August 31, 2022
A week after Israel ended its deadly April 2002 onslaught on the besieged Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin in the northern West Bank, the Haaretz newspaper published an editorial titled, “There was no massacre in Jenin.”
This unwarranted conclusion was not the outcome of a thorough investigation carried out by an independent commission of inquiry. In fact, Israel had prevented a UN convoy from reaching the Jenin camp and later it officially blocked a UN inquiry into the killings of more than 50 Palestinians. Haaretz’s seemingly conclusive statement was the outcome of two types of arbitrary evidence: The Israeli army’s own claim that it did not commit a massacre in Jenin and the fact that the number of Palestinian victims was downgraded from an estimated hundreds to scores.
In Israel itself, “many feared that Jenin would be added to the black list of massacres that have shocked the world,” Haaretz reported with obvious relief. Though Israel has committed numerous other crimes and massacres against Palestinians, Israelis remain comforted by their persisting illusion that they are on the right side of history.
Those who insisted on the use of the phrase “Jenin massacre” were attacked and smeared, not only by the Israeli media and officials, but by the Western media too. Accusing Israel of massacring Palestinians was equated with the ever-predictable label of antisemitism.
This was the same label unleashed against those who accused Israel of responsibility for the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, in which thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese were killed. Commenting on the horrific bloodbath in the South Lebanon refugee camps, then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin retorted: “Goyim kill goyim, and they come to hang the Jews.”
Though it was Begin who ordered the invasion of Lebanon, which killed an estimated 17,000 Palestinians and Lebanese, he still felt completely innocent and that the supposedly unfounded accusations were yet another antisemitic trope, not only targeting Israel but also all Jews everywhere. Ironically, the official Israeli Kahan Commission found the Israeli defense minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, “indirectly responsible for the massacre.” Tellingly, Sharon later became prime minister.
The recent frenzy generated against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for using the word “Holocaust” in describing Israeli crimes against Palestinians should, therefore, be placed within the above context, not in that of the word itself.
Indeed, many Israelis are familiar with the use of this word in Arabic media, as various pro-Israeli organizations monitor Arab and Palestinian media as a matter of course. They must have encountered many similar references to the “Syrian holocaust,” the “Iraqi holocaust,” the “Palestinian holocaust” and so on.
In Arabic usage, “holocaust” has come to represent something equivalent to a horrific massacre or many massacres. Unlike “mathbaha,” meaning massacre, holocaust carries a deeper and more heart-wrenching meaning. If anything, the usage of the word further accentuates the growing understanding that Arabs have of the mass killing of Jews and other vulnerable minorities by the Nazis during the Second World War. It does not negate, dismiss or attempt to replace the reference to Adolf Hitler’s despicable crimes.
In fact, a simple analysis of Abbas’s reference is enough to clarify his intentions. Speaking in Arabic on a visit to Germany this month, the Palestinian leader said: “From 1947 to the present day, Israel has committed 50 massacres in Palestinian villages and cities … 50 massacres, 50 holocausts and until today, and every day there are casualties killed by the Israeli military.”
It is doubtful that Abbas was referencing 50 specific massacres because, frankly, if he was, then he is certainly wrong, as many more were committed in the period he specified. The Nakba, Jenin and other such mass killings aside, the Israeli wars on Gaza in 2008-09 and 2014 killed about 3,600 Palestinians, mostly civilians.
Abbas’s remarks, uttered at a press conference in Berlin alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, were a response to a strange question by a German journalist on whether Abbas was ready to apologize for the killing of 11 Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. The question was strange because the fringe Palestinian group that carried out the attack did not represent the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Palestinian leadership in exile at the time. But also because, a week or so before the Abbas-Scholz meeting was held, Israel had killed 49 Palestinians, mostly civilians and including 17 children, in its latest unprovoked war on Gaza.
It would have been more apt for the journalist to ask Abbas if he had received an Israeli apology for the deaths of those Palestinian civilians. Or, perhaps, Scholz should have been asked if Berlin was ready to apologize to the Palestinian people for its blind military and political support of Tel Aviv. Instead, it was Abbas who was attacked and shamed for daring to use the word holocaust, especially in the presence of the German leader, who was also chastised by Israeli media and officials for not responding to Abbas there and then.
To stave off a political crisis with Israel, Scholz tweeted the following day about how “disgusted” he was by the “outrageous remarks” made by Abbas. He condemned the Palestinian leader for the “attempt to deny the crime of the Holocaust,” and so on.
Unlike the West’s true Holocaust deniers, Palestinians see an affinity between their victims and those of Nazi Germany.
Expectedly, Israeli leaders relished the moment. Instead of being held accountable for the killing of Palestinian civilians, they found themselves in a position where they supposedly had the moral high ground. Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid raged against Abbas’s “moral disgrace” and “monstrous lie.” Defense Minister Benny Gantz joined in, describing Abbas’s words as “despicable.”
Despite Abbas’s quick apology, the Germans continued to escalate, as Berlin police have reportedly “opened a preliminary investigation” against Abbas. The repercussions of his comments are still being felt.
Palestinians do not deny the Holocaust, but rather use the word to underscore their ongoing suffering at the hands of Israel. Unlike the West’s true Holocaust deniers, Palestinians see an affinity between their victims and those of Nazi Germany. In that, there is no crime to investigate.
What truly requires urgent investigation and condemnation is Israel’s continued exploitation and denigration of the memory of the Holocaust to score cheap political points against Palestinians, to silence critics and to hide the true extent of its numerous massacres, criminal military occupation and racist apartheid regime.
- Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for more than 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud
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