The Holocaust and Palestine

Edward Said would not be pleased.

The towering Palestinian American intellectual had no patience for Holocaust deniers in the Arab world or in the Palestinian liberation movement.

He understood the calamity that was the Holocaust, and he believed in telling the truth about it, and about everything else.

Writing in Le Monde Diplomatique in 1998, Said noted: “Whether we like it or not, the Jews are not ordinary colonialists. Yes, they suffered the holocaust, and yes, they are the victims of anti-Semitism.”

He went on to say, quite rightly: “But no, they cannot use those facts to continue, or initiate, the dispossession of another people that bears no responsibility for either of those prior facts.”

But he returned to the necessity of telling the truth.

“We must recognize the realities of the holocaust not as a blank check for Israelis to abuse us, but as a sign of our humanity, our ability to understand history, our requirement that our suffering be mutually acknowledged,” he wrote. “. . . The real issue is intellectual truth and the need to combat any sort of apartheid and racial discrimination, no matter who does it. There is now a creeping, nasty wave of anti-Semitism and hypocritical righteousness insinuating itself into our political thought and rhetoric. One thing must be clear in my firm opinion: we are not fighting the injustices of Zionism in order to replace them with an invidious nationalism (religious or civil) that decrees that Arabs in Palestine are more equal than others. The history of the modern Arab world - with all its political failures, its human rights abuses, its stunning military incompetences, its decreasing production, the fact that alone of all modern peoples we have receded in democratic and technological and scientific development - is disfigured by a whole series out-moded and discredited ideas, of which the notion that the Jews never suffered and that holocaust is an obfuscatory confection created by the Elders of Zion is one that is acquiring too much, far too much currency.”

So Edward Said would be especially dismayed this week as leading figures in Palestine are denying the Holocaust and remonstrating about the U.N.’s plans to teach children about the Holocaust in the schools it runs in Gaza.

Hamas’s spiritual leader Yunis al-Astal said this would be “marketing a lie” and a “war crime,” if you can believe that.

A Hamas legislator, Jamila al-Shanti, added, “Talk about the Holocaust and the execution of the Jews contradicts and is against our culture, our principles, our traditions, values, heritage, and religion.”

This insistence by Hamas on denying the reality of the Holocaust is as reprehensible as it is astonishing.

And it will only harden the opposition in Israel to reaching any true peace with the Palestinians.

Denying history gets you nowhere.