emergency regime was lifted and civil law restored. From then on leaving the country illegally was merely a violation of the Passport Law, punishable by at most six months in jail and a fine of 100 dinars. Jews fled the country en masse via Iran. Between January and May 1950, about 4,000 arrived in Iran; in comparison, only 3,000 had arrived in Palestine in the eight years from 1941 to 1948 and 1,700 had arrived in Israel between December 1948 and December 1949. Most of the 4,000 emigrants crossed the border in the Basra area, although others travelled via Amara or Khanaqin. Most were young members of the Zionist movement or non-members who had some connection with the movement. Hundreds of other people-sometimes entire families-left Iraq with the help of private smugglers.