The continued story of how Alaska Airlines helped avert a holocaust, in dramatic fulfillment of Bible prophecy!
This week: Iraq.
“Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations,
And set up My standard for the peoples;
They shall bring your sons in their arms,
And your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders….” (Is 49:22)
I’ll come back to one of my themes: we live in amazing days, when prophecies are flying off the Bible’s pages and into the headlines! Today is the second of three posts on a much-overlooked prophecy we’re seeing God fulfill dramatically in our day—the regathering of the “lost tribes” to the land of Israel.
To quickly summarize the background from the previous post, the “lost tribes” were the people of the Northern kingdom who were taken from the land of Israel in the Assyrian conquest in 722 B.C. While a remnant of Jews from the Southern Kingdom (tribes of Judah, Simeon and Benjamin) returned after the Babylonian conquest, those taken by the Assyrians two centuries earlier never returned.
The twelve tribes, ca. 1200 B.C.
Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
My previous post recounted how Isaiah’s prophecy that gentiles (“the nations”) would carry Jewish people back to the land received a literal fulfillment shortly after Israel became a nation. And how scrappy little Alaska Airlines played a major role in the process. Alaska airlifted an ancient people group of Jewish nomads from Yemen to Israel in its steel “eagles” (a.k.a., WWII surplus aircraft). Tens of thousands of nomads who had never seen an airplane were induced to board one after their rabbis reminded them of God’s promises that they would be carried home by Gentiles (Is 49:22), and mount up on wings like eagles (Is 40:31).
But the Jewish population threatened by pogroms wasn’t limited to Yemen. It spread throughout the Arab word. The next group facing a potential holocaust resided in Iraq.
Displaced Iraqi Jewish family, 1951
Jews had lived comfortably in Iraq since the Babylonian conquest more than 2500 years earlier. But during WWII, Hitler’s Nazism was eagerly adopted by Iraqi Muslims. In May 1941, in the aftermath of a failed coup by pro-Nazi militarists, Iraqi Jews’ situation turned a sudden corner. The Iraqi Jewish community became the target of a vicious pogrom which became known as the Farhud (“violent dispossession”).
I’ll let New York Times bestselling author Edwin Black carry the story.
The Iraqi coup plotters in Baghdad decided to… exterminate its Jews in a single blow. Jews were ordered to stay in their homes, and their doors were marked with a red hamsa…. Swarms of soldiers, in concert with police, common criminals and nondescript mobs rampaged through Baghdad hunting for Jews. They were easily found. Hundreds of Jews were cut down by sword and rifle, some decapitated. Babies were sliced in half and thrown into the Tigris river. Girls were raped in front of their parents. Parents were mercilessly killed in front of their children. Hundreds of Jewish homes and businesses were looted, then burned. The carnage continued unabated for almost two days… Throughout the last years of the war, the murder spree was celebrated across the Arab world and in German ceremonies.
– Edwin Black, The Times of Israel, 5/31/16
Like their European brethren a decade earlier, the Iraqi Jews told themselves these difficulties would pass. But after WWII, Iraq and other Arab nations became havens where escaped Nazis received heroes’ welcomes. A German newspaper estimated that 2,000 German Nazis lived happily under state protection in Egypt alone. Nazis also attained positions of power and influence in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.
With the United Nations very visibly deliberating the creation of the Jewish state through 1947, trouble escalated. All the Arab regimes, including Iraq, threatened reprisals against the approximate 850,000 Jews residing in Arab countries.
A Baghdad mob killed a hapless Jewish man after hysterical accusations that he gave poisoned candy to Arab children. In the Jewish quarter of Fallujah, homes were ransacked and local Jews were compelled to move in with friends and relatives in Baghdad. Large Jewish “donations” were regularly extorted and sent to Palestinian Arabs. The names of the “donors” were read on the radio to encourage more of the same….
Once the UN vote registered, a new anti-Jewish campaign exploded in Iraq. This time, it was not just pogroms but systematic pauperization, taking a cue from the confiscatory techniques developed by the Nazis who had now infested the government. Jews were charged with trumped-up offenses and fined exorbitant amounts. All the while, mob chants of “death to the Jews” became ever more commonplace.
– Edwin Black
With the Arab coalition’s resounding defeat in the Israeli War of Independence, antisemitic fervor continued to escalate in Iraq. In July 1948,
Zionism itself now became a crime, punishable by up to seven years in prison. As every Jew was thought to be a Zionist, every Jew was thereby criminalized. Only two Muslim witnesses were needed to denounce a Jew, with virtually no avenue of appeal.
In urban sweeps, thousands of Jewish homes were searched for secret caches of money thought destined for Israel. Frequently this necessitated demolishing walls as part of the search…. Hundreds of Jews were now arrested, forced to confess under torture, punished financially, and sentenced to long jail terms.
The greatest shock to the Jewish community occurred when the single wealthiest Jew in Iraq, Ford automobile importer Shafiq Ades, was accused of sending cars to Israel. Ades was tried by a military tribunal, quickly found guilty, fined $20 million and handed a death sentence. His entire estate was liquidated. A few days later, on September 23, 1948, Ades was publicly hanged in Basra. His body was allowed to languish in the square for hours, to be abused by the celebrating crowds.
Many more arrests, executions, and confiscations followed. In October, all Jews — an estimated 1,500 — were summarily dismissed from their government positions…. Soon, the familiar sequence of Nazi-style pauperization began. Once a prosperous, generously spending community, the Iraqi Jews stopped purchasing and general spending, from the bazaars to the restaurants. Jewish businesses were boycotted; their owners were arrested; funds dried up. Many Jewish firms went out of business and their Arab employees soon became ex-employees, which only further punished the weakened consumer economy. Many purged Jewish government employees, highly skilled and formerly well paid, were now destitute and reduced to selling matches on the streets…. The rapid subtraction of Jews from the financial, administrative, retail, and export sectors was devastating. One day, they were just gone…. Within the small Iraqi population, in many cases, there was no one to replace the Jews.
– Edwin Black
The Iraqi government ultimately decided to expel its newly designated “public enemy number one.” And it did it with malice. Jews had to register to emigrate to Israel. Once registered, they got fifteen days to leave Iraq. Their assets were frozen and effectively forfeit. And if Jews who registered failed to leave within the fifteen days? There would be “concentration camps.” Germany all over again.
Out of Iraq’s 130,000 Jews, Baghdad expected no more than 10,000 to take this deal. But when the window of opportunity to emigrate to Israel opened for just a year, many times that number applied. Rather than the 10,000 emigrants Iraq had expected, Israel planned for 100,000. And with newly-destitute Jews* sleeping on Baghdad streets, selling their blankets for food, and threatened with concentration camps, the land route wasn’t expeditious enough. An emergency airlift was needed once more.
* Estimates of the value of Iraqi Jewish assets seized range up to $300 million in today’s money.
Iraqi Jews arrive in Israel. Near East Air
Transport plane is in the background.
“For I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers.
Behold, I will send for many fishermen,” says the Lord, “and they shall fish them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.” (Jer 16:15-16)
Israel turned again to Wooten and Maguire, who played such prominent roles in rescuing the Yemeni Jews.
The Mossad called in its most reliable partner for airlifting Jews: Alaska Airlines. Its president, James Wooten, had been instrumental in rescuing the Jews of Yemen just after the state was born. El Al, Wooten, and Alaska formed a new airline with a new identity called Near East Air Transport (NEAT). Israeli ownership was hidden, so NEAT appeared to be strictly an Alaska Airlines venture….
On May 19, 1950, the first 175 Jews were airlifted out of Iraq in two C-54 Skymasters. Israel at first called the rescue Operation Ali Baba, but it later became known by the original code name, Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, for the prophets who had led the Jews of Babylon out of exile back to Israel millennia before….
– Edwin Black
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Said sensed a new opportunity. Israel’s nascent infrastructure seemed ready to collapse under the weight of absorbing holocaust survivors from Europe, as well as refugees from Eastern Europe and from the Arab world. There weren’t enough dwellings to house them. Were there even enough tents?
“For more are the children of the desolate
Than the children of the married woman,” says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent,
And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings;
Do not spare;
Lengthen your cords,
And strengthen your stakes.
For you shall expand to the right and to the left…” (Is 54:1-3)
Said reasoned that if he could force Iraq’s destitute Jewish population down Israel’s throat, perhaps he could bankrupt or cripple the tiny nation.
Said demanded that Israel absorb 10,000 refugees per month, every month — this to intensify the strain on Israel’s resources. Exacerbating the crisis, Nuri ruled that as of May 31, 1951, no more exit visas would be issued. If Israel would not accept these stateless enemies now, the concentration camps would be readied.
The flights increased, day and night, using twin engines, four engines, any craft available, through Nicosia or direct to Tel Aviv — as many as possible, as fast as possible…. The crowds gleefully stoned the trucks that delivered the refugees to the airport. The Jews were mocked every step of the way….
Between January 1950 and December 1951, Israel airlifted, bused, or otherwise smuggled out 119,788 Iraqi Jews — all but a few thousand…. This dispossessed group, who arrived in Israel with nothing but their memories, rose to become some of the Jewish state’s most productive citizens.
– Edwin Black
“Fear not, for I am with you;
I will bring your descendants from the east,
And gather you from the west;
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
And to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’
Bring My sons from afar,
And My daughters from the ends of the earth—” (Is 43:5-6)
An immigration camp in Israel, 1951
This scenario that played out in Yemen and in Iraq would soon be repeated across Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco and Libya. During those first years, the infant Jewish state, with a total population of only one million in 1949, absorbed some 850,000 Arab Jews from the surrounding nations. (The most recent population figure is an astonishing 8.6 million, of which more than two million are non-Jews, principally Arab Muslims.)
I hope you’ll join me next week when I bring this miraculous story of the regathering of the Jewish people–in direct fulfillment of God’s promises–up to the present day. It keeps getting more astounding, reaching to the very “ends of the earth.”
I’ll also have a few words to say about one of my favorite subjects–a unique and very significant period we’re entering on the Hebrew calendar.
If you’ve never opened God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus (Rom 3:23, 6:23), please please please be persuaded to do it now! It’s simple. Just tell God from your heart that you admit you’re a sinner that needs a Savior (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Rom 3:23) that you’re done running your own life, and that you’re ready to make Jesus Lord of your life.
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (Rom 10:9-11)
The decision that saves you is that simple!
Simple… But no one said living it out will be easy. Especially now, in these last days.