In the West, the Holocaust is perceived as a tragedy perpetrated against the Jewish people. However, in much of the Arab world, the Holocaust is perceived as a tragedy for the Palestinians; the evil that was inflicted upon the Jews is perceived as equal to the evil that was inflicted upon the Palestinians. The argument goes that European guilt over the Holocaust caused them to steal land from the Arabs and give it to the Jews as a reparation payment. The Arabs fought against this theft, which caused the 1948 War, and the Israeli forces caused the expulsion of the Arab refugees. The Holocaust is therefore the primary cause of the Nakba.
Furthermore, the Palestinians purport that roles have now been reversed, and Jews are acting like Nazis towards the Palestinians, but westerners are not willing to acknowledge this ‘fact’ because the Holocaust shields Israel from all criticism. The true lesson of the Holocaust, according to this narrative, is that if the Jewish people were persecuted, then they should stop persecuting the Palestinians, and the necessary condition for peace between them is for Israel to recognize that it is responsible for the Nakba. In addition, there has been a concerted effort by a network of Palestinian activists to push this view in the West. Their argument is based on several claims, which I will outline before demonstrating why the argument is both completely false and immoral.
First, the Arab argument is that European guilt over the Holocaust caused the creation of Israel, which caused the war, which caused the Nakba. Dr. Gilbert Achcar is a Lebanese Professor at the University of London, and a BDS advocate. In his book, “The Arabs and the Holocaust,” he writes, “Nakba means ‘grievous catastrophe.’ The term has been in use since 1948 to describe the foundation of the State of Israel and its consequences: the first Arab-Israeli war, the defeat of the Arab armies, the massive exodus of the Palestinians that came under control of the new state, and that state’s refusal to allow Palestinians back to their homes.”
This view has even been expressed by Arab Israeli Knesset Members. Former MK, Azmi Bishara, explained, “The connection of the Arabs to the history of the Holocaust is indirect. The scene of the disaster was Europe, and the perpetrators of the extermination acts were European, but the Palestinians paid the reparations first and foremost in the Middle East.” Former MK, Emile Habibi wrote, “In the eyes of the Arabs the Holocaust is seen as the original sin which enabled the Zionist movement to convince millions of Jews of the rightness of its cause.” Achcar explicitly states that Israel was created because of the Holocaust. He argues that persecution under the Nazi regime progressed into a wave of Jewish immigration across Europe to Palestine. According to Achcar, in 1932 the early Zionist migration to Palestine did not have the critical mass necessary to create a state; however by 1946 the numbers had more than doubled, which reached the critical mass necessary to declare independence. Achcar concludes, “Thus the ‘state of the Jews’ plainly owes its creation to the Holocaust.
But, Achcar does not stop there. He argues further that the creation of Israel directly caused the Nakba. “Among the most powerful illustrations of the tragic nature of the conflict in the Middle East is that a state created as a refuge for persecuted Jews who had been reduced to a condition of refugees, or ‘displaced persons,’ in turn created the problem of the Palestinian refugees.” This view is being pushed into western churches by Palestinian activists such as Rev. Naim Ateek, the founder of Sabeel, an ecumenical center in Jerusalem that uses a theological approach to work for liberation of Palestinians. Ateek wrote a book called, “A Palestinian Theology of Liberation.” The description for the book reads, “Ateek shows how the memory of the Holocaust has served to trump the claims and aspirations of the native inhabitants.”
Second, there is an idea called Holocaust Inversion, which is the argument that Jews have behaved like the Nazis, and the Palestinians have become the new Jews. For example, during the 2009 Gaza War, inhabitants of Bi’lin, a West Bank village, organized a protest, wearing striped pajamas. The Bil’in Popular Committee wrote: “Protesters also wore small yellow cutouts in the shape of Gaza with the word ‘Gazan’ written on them to symbolize the yellow ‘Jude’ stars of David.” In the summer of 2017, Palestinian author, Ibtisam Barakat wrote, “If you wish to know about Gaza at this time, it’s a concentration camp right out of the Holocaust.” This inversion is so common that Palestinian activist, Sami Awad, said, “one of the famous lines you will hear Palestinians say is that, ‘they are doing to us what happened to them, they are the new Nazis.’”
Third, the guilt over the Holocaust shields Israel from all criticism of human rights abuses against the Palestinians by westerners. This view was articulated by Edward Said when he explained that Palestinians, ”have had no Holocaust to protect us with the world’s compassion.” One of the activists who has been very effective in spreading this perspective to western audiences is not of Arab descent, but rather Jewish, Dr. Mark Braverman. Wikipedia describes him as an, “American psychologist who is active on behalf of Palestinian rights, and against the Israeli occupation. Although Jewish, he is a leader of Kairos USA, a pro-Palestinian group for American Christians.”
Braverman has written two books which deal with the collective psychology between Jews, Palestinians, and Western Christians. In his book, “Fatal Embrace,” Braverman argues that the Jewish people and Christians are locked in, “a fatal embrace.” He explains, “Jews feel that because of the history of oppression and dispossession, they have the right to dispossess another people, and colonize historic Palestine. Christians feel that because they are responsible for 2,000 years of antisemitism resulting in the Holocaust, that they have no right to hold Israel to account, or to challenge the Jewish people about anything that the Jewish people may be doing wrong.”
Fourth, the lesson of the Holocaust is that Jewish people should recognize that, just as they were treated horribly, they have treated the Palestinians horribly. Achcar compared Holocaust denial to Nakba denial, and claimed, “also we have a clash of denials… when Arabs or Palestinians deny the Holocaust they are denying a historical genocide in which they took no part. But, you have on the Israeli side an official state denial of the Nakba.” Achcar goes onto to explain that there have been, “narratives distorting history, actually on both sides,” and that a necessary, “precondition, for real communication, for peace,” is that, “the Israelis have to acknowledge the Nakba.”
Braverman gave a talk called, “How to be a Jew after the Nakba.” During the talk he referred to the Kairos Document, which was issued by a group of Palestinian Christians declaring the occupation to be a “sin.” Braverman explained, “This story that is told in this document, the story of Palestinian suffering, of Palestinian dispossession, that is our story for today, that is the Jewish story of today. The Jewish story of today is not the story of our suffering in the past, which gives us total innocence and the right to do whatever we want. Our story of today is what we are doing to another people, our story is the Nakba, what the Palestinians call the catastrophe, their Holocaust, if you will, and, if we do not understand that this is our story, we are done for.” In other words, Braverman concludes that if Jews do not recognize the Nakba as another Holocaust, then they have no future.
These activists are claiming that European guilt caused the creation of Israel. But, when this argument is taken to its logical conclusion, it does not mean that the Europeans did not own the land, rather it means that the Jewish people did not own the land, and no one had the authority to give it to them. This truth is demonstrated by Achcar’s definition of the word Nakba. Notice that he stated, “The term has been in use since 1948 to describe the foundation of the State of Israel.” The very definition of the word Nakba means that the existence of Israel is a disaster.
And, if something was ‘stolen,’ even if it was ‘stolen’ for a good reason, then it has to be returned. This view was clearly expressed by BDS leader, Omar Barghouti, who stated that Israel, “was Palestine, and there is no reason why it should not be renamed Palestine.” This claim is manifested in the “Palestinian Right of Return,” which literally means that Palestinians have the right to return and take back the land. As does Al-Quds Day, (Arabic for Jerusalem Day), which was first proclaimed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei in 1979, and which literally means that Muslims have the right to take back Jerusalem.
But all of this raises the real question: who owns the national rights to the land? Well, the claim that the land belongs to the Arabs is demonstrably false. The reality is the polar opposite: Jewish people are indigenous to the land, and the Jewish presence in the land predates the Arab presence by over 1,500 years. The Jewish people are indigenous to the land of Israel because their first nation status, their language, and religion all originate in the land. In contrast, Arabs are indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula, because their history, language, and religion all originate in the peninsula. The early Arab invaders came as foreign colonizers to the Levant in the 7th century. The Koran does not mention Jerusalem, and there has never been a Muslim Capital of Jerusalem. And there was never an Arab country called “Palestine.” In other words, the Arab relationship to the land is that of foreign colonists, while the Jewish relationship is indigenous.
Modern Israel was created by multiple forces, but the primary cause was the work of the Zionist movement to restore the Jewish people to their national homeland. The Europeans did play a role, but they were not the primary cause. Still, the Europeans were looking backward at the historic land of Israel as a place for a future Jewish national home. All of this indicates that Israel is not responsible for the Nakba. Jewish people had every right to declare independence. The 1948 War was started by the Arabs to stop the Jewish people from obtaining their rights in the land. The Arab refugees were created as a by-product of the war, not by a policy of expulsion, and if the Arabs had never waged the war, then there would never have been a refugee problem.
As for the claim that the Jewish people are treating the refugees like the Nazis treated them, this is also demonstrably false, to the point of absurdity. There is no such thing as a Palestinian genocide. Historian Benny Morris estimated that there were about 800 Arab civilians killed during The 1948 War. As for the claim that Christian guilt over the Holocaust shields Israel from criticism, this also is false, because Israel is without a doubt the most criticized country in the entire world. According to UN Watch, “From 2012 through 2015, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted 97 resolutions criticizing countries; 83 out of those 97 have been against Israel (86%).” In addition, despite disapproval from Israel, The Catholic Church formally recognized Palestine as a State and even opened a Palestinian Embassy to the Vatican.
In conclusion, European guilt over the Holocaust did not create Israel, Jewish people have legitimate national rights in the land, Israel does not have to recognize the false narrative attached to the Nakba, or commit national suicide as a condition for peace. The fact that the Holocaust is manipulated as a weapon against Jewish nationalism is a double crime; not only is the Holocaust not a tragedy in the Palestinian narrative, but it is used as yet another reason to deny the Jewish people a state of their own. In reality, the refusal to acknowledge Jewish rights to the land is what caused the 1948 War and what still fuels the conflict to this very day. Nakba denial is not the problem – the problem is the Arab denial of the Jewish connection to the land, and their absolute refusal to accept that Jewish people have rights to the land.