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A Palestinian admirer of 'Night,' disenchanted by its author Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel, who knows too well the hideousness of racist ideologies, should do better than to blindly succumb to them himself. In this conflict, he is not a messenger for mankind, but a messenger for one ethnic group’s victory over others.

Night is one of the most memorable books I have ever read. I was 16 years old when my Jewish-Israeli high school teacher assigned it to my class, and I still remember to this day where I was as I went through its pages. It was a short but powerful story of the horrors of the Holocaust, and my most intimate glimpse yet into one of the darkest periods in human history.

Having left such a strong mark on my learning, it pains me to see that the book’s author and subject, Elie Wiesel, was a signatory to a recent newspaper ad praising the takeovers of dozens of Palestinian homes by Jewish settlers in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Wiesel signed the ad as chair of the public council of Elad, an organization which explicitly aims to transform an ancient multicultural city into a place where one ethnic/religious group would have superior rights and a dominant narrative over others. Wiesel not only serves on this board, but actively promotes its work and ideology locally and abroad without hesitation.

Elie Wiesel (photo: World Economic Forum  / Remy Steinegger)

Elie Wiesel (photo: World Economic Forum / Remy Steinegger)

The Silwan takeovers, which were facilitated by Elad and other settler groups, are not a mere issue of real estate. In principle, everyone should be allowed to live wherever they wish. But that is not what happens under Israeli sovereignty. Here, Jews are given that right, while Palestinians are confined to select spaces and are even losing those spaces rapidly. Nowhere is this more acute than in Jerusalem, where Palestinian lands are confiscated, residencies revoked, houses demolished, and families pressured out of their homes to pave the way for Jewish-only residences and state infrastructures.

These practices are not occurring in Silwan alone. In the “E1” area east of Jerusalem, the Jahalin Bedouin will be forcibly evicted from their lands in order to close the gaps between Israel’s major Jewish settlement blocs. In the Jerusalemite village of Issawiya, Palestinian residents will lose acres of their land for state plans to build a garbage dump and a national park. Even Arab and Armenian Christians living in the Old City face frequent harassment by Jewish settlers, including vandalizing private property and spraying racist slogans on the walls of their buildings. These actions are protected by security forces, praised by government officials and defended by high-profile figures like Wiesel. This racial asymmetry is why Netanyahu’s defense of the Silwan takeover — that he could not possibly tell any Jewish or Arab family not to live where they please — is a farcical argument for him to make.

The ruins of a Palestinian home in the Old City of Jerusalem that Israel demolished. (File photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The ruins of a Palestinian home demolished by Israel in the Old City of Jerusalem. (File photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The events in Silwan are hardly the first time that Wiesel has displayed his allegiance to such groups (for example, he is also an advisory board member of the right-wing NGO Monitor). But seeing him again openly lauding such a movement only increased my existing frustration with his lack of moral compass on this issue. The same man who speaks out against racist attacks in many parts of the world inexplicably becomes a mouthpiece for them in Israel. Because of discriminatory policies like those supported by Wiesel, Jerusalem today has lost much of its preciousness and moral weight. The city’s atmosphere instead is one of hostility and self-righteousness, with ideological obsession taking precedence over multicultural preservation.

Wiesel is thus part of the wider, serious problem behind the city’s deteriorating fate. Beyond the issue of protecting the rights of non-Jews to their homes in Jerusalem, is the need to challenge the very belief that such a historic and holy place can belong to one group more than another. Both Israelis and Palestinians are guilty of this, and it has to stop. The racist objectives that control the city today come from organizations like Elad, the Israeli government, and Israelis from both the Left and Right who believe that Jerusalem should remain the “eternal undivided capital” of the Jewish people alone. On the opposite spectrum is the belief of many Arabs and Muslims in Palestine and the region who think that Jerusalem must be “liberated” under a nationalist or Islamist flag. Meanwhile, the many Palestinians and Israelis who envision Jerusalem as a city of true diversity and equal rights, as it is meant to be, are pushed aside by the noise of nationalism and religious fanaticism — to which Wiesel appears to be contributing.

As such, I have nothing but disappointment for the writer of that powerful book I read in high school. Elie Wiesel, who knows too well the hideousness of racist ideologies, should do better than to blindly succumb to them himself. In this conflict, he is not a messenger for mankind, but a messenger for one ethnic group’s victory over others. The Jewish people deserve their history, safety and identity in this land as much as Christian, Muslim and other Palestinians, especially in the shadows of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. But they do not deserve it by uprooting and oppressing another people to achieve their goals, and by claiming superiority of rights by virtue of their race or faith. That is the very evil that men and women like Wiesel should be fighting against, not promoting. That is one of the most important lessons I took from reading Night. I hope that its author will learn the same.

Amjad Iraqi is a projects & advocacy coordinator at Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. The views in this article are the author’s own and do not represent Adalah.

Related:
Elie Wiesel and Amos Yadlin congratulate East Jerusalem settlers
Israel’s very own tunnels of dread in Jerusalem
Jerusalem by the numbers: Poverty, segregation and discrimination

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    COMMENTS

    1. Richard

      If you think that discrimination against Arabs in Jerusalem is comparable to the Nazi Holocaust, then you didn’t understand Wiesel or “Night” in the first place. Or you’re lying. Either way, your perspective is morally bankrupt and not worth giving serious consideration.

      Reply to Comment
      • Sarah

        He’s not comparing the two. He is saying that one who has gone through the Nazi horror should hopefully know better then to support discriminatory policies. Mr. Iraqi is expressing disappointment and frustration, not making equivalences. This is really obvious in the article.

        Reply to Comment
        • Richard

          That is called an indirect comparison. People who understand they’ll be called out if they compare things directly do it indirectly and use double talk, to maintain some deniability and fool gullible people, like you.

          Reply to Comment
          • Amaury

            I personaly think he has the right to compare these two events.

            Reply to Comment
          • Sarah

            Yes, he has the right to compare it, but that’s not what he is doing. He has the right to say and believe whatever he chooses.

            Making that comparison, though, would be incorrect.

            Reply to Comment
          • Sarah

            Nope. The writer couldn’t be more direct–in his admiration of and respect for Wiesel, for Night, and for the sacred memory of Holocaust.

            He’s disappointed in the author but makes no comparison.

            Sorry, your outrage is misplaced.

            Reply to Comment
          • Richard

            You don’t seem to understand the concept of double talk. Do some reading on that and get back to me.

            Reply to Comment
    2. CigarButNoNice

      “The Silwan takeovers,…”

      See how, even when the Jews purchase parts of their own land at full price (or higher, usually), the Arab imperialists and their Far-Left stooges call it a land grab. As it was in the days of British Mandate, so now.

      [BTW the original name of Silwan is Shiloah (שלוח), as called in the Bible. For the information of those who erroneously think the name given by the Arab colonists is the original.]

      Reply to Comment
      • Yeah, right

        “See how, even when the Jews purchase parts of their own land at full price (or higher, usually), the Arab imperialists and their Far-Left stooges call it a land grab.”

        Ahem.

        It is a land grab, because these purchases are only a small part of a p.o.l.i.c.y. whose goal is the acquisition of territory by a state that has seized that territory by war.

        It is also a land grab because these purchases are only a small part of a p.o.l.i.c.y. whose goal is to expel one ethnicity from this city in order to consolidate the control of this city by the majority ethnicity.

        These are not property purchases that should been seen only in isolation.

        They are part of a p.o.l.i.c.y. that has been decided upon by the state of Israel, and that p.o.l.i.c.y. is an illegal one.

        Reply to Comment
        • Noe

          The Palestinians also have a policy of constructing homes. In fact, they do so in many of the places Mr. Adalah is discussing. That’s a land grab, right?

          I can’t wait for you to explain how it is when Jews do it but not when Arabs do.

          Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, right

            Noe: “The Palestinians also have a policy of constructing homes. In fact, they do so in many of the places Mr. Adalah is discussing. That’s a land grab, right?”

            OK, this is very, very simple.

            The territory is under a belligerent occupation imposed by the state of Israel in June 1967.

            As such the “Palestinians” are defined by int’l law as “protected persons”, and there is no prohibition on “protected persons” building roofs over their head inside an “occupied territory”.

            Indeed, “Israel, the occupying power” is actually under an obligation not to deny them a roof over their head.

            By very marked contrast, the “settlers” are all defined under int’l law as “citizens of the occupying power” and their “settling” (a.k.a. “colonizing”) anywhere inside this territory is unconditionally prohibited.

            Two different people, each with a very, very different status under the laws that are applicable to this territory i.e. international humanitarian law.

            Noe: “I can’t wait for you to explain how it is when Jews do it but not when Arabs do.”

            Notice the cheap sleight-of-hand that Noe pulls?

            He uses the words “Jews” and “Arabs”, and he uses them incorrectly.

            Substitute the correct words (“Israelis” and “Palestinians”) and the flaw in Noe’s argument is obvious.

            Substitute the equivalent phrases “the colonists” and “the colonized” and the illegality becomes inescapable.

            But not “Jews”, because over half the Jews in the world have nothing to do with this.

            And not “Arabs”, because the very vast majority of the Arabs in the world also have nothing to do with this.

            This is an issue that involves only “the occupied” and “their colonizers”.

            Pretty simple, really.

            Reply to Comment
          • CigarButNoNice

            See, this is why I oppose international “law” and hate it with a burning passion: because the Arab imperialists and their left-wing lackeys use it to hide the truth about national rights in this conflict and give injustice the cover of so-called law.

            The Jews are the indigenous of the Land of Israel, no matter what international “law” says; and the Arabs (not “Palestinians”–there is no such nation, it’s a propaganda-tactical fiction) are colonists in the Land of Israel. Justice requires that all the Arab colonists leave the Land of Israel. Anyone who calls for any limit on the Jewish inhabitation of the Land of Israel is an accomplice to colonialist and imperialist injustice.

            No to Arab colonialism! No peace as long as the injustice against the indigenes of the Land of Israel, the Jews, goes on!

            Reply to Comment
          • Ray

            In other words, you hate International Law because your political movement’s methods of achieving its goals comes into conflict with it. This is like a politician deciding he hates democracy, because nobody ever votes for him.

            Reply to Comment
          • Eugene

            You’re not correct, both Jews and “Palestinians” (i.e. the non-Jews) are indigenous to the land of Israel/Palestine which is one of the world’s oldest and most diverse areas, its history going back to Neolithic times and before. There have been a multitude of different groups of people living there. The names given to groups of people are just labels. If the name “Jew” suggests Jews are indigenous to Judaea does that mean they’re not indigenous to Galilee? When “Arabs” invaded, as many others did previously (including Jews according to the Torah), they brought their language, religion and other aspects of culture, but did not wipe out the previous inhabitants. People settle side-by-side and/or inter-marry and often merge, so many non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine would have ancestors going back to ancient “indigenous” people like Philistines and Canaanites. This is even backed up by genetic evidence:
            “We recently showed that Jews and Palestinian Arabs share a large portion of their Y chromosomes, suggesting a common
            ancestry”
            “Single-step microsatellite networks of Arab and Jewish haplotypes revealed a common pool for a large portion of Y chromosomes, suggesting a relatively recent common ancestry.”
            “We propose that the Y chromosomes in Palestinian Arabs and Bedouin represent, to a large extent, early lineages derived from the Neolithic inhabitants of the area and additional lineages from more-recent population movements. The early lineages are part of the common chromosome pool shared with Jews (Nebel et al. 2000).”
            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1274378/
            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11153918/

            Reply to Comment
          • CigarButNoNice

            Genetics are for Stormfronters. It’s culture that makes the Jews indigenous to the Land of Israel, whereas the non-Jewish inhabitants, whatever their genetic origin, have been Arabized and thus lost the connection to this land.

            @Ray: By definition, there can be no validity to any system that construes the Jews as colonists on the Land of Israel; it would be like claiming that the Greeks are legally colonists in Hellas. Such a preposterous inversion of the truth is null and void by its very nature.

            Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, right

            “It’s culture that makes the Jews indigenous to the Land of Israel,”

            So, help me understand that logic, since it appears to me to be fundamentally flawed.

            For example, is this correct: a Buddhist Monk who decides to convert to Judaism has a greater claim to being “indigenous” than, say, a Palestinian whose family has lived in the region for 1,000 years?

            Or is this the correct interpretation: No conversion to Judaism is needed. No rabbinical court is required. All a person needs to do is to adopt the culture of the Jews (Plonk a Menorah on the dining room table, grow the twirly-swirly sideburns, say the funny ol’ Yiddish sayings, etc.) and they can then lay their claim to their fair share of the Land of Israel?

            After all, it’s not as if the Jews have any secret rituals that they hide from the Goyim, right?

            The “culture” of being Jewish is known to everyone, so anyone can adopt it as their own, correct?

            In which case, what are you talking about?

            Reply to Comment
          • What makes Jews indigenous to Israel/Palestine?

            Let’s start out by noting that Indigenousness is not a necessary requirement for
            1) claiming the right of return
            2) being a nation with sovereign claims based on international public law.

            Therefore it’s an irrelevant question with regards to rights.

            However if we are talking in non legal non moral anthropological terms one could easily construct a framework whereby Jews are indeed indigenous, together with a number of other populations in the same region who are indigenous, foremost of which are the Palestinians Arabs. Other groups that come to mind are the Samaritans.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jake Singer

            If it’s culturally that defines their rights to the land, the majority still practice eastern european traditions, cultures and foods. So what you are saying is that Eastern European Jews have no claim to Israel?

            Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, right

            “If it’s culturally that defines their rights to the land, the majority still practice eastern european traditions, cultures and foods. So what you are saying is that Eastern European Jews have no claim to Israel?”

            Nah, he just wanted to avoid admitting that he is talking about “ethnicity”, and the only other substitute word he could think of was “cultural”.

            Reply to Comment
          • Mark

            How familiar are you with the cultures of Eastern Europe?

            Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, right

            Then perhaps Israel shouldn’t go around signing onto those international treaties, hmmm?

            But it has, and a signature on a document binds the signatory to act in accordance which the articles contained within.

            So, yeah, I agree with you on one point: Israel should simply shout from the rooftops that “Laws” bind only the Lesser People, and do not in any way stand between the Chosen People and the territory that they have Chosen To Colonize.

            At least that would be honest.

            But Israel? No, not so much with the honesty….

            Reply to Comment
    3. “The Jewish people deserve their history, safety and identity in this land as much as Christian, Muslim and other Palestinians, especially in the shadows of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. But they do not deserve it by uprooting and oppressing another people to achieve their goals”

      This is a very well written and well reasoned article except for the above quote which contains the seed to the negation of Jewish political rights in Palestine.

      The author should give some thought to the legality and moral imperative of Jewish political rights, by which I mean rights to sovereignty in portions of their historic homeland anchored in international public law.

      The same methodology which gives Palestinian Arabs their rights to sovereignty.

      Anything less than that and the author has not grasped the lessons of the Holocaust and thus cannot understand the mentality of its victims.

      Reply to Comment
    4. sh

      Amjad, Just to interrupt the usual cacophony of insults from the commenters here to say how much I identify with what you expressed in your article.

      I said exactly the same thing as you did when I heard that Wiesel had signed that newspaper ad. Night was Wiesel’s first (and also his best) book, written straight from the gut when he was a very young man. With time he’s evolved into a very different older one who has gradually lost his moral authority, more’s the pity.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard

        Oh yes, the CACOPHANY of two typed comments. You and Amjad are so BRAVE standing up to us. How do you summon the courage to overcome these travails?

        Reply to Comment
      • You are so right. And Mr. Wiesel apparently lost a lot of money thanks to a well-known swindler who took a lot of money from a lot of other people too. The holocaust industry is a big money maker so he jumped on that bandwagon. The holocaust is the golden calf for many. Jews don’t have the market on human suffering. That’s right. Their suffering at the hands of nazi europe doesn’t justify the actions of israelis. And then they wonder why there is so much animosity towards them? It isn’t Judaism that’s the problem, the problem has always been and continues to be zionism.

        Reply to Comment
        • Sarah

          Marni, This insensitive, offensive, and most important, unconstructive.

          Jews never claimed that they are the only ones who have suffered.

          Hitler didn’t gas Jews and everyone else who didn’t fit his Aryan standards because of Israel. Anti-semitism does exist and has existed for centuries.

          Many Palestinians acknowledge and respect that history.

          One can stand up for Palestinian rights and simultaneously respect and acknowledge Jewish history.

          I recommend you try to do that.

          Reply to Comment
          • “Hitler didn’t gas Jews and everyone else who didn’t fit his Aryan standards because of Israel. Anti-semitism does exist and has existed for centuries”. I agree.
            “Jews never claimed that they are the only ones who have suffered.”
            Sarah, I didn’t say they did. I stated quite plainly that Jews don’t have the market on suffering. The holocaust is used to defend every wrong that has been done to non-Jews in the state of israel. I’m offended for the actual victims of the holocaust, that this entire period has been turned into a carnival, a museum, a prop for the extreme right to toss about whenever they feel threatened by anyone with a different opinion, anyone who has empathy for the “other” or anyone who supports BDS. I stand by what I wrote.

            Reply to Comment
          • Sarah

            Yes, the Holocaust is used too often as a tool of manipulation and it’s disgusting.

            In general, for helpful things to happen in dialogue about Israel and the occupation, it’s important to convey respect for each other’s history. That’s what I want to convey.

            When people defend the Palestinian cause while belittling the Holocaust it’s not productive…and it’s very hurtful.

            (Not that you did that, but the first comment came off a little like that to me.)

            Reply to Comment
    5. livingstone jacob

      I was sad to read what author ellie wiesel is doing to the palestianian people.
      Supporting Israel subhuman conditions and idelogy of the jewish people is disgraceful,and shocking

      Reply to Comment
    6. @subirgrewal

      Why is anyone surprised at anything Elie Wiesel does or says about Palestine and Palestinians? This is a guy who was handling Irgun PR in Europe while they were bombing markets and hotels in mandate Palestine. Today we’d call it material support for a terrorist group.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ben Zakkai

      Yes Amjad, I too was deeply moved when I first read “Night” by Elie Wiesel, and so it is deeply disappointing to see him supporting the nasty crazies trying to Judaize East Jerusalem. But that’s just part of a broader long-standing pattern of Jews standing up for universal human rights when Jews are threatened, but forgetting about such rights when Palestinians (or Africans etc.) are involved. Tribal interests trump human decency. Everything else is a charade.

      Reply to Comment
      • Sarah

        Please don’t generalize about what “Jews” do. It’s ignorant and offensive. And you are commenting on a website that has thousands of articles by “Jews” and others standing up for rights of others, especially for Palestinian rights!

        Also, your comment is factually incorrect–many Jewish organizations support the causes of other groups of people. Jewish groups and activists spoke out during Darfur.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben Zakkai

          Sarah, I don’t buy the modern politically correct bullshit that says that generalizations (or at least certain kinds of generalizations) are forbidden. Human thought, discourse and action cannot function properly without making generalizations, and it goes without saying that there are almost always many exceptions to any one of them. My previous generalization is undeniably true, and it determines reality here in Israel/Palestine.

          Reply to Comment
          • Sarah

            You’re entitled to your opinion Ben Zakkai.

            I disagree. Using generalizations like that is counterproductive. It might feel good to vent. But it won’t help anything.

            I have no interest in being “politically-correct.” I am the furthest thing from that.

            I do have an interest in speaking to and about people with respect, and in a way that creates mutual understanding.

            You can choose the words you use. I don’t have to like them.

            Reply to Comment
    8. Bruce Gould

      Info: Israeli Coalition Against House Demolitions. If you live in Israel you can contact Jeff Halper and ask him for a tour.

      http://www.icahd.org/

      Reply to Comment
    9. When the author says their history, safety and identity he is omitting the right to self governance and self determination. These two rights amount to sovereignty.

      It was not the Jews who denied sovereignty to opposing party but the other way around. Therein is the seed of the conflict.

      And the seed is perpetuated by the philosophical position of the author suggesting that it has not grasped the motivation of the Jews.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Maya

      Thanks Stephanie for putting this so clearly and nicely.

      Reply to Comment
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