I received the following AllExperts question last night, and I just sent in my response. I did not enjoy writing it; but I didn’t have any good excuse to refuse to answer.
Boker Tov and Shalom Don,
I have a question, I was watching Yulie Cohen Gerstel’s documentary about the Holocaust and the possibility of Israel imposing the same hardships on the palestinians that the jews went through and my question is, do you think that the past is repeating itself meaning are the israelis doing the same thing to the palestinians that the nazis did to the jews years ago, what is your stance on this? Thanks.
Dear A_____ –
I haven’t seen Ms. Gerstel’s film, so I can’t comment on it in any detail.
The idea that Israel “imposes the same hardships on the Palestinians as the Jews went through during the Holocaust” would be laughable if it weren’t evil. Even to suggest such an equivalence would require complete ignorance of the two conflicts, or else an anti-Israeli bias so strong that facts cannot penetrate it.
The Holocaust was the systematic, industrialized destruction of an entire culture: fully one third of the world’s Jews were killed, and European Jewry as a living community was essentially eliminated. In particular, the Eastern European Yiddish-speaking culture and the Greek-Sephardic Ladino-speaking culture were destroyed; all that is left of these vibrant, creative cultures is fossilized remains. These Jewish communities posed absolutely no threat to Germany: there were no Jewish suicide bombings on German buses (or anywhere else), no Jewish military threat, no Jewish boycotts of Germany (at least until after the Holocaust began). The Holocaust was a gratuitous, unprovoked, brutal, and unrestrained attack on a defenseless and inoffensive people.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an entirely different matter. Palestinian terrorists have been killing innocent Jewish civilians since at least the 1920’s; the Palestinian terror organizations receive substantial backing and funding from much of the Arab world as well as from Iran. While Israel’s actions in relation to the Palestinians are not always legally or morally perfect, the idea that Israel is trying to commit genocide – either by killing huge numbers of Palestinian Arabs, or by destroying their culture – is simply not borne out by the facts.
While numbers don’t tell the entire story, they are illustrative. Remember that the number of Jews in Europe pre-1939 was roughly comparable to the number of Palestinians living in or near Israel/Palestine today. In 5 1/2 years of the “al-Aqsa Intifada”, fewer than 4,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel – and of these, at least 55-60% have been combatants. Contrast this with the Holocaust: the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau were designed to “process” 12,000 people per day; and at the height of the destruction of Hungary’s Jews in the summer of 1944, as many as 46,000 Jews were killed there in a single day. (Those not “lucky” enough to be “processed” in the standard way were simply burned alive in pits in the ground.) The average number killed daily at Birkenau was not quite that high, of course – but it was still at least a couple of thousand per day; the entire Palestinian death toll in 5 1/2 years of “Intifada” is the equivalent of a day or two at one extermination camp.
[Erratum: While the figure of 46,000 Hungarian Jews killed in a single day at Birkenau is indeed mentioned in several places, including the Israeli Foreign Ministry site referenced above, I am told by some serious Holocaust researchers that this number seems unrealistically high. A more credible maximum number killed in one day at Birkenau would be about half the figure quoted – somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 people – which is still a hell of a lot of killing to do in a single day. -DonR, 5 September 2006]
It is true that Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement, including checkpoints and roadblocks, are onerous and inconvenient, and harmful to the Palestinian economy. It is equally true that the terrorist organizations, while supposedly working for “the liberation of Palestine”, are doing everything in their power to ensure that the roadblocks remain in place – after all, Palestinian poverty and alienation are the terrorists’ best recruiting tools. Were the Palestinians, as a collective, to renounce terrorism unequivocally and decisively, the roadblocks would quickly disappear; and in fact, if the Palestinians had truly acted in good faith to achieve statehood, they would have had their own state many years ago. So while Israel is complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people, the Palestinians’ own leadership is very largely to blame for their people’s plight.
In the mean time, Palestinians are able to get an education (as Jews under the Nazis were not), follow professions (as Jews were not), and vote for their own leadership (as Jews were not). When and if the Palestinians decide to stop blowing up Israeli women and children, they will have their state handed to them on a silver platter, with generous foreign aid to build their economy and institutions. The Jewish victims of the Holocaust do not even have graves: those burned at Birkenau are just mud at the bottom of a lake.
Obviously, I could continue in this vein – but I think I’ve made my opinion on the topic clear enough. I’ll be happy to deal with any follow-up questions you may have.
(This post can also be found at the Guns and Butter Blog.)