On Tisha B’Av, Jews worldwide heard the Prophet Jeremiah lamenting the devastation of Jerusalem by the Babylonians: “Young and old lie together in the dust of the streets… Now they are blacker than soot; they are not recognised in the streets. Their skin has shrivelled on their bones; it has become as dry as a stick.”
The same day, an even more harrowing cry was heard from Babylon. In the Iraqi parliament, Yazidi MP Vian Dakhil broke down in tears as she described the destruction of ancient minorities by Isis. “Five hundred Yazidi boys and men have been slaughtered,” she wept, choking. “Our women are being taken captive and sold on the slave market… A genocide campaign is taking place right now against the Yazidis… My people are being slaughtered…
Save us! Save us... An entire religion is being wiped off the face of the earth.” She has since herself been injured in a helicopter crash.
The world is once more watching a genocide. The Yazidis are slowly dying of thirst, having been chased up a mountain; Mosul is Christian-free for the first time in 1,600 years, after Isis warned Assyrians to convert, flee or face the sword. From beheadings to crucifixions and burials alive, there is no crime so barbaric that Isis has not inflicted on helpless minorities in its push for a totalitarian theocracy.
For Jews, this tragedy has especial reson-ance: this used to be us. This is how we lived before we had Israel: stateless, defenceless, helpless minorities under the perpetual Damoclean sword of genocide. This is how we lived: at the whim of hostile powers and the mercy of an apathetic or hapless international community. This would have been the fate of Iraqi Jewry, had it not found safe haven in its own sovereign corner of the Middle East. As Isis seeks to eliminate them, Assyrians, Yazidis and other minorities are imploring the world for one basic, simple demand: a safe haven. It is all depressingly familiar: we are looking in the mirror, both staring back in time and at a future that could have been.
One wonders how history would have evolved if the colonial powers had supported the establishment of separate homelands for scattered minorities in the Middle East, instead of treating the region as homogeneously Arab (with Israel sticking out as a sore thumb).
We Jews, formerly a scattered and vulner-able minority, have a special responsibility towards other minorities in the Middle East. The Mizrachim among us are the lucky ones: the ones who got away. And the Ashkenazim among us know full well the sheer horror of impending annihilation. When we say “Never Again” we mean it: never again should fundamentalists obliterate any community. We know all too well what a real genocide is.
We have begun to wake up: the Board of Deputies has issued a statement of solidarity. But this isn’t enough. We must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Assyrian community in the UK and render it any assistance necessary.
Concerned readers can donate generously to the Assyrian Aid Society; they should also write to their MPs to demand tougher action to defend the Yazidis, who cannot be reached by aid organisations but only by an army.
History will demand to know where we Jews were while Assyrians, Yazidis and other minorities were being exterminated in Iraq. We must not say that we looked the other way. We would never forgive ourselves.