Israeli delegates to Johannesburg were caught off guard last week by a new and bewildering tactic. Arab delegates and fellow-travelers were blaming Israel for the conflict of 1948, claiming that the Jews are at fault for the tragic results of the Arab attempt to smother the Jewish state in its infancy. Well, if some can deny the Holocaust, why not? After all, what was 1948 except another extermination attempt?
The facts are so well known that they hardly bear repeating. But maybe they have not always been put in the right perspective. First fact: The Holocaust did happen. Many people believe the Holocaust cannot be used as an "excuse" for preferential treatment of its survivors — that they should have been treated no differently than anyone else. Since their houses had been stolen, they should have been left on the streets.
In a sense, that's what did happen. Even worse: These survivors were left in refugee camps for years while the nations of the world tried to think what to do with them. Few were willing or able to take them in. About the only people willing to help were the Jews, and only the Jews of Palestine had the political clout to take them in. Had there not been a strong Jewish population in Israel, it is impossible to say what would have happened to these unfortunates.
There was perhaps something irresponsible in the U.N. decision to allow these survivors to immigrate to Israel. After all, Israel was a small, insecure country surrounded by hostile Arab states. With their identity numbers still etched on their arms, these survivors would find that reaching Israel was only the beginning of their troubles. Far from offering the newcomers comfort, sympathy, or material help, many in the neighboring Arab states decided to kill them. And they did kill a great many of them.
But as we now know, the Arabs failed in that war. Rather than admit that it was probably not a good idea to try to murder innocent men, women, and children, many have tried ever since to make up for their initial failure with repeated attempts to destroy the country. Again and again they tried, and each time the only thing that stood between the Jews and death was their own defense forces. Even today, the Israeli Defense Forces remain the most important political force that exists for preserving the well being — and lives — of the Jewish people. For that reason alone, they deserve the admiration and support of all people of good will.
So why are some Arabs talking about 1948? Surely they don't hope to gain sympathy for this effort to "throw the Jews in the sea"? But if one can rewrite the Holocaust, why not try to rewrite 1948 as well? After all, in 1948, the Jews did have a few — very few — weapons to use. They must have killed someone with those weapons. Many Arabs became refugees because of the war. Not like the Jewish refugees — stuck in a refugee camp with nowhere to go — but still, they did lose their homes. And so: Why not blame the Jews?
And here we get to the point. Everyone knows that in war, there are unfortunately casualties. Everyone knows that in war there is damage. That is the tragic result of war, and those who start wars should be blamed. Like the Germans and the Japanese, Israel's Arab neighbors waged a cruel and vicious war, not once but several times. In each of their wars they have caused the deaths of thousands of innocent Israelis, as well as many thousands of less-innocent Arab aggressors. But they have never acknowledged guilt, and have never paid reparations. Why not?
Part of the answer may be that taking responsibility would mean putting an end the hostilities and allowing the Jews to live in their land in peace — and this is an idea Israel's Arab neighbors have still not gotten used to. As the numerous murderers of Jews in Israel attest, the killing of Jews is still considered a good deed by many Arabs there, even among the younger generation. Which brings us back to Johannesburg.
How can you blame the Jews for 1948 when they did nothing but wage a war in defense of their own lives? You can do so only if you believe Jews don't have the right to defend their lives. And here we see the connection between the denial of 1948 and the denial of the Holocaust. Those who deny 1948 — like those who deny the Holocaust — imply not only that it didn't happen, but also that it should have happened. If the Jews invented the Holocaust, if the Jews invented 1948, then it is the Jews, and not the Nazis — Jews, and not Arabs — who are the guilty ones.
Assigning guilt where it does not belong is a very serious crime. Arguments like these serve as incentives and justifications for mass murderers both within Israel and abroad. Far from promoting peace, they help create the conditions for waging a fresh war against the Jews, with the same goal as all the previous ones. This, then, is why some Arabs have begun denying 1948: because they want to try it again.Gabriel Danzig is a professor of classics at Bar Ilan University.
©2002 - National Review