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Israel and the Kurds

Israelis are incensed that in spite of repeated denials, many Kurds blame them for playing a part in the abduction by Turkish agents in Nairobi of the Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan.

While most Kurds are Muslims, there are also a number who are Jewish. Most of them - about 50,000 - now live in Israel. The Kurdish-Jewish community is an ancient one, possibly dating back to Babylonian times. It was naturally set apart from other Kurds by religion, but in most other respects integrated into the broader Kurdish community.

Kurdish Jews have a number of distinctive traditions. Uniquely among Orthodox Jews one of their greatest religious leaders was a woman. Asenath Barazani, who lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, studied along side her father and eventually inherited his position as head of an eminent Talmudic college. She went on to write a notable interpretation of the Book of Proverbs.

Of the Kurdish Jews, Yitzhak Mordechai is much the most successful. He served as Israel's defence minister until January, when he was sacked by Benjamin Netanyahu. Kurds have generally been looked down on as less intelligent and sophisticated.

In contrast with their jaundiced view of Kurdish Jews, Israelis have tended to hold the Kurdish people as a whole in high regard. Even after Kurdish guerrilla chiefs vowed to strike against Jewish targets, Israeli chat-shows were full of politicians expressing sympathy with the Kurdish plight. As a stateless people without powerful friends, the Kurdish situation is similar to the one Jews were familiar with for centuries. To emphasise the closeness of the ties between the two peoples, old photographs of the legendary Kurdish leader, Mustafa Barzani, embracing Moshe Dayan have been dug out of the archives and repeatedly shown on television.

In the past, Israel has helped the Kurds. According to a former director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry, this was part of a strategy that sought alliances with other non-Arab nations in the region. Pro-Kurdish feelings were also reinforced by the assistance the Kurds provided in the 1950's when Iraqi Jews were fleeing to Israel.

Israel's clandestine relations with the Kurds were officially acknowledged in 1980 by Menachem Begin, the prime minister at the time. He confirmed that Israel had sent the Kurds not only humanitarian aid but also military advisers and weapons. Even today, the state-owned Israeli communications company Bezek transmits broadcasts on behalf of the Kurdish democratic Party in northern Iraq every evening.

The last thing Israel needs is to add 5 million Kurds to the ranks of its enemies. Israel has been at pains to persuade the Kurds that Mossad really did have nothing to do with Ocalan's capture.

Following the attempt by a Kurdish mob to storm the Israeli consulate in Berlin, which resulted in three Kurds being shot dead, the head of Mossad, Efraim Halevy, took the unprecedented step of publicly dissociating Israel from the capture of Ocalan. Mossad does not usually comment publicly on intelligence matters, but Halevy, a British-born nephew of the late Isaiah Berlin, released a statement categorically denying any involvement.

While Israel has forged an alliance with Turkey, this is directed at containing the threat that both face from Syria, Iraq and Iran. Since the angry recriminations that followed the help Mossad gave to the Moroccan royal family in the 1960's, when a Moroccan opposition leader in exile was abducted in France, it has been a strict policy that the Jewish state will not risk its own agents on behalf of any other country.

Turkey knows this, and Israel has scrupulously avoided involvement in what it views as an internal Turkish conflict. In fact, Mossad believes that the Italians or Ocalan's former backers, the Syrians, may have betrayed him and then spread charges against Mossad as misinformation.

From The Spectator

Scribe: Israel's friendship towards the Kurds does not mean that she cannot be an ally of Turkey. Nor does it mean that Israel must sympathise with the PKK in their pursuit of terrorism in the region. It is a political minefield that Israel must steer clear of.

Moreover, it is in Israel's long-term interest to find a solution to the long-standing Kurdish problem satisfactory to the Kurds who deserve no less attention than the Palestinians. Such a solution can take the form of a Kurdish national home in north Iraq, and full autonomy for the Kurds in neighbouring countries.

The land of Turkey belongs to the State of Turkey and it is wrong to think that some people living on parts of it can opt for a separate state.

The same principle applies to Israel and Kosovo!



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