October 07, 2009

Holocaust awareness and respecting "the Other"

A friend of mine has a letter in today's Independent about the origins of holocaust denial in the middle east:
Donald Macintyre reports on teaching Gaza children about the Holocaust (5 October). When I worked in Lebanon with Palestinian refugees over a decade ago, most were aware of the Holocaust. That didn't stop many of them thinking that it was an exaggerated or made-up story to justify the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland; or, worse, that the Jews in some way deserved what they got. This view was formed in the context of living in a refugee camp in Lebanon since 1948, and being refused their right of return for decades.

One senior Palestinian nurse working in the camp had studied abroad. In the US, he gave first aid to a passer-by who was suffering from a heart attack, only to find later that he was an Israeli. He commented: "I visited him in hospital, he was a really nice man, we got on well." This was a story he told to his junior colleagues to demonstrate the nursing code of practice; serving everyone irrespective of ethnicity and religion. He was a person who did not support violence in any form, and always tried to see the best side of everyone.

One day, we talked about the Holocaust. He believed Jews were powerful and persuasive, a view gained from his experiences of Israeli invasions of Lebanon, and as a refugee, and visiting the West where the Palestinian story was under-reported and misunderstood. He said that Hitler perhaps felt he had no choice, as he may have thought that it was the only way of protecting the Germans from a Jewish takeover of their land.

Relating to Gaza children, the Holocaust will always be seen within the context of their own experience. Many are refugees; all have experienced living under harsh conditions of Israeli occupation. Introducing one new educational topic will not change views, particularly as the Holocaust was the product of European anti-Semitism, for which Palestinians have paid a heavy price.

What might be more relevant would be teaching all the world's children how to respect "the Other" and treat him/her as an equal, thus ridding the next generation of notions of racism and bigotry that still is at the root of conflict throughout the world.

Dr Judith Brown

Farrington Gurney, Somerset

Very well put, Judith.

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