Letter to Iain Banks on the eve of Yom HaShoah

The following was written by Bataween, and originally published on April 7 at ‘Point of No Return‘ – a blog about Middle East’s forgotten Jewish refugees.

On the eve of Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust memorial day, Point of No Return was inspired by the words of a little-known Iraqi-Jewish writer to address the announcement by celebrated Scottish writer Iain Banks that he’s supporting a cultural boycott of Israel.
Dear Iain,
I was sorry to learn that you have terminal cancer and will probably not be long for this world. It is  a matter of deep regret that the world is about to lose a talented writer and a noble human being.

However, I was surprised that the Middle East ranks so high on your list of priorities that directly after you had announced news of your cancer,  The Guardian chose to print a piece about your personal boycott of Israel. In it you wrote: 

“The particular tragedy of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people is that nobody seems to have learned anything. Israel itself was brought into being partly as a belated and guilty attempt by the world community to help compensate for its complicity in, or at least its inability to prevent, the catastrophic crime of the Holocaust. Of all people, the Jewish people ought to know how it feels to be persecuted en masse, to be punished collectively and to be treated as less than human. For the Israeli state and the collective of often unlikely bedfellows who support it so unquestioningly throughout the world to pursue and support the inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people – forced so brutally off their land in 1948 and still under attack today – to be so blind to the idea that injustice is injustice, regardless not just on whom it is visited, but by whom as well, is one of the defining iniquities of our age, and powerfully implies a shamingly low upper limit on the extent of our species’ moral intelligence.

The solution to the dispossession and persecution of one people can never be to dispossess and persecute another. When we do this, or participate in this, or even just allow this to happen without criticism or resistance, we only help ensure further injustice, oppression, intolerance, cruelty and violence in the future.”

We’ve heard it all before from your fellow boycotters of Israel: scores of trendy opinion-formers, academics and artistes. They actually believe that neat paradox: a persecuted people is now persecuting another. Don’t the Jews of all people know any better?

What really pains me is that you will be going to your death without knowing how wrong you have been. Israel is full of people –  Jewish people – persecuted simply for being Jews and expelled from land and property they have lived on since time immemorial by Arabs.This is a truth that even Jews from Europe haven’t graspedThe Arabs did this barely three years after the monumental tragedy of the Holocaust, in which the Palestinian leader, the Mufti of Jerusalem, among other Arabs, was complicit. The Mufti plotted the extermination of the Jews of the region well before Israel was established. Arabs and radical Muslims have been seeking to destroy the Jewish state ever since. 

To illustrate my point, on the eve of Yom HaShoah, when Israel marks the anniversary of the Holocaust, let me quote Aharon, an Iraqi Jew you won’t have heard of, who wrote a chapter in a book* you won’t have heard of either:

“Two thousand years of persecution, execution and forced conversion culminated in Hitler’s Final Solution, a solution which wiped out nearly half the world’s Jewish population. And this was followed by, and compounded by  the ethnic cleansing by the Arab Countries of all their Jewish populations. Both events took place on the watch of the civilised world which responded by a deafening silence. Jews therefore feel themselves to be permanent refugees even after the rise of the State of Israel which is now anyway precariously balanced within the vast  Muslim Middle East.”

At the end it was the Arab world, not Hitler that executed their final solution, and no power can move the clock back. That is why  today it is worrying Israelis and Jews alike that what happened in Germany under the Nazis in the early 1930s is being re-enacted in a startlingly similar way again in Europe today. Every aspect of life in Israel, its people, its institutions, its places of learning, even its acclaimed courts of justice are being demonized. Recently this demonizing has been organized and reinforced by concerted bans and boycotts here in Europe in protest, they say, against the occupation of Palestinian lands to which the majority of the citizens of Israel are opposed. All this sends shivers in the hearts of Jews everywhere reminding them of the anti-Semitic demonizing propaganda of the 1930s, which was the precursor of, and prepared the ground for the Holocaust. As Condoleezza Rice, the American Secretary of State, stated recently: Anti-Semitism is not just a historical fact but a current event.

“The Arab World has played and continues to play its active part too in the Jewish tragedy. During World War II they made Jewish life in their midst a living hell. By the early 1950’s when the safe haven of Israel opened, some 900,000 Jews were ethnically cleansed to Israel from Arab countries leaving all Arab countries what the Nazis called “Judenrein”, lands clean of  Jews. Therefore what the Nazis failed to do, the Arab countries accomplished and perpetuated. And the world accepts that as normal.

“These 900,000 Jewish refugees are forgotten because Israel did not leave them in camps to rot and did not ask the UN to set up agencies to serve to perpetuate their misery and status as refugees. With help from Jews worldwide these Jewish refugees with their bare hands gave themselves dignity, security and a future in stark contrast to the way rich, very rich, Arabs treated the then 700,000 Palestinian refugees and disgracefully continue to treat their descendants today.

“I was a victim and a witness of this ethnic cleansing. My personal story tells it all. I wanted so much to be part of my country Iraq and to participate actively in its revival after World War II.  When I finished my pre-university studies in Iraq and secured a place with various universities in England and France  to continue my studies the Iraqi authorities refused point-blank to allow me to travel. Why? Because I was a Jew. And as a result of accumulations of other violent events around the Jewish community  I could see that there was no way to be both Jewish and Iraqi. So I took the only way I could that was still open for me out of the country. Together with about twenty desperate Jews, we managed to cross the borders of  Iraq into Iran in the north, literally  on foot. We got there from Baghdad in a truck.

“The truck driver had managed to bribe the border guards to close their eyes as we were nearing the border,  pretending to be carrying cattle from one town to another. At the last-minute, after the truck was approaching the border, some border police started shooting, probably only to justify their surprise to see that the cattle  had turned into human beings, but more likely  because the bribe was not big enough to go round. The driver left us in the middle of nowhere pointing to us the direction to the Iranian borders.  I was young, barely 19 years old at that time. Fleeing Iraq, in my case via Iran, whose people I will always be indebted to for their hospitality and safe passage at my desperate time of need, I arrived at the absorption centre in Israel in 1949 by air from Tehran. I found there a mixture of people all dejected all helpless. My fellow refugees from Arab countries were desperately trying to rebuild their lives out of nothing in a land of nothing.”

But it was the sight of the remnants of the Holocaust camps that broke my heart and my spirit. I saw frightened shadows of human beings dazed, confused and broken trying to regain their existence as humans. But worst of all instead of hatred, rage and bitterness I found many trying to remove the concentration camp numbers on their arms feeling guilty of being alive and ashamed of not having put up a fight before allowing themselves to be led as sheep to the Gas chambers. It is the combined images of the ethnically cleansed Arab Jews who lost their countries, and the Holocaust remnants of European Jews who lost their dignity, that are engraved in my being and in the mind of every Jew who says “never again”.  That is why Israelis feel the need to keep their citizen army and even their nuclear shield not because they are on a Samson-like suicidal mission. It is because they are determined to live with pride and dignity denied to them in those dark days of the 30s and 40s. And this time, if they must die, they want to die fighting.”

And so, Iain, by blindly aligning yourself with the Palestinian cause, you are siding, not with innocent victims, but with some among them who would commit a second Shoah if they could

Palestinian Authority TV, Jan 20, 2010

If they haven’t fulfilled that intention, it is only because the Jews of Israel have been strong enough to thwart it. It is they, not the Israelis, who nurse in their children with hate

Sorry if self-defence is so very unpopular in your postmodern world, Iain. As someone once remarked: “it is better to be unpopular than dead.”

*From Chapter 14: The Prophet of the Libyan Desert by Max Melli, Vladimir Pavlinic and Aharon Nathan (Amazon and bookshops)

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