While preparing the insertion of the article by Nahida Izzat About anti-Semitism, as do all of her thoughtful and intense contributions, many segments caused me to reflect. Her analysis and especially her questions are so important and meaningful, that it would only be logical to address them bit by bit, and I would like to begin with a segment that I believe holds the core to so many of the difficulties of keeping the Palestinian Nakba on the table… it’s that presence in the room of the elephant of the Holocaust.
Incredible, it seems as though it is often the primary argument discussed. I don’t mean only by those who back Israel tooth and nail, but even by those who claim that Israel as a Jewish State must come to an end. Nahida’s first question:
Why is it that we Palestinians are constantly reminded of the horrors of the holocaust, when we had nothing to do with it?
Yes. Why? Why is it the argument in a UN General Assembly the week that the Goldstone Report on the Gaza War was released? Why is it that we have to bear yet again with the Israeli PM raging on about the Holocaust and about how Ahmadinejad denies it, so therefore, “all good people of the world, keep the light of the Holocaust burning bright and let’s keep the focus on Israeli victimhood, current vulnerability and the danger Iran poses” becomes the leitmotif of the day, week, month, year… It is permanent, fuelled constantly.
The Goldstone Report was no small feat of the UN to pull off, and some focus there would have been something close to a dream come true: it was the outcome of an official UN commission headed by a respected judge (a Jewish South African) which revealed that Israel engaged wilfully, deliberately and recklessly in war crimes against the people in Gaza… not in the 1940s, but just last winter. So why did Netanyahu rant and moan? The response is simple: to shift focus with the justification for it that “Ahmadinejad is denying the Holocaust”. But the question begs… Did he?
Had he mentioned the Holocaust in the speech to the UN? I could find not one reference to the Holocaust, much less it’s being denied or not. It was not even mentioned. Yet, what does Netanyahu do? He brings the argument there, because it is beyond doubt that it is effective for Israel’s goal of achieving world sympathy as well as condemnation of Iran, which is a goal of a big part of the “International Community”, and for various nefarious reasons. It gets “sexed up” with the nuclear threat, as if this is indeed the major problem and issue regarding humankind, and we get more and more of these claims that are not really ever verified, “Iran’s got it,” “not yet but close,” “Iran could strike Israel very soon.” All of it backed a few days later by the most intense PR mistake that Iran could muster, long range missile tests. It doesn’t matter now what they do or say, we see the film of the missile set off in a loop for hours and hours on every news show or even commentary.
As I often do, I wonder who’s advising Ahmadinejad, because it sure works wonders for pushing the “Israelis in danger” narrative. Are nuclear weapons going to help bring down the Zionist regime? I really do doubt it, but they sure do a lot to gain them support from the wealthy international community and the political and public backing that would keep Israel’s survival (as a Jewish State) as the priority. I would say that on the face of it, it looks like backward logic.
While Netanyahu and the West rant and rage about the alleged sins of Iran’s President in order to help Israel stay on the top of the game, we see another really bizarre trend in this “constant reminder of the Holocaust”. Surprise surprise, it’s not only the main theme for those whose purpose for existing is to enable Israel who are keeping the “constant reminders of the Holocaust” in the place of prominence. It is also the committed anti-Zionists who like to keep this fil rouge of Ahmadi and the Holocaust running.
Gilad Atzmon, whose views about Zionism are almost always astute, makes the same mistake that Netanayahu does. In his recent paper about Ahmadinejad, Who is a Jew? just a few days after the UN brou-ha-ha he writes: “It is pretty much impossible to deny the fact that Ahmadinejad's take on the holocaust and Israel is coherent, consistent and valid. He seems to have three main issues with the narrative…” and he elaborates on these elements which include numbers, the relevance of historical revision and on the Western responsibility for it.
In the past few years, and in quite a noticeable way, the references to the Holocaust have been decreasing. Did Ahmadinejad deliberately omit the issue of the Holocaust in his important UN speech (which obviously, and predictably, no one seems to know the content of or its theme?) Quite apparently this is the case, and it is indeed plausible that he did it because this was his intention. Nor was the Holocaust mentioned in his speech in Geneva at the International Conference on Racism.
In fact, there is deliberate omission of the matter, and if the translation is to be trusted, we see that he actually says what is not even his own theory, but rather something close to a fact, that is repeated as well by Netanyahu, that the establishment of Israel in Palestine was “in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe.” Following is the entire quote:
Following World War II, they resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless on the pretext of Jewish sufferings. And they sent migrants from Europe, the United States, and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in the occupied Palestine… [Delegates walk out in protest. Applause] And in fact in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe… Okay, please. Thank you. And in fact in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive, racist regime in Palestine. [Applause]
One may ask themselves the classic questions: If we know that the Israelis are always up in arms about Ahmadinejad/Holocaust, and that they use this as justification for reinforcing their garrison mentality and use it effectively to get more money, arms and support, and then if Ahamdinejad has actually reduced this kind of intervention from his international speaking appearances – why is this focus constantly there even by those who are against the Zionist State and its garrison mentality as if he had indeed said what Netanyahu wants everyone to believe he said? If we are getting our information from Ynet and the Western mainstream media, of course we are using distortion as our resource. We have to be careful to avoid that error. When we are debating, discussing the Holocaust of the Second World War, an event that is over, finished and (as both Netanyahu and Ahmadinejad concur) compensated for at least for the Jews, what space does that leave us for debate, discussion and dissemination of information on TODAY’S Holocaust, the Nakba of the Palestinian people? Has a single Palestinian EVER been compensated for the losses which started at the beginning of the last century and are increasing in violence and frequency? No. Certainly not. Nor have the Lebanese been compensated for the losses they have suffered in the brutal war raged against them… no, not in the past century, but just three years ago.
Is it very productive to reiterate the same narrative of Netanyahu even when it’s an instrumental distortion of reality and the Palestinians are tired of it? Is it productive for the Palestinian people?
Another question by Nahida: Why is it that we Palestinians, are to suffer the same fate as the victims of the holocaust by the hands of those who brag worldwide to act for “never again”?
I would venture to guess, Nahida, that your situation is always pushed to the margins because it is simply not deemed as being interesting enough, and Jews and Israelis have been successful in rendering their own situations more appealing, even by way of deceit and distortion.
It seems obvious that while the Holocaust was indeed used as a pretext for the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, it had a lot more than that “going for it”. It was always used by the West to cover its own sins such as Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden occurring in the same years. It was used to have an “ultimate evil” to point to… in this way, there is no self-reflection that would lead to change, which is actually what political writing in the West often aims to do. Once you have an evil that is defined as something that will be unequalled, once you have established clearly that there is a group that is represented as being a victim more worthy of pity than any other victim (so that any other suffering is going to be relatively inferior), the mechanism of turning a blind eye to Palestinian and Arab suffering can become the norm. And, suffer they must, if there is to be a Jewish State in Palestine, which is simply a racist construct that dictates that Jews have rights that “non-Jews” (the negation terminology is interesting) shall never have. In fact, those who are non-Jews are also peddled as “enemies” even by the institutional peaceniks adored in the West and used for the Hasbara, such as David Grossman and Noa. When you have an enemy, naturally, the narrator is a good guy and almost “forced” into “defence”. It’s a great and handy little game for the Israelis, and the Palestinians have not yet been able to show the world the full extent of their situation. Part of that is because Palestinians are denied a voice and they are often told that it would be preferable for them to follow the arguments that those in Europe or North America are dictating. The very most they can do is to learn to be satisfied with assuming the passive victim role in some progressive sites.
I’ve been running Palestine sites for a long time, but before that, I’ve been reading these sites. It is quite interesting that aside from independent blogs, the Palestinian voice is the exception, not the rule, in the progressive or pro-resistance media. I believe that Palestine Think Tank is a happy exception, because most of our contributors and editors are Palestinians, as well as the majority of our content being written by Palestinians. However, just a glance on almost any site about Palestine in English, you are going to find out quite soon that the Palestinian voice is nearly absent. You will see papers (mostly) by Jews and Israelis, articles taken from Haaretz, books by Americans and Britons, but the Palestinian voice is not given its due space.
It certainly is not because they do not have opinions and do not express them well. PTT alone is testament to the variety, vibrancy and originality of these writers. Sometimes, it seems, there is a lot of gatekeeping surrounding what Palestinians say, and by those who make a point of defending freedom of speech for those whose main or sole argument is the Holocaust. I will enter into detail further in this article.
Self-criticism and self-analysis are the basis of any transformation, personal and national alike. Active transformation in the form of popular uprising, which by now a vast majority of Palestinians see as inevitable and necessary, given the failure of politics, also entails the awareness of the level of distress that is growing, distress that time is running out and that even the most basic Palestinian requirements and demands will not be met, as even the most steadfast resistance movements contemplate the realpolitik of recognition of Israel as a Jewish State. This would ratify an enormous injustice, and cancel forever the chance of return. It is necessary for Palestinians to voice all of their views and to act, as the feeling is strong that time is not on their side.
Revolutions imported from anywhere else but internally, among the people, are by necessity viewed with suspicion. The foundation of a popular revolt is always internal. It entails coming into consciousness of the corruption and ineffectiveness of the system or leaders, and thus instilling and encouraging the active, revolutionary spirit of resistance. It is an overthrowing of the mentality that “the people” are passive subjects who must be controlled and must surrender their consent, even against their better judgment. There is no ruling or governing body in the world that tolerates too much dissent.
Every Western country prides itself on claiming that it tolerates dissent. Whether they actually do or not is questionable, but this is at any rate one of the yardsticks to measure the level of democracy they have achieved. Within activism, the dissenting voice is indeed the dominant one. Thus, promotion and support of self-critical voices, whenever they have the freedom to arise, as this is always a risk, is a necessary basis for changing a negative status quo. Fighting gatekeeping within our ranks is a primary concern, and Palestine Think Tank has never backed off on fighting this unhealthy censorship mechanism. Especially vocal gatekeepers, as we know, are the Jewish activists, who always have been very effective in keeping their agendas as the dominant ones. They tend to impose focus on arguments that are more interesting to them, and ones they presumably feel are interesting to others. These arguments are invariably the “Jewish experience”, past, present and future. This naturally includes the two hot topics that always stir up attention, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. These issues are woven into every discourse, as we have seen, by Zionists and anti-Zionists alike, as if the Jewish experience is indeed the interesting one, and the Palestinians simply have to adjust to playing second fiddle, even at the cost of “constantly being reminded” of these issues, precisely the complaint that Nahida has made in her recent article. As both Meshaal and Nasrallah have said, with the blood of their people still fresh from Israeli aggression, “there is a real Holocaust going on today”, the Holocaust against the people of Palestine and Lebanon.
It is with the goal of keeping the Palestinian and Arab demands for freedom and the necessity of promoting their own voices, that this site has published hundreds of articles by Palestinians and Arabs which call for a more active involvement in building their own future, and refusal to negotiate away their rights, or allow anyone else to set their agenda. At the end of the day, they ought to know what is best for themselves more than a European, American, Israeli or Jew does. This was the spirit of the excellent article by Mohamed Khodr, An Embarassment of Riches and Riches of Embarassments where he pointed out the vast level of the failure of governments in Arab nations to be true to the principles of Islam, often at the expense of the Palestinians. Another important article that was similarly self-critical was by Sami Jamil Jadallah What is Wrong with the Palestinian People? It was his appraisal of the apparent Palestinian complacency in the face of betrayal of the Palestinian people at every level. Anyone who engages regularly with Palestinians knows that this is a big part of the content of their conversations. There was nothing really new or shocking in these positions, despite the enormous pain being expressed of being unable to get angry enough at this state of affairs. The apathy, caused by years of neglect of their cause and the extreme subservience they have in the global sphere, leads to a lack of hope and the feeling that there is no chance to control their own destiny. There is also a frequent tendency of activists who are neither Muslims nor Palestinians to be unaware of this condition of frustration, and they prefer as well to not “offend” Palestinians and insist upon viewing them exclusively in the prism as the “victim” who is waiting for rescue from afar.
Certainly, Palestinians and Muslims are the victims of the worst sort of oppression and war. Their ability to counter the multitude of factors keeping them defeated can’t be denied by anyone. However even “victims” have the capacity to rise up and contribute to the discourse in all of its dynamics. They have the right to mobilise themselves, to speak their minds against not only the Israelis, but also against the “House Arabs” who sell them out or bend to pragmatism when it will run counter to their fundamental demands.
The only effective resistance has only ever been when people stop waiting for approval from outside, when they stop hoping for reform or rescue and when they point their fingers at traitors and encourage healthy rage. Effective resistance has only been determination to not be subjects of someone else’s projects for them or to fit into a profile people have outfitted for them, but to see themselves as the creators of their own destinies. The case of Palestinians is more complicated than one might imagine. It seems as if new hurdles are set in front of them at every turn: they have been unfortunately abandoned by the world when they applied the democratic principles of elections and their situation is further complicated by their’s being a dynamic and complex society that is divided into factions and geographically separated. Acquisition of one’s own narrative, of one’s own power to dissent, being recognised as the protagonists and not the side issue, this is something Palestinians are attempting to gain and their efforts are necessary to enable their own resistance at all levels, and the unity they need to succeed. One is free to disagree with the content of their discourse, but one has the obligation to not discourage the necessary act of their right to free speech.
While circulating especially thought-provoking or controversial papers, as I do at times to a small mailing list of readers, I encouraged the reading of this bitter, painful but powerful essay that offered many points for discussion. I was included in a group mailing of some dozen or so people started by a Jewish activist primarily focused on the subject of the Holocaust who has written a half dozen or so essays, some of which I’ve published. The fact that I may not agree with everything he has written did not however prevent me from encouraging him to write more often so that his right to say unpopular things that could be discussed was safeguarded by me. This is what he wrote:
I don't think this piece should have been written (certainly not in English) and should certainly not have been posted on your website.
I had to wonder if this the same person who wrote back in 2006, published on my previous site, Peacepalestine:
The last point on Ernst and Ingrid (Zundel) has become something of a mantra that I have had to recite so many times in the last year or so: Neither Ingrid nor Ernst has ever used violence, nor have they ever called on anyone else to use violence. Neither has ever discriminated against anyone on ethnic or religious grounds, nor have they called on anyone else to do so. Finally, and for me, most importantly, neither has ever suppressed anyone's right to think, speak and write freely or called on anyone else to do so. Can the same be said for their opponents – particularly those anti-Zionist, and often Marxist Jews?
Whatever I say or write is always characterised by doubt and hesitation. Some have said that this is because I'm afraid of coming clean about my beliefs. But that's not true. It's simply that I am never so sure about anything, other than the value of keeping an open mind and tolerating other opinions.
Evidently, the value of keeping an open mind and tolerating other opinions, well, at least a Palestinian one, has been scrapped.
Besides the fact that the Palestinian author has a long track record for actively demanding redress from the Jews without renouncing the Palestinian right of return, calls for justice, truth and comprehensive archives of all the appropriations of Palestinian property and of all crimes committed against his own people, something hindered time and again by the PLO, calling for his silencing or censorship of him on a Palestinian site is quite inappropriate.
Is tolerance of others’ opinions only a value if those opinions coincide with one’s own or if they are being expressed by a Westerner, Israeli or Jew? Wouldn’t it be more constructive, rather than suppressing someone else’s right to think, speak or write freely or telling an editor they should certainly not have published work one disapproves of, to debate the author? To understand his views? To challenge his claims that one disagrees with and ask him to substantiate them?
Well, my contact in the mailing group didn’t only ignore that invitation to him to do so, something I’ve always encouraged all to do with his own writing, he also chose to not participate in the lively debate between the author and many other people, most of them Palestinians. It seems as though the issue was of great interest and relevancy to quite a few people. Well, that’s his loss, because others have gained by the experience. Someone who is by and large considered to be the maximum expert on and opponent of the Israeli and Jewish lobby, Jeff Blankfort, had this to say in the comments:
Sami, your opening piece on this thread has really made me look at the reality with new eyes. The time has indeed come to put away the bombast, romanticism, and delusions that have contributed to the current situation and not wait for another generation yet to be born to liberate the land.
As an editor and translator of activists for a decade, particularly for writers whose focus is the occupation of Palestine, quite a few of them Palestinians, in fact, I have seen and edited and published every type of argumentation: obviously, this fact would prevent me from agreeing with all of the content, but it is not my duty to censor, but to facilitate discourse. The arguments are so varied in their dominating theme, be it religious, secular, socialist, revolutionary, feminist, Arab Nationalist, pragmatic, strategic, focused on sensitising Westerners, aimed at an Arab public, even satirical pieces that refer to themes that are quite particular. For many of these writers, getting their issues to a broad public is an infrequent event. Although the material is extremely enlightening, the lack of exposure of their voices keeps their issues in the margins. Just the idea that Arab Nationalism as a means of gaining Palestinian liberation, a major item of discourse in the Middle East, is all but unheard of in many progressive sites should not be surprising. These sites are busy (still) thinking about the Holocaust rather than issues that interest Palestinians and are part of a strategic paradigm. As a Palestinian person once wrote in comments on the site, “If I convert to Judaism, I think I will all of a sudden start becoming interesting to people. Should I do it?”
So, with all of this in mind, I have a few modest proposals to make for those who are involved in any way in the Palestinian issue:
1) Freedom of speech should be the right of everyone. This would include the right and duty to critique people’s arguments as well as criticise across the board, “House Arabs”, “censors and gatekeepers”. They aren’t really serving the Palestinian cause, are they? If they are, we need to know how.
2) Demand broader dissemination of the Palestinian and Arab voice. They alone are the victims of Western, Imperialist and Zionist domination, and indeed, they are the last victims of the Holocaust. Anyone who can, should encourage their right to dissent, just like Westerners expect for themselves.
3) To get the Holocaust issue once and for all in its perspective and not as the core issue of international policy and the consequential activist focus. Just like 9/11 has shown us, focus on one single dramatic event, even when all the facts will never be made available, serves as a pretext to legitimise things such as the Global War on Terror and the actual wars against nations that are the consequence of this. New wars are being planned and justifications made for them in the same moment that old wars are still producing their scores of victims. This precaution should be heeded since it is proven again and again that this is the modus operandi. If focus on Holocaust we must, let us focus on the Holocaust of epic proportions going on in Gaza right now.
4) Ahmadinejad is not Iran. He is the President who governs in a situation of major internal dissent on the verge of further popular explosions. He should not be used as a convenient instrument to attack the sovereign nation of Iran. His words about the world situation may be sincere, but he must be judged (primarily by his own people) by his actions, not all of which do gain popular support and some of which feed the Israeli paranoia. But, his words MUST actually be the ones he is using, not some narrative of him that can be pulled out as an instrument for any cause, be it Zionist or anti-Zionist.
The active choice for those who seek true and complete Palestinian liberation has to be openness to the voices that do not accept compromise or surrender of their rights. Support of people who will not betray the Palestinian and Arab search for freedom. We have to have faith in the power of the Word, in the power of popular uprising, and continue to have faith in the future of the Arab populations who WILL set their own agendas and speak their own minds without waiting for anyone’s permission or approval. Like all of us, they are seeking solutions to their problems and analysing their own reality, putting it in the spotlight, where it belongs. They are tired of being “constantly reminded of the Holocaust”, and who can blame them?
The diversity of their voices is an asset that needs to be consolidated, not a liability to eliminate. Different thoughts contribute to growth, and the more we hear, the more we learn. Variety, diversity, space for participation and discussion of the issues that Palestinians find important is the key to keeping their agenda on the table and raising the consciousness that is at the basis of all resistance. Free Minds for a Free Palestine is not just the motto of our site. This IS a THINK tank, after all!
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