Incitement Ushers in a Tense Yom Kippur in Israel

A historian and opponent of Holocaust denial chooses this week to engage in Naqba denial.

Daniel Bar-On

This will not be just any Yom Kippur in Israel. In a rare convergence, the most sacred observance in the Jewish calendar, a fast of atonement, abstinence and introspection, coincides this year with the beginning of Id al-Adha, a joyous Muslim holiday marked with fireworks, barbecues and other festivities.

After a summer marked with Arab-Jewish tensions surrounding the devastation of the war in Gaza and rocket attacks on Israeli cities and towns, community activists and officials in mixed cities across Israel have expressed concern that incitement and friction over the observances could lead to violence.

This week, the incitement came earlier than expected. And it was delivered to every newsstand.

In a Thursday Yedioth Ahronoth opinion piece, Dr. Guy Bechor, remarking that we have much to learn today from the events of 1948, proceeds to retell the history of the founding of Israel in a way that is not only wholly dishonest, but is certain to exacerbate mistrust, inflame old wounds, and make the uphill work of Jewish-Arab co-existence that much more challenging.

In Bechor's retelling, the Arabs of Mandatory Palestine fled solely at the explicit request of Arabs who promised to exterminate the Jews, then divide the homes and the women of the Jews among the refugee Arabs on their return to Palestine:

"For the purpose of the extermination, they were asked to leave the country temporarily for the Arab armies that were invading at the time, in order that the slaughter of the Jews could proceed easily and without hindrance, after which they would return and divide the spoils amongst themselves."

At this point the story takes a turn for what seems to be something akin to parody. But Bechor is dead serious:

"And so it came to pass that the Jews of the Land of Israel were astonished to see their neighbors get up one day and leave en masse.

"They asked them to stay - 'We'll defend you,' they told them, but the Arabs only laughed, explaining that the Arab armies intended to annihilate all the Jews, and that they would certainly then return. They also told them that they had already divided up the Jews' homes and women for themselves."

One might imagine that a historian well-versed in Jews' sensitivity to Holocaust denial, might think twice about engaging in Naqba denial - portraying the central tragedy of the Palestinian people as wholly self-inflicted, a greed-rooted backfiring of plans for Nazi-style genocide against Jews:

"Alas, the plot failed, and all that the Palestinians had left to them, was screaming 'Naqba!' the world over," he writes.

There's more, much more. Bechor goes on to reduce the war in Gaza to nothing more than the latest chapter of a long, unflagging and ultimately uncomplicated Palestinian plot to exterminate the Jews of Israel.

"Exactly the same scenario repeated itself in the year 2014. Again the Palestinians intended to carry out the slaughter and elimination of the Jews," Bechor writes.

"Not since the Second World War has there been a scenario in which thousands of rockets and missiles were fired at densely populated cities, as happened here."

Not one word about the deaths of thousands of Palestinians in 2014, many of them killed by Israeli missiles fired into densely populated towns, nor about the large numbers of Palestinians who were forced from their homes in 1948 at the point of Israeli guns.

The truth about both wars is complex and painful beyond healing. On close and fair inspection, neither side comes off well. But in Bechor's retelling, there are no complications. The Palestinians, he writes, cling "in their arrogance" to the hope of genocide, generation after generation.

But when it comes to tunnel vision, or inadvertent self-exposure, nothing quite beats Bechor's sign-off line, intended to send us all into Yom Kippur wiser if not better off:

"Why not, nevertheless, learn something from the past, distant or recent? After all, where they are concerned, that might also be the future."