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Hebrew University
BARUCH KIMMERLING (sociology) thinks the "catastrophe" that befell the Arabs when Israel was created is equivalent to the Nazi Holocaust

Salon.com

 The two catastrophes
 Israelis and Palestinians have both been marked by
 inconceivable tragedy. For both sides, understanding
 the other's memories is the first step toward moving
 beyond the past.
 

By Baruch Kimmerling

 http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2004/12/06/catastrophes/print.html

 Dec. 6, 2004  |  JERUSALEM -- In the post-Arafat era,
 Israelis and Palestinians are struggling once again to
 find a way to peace. But until each side honestly
 tries to understand and empathize with the other's
 catastrophe, it is likely to be a dialogue of the
 deaf.

 One of the most courageous statements ever to come
 from the pen of a Jewish-Israeli intellectual was made
 by philosopher and historian Yehuda Elkana more than a
 decade ago. In an article titled "In Praise of
 Forgetting," Elkana called upon Israel's political,
 cultural and educational elite to "forget the
 Holocaust." "I do not envision today," wrote Elkana,
 "a more important political and educational task for
 the leaders of this nation than to mobilize on behalf
 of life, to devote themselves to building our future
 and not to occupy themselves from sunrise to sunset
 with the symbols, the ceremonies, and the 'lessons' of
 the Holocaust. It is incumbent upon them to uproot the
 domination of historical 'remembrance' on our lives."

 Elkana's declaration received extremely vehement
 emotional responses. Not only was his recommendation
 vigorously rejected, but since it was made Israeli
 society has sunk even deeper into Holocaust rituals.

 To be sure, it is questionable whether it is even
 possible to suppress or forget such a memory. It is
 also questionable whether it is morally acceptable for
 Israelis, not only as Jews but also as human beings,
 to forget, let alone actively erase, the memory of
 this terrible catastrophe, one of the greatest crimes
 ever perpetrated. And it can be further asked if it is
 possible to reconstruct a "Holocaust-free" memory, or
 at least one where the Holocaust is peripheral.

 I do not have the answers to these questions. But
 Elkana was not demanding that the Holocaust vanish
 from individual or collective memory. His anger was
 directed against the manipulative use of the Holocaust
 by almost all those occupied with it, and the
 over-orientation of Israeli and diaspora Jews toward
 the past at the expense of the present and the future.


 Jews in general and Israeli Jews in particular draw
 two contradictory lessons from the Holocaust. One
 lesson is ethnocentric: Not only is it "incumbent upon
 us to be strong so as not to be led like sheep to the
 slaughter," but after what the Gentiles did to us, we
 also have moral sanction to do almost anything to the
 Gentiles. This is the attitude that seems to have
 infuriated Elkana. The other, contradictory lesson is
 universalist: A people that survived the Holocaust not
 only has a firm obligation to be ultra-sensitive to
 all suffering and injustice, but also must itself
 behave in a humane fashion towards all Others, even at
 the cost of certain material or political damage.

 I lived for many years in a Jerusalem suburb called
 Mevasseret Zion. This is a new and developing,
 primarily upper-middle-class Ashkenazi neighborhood.
 In its previous incarnation it was a failing
 settlement erected in 1956 and inhabited by
 "Moroccans" (Jews who emigrated from Morocco to
 Israel) until developers and contractors came and
 transformed it into Mevasseret. Within this
 settlement, a new-immigrants absorption center was
 established that today serves mainly "Ethiopians."
 This absorption center arouses fear in some of the new
 residents of Mevasseret and the envy of young couples
 descended from the veteran residents.

 One of the significant considerations in my choosing
 Mevasseret Zion was ideological: I did not want to
 live across the Green Line, Israel's internationally
 recognized pre-1967 border. I did not want to be a
 "settler." However, the truth is that I was a settler
 nonetheless.

 Soon after our arrival Palestinian laborers from the
 villages and the refugee camps in the area came to
 work in our house and in the surroundings. They did
 not call the place Mevasseret. For them, even today,
 the place has remained Qalunya -- its original Arab
 name. This was not the first time that I had
 encountered Palestinians from all social classes --
 from simple day workers to colleagues, professors in
 universities -- who sat with me to tell their family's
 stories, from where and to where they were expelled or
 fled in 1948 and what happened to each family member
 in great, often obsessive, detail.

 I will confess, more than once I was tempted to pull
 out a counter-narrative -- to tell my tale and that of
 my family, of what happened to us in "our" Holocaust.
 My reasons were mixed. On one hand, I wanted to
 demonstrate empathy, to say to my partner how much I
 understood him or her since I too was not a stranger
 to catastrophe and to being a refugee. On the other
 hand, my instinct was to present narrative versus
 opposite narrative, catastrophe versus opposite
 catastrophe, in order to "balance" the situation and
 to reach a certain "equilibrium of catastrophes." In
 the case of Qalunya there might have been even more
 than that: a certain justification of my personal
 presence in the place. But in most cases I overcame
 the impulse and refrained from telling my story.

 I refrained from telling a counter-narrative because I
 felt that al-Naqba, the Palestinian catastrophe of
 1948, is incommensurable with the Holocaust, except at
 one point. Both events left collective and personal
 traumas on the two nations, and they are living in the
 shadow of these traumas until today. It is impossible
 to understand either culture and its behavior without
 understanding the centrality of these events in their
 identity and their memory. Thus, I was very happy to
 read a few years ago an article in this spirit by
 Edward Said on the Holocaust, an article that was
 written with Said's characteristic intellectual
 courage.

 In 1948, the Jews carried out ethnic cleansing. Most
 of the Arab inhabitants of the territory upon which
 the Israeli state was constituted were brutally
 uprooted from their homes, often accompanied by
 incidents of massacre, rape and looting. As a result
 of this, the Palestinian collectivity collapsed as a
 social and political entity and became largely a
 refugee-camp people and a people of exiles.
 Nevertheless, even a brutal ethnic cleansing and
 expulsion cannot be compared with the systematic
 genocide of the Holocaust. It was a crime
 unprecedented in scope, a crime against all humanity,
 and was intended to create in the end a world order in
 which a group that was constructed as one "race" would
 rule over all the other "races."

 From a third perspective, the introduction of the
 Holocaust into the discourse and the conflict between
 us and the Palestinians is insufferable because the
 Palestinians are not an "involved party" to the
 Holocaust, except in the way that all humanity is
 involved in it. Not so the Naqba, which was directly
 caused as part of the founding story of the Jewish
 nation-state.

 However, the story is even more complex. The place
 where I live is apparently identified with the
 biblical city Motza, and it is in fact located next to
 present-day Motza, another middle-class suburb of
 Jewish Jerusalem. The emperor Vespasian turned it into
 a Roman soldier colony named Colonia Amosa, which
 became a Byzantine settlement called Koloneia, a name
 that the Arab conquerors adopted almost unchanged when
 they conquered the land in the 7th century.

 I found all of this information on the place I live in
 a volume written by the veteran Palestinian historian
 Walid Khalidi. This volume serves as a sort of
 memorial to the Arab settlements and neighborhoods
 that were and are no more, following the 1948 war and
 the colonization of the land by the Jews.

 From this book I also learned that before 1948 about
 900 Arabs lived in Qalunya, in 156 houses. Tourists
 and pilgrims described it as a rich village with
 relatively fancy homes compared to other Arab
 villages. It had citrus groves and a travelers' inn,
 the last resting-place before Jerusalem. The village
 was attacked and conquered by Haganah forces as part
 of Operation Nachshon, on April 11, 1948. The Israeli
 historian Benny Morris writes that the Jewish forces
 remained there for two days to ensure the total
 destruction of the village, most of whose residents
 had apparently fled on April 9, following reports of
 the massacre at the nearby village of Deir Yassin.

 Some Jews point to their biblical roots in the Holy
 Land as giving them a greater right to live there than
 the Palestinians. But to make that argument one has to
 go back 2,000 years in time. And in that case why
 should not the Palestinians go back a mere 57 years?
 The Zionist demand to restore the situation that
 allegedly existed 2,000 years ago supports the
 Palestinian demand that the situation be restored to
 what it was only a generation ago. This whole strange
 game of "who preceded whom" is an absurdity.

 Actually, the story of the place I live is an allegory
 of what happened in this entire land before I
 emigrated to it. Between 700,000 and 800,000 Arabs
 were uprooted from close to 400 Arab settlements. Most
 of these settlements were wiped off the face of the
 earth. A few were resettled by Jewish immigrants and
 their names Hebraicized. A small number of their
 inhabitants were killed in battle, or died of
 starvation and illness. The lion's share of them
 became refugees and were dispersed throughout the
 entire region and the world. Some became "internal
 refugees," meaning those who fled or were driven out
 of their permanent homes; despite remaining within the
 boundaries of the state of Israel, they were not
 permitted to return to their homes. Their property as
 "present absentees" was confiscated and nationalized.

 This ethnic cleansing that was carried out in 1948
 should be seen in its historical context, which means
 that the Jewish perspective must be taken into
 account. It is inarguable that the results of the war
 were a great catastrophe for Palestinian society and
 caused indescribable human suffering for generations,
 suffering that continues today. But it is necessary to
 recognize that these results were not predestined.
 There was a reasonable possibility at that point in
 time that the Jewish immigrant-settler society would
 collapse and be destroyed. Both sides regarded the
 situation as a zero-sum war following which only one
 of the two communities would survive politically. That
 at least was the subjective and honest feeling among
 the Jews, who had just begun to absorb the results of
 the Holocaust and its meaning. The possibility of
 another Holocaust in Palestine terrified the Jews, and
 their military doctrine and activities stood in the
 shadow of this trauma.

 The connection between the Jewish Holocaust and the
 Arab catastrophe exists also in Palestinian
 historiography, but the context and its meaning is
 different. The Palestinian complaint on this is
 familiar and clear. Not Muslims or Arabs but the
 Christian West, Europeans and Americans, perpetrated a
 terrible crime against the Jewish people. Some carried
 out the extermination; others closed their eyes and
 did nothing to prevent it. After they committed their
 crimes against the Jews, they washed their hands of
 responsibility and made the Arab-Oriental people pay
 the price by helping to dispossess them of their land,
 thus compounding one crime with another. It is no
 wonder, therefore, that many Palestinians and other
 Arabs feel deep resentment towards the West -- a
 resentment perhaps especially strong among the most
 "Westernized" of the Arabs.

 The trauma of the expulsion and the dispersion, a
 tragedy perceived as both personal and national, has
 shaped the Palestinian experience more than any other
 event. As with the Holocaust, the harnessing of the
 Naqba foThe connection between the Jewish Holocaust
 and the Arab catastrophe exists also in Palestinian
 historiography, but the context -- and its meaning --
 is different. The Palestinian complaint on this is
 familiar and clear. Not Muslims or Arabs but the
 Christian West, Europeans and Americans, perpetrated a
 terrible crime against the Jewish people. Some carried
 out the extermination; others closed their eyes and
 did nothing to prevent it. After they committed their
 crimes against the Jews, they washed their hands of
 responsibility and made the Arab-Oriental people pay
 the price by helping to dispossess them of their land,
 thus compounding one crime with another. It is no
 wonder, therefore, that many Palestinians and other
 Arabs feel deep resentment toward the West -- a
 resentment perhaps especially strong among the most
 "Westernized" of the Arabs.

 The trauma of the expulsion and the dispersion, a
 tragedy perceived as both personal and national, has
 shaped the Palestinian experience more than any other
 event. As with the Holocaust, the harnessing of the
 Naqba for the purpose of building a collective
 Palestinian identity involved constructive and
 creative principles alongside destructive and
 obsessive ones -- such as the cult of individual
 martyrdom that surrounds suicide bombers. Palestinian
 literature and poetry also reflect this obsession with
 memory and a founding loss. The poet Fadwa Tuqan
 wrote, "In 1948 my father died and Palestine was lost
 ... these events gave me the ability to write the
 nationalist poetry that my father always wanted me to
 write." A collection of the poet Mahmoud Darwish's
 poems is titled "Unfortunately, It Was Paradise." A
 popular culture expressed in songs and ballads, poetry
 and prose, revolves around three central topics: the
 memory of the Lost Garden from which the Palestinians
 were expelled; the bitter lamentation over the
 present, the desire for revenge and restoration; and
 the description of the future victorious return to the
 field, the vineyard, the house, the settlement and the
 homeland.

 The further the Palestinians were from Palestine
 geographically and politically, and the less contact
 they had with Jews and with Israel, the more intense
 these mythic principles grew in their consciousness,
 together with hatred and the aspiration for revenge.
 Those who were in close, often intimate -- sometimes
 too intimate -- contact with the concrete "Zionist
 entity" (mainly the Arabs citizens of the Jewish
 state) learned to recognize us well, our language, our
 mores, and the variety and multivocality within us and
 our culture. The same is true of the relations between
 Israelis and the laborers and prisoners from the
 occupied territories following the 1967 war.

 Thus, on the one hand, Palestinians have resented
 Israel and the injustice and hardship that were and
 are their lot. On the other hand, the Jewish state has
 inspired among some Palestinians a mixture of
 appreciation and jealousy of its material and even
 spiritual culture, and its military power. These
 Palestinians recognize both the ugly and the
 attractive faces of Israel. Certainly they recognize
 Israelis far better than we recognize and value them.

 Over time, it has penetrated the Palestinian
 consciousness that Israel is an inalterable fact of
 life. Therefore it is preferable to find some modus
 vivendi with it, even to come to terms with its
 existence and to arrive at a tolerable arrangement
 with it. The recognition that an arrangement like this
 is preferable to the perpetuation of the Palestinian
 suffering and its bequeathal from generation to
 generation has been a real revolution in Palestinian
 political thinking. Thus recently, some of their
 intellectuals, like our intellectuals of the 1930s,
 have even begun to dream of a bi-national state.

 Despite the last four violent years of the Al-Aqsa
 intifada, a growing portion of the Palestinians,
 particularly those who live in the territories
 conquered by Israel in 1967, are prepared, for lack of
 choice, to relinquish the dream of Greater Palestine.
 Despite the injustice in this concession, they are
 willing to relinquish their family property and part
 of their national assets, on condition that they get a
 state and that their own and their people's lives
 improve.

 In exchange, the Palestinians ask simply that even if
 we do not return the lands and homes that were usurped
 in 1948, at least we will recognize their catastrophe
 and their suffering, and that our society and state
 were founded and built upon the ruins of the Arab
 society and culture.

 The Palestinians do not even expect that we ask for
 their forgiveness -- just that we recognize the
 historical facts. In the political and practical
 realm, they are entitled to expect that we will take
 direct responsibility as a society and as a state for
 the rehabilitation of the Palestinian refugee society
 that we have created. Also, they have every right to
 demand that we will not force upon them a
 "subcontractor" regime, like Arafat's Palestinian
 Authority, that violates all their human and civil
 rights.

 Simply recognizing the Palestinian narrative, their
 collective memory, and their suffering -- a narrative
 Israel is part of, just as the Palestinians are part
 of the Israeli story -- is necessary for the
 maturation of Israeli society itself. Strength is not
 only military. Our true strength will emerge when we
 are able to look self-critically in the mirror -- and
 when we understand that the more that Palestinian
 society and people are rehabilitated, the better it
 will be for us as well, as Jews and as human beings.
 If the past, with all its burdens, cannot be forgotten
 either by us or by the Palestinians, at least we must
 strive to create a common and empathetic narrative of
 the past, where each of us recognizes the suffering of
 the other. That open path of memory, trod by both
 peoples, would bring greater security to Israel, in
 the long run, than any wall.

 This piece was adapted from a keynote speech given at
 the annual conference of the Israeli Anthropological
 Association in 1999. It is dedicated to the memory of
 Edward Said, the bravest intellectual I have ever
 known. r the purpose of building a collective
 Palestinian identity involved constructive and
 creative principles alongside destructive and
 obsessive ones -- such as the cult of individual
 martyrdom that surrounds suicide bombers. Palestinian
 literature and poetry also reflect this obsession with
 memory and a founding loss. The poet Fadwa Tuqan
 wrote, "In 1948 my father died and Palestine was
 lost...these events gave me the ability to write the
 nationalist poetry that my father always wanted me to
 write." A collection of the poet Mahmoud Darwish's
 poems is titled "Unfortunately, it was Paradise." A
 popular culture expressed in songs and ballads, poetry
 and prose, revolves around three central topics: the
 memory of the Lost Garden from which the Palestinians
 were expelled; the bitter lamentation over the
 present, the desire for revenge and restoration; and
 the description of the future victorious return to the
 field, the vineyard, the house, the settlement and the
 homeland.

 The further the Palestinians were from Palestine
 geographically and politically, and the less contact
 they had with Jews and with Israel, the more intense
 these mythic principles grew in their consciousness,
 together with hatred and the aspiration for revenge.
 Those who were in close, often intimate -- sometimes
 too intimate -- contact with the concrete "Zionist
 entity" (mainly the Arabs citizens of the Jewish
 state) learned to recognize us well, our language, our
 mores, and the variety and multivocality within us and
 our culture. The same is true of the relations between
 Israelis and the laborers and prisoners from the
 occupied territories following the 1967 war.

 Thus, on the one hand, Palestinians have resented
 Israel and the injustice and hardship that was and is
 their lot. On the other hand, the Jewish state has
 inspired among some Palestinians a mixture of
 appreciation and jealousy of its material and even
 spiritual culture, and its military power. These
 Palestinians recognize both the ugly and the
 attractive faces of Israel. Certainly they recognize
 Israelis far better than we recognize and value them.

 Over time, it has penetrated the Palestinian
 consciousness that Israel is an inalterable fact of
 life. Therefore it is preferable to find some modus
 vivendi with it, even to come to terms with its
 existence and to arrive at a tolerable arrangement
 with it. The recognition that an arrangement like this
 is preferable to the perpetuation of the Palestinian
 suffering and its bequeathal from generation to
 generation has been a real revolution in Palestinian
 political thinking. Thus recently, some of their
 intellectuals, like our intellectuals of the 1930s,
 have even begun to dream of a bi-national state.

 Despite the last four violent years of the Al-Aqsa
 Intifada, a growing portion of the Palestinians,
 particularly those who live in the territories
 conquered by Israel in 1967, are prepared, for lack of
 choice, to relinquish the dream of "Greater
 Palestine." Despite the injustice in this concession,
 they are willing to relinquish their family property
 and part of their national assets, on condition that
 they get a state and that their own and their people's
 lives improve.

 In exchange, the Palestinians ask simply that even if
 we do not return the lands and homes that were usurped
 in 1948, at least we will recognize their catastrophe
 and their suffering, and that our society and state
 were founded and built upon the ruins of the Arab
 society and culture.

 The Palestinians do not even expect us to ask for
 their forgiveness -- just that we recognize the
 historical facts. In the political and practical
 realm, they are entitled to expect that we will take
 direct responsibility as a society and as a state for
 the rehabilitation of the Palestinian refugee society
 that we have created. Also, they have every right to
 demand that we will not force upon them a
 "subcontractor" regime, like Arafat's Palestinian
 Authority, that violates all their human and civil
 rights.

 Simply recognizing the Palestinian narrative, their
 collective memory, and their suffering -- a narrative
 Israel is part of, just as the Palestinians are part
 of the Israeli story -- is necessary for the
 maturation of Israeli society itself. Strength is not
 only military. Our true strength will emerge when we
 are able to look self-critically in the mirror -- and
 when we understand that the more that Palestinian
 society and people is rehabilitated, the better it
 will be for us as well, as Jews and as human beings.
 If the past, with all its burdens, cannot be forgotten
 either by us or by the Palestinians, at least we must
 strive to create a common and empathetic narrative of
 the past, where each of us recognizes the suffering of
 the other. That open path of memory, trod by both
 peoples, would bring greater security to Israel, in
 the long run, than any wall.

 This piece was adapted from a keynote speech given at
 the annual conference of the Israeli Anthropological
 Association in 1999. It is dedicated to the memory of
 Edward Said, the bravest intellectual I have ever
 known.

>
> - - - - - - - - - - - -
>
> About the writer
> Baruch Kimmerling is George S. Wise Professor of
> Sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and
> the author of "Politicide: Ariel Sharon's War against
> the Palestinians" and co-author of "The Palestinian
> People: A History."

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