ome years ago Commentary magazine, the flagship publication for neo-conservative Jews, published an article by Milton Himmelfarb that made the simple assertion: “No Hitler, no Holocaust.” What Himmelfarb meant was that if it hadn’t been for the driving force provided by Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitism, neither the Germans nor anyone else would have acted towards the Jewish people of Europe with the frenzy of persecution and killing, commonly known as the Holocaust, that resulted in the effacement of most of the longstanding Jewish communities of Central and Eastern Europe.
Many revisionists have long been skeptical of the “No Hitler, no Holocaust” theory, not just because of the fact that revisionists tend to question some, though not all, of the details associated with the Jewish catastrophe. Rather, revisionists tend to question the idea because it is simplistic, and suggests that but for the accident of Hitler’s birth all of Europe’s problems in the 20th Century would have been solved by peaceful means.
We have been reminded of this slogan in recent weeks because of the escalating violence in Israel’s occupied territories. Over the past few weeks over 100 Palestinian Arabs have been killed in clashes with the Israeli Defense Forces, usually in scenarios that involve stone-throwing Arabs versus machine gun toting Israelis. It is undeniable that the images of the conflict have been very much to Israel’s detriment. Most of the photographic and video images have shown Palestinian teenagers and even children being shot and killed.
We would expect to hear condemnation of what obviously appears to be an excessive and even irresponsible use of force, not only from the media but especially from Israel’s friends. After all, the practice of hunting polar bears from helicopters has long been banned. Why should we accept the idea of helicopter gun ships mowing down Palestinian kids? To be sure, the polar
bears do not throw rocks at the hunters, but still. . . . !
Instead, the party line that has been emerging in the media is that the violence is all the fault of Yassir Arafat, that it was “plotted” after Arafat failed to accept Barak’s proposals last spring, and that ever since the violence erupted, it has been “carefully orchestrated” by Arafat. In other words, the underlying idea is simply this: “No Arafat, No Violence.”
But this explanation is just as deficient as the one involving Hitler, and
there are plenty of objective reasons to reject it. For example, just last
week the world was stunned to see two acts carried out by Palestinian mobs in the West Bank. One involved the gratuitous destruction of a Jewish study center at the so-called “Site of Joseph’s Tomb” (actually, the gravesite of an 18th Century caliph). The other involved the incredibly brutal and inexcusable murder of two Jewish soldiers who found themselves in the middle of an Arab town.
Clearly, these episodes do nothing to advance the Palestinian cause, there is no reason and no evidence that Arafat did or would ever “orchestrate” such counter-productive violence, and furthermore such things only serve to weaken any residual pressure on Israel to make concessions. In fact, what these acts indicate is that Arafat has little if any control over the actions of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, who appear in some cases to turn into raging mobs.
So the real question that has to be asked is what is the source of Palestinian rage? It cannot be attributed to just one man. Rather, one has to look at what the average Palestinian has had to live with during the decades long Israeli occupation. For over 30 years, Palestinians in the occupied territories have been subject to random searches, settler incursions, houses bulldozed, property seizures, imprisonment, torture, and Israeli refusals to allow them to develop their own infrastructure while more and more settlers are brought into their midst and are given all the benefits that Palestinians are denied.
In making these common sense observations we don’t mean to imply that the local Palestinian leadership has lived up to its responsibilities. The responsibility for a descent into mob action has many causes. But it would be hard not to put the main brunt of the blame on the military occupation by Israel: after all, they claim to be in control, they are therefore ultimately
responsible for everything that happens in the areas they occupy.
Just as the simplistic mantra “No Hitler, no Holocaust” leads the historian into looking at all kinds of irrelevant details of Hitler’s private life, instead of looking at the extremely serious social and economic problems evolving in Eastern Europe at the time, so too the idea of “No Arafat, no Violence” cuts short the absolutely necessary self-examination of those Israeli policies that have at least aggravated the tensions leading to the current explosion. Equally simplistic explanations on the other side—if it wasn’t for Ariel Sharon, etc.—are just as unacceptable.
In all of this we see a regretful and even vain refusal to recognize that Jews, as a factor in any social equation, have some responsibility when these situations spiral out of control. To be sure, the idea of Jewish victimization has a lot of support in terms of the Holocaust, where most of the time the Jewish victims were not individually culpable and were defenseless against the terror. But even in that case the historian is obliged to truthfully record the record of mounting resentments, just or unjust that underlay the massacre.
On the other hand, the currently developing idea of a centralized anti-Jewish conspiracy, led by Arafat, carries no weight at all. There is simply no reality in the complaint that Arafat, perhaps with a small clique of supporters, has somehow engineered a political and cultural situation in which Israelis, with no culpability of their own, are now being forced to intentionally kill kids as a matter of State policy.
Political reality and historical honesty requires something more than slogans. This applies both to Arafat and current politics as it does to the Hitler of the 1930s and 40s. The idea that Arafat’s “orchestration” underlies the current wave of violence prevents Israel, the US Congress and other friends of Israel from looking long and hard at the policies they have promoted for the region, policies that more than anything else have made the current violence possible and even probable. As a result, it makes a solution of these problems impossible. One thing however remains fairly certain: there will be no peace in the Middle East as long as people subscribe to the self-serving idea of the Arafat conspiracy.