By Joharah Baker – Jerusalem
Sometimes, reading commentaries on articles is more interesting than reading the articles themselves. It gives an extremely lucid perspective on what goes on in the average person’s mind – at least people who take the time to actually express their views in an email. As a result, one is met with a slew of opinions, ranging from the logical and supportive, to the hateful and downright crazy.
Of course, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict generates all of the above. Most comments are understandable, calm and reasonable even if not altogether accurate. As a writer, one can only appreciate those heartfelt commentaries that people offer as their tiny way of contributing to the issue at hand.
Lately however, one common thread in these types of comments is extremely disturbing, not merely because the argument is full of holes or because it is riddled with inaccuracies, but because of the double standards espoused by some of the people who pen these opinions – double standards they are either not aware of or simply deny altogether.
The argument in question revolves around the history of this country. There is no historical account that is completely accurate simply because humans are those who write it. Someone once said that "history is written by the victors", meaning that those unfortunate enough to have come out on the wrong end of the fence, will never get the chance to properly tell their story. With the Palestinians and Israelis, this seems frightfully true.
For Palestinians, history is crystal clear. While their version is undoubtedly biased, just like any other version of history told by peoples, there are hard facts that cannot be refuted. Except that is, by those who defend the Zionist enterprise tooth and nail. For example, in an article that alluded to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the 1948 War, one commentator struck back with the argument that there were no people called Palestinians anyway. "’Palestinians’ were the Jews prior to 1948," this anonymous person writes. "Israel/Palestine was a waste land before the Jews began to return to their ancestor’s homeland."
That is not what the United Nations says. According to UNRWA statistics, at least 750,000 Palestinians became refugees as a result of the 1948 war, millions of them still languishing in squalid refugee camps in host countries today. Palestinian refugees continue to carry the keys to their original homes, even if these homes are no longer standing, along with the 400-plus villages destroyed by Israel in the course of those few months.
These arguments, no matter how hateful, were not born in a vacuum, though. Israel’s history is based on the premise that Palestine was a "land without a people" and that Israelis (or Jews) proceeded to "make the desert bloom."
This is not to say that all Israelis and certainly not all Jews subscribe to this opinion. Many conscientious Israelis understand that a great injustice was done to the indigenous population of Palestine even if it meant that this allowed their dream of a homeland for the Jews to be realized. The question is, when faced with irrefutable facts such as the number of refugees, the old Arab houses that were clearly inhabited by Palestinians before they fled or the 1.2 million Palestinians who continue to live inside Israel, how could anyone say that it did not happen?
Here is where double standards abound. How is a person who denies the expulsion and massacre of Palestinians in 1948 any different than someone who denies the Holocaust? Both are abominable but neither could be possible if it were not for powerful forces behind them. In the case of the Palestinians, it is the force of Zionism and the falsity surrounding Israel’s creation. No one denies that Jews (and Poles and gypsies, among others) were the victims of one of the most heinous crimes in history. To deny the Holocaust is illogical because of the hard evidence that supports the fact that it did occur. Details on the numbers and circumstances could be argued just like any other historical event but it is illogical and frankly, insulting to deny that it ever took place.
The same can be said of Palestinians. How insulting it is for someone to say we never really existed or that our homes were never stolen, our land usurped and our people forced into a life of refuge. It is one thing to defend a conviction, such as Zionism even if that means defending unthinkable horrors. It is another to say that no such horrors occurred.
Hence, we arrive at the double standard of the international community. Whole delegations walked out of the UN anti-racism conference in Geneva last month when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dared call Israel "racist". Priests are excommunicated from the Catholic Church for denying the Holocaust. Even the popular social internet network Facebook came under fire recently for not prohibiting so-called Holocaust denier groups on its system. Why is it then that Zionists and their supporters are allowed to deny the existence of Palestinians and their history of expulsion? "There is no such thing as Palestinians," late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir once said. And her words were not shunned, which paved the way for more of those who would deny our existence, or at least demean it by referring to us as "snakes" and "cockroaches."
For all the reasons above, we must continue fighting to keep our history alive in the face of these distortions. Jews and Israelis do not accept that anyone deny their history. In fact, they constantly remind the world of the atrocities others have committed against them. We demand nothing more than this, from Israel and from those who support it.
– Joharah Baker is a writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at email@example.com. (Published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org).