Monday, June 30, 2014
For peace, don't listen only to the Other
Professor Mohammed Dajani resigned from Al-Quds university after taking his students to visit Auschwitz death camp
It’s one thing to listen to the Other; another thing to listen only to the Other. The former can lead to reconciliation, but the latter is intended to create subjugation. Well put, Adi Schwartz, writing in i24 News. I would only add that for true reconciliation to happen, the Other ought to recognise that European Holocaust is also an Arab story with a direct link to the postwar mass expulsion of Jews from Arab countries.
After a long delay and a huge controversy, a UNESCO exhibition about the Jewish people's connection to the Land of Israel opened June 11th in Paris. In order for the exhibition to go ahead, UNESCO not only demanded that the words "Land of Israel" be replaced by "Holy Land," but also the removal of one of the panels, which was dedicated to Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
The panel depicted the absorption in Israel of hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled persecution and violence in the Middle East and North Africa. The exhibition’s author, Hebrew University Professor Robert Wistrich, told Israeli media that the panel was removed because it showed that Jews in Arab lands had suffered a great deal, a topic that angered Arab states.
Some 3,000 kilometers from Paris, and only a few days earlier, a Palestinian professor had to resign from al-Quds University in Jerusalem because he taught his students about the Holocaust. The courageous Mohammed Dajani received death threats after leading the first organized group of Palestinian university students to Auschwitz, and had to stand down because of campus riots and heavy pressure.
Both, then – the uprooting of Jews from Arab countries and the European Holocaust – are still a taboo among Palestinians and Arabs. Even the slightest expression of acknowledgment or understanding is overwhelmingly rejected.
Foreign observers tend to claim, in the name of even-handedness, that each side to the Arab-Israeli conflict need to make an effort to recognize the narrative of the other. This will make peace more achievable, they say. But the truth is that there is no equivalence between the two sides: while the uprooting of Jews from Arab countries is completely denied, and the Holocaust hardly recognized, the term "Nakba" is very well known in Israel.
In the past two decades, no literate Israeli could escape discussions of the "Nakba" (catastrophe in Arabic), a term used to commemorate the displacement of Palestinians during their war with Israel in 1948. As early as the 1980s, the term appeared in Israeli newspapers, in academic researches and even in official history books taught in public schools.
Just recently, a film festival at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque was dedicated to the Nakba, and the Eretz Israel Museum held a conference on the issue. While certainly a controversial, provocative and unpopular issue among Israelis, neither the festival nor the exhibition were canceled or censored. On the contrary: they were given center stage in publicly funded institutions.
These historical events are very different, but for the sake of this discussion let's relate to their role in the respective narratives. Palestinians consider the recognition of the Nakba essential; Jews feel gravely offended when the historical events of the Holocaust, or of the uprooting of Jews from Arab countries, are denied. So why the double-standard?
It’s one thing to listen to the other; another thing to listen only to the other. The former can lead to reconciliation, but the latter is intended to create subjugation. For the activists who promote rapprochement between the two peoples, this could be a good place to start: once every literate Palestinian knows about the Holocaust and the uprooting of Jews from Arab countries, the chances of peace will be much greater.
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