The Iraqi community in Israel cares deeply for it heritage and many of its members organise Arabic concerts on a regular basis. When an Iraqi singing voice is heard in Tel Aviv, the Iraqi Jews living in Israel feel a sense of collective celebratory euphoria, as they get the opportunity to commemorate their culture. This joy only increases when someone comes all the way from Iraq to sing to the Iraqi community in Israel. It is during such concerts, that the Iraqi community starts dreaming about visiting Iraq regardless of both states’ political differences. There is a shared notion among many non-Jewish Iraqis that their can never be normalised relations with Israel, but some Iraqi nationals have been able to break barriers by going to Israel with messages of peace.
Ismail Fadel, an Iraqi singer, has recently gone on his 21st visit to Tel Aviv, where he regularly participates in concerts organized by the Iraqi Jewish community. This visit came at a time of increased tensions as rumours spread that Israel had recently shelled Northern Baghdad. As such, his concert his time around became a topic of debate over social media, but the Iraqi singer is used to such discourse. He is also accustomed to receiving insults and death threats, which he had been receiving ever since his first concert in Israel. “I am convinced that music is a way to bring communities together and push towards peace. I think that coming here as a non-Jewish Iraqi can lead to a lasting peace.” His latest concert took place at the Iraqi Heritage Centre in Or Yehuda, which has the largest Iraqi community in Israel and is thus dubbed “Little Iraq” Ramat Gan, meanwhile, has the second largest Iraqi community in Israel.
LEAVING FRIENDS AND FAMILY BEHIND
Many Iraqi figures, such as diplomats, have visited Israel before without causing any media or social media stir. Fadel’s first visit to Israel marked the last time he ever saw Iraq and his family and friends. His is now residing in Australia, and his absence from Iraq has caused him great pain and homesickness, but he finds joy in his messages of peace. This raises the question of how could someone prioritise regional peace over reuniting with his family and homeland?
Fadel tells us that he doesn’t feel any homesickness for Iraq, since he finds hospitality among Iraqi Jewish families in Israel who welcome him with open arms.
I attended his concert at the Iraqi Heritage Centre, which was teeming with a loud and ecstatic audience. Fadel was met with a thunderous applause when he appeared on stage and sang Iraqi songs. “It was a great concert.” He told Majalla. “And this time it felt different. Today I think we are closer to achieving peace and I am convinced that my voice will be a bridge towards this goal..”
FROM TEL AVIV TO LONDON
Ismail Fadel has performed hundreds of concerts around the world, but the one concert that will forever be ingrained in his memories is the one he did in London for the Arab and Iraqi community. “During this concert I sang many songs written by the Kuwaiti lyricist Saleh, a I person I highly respect. At the end of the concert an audience member gave me an intense hug, he then told me that he was Sholomo, Saleh the Kuwaiti’s son. He then offered me the opportunity to go to Israel and perform a concert for the Iraqi Jewish community. I instantly accepted his offer and arrived in Israel in 2008. As much as I enjoyed first trip to Israel, it caused me a number of problems back home. Since then, many Iraqis and Arabs have considered me an agent for Israel and I was met with a storm of threats, some people even threatened to kill me if I ever stepped onto Iraqi soil again.”
Fadel told us that the threats did not bother him as he views his job as a musician as one that spreads peace and love around the world. He also chooses to turn his back on those who curse him and accuse him of treachery.
WHO IS ISMAIL FADEL?
Ismail Fadel was born on April 12, 1965. He left Iraq in 1999 after he received his bachelor’s degree. He lived in Oman for five years and afterwards he went to the US as a political refugee. But, he then left the US in 2005 and went to Australia where he settled with his wife and two daughters. In 2006, Fadel was named an Ambassador of Peace in Australia and he considers himself today as an Ambassador of Peace through his concerts in Israel and around the world. “In all honesty, we need to be brave and honest in our calls to peace. Music isn’t just a sound or concert; it’s a magnetic force that can bring people together. Music sends the same message of tolerance to all its listeners. I don’t want a war, I want to spread peace around the world and I’ll do that through the path I have chosen. I have nothing else to lose.” His presence among Iraqi Jews brings him pleasure. The way he sees it is that Iraqi Jews were forced to leave their homes during a wonderful cultural period. “My presence here reminds them of that beautiful period in their heritage.”
HIS FANS AND HATERS
Fadel’s concert in Israel was live streamed on many Iraqi Jewish social media pages. The livestreams were bombarded with comments, many of which were arguments between Jewish and non-Jewish Iraqis/Arabs. Some comments were positive while others (from the Iraqis and Arabs) had death threats. “They threatened to kill me and they insulted me, but I focused on the comments that recognised my message and aim of my concert. I said that I’ll no longer have anything to lose and I will remain on the path to achieve what I’m dreaming of.”
BETWEEN TEL AVIV AND BAGHDAD
Iraqi Jews are a large community in Israel. In 1948, 140,000 Iraqi Jews came to Israel and a further 131,000 migrated there between 1948 and 2006. Iraqi Jews are also an active community that interacts with the wider Israeli society. Linda Menouhin, is one of the most prominent social activists who has interacted with the Iraqi Jews in Israel, Iraq as well as those living in diaspora. Menouhin left Iraq 50 years ago but she still values the years she spent in Iraq as she says they’re what solidified her Iraqi identity.
As an activist, Menouhin has been trying to mend bridges broken by politics. “Social media platforms have widened communications and there is a new generation in both Israel and Iraq who, for several reasons, seek to resolve the root cause of conflict between both nations.” She went on to say, “This has resulted in academic cooperation and reinvigorated interest in Iraq’s history and discourse on Jewish contribution to Iraqi civilization. Moreover, the older Iraqi Jewish generations still song Iraqi songs, the same can be said for a portion of the younger Iraqi Jewish generations. The reason why Iraqi Jews are dedicated to such artistic memory is because such heritage has remained alive.” Menouhin now hopes that she can invite young Iraqis to Israel, where they can meet up with Iraqi Jews. That way both sets of youth will see the connection they share.
IRAQI HERITAGE IN TEL AVIV
Israel has an interest in preserving Iraqi Jewish heritage. For instance, it brought over the manuscript of an Iraqi Torah, which is said to be the world’s oldest version of the Torah. According to Israeli publications, this manuscript is 200 years old and is written on camel skins. Moreover, the ink used on it is made of concentrated pomegranate juice, which was an old writing habit in Northern Iraq.