Making stupid comparisons
The Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz were not just places enclosed by wire fences and watchtowers and abusive soldiers; they were stations on a deliberate, calculated and industrialized road to the genocide of the Jewish people. The Warsaw Ghetto is different from the "Gaza Ghetto" not merely in "extent," but in essence.
Last week, the Israel Defense Forces improved the appearance of the roadblock at the northern entrance to Ramallah - the one used by diplomats and Palestinian VIPs. The road, which was full of potholes, was paved, and the concrete blocks that mark the entrance and exit were straightened.
A few months ago, signs and slogans were painted on these blocks in fluorescent pinks and yellows, such as "Stop" (in English) and "Za'am" ("Anger") in Hebrew, being the name of one of the units that served at the roadblock. Some of these blocks were removed last week. On one, which greeted those entering Ramallah for many months, the soldiers wrote "Achtung" ("Caution") for the benefit of German-speaking diplomats and aid agency workers.
Against the background of wire fences, a watchtower and armed soldiers who sometimes aim their weapons at threatening movements, that "achtung" grates terribly on the ears of someone raised on parents' memories and photograph albums that told of how this word was used by those who implemented the Final Solution. But the only thing to be learned from its inscription on a concrete block at an IDF roadblock is that this word means nothing to modern-day Israeli youths, the 18- to 20-year-olds and their commanders, who are only a few years older.
Descriptions of Israeli control over the Palestinians naturally arouses certain associations in certain Jews. A child raising both hands in the air before a soldier pointing a rifle; a hidden, fenced-in detention center (Ofer) only a few dozen meters away from a multilane highway, traveled by hundreds of Israelis, that shortens the distance between the West Bank's Binyamin region and Israel; an enormous detention center buried somewhere in the Negev (Ketziot), with more wire fences, more watchtowers and searchlights around them.
These associations create a sense of pain, a sense of helplessness over the fact that they are not shared by many in Israel and have certainly not inspired people with a need to eliminate their source - our control over the Palestinian people and their dispossession from their land. Sometimes the pain, the anger and the helplessness lead people to turn these associations into stupid comparisons.
A month ago, a Jewish member of the British parliament, Oona King, came on a visit. She happened to be here when Air Force helicopters tried to assassinate Abdel Aziz Rantisi of Hamas. She learned about the rampant poverty in the Gaza Strip, about the comfort in which Jewish settlers live, about Israel's closure policies, about the Palestinians' economic dependence on Israel.
In an article written afterward for The Guardian, she denounced Palestinian terror, but also recalled Jewish terror during the Mandate era in this context. She mentioned her decision to boycott Israeli products in response to the "atrocities" committed by Israel and its collective punishment of the Palestinians. But she also wrote: "The original founders of the Jewish state could surely not have imagined the irony facing Israel today. In escaping the ashes of the Holocaust, they have incarcerated another people in a hell similar in its nature - though not its extent - to the Warsaw Ghetto."
King did not go so far as author Jose Saramago, who a year ago visited Ramallah under siege and compared it to Auschwitz. But the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz were not just places enclosed by wire fences and watchtowers and abusive soldiers; they were stations on a deliberate, calculated and industrialized road to the genocide of the Jewish people. This was within the context of dividing all humanity into superior and inferior races and in which the inferior races were sentenced to extermination. The Warsaw Ghetto is different from the "Gaza Ghetto" not merely in "extent," but in essence.
It is possible to offer endless psycho-historical explanations for why people feel a need to compare the state of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians to the German industry of murder. There are non-Jews who are interested in this comparison in order to free themselves of the burden of coping, morally and philosophically, with Auschwitz as a white, European "invention."
There is no doubt that King's motives are different. And yet, the comparison she made achieves the opposite of what she intended. After all, one compares in order to warn, in order to stop the deterioration. But one cannot effect change if one misdiagnoses reality. King concluded from her visit to Gaza that the massive destruction, the killing of civilians, the sieges and the closures are not perpetrated in order to provide Israel and Israelis with security.
Had she not become enmeshed in a stupid comparison, she would perhaps have devoted more thought, and more words, to the war of attrition that Israel has been waging against the Palestinians with the goal of obtaining their consent to a political solution very far from both international decisions and their own minimum demands - a state in the pre-1967 borders.
During the Oslo years, this war of attrition was waged economically (closures) and politically (endless dragging out of negotiations). In the last three years, it has involved both lethal military measures and cruel economic ones (imprisoning the Palestinians in enclaves).
The Palestinians have coped or not coped with this war of attrition in their own ways, locked in a battle with Israel over the size of their country and their ability to develop their community without external dictation. It is not necessary for the worst of all to happen for opposition to what is happening to be justified.