The United Nations headquarters in New York City are very impressive. To visit, you must book a tour, pay $ 18 and go through massive security. At the entrance of the vast complex, occupying no less than 6 blocks on First Avenue, the flags of the 193 member states greet passersby. Across the street, lay major international palaces and embassies to the UN. Inside, an army of young multilingual guides you into the Holy of Holies.
During my first visit to the Big Apple, I was numb with enthusiasm for what seemed to be the culmination of modern politics, a sacred place where nations agreed on their destinies. I didn’t get inside at the time, so I was more than thrilled to visit this Passover.
But my fascination was quickly overlapped with discomfort. Our guide took us to the main exhibition hall. The elevator doors opened and we came face to face with a golden yellow dashboard that read: P A L E S T I N E.
This is what the institution offers its visitors first, what diplomats see every morning at the exit of the elevator, what needs to be remembered on the way to the Security Council Chamber.
The matter is striking in itself, but it is even more when put in context. In this hall, are presented the world’s major plagues addressed by the UN: hunger, access to education, nuclear threat, and disarmament.
A little down further, facing the entrance to the Security Council, stands the Universal Human Rights Declaration detailed and illustrated by a famous Brazilian artist. And, next to the drawings, hangs a text about the Holocaust, explaining that Declaration was adopted in 1948, in response to the atrocities committed during the Second World War.
And in particular, can be read in full, the atrocities committed against the Jewish people.
In other words, lessons learned after the Holocaust have pushed humanity forward. This is somehow comforting. Genocide against the Jewish people has become the prototype of all genocides, the most inhumane, most unspeakable, whose violence and nihilism has struck the world forever, the one after which nothing will be as before. Jews are recognized as victims and even sanctified.
And yet, just 20 meters away, a large bright yellow eye-catching dashboard presents Palestine as one of the most serious problems in the world. Not Syria, not terrorism, slavery, women abuse, global warming, genocides in Africa. No, Palestinians. And in these words:
“In 1947, with the end of the British Mandate, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted for the partition of the land into an Arab state and a Jewish state. In 1948, as a result of the war between Israel and neighboring Arab states, almost 750,000 Palestinians were uprooted and dispossessed, becoming refugees. The status of Palestinian refugees remains unresolved to this day. The State of Israel was created in 1948. The Arab State – Palestine – has not come into being. ”
Nowhere in this text it is mentioned that the Jewish State, State of the very own people victim of the Holocaust, the worst crime against humanity that inspired the Human Rights Declaration, was violently rejected by said neighboring Arab states.
That they attacked Israel, right after its establishment, swearing to “throw the Jews into the sea” and encouraging indigenous Arabs to leave their homes during the fights.
That the war made 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries who fled to Israel, leaving all their possessions behind.
That 10% of the Israeli population perished during the fighting and that many Holocaust survivors survived the camps only to lost their lives trying to protect this small piece of land that the international community had otherwise devoted to Jews for them to finally live in safety.
That these Arab states that refused to recognize the Jewish state on the grounds of birth right and rejection of colonialism have themselves been created and legitimized by the colonial powers which arbitrarily together under the same nationality ethnic and religious communities with so few common factors, that they still kill each other until today.
That the same Arab states have left the Palestinians herded into refugee camps, refusing to integrate them, massacring them at times, and becoming, in practice, primary accountable for their current situation.
That, finally, these Palestinian refugees have their very own UN agency created specifically for them, UNRWA , which , uniquely in the world, continues to take them completely in charge and consider them as refugees from father to son, nearly 70 years after the end of the war, so they have now exceeded 4 million.
Too much detail for an exhibition? Maybe so.
Yet it was possible to evoke the suffering of the refugees in more complex and nuanced way. It was possible to do it without so blatantly accusing Israel, without transforming the victims from 20 meters away into perpetrators.
Without meaning, essentially, that the whole world has learned the lessons of the Holocaust, except – the irony of it – the Holocaust victims themselves. Without excommunicating, again, the Jewish people out of History, out of modern times.
Without using the Jewish experience as ultimate victims only to turn away, again, from the Jews.
Without dissociating, morally and symbolically, the Jewish State of today from human values.
Without forgetting how much of what matters the most to humanity has been brought to the world by the Jewish thought: monotheism, a divine order, the Ten Commandments, the weekly holy day, the themes of justice, freedom, redemption…
Without indulging into fantasy. Without attempting to rationalize what seems to the latest beat of this never-ending mystic drama.
The Council of Human Rights of the UN has condemned Israel 50 times since its restablishment in 2006, 46% of its total convictions. In other words, according to the United Nations, half of the planet abuses are committed by the 6 millions Israeli Jews out of 7 billion people who inhabit the Earth today.
” But if the UN says so…” tried a friend to whom I expressed my indignation. It is time for the UN to stop saying so. It is time for the UN to stop lying.