Iraqi laissez-passer and its reasons - Our Passports
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  • Iraqi laissez-passer and its reasons
  • 1951 Jewish laissez passer
  • Operation Ezra and Nehemiah
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Iraqi laissez-passer and its reasons

The 1951 massive Jewish exodus that stunned everyone.


This was one of Israel’s largest absorption of immigrants in its early years. Following the founding of Israel in 1948, it was now possible for every Jew in every corner of the world to arrive freely into the new Jewish State, and doing so without any hindrance or obstacles.


This was not always the case prior to that year. During the British occupation of Palestine, taking over this piece of land from the occupying Turks that controlled it for nearly 400 years, lasting from 1918 to 1948, immigration to the Mandate was always controlled vigorously, and, at its most needed moment, before the outbreak of World War Two and the Holocaust, such immigration was not permitted. The Balfour Declaration from 1917 was the start for everything, where the British acknowledge the Jewish right to a homeland in their historical biblical land. This right or this dream of returning back was in the heart of every Jewish individual for nearly 2,000 years. But, as if time has not changed, there is always politics involved in every conflict or issue. The British realized that it was not possible to allocate this land solely to the Jews alone because of the Arab population also living in the region. So a control of some sort was needed in order to prevent a flooding of the colony of would-be immigrating Jews. Their tight grasp got tighter by the year and climaxed in what was called the White Paper of 1939: a cruel plan to prevent immigration into Palestine, all this to appease the Arabs in the middle east and mainly the Muslim Palestinian citizens, following their riots and rampages from 1929 and the 1930’s, which resulted in massacres and other atrocities committed at the time.


This mass exodus mentioned above refers to close to 124,000 Iraqi Jews who opted to leave their country after a 1950 secret decree: The Iraqi parliament in March 2nd to the 4th of that year issued a decree that lifted the years ban on Jews who wanted to leave the country, and now it was permitted for permanently leaving; this was conditioned on them renouncing their nationality and this decree was valid for one year only (conditioned to the 1933 revoke of citizenship act No.62). The reaction was not as planned: both in Israel and Iraq, everyone assumed that only a mere several thousand will opt to leave: Israel thought that between 10,000-15,000 will leave, but no one expected that vast quantity of women, children, and the elderly that decided to run away and immigrate. Most of Iraq’s Jews decided to leave, via Cyprus and Iran, and in doing so lost all their property and belongings. Only several thousand Jews stayed in the country (the Iraqi Jews suffered persecution since Israel was founded and the local government, in 1949, even hatched plans to expel their Jewish citizens following the news of the plight of the Palestinian refugees).


Operation Ezra and Nehemiah


The laissez passer here is not special or unique. Thousands where issued to those leaving during 1950-1951. Their revenue stamps were all cancelled, being punched, upon payment of the fees required for the issuance of the travel document and finding one not punched is rather rare. It was of simple style, poor quality and obviously not meant for multiple usage.


Today, some of my friends are descendants to that mass exodus. When I speak to them, they recall their grandparent’s stories of growing up in Iraq and the hardship they felt because of being Jewish and how it got worse following Israel’s independence in 1948. They are sad. They still have fond memories of Bagdad, Basra or Mosul. They remember living relatively in wealth and had good relations with some of their neighbors. But this belongs to the past. In today’s climate in the Middle East, the ONLY safe place for a Jew, Muslim and Christian to live together side by side is in little Israel.



Smaller image source: Wikipedia.




Thank you for reading “Our Passports”.


Neil Kaplan
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