“Up, Zion! Escape, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon” Zec. 2:7 NKJV
Jews have lived in Iraq since the time of Nebuchadnezzar. The Iraqi Jews were mostly a prosperous and stable community living with their Arab neighbours in relative harmony. Apart from the occasional wave of persecution, they were in many ways treated better than the Jews of ‘Christian’ Europe. However, with the formation of the nation of Israel in 1948, and the embarrassing losses of the Arab armies against the fledgling Jewish state, persecution of the Jews quickly spread across Iraq. Ultimately over 120’000 Jews left behind their prosperous lives and fled to Israel with the help of underground smuggling routes established by the Jewish Agency and its representatives.
In this turbulent time, around 5000 Jews bucked the trend and stayed behind in Iraq. They were Jews who were not interested in Zionism and who identified themselves so much with the Iraqis that they chose to remain in Iraq despite the wave of persecution after 1948. ‘Surely’, they reasoned, ‘we will be safer here’.
How did the Jews who stayed behind fare when compared to those who left everything to return to the land of their forefathers?
In the early 1950’s, the situation in Iraq did indeed improve and the Jews of Iraq were once again prosperous and were rising in influence. In the meantime, the situation seemed bleak for those who had made Aliyah only to come to an Israel which at the time was inundated with impoverished refugees from all over the world. These Iraqi Jews – many of whom had previously lived in mansions in Baghdad – now found themselves living for months and even years on end in squalid refugee camps scattered throughout Israel. Unemployment was high, language and cultural tensions were growing and it may have seemed that they had made the wrong choice.
However, a decade later the tables were dramatically turned. The Iraqi migrants to Israel were by this time established in their own houses and were starting to taste success in their new homeland. The Jews in Iraq meanwhile found themselves in the cross-hairs of the government again after the 1967 war – and an intense wave of public executions, kidnappings and torture broke out. Ultimately the remaining Jews of Iraq were forced to flee for their lives leaving everything behind, and some did not make it. It became clear that they would have been better off if they had left earlier when they had the chance.
How do the lessons of history apply to today? The Jewish communities of Europe are facing a growing wave of anti-Semitism at the moment, but many of its leaders are still hoping to ‘ride out’ the storm. Those who make Aliyah now might in the short term face more hardship than their fellow Jews who stay behind in the prosperous West.
However, I believe that in the long run those who make Aliyah now will be better off than those who seek to wait out the storm. Unfortunately, Bible prophecy indicates to us that the situation will indeed get worse, and it is therefore time for us as watchmen to pray for the Jews of the West to recognise the perils they are facing, and hear God’s call to return to their God-given homeland.
Zec. 10:8 tells us that God is indeed ‘whistling’ (alt. translation = ‘whispering’) that the time has come for His people to return home to their Land. He is using us as the Gentiles to warn them and assist them in the return – let us continue to pray that their hearts will be soft to hear and obey God’s call. Pray that they will like Abraham hear and sacrificially obey God’s call. Pray that those who go will have the spirit of Caleb and Joshua who through faith in God were not afraid of the giants in the land.
Source: Operation Babylon by Shlomo Hillel
Enoch Lavender was born in Australia, raised in Norway, spent time living in China and is now based in Melbourne, Australia. He has been studying Hebrew and the Jewish roots of our faith for the past decade, and has a keen interest in the Middle East from a Bible prophecy perspective.