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Eshkol Outraged, Denounces Hangings, and Denies Iraqi Jews Were Israeli Spies

January 28, 1969
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, shaking with anger, appeared before a grim Parliament today to denounce the pre-dawn hanging of nine Jews as “genocide” that will be stopped by Israel if it is not halted from outside. Mr. Eshkol, whose face reflected the rage felt by Israelis when they learned of the hangings from their newspapers and radios early today, quoted scripture in what some interpreted as a threat of reprisal against Iraq. “Oh, daughter of Babylon, that art to be destroyed, happy shall he be that repayeth thee as thou has served us. The Lord shall avenge their blood.” Mr. Eshkol said. He declared further, “Between the design of genocide and its perpetration, there stands the State of Israel alone–Israel and its strength.” The scriptural reference was appropriate since Iraq is located on the site of Babylon, an enemy of Israel in ancient times. (Reports from Baghdad said that Iraq has placed its armed forces on the alert in anticipation of an Israeli reprisal.)

Mr. Eshkol said the Jews who were executed were not spies for Israel. “Their only crime was that they were Jews.” He described the hangings as part of a scheme by the Iraqi Government to direct attention from its internal troubles. “It was a criminal plot.” he said, “and demands for the ‘liberation of Palestine’ are part and parcel of the same design.” he said. “The land of Iraq has become one great prison for its Jewish remnant, a gallows for its Jewish citizens.” He said that appeals for mercy to the Iraqi leaders from all over the world “failed to muster the necessary determination in this matter and in the matter of Jews in Arab lands in general. “From this rostrum I demand that the entire world should act….in order to avert further acts of murder, to save the families and to protect the Jewish remnant.” He said the hangings were an example of what the Arab governments would do to their native Jews if left to their own devices.

Israeli newspapers echoed demands for revenge and chided world opinion for not reacting when it was learned that Iraqi Jews had been sentences to death. Yediot Achronot wrote, “The enlightened world is as low as the Iraqis are. It went out of its mind when a few planes in Beirut were hit but not it is nowhere to be seen or head.”

Israelis were infuriated over the public hangings of those convicted in secret by a military tribunal. A spokesman for Iraqi Jews in Israel, Shlomo Bechori, a former lawyer, said that his experience with Iraqi courts, particularly military tribunals, convinced him that the charges brought against the accused were “false from A to Z” and a prelude to more executions, probably of political opponents to the regime of President Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr. News of the hangings was broadcast by Baghdad radio today against a background of cheering and clapping by throngs who poured into Baghdad’s Liberation Square to view 11 bodies swinging from scaffolds. Three other executions were carried out in the Persian Gulf oil port of Basra, reputed center of the alleged spy plot. The Jewish victims were identified as Izra Naji Zilkha, a Baghdad merchant and alleged leader of the spy ring, Albert Habib Tomac, Fuad Gabbu, Jamal Hakim, Daoud Baruch, Daoud Ghali, Albert Aleh and Sabah Ayoub. The name of the ninth was not reported.

Although the spy trials had been widely publicized, it was generally believed that the prosecutor had demanded death sentences for only four Jews. The sentences were passed on nine Jews on Jan. 12 and 15 but were announced by Baghdad Radio only yesterday. Baghdad Radio said that further trials on similar charges would be held. Unconfirmed reports said the number of accused awaiting trial was more than 60. The 14 executed today were said by Baghdad to have been part of a group of 19 sentenced, two of whom were still at large. A later report from Baghdad put the figure at 21 with three still at large. The trials were conducted by a three-man military tribunal. The accused were alleged to have plotted to overthrow Iraq’s Baathist regime with the intention of setting up a Government that would make peace with Israel. They were charged with receiving training in sabotage in the Iranian city of Abadan. Ex-Premier Abdel Rahman Bazzaz and former Defense Minister Abdel Aziz Okeilly allegedly took part in the plot. It was not clear whether they were among the five Moslems executed today or if they were under sentence of death. Last Dec. 5, President al-Bakr accused Israel, the U.S. and “fifth columnists” of fomenting a plot against Iraq. He spoke during massive demonstrations against an Israeli air strike on Iraqi troop concentrations in Jordan. Shortly afterwards there were reports of sweeping arrests in Iraq with scores of persons being jailed and their property confiscated.

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