Repressing Historical Truth: A Form of Slavery

Israeli children need to know about the Palestinian tragedy in the same way that Australian children need to know about the tragedy of the Aborigines.

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 knowing 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 disintegrating. China, despite its tight control over the media, cannot prevent critics from voicing their views. They can detain Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and prevent him from attending the award ceremony, but they cannot block the truth about human rights violations. 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 recently.The UN Relief and Works Agency teaches children in Gaza schools about the Holocaust because the agency thinks that Palestinian children need to understand the historical background of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How simple and commonsensical. 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.

Not surprisingly, Hamas is far from happy about this and vociferously demands that the UNRWA stop teaching students about the Holocaust because Hamas, along with the Iranian regime, believes that they will get away with denying that it ever happened. They don't want their children to know that Palestinians are not the only victims, and they don't want them to 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 sensible 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 Nakba Law. To this day, there are many Israelis who try to repress the truth about the Middle East conflict. They do not want to know how the Palestinian refugee problem came about and they believe that the passage of this law will make historical truth go away.

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 respect, they are similar to Hamas, whose leaders fear that the Palestinian narrative will be irrevocably 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 Nakba means forgoing Israel's right to exist.

I believe that both sides are wrong. Israel's right to exist cannot be contested. And this right is not contingent upon repressing the historical truth of the Palestinian tragedy. Israeli children need to know about the Palestinian tragedy and their narrative of the Nakba in the same way that 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 security and prosperity. Hence the Nakba Law is both useless and inhuman. It won't erase 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. Historical and political truth doesn't make either side into angels or devils: Both sides are human. There are Israelis who want peace and are willing to take risks for it. The majority of Israelis want peace, but are 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 Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his associates to suppress the history of the Israeli-Palestinian 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 ending the form of slavery which leads us to believe that the truth must be hidden from our hearts and minds.