Yazidi survivor of Islamic State in Knesset: Recognize our genocide

A Yazidi survivor of Islamic State captivity urged the Knesset on Monday to recognize the terror organization’s crimes against Iraq’s Yazidi minority as a genocide, and an opposition lawmaker pledged to seek official Israeli recognition through Knesset legislation.

In a gathering in Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem, UN Goodwill Ambassador Nadia Murad, 24, who was abducted by the Islamic State into sex slavery when jihadis overran northern Iraq in August 2014, somberly appealed to the Jewish state to formally acknowledge the atrocities.

“My visit here today is to ask you to recognize the genocide being committed against my people, in light of our peoples’ common history of genocide,” she told the meeting, co-hosted by Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova, who heads the Knesset Lobby for Strengthening Relations between the State of Israel and the Kurdish people; the IsraAID organization; and the Israel office of the Society for International Development (SID).

“The Jews and the Yazidis share a common history of genocide that has shaped the identity of our peoples, but we must transform our pain into action. I respect how you rebuilt a global Jewish community in the wake of genocide. This is a journey that lies ahead of my community,” Murad added in Arabic, speaking through an interpreter.

Nadia Murad, a Yazidi survivor of Islamic State enslavement (courtesy)

In August 2014, two months after sweeping across Iraq’s Sunni heartland, IS jihadists made a second push into an area that had been under Kurdish security control. Thousands of Yazidi men were massacred when the jihadis attacked the town of Sinjar and thousands of women and girls were kidnapped and enslaved. Mass graves have since been unearthed in the region.

Yazidi community leaders say up to 3,000 Yazidi women may still be in the hands of the jihadis, across the “caliphate” they proclaimed more than two years ago over parts of Iraq and Syria.

The Kurdish-speaking minority is neither Arab nor Muslim and is mostly based around Sinjar Mountain, between the city of Mosul and the Syrian border. It practices its own religion, a unique blend of faiths that is rooted in Zoroastrianism, but borrows from Islam, Christianity and other beliefs.

A mass grave of Yazidis in Sinjar, Iraq. (CC BY-SA 4.0: Wikipedia)

The UN has called the massacres a genocide, arguing that IS had planned them and then intentionally separated men from women to prevent Yazidi children from being born. The United States House of Representatives in March 2016 unanimously passed a motion declaring the mass killings a genocide, followed by the Scottish parliament weeks later, the British House of Commons in April 2016, Canada in October 2016, and the French National Assembly in December of that year.

Speaking at the event, held during the last week of the Knesset session, before a three-month break, Zionist Union MK Svetlova said she would bring her bill to recognize the Yazidi genocide to a Knesset vote in November, when the parliament reconvenes.

A displaced Iraqi Yazidi woman wipes her eyes at the Bajid Kandala camp near the Tigris River, in Kurdistan's western Dohuk province, where they took refuge after fleeing advances by Islamic State jihadists in Iraq on August 13, 2014. (Photo credit:AFP/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)

The bill calls on Israel to recognize the massacres as a genocide and mark the event annually on August 3, and recommends the education minister adopt curricula on the atrocities and the prime minister convene an official memorial. As of now, there is only one coalition MK signed on to the bill, Likud MK Yehudah Glick, alongside eight opposition members.

Svetlova, however, was optimistic the coalition could be persuaded to support the recognition, which she warned was still in its “very initial stages.”

“It’s being discussed right now in the Foreign Ministry,” she told The Times of Israel after the meeting. “In principle, we were told there is no problem with the law. Now, does that mean [the coalition’s] automatic support? It’s very difficult for me to say. I very much hope so. There is no reason for the coalition to oppose something so natural and obvious.”

During the meeting, Svetlova argued that Israel has a special obligation for recognition, “as a people, a nation, that experienced a terrible Holocaust.”

“‘Never again’ is a call to action. It’s an action that should unify all of humanity who remember the Holocaust,” she told the gathering.

A gathering in the Knesset calling for Israel to recognize the crimes against the Yazidis as a genocide on July 24, 2017 (courtesy)

“Three years have passed, and we have yet to hear a single official statement from the government of Israel. I think this is a disgrace, and from here I certainly call on our government to open their eyes,” said Svetlova.

While the session was attended by opposition leader Isaac Herzog and Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir, no coalition members were among the audience, after deputy minister Michael Oren, who was slated to speak, could not attend.

Though a UN goodwill ambassador for the dignity of survivors of human trafficking, Murad, the Yazidi woman, castigated the United Nations for its unwillingness to pursue war crimes charges against the Islamic State.

“Despite various independent reports that have found evidence of an ongoing genocide, and despite repeatedly asking the United Nations to hold ISIS perpetrators accountable, the global community has not responded,” she said, using a common acronym for the Islamic State. “The UN has not taken any action to establish a mechanism to prosecute ISIS for their crimes.”

In April 2015, the International Criminal Court ruled out prosecuting the Islamic State, as neither Iraq nor Syria were parties of the Rome Statute that gives the body jurisdiction over those countries.

Yazidi Kurdish women chant slogans during a protest against the Islamic State group's invasion of Sinjar city, in Dohuk, Iraq, August 3, 2015. (AP/Seivan M. Salem)

In her address, Murad referred briefly to the siege of Sinjar, which left her mother and six of her brothers dead.

“They surrounded more than 200,000 fleeing Yazidis on Mount Sinjar, without food, water or shelter. Many of my people perished on the mountain,” she said.

“They also systematically abducted thousands of women and children including myself. Women and girls were enslaved, trafficked, and forcibly converted. Boys were indoctrinated with ISIS ideology and trained as fighters. Despite some areas having been liberated from ISIS, the genocide continues today.”

Murad, who now lives in Germany, managed to flee and has since engaged in advocacy work for her people. In 2016, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

“We Yazidis are a peaceful people,” she said. “Never in our 5,000-year history have we fought and killed others. But our peacefulness has not served us well. We have faced 74 pogroms, often motivated by extreme interpretations of Islam. And I’m afraid this genocide, the one that continues today, will be completed if we are not able to return to our homeland.”


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