saddam victims 298.
(photo credit: Jerusalem Post Archives)
Thirty-seven years ago Haviva Hanuka stayed home with the television off as tens of thousands of joyous Iraqis crowded Baghdad's Liberation Square and watched her brother, Naim, being hanged. He and 13 others - nine of them Jewish - had been found guilty of treason and spying for Israel and the US in a closed trial.
Yesterday, Hanuka turned on the TV in her home in Givatayim to watch the man who put her brother to death as he sat in a cage, facing the death penalty for mass murder.
As Saddam Hussein took the witness stand and pleaded innocent, Hanuka rejoiced.
"It's as if he is now on trial for my brother's murder," said the Basra-born woman. "It's possible that very close to Saddam's trial - or in the same place - my brother stood trial."
For the 50-year-old mother of three, the trial of Saddam helps the healing of a painful wound. "The trial is the closure of a circle," she said. "The closure began when Saddam was caught in a hole, humiliated, by US forces."
The pain began in 1967. Following the Arabs' devastating defeat in the Six Day War, Iraq's 5,000 remaining Jews suffered increasingly oppressive restrictions from a government who suspected them of dual loyalties. Hanuka's family and other Jews were prohibited from leaving the country.
The situation became far worse the following year when the Ba'athists, led by Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and Saddam Hussein, took power through a bloodless military coup. Within a few months, security forces led by Saddam had rounded up scores of people on charges of spying. Fourteen were sentenced to death. Their public hanging was a holiday, and bus and train rides were free.
But many saw their deaths as a means to get a collective revenge for the humiliating defeat of the Arab forces, as well as a show of muscle by the new regime.
Months after the execution, a group of Jewish lawyers and jurists formed the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (IAJLJ) in Jerusalem to help fight Jewish causes in court. The organization's first official act was to publish a ringing condemnation of the execution of the Jewish men without due process.
Hadassa Ben-Itto was then a young Israeli lawyer and one of the IAJLJ's first members. Now a retired judge in Tel Aviv and its honorary president, Ben-Itto also watched Saddam's trial on TV.
"Saddam Hussein is one of the world's biggest villains," she said. "I hope he gets what he deserves."
Hanuka said she hoped that her brother was guilty of spying. "If you tell me today that he did something for Israel, I'll say, 'Very good,'" she said. "At least he would have gotten something from his death."
Naim was a true Zionist, she said. "Once we talked about an old [Jewish] woman who had died and he told me, 'It's very sad because the soul of a Jew cannot rest till it is buried in the Land of Israel.'"
Naim's greatest dream was to make aliya, she said. "He was angry, furious and in pain that he was still in Iraq."
Until the mid-20th century, Iraq had a large, affluent Jewish population, but following Israel's War of Independence, most Jews - some 120,000 - left out of Zionist sentiment or fear of staying behind. Hanuka's parents chose to remain and later could not leave.
During the 1967 war, Naim suffered greatly, remembered his sister. "I once went into his room when he was studying for his matriculation exams and he was literally tearing a belt with his teeth and hands from frustration. I said, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'My cousins and uncles are being killed in Israel and I'm here studying.' The year after that they took him."
The deaths of the nine Jews were the beginning of a reign of terror that over the next few years would see dozens of Jews disappear. Some of them returned in boxes, their bodies cut in pieces. Others were retrieved by their families from the morgue. And others' whereabouts remain unknown.
"It's scary to think about what a monster [Saddam] is," Hanuka said. "They have so many things to judge him for. But to think that my brother was in his hands and suffered torture from him is torture for me."
Her biggest fear, she said, "is that he will be freed, maybe through a suicide bombing he'll escape."
Only his death will bring closure for Hanuka. "Until his existence ends, the story will not end," she said, adding, that "in Arabic, there's a saying: Every dog has his day. Saddam's day is coming."