A READER e-mails a link to a news item from Gaza, where some Jewish residents have "tattooed" their national ID numbers on their arms, Auschwitz-style -- a bitter gesture of protest against their forthcoming expulsion. My correspondent's comment is blunt. "Misusing Holocaust language and imagery," she writes. "Utterly disgusting -- makes me have less sympathy for them."
In just over two weeks, tens of thousands of Israeli troops are scheduled to carry out Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "disengagement" -- the forced evacuation of every Jewish resident in Gaza and parts of the West Bank. In a country deeply scarred by Holocaust memories, it was inevitable that the wholesale transfer of more than 9,000 Jews from communities where some of them have lived for decades would trigger angry -- and anguished -- comparisons to Nazism.
Israelis protest the planned "disengagement" from Gaza.
In the village of Elei Sinai, some residents plan to wear concentration-camp uniforms or yellow stars with the word "Jude" on the day they are expelled. A Likud Party faction opposed to disengagement calls it "an order the likes of which were last signed in German." A member of Israel's parliament set off a storm when he said, "Maybe we killed Eichmann for no reason, because he was also just following orders."
Such Nazi allusions have been sharply condemned. The Anti-Defamation League called them an "inexcusable perversion of history," and Yad Vashem, Israel's renowned Holocaust research institute, warned that they "damage the memory of the Shoah." Some of Sharon's allies on the left, oblivious to such niceties as freedom of speech, even proposed making the non-historical use of Holocaust terminology an offense punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Let's be clear: You don't have to support disengagement to agree that this Nazi-talk is grotesque. The Israeli army is not the Gestapo. The peaceful Jewish residents who will be forced from the homes and land they love are not being sent to gas chambers. Sharon's plan may be delusional -- instead of enabling Israelis to "disengage" from Palestinian violence, it will bring them more of it, and in deadlier forms -- but it isn't the Final Solution.
And yet . . .
And yet there is no getting around the fact that Israel is about to become the first modern, Western nation in more than 60 years to forcibly uproot a whole population -- men, women, children, babies -- solely because they are Jews. There is no getting around the fact that the forthcoming expulsions are rooted in the belief that any future Palestinian state must be Judenrein -- emptied of its Jews. And while it goes without saying that Sharon and every member of his government abominate the Nazis and all they stood for, there is no getting around the fact that disengagement is meant to appease an enemy that has always regarded the genocidal hatred of Jews in a very different light.
Long before there were "occupied territories," Haj Amin El-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and leader of Palestine's Arabs, urged Hitler to "solve the problem of the Jewish elements in Palestine and other Arab countries . . . by the same method that the question is now being settled in the Axis countries." When five Arab armies invaded the newborn Israel in 1948, the secretary-general of the Arab League vowed to wage "a war of extermination and a momentous massacre, which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades."
More than half a century later, how much has changed? The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, is the author of a book denying the Holocaust and claiming that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis against the Jews of Europe. Palestinian Authority TV broadcasts poisonous diatribes, like one Friday sermon by Sheik Ibrahim Mudeiris. "The Jews are a virus resembling AIDS, from which the entire world suffers," he preached. "The Jews will not enjoy a life of tranquility under our rule, because they are treacherous by nature and have been throughout history."
Israel's withdrawal from Gaza changes nothing, the senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahard said recently. He told an Italian newspaper that Israel's existence would be unacceptable even if it were to retreat to the armistice lines of 1949. "In the end, Palestine . . . must become Muslim," he insisted. "And in the long term Israel will disappear from the face of the Earth."
The abandonment of Gaza and northern Samaria plays directly into the hands of the haters. The sight of Jewish troops expelling Jewish families from their homes and schools will do nothing to promote Arab-Israeli peace. It will reinforce instead the notion that any Jewish presence is intolerable on land the Arabs claim for themselves. And if that is an argument against Jewish life in Gaza, it is also an argument against Jewish life in Israel.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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