Robert Fisk: Different narratives in the Middle East

No, Israelis are not Nazis. But it's time we talked of war crimes
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The Independent Online

Oh how - when it comes to the realities of history - the Muslims of the Middle East exhaust my patience. After years of explaining to Arab friends that the Jewish Holocaust - the systematic, planned murder of six million Jews by the Nazis, is an indisputable fact - I am still met with a state of willing disbelief.

And now, this week, the preposterous President Mahmoud Ahmadinajad of Iran opens up his own country to obloquy and shame by holding a supposedly impartial "conference" on the Jewish Holocaust to repeat the lies of the racists who, if they did not direct their hatred towards Jews, would most assuredly turn venomously against those other Semites, the Arabs of the Middle East.

How, I always ask, can you expect the West to understand and accept the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 men, women and children from Palestine in 1948 when you will not try to comprehend the enormity done the Jews of Europe? And, here, of course, is the wretched irony of the whole affair. For what the Muslims of the Middle East should be doing is pointing out to the world that they were not responsible for the Jewish Holocaust, that, horrific and evil though it was, it is a shameful, outrageous injustice that they, the Palestinians, should suffer for something they had no part in and - even more disgusting - that they should be treated as if they have. But, no, Ahmadinajad has neither the brains nor the honesty to grasp this simple, vital equation.

True, the Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem shook hands with Hitler. I met his only surviving wartime Palestinian comrade before he died and it is perfectly true that the intemperate, devious Had al-Husseini made some vile anti-Jewish wartime speeches in German, in one of which he advised the Nazis to close Jewish refugee exit routes to Palestine and deport Jews eastwards (why east, I wonder?) and helped to raise a Muslim SS unit in Bosnia. I have copies of his speeches and his photograph hangs in the Yad Vashem Museum. But the downtrodden, crushed, occupied, slaughtered Palestinians of our time - of Sabra and Chatila, of Jenin and Beit Yanoun - were not even alive in the Second World War.

Yet it is to the eternal shame of Israel and its leaders that they should pretend as if the Palestinians were participants in the Second World War. When the Israeli army was advancing on Beirut in 1982, the then Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, wrote a crazed letter to US president, Ronald Reagan, explaining that he felt he was marching on "Berlin" to liquidate "Hitler" (ie Yasser Arafat, who was busy comparing his own guerrillas to the defenders of Stalingrad).

That courageous Israeli writer Uri Avneri wrote an open letter to Begin. "Mr Prime Minister," he began, "Hitler is dead." But this did not stop Ariel Sharon from trying the same trick in 1989. By talking to the US State Department, Arafat was "like Hitler, who also wanted so much to negotiate with the Allies in the second half of the Second World War", Sharon told the Wall Street Journal. "... Arafat is the same kind of enemy."

Needless to say, any comparison between the behaviour of German troops in the Second World War and Israeli soldiers today (with their constantly betrayed claim to "purity of arms") is denounced as anti-Semitic. Generally, I believe that is the correct reaction. Israelis are not committing mass rape, murder or installing gas chambers for the Palestinians.

But the acts of Israeli troops are not always so easy to divorce from such insane parallels. During the Sabra and Chatila massacres - when Israel sent its enraged Lebanese Christian Phalangist militias into the camps after telling them that Palestinians had killed their beloved leader - up to 1,700 Palestinians were slaughtered. Israeli troops watched - and did nothing.

The Israeli novelist A B Yehoshua observed that, even if his country's soldiers had not known what was happening, "then this would be the same lack of knowledge of the Germans who stood outside Buchenwald and Treblinka and did not know what was happening".

After the killings of Jenin, an Israeli officer suggested to his men, according to the Israeli press, that, with close quarter fighting, they might study the tactics of Nazi troops in Warsaw in 1944.

And I have to say - indeed, it needs to be said - that, after the countless Lebanese civilian refugees ruthlessly cut down on the roads of Lebanon by the Israeli air force in 1978, 1982, 1993, 1996 and again this summer, how can one avoid being reminded of the Luftwaffe attacks on the equally helpless French refugees of 1940? Many thousands of Lebanese have been killed in this way over the past 25 years.

And please spare me the nonsense about "human shields". What about the marked ambulance of women and children rocketed by a low-flying Israeli helicopter in 1996? Or the refugee convoy whose women and children were torn to pieces by an equally low-flying Israeli air force helicopter as they fled along the roads after being ordered to leave their homes by the Israelis?

No, Israelis are not Nazis. But it's time we talked of war crimes unless they stop these attacks on refugees. The Arabs are entitled to talk the same way. They should. But they must stop lying about Jewish history - and take a lesson, perhaps, from the Israeli historians who tell the truth about the savagery which attended Israel's birth.

As for the West's reaction to Ahmadinajad's antics, Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara was "shocked" into disbelief while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert responded with more eloquent contempt. Strangely, no one recalled that, the holocaust deniers of recent years - deniers of the Turkish genocide of 1.5 million Armenian Christians in 1915, that is - include Lord Blair, who originally tried to prevent Armenians from participating in Britain's Holocaust Day and the then Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, who told Turks that their massacre of the victims of the 20th century's first Holocaust did not constitute a genocide.

I've no doubt Ahmadinajad - equally conscious of Iran's precious relationship with Turkey - would gutlessly fail to honour the Armenian Holocaust in Tehran. Who would have thought that the governments of Britain, Israel and Iran had so much in common?

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