The Whys of Holocaust Denial: Both Palestinians and Israelis Disallow the Other Side's Painful Past

By Ruether, Rosemary Radford | National Catholic Reporter, April 4, 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Whys of Holocaust Denial: Both Palestinians and Israelis Disallow the Other Side's Painful Past


Ruether, Rosemary Radford, National Catholic Reporter


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been widely condemned in the West as a Holocaust denier, someone who has declared that the story that 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis during the Second World War is a "myth." What horrified Westerners condemning this denial fail to explore, however, is why there is sympathy for this denial in the Middle East.

In my view, the reason is that the Middle East has experienced the story of the Holocaust as a claim to a unique entitlement of the Jewish people to a state built on Arab land. It is this use of the Holocaust as entitlement that makes people of the Middle East suspect that the story has been made up by the West. As Mr. Ahmadinejad put it, "Our question is, if you have committed this huge crime, why should the innocent nation of Palestine pay for it?"

This use of Holocaust history as entitlement to land was made evident to me in an incident I experienced in the Gaza Strip about 10 years ago. I was present in Gaza with a study delegation I was helping to lead when some Palestinians from a Gazan village contacted us and told us that their last piece of agricultural land had just been confiscated by Israeli settlers. They had built greenhouses to expand the productivity of this land and were about to harvest the crops when the Israelis from a nearby settlement destroyed the greenhouses, bulldozed the land and claimed it as theirs.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

We followed the villagers in our bus and looked at the bulldozed field. Two settlers arrived in a car, carrying the ubiquitous Uzis. Two women of our delegation asked, "Why did you do this to these villagers?" The settlers shouted back, "It's because of what happened to us in the war." "But these Palestinians had nothing to do with what happened to you," the women protested. "It makes no difference," the settlers replied. "Everyone must pay. The whole world must pay."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It is in the context of such experiences of land confiscation in the name of "payment" for the Holocaust that Palestinians and others in the Middle East are tempted to retort, "But that never really happened. You just made it up to justify what you are doing to us."

Resistance to honoring the Holocaust is aggravated, for Palestinians particularly, by the fact that they have suffered since 1948 from what might be called "Nakba denial" by the Israelis. Just before and during the 1948-49 Israeli war of independence, some 800,000 Palestinians fled or were forcibly expelled from their towns and villages. The state of Israel grew from the 54 percent of Palestine originally granted for a Jewish state by the United Nations to 73 percent. Those driven out became refugees in Jordan, Lebanon or Egypt, while the remnant of Palestinians within Israel lost most of their land to become internal refugees.

It is this massive "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians during the 1948-49 war that Palestinians refer to as al Nakba (the catastrophe).

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