Holocaust denial undermines the Palestinian cause
Palestinian leaders must stop the egregious falsification of history which merely propagates further hatred and intolerance within their society
When a Hamas spokesman recently described the Holocaust as a "false and ostensible tragedy", he revealed a great deal about the moral bankruptcy of the Palestinian movement.
Fawzi Barhoum made the incendiary comments following a visit to Auschwitz by Ziad Bandak, an advisor to Mahmoud Abbas. Barhoum said that the visit "helped Israel to spread the lie of the Holocaust", adding that "the Israeli narrative" of the Holocaust was "fraudulent" and designed to "garner international sympathy...at the expense of the Palestinians.”
Nor was this an isolated sentiment. On Hamas affiliated websites, columnists lined up to condemn Bandak for propagating myths, with one calling for the official to be tried for "treason".
Sadly, Holocaust denial is a ubiquitous feature of Palestinian discourse, to say nothing of mainstream discourse across the Arab and Islamic world. In 2000, Hamas issued a press release describing the Holocaust as an "alleged and invented story with no basis". In 2009, they denounced the UNRWA for planning to distribute a textbook for 13 year-old Palestinians which contained material on the Holocaust. One spokesman said: "We refuse to let our children study a lie invented by the Zionists".
Nor is this insidious attack on historical truth confined to Islamist extremists. The “moderate” Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, provided a boost to the Holocaust denial movement with his 1983 book, The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism. In the book, Abbas described the murder of 6 million Jews as a "myth" and a "fantastic lie".
He argued that the number of Jews killed was probably less than one million and, to support his thesis, quoted Robert Faurisson, the French academic who denied that the gas chambers ever existed. Like many others on the hard left, Abbas also blamed the Zionist movement for the massacres. He wrote that the Zionists "gave permission to every racist in the world, led by Hitler and the Nazis, to treat Jews as they wish, so long as it guarantees immigration to Palestine."
In 2003, Abbas declared that his views had changed, describing the Holocaust as a “terrible, unforgivable crime against the Jewish nation”. Despite his PR generated contrition, the damage had already been done.
Whatever Abbas's current views, Holocaust denial remains rampant in Palestinian society, particularly in the education system and in the media.
In one crossword in the PA's official daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, 'Yad Vashem' is identified as a centre "for eternalizing the Holocaust and the lies.” Palestinian textbooks on The Second World War deal with every major detail of the conflict, including war crime trials, but omit any reference to the Holocaust or Jewish suffering. These examples are but the tip of the iceberg.
While denying that there was a Holocaust, Palestinian spokesmen appropriate the Jewish tragedy for their own cause. In one children’s television programme, viewers learn that Israel has burnt Palestinian children in ovens and that Jewish hands are "covered with the blood of our children."
In a recent broadcast, a Hamas spokesman condemns the many "Holocausts" suffered by his people, including Deir Yassin and Sabra and Shatilla. The implication is that the Jews have invented their tragedy but foisted a real one on other people.
Not surprisingly, this media-generated hate has influenced a new generation of young Palestinians.
After a recent visit to the West Bank and Gaza, Ed Husain, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council of Foreign Relations, reflected that "Holocaust denial continues to be part of the normative mindset among so many" in these territories. He added that he had heard similar Holocaust denial "from political leaders in the Middle East, academics, youth leaders and imams".
Holocaust denial, both in Palestinian and wider Arab societies, does not emerge in a vacuum. It reflects a virulent strain of anti-Semitism that is embedded in Islamic theology and appears in numerous religious texts. Even though Jews are considered the People of the Book (ahl al-Kitab) and granted certain privileges accordingly, they are condemned for rejecting Islam and 'conspiring' with Mohammed's enemies.
Numerous verses in the Koran denounce Jews for their 'falsehood' and 'distortion' while tales of Jewish deception abound in early Islamic literature. In the last century, these religious calumnies have been fused with the tropes of European anti-Semitism, resulting in a vast literature in the Arab world that has sought to highlight an alleged global Jewish conspiracy. Holocaust denial is an inevitable symptom of such conspiratorial thinking.
But denial also serves a wider purpose for Palestinian leaders. If they can successfully minimise, trivialise or deny Jewish suffering, they can portray Palestinians as the only victims of the conflict. It will be they, not the Jews, who demand sympathy and reparation from the world. And it can prevent them from acknowledging that the former Palestinian leader, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, was a pro-Nazi war criminal with Jewish blood on his hands.
Palestinian leaders must stop this egregious falsification of history which merely propagates further hatred and intolerance within their society. More importantly, Western leaders must hold Abbas to account for the PA's daily incitement against Jews and Israel.
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