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Iraq's Kurdish Jews Cautiously Return to Homeland
Sunday, December 9, 2007 : Lana was a teenager when her family made a clandestine journey from Kurdistan to Israel. It was 1994, and Saddam Hussein had recently lost control of northern Iraq. Rival Kurdish militias were battling each other to fill the power vacuum. In a closely guarded emigration, Lana's family — and a dozen other Kurdish families of Jewish origin — traveled over land to neighboring Turkey in a trip organized and financed by Israel.
Iraq's ancient Jewish community has virtually disappeared, a casualty of the conflict that continues to divide the Middle East. For the last 50 years, Iraq and Israel have been sworn enemies, part of the broader Arab-Israeli conflict. Most of the ancient Jewish community in Iraq emigrated en masse in 1951. But unlike their Arab counterparts, Iraqi Kurds tend to be less suspicious of their former Jewish neighbors. And some Jewish Kurds have begun making discreet return visits to Kurdistan.
Accepting Their Neighbors
Now Lana, 28, is a citizen of Israel who speaks Hebrew and Kurdish fluently. Last year, she returned for the first time since her emigration to live in Kurdistan with her new husband, Hano, an Iraqi Muslim Kurd. The couple asked that their full names not be used for fear of reprisal.
"I didn't think twice about marrying a Jewish woman," Hano said. "My parents always told me stories about how much they liked their old Jewish neighbors."Listen Online