IN THE WEEK leading up to Israel's festive celebration of its 50th Independence Day, the Jewish state paused to mark two solemn occasions, Holocaust Remembrance Day and a Memorial Day for Fallen Israeli Soldiers.
Yom Hashoah held a particular significance this year, as Jews in Israel and worldwide reflected on the proximity between the abyss of the Nazi genocide and the triumph of Jewish statehood just a few short years later.
Recent efforts to remedy past wrongs against the Jewish people have given global attention to these events. Notably, world Jewry has demanded that Switzerland and other nations return the enormous wealth stolen from Holocaust victims which fell into their hands.
In addition, the Vatican has been urged to apologise for the actions and inactions of the Catholic Church during the attempted extermination of European Jewry.
Taking his cue from such Jewish efforts, Akram Haniyeh, a senior aide to PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, demanded this past month that visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair offer both an apology and compensation for the "great catastrophes that British policy brought on the Palestinians".
In his column as editor of the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, Haniyeh wrote that the British government was "still haunted by the ghosts of its colonial policy" and that Blair's visit in mid-April would be a "golden opportunity to apologise to the Palestinian people on behalf of his country".
"Britain is fundamentally and greatly responsible for the Palestinian people's Nakba [disaster]," said Haniyeh. "[T]herefore this apology by Tony Blair is a historical must that cannot be ignored. It is very important to try to heal some of the deep wounds."
Blaming Britain for the collapse of the local Arab economic and social structure in 1948, Haniyeh called for restitution: "Britain must increase its aid to the Palestinian people. In fact it must top the donor's list in order to pay some sort of compensation for the Palestinian people."
This demand no doubt was buoyed by the unbridled bullying of Israel by British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in March, behaviour later approved by Blair. Yet amid rising expectations of a forthcoming apology, Blair exhibited sound judgement by evading the issue when confronted by a student at a girl's school he visited in Gaza.
For Haniyeh and other Palestinian Arabs are more than just intellectually dishonest in faulting Britain for the inter-Arab rivalries and poor leadership that led to Palestinian failures five decades ago. They are delusional.
In truth, Britain should be credited with doing everything possible to encourage Arab victory over the Zionists in Mandate Palestine (See Backgrounder, June 1997 Digest). Several Arab countries (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria, among them) owe their independence to British policies and, as many on the Israeli left have lamented in recent weeks, Palestinian Arabs could have enjoyed independence as well if not for the failures and mistakes of their own Arab leaders.
Surely, it is time for sober thinking on such matters. If Palestinian Arabs believe they are owed an apology, they need to look to Damascus, Baghdad, Amman, Cairo... and to themselves.
More importantly, they should think in terms of expressing their own deep regrets for the Arab massacres of Jews under the watchful eyes of British Mandate authorities, and for the scores of innocent lives taken during the ensuing half-century of Palestinian terrorism.
Nothing serves to reopen the painful wounds of the Jewish Holocaust more than the peddling of Holocaust denial and its counterpart--Holocaust comparison. Palestinian figures have proven the most effective violators on both accounts: Questioning the historical record of more than six million Jewish deaths while at the same time decrying a "Palestinian Holocaust" at the hands of the "Nazi" Israelis.
Like a two-edged sword, the unprecedented sufferings of the Jewish people are mocked even as Israel is forced to combat charges that they now own Hitler's racist legacy.
Palestinian leaders continue to build new myths based on counterfeit claims of past wrongs and present entitlements, refusing to face responsibility for their own legacy of hatred, rejection, aggression and ultimate blame.
If Great Britain owes an apology to anyone, it is to the hundreds of thousands--if not millions--of Jewish victims of the Holocaust whose fates were sealed when British policy turned decidedly pro-Arab with the 1939 White Paper, limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine.
But it is, of course, far too late for that.