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Why Israel must help the Kurds in Iraq

The Yezidis are presented in mainstream accounts as mere props in a play entitled, ‘Militant Islam and its horrors in the Middle East.’ But the story of the Kurdish people is much more than just a scene — or cannon fodder — in an IS exhibition of horror. A Kurdish Jew in Israel calls on her government to save her brethren. 

By Idan Pink-Avidani

Kurds have no friends but the mountains..

Dear friends and whoever is reading this. Please stop posting negative news and instead pray for #Peshmarga and have faith in God. We Kurds never harmed any nation and never asked for something which was not our right. We only struggle for our own rights, we only fought to protect our children and women. We never had support from anyone. Not any nation. Let’s all pray and ask God to protect us and our Peshmarga. Let’s stop acting like we know what’s going on coz we simply don’t. Let’s stop acting like politicians and analyze and post things on Facebook. Instead let’s stay humans and pray. Let’s stay humans and help our families in Shangal who fled away from their home. Let’s simply look up there to the sky and ask HIM for peace. He never rejects a request.

We are a peaceful nation, who opened it’s arms to protect those who never made a small effort to support us, because KURDS are humans. Let’s stay humans.

You are not helping by making people terrified.

#pray #for #peshmarga”

The text above is what my friend Huda from Irbil-Hawler, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, wrote on her Facebook page a few weeks ago following another deadly attack by Islamic State (IS) forces. The attack caused hundreds of thousands of Yezidis to flee to the mountains where many of them died of hunger and thirst while praying to be rescued.

To me, this moving text represents the essence of the Kurdish people and their struggle for independence: solidarity in a shared destiny that transcends internal political disputes, a strong desire for faith and utter distrust in anyone but themselves.

Since IS entered our consciousness and lives in the Middle East, most people found themselves following and viewing the atrocities this horrific organization is committing through the eyes and explanations of professional media commentators who analyze the situation in Iraq from a distant security perspective. In this analysis the Kurds are presented as props in a play entitled “Militant Islamic violence and its horrors in the Middle East”; however, most of us don’t really understand what is going on or know that the story of the Kurdish people is much more than just part of a scene — or cannon fodder — in an IS exhibition of horror. It is also much more relevant to us Israelis – people of the Jewish nation living with certain independence in Zion.

The phrase “Kurds have no friends but the mountains” was coined by Mullah Mustafa Barzani, the great and undisputed leader of the Kurdish people who fought all his life for Kurdish independence, and who was the first leader of the Kurdish autonomous region. His son, Massoud Barzani, is the current president of Iraqi Kurdistan. Other family members hold key positions in the government.

Mustafa Barzani

Mustafa Barzani

Kurdistan is a mountainous region, fertile and beautiful. Due to the terrain, the Kurdish people lived in relative detachment from the rest of the Middle East for many years and managed to preserve ancient cultures that had disappeared from the world. The Yazidi minority we hear about in the news is not the only Kurdish minority. The Jews of Kurdistan, for example, maintained the traditions of ancient Judaism from the days of the Babylonian exile and the First Temple: they carried on the tradition of teaching the Oral Torah, and Aramaic remained the principal tongue of some in the Jewish Kurdish community since the Talmudic period. They preserved the legacy of the last prophets — whose grave markers constituted a significant part of community life — including the tomb of the prophet Jonah in Mosul, the prophet Nahum in Elkosh and the prophet Daniel in Kirkuk. When the vast majority of Kurdish Jews immigrated to Israel and adopted Hebrew as their first language, Aramaic ceased to exist as a living, spoken language. Although our grandparents’ generation still speaks it, along with a few Christian communities in Kurdistan, Aramaic has been declared a dead language by the academic world.

It seems as if the Kurds have always been persecuted by other nations and lived under foreign occupation. Despite urbanization, the mountains were — and remain — a safe zone for the Kurdish people. The Kurdish resistance movement grew out of the mountains and its fighters are still the only ones who can survive and fight in the tough terrain. In the last century the Kurds of northern Iraq lived under Iraqi-Arab occupation. During Saddam Hussein’s rule, thousands of Kurds were slaughtered and entire towns and villages were razed to the ground. I remember my grandparents following the news in Kurdistan at the time with great concern, all while the eyes of the world were focused on Baghdad, oil and imperialism.

The Jewish Kurdish community has always been close-knit, and like other ethnic communities that were thrown into the Zionist melting pot, previous cultural relations with its neighbors were cut off. As a second-generation Israeli born to Kurdish immigrants, when I started to initiate contact with fellow Kurds in Kurdistan I was surprised to discover how similar we were. I had expected a certain degree of disapproval over the mere fact that I was Jewish, out of solidarity with their Muslim brothers in Palestine, but I found that for the Kurdish people national identity is a thousand times more important than religious affiliation. Although most of the Kurds in the world are Sunni Muslims, for them I was first and foremost Kurdish; being Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Yazidi came second.

By simply familiarizing myself with non-Jewish Kurds I found that I could better understand the culture of my ancestors. I also realized the heavy price that each of us had paid over the last 60 years on different sides of the Middle East: we, the Kurdish Jews, managed to gain a certain level of security and independence while realizing the fundamental right of self-determination. But it came at a high price: giving up a culture that we had managed to maintain for thousands of years. Three-thousand-year-old traditions were lost in the Israeli melting pot and in the creation of a new Israeli identity. Of the 200,000 Jewish Kurds that live in Israel today, the vast majority do not speak Aramaic or Karmanji. In some of the synagogues prayers are sung in a Kurdish style; at some Kurdish weddings people dance with the dohulh and zurna instruments; and many still eat kubea on Fridays. But this magnificent culture is now largely framed as history or folklore.

Jewish-Kurdish singer Ilana Eliya on stage with her band. (photo: Orrling/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Jewish-Kurdish singer Ilana Eliya on stage with her band. (photo: Orrling/CC BY-SA 3.0)

In contrast, the Kurds in Kurdistan have preserved their culture but paid a heavy price in the form of years of suffering, genocide and atrocities that we (thankfully) never had to experience. They told me of the great escape to the mountains in the 1990s, the total destruction of towns and villages, the fear of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons and the humanitarian aid parachuted to them from planes so they could survive. I particularly remember the description of aid packages with flour that fell apart before landing on the ground, and anxious Kurds stared at the white powder, sure that it was a chemical weapon about to destroy them, like the chemicals that had already killed so many Kurds.

Even after all these horrors the world is not yet convinced that the Kurds deserve independence. We are already familiar with the hypocrisy of the Western world, but why is there no one in the Middle East who comes to the Kurds’ defense? The simple answer is that they are not Arabs. The more complex answer is based on geo-political interests. When we talk about Kurdistan we generally refer to southern Turkey, northeast Syria, northern Iraq and western Iran. None of these countries is willing to give up their territory for the sake of Kurdish independence, especially considering that in some cases the land in question consist of major reserves of oil and other valuable natural resources.

While the world remains silent in face of the horrors occurring in Kurdistan today, just as it kept silent during the genocide perpetrated by Saddam Hussein, my Facebook feed is full of photos of vigils and support protests organized by Kurds living outside of Kurdistan.

While the Arab League is committed (at least on paper) to Palestinian independence, it continues to oppose Kurdish independence. Kurdistan’s strongest ally is the U.S. It was the U.S. that helped establish Kurdish autonomy after the fall of Saddam Hussein and is now offering limited assistance – mainly in the form of humanitarian aid and limited air strikes against IS military targets.

A soldier in the Kurdish military or peshmerga attempts to direct crowds of internally displaced people waiting outside the Khazer Checkpoint between Nineveh and Erbil Provinces in Iraqi Kurdistan, July 9, 2014. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

A soldier in the Kurdish military or peshmerga attempts to direct crowds of internally displaced people waiting outside the Khazer Checkpoint between Nineveh and Erbil Provinces in Iraqi Kurdistan, July 9, 2014. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

But with all due respect to the desire not get involved in yet another foreign policy mess and war that is not their own, the U.S. cannot disregard its direct responsibility for the disaster that is transpiring in the region. It was the U.S. that armed the Iraqi army, which later abandoned its positions and allowed IS to get their hands on more advanced weaponry than that of the Kurdish Peshmerga, who were forbidden from arming themselves. The “leader of the free world” went to war without hesitation hundreds of thousands of miles from home in order to protect oil interests over a decade ago, and now that this decision is resulting in genocide it is cautious and ready to defend only American consular institutions in Irbil. There is no end to hypocrisy.

But we are not citizens of the U.S. We are citizens of Israel and members of the Jewish people. We must not avert our eyes away from a persecuted minority that is undergoing genocide; we must not forget that, as Jews, we survived genocide very recently. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Kurds remain the largest minority in the world without a state of their own. Kurdistan is not on the other side of the world; it’s a two-hour flight from Tel Aviv – much closer than the Far East, where we did not hesitate to help victims of the tsunami disaster. It is far closer than Haiti, Kenya and other places where Israel has invested great resources to help people there. The State of Israel, which is careful not to interfere in Syria for fear of diplomatic entanglement must not fear getting caught up in Kurdistan. There is no concern of agitating the Arab League, as it doesn’t support Kurdish independence. There is no fear of getting into trouble with Turkey, since our relations have never been worse. And there is clearly no worry that we’ll annoy the U.S.

The common Israeli ignorance about what is happening in the Middle East, and the general sentiment that “the whole world, especially the Middle East, is against us,” causes us all to miss the similarities between the Jewish and Kurdish peoples. For Kurds living in Israel it is very clear: for years they lived under Iraqi occupation, and if you ask them they will tell you that the mass immigration in 1951-52 was not spurred by Muslim Kurds, but by the Iraqis.

[Destruction of the Prophet Jonah’s tomb in Mosul]

Many do not know that the Kurdish community in Israel, just like other Kurdish communities in exile, is still in touch with Kurdistan. When Mullah Mustafa Barzani led the persistent Kurdish struggle for independence, the whole world saw the fighters as an illegitimate guerrilla organization. The enlightened Western world viewed Kurdish independence as a threat to its political and economic interests in the Middle East.

The late Haviv Shimoni, who founded the National Association of Kurdish Jews in Israel, held a close personal relationship with Barzani and made sure that Israel helped the Kurds in their struggle for independence. Today his nephew, Yehuda Ben-Yosef, is the chairman of the organization and continues working to promote solidarity with the Kurds.

Israelis of Kurdish origin demonstrate in solidarity with the Yazidi community in front of the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, August 13, 2014. The Yazidi community in northern Iraq has recently been attacked by extremists of Islamic State. The protesters called for U.S intervention. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Israelis of Kurdish origin demonstrate in solidarity with the Yazidi community in front of the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, August 13, 2014. The Yazidi community in northern Iraq has recently been attacked by extremists of Islamic State. The protesters called for U.S intervention. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Like other Kurds in exile, we recently held a vigil in front of the American embassy in Tel Aviv. We demanded that the U.S. do more than offer targeted humanitarian assistance. With today’s forms of social media the horrific videos of executions by extremist groups are delivered to us almost live. With them we also witness our cultural heritage being erased. I watched the destruction of the tomb of the Prophet Jonah in Mosul in horror, and slowly the understanding dawned that we are dealing with people who have lost their humanity and are out to destroy an entire people and their culture.

Now it is our time to turn to the Israeli government. As ordinary citizens we raised a voice, but it’s not enough. I call on our prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister: this is not the time for diplomatic discussion but for action. It’s time to take control and immediately respond to IS and the threat to Kurdistan, which is a threat to us, our cultural heritage and the non-Arab minority in the Middle East. We never forgave the world for its hesitation when it chose not to bomb the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Now it’s our turn; we must not hesitate. We have the means, we have the ability and we have a moral obligation not to stand idly by.

This post was first published in Hebrew on Haokets. Idan Pink-Avidani is an Israeli educational tour guide and social activist.

Related:
Longing for Zion, dreaming of Kurdistan

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    COMMENTS

    1. Gustav

      Yes, I agree. Israel should do anything possible to help the Kurds. Not only are they potentially a natural ally but objectively speaking, they need and deserve help and not just from us.

      In any case, sooner or later, Israel too will be faced with the hordes of the ISIS who will no doubt be supported by the usual suspects for whom anyone who hates Israel is a friend.

      It should work the other way too. Anyone who is threatened by the evil that ISIS is, should be our friend.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        Remember, Kurds are muslims too. They won’t let you manipulate them like the Miskito let the Americans, if that’s what you were thinking of (“natural allies”).

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Remember Ray, you are a racist who hates Jews and you only hear what you want to hear.

          You are a waste of space as far as I am concerned, Rat, but I will always respond to your mindless tirades if for no other reason, than to piss you off and to make you look the stupid and dishonest person who you really are.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            How is it racist to be skeptical about Israel’s sincerity when dealing with muslims? I’m part Jewish, so don’t talk to me about “racism.”

            How was what I wrote a “tirade?” If you want to help the Kurds, good. Their survival is at stake. Just don’t go in with geopolitical tricks and some Kissingerian chess-master mentality.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Gustav

      “How is it racist to be skeptical about Israel’s sincerity when dealing with muslims?”

      I have already answered that in my many responses to your simplistic accusations. Go read my posts again. I ain’t repeating myself.

      “I’m part Jewish, so don’t talk to me about “racism.”

      Spare me Ray, maybe you are, maybe you are not. Anyone could be anyone on the internet. I don’t really care who you are. I just judge you by the simplistic one sided posts which you post here.

      “How was what I wrote a “tirade?”

      I already answered that.

      “If you want to help the Kurds, good. Their survival is at stake. Just don’t go in with geopolitical tricks and some Kissingerian chess-master mentality.”

      I’ll go on any which way I like. The internet is still free provided you don’t make personal threats and even then when threats are made against Jews, somehow it seems to be ok with your type.

      You don’t like what I say? You have the right not to like it but you could make yourself more credible if you would come up with logical ways of debunking what I say, instead of the one eyed garbage that you come up with.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        “I have already answered that in my many responses to your simplistic accusations. Go read my posts again. I ain’t repeating myself.”

        No you have not. Unless it is that it is antisemitic to not have a 100% nice, happy opinion of Israel. If it helps, I also suspect Gulf monarchies of supporting the popular revolution in Syria for their own ends. So I’m an equal opportunity critic of Machiavellian foreign policy.

        “I just judge you by the simplistic one sided posts which you post here.”

        As opposed to yours, which take great care to consider the merits of both sides of the debate before coming to a conclusion, and don’t name-call or make hysterical accusations?

        “I already answered that.”

        Where? You called my response to your original comment a “tirade,” but didn’t explain why.

        “I’ll go on any which way I like. The internet is still free provided you don’t make personal threats and even then when threats are made against Jews, somehow it seems to be ok with your type.”

        That was a request towards your government, not you personally. And where have I been “ok” with threats against Jews?

        “You don’t like what I say? You have the right not to like it but you could make yourself more credible if you would come up with logical ways of debunking what I say, instead of the one eyed garbage that you come up with.”

        I wasn’t arguing with you in the first place, I was expressing a concern that the Israeli government, if it decided to help the Kurds, would only do so with less-than pure intentions.

        Militarily, Islamic State is doomed, as it has the entire Islamic world (including Iran), the Syrian Opposition, and the USA amassed against it, so nobody is asking for Israel to go on some holy crusade against it. My suggestion is that Israel’s hypothetical aid to the Kurds be limited to supplies (medical, arms, food, etc.).

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          “Unless it is that it is antisemitic to not have a 100% nice, happy opinion of Israel.”

          No, that is not antisemitic. What IS antisemitic though is to blame ONLY Israel for EVERYTHING that goes wrong ALL THE TIME while displaying double standards when others behave the same way or even worse. A case in point, Britain and others.

          “If it helps, I also suspect Gulf monarchies of supporting the popular revolution in Syria for their own ends. So I’m an equal opportunity critic of Machiavellian foreign policy.”

          Go on then, let us hear what you have to say about the Palestinian Arabs? Does the sun shine out of THEIR behind, Ray?

          “As opposed to yours, which take great care to consider the merits of both sides of the debate before coming to a conclusion,”

          You mean when one responds to one sided accusations from people like you, you expect me to applaud you?

          “and don’t name-call or make hysterical accusations?”

          You started the name calling, and the hysterical accusations (remember your jibe about the how the world will punish us? Our racism etc …). I figured if you can do it then so can I.

          “Where? You called my response to your original comment a “tirade,” but didn’t explain why.”

          I already did. Go read all my responses to you. Don’t be so lazy. And if you dish it out then be ready to take it too. That’s what I like about you Israel bashers. You call us racists, promoters of apartheid, baby killers but you can’t take some counter accusations.

          “That was a request towards your government, not you personally.”

          Not just my government but against my country. This is where I live. So if you undermine my country in an unfair way, which you certainly DO, then you attack me and my family personally.

          “And where have I been “ok” with threats against Jews?”

          You did not, at least not yet. But others of your political persuasion did. I used the word “you people …” As a generalisation to make a minor point. Now you want to make a meal ticket out of it? Be my guest.

          “I wasn’t arguing with you in the first place, I was expressing a concern that the Israeli government, if it decided to help the Kurds, would only do so with less-than pure intentions.”

          Whooppie dooooo. As if Israel is the only party in the world which behaves with it’s self interest in mind? See what I mean by the word hypocrite?

          “Militarily, Islamic State is doomed, as it has the entire Islamic world (including Iran), the Syrian Opposition, and the USA amassed against it,”

          You think so? I hope you are right.

          “so nobody is asking for Israel to go on some holy crusade against it.”

          Duh, don’t you think I know that? And do you think we want to have a war with them too? Hint: NO!

          But, do you think they want to attack us at the first opportunity? If I would be a betting man, I would say yes because guess what? They too think that the Palestinian Arabs can do no wrong but we are the devil incarnate as far as they are concerned.

          See Ray? You and ISIS are on the same side. Aren’t you proud?

          “My suggestion is that Israel’s hypothetical aid to the Kurds be limited to supplies (medical, arms, food, etc.).”

          Whatever. We are sure to seek the advice of people like you Ray. NOT!

          Reply to Comment
    3. Average American

      I’d love to see Israel help someone. Some money out of their own pocket instead American’s wallets. Not likely.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        You would love to see Israel dead, Aerage Arab.

        How come you don’t cry about all the money and dead Americans which Americans sacrifice on behalf of ungrateful Arabs in Lybia, on “Palestinians”, Kuwaitis, and Iraqis?

        You are obviously not an American. You are just another one of those Arabs who are full of hate against non Muslims.

        Never forget 9/11!

        Reply to Comment
    4. Doctor

      Why Kurds? Why not Somalis or Colombians? Or Iraqi Arabs for that matter? What is all this fascination with the Kurds about?

      Reply to Comment
      • Graham

        Sorry, but did you read the article.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      Jews should be backing Christians, Mandaens, Yazidis, Kurds, Ismailis, Alawites and even Shia against these Wahabbi lunatics.

      Reply to Comment
      • Elena

        And yet NONE of those people – the Christians, Kurds, Yazidis, Alawites, etc. EVER aided or expressed support or even sympathy for the Jews or Israel. When the Jews were forced to leave their homes in Iraq, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, were glad to see them go and happily stole their property. Help is NOT a one-way street!

        Reply to Comment
    6. Barzan

      Kurds and Jews had similar experiences. Both had experienced genocides. Jewish and Kurds lived together for thousands years. When Assyrian and Babylon took Jewish from Jerusalem the Medes (Kurds) started wars against Assyrian and Babylon.

      Over 200 000 Jewish kurds were killed, over 1 million Yezidian kurds were killed, over 1.5 million christian kurds, armenian, Celdanian were killed as they didnt like to change their religions.

      Kurds were forced to accept Muslim.

      Kurds accepted Zoroastrian, Yezidi and Jewish with their own decisions.

      Therefore everyone has to let kurds to decide the religions by themselves. In relation to that kurds have to be independent.

      The first female rabbi of jewish history was Asenath Barzani.

      Kurdistan is the place of the freedom and free religions. If arabs, turks, persian will live kurds alone the kurds will decide individually about which religion they are going to follow.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Barzan

      If Kurds would not protect themselves against IS, the Kurds would be forced to accept the fanatic sunni religion. Exactly similar as they were forced to change their religions hundreds of years ago.

      The reason why arabs and turks (IS) attacking kurds is that kurds are not fanatic muslims. And millions of kurds dont follow muslim much as arabs do.

      The relationship between Israel and Kurds is not about religions it is about the history of Jewish and Kurds.

      The relationship between Israel and Kurds is since 1950. But the relationship between Jewish and Kurds is since thousands of years.

      The relationship between Israel and Kurdistan or kurdish parties are depends the in common benefits. But the relationships between Jewish and Kurds is depends their in common values and in common histories.

      Me as a kurd I care more about the in common historical values than political or financial benefits.

      Reply to Comment
    8. todd

      go kurds, canada is with you

      Reply to Comment
    9. ako

      I would like to tell the Israeli government and our brothers and sisters Jewess people, That the only people in the region whom you can relay on and trust are Kurd. So I believe in strengthen the relation between the two nations which in the near future the necessity of having this type of very powerful association among them will be unveiled.

      Reply to Comment