40 Questions, 40 Answers

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Did Jews use the Holocaust to bring about the creation of Israel?

It would be a mistake to believe that the Jewish state owes its existence to Hitler. Jewish nationalism, Zionism, was more than half a century old when the Jews of Europe were exterminated. All the institutions of a Jewish state were already in place in Palestine when Hitler rose to power in 1933, and when the partition of Palestine was proposed in 1936. Israel, therefore, was not a direct outcome of the Holocaust.

Reading the deliberations of the United Nations and its bodies in 1947-1948, it is difficult to find evidence that the Holocaust played a decisive or even significant role.  It is certainly the case that the Holocaust hastened the legitimacy of a Jewish homeland in the eyes of the world. But there is no cause-and-effect relationship between the Holocaust and Israel.


Doesn't talking about the Holocaust benefit Israel?

No. The Holocaust is not an Israeli issue, and furthermore, Holocaust denial by Muslims has not proven to be very helpful to the Palestinian cause. No matter what political position we adopt regarding the state of Israel and the policies of the Israeli government, the historical evidence for the Holocaust remains intact. Nothing can provide moral grounds for the denial or undermining of the genocide of the Jewish people. Acknowledging the Holocaust does not lead to disavowal of the rights of Palestinians, nor does its denial or undermining strengthen their case.


Why can't the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be compared to the Holocaust?

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not racial, but national; it is political and territorial. It is a struggle between two peoples for a small land. Throughout the decades this struggle has oscillated between violence and attempts to negotiate a settlement. In the absence of a peace settlement, violence continues to torment Arabs and Jews and the plight of the Palestinians goes on.
More than anything else, the murder of the Jews stemmed from Nazi racial ideology. According to that ideology, the Jews were an evil race, whose very existence endangered Germany and all of human civilization. The Nazi campaign against the Jews was not focused on winning tangible gains, such as land and other wealth from the Jews. Its goal was to rid the world of the supposed pernicious influence of the Jews.
The Holocaust stemmed the Nazis' racial ideology and they tried to kill all the Jews. In the Holocaust a sovereign nation harnessed all the apparatus of their state to the goal of the mass systematic murder of a specific people.
The Nazis systematically murdered Jews in shooting actions and by gas in specially designed gas chambers in extermination camps.  In the ghettos, camps and slave-labor installations under the Nazis, hundreds of thousands of Jews were also brutally worked to death.  The end result was the murder of close to 6 million Jews.
As tragic as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be, it cannot be compared to the Holocaust. Using terms taken from the history of the Holocaust to describe the situation in the Middle East does more to obscure than to clarify the events and their consequences.


Why should the Palestinians, who had nothing to do with the Holocaust, pay the price for it?

The question of the Holocaust, as a human catastrophe, must be separated from the creation of the state of Israel and, more particularly, Israeli policies.

The hearts and minds of Palestinians and Israelis are burdened by sacred histories, by traditions of pain, by superstitions about the other, so much so that it is difficult for one to see the suffering of the other, now and in history.

The common Palestinian (and Arab) understanding of Jewish history, like the common Jewish understanding of Palestinian (and Arab) history, is riddled with malice and myth. It is the responsibility of intellectuals on both sides of the divide to try to correct the malice and the myth in the two communities. Muslim intellectuals must be courageous enough to declare that equating the Jews with the Nazis and drawing the Star of David (as a Jewish symbol) as the Nazi Swastika is not only absurd, but also the ultimate affront to victims of the Holocaust and their families - likening the victims to their executioners.

Jewish intellectuals, too, have a duty to erase the myth and malice that clutter their fellow Jews' view of the Palestinians and their legitimate aspirations.

Most importantly, the question of the Holocaust must remain separate from political disputes. Even if the Holocaust had played a decisive role in the creation of Israel, and even though Arabs did not have any part in the tragedy that visited the Jewish people, it would be morally unconscionable for Muslims to deny the Holocaust, or to consider acknowledgement of its having taken place to be a show of support for Israel or a betrayal of the Palestinians' rights.


Why is there so much talk about the Holocaust?

The Holocaust is not just about remembering and honoring the victims of Nazism. It stands as a warning of what can happen when leaders of a country are motivated by hate, and use that hate to supply simplistic answers to the problems of their country and blame a specific group of people, based on religious or ethnic divide, for all these problems. Although those willing to use their hatred to achieve their goals are few, if no one stands against them, they appear the majority. If there is one thing we must learn from the Holocaust, it is that silence is the worst enemy of justice. If we are to learn from the mistakes of the past, we cannot dismiss the Holocaust as history; we must take its lessons to heart.
Muslims - and indeed peoples of all faiths and no faith in particular - should study the causes and consequences of the Holocaust, especially the rhetorical devices used by political leaders, columnists and commentators in the decades leading up to it. And we must always remember that the Holocaust did not begin at Auschwitz or in the ghettos. It began long before, in the hearts of those who sat in silence and allowed hatred that was bred in ignorance to grow.