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The Problem Is Munich, Not What Abbas Said About the Holocaust

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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A member of the Arab commando group that murdered 11 Israel athletes, in Munich's Olympic Village on September 5, 1972.
A member of the Arab commando group that murdered 11 Israel athletes, in Munich's Olympic Village on September 5, 1972.Credit: Kurt Strumpf /AP
Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

Let’s put the Holocaust aside for a moment, even though that’s difficult. After all, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas flirted aggressively with Holocaust denial in the past. His doctoral thesis dealt with ties between the Zionist movement and Nazis. It argued that the Zionists waged an incitement campaign against German Jews in their homeland and betrayed them, and bear partial responsibility for their extermination.

Abbas also wrote that it is possible that fewer than 1 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. In her book “Ha’uma Vehamavet” (“Death and The Nation”), historian Idith Zertal explained well that minimization and devaluation of the Holocaust are a kind of Holocaust denial. That’s why when Abbas stands on German soil and talks about “50 Holocausts” that Israel has perpetrated against the Palestinians, he is only returning to his old habits, which were abandoned when the Oslo peace process began.

On Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2018 he called the Holocaust “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era.” Apparently everything depends on the identity of his audience, or the side of the bed he got up from in the morning.

It’s discouraging, but there is something even more discouraging. Abbas’ reaction to the question about the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics. After all, that’s the match that ignited everything. “If we want to talk about the past, go ahead,” he said at the news conference. “From 1947 to the present day, Israel has committed 50 massacres in Palestinian villages and cities,” adding, in Tantura, Deir Yassin, Kafr Qasem and many others.

He named three places, not 50, and only in two of them did organized massacres of a civilian population definitively occur. There is no such clear documentation about Tantura, even among the Palestinians. Alon Schwarz’s important film does not provide proof and numbers on a historiographic level. But what actually infuriated Abbas? What lit his fuse at that moment and caused him to lie about 50 massacres and then to freak out and accuse Israel of 50 Holocausts?

The question he was asked was quite simple. Fifty years after despicable terrorists entered the Olympic Village, kidnapped innocent athletes who were participating in a worldwide competition that sanctifies brotherhood and the human spirit, brutalized them and finally murdered them – is the acting leader of the Palestinian national movement willing to express remorse to the hosts and the victims’ families. And the answer is: No, he is not. Because in doing so he would lose his center of gravity: the perpetual victimhood, along with hermetic unilateralism and an unwillingness to accept even partial responsibility for the shared past, present and future.

That is a familiar situation, which is expressed on a weekly basis in Haaretz as well, in opinion pieces by Odeh Bisharat and Hanin Majadli: The bitter fate of the Palestinian, on both sides of the Green Line and in all areas of life, is always the fault of the Zionists and the Jews. Tragic events such as the Nakba, Operation Defensive Shield or the siege of the Gaza Strip simply take place in a vacuum, without any historical context, a kind of force majeure.

Apparently this is instinctual for Abbas; we can reasonably assume that he was surprised by the question and didn’t prepare for it in advance. I believe that’s quite depressing, mainly for the camp that supports rapprochement and compromise with the Palestinians (for the opposing camp it’s just more proof of the rightness of their path).

After all, it should be noted that this is a leader who has vocally abandoned his predecessor’s path of violence and terror, is meticulous about maintaining security cooperation with Israel and in vain calls on its governments to return to the negotiating table. He is also under a lot of fire because of that.

But a process of reconciliation also requires mutual recognition and a mutual apology. Not only of Deir Yassin and Kafr Qasem and the horrors of the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But also of the attack on the medical convoy to Hadassah Hospital on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus in 1948, and the massacres in Gush Etzion, Munich and Ma’alot; at the Park Hotel in Netanya and the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium, 20 years ago; the burning buses and the exploding restaurants.

Abbas is not built for that. In his old age, he symbolizes with his rhetoric another link in the greatest Palestinian diplomatic accomplishment: crushing the Israeli peace camp, and along with it the chance and the hope for compromise and the division of the land.

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