The Roots of Hatred
Decades after Holocaust, a different anti-Semitism prevails
"Hamas, the whole of the Palestinians, clearly distinguish between Israelis and Jews," he said. "I think our principles and religion ask us to respect the people of the Bible. We don't fight against the Jews. We fight against the occupation."
Given a bit more time, Hamad veered to darker themes. Jews, he suggested, were to blame for the Nazi Holocaust of World War II. Adolf Hitler "came to punish the Jews because of their faults and their practices," Hamad said, and Jewish leaders "coordinated with the Germans to kill the Jews in Europe."
What of the historical estimate - based on Nazi files and European statistical records - that 6 million Jews died?
"I don't believe it was 6 million," Hamad said. "Maybe 100,000. Maybe 10,000. I don't know. I think that Israel exploits this to gain sympathy."
In the end, Hamad wound up voicing the anti-Semitism he initially denied. Jews can't live in peace, he said. They hate everyone who is not a Jew; they use sex and money to control the world.
Does God love the Jews?
"I don't think so," Hamad said, grinning.
Hamad's inconsistent messages sit at a new intersection in the long history of anti-Semitism: The Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli rule has helped spark a wave of attacks on Jews in Europe; Muslim terrorists like Osama bin Laden espouse the annihilation of the Jews; Palestinian society and language is plagued by the language of anti-Semitism.
Six decades after the Holocaust, it is Arab and Muslim terrorism, rather than Naziism, that threatens Jews and Israel. Under the surface, both Israeli and Palestinian scholars say, there are differences between Arab and Palestinian anti-Semitism and the older, European version - differences that may even point out opportunities to solve the conflict. But, they say, both Israelis and Palestinians are quick to seize the powerful imagery and rhetoric of classic anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, a habit that could help to close whatever doors to peacemaking remain open.
The current technological imbalance - Israel has a nuclear deterrent, the Palestinians' most lethal weapon is suicide bombers - means that Palestinians and other Muslims do not now threaten the existence of Israel as the Nazis once did Jews in Europe.
But read Jews' letters to the editor in Israel or France, talk to Jews in Jerusalem or Auschwitz or London, and many say they fear as never before that radical Islamists increasingly are determined to kill all of the world's Jews. Perhaps at no point since World War II do Jews feel that their very existence is more threatened than now. "Jews are paranoiac, but they are being persecuted," said Yehuda Bauer, one of Israel's leading specialists on anti-Semitism, repeating an old maxim.
It is a relative few dispassionate Palestinians who openly question, or even acknowledge, the persistent racism of Palestinian discourse about the Israelis. It is inexcusable and can be murderous, they say, but Palestinians do not, broadly, have the genocidal impulses of the Nazis.
That is a crucial distinction, observers on both sides say. For now, Palestinian and Arab anti-Semitism grows amid a war over the land and amid most Palestinians' isolation from Jews. By contrast, the Nazis saw Jews every day and fixed them with an unyielding, unreasoning and inchoate hatred that focused on their destruction as a people.
To many Israeli and Palestinian observers, these distinct versions of anti-Semitism mark the difference between an enemy of Israel that ultimately wants to reach an agreement and an enemy of the Jews that ultimately wants to annihilate them.
But in the absence of any sort of meaningful peace negotiations in the Middle East, they say, the danger is that the former might mutate into the latter.
The tortured mix that is Palestinian anti-Semitism can be heard from other Gazans besides Hamad. Two teenage boys recently spoke of Jews in a jumble of territorial rivalry, ignorance and unexpected empathy.
"The Islamic religion encourages us to respect the Jewish religion as one revealed from heaven," said Emad Hamed, 15, a never-shaved boy with a prematurely serious air about him. "It's possible that there are good Jews outside [Israel]," he theorized, "but they're not in the majority."
How many Jews were killed by the Nazis?
Emad and his friend Wael Siam, 14, looked confused. "We have no knowledge of that," Siam said.
Told about the Holocaust, the boys looked upset. "I will never support people like that," Hamed said of the Nazis. "They killed innocent people ... They destroyed human dignity."
Israelis say youths like Hamed and Siam learn anti-Semitism from men like Maher Moneer Al-Rayyes, the general director of the Palestine Satellite Channel, the Palestinian Authority's satellite television station. Israel's government and several independent Israeli organizations long have compiled examples of what they say is anti-Semitic content on Palestinian Authority television.
One evening, Al-Rayyes spoke at length about why it was impossible to consider Palestinian television anti-Semitic. The wide-screen television in a corner of his large office showed his station's broadcast of an Egyptian serial from the 1980s - a drama described as "based on fact" about Egyptians spying for Israel.
It was not hard to spot the Israeli characters - mainly bald men with big noses, narrow eyes and hunched shoulders.
Aren't those Jewish stereotypes? Al-Rayyes was asked.
"No," he said finally, after being asked four times. The physical characteristics were simply to show their Jewishness, Al-Rayyes said. Had the show featured a Scot, he would have worn a kilt to show his Scottishness.
"These are the only two scenes you have seen," interjected Anwar El-Agha, the station's international relations director, looking nervously from the television to his boss. "Look at other scenes and the Jews look like normal people, like Arabs."
The following day, in the Rafah refugee camp at Gaza's southern tip, men sat in white plastic chairs under a green-and-white striped tent that flapped in a cold wind off the Mediterranean. Friends and relatives of the Hams family, they were there to mourn Mustapha, a 17-year-old who had been shot the day before by an Israeli soldier.
Rafah has seen more killing than any place in the intifada. Few people have work. Palestinians there often refer to Gaza, especially Rafah, as a "big concentration camp," where the Israelis who control the perimeter are the guards. It is they who have the power of life and death over the occupants, and the power to destroy homes or deprive people of health care, schooling and work.
This leads Mustapha's father, Abed, to the view that the Jews are "worse, worse" than the Nazis.
And yet, to Abdullah Al-Jazaar, a relative, the Jews are simply territorial enemies: "We have no problem with the Jews," he said. "We have a problem with the ones occupying our land. The Jews lived peacefully with the Muslims for years."
From diverse Palestinians, one inconsistency was the same: The Jews are our enemy only because they have taken our land; but the Jews are also a jumble of unlikable ethnic traits, and God does not love them.
The exasperated psychiatrist with the British passport he uses every two months to get out of Gaza because the place drives him nuts walked around his large living room in slippers and lamented the spiralling anti-Semitism in Europe and the Arab world. It can have only worsening consequences for his own people, said Eyad Serraj.
"How could Israel believe we want to make peace when we talk about them in such a negative way and only make them more paranoid?" asked Serraj, one of Gaza's most widely respected intellectuals. "When you're so frightened, you only believe in the use of force to protect yourself. Israel is a culture of fear fed by Arab demagoguery, by Arabs' hateful slogans. Violence feeds violence. We know that from psychiatry. You cannot treat paranoia with guns, with any form of force."
But do Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the other extremist Islamic group, really want to kill all the Jews?
"Yes, of course, absolutely," he said. "But not because they are Jews."
Over and over, the same Gazans who fluently spoke the language of European-style anti-Semitism also insisted that they hated the Jews only as occupiers. They hated the British and the Turks when they occupied Palestine, people said, and they would hate Poles or Pygmies if they happened to be the ones taking Palestinian land.
To Serraj, anti-Semitism came to the Muslim world only in response to the arrival about a century ago in Palestine of the first Zionists from Europe and Russia. They were invaders who happened to be Jews, he said. The Jews who had lived for centuries in Palestine as a minority coexisted largely in peace and neighborly cooperation with the majority Arabs.
There appears to be a relatively broad consensus among scholars of Muslim anti-Semitism on this point: that it is largely a language and mind-set imported to the Middle East by British and French authorities who controlled much of the region in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
"Some of the more obvious anti-Semitic stereotypes you hear in the mouths of Palestinians and Arabs have clearly come from Europe," said professor Robert Wistrich, the director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
What troubles scholars like Wistrich, and many other Jews and Israelis, is this: To what extent have Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims taken on board the essence of that European anti-Semitism, and not just its form?
"I don't think the sort of psychosis which existed in Europe that saw the Jews as if they belong to a different species, I don't think that is the norm among Arabs," Wistrich said. "But the danger is that you don't need a majority of people to feel that way now."
Wistrich knows that from experience: On July 31, 2002, he missed being present at a Hamas suicide bomber's attack in the Hebrew University cafeteria only because he hadn't found a seat in the packed dining room. Nine people died in the attack.
'WE KNEW EXACTLY WHAT HE MEANT'
The question of the intent within the rhetoric of Islamic anti-Semitism is shared by European Jews now experiencing a wave of Muslim-led anti-Semitism in Europe. In France, where that wave has been highest, a Jewish school recently was burned down. Graves have been vandalized; Jews have been assaulted. France's chief rabbi recently advised French Jews to wear baseball caps over their yarmulkes in public and to generally hide their Jewishness. Most attacks, observers agree, are the work of Muslim immigrants from North Africa.
Dozens of Jews interviewed in Europe and the Middle East in recent months voice a sense that the histories and politics of Jewry in the two regions have never before been so closely entangled.
It was mid-December, early in the morning, and southern Poland was dusted in snow, pelted by sleet. With each step through freezing rain, Michael Drucker walked closer to the ruins of the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
The rail tracks next to Drucker ran straight through the camp's main gate, past the chimney stacks that rise where the prisoners' wooden barracks stood, to the gassing area. At least 1 1/2 million people, most of them Jews, died there.
Now the camp was empty but for Drucker's group of Jewish schoolchildren who had come from London the day before to begin a tour of Poland and its Jewish history.
Amid the Nazis' intricately planned machinery of killing, Drucker dwelt on another place, another time: Israel, now.
"If a suicide bomber had the railway, had this technology, what would that person do?" he asked, gazing through the mist and smokestacks.
Visiting the concentration camps is for many Jewish teenagers a rite of passage crucial to their understanding of who they are and how they came to survive as a people. Many kids, especially those from Israel, drape Israeli flags over their shoulders as they walk around a place that was closed down even before the founding of Israel. It is a confirmation of survival but also an act of defiance in the face of what many believe to be a contemporary threat almost as significant as that posed by the Nazis in the 1930s.
In Poland, the children's teachers, guides and security guards often tell them to conceal their Israeli flags and yarmulkes from local residents. "We were driving past one kid and he looked at our bus and saw the flags and he heiled Hitler," recalled Vered Hugi, 17, a recent Israeli visitor to Poland. "He was pointing at the flags, and we knew exactly what he meant."
THE HOLOCAUST'S SHADOW
The political language of Israel, especially as it faces ongoing Palestinian attacks, has long been suffused with the language of the Holocaust.
"In no other country I have ever visited is it so common to hear someone call his countryman 'Nazi,' writes Time magazine Jerusalem bureau chief Matt Rees in a forthcoming book on conflicts within and between Palestinian and Israeli societies.
Visitors fresh to Israel are often shocked by the way Israelis speak to each other in terms that would be taboo in any other country.
Israel's legislators sometimes denounce each other as anti-Semites in debates of the Knesset. As the anti-Semitism scholar Yehuda Bauer grimly acknowledged, Israelis stopped for speeding readily call police officers members of the Gestapo or the SS.
Many Israelis fear that the memory and legacy of the Holocaust is degraded by such language, that some of the ways the Israeli government and intelligentsia have drawn the Holocaust so close to the core of Israel's identity is, in the long term, counterproductive for the state.
That's one reason Ruth Firer went alone to Auschwitz, where much of her family perished. Firer, a professor of peace studies at the Hebrew University, long has spoken disapprovingly about how Holocaust education in Israel has been used "to enhance Zionist patriotic zeal of the student," something she considers a "kind of indoctrination."
Passionately patriotic and Zionist, Firer says what she calls the "power center" of Israel too often uses the Holocaust for political ends. So she took herself to Poland and wandered through Auschwitz on her own. No Israeli flags, no national anthems, no group sobbing.
"I don't think the situation with the Palestinians is handled properly and I don't think the problems in Israel are handled properly," she said. "I'm not going to let the power center use the tragedy of my family to enhance their position."
A former soldier with two sons in the army, Firer says Israelis have fully learned the lesson of survival from the Holocaust, but not sufficiently what she considers the moral lesson - to respect all human rights.
"Perhaps it is natural that when people are concerned with their own physical being they do not focus on their moral being," she said. "But I'm saying, they should. Sooner or later it will be the end of the state of Israel if we do not mark the second lesson."
THE JEW IN PALESTINE
In Rafah, there is a Jew among the Palestinians.
"I love my religion this much," said Laura Gordon, 21, stretching her arms wide. They were covered in the traditional robe of an observant Muslim Palestinian woman. She wears the robe, and a tightly wound head scarf, out of respect for the conservative society where she lives.
Gordon has been working in Rafah for nine months as a peace activist, trying to protect the Palestinian residents from the Israeli army, which patrols the border with Egypt at the camp's edge. She is short, smiles a lot and is a walking example to her neighbors of how, after all, Jews can be as caring and warm as anyone else in the world. She is so loved in the camp that Palestinian parents often try to get her to marry their sons, even though they know she is a Jew.
She could be seen as a one-woman intersection for the historical and political currents of the Middle East and Europe: Her great uncle survived the Holocaust in Poland; she once worked for an Israeli group that looks after victims of terrorism; she has learned Arabic; she has faced anti-Semitic slurs in Gaza; she is anti-Zionist; she says that when Israeli soldiers shoot into Rafah, she feels it is her brothers who are shooting.
To some, Gordon could be seen as evidence that even the most radical Palestinians do not, after all, want to kill all the Jews. Rafah is full of Hamas activists who could make an easy kill of her but have not done so.
To others, Gordon might be seen as a self-hating Jew whose presence in the camp only bolsters Palestinian propaganda about the evils of the Israeli occupation. Perhaps she's an irrelevant anomaly. Or perhaps her nine months and her unique perspective have allowed her some insight into how people will so often place their own suffering ahead of anyone else's.
"The Palestinians say the occupation is the single most violent thing that has ever been done at all," she said, during a discussion of the Holocaust. "That's just the way anybody in a lot of pain [feels] a lot of the time when hearing of another's pain."
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