This article first appeared on The Media Line.
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, not Adolf Hitler, was the architect of the Holocaust which killed six million Jews, Benjamin Netanyahu told an audience at the World Zionist Conference this week. The statement elicited a storm of condemnation from political allies and enemies alike who were concerned at the apparent attempt to rewrite history. But the Prime Minister’s comments merely highlight an ongoing habit by both Israelis and Palestinians to ignore facts or to interpret history in a manner which pushes their own political narrative.
Haj Amin Al-Husseini did meet with Hitler but only in November 1941, after the Final Solution had already begun, Dina Porat, the head historian at Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, told The Media Line.
“The Final Solution was in Hitler’s mind – it was his obsession – since World War One. He wrote about it in Mein Kampf,” Porat said. Although the Mufti did ask Hitler to extend the genocide into the Middle East, to suggest that he gave the idea to the German leader was “not accurate,” she concluded.
The Prime Minister’s comments have been viewed by some analysts as an attempt to tie Palestinians, and their efforts to realize a sovereign state, to the genocidal policies of the Nazis for political gain.
The rewriting of history is also coming from the Palestinian side. Although Palestinians have killed ten Israelis in stabbing and shooting attacks this month, some of which have been captured on video, many ordinary Palestinians say the attacks never happened and videos were doctored. Arab media frequently underreports these events and instead focuses on the deaths of the attackers, who are often presented as blameless.
“Palestinians are assassinated for no reason. Most of the cases of people who were killed were innocent people who did not commit any crime,” Mustafa Barghouti, the general Secretary of the Palestine National Initiative (PNI), told The Media Line. “The fact that Israel claims that they were trying to stab people is nothing but a lie,” Barghouti, whose PNI attempts to be a third, democratic alternative to the main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, said.
Along with the ten Israelis killed in a wave of attacks perpetrated mostly by teenage Palestinians from east Jerusalem, 47 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces or civilians. Of these, 25 have been identified as attackers, and others killed either during protests or trying to cross from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
Despite a number of videos online appearing to show Palestinians attacking Israelis with knives, axes, and cars, Barghouti refused to accept any Palestinian deaths.
When preventing a terrorist attack, “you don’t shoot (the perpetrator) ten times. Or shoot them and then leave them on the ground bleeding to death,” the physician and politician said. When asked under what circumstances it was acceptable for Israel police to use lethal force, Barghouti declined to elaborate, and said only “any attack is unjustified in general, who ever does it, without exception.”
Last week Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has not condemned any of the stabbing attacks, infuriated Israelis further. Abbas claimed that thirteen year-old Ahmad Manasra, who had stabbed and seriously wounded a 13-year-old Israeli boy, had been executed by security forces. In fact, Manasra was taken to an Israeli hospital for treatment and is recovering.
In other incidents, Palestinian media has a tendency to report additional information which strive to explain the attacks as actions other than terrorist activity. For example, a Palestinian woman who stabbed an Israeli man in Jerusalem’s Old City was reported to have done so because he attempted to snatch off her headscarf, which Palestinian women wear in modesty. In a second incident, in which a female Palestinian driver apparently detonated a vehicle borne improvised explosive device, Palestinian media claimed that the car’s electric system had caused a fire.
For their part, Israelis have rejected any claims that soldiers may have used disproportionate force against Palestinian attackers.
Mustafa Barghouti singled out the recent cases of Fadi Alon and Asraa Abed. Alon was shot and killed, Asraa was shot and wounded. In both cases, video footage does not appear to show either as posing a direct imminent threat at the time of their shooting. It is also not clear that they were trying to carry out a terrorist attack.
In the videos, Abed, a young Israeli Arab mother, appeared more confused than aggressive and has previously been treated for mental issues. Alon, 19, was involved in a scuffle with right-wing Israeli activists at 4 am, and it has been suggested he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The danger of such a possibility was highlighted by the death of Habtom Zarhum, an Eritrean asylum seeker who died after being shot and then beaten by a crowd. A security guard at the Beersheba bus station misidentified Zarhum as a terrorist during an attack by an Israeli Bedouin man that left one dead and eleven others injured. Video footage of an Israeli soldier and a number of civilians kicking the Eritrean man and dropping furniture on him as he lies semi-conscious have elicited anger in Israel and prompted an investigation.
Suggestions of Israeli unlawful killings were strongly rejected by Shmuel Sandler, a professor of politics with the Begin Sadat Center. “They come to kill us, we protect ourselves and you call this extra-judicial killings. I don’t understand it,” Sandler said. He rejected the use of the word Palestinian, arguing that no state called Palestine ever existed in history.
“I want the media to be more objective – you don’t take the liar – the killer – and tell both (sides of the) stories,” Sandler said. Hatred towards Jews was the only motivation behind recent attacks, the professor concluded.
This was in line with previous comments by Prime Minister Netanyahu who rejected poverty in east Jerusalem neighborhoods, and a lack of a political progress in the conflict, as motivating factors for Israeli attacks against Israeli civilians.
“There are two narratives here and each side is promoting its (version) – it’s not just part of propaganda, people really believe in their narrative,” David Tal, a historian with the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, told The Media Line. The different political tales told in each camp don’t merely add fuel to ongoing tensions but are the foundations for the conflict, Tal said. Willful denial of the other side’s beliefs is an ongoing part of this process.
“The first thing is that if you have a propaganda weapon you can use, then you use it,” Tal explained, adding that Palestinians and Israelis were equally guilty of this. In such circumstances, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians will believe in their rhetoric even if their leaders do not.
In the case of Mamoud Abbas’s claim that Ahmed Manasra was killed, video evidence showed the President to be wrong. But in many other cases evidence will not be so clear cut and people will choose to stick to their pre-existing beliefs about the other side, Tal concluded.
Netanyahu later clarified his comments regarding the Mufti. “I had no intention of absolving Hitler from his diabolical responsibility for the annihilation of European Jews,” the Prime Minister said, ironically on his way to a visit to Germany and a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.