On January 27, the world marked the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and so did the state of Israel last week. The UN General Assembly decision to designate a unique date for the commemoration of the Holocaust declares, in its first practical section, that it “Rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an historical event, either in full or part.” It also reaffirms “that the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people, along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice.” Regrettably, it seems that some of the world’s population has yet to internalized this simple message.
A proper figure to start the discussion with is Roger Garaudy, one of the major Holocaust deniers in recent decades, who has recently died. In 1996 Garaudy published his notorious book The Founding Myths of Modern Israel with the infamous La Vieille Taupe (The Old Mole) publishing house, after it was rejected by other publishers. This publishing house was, as we know, engaged in the publication of anti-Semitic texts. In his book, Garaudy attacks some of the events and founding myths of Jewish history, to wit: he denies the affinity between the Jews and the land of Israel, while he describes the biblical conqueror of Can’an, Yehoshua bin Nun, as “the father of ethnic cleansing.” The second part of the book deals with the Nuremberg trials, where the Nazis are depicted as victims, and later outlines the “myth” of the Holocaust and the extermination of millions of Jews in the gas chambers. In the third part, he presents analysis with a neo-Marxist anti-Semitic theory on how the Jews control the world with their money.
That the holocaust is a “founding myth” of Israel, and thus that its “falsification” would make Israel illegitimate, is common in the Arab world, and on the anti-Semitic far-left and far-right. After the establishment of Israel, there was a widespread tendency to entwine the Holocaust issue with the question of the settlement of the Land of Israel: i.e., to imply (falsely) that the creation of Israel was not due to any political or legal right the Jews had to a state, nor due to any historical justification such as the Jews’ millennia-long desire to return to the Land of Israel, but merely a compensation for the Holocaust. As a reaction to this thesis, there is a growing tendency to underestimate, minimize, blur and soften the terms and historical events related to the Holocaust in Arab discourse, as a way to undermine the legitimacy of Israel.
Arabic, as we know, is a very rich language, and one can surely assume that there might have been an appropriate term to describe the tragedy of the Jewish people. Notwithstanding, the Arab expression to commemorate the Holocaust is Atz’thad, ((اضطهاد, namely, “persecution” or “oppression.” Palestinians have also created a terminological comparison between the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel, an event they call a “catastrophe” (Nakba, (نكبة . Thus, “Holocaust and Heroism” (shoah ve’gvura, `שואה וגבורה), the common expression to describe the Holocaust and the resistance to the Nazis by the Jews in the Jewish discourse, is transformed in the Palestinian discussion into “catastrophe and resistance ” (in Arabic, Nakba and Muqawama). The poet Mahmoud Darwish went even further, describing the Palestinians who “[r]ose from the ashes of sorrow and doom […] and revive a nation full of life and hope” (emphasis added).
While the death of Garaudy and his abominable deeds were ignored in the Israeli and international discourse, the Arab and Muslim world was in an uproar, and a lively, comprehensive discussion followed: Palestinian historian Abdel Kader Yassin issued a call for the establishment of a research fund in the name of the man. According to him, “The Arabs have to invest [money] and redirect resources in order to continue the path of Garaudy” (El Youm El Sabea, Egypt, 20.06.2012). A valued publicist at Aljarida stressed: “Garaudy did not commit a crime, but simply said that the number of Jews who lived in Europe during World War II never occurred to 3.5 million, so where did they come about six million – those that Israel establishes the myth of the Holocaust about? It’s a simple question supported by scientific evidence” (Aljarida, Kuwait, 17.06.2012). In the city of al-Bireh, near Ramallah, a call was posted during a conference for the participants to benefit from Garaudy’s meditations in which he “succeeded in undermining the Zionist myths.” (Ma’an News Agency, 28/06/2012).
If so, the “scientific” paradigm of Holocaust denial is expressed widely among opinion makers in the Arab society. Some suggest that these individuals speak from ignorance of the facts relating to the Holocaust. Proclamation such as: “Not Chełmno, not Dachau, not Auschwitz! These were all disinfection sites,“ words of a history lecturer at the Islamic University in Gaza, rather undermines this concept. Even so, although questionable in my eyes – this conjecture can be supported in the following puzzling finding: As we know, the online encyclopedia “Wikipedia” has become a fruitful source of information for millions of curious readers, and in dozens of languages. Consistently, the vast majority of Holocaust-related articles do not appear in the Arabic language. So, for example, the Arabic translation for “Concentration Camp” is of nine columns; “The Final Solution” is of six columns; the article “Auschwitz” does not exist, the “Gas Chambers” – three and a half; and the article “Treblinka” does not exist at all. However, the absence of historical information about the Holocaust does not prevent them from arguing that “[t]hey [Israel] are the ones who did the Holocaust, their knife cuts to the length and the width of our flesh […] they opened ovens for us, to bake human beings. They destroyed the villages and burnt the cities. And when an oven stops burning, they light a hundred [more] ovens. Their hands are covered with the blood of our children” [PA TV (Fatah), March 25, 2004]
Not only in the online encyclopedia are Holocaust events absent: PA history book The History of the Arabs and the World in the 20th Century (12th Grade) consistently refrained from pointing out that during World War II Jews were persecuted, that six million were murdered, and in general, avoids mentioning the word “Holocaust.” Simply put, the Palestinian education system denies the Holocaust — by simply deleting it from history books. Nevertheless, one cannot argue that the Palestinian education system does nothing to teach children about what happened to the Jewish people during World War II. Take a look at this interesting dialogue between Hitler and a Palestinian child: “One hot day, I was very tired after a hard day […] and suddenly I saw four white doors in front of me. I opened them in no particular order […] I turned to the next door; there Hitler awaited me. I said, ‘You’re the one who killed the Jews?’ He [Hitler] said: ‘Yes. I killed them so you would all know that they are a nation which spreads destruction all over the world. And what I ask of you is to be resilient and patient, concerning the suffering that Palestine is experiencing at their hands.’ I said [to Hitler]: ‘Thanks for the advice”. (Zayzafuna, PLO magazine for children funded by the PA, February 1, 2011).
The U.N is also partly to blame: UNRWA workers clarified lately that “we emphasize our adamant opposition to confusing the thinking of our students’ by means of Holocaust studies in the human rights study curriculum, and emphasize study of the history of Palestine and the acts of massacre which have been carried out against Palestinians, the most recent of which was the war against Gaza” (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, April 14, 2011). The fact that the U.N preserves the Palestinians’ never-ending refugee status using the UNRWA, does not prevent public opinion-makers in the Arab world publish reflections such as “I wish the UN would decide that every refugee would go back to his original homeland, and then the Palestinian refugee, who is still called ‘Palestinian’ [would return] to Palestine, and the Jewish Iraqi or Moroccan, for example, would also return to Iraq or Morocco. As far as restitution, the Arabs won’t be milked like Israel has milked Germany” (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sept 24, 2012).
To sum up: one cannot put episodes of Holocaust studies into the education system of the Hamas government in Gaza, of Fatah in the PA or the Ayatollah regime in Iran. Nevertheless, the simple facts, those which there are no disputes about, must be accessible for millions of Arabic readers: men, women and children.
And just a final word: one should be reminded that the political reality in the Middle East is moving in spheres other than those that find expression in intellectual conferences dealing with the Holocaust memory. As Norman Cohn noted in his classic history of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, A Warrant for Genocide, it is a great mistake to think only good, serious, or honest books have an impact. There is an enormously influential underworld of evil or even insane books – such as the Protocols, and today, Holocaust denying tomes. We should not leave the stage clear for The Old Mole.
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