a story of painful exodus
‘Forget Baghdad’ — a story of painful exodus
By Aijaz Gul
The Embassies of Switzerland and Germany are holding a special screening of a documentary film ‘Forget Baghdad’ tomorrow (Thursday).
‘Forget Baghdad’, directed by Samir, is about four Jewish Iraqi men who were forced in 1951 to leave Baghdad for Israel under an agreement between the two countries (Iraq and Israel). The film then comments on the political, social and cultural values of these four men and the two countries.
The men had spent a precious part of their lives in Baghdad and now are forced to opt for a society, which other than religious commonality is not their place. In 1951, the Jewish community living in Iraq was asked by the Iraqi government and invited by the Israeli government to come and settle down in Israel. But even after migrating to Israel and spending so many years there, the four men are aloof and lonely. This is then also the story of their loneliness and how they miss Baghdad.
‘Forget Baghdad’ clearly points out the fact that these four men are Oriental Jews, who are looked down upon, and not European Jewish folks, who are the preferred community. The irony is that migrants from Iraq share absolutely nothing with Israel, which is not their country and does not share their culture and language. The four men may be Jewish by religion but they are Arabs and not Israelis. They must spend a complex but sad life in Israel and continue to be haunted and feared by a deep identity crisis. It’s ironical that in Iraq, they were outsiders because they were Jewish, and now in Israel, they are outsiders because they are Arabs.
The film comments on the mixed feelings of the four men towards Iraq and now their adopted homeland Israel where they must face prejudices and hatred of the worst kind. All this is shown through split screen, archival footage, newsreels, excerpts from newspapers and books, and faded grainy childhood family photographs. These images then translate the paradox of identity and life in the two conflicting cultures, simultaneously in the past and present.
In Israel, the four men start a new life as practically slaves in refugee camps. Like the multi layers of these four men, ‘Forget Baghdad’ has many layers. The four men, now in their 70s, cannot forget the time when they were growing up with Arab and Jewish communities living peacefully. After migrating, life has taken different paths - an Arabic professor in Tel Aviv and involved in pro-Palestinian peace and civil rights movement to constructing buildings and living around Iraqi immigrants to becoming a best-selling author and remembering life as an Iraqi Jew. The four men still love the now-vanished Baghdad of their youth and hate the Israeli heroism and heroic adventures.
Director Samir himself is in a way part of these four characters. He, too, had to leave Iraq in his childhood and settle down in Switzerland. He then travelled to Tel Aviv to talk to the four men and find out what became of their past and memories. Fortunately, the memoirs are still intact. ‘Forget Baghdad’ runs for 111 minutes and was produced in the year 2000.