The Nakba and the Holocaust are the most traumatic events in Jewish and Arab history. Although these two events differ in their scope, degree, and nature, there is a powerful reminder of their tortured past that has an intense impact on the consciousness, histories, and identities of the two races.
Since the late 1970s and 80s, the Holocaust became the predominant component of Jewish identity backed by the political Zionism ideology in Israel and across the world.
On the other hand, the Nakba after 1948 became the central aspect of Arab Palestinian identity and the bedrock for their right to return to their dispelled roots.
Deconstructing the two catastrophes
The Nakba or the catastrophe is not a mere manifestation of the defeat, ethnic cleansing, loss of their homeland, or the plight of the Palestinian people living as refugees and minorities in their state.
In a larger scheme of things, the Nakba highlights the marring of the social, economic, cultural, and political fabric of the Palestinian society resulting from the massive destruction of the infrastructure and political wrangling in the power vacuum.
In encapsulation, the Nakba is the representation of the relentless process of colonization through practices and policies such as illegal settlement, imposition of siege and blockade, evacuation from villages, and land garb.
The Holocaust, on the other hand, is the extreme genocide of nearly 6 million Jews through harsh persecutions and rabid shooting. Even though it ended in 1945 with the defeat of Nazi Germany, its memory and occurrence drastically altered the course of Jewish history and in particular Jewish consciousness.
Undeniably, the events of the 1930s and 1940s radically changed the destiny of the two races and hence their consciousness concerning their identities and the conflicts brimming among them.
Since these events play a crucial role in formulating their collective identity and consciousness, the historian, Alon Confino is apt in defining them as “foundational pasts” and “chosen traumas”. In this respect, both the Holocaust and Nakba are national identities under which destruction and sufferings play a chief role in bringing forth the narrative of victimhood and loss.
Point of convergence between these narratives
Although the Palestinian Nakba and Holocaust legitimizing the 19th-century Zionist roots are different in their understanding, their grammar and syntax are quite similar. The foundational point of convergence between these two narratives that stand on foundational catastrophe is the forceful negation of the sufferings of one other.
From this standpoint, both narratives stand on dualistic opposition stemming from structural semiotics. Though each side is convinced that they are the victims of a torturous past, they chose to ignore or downplay the suffering of the other to validate their plight significantly.
Holistically, prudence lies in deconstructing and transcending the dualistic and dichotomous spheres of influence these competing yet similar narratives impose on the history, identity, and memory of these two races.
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Consequently, a more mature perspective on history should be made accessible that aims to honor the uniqueness, circumstance, and consequences of each catastrophe and in the process, offer a conceptual framework in which they are addressed.
It is irrefutable that exclusive and contrasting worldviews offered by traditional narratives despite being rooted strongly in national roots and identities are historically flawed, ethnically destructive, and politically damaging.
Although the way forward lies in transcending from this exclusive nationalist rhetoric to an all-encompassing outreach, it is essential to ensure that the ethnopolitical plane is intact that safeguards the collective and individual rights of all people.
Thus, the hackneyed words of Walter Benjamin, “to brush history against the grain” are, nonetheless, relatively significant to pursue a balanced strategy for this protracted issue especially at a time when violence in Gaza erupted beyond limits.
Keeping the present scenario in mind, there is a need for a group project in which the Arab, Jewish, and international scholars and analysts should collaborate and explore the possibility of employing shared language to discuss these catastrophes and traumas to reach a conclusive solution to Palestine issue.
A politically exploitable event for the Jews
Even though the Nakba is to Palestinians what Holocaust is to Jews, the traumas are dealt with differently predominantly in the West. Nobody would ever forget or deny the horrors inflicted upon the Jews at the hands of the Nazis.
However, on the other hand, the Israeli state and its entourage are engaged in their capacity to eradicate the memory of the Nakba and the anguish inflicted upon the 700,000 Palestinians as they were forcefully from their homes on 5th May 1948.
Paradoxically, the Israeli state wants the world to remember the horrors of the Holocaust while obfuscating the same catastrophe hurled by it on the Palestinians. In doing so, it intends to bury the Nakba by systematically obscuring the evidence of the 1948 eviction of the Arabs.
Thus, perhaps the most liberal and unbiased Israeli newspaper Haaretz explores the theme of Israeli denial of the Nakba which has significantly covered their heinous crimes. The newspaper also highlighted the systematic effort by the right-wing government in concealing the historic documents and archives from the libraries and record books that highlight the Palestinian catastrophe.
Moreover, Norman Finkelstein, a notable Jewish civil rights activist and an author, whose parents had survived the horrors of German aggression during the Holocaust, elucidates the fact that the right-wing government in Israeli has exploited the Jewish tragedy of the Holocaust to meet their political motives and fan the Zionist narratives which give them the legitimacy to occupy Palestinian territories.
Read more: Is anti-Zionism anti-Semitism?
Thus, in his book, The Holocaust Industry, he appears to be very vocal in criticizing the exploitation of the Holocaust as a political incensed doctrine to win support and appeasement from the West.
As per Finkelstein’s assessment, the US has remained a staunch supporter of Israel by all means and has accused states of being anti-Semitic who chides the Jewish state for mass murdering the Palestinian population to genocidal intents.
Thus, cohesively, this tendency is observed among US government and officials that it is ready to summon the turbulent memories of the Holocaust to underscore any event it disapproves of, for example, the Nakba. However, one can note clearly that condemnation of Israeli brutality does not spring from racism.
The irony behind US invocation of the Holocaust
At the same time, the irony is resurfaced every time the US establishment invokes the Holocaust. One needs not turn many pages of history to see US involvement in East Timor when the US-backed Indonesian government was engaged in slaughtering one-third of the population.
Ironically, this genocide does not rate in comparison with the Holocaust nor did it receive any media coverage. Similarly, the Guatemala genocide spiked by the US-backed regime against the native Mayan population is a strong example of obfuscation of the superpower narrative on human rights.
Plato, the backbone of Western philosophy humanely observed that one cannot compare two miserable people nor say one is happier than the other. In this respect, time is long past to empathize with humanity’s plight and misery. However, in the face of the sufferings of Palestinians and all the people living in alien occupation across the world, they are all Holocaust victims.
Thus, the lexicon defines Holocaust as a means of total and irrevocable destruction of human life and existence through fire. Of course one can relate this catastrophe with Jewish plight during the Nazi concentration camp in the wake of the Second World War. Nonetheless, it is an umbrella term for reckless destruction and mass murder of human life that makes the Nakba no different from the Holocaust.
Although the reasons for the Western support for Israel are varied in numerous, it is obvious that they are concealed under the Western guilt of anti-Semitism. Undeniably, this guilt is well-deserved because, throughout history, the Jews were subjected to institutionalized European anti-Semitic rhetoric which found its ultimate expression in Nazi concentration camps. But then again, the West would not be allowed to wash this historic guilt with the blood of the Palestinians. The white man’s burden is their own to bear.
Hadia Mukhtar is a Pakistani geopolitical analyst in Karachi with a keen interest in international relations. She has worked as a content writer for international publications and has worked on non-fiction books. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.