This week, a group of elderly Palestinian women were escorted to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance musuem to learn about the Jewish genocide in Europe. At the entrance of the museum, they were surrounded by a group of Jewish Israeli youth who recognized them as Arabs. “Sharmouta!” the young Israelis shouted at them again and again, using the Arabic slang term for whores, or sluts.
The Palestinians had been invited to attend a tour arranged by the Israeli Bereaved Families Forum, an organization founded by an Israeli whose son was killed in combat by Palestinians. They were joined by a group of Jewish Israeli women who, like them, had lost family members to violence related to the conflict. Presumably, both parties went on the tour in good faith, hoping to gain insight into the suffering of women on the other side of the conflict.
Unfortunately, the Palestinian members (who unlike the Israelis live under occupation and almost certainly had to obtain special permits just to go to Yad Vashem) learned an unusual lesson of the Holocaust: A society that places the Holocaust at the center of its historical narrative — that stops traffic for two minutes each year on the national holiday known as Yom Ha’Shoah — could also raise up a generation of little fascists goose-stepping into the future full of irrational hatred.
“In Palestinian culture, older women are most honored and they could not believe their ears,” said Sami Abu Awwad, a Palestinian coordinator of the tour. “We never talk like this to older women. The Palestinians, who were all grandmothers, were very shocked and offended.”
The report on this outburst of Jewish Israeli racism comes from the Israeli news websiteWalla! For some reason, I could not find reporting on it anywhere in English.
Perhaps the story was lost in the flood of reports about the anti-Arab racism that poured through the streets of Israel this week. Besides the publication of a series of rabbinical lettersforbidding renting to Arabs and condemning relationships between Jews and Arabs, a school principal in Jaffa prohibited Palestinian-Israeli students from speaking Arabic to one another. In Bat Yam, a mostly Russian suburb just south of Jaffa, Jewish residents demonstratedagainst the presence their Arab neighbors. “Any Jewish woman who goes with an Arab should be killed; any Jew who sells his home to an Arab should be killed,” one protester reportedlyshouted. And in Tel Aviv, locals rallied for the expulsion of foreign workers.
On Saturday, three teenage girls born to African migrant parents were attacked and severely beaten by a mob of teenagers while walking to their homes in the Hatikva neighborhood.
That same night, someone tried to torch an apartment in Ashdod housing seven Sudanese citizens. The assailants set a blazing tire outside the front door of the apartment, and five of the seven residents were lightly hurt by smoke inhalation before they managed to break the burglar bars and flee through a window.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, a gang of Jewish youths was arrested after staging several random attacks on young Palestinian men with weapons including tear gas, which would be hard to acquire from anywhere except the army. Ynet reported:
The gang of teens was allegedly headed by a 14-year-old boy, and used a girl their age to seduce Arab youths.
The girl would then lead the young men to a meeting point in the city’s Independence Park, where they were allegedly brutally attacked by the teens with stones, glass bottles and tear gas. Police suspect the girl took part in three of the assaults.
Daniel Bar-Tal, a renowned Israeli political psychologist who has conducted some of the most comprehensive surveys of Israeli attitudes since Operation Cast Lead, found that the racist, authoritarian trends that are increasingly pronounced in Israeli society are products of a “psycho-social infrastructure” dedicated to promoting “a sense of victimization, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanization of the Palestinians and insensitivity to their suffering.”
This infrastructure is comprised of institutions like the Zionist educationsystem, the Israeli Defense Forces, and even Yad Vashem, which explicitly links the Palestinian national struggle to Nazism.
Indeed, the only image of a Palestinian in all of Yad Vashem (at least that I am aware of) is of the Grand Mufti Hajj Amin Al-Husseini, who was forced by the British to flee to Germany, where he became a (not very successful) Nazi collaborator. In recent years, the Mufti has become a key fixture of Israeli propaganda efforts against the Palestinians. As such, a photo is featured prominently on a wall in Yad Vashem depicting him sig heiling a group of Nazi troops. However, there is no mention anywhere in Yad Vashem of the 9000 Palestinian Arabs the British recruited to fight the Nazis, or of the 233,000 North African volunteers who fought and died while battling the Nazis in the French Liberation Army (and whose heroic efforts were dramatized in the excellent film, “Days of Glory”).
According to Peter Novick, the author of “The Holocaust in American Life,” though the Mufti played no significant part in the Holocaust, he plays a “starring role” in Yad Vashem’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. “The article on the Mufti is more than twice as long as the articles on Goebbels and Goring, longer than the articles on Himmler and Heydrich combined, longer than the article on Eichmann — of all the biographical articles, it is exceeded in length, but only slightly, by the entry for Hitler.” [Novick, p. 158]
Not only has Yad Vashem attempted through propagandistic means to link the Palestinian struggle to Nazism, it has promoted an exclusivist view of the Holocaust. In April 2009, Yad Vashem fired a docent, Itamar Shapira, because he had discussed the massacre of Palestinians in Deir Yassin with a group of students from the settlement of Efrat. “All I was trying to say is that there were people who lived here before the Holocaust survivors arrived, that they suffered a terrible trauma too, and that we shouldn’t hide the facts,” Shapira told me a month after his firing. “Yad Vashem carefully selected what facts it wanted to present, but deliberately avoided things like Deir Yassin, even though its ruins were just a thousand meters from the museum.”
Iris Rosenberg, a Yad Vashem administrator who was involved in Shapira’s firing, said of the verbal assault against Palestinian women at the museum this week: “Despite the regrettable incident at the entrance to the museum, the team’s visit to the Holocaust History Museum was conducted in a dignified manner which was significant and important.”
Tamara Rabinovitch, the Israeli leader of the Bereaved Families tour, told Walla! that her Palestinian counterparts “were very excited by the visit. Some of them approached me and told me they heard details of the Holocaust but did not know how painful it was. In two weeks we plan to visit an abandoned Arab village so that the Palestinian narrative is represented.”