Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Peace Quote of the Day - the impact of Yad Vashem on our pursuit of peace

Fatal Embrace is the remarkable account of the personal journey of an American Jew, grandson of a fifth generation Palestinian Jew, into his Jewish identity through the process of visiting Israel and the Occupied West Bank and beginning to grapple with the realities of the Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people.

Here is an account of the impact of a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, after having spent time in the West Bank. He begins by describing the location of Yad Vashem on Mount Herzl, the Mount of Memory, and the entry to the Museum. The whole account is well worth reading. Here is part of it. Read it slowly.

“I was shattered. A hand had reached into me, grabbed hold of my heart, and drawn me back into my past, into the collective memory of my people. How could I turn my back on this? How could I walk away from my history, from this incalculable, unfathomable loss, and, more so, from Israel, my deliverance? It had worked. I was hooked. What was I to do now? I had no choice. Emptied, numb, and confused, I turned and walked down the hall into the museum.

“It’s a brilliant exhibition. One walks down, into it. It is subterranean – no windows, no light, no escape. You are led through corridors and tunnels, with no control and no way out but through. One traverses the whole, familiar story: from the laws enacted in the thirties, the walls of isolation, privation, and degradation closing in, to the Final Solution: the ovens, the stacked bodies, the faces of the children. Darkness closes your heart – you feel you will never escape from this horror, this black hole of evil and despair. Then, turning a corner into the final gallery, on display are the blown-up photos of the ships bringing the refugees to the shores of Israel, faces shining with hope and gratitude. There is David Ben-Gurion, reading from the Israeli Declaration of Independence. And then, suddenly, you emerge. Ascending a wide flight of stairs, you are outside, in the light and the open air, standing on a wide patio that looks out on the Jerusalem Hills. It’s the final exhibit. And then it hit me. This was no mere museum. This was a lesson; this was indoctrination: from the biblical quote at the entrance [‘I will put my breath into you and you shall live again and I will set you upon your own soil,’ Ezekiel 37:14], into the depths, and to this sight – The Land. The reward. Our destiny.

“The fifty-eight-year spell was broken. I got it. And something let go, and it was okay.

“Diane, a fellow delegate, turned to me as we walked out and asked if I had seen the part about how the Nazis acted to marginalize, dispossess, and banish the Jews, the part before the extermination camps and the ovens. She asked if I had seen that this was what we had witnessed over the last few days. Yes, I had seen. The spell was broken. I got it. And it was okay.

“Treading, as I had so many times, the sacred ground of the Holocaust, I had, for the first time, broken The Rule: our Holocaust, the Holocaust, must not be compared to any other disaster, genocide, or crime. It has to stand as the ultimate humanitarian crime, the genocide. Not only that, I had also broken a rule so fundamental, so important that it is never even spoken: I had compared the Jews to the Nazis. And it was okay. Because, for the first time, I knew what I had to do; I knew how to understand and integrate the Holocaust. For one thing had not changed: the Nazi Holocaust would continue to be the formative historical event of my life. But now, from this day forward, finding the meaning of the Holocaust meant working for justice for Palestine. There were too many parallels, too many ways in which Israel was doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to us. No, we had not built death camps. But we were turning into beasts, into persecutors, and we were killing a civilization.

“Here was the most terrible irony in this scenario: in enshrining our own memory, in living out our liturgy of destruction, to use theologian Marc Ellis’s phrase, we have been erasing the history of another. It is a terrible irony that Yad Vashem, along with Har Herzl, is built on top of these hills west of Jerusalem, hills littered with the remains of Palestinian villages. Some have been turned into parks for the Jews of Jerusalem. Most are ruins, stones bleaching in the sun, standing guard over uncultivated terraces of olives and grapes, witnesses to shattered lives and a murdered civilization.”
Mark Braverman, Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land

This is an example of the kind of journey, the kind of transformation, which must take place, individual by individual, if there is ever going to be peace in the so-called Holy Land, the land of Jesus and so many prophets. Non-Jews must see, experience, internalize the Jewish experience of the Holocaust, to understand what lies behind the significance of the State of Israel, and the actions of the Israeli government toward the Palestinians. Jews must see, experience, internalize the Palestinian suffering, and see how their response to the Holocaust has led to the unthinkable – repeating the inhumanity they experienced, in their treatment of the Palestinians.

This is a stunning book. If you are interested in peace, anywhere, you should read it.

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