July 9, 2018
Islamic State (IS), like the Taliban, systematically destroyed ancient religious sites in the places that came under its control—some because they were associated with non-Muslim religions, others because they were venerated by Muslims in a way that IS deemed idolatrous. Alongside the physical destruction resulting from the war itself, this policy has left many historic cities in ruins. Among them is Mosul, known in ancient times as Nineveh, which was once home to Muslim Arabs, Christians, Kurds, Yazidis, and Jews. Seth Frantzman and Omar Mohammed report on the remnants of Jewish life that Moslawis (as the locals are known) have discovered beneath the rubble:
From the ruins has emerged a vibrant desire by [Mosul’s] residents to revive the city’s history, cultural life, and diversity. . . . Perhaps one of the most extraordinary developments in the city is the discovery of remains of the ancient Jewish presence in Mosul. This includes Old Mosul’s synagogue, its walls tinted with blue, and a Hebrew inscription over a door that was recently unearthed. . . .
Mosul once had a thriving Jewish community whose roots stretch back to the 8th century BCE. There are tombs in and near Mosul that commemorate the biblical prophets Jonah and Nahum. IS blew up the tomb of Jonah, known in Arabic as Nabi Yunis, in July 2014.
Many other Jewish sites were known to locals but were kept secret after the last Jews left Mosul. The community secreted away inscriptions and items with family friends; these were passed down or left aside to collect dust. The fact that they were hidden kept them safe from IS invaders. Some of the sites, such as the synagogue, were used for other purposes—IS turned the synagogue into a storage area for bombs and used it as a hideout to avoid coalition airstrikes. . . .
After the destruction from the 2017 fighting subsided, [the authors] found that a local resident who asked to remain anonymous was posting photos of inscriptions and old buildings that were circulating privately online. He didn’t know what the pictures were of, but someone noticed the Hebrew letters. Residents thought one of the buildings was “just rubbish.” We checked it out and the writing on a stone lintel was indeed in Hebrew. It is not surprising that people thought the site was “rubbish”—an American soldier wrote about finding the building in 2003 and described it as a “garbage dump.”
Since then, locals have found another building buried in rubble underground that they [also] believe to be a synagogue, as well as an old Jewish girls’ school and other items from the long-gone Jewish community.