PETRAS ESSAYS IN ENGLISH

April 29, 2002

Jenin: Auschwitz or the Warsaw Ghetto?

James Petras

While I agree with Saramago's general characterization of the Israeli attack on the Palestinians, I think the most appropriate analogy is the Warsaw ghetto uprising against the Nazis and not Auschwitz. Of course, both the Israelis and the Nazis were intent on destroying the social fabric of the oppressed people and expelling them from the conquered land. In the case of the Nazis via the ovens and gas chambers; in the Occupied territories by systemic terror and destruction of the basic structures of society: housing, hospitals, schools, roads, electricity, water, stores, food, trade, agriculture and industry. In both cases there was systematic roundup of young men aged 15 to 60 years old and their detention in concentration camps.

However, the Palestinian resistance in Jenin and the other cities and refugee camps is similar to the violent uprising of the Jews in Warsaw against the Nazis and unlike the passive submission of the Jews who were shipped to Auschwitz. Irony of history the Israeli Jews were destroying Jenin on the same date (April 19) on which Jews commemorate the Warsaw uprising. The Israeli military borrowed explicitly from the Nazis their tactics of urban warfare - engaging in massive destruction using tanks and armored personnel carriers after encountering tough resistence in house to house warfare. The Jewish High Command ordered that tanks shell buildings, with all their inhabitants inside, and then bulldozed the buildings burying the victims under the rubble. The Nazi Storm Troopers practiced the same "scorched earth" policy. The result is that Jenin and the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw have exactly the same desolate landscape, the same foul smell of rotting corpses buried under the rubble.

The responses of the two governments to their crimes against humanity are similar: the Palestinian and Jewish resistance fighters are "terrorists". To their people the story is different: the Jewish street fighters of Warsaw and the Palestinian militia are viewed as national heroes.

The propaganda machines of the Jewish and Nazi states spew out the same mendacious propaganda: the invasion of the ghettos and destruction of the resistence are portrayed as "defensive policies", the destruction of the social fabric of society is described as destroying the terrorist infrastructure. Sharon, like Goebbels, speaks of seeking "peace"...through genocide.

Both Hitler and the Israeli state refused to allow the Red Cross to enter the ghettos to tend the wounded, sick or the mentally ill. The same paranoid vision that drove Hitler's war machine to kill women and children, drives the Israelis to defy and denounce all Human Rights groups, United Nations, European Union and other humanitarian agencies which are appalled by the slaughter. While Hitler's paranoia drove him to denounce all democratic critics as "Aryan haters", Sharon and his fanatical accomplices inside and outside of Israel scream "anti-Semitism" against the UN, the Red Cross and other humanitarian organization in perpetual outbursts of psychotic behavior.

The profound irrationality which afflicts Israeli leaders is best illustrated by an incident involving the Palestinian mental hospital in Ramallah. After an Israeli tank had blown apart a wall in the asylum, one mental patient asked his doctor "Can I have your mobile phone, I want to call CNN and tell Ariel Sharon he can come here and be treated free." The response of the supporters of the Israeli and Nazi state to Warsaw and Jenin were similar: victory celebrations and pledges of additional support. An estimated 100,000 mostly Jews marched on Washington pledging unconditional support for Sharon and his genocidal campaign. Respectable doctors, dentists, business people, mass media celebrities raised millions of dollars to fund the Israeli war machine. As Israeli Jewish professionals and progressives flee from insecurity or disgust, U.S. and Israeli Jewish leaders visit Argentina, to recruit impoverished middle class Jews, offering them free tickets, homes, subsidies, jobs and gardens - stolen from the Palestinians. Just as the Nazis displaced Jews and seized their property handing it over to loyal followers.

Warsaw and Jenin, Jews as victims, Jews as oppressors. The descendants of the heros of the Warsaw ghettos practicing the tactics and strategy of their grandfathers' murderers. Obviously there were and are opponents to Nazi and the Israeli war machine among Germans and Jews. Millions of German Socialists, Communists, trade unionists and democrats opposed who the Nazi regime were killed, jailed and repressed. Today a minority of courageous Israelis speak out against Sharon and his accomplices. Progressive German exiles condemned the Nazi slaughter of Jews in Warsaw and some even expressed solidarity with the resistence. Likewise, in the U.S. and Europe, groups of Jewish critics condemn Sharon's military machine. But the mass media do not report their criticism. They are silenced critics. In the U.S. only the voice and images of the Israeli State is heard: powerful trade unions officials continue to buy Israeli bonds with their members' pension funds. Israel bond sales are booming.

Hollywood is an accomplice: What is different is that unlike Nazi Germany, no Hollywood producer has emerged to produce a "Triumph of the Will". Leni Reisenthal glorification of Hitler's rallies.

Consider Jenin and Warsaw. In both cases, the world, Western democratic countries stood by and watched the slaughter. Horrified but unwilling to act. But today, in Jenin, unlike during the Nazi slaughter of the Jews in Warsaw, no one can say they didn't know.

Jenin: genocide in our lifetime. The destruction of the Warsaw ghetto was not a unique act by a unique evil power. Jews are not the only people to suffer a holocaust. Jenin is our holocaust. The Palestinian uprising is led by our resistance fighters. On April 19, in a ceremony in Buenos Aires commemorating the anniversary of the Warsaw uprising, Osvaldo Bayer reminded his predominantly Jewish audience of the Palestinian resistance in Jenin. Some of the audience applauded. Most were silent.

Some critics may object. Israel is a democracy, Germany was a totalitarian state. Israel is a democracy for Jews and a violent oppressor of Palestinians in the colonized territories. In the territories Israeli acts like Nazis - seizing Palestinian land, water, imprisoning thousands and destroying the homes of the "inferior people". Other critics might argue that Palestinians engage in terrorism against the settlers and in Israel against ordinary civilians, unlike the Warsaw resisters, who fought the Nazi army. The difference is only marginal: the Warsaw fighters also killed German civilian functionaries, Polish and even Jewish collaborators. The main difference was distance and geography: then the German civilians were too far away. After the war, the entire German civilian population was severely punished for their government's crimes. James Petras Like all analogies the Warsaw/Jenin analogy has its limits in time and place. But on the basic points there is a shocking convergence: in both cases a heroic people stood up and fought back against the military machines of genocidal states.