I wish to address you, the Arab reader in general and the Palestinian reader in particular, in advance of the upcoming publication in Arabic of my book “The Holocaust, the Resurrection and the Nakba” (by Madar Press in Ramallah; Resling, 2013; an English translation is due out in late 2014).
The search for truth is, in my opinion, a moral, intellectual and academic obligation. This is especially important to me when the topic is the relationship between Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Israelis/Palestinians in Palestine or elsewhere. These two societies live in mutual distrust that is steadily worsening.
I know and realize that there are disagreements between the two societies, and within each society, with regard to the definition of what happened in 1948. After 25 years of work on the subject of genocide, I have reached the clear and reasoned conclusion that Israel did not commit genocide in 1948, and I discuss this in detail in the book.
But as a Jew and an Israeli, and first and foremost as a human being, only with my heart bleeding did I reach the conclusion that my parents’ generation, many members of which were Holocaust survivors, did perpetrate ethnic cleansing, in the course of which more than a few massacres were committed.
It is clear to me that some portion of Palestinian and Arab society — I do not know how large — will not accept my position, just as I know many Israelis disagree with and even vehemently oppose my contentions.
But unless Israelis know about and recognize the crimes we committed in 1948, and their ongoing significance in Palestinian society, and unless Palestinians recognize the ongoing significance of the Holocaust in Jewish-Israeli society, there is no chance of a true reconciliation between these two peoples.
So I permit myself to address you, my brothers, and ask you to think about how widespread Holocaust denial is in Palestinian and Arab society.
Reconciliation is not the same as a diplomatic solution. It seems to me that it will be very difficult for us to reach a diplomatic solution without a reconciliation process and in-depth educational work for coexistence, peace and justice.
The special announcement Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas published on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day in both Arabic and English (it is too bad it did not also appear in Hebrew), in which he defined the murder of Jews in the Holocaust as “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era” and offered condolences to “the families of the victims and many other innocent people who were killed by the Nazis,” deserves to be highlighted.
This is the first time such a senior Palestinian or Arab personage has said such things. Even if there was a political element to his statement, it deserves admiration and respect.
But the prime minister of Israel responded crudely. Regrettably, Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers are the ones who are making cynical use of the memory of the Holocaust. Nobody has the right to make cynical use of the Holocaust and desecrate its memory, not even the Israeli prime minister.
To me, the Holocaust has a degree of sanctity. Perhaps the appropriate response to Abbas’ remarks would be to recognize the catastrophe of the Nakba, even though, in my view, these are two events where comparative research actually proves how completely they differed.
Racist, antidemocratic and, to my sorrow, even fascist manifestations are common in Israel. The official policy of the State of Israel in recent years explicitly contains fascist and racist elements.
If I can be permitted to testify about myself, it seems that I — to a much greater extent than many other Israelis, although certainly not to a sufficient extent — have the ability to identify with, empathize with and even love the “Palestinian other,” whom I view as “my brother and friend,” even if he, to my sorrow, is also under certain circumstances my enemy, whom in the past I have fought against physically.
To me, he is first and foremost a human being. The circumstances of our lives have led to us living together side by side, each against the other. I cannot accept the ridiculous claim that he is an “other” who wants to destroy us, even if there are undoubtedly some Palestinians who do want to destroy us.
Israeli society, and especially its political and education systems, nurtures the memory of the Holocaust by wrongly and inaccurately emphasizing its particularistic aspects and lessons — the Zionist and Jewish ones — and much, much less the universal ones. That is also how many Israeli youngsters relate to it. I, in contrast, after many years of researching the Holocaust and genocide in general, am proposing a different discourse.
The significance of the Holocaust and of genocide, and the lessons to be learned from it, are the sanctity of human life and the equal value of all human lives because they are human, regardless of whether they are Tutsi, Roma, Armenian, Jewish or Palestinian.
At the same time, I accept the claim that the Holocaust, like every act of genocide, has unique characteristics, inter alia, the totality of the Final Solution, the central role that racist anti-Semitism toward Jews simply because they were Jews played in Nazi ideology and the existence of the gas chambers.
I have repeatedly stressed, both in Israel and abroad, both orally and in writing, the equal value of Palestinian lives. That is because the sanctity of human life and the equal value of human lives are extremely central and relevant to our lives here and now.
My hope is that the book will make a modest contribution to understanding, reconciliation and identification with the suffering both peoples have undergone. Above all, I wanted the book translated into Arabic, and now, I am rejoicing over its publication in the language.
I would be happy to come and speak with anyone, anyplace, to contribute my small bit to reconciliation between the two peoples. Both peoples are more ready for this than their leaders.
Neveh Shalom, Vachat el Salam,
The author is a professor who has spent the past 25 years studying genocide and Israel’s attitude toward the genocides of other nations.