human rights watch

tisdag 17 november 2015

The all-Jewish village of Sundur in Kurdistan

The all-Jewish village of Sundur in Kurdistan
Relations between Kurds and Jews - or between Kurdistan and Israel - are at their most harmonious at the moment. But it was not ever thus, as the history of the Jewish village of Sundur (Sandur) demonstrates. jewishrefuges

 According to Wikipedia: 

"In ancient times the place had been inhabited by 
Assyrian Christians. and was later inhabited by Kurds and Jews after the Christians deserted it.[3]
In 1849, Sandur was described as an extensive village, containing over 100 Jewish households with a few inhabited by Kurds.
[4] By the first half of the 20th century, the village was entirely Jewish.[3] All the village lands belonged to Jews who worked in the vineyards and orchards of pears, plums, pomegranates and apples.[3]

In 1933 there were about 60 Jewish families.
[1] In 1934, Benzion Israeli found 800 inhabitants and wrote that "Sandur is a state of its own ... this is a Jewish village, an autonomous Jewish republic."[3] In 1935, Walter Schwarz visited the village and gave a detailed report. He noted that it was inhabited only by Jews and that the fields and vineyards were well kept and yielded good crops.[5] "

Relations between Jews and Muslims were not always cordial. The Jews of Sundur were disturbed by Muslims working on the Sabbath. They asked a judge to ask the Kurds to move  to the outskirts of the village, and this is why Sundur became an all-Jewish village. The Kurds agreed, but the Jews had to buy their houses, which they did.

Conditions deteriorated once Iraq acquired its independence in 1932. The Jews suffered sporadic attacks in the lead-up to the Farhudpogrom of June 1941.

In the British National Archives at Kew Point of No Return came across a Mosul police report sent to the British embassy in Baghdad in February 1941  about a mini-pogrom on Sundur resulting in the killing of six men, including the (Jewish) Mukhtar. The report claims that the raid on Sundur was the result of a ten-year-old vendetta with the neighbouring village of Yakmula and not 'political'. The Mukhtar of Sundur had inquired about stolen animals during his courtesy visit forEid.

 According to Wikipedia, there were further disturbances:

" On December 17, 1942, anti-Jewish riots resulted in the murder of eight Jews in the village.
[8] In 1943, Friedrich Simon Bodenheimer visited Sandur for an evening. He found the atmosphere disturbed by the "unfriendly attitude of the neighbouring Kurdish villages." He claimed the Jews could not even sell their land, as the Kurds said "We will soon get it for nothing!"[9] With the creation of the State of Israelin 1948, things got worse for Iraq's Jews who were portrayed asZionists. Their freedom of movement was restricted and many lost their jobs.[6] In 1949 there were still about 100 families living in Sandur.[2]

On March 9, 1950, a law was passed which apparently depicted Jews as unprotected aliens. Soon after, rural Jews faced a worsening economic situation and felt increasingly vulnerable. In early June, it was reported that the neighbouring villages were threatening to murder the people of Sandur unless they left the village. The villagers were among the first wave of Jews who left the countryside for 
Baghdad to sign up for emigration.[6] Within the next few years, the remaining 500 Jews of Sandur emigrated to Israel.[10]"

More about Jews in Kurdistan 

 The village of Sandur (also spelled Sundur, Sandor) is located in the desolate mountains of the northern part of Iraqi-Kurdistan, where the Kurdish chain of mountains begins. Though visitors have frequented the village over the centuries, it has not yet been identified on many maps, including Google Earth. Some travelers have mentioned vague clues about its location. For instance, Henry Aaron Stern, a Jewish convert from London who traveled to the area in 1844, wrote that Sandur was about two hours away from Tahook (Dohuk). Enzo Sereni (1905-1944), a Jewish emissary from Palestine, wrote of the village being located an hour and a half’s drive from Mosul in a valley between two walls of rock. A more specific account has the village 70 miles north of Mosul. [1,2]

The various travelers who found Sandur all commented on the area’s landscape and geography. Israel Joseph Benjamin, who made the trek in the mid 19th century, found that “the further I advanced the more difficult the journey became. For horsemen these small sloping paths are almost impassable; and I was often obliged to clamber upon my hands and feet. From time to time only a single pomegranate or figtree is to be found.” [3] Sereni noted that it was completely green and “full of gardens of fruits, pears, grapes, plums, pomegranates, apples.” An earlier visitor, Rabbi David D’Beth Hillel, described Sandur after his 1827 trip as a large village that “is indeed a land flowing with milk and honey. The climate is wholesome, and there are both good water and excellent wines.” [4,5]
Sandur was once the only all-Jewish village in Muslim Iraq. According to Jewish tradition, Christians had first populated the town, which is why it is called Sandur, from the Arabic San-dir (“dir” refers to a monastery or convent, and, in place-names, indicates the presence of Christians). When the Christians were there, they had built a large building that was later converted to a synagogue. [6] There also may have been Muslims living in the area at various times, as there is a claim that Jews destroyed the strucutre once used as a mosque. [7] Rabbi David D’Beth Hillel observed that there were “about a hundred families of Israelites.” [8] A few decades later Benjamin II found 200 Kurdish and 50 Jewish families. These contradictory reports could either be from discrepancies in the reporting, or because of internal migration that occurred between the two reports. [9] According to Mordechai Zaken, during the early part of 20th century, the village was entierly Jewish except for three Muslim Kurdish families, who made their living by working on Saturday, the Sabbath, when the Jews could not. [10] The Jewish mukhtar (village leader) at the time asked his friend, a judge from Dohuk, to relocate these Muslim Kurds, and the Jews were required to buy the houses of the displaced Muslims. [11] In 1934, Benzion Israeli also observed four or five Muslim families in a separate section of the village. These Muslims protected the village and engaged in seasonal labor. [12] He also reported that this “autonomous Jewish republic” absorbed other Kurdish Jews who migrated there from near-by villages. [13] By 1942, a Jewish emissary report stated that there was only one Gentile in the village, who acted as a police officer. [14]
Because the population was so small, the Jews at Sandur were very tied to their land and community. They lived very simply. According to Schwarz, they had “unbelievably modest requirements.” [15] They worked on their own land and defended it with arms. While they spoke Hebrew, there was an account of hearing some farmers singing Aramaic songs. The women even walked around without veils. [16] One account reported two different races of Jews living there. The Kollacks were wealthy villagers, who were “a very healthy type, very strong, very handsome.” The other race seemed to him a little primitive, originated “from the Jews who resided [until recently] in Kurdish villages and were slaves of Kurdish shaikhs.” [17] There was a head of the village as well as a judge for religious and domestic affairs, called the dayyan. This judge was usually from the biggest and wealthiest family in the village; he led wedding ceremonies, performed circumcisions, and slaughtered the animals. [18]
Most of the villagers were farmers and a few worked as weavers. Given the fertile land in the area, the majority of the Jews worked in agriculture, as either workers for daily pay or as large land-owners. Most families owned orchards and vineyards. In 1945, a guide noted that ten families owned three or four orchards and vineyards each, and that about fifteen families were weavers. Vine growing was their main industry, producing lots of grapes that they sold to other villages. According to this guide, they sold some grapes to a Christian in Mosul who had a drink factory, used some for raisins, and exchanged others for wheat. [19] Schwarz noted, though, that they could not a market for all of their products. Also, they did not have a developed cultivation of wheat and barley, so they had to buy flour from other cities. In the summer, the people worked long hours, harvesting from dawn until 10:00 am, resting during the hottest part of the day, then again from 3:00 pm until evening. The visitor noted that “the inhabitants are not lazy. They are very swift, and when they plant a new vineyard or during the harvest, they would work hard full days.” [20] Also at this time, the village had a herd of 500 sheep, 50 donkeys, and 10 mules; the milk from the herd was used to daily supply the villagers. There were no Jewish shepherds, though, because they could not work on the Sabbath, so they hired a Muslim. [21]
There have not been many accounts of the structures and layout of the town. Because Sandur is a Jewish village the synagogue was a central feature to the town. A few of the visitors described the synagogue. The synagogue was built several hundred years ago, but, as of 1936, the synagogue was well-preserved. Moreover, one visitor wrote about seeing Sandur’s old Geniza, which included a manuscript about divorce from around the 17th century. [22] There are not many accounts about the structure of the synagogue, but one report commented on the Hekhal in niches in the wall, which had doors covered by curtains. Schwarz wrote, in 1935, that the synagogue was actually only used as a place of worship in the winter; in the summer, it was used as a place to store all of their produce, commenting that “in one of the corners an enormous heap of raisins.” [23] Also, teachers used the synagogue as a bet-midrash (Hebrew religious school) during the weekdays. [24] Schwarz also described the village cemetery, which was elevated above the village, stating that it was very extensive yet unattended. Grave markers are small, rectangular stones, some of which are very old and have a few decipherable Hebrew letters. [25]
The custom and culture of Sandur is a blend of Kurdish and Jewish lifestyle. During the early 20th century about 20-25 boys were taught the Torah. Girls did not tend to be educated because they were married early, usually by the age of 14. [26] Because the village was so secluded and small, everyone married within Sandur, and therefore every boy usually knew his fiancée well before marriage. Also because of its limited population, they decreed that it was legal for cousins to marry. According to a report by Anver b., the village was not clean and had no medical services. However, because they villagers had strong physical statures, there was not much of an issue of diseases; most residents lived until at least the age of 70, in not 100.[28] While most men farmed, earning these great statures, women embroidered, though few actually earned a living this way (costumers were usually semi-nomads form the area). [29] Kurdish Jews saw their embroidered apparel as a source of pride, usually saving their nicest clothes for special occasions and the Sabbath. [30] The women of Sandur had more richly embroidered clothes than any other women in the area.[31] A special embroidered bodice, called a sundori, marked a woman from Sandur. Women also embroidered other items, including children’s clothes, such as vests, men’s suits and kerchiefs, and amulets. [32]
Shwartz-Be’eri, Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel notes that Sandur remained mostly Jewish until the mass immigration of Kurdish Jews to Israel occurred during the 1950s; however, in 1951, there were as many as 500 Jews in the area. [33] According to the Milimo Culture Newsletter, the Jews of Sandur, who left during this immigration, mostly ended up living near Tel Aviv .[34] Further research by members of the Diarna team reveals that many of the Jews of Sandur who immigrated to Israel ended up in Bet Yosef, Yardena, Sde Trumot, and Kiryat Malakhi.
By Sara McAra; Revised by Shawna Burhans
[1] Mordechai Zaken, Jewish Subjects and Their Tribal Chieftains in Kurdistan: A Study in Survival (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2007), 131.
[2] Arthur Ruppin, The Jews in the Modern World (London: Macmillan and Co. 1934), 159.
[3] Israel Joseph Benjamin, Eight years in Asia and Africa from 1846-1855 (Hanover: Israel Joseph Benjamin, 1859), 70.
[4] Zaken, Jewish Subjects, 131.
[5] Yona Sabar, The Folk Literature of the Kurdistani Jews: An Anthology (Ann Arbor, Edwards Brothers Inc., 1894), xxii.
[6] Zaken, Jewish Subjects, 129.
[7] Ibid., 130.
[8] Sabar, The Folk Literatue of the Kurdistani Jews, xxii.
[9] Zaken, Jewish Subjects, 132.
[10] Ibid., 133.
[11] Ibid., 130.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Erich Brauer and Raphael Patai, The Jews of Kurdistan (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993), 386.
[16] Esther Meir-Glitzenstein, Zionism in an Arab country: Jews in Iraq in the 1940s (London: Routledge, 2004), 107.
[17] Zaken, Jewish Subjects, 144.
[18] Ibid., 131.
[19] Ibid., 130.
[20] Ibid., 133.
[21] Ibid., 133.
[22] Walter J. Fischel, “The Jews of Kurdistan a Hundred Years Ago: A Traveler’s Record,” Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 6, No. 3 (Jul., 1944), 213.
[23] Brauer and Patai, The Jews of Kurdistan, 390.
[24] Zaken, Jewish Subjects, 131.
[25] Brauer and Patai, The Jews of Kurdistan, 205.
[26] Zaken, Jewish Subjects, 131.
[27] Sabar, The Folk Literature of the Kudistani Jews, xiv.
[28] Zaken, Jewish Subjects, 132.
[29] Ora Shwartz-Be’eri and Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel, The Jews of Kurdistan: Daily Life, Customs, Arts and Crafts (Jerusalem: The Israel Museum, 2000), 152.
[30] Ibid., 142.
[31] Ibid., 152.
[32] Ibid., 142.
[33] Ibid., 20.
[34] “History of the Jews of Kurdistan.” Available from:

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