Monday, August 11, 2008

The Holocaust as Political Platform

Tisha B’av is the Jewish holiday of lamentation, an opportunity to mourn the destruction of the Temple, the Holocaust, and other Jewish tragedies. This year Tisha B’av fell on Saturday, August 9, 2008. Many people, Israelis and tourists, chose to commemorate this event by visiting the Western Wall and attending one of the services held there.

The enclosed, gender-separated areas close to the wall were filled to capacity and many people sat on the smooth stones of the courtyard, too far away to hear the services, but close enough to see the wall. Sitting on the ground is one way to show mourning on this holiday.

Security was tight around the Old City. As usual, everyone entering the Western Wall courtyard went through metal detectors and had their bags checked. But in addition, police and soldiers were stationed at every entrance to the Old City and in continuous groups around the wall.

This was not due to the holiday or its observation, but because of a separate event happening on the same night. Women in Green, an organization which supports and encourages Jews living in the occupied territories, planned a march on Tisha B’av around the Old City, the purpose of which was to reassert sole Jewish rights to all of what is now Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem.

In addition to the green caps of Women in Green, the march was populated with bright orange flags that said in Hebrew, “The land of Israel for the people of Israel.” These flags were adopted after the evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza in 2005. That event is known simply as The Disengagement by most Israelis but is considered by Women in Green to be an event on par with the Judenrat’s activities during the Holocaust.

In 2004, when the government’s plans for a pullout from Gaza were made public, the chairwoman of Women in Green, Nadia Matar, sent a letter to Yonatan Bassi, the man overseeing the operation. In it, she said:
Yonatan Bassi is a much worse version of the 'Judenrat' in the Holocaust, for then in the Holocaust, this was forced upon those Jewish leaders by the Nazis, and it is very difficult for us to judge them today. But today no one stands with a pistol to Bassi's head and forces him to cooperate with the deportation of the Jews of Gush Katif and northern Samaria.
She included a 1942 letter from the Judenrat which mirrored the words and tone of the letter Bassi sent to the settlers of Gaza who would be evicted.

She makes a good point. One could take out the names in the letter and it would be difficult to tell who was doing what to whom. For example, can you tell who is doing what to whom in this piece:


Or this one:


Both of these are from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. They refer to Nazi policies against Jews, but with the names removed, they are accurate descriptions of current Israeli policies toward Arabs.

So, who is doing what to whom?

There are some differences between Israeli settlers who were removed from their houses in Gaza and Arabs who are removed from their houses in the West Bank: the Jewish settlers were offered compensation and were given more than a year’s notice before their evacuation. Arabs whose houses are demolished are often given no warning at all, let alone financial compensation.

But the reasons for the evictions of both groups are very similar. The Jews in Gaza were evicted basically because they were living there illegally. Arab houses are often demolished not because they are in illegal locations, but because they have been built without permits.

I joined the march with a friend, a British journalist, and we began talking to people we encountered to find out what they thought about the it. Some of the Jews on the march wanted to walk to commemorate Tisha B’av but were unaware of, or didn’t support, the political element of the event.

As the march entered East Jerusalem, we talked to the Arab shopkeepers who were watching the procession pass. We asked them what it was about. One said it was a Jewish holiday but didn’t know which one. One brave soul told us, “They say they don’t want Arabs.”

At the end of the march, Knesset Member Arieh Eldad gave a speech in which he declared that Israel and all its occupied territories should be for Jews only, that Arabs should be excluded from having the rights of citizenship, if not deported outright.

On the way home from the march, there was an American family on the bus. They were nervous about finding their hotel, and about riding the bus in Israel, and especially about a large bag on an adjacent seat that didn’t look like it had an owner.

There were two police officers riding the bus, which gave them some comfort, and when they revealed their fears about the bag and about riding the bus, one of the officers smiled at them indulgently. He smiled as a father smiles to his son who believes there are monsters under his bed.


My friend, the British journalist, noted that this is the result of having a Jewish state. The National Homeland for Jews has created a state of fear in which even tourists are afraid. He questioned whether this homeland makes Jews any safer than the diaspora does.

Left wingers blame terror on the poor treatment of Arabs, right wingers blame terror on the moral turpitude of the Arabs themselves.

On a narrow road in the Old City, leading to the Western Wall, I found a street sign with two bumper stickers on it. One said, “No Arabs, No Terror” and one said simply “Remove the Arabs.”


And so it is that the world fails to learn a lasting lesson from the Holocaust.

Nadia Matar wrote an article in February of 2005 titled, “Israel Has Not Learned the Lesson of the Holocaust!” She wrote:
Have we Jews internalized, and comprehended, all
that we have learned and heard about the Holocaust, so that this
cannot happen again? Anyone who looks at what has been
happening in the State of Israel in recent years, and especially in
the past few months, will reach the sad and unfortunate,
conclusion that it is the political leadership in Israel, which
specifically has not learned that lesson.

If Israel is repeating the mistakes made by Chamberlain, who
handed over the Sudetenland to Hitler in the Munich agreement,
in the hope that this would satisfy his appetite - and Israel is
currently planning to hand over additional parts of the homeland
of the Jewish people to Hitler's successors, hoping that this step
will satisfy them and stop their jihad campaign against the
Jewish people - then Israel has not learned the lesson of the

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