Does Holocaust Remembrance excuse what Israel is doing today?

Item:  Friday,  7 Israeli Jews were killed when leaving a synagogue in East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is part of the Occupied Territories, meaning  Israel has illegally occupied the land since 1967.  The deaths are terrible. But history did not begin Friday.  And it did not begin the day before, when Israeli troops killed 10 Palestinians– including a 61- year-old woman, and injured 20 (some severely). It was the worst of  Israel’s  “raids” on Jenin in the West Bank.  For months, the IDF has targeted Jenin and other Palestinian cities that actively resist Israeli incursion into their territory.  It’s not just the West Bank. Israel has “mowed the grass” as Israel itself proudly says, many times in the last 15 years.   In Gaza alone, there was Operation Cast Lead in 2008 which left 1417 Palestinians dead, and 13 Israeli soldiers.  The IDF bombed civil infrastructure, destroyed mosques, houses and medical facilities.  In 2012, Operation Pillar of Defense saw Israeli soldiers kill 158 Palestinians, including 30 children.  In July 2014, Operation Protective Edge left more than 2200 Palestinians dead, of whom 1483 were civilians.  71 Israelis died in Israel’s attack. 

Israel’s last war on Gaza, in May 2021, saw 260 Palestinians killed including 60 children.   This article is about the facts about the murders of  Palestinians since Jan. 1, 2023.  There is no Palestinian air force, there are no bombs, there are no F35s or helicopter gunships — all of which Israel deploys in their ongoing massacre of Palestinian civilians. 

There are two sides of the ledger.

On the left are tidy 3 x 3 cm. colour photos of the victims, their names, ages and towns.

Untitled by Reem Al Natshesh, in the Bab idDeir Art Gallery, Bethlehem, Occupied West Bank

On the right side, it’s blank.

That is because the site, Israel Palestine Timeline– The Cost of the Conflict, catalogues the Palestinians and the Israelis killed, month by month, year by year in that corner of the world. The site gathers its figures from B’Tselem the impeccable Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, the International Media Information Centre based in Bethlehem, Ma’an News and Ha’aretz, a leading Israeli newspaper.

Let’s have a look.  We are only 29 days into the month of January 2023, but already 31 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers.  That number includes six children.  Not one died because of lack of food, inability to access drinking water or because of a slip or fall, or lack of medical treatment after a car accident.  Not one died because they were caught stealing, or in a knife fight. 

On the other side of the ledger, in the last 27 days, not one Israeli was killed until Friday evening. 

Jenin: where Palestinians dare to fight back

The dead men, the 61-year-old woman, and the six children – including two teenage boys – were killed because they were Palestinians, living in their own town in the West Bank.  Nine of them were killed on Thursday alone when there was an Israeli “incursion” into Jenin, a town in the northern West Bank which is known for its citizenry fighting back.  And why not? The two teens killed Thursday were shot by Israeli snipers, one was then driven over by an IDF vehicle, “his crush injuries were so extensive that doctors could not confirm if he sustained a gunshot wound.” 

Friday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, one of a handful of such Holocaust commemorations each year in Canada.  Today a new exhibit opens at the Holocaust Education Centre in Winnipeg’s Asper Jewish Campus.  Dubbed the smallest Holocaust museum in Canada, it is only 1,000 square feet, but it’s been renovated and updated, according to the Canadian Jewish News here. In a 15-minute virtual tour, the museum’s director Belle Jarniewski says the museum wants to expose the “rich diverse culture” through artifacts and photos of the lives of survivors of the Nazis who came to Winnipeg.  She points out that “Holocaust education is extremely important because genocide continues because antisemitism continues…[the importance of] learning about the holocaust, learning about diversity – not just about Jews but all kinds of backgrounds in schools.” 

Kitchens, by Alaa Albaba, at the Bab idDeir Art Gallery, Bethlehem Occupied West Bank

I’m not sure what she means.  Surely the killing of non-combatants in World War II is in effect “trademarked” to the Jews. I don’t see many Canadian Jews fighting for schools to explore what people — especially children —  of other backgrounds have gone through in terms of war and famine.  In fact, why is it all children must learn a whole curriculum about the Holocaust in school – yet in our “multicultural” society, the realities of many children and their families who were exposed to war, famine, and loss of loved ones in their “home” countries are rarely taught. Even if time is spent exploring other atrocities, nothing comes close to the teaching on the Holocaust. An article about education in the Netherlands provides some evidence. Author Esther Romeyn argues that Holland associates good citizenship and respect for freedom to knowing about the Holocaust. But more than that, she says that Dutch schools claim that the use of the Holocaust has a “civilizing effect” on immigrants— especially Muslims.

Isn’t it time for Jews in Canada to look at what their fellow Jews are doing in their name in Israel/Palestine.  I’m not comparing the Holocaust to the murder of Palestinians. I’m asking what is the value of the four Canadian Holocaust museums’ much vaunted talk of human rights, fighting racism, fighting for a more equitable world.  If that’s the case, then where is their concern for Palestinians?

From the Camp Series (2022) by Alaa Albaba. From the Bab idDeir Art Gallery, Bethlehem, Occupied West Bank

Don’t tell me it’s too complicated. 

Is human rights and the fight against colonialism really too complicated to understand?  No – in Canada, it’s in the air we breathe.  We know that people in almost every country in South America, Africa, and Asia have fought to rid themselves of colonial rule—in over more than 200 years the British, the French, the Dutch and the Belgians were sent packing. The US occupied and fueled coups d’etats in dozens of countries, including Viet Nam, Guatemala, Afghanistan,countries of central America and many more. The US, through NATO, continues to wage proxy wars to this day.

But Israel, with the US and Canada’s blessings, is touted as “the only democracy in the Middle East.” Israel retains an iron grip on the Palestinians.  Not only has Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank with more than 670,000 Jewish settlers (suddenly settlers is not such a bad word), but Israel controls almost every aspect of Palestinians’ lives.  

Israeli army and its 500+ checkpoints

The Israeli military has more than 500 permanent checkpoints operated by soldiers who restrict entry and exit of Palestinians.  And that’s not counting the temporary checkpoints, like the one where Israeli troops shot Palestinian father-of-four Ahmed Kahleh dead last Sunday. Mr. Kahleh’s crime? He got angry (a capital offence on the West Bank) when the troops pepper-sprayed his son. 

British guerilla graffiti artist “Banksy” painted a girl in a pink dress frisking an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint near Bethlehem.

A 438 km long and 10 metre-high reinforced concrete wall, with Israeli gun towers, carves into Palestinian farmland and villages.  Israeli soldiers control when and how ambulances get to injured and dying patients; the soldiers frequently delay medics reaching injured Palestinians.  Israel bombs shell schools, hospitals and homes whenever Palestinians try to fight back.  

Yet January 27 is Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day to commemorate how Jews suffered in World War II.  Something few dispute. 

However today others are suffering at the hands of Israel– the country that claims to represent Jews worldwide. The mainstream media seldom reports on Israel’s transgressions.  In Canada, human rights organizations that support Palestinian human rights are suspect. There are scores of charities to which donors to Israel receive Canadian tax relief, which should be a red flag.  Why do average Canadian wage earners have to foot the bill –pay their taxes so that pro-Israel organizations can give a write offs to wealthier Canadians who want to support Israel’s racism and colonialism?

Time to give our heads a shake…

Canadians have to give their heads a shake. How does Israel, a racist endeavour, manage to pull on the heart strings and the purse strings of Canadian people and their politicians.  Criticism of Israel is not the same as antisemitism.  And the Holocaust should not be invoked to evade criticism of Israel. 

Featured Image at top: Emergency worker responds at building burned by Israeli troops in Jenin on Jan. 26, 2023. (credit: Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Above, I refer to the article by Esther Romeyn, Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: Spectopolitics and Immigration, published in Theory, Culture and Society, 2014, Vo. 31 (6), pp 77-101.

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