HAIFA: Contrary to the hopes of many, the end of the Second World War and the shock of the Nazi atrocities did not mean the end of war and genocide. Indeed, the decades following it have been rife with bloody conflicts in which entire population groups have been murdered. Remember Angola’s civil war, the Khmer Rouge’s massacre of millions of Cambodians, Rwanda’s tribal wars, the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia, and the extermination of Christians in Southern Sudan. Nor should we forget the Stalinist crimes against the peoples of the former Soviet Empire.
And yet there is something unique about the Holocaust that made the United Nations single it out and devote a special day to its commemoration. The difference lies not only in the mind-boggling number of victims and the ferocity with which it was perpetuated, but also in the absence of the usual motives found in other massacres and genocides.
The Nazis did not kill the Jews because they wanted their territory — the Jews had none; or because the Jews were followers of a rival religious faith — the Nazis and their henchmen were atheists and enemies of all religion. Even less did the Nazis kill Jews because of their ideological differences — Jews had no peculiarly “Jewish” ideology. Nor did the Nazis exterminate the Jews in order to take their property — most Jews were poor, and those who owned anything probably would have given it up gladly in order to save themselves.
The Nazis looked at Jews as a strain of “microbes,” and it was for this reason that they wanted to destroy them so brutally and meticulously. The Holocaust was born of an absurd and hallucinatory mechanism that associated the Jews with an invented congenital threat, and that gave rise to a deranged, burning, irrational hatred. It is a hatred that did not disappear with Nazism, and that one can still, 65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, glimpse in terrifying manifestations.
The world must therefore be alert, so that this hatred does not reawaken and direct itself against Jews or other peoples. Israel’s leaders, in particular, have sought to reinforce the defenses against the anti-Semitism that still persists in the world. That is why they have tried to obtain political support against the nuclear ambitions of Iran, which periodically threatens Israel, at times proclaiming its desire to wipe it off the face of the earth.
Iran is not Nazi Germany. Its political regime, its ideology, and its military and economic potential are very different from that of Hitler’s state. Modern Israel is also not like the weak Jewish communities dispersed throughout Europe in the past.
Still, Iran’s rulers have adopted a bizarre and total opposition to Israel’s very existence, a position that can revive the same nefarious mechanism that led to the genocidal hatred of the Holocaust. If Iran gains nuclear weapons, it may, like Nazi Germany before it, be engulfed by murderous folly, threatening disaster for Israel.
What can be done to prevent this? The sanctions directed by the international community against Iran are not guaranteed to convince its leaders to desist from developing nuclear weapons. And any attempt to destroy militarily Iran’s nuclear potential could entangle Israel in a prolonged and exhausting struggle that might unite all the enemies of the Jewish state. The bleakness of these alternatives has led many to believe that the best and most moral way of neutralizing the Iranian threat would be for Israel to sign a peace treaty with the Palestinians.
Last month, during a public prayer in Ramallah, the Palestinian Minister of Religion, Mahmoud Habash, delivered a speech that gives hope to proponents of this solution. Before TV cameras and in the presence of the Palestinian Authority’s senior leaders, he lambasted Iran’s interference in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Essentially, what he said to the Iranians was this: “Why are you entering this conflict? We don’t need your patronage or your support. Instead of helping us and the Israelis reach a solution acceptable to all — two states for two peoples — you do everything to exacerbate the conflict. For your own reasons that have nothing to do with our struggle, you encourage the extremism of Hamas, thus provoking Israel’s violent reaction, aggravating our suffering, and pushing back the solution that we all want. Not one Iranian soldier has ever shed his blood for our people the way the soldiers of Egypt and Jordan did, yet their governments later signed peace agreements with Israel.”
The Palestinian leadership knows that if Iran ever launches a nuclear attack against Israel, their people would suffer terribly as well. On the other hand, peace between Israel and the Palestinians might neutralize the poison of Iranian hatred and break the hallucinatory political mechanism that identifies Israel with absolute evil — the “small Satan” that should be annihilated at all cost.
The conclusion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be far more effective than any military undertaking. A united front of Israelis and Palestinians could push the Iranian people, who until recently maintained good relations with the Jewish state, to rebel against the folly that seems to have taken hold of their leaders. By contrast, Israeli or American military action against Iran would risk worsening the situation, prolonging and intensifying the suffering in this very sensitive region of the world.
A. B. Yehoshua is one of Israel’s pre-eminent novelists. His latest novel is Friendly Fire. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences (www.project-syndicate.org).