Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Mufti - My part in his downfall

An ex-girl friend of mine spends her life sending e-mails to millions of people providing details of the latest Israeli academic who is voicing excessive support for the Palestinians or recommending that the institution that pays his wages etc. be boycotted. I get about two of these mails every day. So it was with a certain sense of irony that I went to a symposium at Tel-Aviv University about the psychological impact of the "Nakba" (catastrophe) on the Palestinians, organized by "Psychoactive - Mental health professionals for Human Rights".  I'm curious to see if it makes her mail.

I went because my partner Neta's best friend, organized the event and because a former neighbour and friend, Dr. Hillel Cohen was going to be speaking.  Hillel is a Communist and a Zionist, at least that's what he told me five years ago, whose grandparents (well some of them anyway) emigrated from Afghanistan.  By the way did you know that the Jews were expelled from Afghanistan in 1933? (see this in Hebrew) No, I didn't think you would know that.

What brought this symposium on was that some moron is trying to make it illegal for people to "celebrate" the Nakba and to prevent it being taught in Palestinian-Arab schools in Israel (at the moment it is). 
I remember reading an important book about languages in Africa (unfortunately I have forgotten the title) where the author described how the French would insist that Africans talk in French, while the British would insist on conversing with African employees in the five words of Swahili they had bothered to learn.  The result was that no one in Francophone Africa spoke French while the African employees of the British spoke fluent English. Bascially the British insisted on speaking broken Swahili despite the fact that their African employees spoke fluent English. It probably didn't occur to them that Africans could speak their language. 
Why am I telling you this?  Well, I think its the same with the Nakba. Forcing someone to ignore something is the surest way of ascertaining they learn it.  

So what happened at the symposium? Well I was only there in the morning but Hillel was great.  The man knows more about the war in 1948 then he does about his own life.  He pointed out that both sides did bad things, that the Jews were fighting for their lives, at least part of the time, and discussed how the war shifted. His point was that both sides need to address what happened  and come to terms with their inhumanity to the other and that left-wing Israelis need to be more challenging in their dialogues with Palestinians and not just nod all the time and say, "sure we are bastards".  At least that was what I understood.  No doubt others heard something else.  Hillel commented that one aspect of the war is that both side's recollections are true and yet they completely contradict each other.  

All those present were at pains to stress that the Holocaust was far worse and no comparison could be made.  Unfortunately that was the only comparison.  Sephardi Jews were not mentioned and, as far as I could tell, few if any were present, that is to say the other great expulsion of the conflict was not mentioned or debated despite the fact that the symposium was about expulsion and memory. So it was basically an Ashkenazi symposium attended by a few Arabs (there were Arab speakers too).  

Another person I recognized was Dr. Olek Netzer.  A Polish woman found Olek in a paper bag next to the Warsaw Ghetto. There was a small spoon inside the bag on which someone had carved one word:  "Olek".  

1 comment:

  1. Yes, you're right.  What he said was that both sides only recollect certain parts and that those recollections mainly relate to their status as victims.


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