gaza - AP - February 10 2011
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay, center, sits behind schoolgirls during a visit to Al- Daraj Elementary Co-ed UNRWA school in Gaza City, February 10, 2011. Photo by AP
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Passover’s central theme is the transition from slavery to freedom, and every generation needs to reinterpret this theme for its own times. I believe that for Israel and Jews around the world freedom today means to know that we need not repress historical truth; that fiddling with the truth is a hallmark of weakness; and that those who try to suppress truth are bound to disappear into the dustbin of history; today, in the age of global communication networks more than ever.

No society can maintain stability in the long run by suppressing the truth. The Soviet Union tried to do so for decades, but ended up disappearing. China, despite its tight control over the media, cannot prevent critics from voicing their views. They can detain Nobel Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and prevent him from attending the Nobel ceremony; they cannot block the truth about human rights violation. We see Arab dictatorships falling one after another: in the end corruption and incompetence are uncovered.

In this context there was a refreshing piece of news lately: UNRWA teaches children in the schools of Gaza about the Holocaust, because UNRWA thinks that Palestinian children need to understand the historical background of the Israel-Palestine conflict. How simple and commonsensical: in the end, we all need to live with the truth; so we better face it. Learning about the holocaust will make it easier for Palestinian children to understand Israelis, with whom they will have to live forever.

As you can imagine, Hamas is far from happy about this and vociferously demands that UNRWA stop teaching the holocaust, because, along with The Iranian regime, they believe that they will get away with denying the holocaust. They don’t want their children to know the truth that Palestinians are not the only victims, and they don’t want them know their history of disastrous decision-making. They want them to be indoctrinated; otherwise these children will not turn into the violent fanatics Hamas wants to raise.

The seemingly commonsensical insight that in the end we need to live with the truth is by no means shared by Israel’s lawmakers who have passed the Naqba law. To this day, there are many Israelis who try to repress the truth about the Middle Eastern Conflict. They do not want to know how the Palestinian refugee problem came about; and, they believe that such a law will make historical truth go away.

Quite unfortunately, many in Israel, including a majority of its lawmakers, believe that Israel’s right to exist hinges on repressing the historical truth about the Palestinian tragedy. In this they are similar to Hamas, who fear that the Palestinian narrative will irrevocably be harmed by awareness of the Holocaust. Hamas wants Israelis to be all bad, because they do not want compromise; many Israelis believe that acknowledging the Naqba means to forgo Israel’s right to exist.

I believe that both sides are wrong: Israel’s right to exist cannot be contested, and that this right does not depend on repressing the historical truth of the Palestinian tragedy. Israeli children need to know about the Palestinian tragedy and their narrative of the Naqba, in the same way as Australian children need to know about the tragedy of the aborigines of their country. That doesn’t mean that Israel has less of a right to exist than Australia.

The history of Zionism can be told in a way that makes room for the Palestinian tragedy and suffering, without in any way denying Israel’s right to exist in safety and prosperity. Hence the Naqba law is both useless and inhuman: it won’t wipe out the Palestinian narrative, and it denies Israeli Palestinians their right to express their identity.

In the end both sides will have to live with the truth; and historical and political truth doesn’t make either side into either angels or devils: both sides are human. There are Israelis who want peace and are willing to take risks for it; the majority wants peace, but is afraid of taking the steps necessary to achieve it; and there are Israelis who are racist bigots. There are Palestinians who want peace and are willing to endorse far-reaching compromise; there are intransigent religious fanatics willing to pay any price to erase the Jewish state. And, of course, there are any number of shades and nuances in the middle on both sides.

The attempt led by Lieberman and his associates to suppress the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict turns us into slaves running away from the truth. The way to freedom is to know that Israel has come into being under tragic circumstances; in this respect it is no different from many other states. To be a free people in our country means to end the slavery of feeling that the truth needs to be hidden from our minds and hearts.