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The Holocaust Had Many Victims–The Palestinians Among Them

Allan C. Brownfeld
Fall 2021

Increasingly, the treatment of the Palestinians by the government of Israel is  
coming under extensive international scrutiny. In July, for example, over 600  
intellectuals from more than 45 countries signed a declaration calling for the  
dismantling of what they called “the apartheid regime” set up “on the territory  
of historic Palestine” and “the establishment of a democratic constitutional  
arrangement that grants all its citizens equal rights and duties.”  
The signatories include Nobel Peace Prize laureates Adolfo Perez Esquivel of  
Argentina, and Mairead Maguire of Ireland, legal expert Monique Chemallier-  
Gendreau and Richard Falk, economist and former Assistant Secretary General of  
the United Nations Sir Richard Jolly, South African politician and veteran anti-  
apartheid leader Ronnie Kasrils, and Canadian peace activist and former Green  
Party leader Joan Russow. Among the academics signing the declaration are  
Daniel Boyarin, professor of Talmudic Culture at the University of California,  
Berkeley; Neve Gordon, of Queen Mary University, London; Adi Ophir, professor  
emeritus at Tel Aviv University, and Alice Rothchild, professor emeritus at the  
Harvard Medical School.  
When we discuss the Holocaust and Hitler’s slaughter of six million European  
Jews, we often forget the fact that the Holocaust had other victims as well,  
namely the Palestinians, the indigenous inhabitants whose country was taken from  
them. They, of course, played no part in the Holocaust, but saw their country  
taken from them as the world sought to make a place for Jews who had been  
displaced by the Nazi tyranny. The world wished to do so in a way that did not  
involve inviting Jewish refugees into their own countries.  
Zionism: A Minority Movement Among Jews  
From the beginning, Zionism was a minority movement among Jews. It was created,  
notes Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper, by “…Jews with little knowledge of  
Palestine and its people, who launched a movement of Jewish return to its  
ancestral homeland…after a national absence of 2,000 years…In their eyes the  
Arabs of Palestine were mere background…Palestine was, as the famous Zionist  
phrase put it, ‘a land without a people.’ The European Zionists knew the land  
was peopled, but to them the Arabs did not amount to “a people.”  
Halper, a Jewish American anthropologist who emigrated to Israel and heads the  
Israeli Committee Against House demolitions, points out that from the beginning,  
“Zionism…attracted but a tiny fraction of the world’s Jews in its formative  
years. Only 3 per cent of the 2 million Jews who left Eastern Europe between  
1882 and 1914 went to Palestine, and many of those subsequently emigrated to  
other countries.”  
Ironically, the leading Jewish voices in the late 19th and early 20th century  
rejected Zionism, while it was embraced by anti-Semites as a way to remove  
unwanted Jews from their own countries. For Reform Jews, the idea of Zionism  
contradicted almost completely their belief in a universal prophetic Judaism.  
The first Reform prayerbook eliminated references to Jews being in exile and to  
a Messiah who would miraculously restore Jews throughout the world to the  
historic land of Israel. The prayerbook eliminated all prayers for a return to  
“America is our Zion”  
In 1897, the Central Conference of American Rabbis adopted a resolution  
disapproving of any attempt to establish a Jewish state. The resolution  
declared, “Zion was a precious possession of the past…as such it is a holy  
memory, but it is not our hope for the future. America is our Zion.”  
While most Jews opposed Zionism, many anti-Semites embraced it. Peter Beinart,  
an editor for Jewish Currents, writes in The Guardian: “Some of the world  
leaders who most ardently promoted Jewish statehood did so because they did not  
want Jews in their countries. Before declaring, as foreign secretary in 1917,  
that Britain ‘views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home  
for the Jewish people,’ Arthur Balfour supported the 1905 Aliens Act, which  
restricted Jewish emigration to the United Kingdom…Two years after his famous  
declaration, Balfour said Zionism would mitigate the age-long miseries created  
for Western civilization by the presence in its midst of a Body (the Jews)  
which it too long regarded as alien or even hostile , but was equally unable to  
expel or absorb.”  
In England, most Jewish leaders opposed the Balfour Declaration. A Jewish  
member of Lloyd George’s cabinet, Secretary of State for India Edwin Montagu,  
insisted that Jews be regarded as a religious community. He used the term  
“anti-Semitism’ to characterize the sponsors of the Balfour Declaration. A  
document he issued on August 23, 1917 was titled, “The Anti-Semitism of the  
Present Government.”  
Anti-Semites Welcome Zionism  
In an essay entitled “The Perils of Zion,” the British Jewish leader Claude  
Montefiore stressed the theme that “those who have no love for the Jews and  
those who are pronounced anti-Semites all seem to welcome the Zionist proposals  
and aspirations. Why should this be, unless Zionism fits in with anti-Semitic  
presumptions and with anti-Semitic aims?”  
Writing in The New York Times, Henry Moskowitz, in an article entitled “Zionism  
Is No Remedy,” described the curse of nationalism which hung over the world as  
World War I raged, “in which the idea of dominion has given certain nations a  
form of megalomania.” He had no wish for the Jews to join this enterprise.  
The whole nature of Jewish nationalism was reactionary and an unsatisfactory  
philosophy of life, he argued . Instead, what Jews needed was a revival of the  
Hebraic spirit which gave birth to the visions of the Prophets, to David’s  
psalms and to Spinoza’s God.  
At the same time, an even more militant form of Zionism was emerging, that of  
Revisionism. Its leader, Vladimir Jabotinsky, embraced the negative view of  
Jews he imbibed from anti-Semites. In his autobiography, he describes how he  
first came into contact with the Zionist movement when he was studying in Bern,  
Switzerland. He announced on the spot his adherence to the cause: “I am a  
Zionist because the Jewish People are a very nasty people and its neighbors hate  
it, and they are right; its end in the Dispersion will be a general  
Bartholomew’s Night, and the only rescue is general immigration to Palestine.”  
Affinity for Fascism  
Jabotinsky had an affinity for fascism and was ready to form a tactical alliance  
with groups such as the anti-Semitic Ukrainian national Petliura after World War  
I. Jabotinsky’s spirit lived on as young Revisionists like Menachem Begin,  
Abraham Stern and Yitzhak Shamir fought against the British during World War II.  
In his book “The Controversy of Zion,” Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes, “In his  
struggle for a Greater Israel stretching as far as the Euphrates, Stern led a  
violent group called Lehi in terrorist acts against the British…He met a  
representative of Mussolini…He sent an agent…to talk to talk to a representative  
of the Third Reich, Otto von Hentig, of the Berlin Foreign Office. He expressed  
sympathy with National Socialists, whose goal of removing the Jews from Europe  
he understood, spoke of ‘the good will of the German Reich Government…towards  
Zionist activity.’”  
Because Zionism remained a minority view among Jews until the advent of Nazism  
and the Holocaust, it is unlikely that a Jewish “homeland” or state would have  
been established in Palestine after World War II if it were not for these  
horrors. What is clear is that the Zionist leaders did not envision sharing  
Palestine with its indigenous population.  
From the very start of Jewish settlement in Palestine, Zionist leaders  
were quite open in making it clear that they wanted to remove the country’s  
indigenous population. As far back as 1914, Moshe Sharett, a future Israeli  
prime minister, declared, “We have forgotten that we have not come to an empty  
land to inherit it, but we have come to conquer a country from a people  
inhabiting it, that governs it by virtue of its language and savage culture…If  
we seek to look upon our land , the Land of Israel, as ours alone and we allow a  
partner into our estate—-all context and meaning will be lost to our  
“Leave Palestine Alone”  
Even earlier, in 1899, Yusuf Diya al-Khalidi, former mayor of Jerusalem, alarmed  
by the Zionist call to transform Palestine into a Jewish state, wrote a letter  
aimed at Theodor Herzl, the leading Zionist of the 19th century. He pointed out  
that Palestine had an indigenous population that would not easily accept their  
displacement. He warned of the perils ahead, ending his note, “In the name of  
God, leave Palestine alone.”  
In his book “The Hundred Years War on Palestine,” Rashid Khalidi, al-Khalidi’s  
grandnephew and professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, notes  
that in Herzl’s response to Yusuf Diya, the Zionist leader assured him that the  
arrival of European Jews in Palestine would improve life for the indigenous  
inhabitants because of Jewish “intelligence” and financial acumen. He declared,  
“no one can doubt that the well-being of the entire country would be the happy  
Herzl’s response, notes Khalidi, concealed Zionism’s real intentions: “With the  
smug self-assurance so common to nineteenth century Europeans, Herzl offered the  
preposterous inducement, that the occupation, and ultimately the usurpation of  
their land by strangers would benefit the people of that country. Herzl’s  
thinking…appears to have been based on the assumption that the Arabs could  
ultimately be bribed or fooled into ignoring what the Zionist movement actually  
intended for Palestine.”  
Herzl Didn’t Practice Judaism or Believe in God  
In his biography of Herzl, “The Labyrinth of Exile,” Ernst Pavel notes that the  
Zionist leader did not practice Judaism or believe in God. Indeed, he once  
considered mass conversion to Christianity the best resolution of the Jewish  
“problem.” He regularly denigrated Judaism and in one letter declared, “Just  
think what the Jews have suffered over the past two thousand years for the sake  
of this fantasy of theirs.”  
Herzl wrote: “I consider religion indispensable for the weak. There are those  
who, weak in willpower, mind or emotions, must always be able to rely on  
religion. The others, the normal run of mankind, are weak only in childhood and  
in old age; for them, religion serves as an educational instrument or a source  
of comfort…Which religion, or which god , really makes no difference…Any Jew who  
has children and decides to get baptized has my blessings.”  
Pavel shows that Herzl had every reason to understand the Arab population of  
Palestine, their numbers and their point of view. Prior to the Second Zionist  
Congress in 1898, he sent the young Zionist activist Leo Motzkin on a tour of  
Palestine. One passage in his report, Pavel declares, “deserves the special  
attention it failed to receive at the time.” In that passage, Motzkin reported:  
“Completely accurate statistics about the number of inhabitants do not presently  
exist. One must admit that the density of the population does not give the  
visitor much cause for cheer. In whole stretches throughout the land one  
constantly comes across large Arab villages, and it is an established fact that  
the most fertile areas of our country are occupied by Arabs…”. (Protocol of the  
Second Zionist Congress).  
Irony of Referring to “Our country”  
Ernst Pavel points to the irony of referring to “our country” when discussing a  
land already inhabited by others. When Herzl himself visited Palestine in 1898,  
he seemed to ignore the local inhabitants almost completely. Pavel points out  
that, “The trip took him through at least a dozen Arab villages, and in Jaffa  
itself, Jews formed only 10 per cent —-some 3,000—-of the total population. Yet  
not once does he refer to the natives in his notes, nor do they ever seem to  
figure in his later reflections. In overlooking, in refusing to acknowledge  
their presence —-and hence their humanity—-he both followed and reinforced a  
trend that was to have tragic consequences for Jews and Arabs alike.”  
In his book “The Promised Land: A History of Zionist Thought,” Rabbi David  
Goldberg, a leading spokesman for Progressive Judaism in the United Kingdom,  
points out that one of the great shortcomings of the early Zionists was their  
indifference to the indigenous Arab population of Palestine. Some other  
Zionists, however recognized that a potential injustice against those living in  
Palestine was being perpetrated and warned against it.  
Unlike his fellow Zionists who persisted in fantasizing about “a land without  
people for the people without a land,” Ahad Ha’am, the Russian Jewish writer  
and philosopher, refused from the very beginning to ignore the presence of Arabs  
in Palestine. Ahad Ha’am paid his first visit to the new Jewish settlements in  
Palestine in 1891. In his essay “The Truth From The Land of Israel,” he says  
that it is an illusion to think of Palestine as an empty country: “We tend to  
believe abroad that Palestine is nowadays almost completely deserted, a non-  
cultivated wilderness and anyone can come there and buy as much land as his  
heart desires. But in reality this is not the case. It is difficult to find  
anywhere in the country Arab land which lies fallow.”  
Primacy of Jewish Ethics  
Jewish ethics were the heart and soul of Ahad Ha’am’s philosophy and to the end  
of his life he denounced any compromise with political expediency. In 1913,  
protesting against a Jewish boycott of Arab labor, he wrote to a friend: “I  
can’t put up with the idea that our brethren are morally capable of behaving in  
such a way to humans of another people, and unwittingly the thought comes to  
mind: If this is so now, what will our relations to the others be like if, at  
the end of time, we shall really achieve power in Eretz Israel? And if this be  
the Messiah , I do not wish to see his coming.”  
In 1923, Albert Einstein toured Palestine. He believed that Jewish settlers  
should be fair to their Arab neighbors and on November 25, 1929, he wrote to  
Chaim Weizmann: “Should we be unable to find a way to honest cooperation and  
honest pacts with the Arabs, then we have learned absolutely nothing during our  
2,000 years of suffering, and deserve all that will come to us.” Later, in  
January 1946, testifying before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry,  
Einstein was asked whether, in his view, refugee settlement in Palestine  
demanded a Jewish state. He replied: “The State idea is not according to my  
heart. I cannot understand why it is needed. It is connected with narrow-  
mindedness and economic obstacles. I believe that it is bad. I have always  
been against it.” He lamented that the concept of a Jewish commonwealth was  
“an imitation of Europe, the end of which was brought about by nationalism.”  
In 1952 in a message to a “Children of Palestine” dinner, Einstein spoke of the  
need to curb “a kind of nationalism which has already arisen in Israel if only  
to permit a friendly and fruitful coexistence with the Arabs.” Discussing this  
incident, Alfred M. Lilienthal in “The Zionist Connection,” writes: “When the  
portion of the Einstein message was censored in the organization’s press release  
so as to impart the impression of all-out support for Israel, I went to  
Princeton to seek the Professor’s views on the incident. Einstein then told me  
that he had never been a Zionist and had never favored the creation of the State  
of Israel. It was then that he also told me of a significant conversation with  
Weizmann. Einstein had asked him: ‘What of the Arabs if Palestine were given  
to the Jews?’ And Weizmann replied: ‘What Arabs? They are hardly of any  
Policy of Reconciliation  
A small number of thoughtful and sensitive Zionists sought a policy of  
reconciliation with the Arab inhabitants of Palestine. In 1925, under the  
leadership of Arthur Ruppin, an association called Brit Shalom (Covenant of  
Peace) was established in Palestine and proposed binationalism as the proper  
solution to the conflict between Zionists and Arabs, two peoples claiming the  
same land.  
In their credo, issued in Jerusalem in 1927, Brit Shalom said it was intent on  
creating in Palestine “a binational state , in which the two peoples will enjoy  
totally equal rights, as befits the two elements shaping the country’s destiny,  
irrespective of which of the two is numerically superior at any given time.”  
Its spokesmen included such respected figures as Judah Magnes, chancellor and  
first president of the Hebrew University, and such university faculty members as  
Martin Buber, Hugo Germann, Ernst Simon and Gershon Scholem. For these men,  
Zionism was a moral crusade or it was nothing.  
Brit Shalom’s leader, Arthur Ruppin, was saddened by the growing disparity  
between universal moral values and narrow Jewish nationalism. “what continually  
worries me,” he wrote, “is the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Palestine…  
the two peoples have become more estranged in their thinking . Neither has any  
understanding of the other, and yet I have no doubt that Zionism will end in  
catastrophe if we do not succeed in finding a common platform.”  
“No equivalent in History”  
What Zionists we’re doing, he argued, “has no equivalent in history. The aim is  
to bring Jews as a second nation into a country which already is settled as a  
nation—-and fulfill this through peaceful means. History has seen such  
penetration, by one nation into a strange land only by conquest, but it has  
never occurred that a nation will fully agree that another nation should come  
and demand full equality of rights and national autonomy at its side."  
As far back as 1930, Albert Einstein had warned in the Palestinian newspaper  
Falastin that “oppressive nationalism must be conquered,” and that he could  
“see a future for Palestine only on the basis of peaceful cooperation between  
the two peoples who are at home in the country …come together they must in spite  
of all.”  
We have become familiar with the term “ethnic cleansing” in recent years, but  
until recently, few have used it to describe the Zionist efforts to remove  
Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants. David Ben-Gurion advocated for “compulsory  
transfer” of Palestinians. In 1937, he established a Committee for Population  
Transfer within the Jewish Agency. “Transfer,” of course is the euphemism for  
“ethnic cleansing,” and was carried out at a mass level in 1948 and again in  
1967. One of its perpetrators, Yosef Weitz, director of the Jewish National  
Fund’s Land Settlement Department, wrote: “It must be clear that there is no  
room in the country for both peoples. The only solution is a Land of Israel  
without Arabs…There is no way but to transfer the Arabs from here…”  
Indifferent To Jews Who Did Not Come to Palestine  
Ben-Gurion was not only not concerned with the fate of the Palestinians, but  
was indifferent to what might happen to Jews who did not emigrate to Palestine.  
In 1938, he declared that if he knew he could save either all the Jewish  
children of Germany by transporting them to England or only half by bringing  
them to Palestine, he would not hesitate to choose the latter, because, “Before  
us lies not only the numbers of these children but the historical reckoning of  
the people of Israel.”  
Israeli historian Tom Segev notes that, “Disappearing the Arabs lay at the heart  
of the Zionist dream , and was also a necessary condition of its realization…  
With few exceptions, none of the Zionists disputed the desirability of forced  
transfer—-or its morality.”  
Another Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, writes: “By 1945, Zionism had attracted  
more than half a million settlers to a country whose population was almost two  
million…The local native population was not consulted…nor was its objection to  
the project of turning Palestine into a Jewish state taken into account…As with  
all earlier settler colonial movements, , the answer to these problems was the  
twin logic of annihilation and dehumanization. The settlers’ only way of  
expanding their hold on the land beyond the 7 percent, and ensuring an exclusive  
demographic majority, was to remove the natives from their homeland. Zionism is  
thus a settler colonial project and one that has not yet been completed…Israel  
is still colonizing …dispossessing Palestinians , and denying the rights of the  
natives to their homeland…the crime committed by the leadership of the Zionist  
movement, which became the government of Israel, was that of ethnic cleansing.”  
Final Victims of the Holocaust  
The reason that the Palestinians may properly be seen as the final victims of  
the Holocaust is that growing anti-Semitism in Europe caused many Jews, who had  
previously opposed Zionism, to begin to look positively upon the idea of  
creating a Jewish state in Palestine as a refuge for those being persecuted.  
Jewish organizations in the U.S. that had always opposed Zionism, slowly began  
to view it more favorably. Without Hitler, there would have been little support  
from Jews in the U.S. or Western Europe for the creation of a Jewish state.  
Without the Holocaust, the United Nations would have had little reason to  
establish the State of Israel.  
Now, the victimization of the Palestinians, who had no role in the Holocaust, is  
becoming more widely understood. Both the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem  
and Human Rights Watch have characterized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as  
The groundswell of international opposition to Israel’s occupation and  
mistreatment of Palestinians is being widely compared to the movement which grew  
in opposition to apartheid in South Africa. Jeff Halper points out that, “The  
Palestinian cause has attained a global prominence equal to that of the anti-  
apartheid movement. Palestinians have become emblematic of oppressed peoples  
everywhere. Israel is an established and strong settler state just as South  
Africa was, yet neither was able to defeat or marginalize an indigenous  
population with state-national aspirations. Now, the Palestinian struggle has  
achieved the level of significance of the anti-apartheid struggle in the world.  
Those Who Had Been Oppressed Then Mistreated Others  
These facts were eloquently enunciated many years ago by the late Israel Shahak,  
a Holocaust survivor who emigrated to Israel after World War II and had a  
distinguished career as a professor at the Hebrew University. He was chairman  
of the Israel League for Human and Civil Rights and lamented that Jews, who  
had been so horribly oppressed, would then be guilty of oppressing others.  
Dr. Shahak was particularly critical of American Jews, many of whom, he argued,  
had made the State of Israel a virtual object of worship, flying Israeli flags  
in synagogues, and ignoring completely the treatment of the Palestinians. He  
wrote: “I want to argue that this behavior…has no support in historical  
Judaism…It is contrary to what is in my opinion the best part of Judaism, the  
prophetic tradition, the exhortations of the Great prophets of ancient Israel.  
When Amos said: ‘But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a  
mighty stream.’ (5:24), against whom did he intend this? It is not said against  
the Assyrians or the Egyptians. It was intended, to use modern terms, against  
the government of Israel of his time..when Isaiah represents the Jews of his  
time …as saying ‘for we have made lies our refuge and under falsehood have we  
hid ourselves’ (28:15), he stands in glaring contrast to what is condemned by  
the American Jewish organizations, that is a critique of Jews themselves.”  
In Shahak’s view, “If a Jew would suggest now what I believe to be true—-that  
the majority of American Jews have made lies and falsehoods their refuge when  
they discuss Israeli affairs or the injustice done by Israel, with their  
support, to Palestinians—-he would be described as a ‘self-hating Jew,’ a  
definition applicable to not only all Jewish prophets , but to many (perhaps  
most) other great Jewish figures as well…The best part of historical Judaism is  
not only critical of the power of the Jewish state and of the Jewish religion  
itself when during times of corruption it supported the Jewish state. When the  
power of the official Jewish religion was exerted in support of injustices  
committed by the Jewish state, the prophets did not hesitate to condemn not only  
Jewish kings…but also Jewish prayers, holidays and temples. When Isaiah  
concluded that ‘Your hands are full of blood’ (and it is about Jewish hands that  
he said this), he continued and told the Jews of his generation to cease to pray  
on Sabbaths and not to make assemblies: ‘your new moons and your appointed  
feasts my soul hates, they are a trouble unto me…when you make many prayers, I  
will not hear’ (1:14-15).”  
Worship of a Jewish State Should be Condemned  
One of the most important duties of Jews, Shahak argues, “…is the critique of  
the Jewish state when it commits a wrong…in the absence of fulfilling this duty  
, Jewish religious observances become an abomination and an idolatry. Temples  
and synagogues, whether during the time of Amos and Isaiah or now, which are  
devoted to worship of a Jewish state (or of any other state) should be condemned  
in the same terms as every other totalitarian institution..It should be…asserted  
that those who support the injustices committed by Israel are not its true  
friends, but its worst enemies.”  
More and more Israelis, concerned about their country’s treatment of  
Palestinians, lament its departure from Jewish moral and ethical values.  
Professor David Shulman of Hebrew University writes: “We are, so we claim, the  
children of the prophets. Once, they say, we were slaves in Egypt. We know all  
that can be known about slavery, suffering, prejudice, ghettos, hate, expulsion  
exile. I find it astonishing that we of all peoples have reinvented apartheid  
in the West Bank.”  
Making a direct connection between the Holocaust and the suffering of  
Palestinians, Jane Hirschmann, whose family fled Germany at the time of the  
Holocaust, writes this in a June 14 post in Truthout: “I am a first generation  
American. My Jewish parents fled Germany as the horrors of the Holocaust were  
unfolding. They left behind family who perished in the camps…Once the war was  
over, Germany gave my father reparations for the loss of his business as well as  
for the crime of persecution. Both of my parents were welcomed back by the  
German government and told they could get their passports and citizenship  
returned…I wonder why the 750,000 Palestinians forced from their homes and land  
in 1948 when Israel was founded are not entitled to the same treatment my family  
received after World War II ended.”  
Reparations for Palestinians.  
Hirschmann concludes: “But the war against the Palestinians was never over.  
Instead, Israel continues to this day its policy of ethnic cleansing…I ask  
myself how is it possible that the victims of the Holocaust and their progeny  
can so brutally victimize another people on racial grounds? I ask myself why  
the Palestinians don’t have the same rights to reparations and return afforded  
my family after Germany accepted responsibility for their crimes. Shouldn’t  
Palestinians be entitled to reparations and the right of return? Shouldn’t  
they have the same right to self-determination that Israel itself claims? I am  
deeply ashamed and angry that these acts are committed in the name of the Jewish  
people and that my government provides the money and arms to support these  
Israeli crimes.”  
The Holocaust casts a long shadow. The declaration “Never Again” is one all of  
us should take to heart. But it should apply not only to attacks on Jews but on  
any religious, racial,or ethnic group. Today, it is the Palestinians who are  
being threatened with continued ethnic cleansing, ironically as a result of the  
Holocaust itself. They are, sadly, its final victims.

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