WASHINGTON — Persian Jewish families in Los Angeles last Thursday were putting the final touches on their plans to celebrate Nowruz, the Persian spring holiday, when the news from the Prime Minister’s Office reached America’s West Coast. Now, days after the curious announcement dashed local families’ hopes by revealing that eight Iranian Jews refugees had been murdered en route to Israel in 1994, Los Angeles’s Persian community is distraught – not just because of the bitter news itself but also because of the way in which the Prime Minister’s Office delivered it.
Community leader Bijan Khalili said that two Los Angeles-based families whose relatives disappeared en route to Israel two decades ago were not contacted by the Prime Minister’s Office before the media release of the announcement that their family members were murdered.
“For many years, we were hoping for a sign, but even now, we received no word of what happened, where it happened, or by whom,” complained Khalili. Over the weekend, Israel’s Channel 10 revealed more details surrounding the fate of the eight — part of a group of 11-13 Iranian Jews who disappeared en route from their home country to Israel in 1994 and 1997.
According to the TV report, the eight who disappeared in 1994 had been told by Israeli contacts — in an escape attempt orchestrated by Israel and overseen by officials from the Mossad and the Jewish Agency — to travel eastward to cross the Pakistani border in three groups. In what appeared to be a case of mistaken identity, two of the groups were confused with members of an anti-government insurgency and killed by government forces, while the third group was detained by the government, but then released and then killed by local tribesmen.
Khalili had many questions about the Israeli government revelation Thursday that the eight had been murdered.
He pointed out that the news was released on the eve of Nowruz, the joyful spring festival celebrated by all Iranians regardless of religious orientation.
“We are really upset and I don’t know what exactly this announcement means,” Khalili said. “I am concerned that this could be an attempt to turn it into a political matter, because it isn’t one. This is a humanitarian matter.”
The distinction, he argued, could be crucial. The Los Angeles Jewish community has counted a total of 13 missing Jews — of whom eight are accounted for in the Israeli story. The fate of the remaining five, who disappeared in 1997, he said, is still an unsolved mystery. The community hopes against hope that at least some of those five are still alive.
Khalili also does not understand why community members have a list of 13 missing Jews, when the Israeli government only acknowledged 11.
In California, local groups and the victims’ families have tried to push the issue of the missing Jews to the forefront of international awareness.
The Los Angeles families, he said, met with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Iran, Ahmad Shaheed, for over three hours. But Shaheed did not mention the missing Iranian Jews in his report on the human rights situation in Iran, and merely listed Iranian Jews among other ethnic and religious minorities who face discrimination under the current regime.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request for comment before the story was published.