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Between Poland's Holocaust revisionism and Israel's Nakba denial

Poland’s attempt to scrub clean its role in the murder of European Jewry is, at its core, no different from Israel’s attempt to erase the catastrophe that befell the Palestinians in 1948.

By Haneen Zoabi

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in Poland. Auschwitz was a network of concentration and extermination camps built and operated in occupied Poland by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in Poland. Auschwitz was a network of concentration and extermination camps built and operated in occupied Poland by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

The responses coming from Israel to the new Polish law, which forbids discussing war crimes committed by the Polish people during the holocaust, are nothing if not paradoxical. While the Israeli establishment, from the Right to the Left, denies the identity, history, and catastrophe of the Palestinian people, it reprimands those who deny responsibility for the fate of the Jews during the Holocaust.

The Holocaust, a monstrous, well-planned genocide, was possible not only because of the Nazis’ nightmarishly meticulous implementation, but also because those who stood aside as it was happening. The Germans had willing accomplices, including many Poles, who took an active part in the persecution and murder. The history books talk about the “hunt for the Jews,” which led to the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews, both directly and indirectly, during the Second World War.

The president of Poland — not the Polish state — from the right-wing Law and Justice party, denies the involvement of Polish citizens in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust, and is attempting to promote a “new strategy in historical policy.” The new law, which criminalizes any researcher who dares publish the truth, is an attempt at historical revisionism. There is no doubt that the Nazis, who planned the Final Solution, were the ones who carried out the crimes, yet many Poles gladly cooperated with them.

To what extent were those Poles different from other European nations? What could really be done in the face of the well-oiled Nazi machine? Only few took the risk and offered protection to Jews. How many really provided shelter, food, or help to them during those years? Most stood aside and ignored what was happening, perhaps out of helplessness or unwillingness to help. And yet, there is a still a big difference between “not helping” and actively joining the hunters. That is why the Polish law is problematic: it is an attempt to criminalize truth tellers and rewrite history. The uproar, then, is entirely justified.

A state in denial

So how is this law any different from the Nakba Law, which would withhold state funds from cultural and educational institutions that commemorate the horrors that befell the Palestinians in 1948? Isn’t the Nakba Law also an attempt to rewrite history? To hide and deny certain parts of it? It is true that the Nakba Law does not — yet — criminalize individuals. But in its essence, it is a law that seeks to silence, just as the Polish law does, and allows the effective denial of the Palestinian catastrophe.

Palestinians participate in a rally marking the 69th anniversary of the Nakba, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 15, 2017. (Flash90)

Palestinians participate in a rally marking the 69th anniversary of the Nakba, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 15, 2017. (Flash90)

As opposed to Poland, which legislated this disgraceful law at the behest of its right-wing president, the Zionist state was established entirely on denying my identity, and my connection to my homeland. One example of that denial is the artificial separation between “Israeli Arabs” and Palestinians. “Arab MKs must take care of ‘Israeli Arabs,’ not the Palestinians,” we are told over and over again. The term is one of domestication — of denial — and I am expected to identify with it, to adopt that separation.

There is no doubt that the Polish law is wrong. But it is no less wrong than the Nakba Law. Yet the Polish law does not deny the Holocaust, while the Israeli law denies the Nakba. The Polish law denies that part of the Polish people were responsible for the Holocaust — that is, it distinguishes between the crime and the criminals. The latter are “the others,” the bad guys, the Nazis. The Poles were “okay,” they were victims of the Third Reich, just like the Jews.

The Nakba Law, on the other hand, denies history itself, since according to the law the Nakba never actually took place. Instead, there were Palestinian villages whose residents rejected the Partition Plan and “voluntarily” left their villages “with the expectation that they would return after a few days.” There was no expulsion, no murder, and no home demolitions. The events at Deir Yassin were an outlier — if they even happened in the first place.

The Nakba Law is the natural result of a process that began long ago. Moreover, the state’s use of the Holocaust is no worse than Holocaust denial. The Holocaust has turned into a political tool to be used against anyone who dares criticize the state. Accusations of anti-Semitism have become a way to defend Israel, which claims to represent world Jewry.

Poland's foreign minister lays a wreath at Yad Vashem, June 14, 2015. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

Poland’s foreign minister lays a wreath at Yad Vashem, June 14, 2015. (Isaac Harari/Flash90)

We, the native Palestinians of this land, blame Israeli society, in its entirety, for its historical indifference and blindness. We accuse it of denying our existence, our identity, and the crimes carried out by the state until this very day — on both sides of the Green Line.

As a Palestinian, I feel a kinship with the victims of the Holocaust. I am angry at all those who continue to murder and remain silence, those who force others to remain silent.

Israel expels, denounces, and persecutes not only Palestinians, but anyone who identifies with them: human rights activists, parliamentarians, BDS supporters. Israel needs a world beset by fear — one that sees what is happening and remains silent. Just like Poland.

Haneen Zoabi is a member of Knesset for the Balad party. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. duh

      I’m glad someone had the guts to say this.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      Re: “While the Israeli establishment,………., denies the identity, history, and catastrophe of the Palestinian people, it reprimands those who deny responsibility for the fate of the Jews during the Holocaust.”

      The most educated nation of the mid-20th Century butchering 6 million people, as part of a premeditated plan of mass murder.
      v
      The flight of 700,000 people some 10-30 km up the road because of a war that they declared on the Israelis.

      972 mag has really fallen to the moral dreggs with this pathetic spiel.

      Reply to Comment
      • Baladi Akka 1948

        Thanks for exemplifying Haneen’s article,if you’d been a Pole (but maybe you are …), you’d probably be denying the Holocaust too.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          I don’t understand what your trying to say.
          There is no comparison between the Shoah and the 1948 war.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Lewis from Afula, you don’t understand what she’s trying to say because you’ve changed the subject, changed it to an obscuring and deflecting pseudo-debate on whether the Holocaust and the 1948 Nakba are directly comparable in particulars.

            Haneen Zoabi, however, did not make that crude comparison. She is comparing the state-sanctioned, state-organized, populace-supported, methodical efforts to systematically deny an historical event. She is talking about denial. And the state’s efforts to persecute those who will not go along with that denial.

            Baladi Akka 1948 is also quite right about something else. One should always ask how any particular young person today would likely have behaved had they been born a gentile in Germany in 1920. It’s a good test to ask of oneself and others. Of character. It’s not a “test,” really, because no precise answer can be had, but it is a good mental and moral exercise. Ask yourself how, oh, for example, Sean Hannity would have behaved. Or Donald Drumpff. I think you know the answer. And then there is you.

            (And btw, you’ve changed the particulars according to a contentious account of the Nakba that falsifies, oversimplifies and shifts all blame for “who started it”—more denial. And then you inject something funny: You, who brutally and cavalierly talk of “10-30 km up the road,” harbor a stone-worshiping settler mentality that obsesses over every single centimeter of land in the West Bank and sees the removal of a single trailer on a hilltop as a mind-blowing, heart-breaking tragedy of monumental proportions.)

            Reply to Comment
          • David

            Lewis from Afula

            For the record:
            On April 3, 1948 Ben-Gurion ordered the implementation of Plan Dalet – a carefully prepared military operation to drive Arabs out of that portion of Palestine the Partition Plan had proposed as a Jewish state, and to also conquer and “cleanse” as much as possible of the proposed Arab state and Jerusalem (i.e., both West and East Jerusalem/the Old City), which along with Bethlehem, the Partition Plan had recommended be constituted a corpus separatum.

            Israeli historian Benny Morris describes Plan D as “a strategic-ideological anchor and basis for expulsions by front, district, brigade and battalion commanders… and it gave commanders, post facto, a formal, persuasive covering note to explain their actions …. [It] was understood by all concerned that, militarily, the less Arabs remaining behind and along the front lines, the better and, politically, the less Arabs remaining in the Jewish State, the better.” (Benny Morris, Birth Of The Palestinian Problem 1947-1949, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 289)

            In 2004, when asked by Haaretz journalist, Ari Shavit, what new information his just completed revised version of The Birth of the Palestinian Problem 1947-1949 would provide, Morris replied: “It is based on many documents that were not available to me when I wrote the original book, most of them from the Israel Defense Forces Archives. What the new material shows is that there were far more Israeli acts of massacre than I had previously thought. To my surprise, there were also many cases of rape. In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them and destroy the villages themselves.” (Haaretz, January 9, 2004)

            John H. Davis, then Commission-General of UNRWA: “An exhaustive examination of the minutes, resolutions, and press releases of the Arab League, of the files of leading Arabic newspapers, of day-to-day monitoring of broadcasts from Arab capitals and secret Arab radio stations, failed to reveal a single reference, direct or indirect, to an order given to the Arabs of Palestine to leave. All the evidence is to the contrary; that the Arab authorities continuously exhorted the Palestinian Arabs not to leave the country…. Panic and bewilderment played decisive parts in the flight. But the extent to which the refugees were savagely driven out by the Israelis as part of a deliberate master-plan has been insufficiently recognized.” (John H. Davis, The Evasive Peace, London: Murray, 1968, p. 217.)

            Mr. Davis’s observations are confirmed by the IDF Intelligence Branch Report dated 30 June 1948, entitled “The Arab Exodus from Palestine in the Period 1 December 1947 to 1 June 1948.” After studying the document, Benny Morris stated that “the Intelligence Branch report…goes out of its way to stress that the [Palestinian] exodus was contrary to the political-strategic desires of both the Arab Higher Committee and the governments of the neighboring Arab states. These, according to the report, struggled against the exodus – threatening, cajoling, and imposing punishments, all to no avail.” (Benny Morris, “The Causes and Character of the Arab Exodus from Palestine: The Israel Defense Force Intelligence Board Analysis of June 1948: Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. XXII, no. 1, January 1986)

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            In April 1948, the British were still in charge of the Mandate territory. Everything that occured before Israel’s Declaration of Independence was primarily a British responsibility.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “primarily a British responsibility”

            This assertion by Lewis of Afula is not even minimally plausible or even logical. It is sheer denial. It convinces no one not desperate to be convinced.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            ……so says the irrational Ben.
            Israel cannot be held responsible for what happened BEFORE Israel’s creation.
            Duh !!!!!

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I see. And so the Palestinians can’t be held responsible for what has happened before Palestine’s creation. Ok. I’m observing this new ‘rational’ departure of yours. Lewis the Rationalist from Afula.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Re: “I see. And so the Palestinians can’t be held responsible for what has happened before Palestine’s creation.

            This would be true except the “falestinyans” are JORDANIANS who are waiting repatriation to JORDAN.

            Reply to Comment
          • David

            Lewis from Afula

            The dispossession and expulsion of 400,000 native Palestinian Arabs between late 1947 and 15 May 1948, the effective date of Ben-Gurion’s (nee, David Gruen) declaration of the state of Israel along with the expulsion of a further 400,000 by the fall of 1949 as well as 25,000 just prior to Israel’s 1956 invasion of Egypt and an additional 250,000 during and after the war Israel launched on 5 June 1967, were carried out by Jewish militia and the IDF. Britain played no role whatsoever in the expulsion of the indigenous Palestinians before or after May 15/48.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            The Jewish militias that existed during the British-run Mandate era are the responsible of the…………………….wait for it…………..THE BRITISH.

            After Israel’s declaration of Independence, the wars declared upon Israel by Arab states caused many refugees – both Arab and Jewish.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This is the kind of tiresome and transparently absurd self-justification the extreme right wallows in.
            The Jewish militias and the allied IDF troop barbarities during the Israeli-run era are the responsibility of the Israelis. And they are all Israelis. This points out what is already obvious: The Jewish militias operating in the British-run era were not “British.” The Jewish terrorists who bombed the King David Hotel and massacred people inside it did not think themselves British, to say the least.

            You are given way too much bandwidth, Lewis from Afula.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Ben:
            The IDF cannot be held responsible BEFORE the IDF existed…..
            DUHHHH…..

            The British are responsible for the period of the British Mandate era.
            DUHHHH………

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The Jewish militias (Israeli settlers) and Israeli army (IDF) of the Israeli era engage in a form of terror. Every day. The Jewish militias of the British era engaged in terror as well. They all are or were responsible. Time to stop the lawlessness and remove the Israeli settlers back to Israel. And pay the Palestinians massive damages for so many decades of Israeli state-sponsored terror. Which follows logically from your own thinking. Time for you to be coherent.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Regarding the Mandate era, the raison d’etre of the Mandate’s creation was to facilitate the birth of a Jewish National Home -see San Remo Treaty of 1922. Yet during 1945-1948, the British were ACTIVELY PREVENTING the return of the Jews to their Land. Hence, the British were blatantly acting AGAINST INTERNATIONAL LAW. That is why the Jewish militias resorted to terrorism.

            Regarding the present in Judea and Samaria, I want to expel the Jordanians back to Jordan. You want to expel the Israelis back to Israel. I want to punish the aggressor, you want to punish the victims.
            That is the difference between us.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Your invocation of “San Remo,” that hoary old exercise in legal obfuscation, is bunk, Lewis. (Whenever I hear “San Remo” these days I know we are down a rabbit hole in settler land.) Your use of words like “expel” and “aggressor” and “victim” is contrived. Your account of “eras” is contrived. All one has to do to show that is change a few words to show that what you simplistically construe as a one way street was for years a much more complicated two way street and then in recent years a one way street in the opposite direction:

            “Hence, the Israelis were blatantly acting AGAINST INTERNATIONAL LAW. That is why the Palestinian militias resorted to terrorism.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Ben does not believe in international law when international law means adhering to the San Remo Treaty of 1922.

            You don’t like the word “era”, I could use the word “period” or “term” to describe the UN Mandate run by the British. Surely, you need a word to describe the time involved the end of Ottoman Rule and the Declaration of Independence.

            Ben dislikes “aggressor” or “victim” because he has fallen into the clever arab trap of making everyone forget what happened BEFORE June 1967. I have NOT forgotten. Ben seems to have fallen into a rabbit hole of his own limited mind.

            Reply to Comment
      • David

        @Lewis from Afula

        After WWII, a memorandum dated January 11, 1941, was discovered in Ankara. Prepared by the German Naval Attaché in Turkey, it revealed that Naftali Lubentschik, a
        representative of the Stern Gang (one of the Yishuv’s terrorist orgnaizations) led by Avraham Stern, had met with German Nazis, Otto Von Hentig and Rudolph Rosen in Vichy controlled Beirut and proposed that in exchange for military aid and freedom to recruit European Jews for Palestine, the Sternists were prepared “…to take an active part in the war on Germany’s side…and [this cooperation] would also be in line with one [of Hitler’s recent speeches which] stressed that any alliance would be entered into in order to isolate England and defeat it.”

        The proposition presented to the Nazis pointed out that “the establishment of the historical Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis and bound by a treaty with the German Reich would be in the interest of maintaining and strengthening the future German position of power in the Near East.” (Quoted by Klaus Polkehn, “The Secret Contacts: Zionist-Nazi Relations, 1933-1941” as well as Lenny Brenner, Zionism in the Age of Dictators, Westport, Conn., Lawrence Hill & Co., 1983, p. 267 and Yediot Aharnot, February 4/1983). Fortunately, the Nazis considered the Sternist proposal to be sheer lunacy and rejected it out of hand.

        Following Stern’s death at the hands of the British in 1942, three of his lieutenants (one of whom was Yitzhak Shamir) took over leadership of the Gang. It is revealing to note that despite Avraham Stern’s ignominious record and his flirtation with the Nazis, Ben-Gurion later referred to him as “one of the finest and most outstanding figures of the era.”

        Reply to Comment
    3. Y. Szanton

      I read this article with much interest. Since my grandson asked me to teach him about the war that broke out in 1947, I have had to do a lot of reading on the subject. I use several texts- some of which were compiled shortly after that war and written by Israelis, and some of a much more recent vintage- and some by foreign authors. I have found no lack of reference to the calamity that both sides underwent during that war or during the unrest between Jews and Arabs preceeding it. Quite to the contrary, I find that the tragedy of that conflict, the suceeding ones, and the and the ongoing brutality between the two groups continues to be adressed fully and with much empathy.

      Reply to Comment
      • Baladi Akka 1948

        The mere facts that you speak about two groups who in your mind suffered equally is the proof that you’ve been bran-washed. You also mention texts written shorttly after the war by Israelis and foreign authors …. no Palestinian authors, right ?
        Why don’t you recommend the New Historians to your grandson: Ilan Pappe, Tom Segev even Benny Morris before he turned Likudnik …
        And still, in Israeli schools the Jrwish kids learn nothing about the Nakba (the Arab kids neither), they don’t even know the word, the mere fact that it’s called “the war of independance” (even by authors here at +972mag) is a major propaganda stunt.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Luke Hunter

      white zionists against jewish zionists – have at it boys – go hard

      Reply to Comment
    5. Yehia Y. Mishriki

      Not paradoxical, hypocritical.

      Reply to Comment
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