Muslims Rescue Baghdad’s Jewish Community Center
Agence France Presse
Published on Sunday, April 13, 2003
BAGHDAD, 13 April 2003 — Iraqi Muslims came to the aid of Baghdad’s tiny Jewish community yesterday, chasing out looters trying to sack its cultural center in the heart of the capital.
“At 3:00 a.m., I saw two men, one with a beard, on the roof of the Jewish community house and I cried out to my friend, ‘Hossam, bring the Kalashnikovs!” said Hassam Kassam, 21.
Neither Hassan nor Hossam, who is the guard at the center, was armed at the time but the threat worked in scaring off the intruders. Two hours later, the looters returned again and Hassan Kassem used the trick once more.
The center is located in a freshly painted white house on a lane off Rashid Street in Baghdad’s old town. Two days ago, amid rampant looting in the capital, neighbors removed the sign reading “Special Committee for the Religious Affairs of Ezra Menahem Daniel” to make the premises less conspicuous.
On Friday at about 10:30 a.m., two men seized an opportunity created by the guard’s mid-morning break to try to force open the door in a first attempt to burgle the center. “We came over right way and asked them what they wanted,” said Abdallah Nurredin, 50.
They tried to explain that they wanted to talk to the guard, Nurredin said, “but when they saw the look we were giving them, they left without saying another word”.
Yesterday, Hossam the guard left to look for a real gun in case the persistent thieves returned.
“The Jews have always lived here, in this house, and it is only normal that we should protect them,” said Ibrahim Mohamad, 36, who works in a small undergarments factory near the center of town.
Although the majority of Jews fled the country in the early 1950s, many of their Muslim tenants come each week to pay their rent to an old woman at the center, Mohamad said.
He recalled that in October 1998, a Palestinian killed two Jews and two Muslims in an attack on the community center. “We raced help to the victims, regardless of whether they were Jewish or Muslim”.
In the Batauin district near the Saddun commercial artery, the entrance of a large synagogue is blocked by an immense iron portal. The way onto the street is obstructed by trees and chairs. A self-defense militia formed Friday to fight back against bandits.
“We are defending the synagogue like all houses on the street and we will not let anyone touch it,” said Edward Benham, a 19-year-old computer science student. The young Christian said Jews normally came each Saturday but because of the lingering security problem, no one came today.
Iraq’s Jewish community settled in Mesopotamia in the seventh century BC and numbered more than 100,000 before the creation of Israel in 1948.
Currently, about 50 Jews live in Iraq.