Posted by: azizabusarah | April 24, 2009

A Palestinian Remembers the Holocaust

photo_09_hires1    A few days ago, the world commemorated Holocaust Day with memorials, moments of silence, and time taken to remember the lives of loved ones lost. For years this day has been a source of internal conflict for me as a Palestinian, so this year my wife Marie and I decided to hold our own memorial by doing something I have put off for a long time: we watched the movie “Schindler’s List.” It was my first time seeing the movie, which tells the story of a German man who risked his life to save hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust. Although it may seem strange for a Palestinian to take time out to remember the Holocaust, I felt it was an important step for me. I needed to connect with the pain of those who suffered, and I needed to go beyond nationality to acknowledge the loss of human life.   

I must admit that growing up I did not know much about the Holocaust. As Palestinians, we simply did not learn about it. There was a stigma attached to it, an understanding that Israel would use the Holocaust to lobby for sympathy, then turn and use the sympathy as a terrible weapon against the Palestinian people. So when I was asked about the Holocaust, I always felt that defensive urge to say “It was not my fault! I suffered for it too.” Deep down, I think I felt that by acknowledging their pain, I would betray or marginalize my own suffering. Also, some part of me feared that if I sympathized with “the enemy,” my right to struggle for justice might be taken away. Now I know this is nonsense: you are stronger when you let humanity overcome enmity. However, it took me time to learn this lesson.

Many years ago, I decided there is no way I can understand and communicate with my Jewish friends if I don’t learn their history, their narrative, and their story. I decided that the Holocaust Museum would be the place to start my journey. My heart was racing as I crossed the threshold of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. I began looking at the pictures and reading the stories with the distinct awareness that I was the only Palestinian there. As I walked through the museum, however, my self-consciousness was replaced with shock. I could not believe how denigrated men could become to commit such atrocities. How could racism strip men of all humanity?

A few days later, I shared with some of my Jewish friends about my trip to the Holocaust Museum. Many were surprised, and wondered what had prompted me to make such a visit. As I explained my reasons, I could see the walls that divided us crumbling apart. Yacov, a Holocaust survivor, told me his personal story. As a young boy in Poland, he had been separated from his parents and forced to pretend to be Christian, praying the Catholic prayers and attending church.  His father was murdered during the war. One of my best friends, Rami, described the horrors his father suffered in Auschwitz concentration camp. Again, my heart was gripped with pain and sympathy in hearing their stories.

Visiting the Holocaust Museum and allowing my friends to share their stories was pivotal for my relationship with them. I could understand where they were coming from. I could empathize with their feelings that the world is against them. The Holocaust had shaped their awareness of the world around them, and my understanding of this tragedy was important for them to successfully communicate with me.

This is why I decided to remember the Holocaust this year. Watching Schindler’s List, I was moved by the story to a degree that I cannot describe. It was impossible to fight the tears streaming from my eyes. The connection I made with those who suffered the Holocaust goes beyond nationality, religion or race; it was the connection of one man to another in the face of universally understandable pain.

At the end of the move, Oscar Schindler was given a ring inscribed with the words “If you save a life you save the world,” a phrase from the Talmud. Today this statement stands true for all of those men and women active in bringing an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But in my story, I want to deliver a message to the cynics, the hopeless, and the ones who have given up on the quest for peace. This message is also to the many people who have questioned the small grassroots initiatives, the meetings, the dialogue groups, the interfaith projects, the demonstrations, and protests against the killing of people, Arabs and Jews. If you can save one life, you are saving the world.

My challenge is this: Oscar Schindler regretted not doing more to save more people. He cried for not selling his car, his pin, and everything else in his possession just to ransom one more life. Governments, nations and even some religious groups donate billions of dollars for weapons, yet when it comes to promoting understanding, life, and coexistence, our governments and people are broke. I want us to consider, can we put a price on saving one life? Can we put a price on saving the world? It is vital to protect our values and humanity regardless of the cost we must pay for it. Oscar Schindler was able to save a thousand lives, and it was well worth it. How many lives can you save?

If you need suggestions for activities or donations you can contact me at azizabusarah@gmail.com

Aziz Abu Sarah is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for World Relgions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University and a regular contributor to www.Marcgopin.com


Responses

  1. Great post, Aziz. Understanding others’ suffering helps bring people together, which should be the goal of all humans, regardless of nationality or religion.

    Schindler’s list is the best movie I’ve ever seen. For those who haven’t seen it, you absolutely need to take the time.

  2. Stephen,
    I ditto your recomendation for the Schindler’s list, it is a must see movie.

  3. [...] To read Aziz’s excellent essay: click here. [...]

  4. very good but…
    peace will never happen under these conditions
    muslims have to change there ideology before peace will ever have a chance…

  5. Beautifull! Thank you so much for this text. I read it on Haaretz first. I am happy I was introduced to your blog. I am a Jew from Poland whose part of family perished in Holocaust. I live now in Jerusalem. I love this land and all people, Jews and Palestinians living here. I pray for peace every day. I try to learn and understand well Palestinian perspective, thank you for sharing yours

  6. Good article and well written. I’ll be reading this blog more often. Finally I’ve found a blog from a Palestinian actually living in Palestine.

    Cheers,
    //A Swedish-Canadian-Palestinian fan!

  7. Correction: I just read your biography, you now live in the US but are a Jerusalem native.

    Oh well, I’m still a fan! :)

  8. Dear Aziz,
    What an article! I am proud of having had the opportunity to share moments of togetheness with you in the Bereaved Families Forum. The approach shown in this article is of fundamental importance for future reconciliation and peace in the Middle East.

  9. Cool blog! Succes!

  10. Now, if only you can get a significant number of Palestinians to agree with you, then peace might be possible.

    http://middleeast.about.com/od/palestinepalestinians/a/me090330.htm

  11. thats awesome!

  12. I just heard of your blog. I am bookmarking it.

  13. An excellent piece of writing. I am bookmarking your blog and adding you to my blogroll. Many thanks for writing this.

  14. Good article Aziz. I saw this movie when it first came out in the early 90s, and I was probably the only Palestinian in the theater as well (although I was also one of the very few Palestinians in the same Midwestern US town where I went to college).

    You are definitely not one of a rare breed in understanding Jewish history and who Israeli Jews are still a “traumatized nation” in the words of one of their own. Even the Palestinian “ambassador” to Poland recently joined his Israeli counterpart in a trip to Auswitch. There are hundreds of thousands of us in the US (both citizens and temporary visitors), and most of us have been more exposed to Jewish history and understand much of the trauma as best as one can from the outside.

    Regardless of history, I am disheartened by some of the posts above that echo a well-propagated “dehumanizing” sentiment that “if only more Palestinians were like you, then peace would be possible”. I believe most Palestinians *are* like you and I, but part of the problem (as we see above) is that many Israelis and their sympathizers still believe they have the moral high ground when it comes to our specific conflict. I find such comments as “If only more Palestinians were like you” highly offensive and dehumanizing. When both people realize that neither have moral superiority in a conflict where a “traumatized nation” holds almost 4 million “non-Jews” in a crushing stranglehold in their own land, then progress might be possible.

  15. I can relate to where you’re coming from. When I read Benny Morris’ books I learned much about the Palestinian refurgee issue I had not previously known, and developed an understanding and empathy for the Palestinian pain relating to the naqba. No one has a monopoly on pain and suffering, or hope and vision too, for that matter. I hope peace between our peoples arrives in our lifetime.

  16. i am a jew and i agree with jareer.
    let me put it this way, if more jews, in america and israel and elsewhere had empathy and understanding of the naqba, of the palestinian experience, then peace would be possible.

    it is very clear that even now, after all the misery and propaganda and hatred of the recent years,
    the majority of both nations want to live, and eat, and work, and have families.

  17. Aziz, you are an example for anyone who wants to know what dialogue, peace and reaching out to others with dignity mean. THe sorry fact is that both Palestinians and ISraelis still suffer because of the Holocaust.And the perpetrator of this suffering is the state of ISrael which appropriated this tragedy for its own cynical purposes. ISraeli children are educated into a Holocaust trauma in order to become xenophobic, hateful and constantly panick-stricken – the three necessary ingrendients of a good, fierceful and ruthless soldier. They are mentally maimed by a dogmatic indoctrination of hate and racism, their leaders constantly equate Palelstinian leaders and all other Arab leaders with Hitler so as to enhance hate, alienation and paranoia. All this is embodied in the concrete wall that divide us into two opposing parties, two “sides”. However you know as I know that you and I are on the same side, the side that is not ashamed to be naive and promote humanity over enmity, personal ties over national adversities. We love you and though this love will not win in the larger arena it will keep us sane and true for all our and your children to come. Nurit

  18. It’s too bad Aziz that you didn’t mention how close Yad Vashem is to the site of the Deir Yassin massacre. There is a bitter irony to the erection of a holocaust museum so close to a site where Jews massacred Palestinians in 1948. Also, in any discussion of the holocaust, the words of Dr. Norman G. Finkelstein bear mention. In *Beyond Chutzpah* (p. 85) he writes:

    “Wrapping themselves in the mantle of The Holocaust, these Jewish elites pretend—and, in their own solipsistic universe, perhaps imagine themselves—to be victims, dismissing any and all criticism as manifestations of ‘anti-Semitism.’ And, from this lethal brew of formidable power, chauvinistic arrogance, feigned (or imagined) victimhood, and Holocaust-immunity to criticism has sprung a terrifying recklessness and ruthlessness on the part of American Jewish elites. Alongside Israel, they are the main fomenters of anti-Semitism in the world today.

    In *The Holocaust Industry,* (p. 3) Finkelstein argues:

    ” ‘The Holocaust’ is an ideological representation of the Nazi holocaust. Like most ideologies, it bears a connection, if tenuous, with reality. The Holocaust is not an arbitrary but rather an internally coherent construct. Its central dogmas sustain significant political and class interests. Indeed, The Holocaust has proven to be an indispensable ideological weapon. Through its deployment, one of the world’s most formidable military powers, with a horrendous human rights record, has cast itself as a ‘victim’ state, and the most successful ethnic group in the United States has likewise acquired victim status. Considerable benefits accrue to this specious victimhood–in particular, immunity to criticism, however justified.”

    Aziz, you mention “dialogue groups” and “interfaith projects.” Dialogue with Zionists is simply inappropriate. The case against such dialogue was made succinctly in the article “When Dialogue is NOT our Hope” by Joseph Phelps in the Mennonite Conciliation Service’s journal *Conciliation Quarterly* (Spring 1996. p. 8). See http://tinyurl.com/r9wyqp And I’ve been to many “interfaith projects” on Palestine but none of them were ever faithful to the highest and best values of our religious traditions. Instead they were all corrupted by faithfulness to what Jewish theologian Marc H. Ellis calls an “ecumenical deal” requiring “eternal repentance for Christian anti-Jewishness unencumbered by any substantive criticism of Israel.” Ellis adds, “Substantive criticism of Israel means, at least from the Jewish side, the reemergence of Christian anti-Jewishness.”

    Under the terms of the deal, Ellis says, “the main energy of ecumenical gatherings is spent on diverting the question that hovers over all discussions of Jews and Christians: the oppression of the Palestinian people by Jewish Israelis with the support, by commission or omission, of Jewish and Christian partners in the ecumenical dialogue.” It is this situation that the late the Rev. Michael Prior had in mind when he lamented how “thoroughly Zionized Judaism infects the so-called Jewish-Christian dialogue.”

    Finally, I note Aziz that you are “a regular contributor to http://www.Marcgopin.com.” I’ve heard Rabbi Marc Gopin speak and read some of his work and he is a Left Zionist, to be sure. Just weeks after September 11, 2001, Gopin penned an article entitled, “This War Is About Religion, And Cannot Be Won Without It.” The main religion to which Rabbi Gopin refers is Islam and in the article he writes, “The time has come for a war for the soul of Islam. We cannot wait for an Islamic Reformation to evolve historically, with a new set of higher institutions and training centers for clerics. We must have it now.” Curiously, to my knowledge, Rabbi Gopin has never expressed similar sentiments about Judaism, the primary which has fueled the Nakba for more than sixty years now.

  19. Nice article, Aziz. I appreciate your message and I’ve been wondering whether it’s more important for Jews and Israelis to hear such things or for Muslims, Palestinians, Arabs and neo-Marxists. Who is the toughest audience? Perhaps the power of your message is that it is for everybody since it speaks about humanity while also recognising collective identities. What do you think?
    Keep up your great work, Toni

  20. A great piece of work it is…..However the same reaction from the Israeli side would be also very helpful…

  21. [...] “Now I know this is nonsense: you are stronger when you let humanity overcome enmity.” (Click here to read the article [...]

  22. Thank you so much for such a beautiful and honest writing.
    Ignorance creates fear, fear creates wars. As you realized yourself, it is most important to learn about each others. Very few human beings want war, most of us want peace and will go to great length to make it happen if we knew how.
    The past should be used only to learn, but not to bathe in it and fuel hate and revenge. A heart of forgiveness and selflessness is the only way to create an ever lasting peace.


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