Kurdish Jew Who Made Aliyah as Child Undertakes Emotional Visit to Birthplace
A Kurdish Jew who made aliyah to Israel from the northern Iraqi city of Halabja in 1953 returned to his birthplace on Sunday for the first time, Kurdish news outlet NRT reported.
Shaul Alizar was six years old when his family emigrated from Halabja to the Jewish state, along with most of the Kurdish community. A friend of Alizar’s told NRT that he had “a long-held desire to visit the city and see where he had spent his early years.”
Kurdish journalist Draw Mahdi, who accompanied Alizar, said that his companion had “remembered some places in Halabja, especially in his old neighborhood, and the Sheikh Smail graveyard.” Mahdi said that Alizar also had fond memories of a local Muslim cleric, Sheikh Hisamadin, whom he recalled as being “kind” to the Jewish community in Halabja.
Mahdi added that Alizar appeared to be filled with “joy and wonder” when he got out of the car in Halabja for the first time since his childhood.
An official census in 1930 recorded the presence of 400 Jews in and around Halabja. According to the website of Beit Hatfutsot, the Tel Aviv-based Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, a Jewish traveler named Bentzion Israeli visited Halabja in 1934 and reported he had encountered about 50 impoverished Jewish families who maintained both a Jewish school and a Beth Midrash, or “House of Learning.”
Halabja is generally known as the city whose residents were gassed en masse on March 16, 1988, when the regime of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein launched a chemical weapons attack that murdered up to 5,000 Kurds and badly injured 10,000 more. The massacre at Halabja was part of the three-year genocidal “Anfal” campaign waged by Hussein in the name of “Arabizing” Iraqi Kurdistan.
In January 2010, Ali Hassan al-Majid — a first cousin of Hussein’s and one of his leading ministers — was executed by order of an Iraqi court after he was found guilty of ordering the chemical attack on Halabja.