May 21, 2019

ISIS Overlooks a Synagogue in Mosul

“In the fall of 2016 I began filming a documentary about the battle to retake Mosul from Islamic State. I made a promise to myself and to my crew: Whatever risks and obstacles the war unpredictably produced, we would reach the burial ground of the prophet Jonah on the Tigris River—right in the middle of the city.

The goal was met. Though the site was buried in rubble and ash, one of our film’s scenes would show the final resting place of the most enigmatic and provocative biblical prophet. When my crew and I deemed our mission accomplished, we savored a double satisfaction: We had covered the first half of the war to destroy ISIS and also rediscovered an important site in the biblical narrative and Jewish history.

Then down came a bolt from the blue. It took the form of a phone call from the French human-rights activist Hugues Dewavrin. For the entire reign of ISIS, my friend told me, a certain Omar Mohammed had remained in Mosul, chronicling the devastation of his city on the blog, Mosul Eye.

This immensely talented “citizen historian” was madly in love with his city. His then-unsigned posts drew the attention of every journalist in the vicinity, as they knew he could provide reliable information on daily life in Mosul.

In late June, Omar Mohammed posted some astonishing photos. In the heart of the old city, in the very spot where the jihadists planned to make their last stand, appeared a synagogue. Mohammed tweeted that he had found some strange inscriptions in Hebrew carved into blue stone and needed volunteers to transcribe and translate them. The internet took it from there.”

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