Saturday, January 17, 2009

When it comes to Gaza, leave the Second World War out of it

Robert Fisk's World: When it comes to Gaza, leave the Second World War
out of it

How do Holocaust survivors in Israel feel about being called Nazis?

Saturday, 17 January 2009
Independent.co.uk Web

Exaggeration always gets my goat. I started to hate it back in the
1970s when the Provisional IRA claimed that Long Kesh internment camp
was "worse than Belsen". It wasn't as if there was anything nice about
Long Kesh ` or the Maze prison as it was later politely dubbed ` but it
simply wasn't as bad as Belsen. And now we're off again. Passing
through Paris this week, I found pro-Palestinian demonstrators carrying
signs which read "Gaza, it's Guernica" and "Gaza-sur-Glane".


Guernica, as we all know, was the Basque city razed by the Luftwaffe in
1937 and Oradour-sur-Glane the French village whose occupants were
murdered by the SS in 1944. Israel's savagery in Gaza has also been
compared to a "genocide" and ` of course ` a "holocaust". The French
Union of Islamic Organisations called it "a genocide without precedent"
` which does take the biscuit when even the Pope's "minister for peace
and justice" has compared Gaza to "a big concentration camp".

Before I state the obvious, I only wish the French Union of Islamic
Organisations would call the Armenian genocide a genocide ` it doesn't
have the courage to do so, does it, because that would be offensive to
the Turks and, well, the million and a half Armenians massacred in 1915
happened to be, er, Christians.

Mind you, that didn't stop George Bush from dropping the word from his
vocabulary lest he, too, should offend the Turkish generals whose
airbases America needs for its continuing campaign in Iraq. And even
Israel doesn't use the word "genocide" about the Armenians lest it
loses its only Muslim ally in the Middle East. Strange, isn't it? When
there's a real genocide ` of Armenians ` we don't like to use the word.
But when there is no genocide, everyone wants to get in on the act.

Yes, I know what all these people are trying to do: make a direct
connection between Israel and Hitler's Germany. And in several radio
interviews this past week, I've heard a good deal of condemnation about
such comparisons. How do Holocaust survivors in Israel feel about being
called Nazis? How can anyone compare the Israeli army to the Wehrmacht?
Merely to make such a parallel is an act of anti-Semitism.

Having come under fire from the Israeli army on many occasions, I'm not
sure that's necessarily true. I've never understood why strafing the
roads of northern France in 1940 was a war crime while strafing the
roads of southern Lebanon is not a war crime. The massacre of up to
1,700 Palestinians in the Sabra and Chatila camps ` perpetrated by
Israel's Lebanese Phalangist allies while Israeli soldiers watched and
did nothing ` falls pretty much into the Second World War bracket.
Israel's own estimate of the dead ` a paltry 460 ` was only nine fewer
than the Nazi massacre at the Czech village of Lidice in 1942 when
almost 300 women and children were also sent to Ravensbr√ɼck (a real
concentration camp). Lidice was destroyed in revenge for the murder by
Allied agents of Reinhard Heydrich. The Palestinians were slaughtered
after Ariel Sharon told the world ` untruthfully ` that a Palestinian
had murdered the Lebanese Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayel.

Indeed, it was the courageous Professor Yeshayahu Leibovitz of the
Hebrew University (and editor of the Encyclopaedia Hebraica) who wrote
that the Sabra and Chatila massacre "was done by us. The Phalangists
are our mercenaries, exactly as the Ukrainians and the Croatians and
the Slovakians were the mercenaries of Hitler, who organised them as
soldiers to do the work for him. Even so have we organised the
assassins of Lebanon in order to murder the Palestinians". Remarks like
these were greeted by Israel's then minister of interior and religious
affairs, Yosef Burg, with the imperishable words: "Christians killed
Muslims ` how are the Jews guilty?"

I have long raged against any comparisons with the Second World War `
whether of the Arafat-is-Hitler variety once deployed by Menachem Begin
or of the anti-war-demonstrators-are-1930s-appeasers,
most recently
used by George Bush and Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara. And pro-Palestinian
marchers should think twice before they start waffling about genocide
when the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem once shook Hitler's hand and said `
in Berlin on 2 November 1943, to be precise ` "The Germans know how to
get rid of the Jews... They have definitely solved the Jewish problem."
The Grand Mufti, it need hardly be added, was a Palestinian. He lies
today in a shabby grave about two miles from my Beirut home.

No, the real reason why "Gaza-Genocide" is a dangerous parallel is
because it is not true. Gaza's one and a half million refugees are
treated outrageously enough, but they are not being herded into gas
chambers or forced on death marches. That the Israeli army is a rabble
is not in question ` though I was amused to read one of Newsweek's
regular correspondents calling it "splendid" last week ` but that does
not mean they are all war criminals. The issue, surely, is that war
crimes do appear to have been committed in Gaza. Firing at UN schools
is a criminal act. It breaks every International Red Cross protocol.
There is no excuse for the killing of so many women and children.

I should add that I had a sneaking sympathy for the Syrian foreign
minister who this week asked why a whole international tribunal has
been set up in the Hague to investigate the murder of one man `=2
0
Lebanese ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri ` while no such tribunal is set
up to investigate the deaths of more than 1,000 Palestinians.

I should add, however, that the Hague tribunal may well be pointing the
finger at Syria and I would still like to see a tribunal set up into
the Syrian massacre at Hama in 1982 when thousands of civilians were
shot at the hands of Rifaat al-Assad's special forces. The aforesaid
Rifaat, I should add, today lives safely within the European Union. And
how about a trial for the Israeli artillerymen who massacred 106
civilians ` more than half of them children ` at the UN base at Qana in
1996?

What this is really about is international law. It's about
accountability. It's about justice ` something the Palestinians have
never received ` and it's about bringing criminals to trial. Arab war
criminals, Israeli war criminals ` the whole lot. And don't say it
cannot be done. Wasn't that the message behind the Yugoslav tribunal?
Didn't some of the murderers get their just deserts? Just leave the
Second World War out of it.

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