Two translators; two languages. Two instructors; two narratives. Two groups arranging the Seminar; Robi and Usama; Aesha and Sarik; Daniela and Nadwa. Two nations; the Holocaust and the Hanakba. Palestine and Israel; Jews and Arabs. And then Khaled stood up at the end of two days in which we shared our pain; after we heard about the tragedy of the other, and announced to all of us that his closing words are on behalf of both Israelis and Palestinians, and made us - even if in an artificial way- a single united organization. As Yaakov Gutterman said - "Our organization gained maturity in the last two days." Aziz's mom said that every Palestinian must visit YadveShem; others said that Kbebe is a memory and Zecharia is a dream that will be documented one day in the Hanakba museum. Robi said that we should avoid becoming addicted to pain comparison. Anat said that where there is love, there is hope.
The Holocaust and Hanakba got mixed and we all felt that our national tragedy is more dreadful and horrible than the other. We can never agree on which tragedy is worse: a method for killing six million Jews- one third of the Jewish people - or being driven out of your home and land and living under occupation for forty or even sixty years. We will never be able to agree which tragedy is worse, there isn't and there can't be a full emotional partnership in each other's personal pain. But, there can and must be an acknowledgement of the pain of the other side; we can and must contain the pain of the other side in order to stop looking back in anger; in order to look ahead with hope.
Will we know how to turn this maturity into meaningful action among our nations? Will being able to cry together make it possible for us to laugh together? Is there only one truth - our own? And if there are two truths, are they located on parallel lines which will never meet, or there are encounter points from which we can travel on a common road together? Can we compare the two national tragedies? And if we can, is it permissable to do so, is it right? Is it clear to our Palestinian friends that the fear of another Holocaust, in the boundaries of the homeland, is what creates the abyss between us? Is it clear to us Israelis that the vines which grow on the ruins of Khaled's family home in Kbebe is a clear testimony of the cruel fate of the Palestinians?
My family on both my mother's and my father's side is from Germany. The two families immigrated to Israel in time, before the Holocaust started. They understood what many Jewish families didn't, that they must cut themselves off from Germany and Europe, and start over here in Israel. This disengagement was very hard and full of personal tragedies, but the families held on, in order to build their new home. I went to Germany to look for my roots; I looked for my mom's family home in Hamburg; I visited my dad's family grave in Bad Breisig; I recalled my mom's sweet childhood memories with pain; I was angry at those who live today in my grandparents house, without knowing who it belonged to; I was sorry to see the neglect at my forefathers' graves in a town near the Rhein. Nobody knows today where the synagogue was. In Hamburg it was different. The big parking lot, in what used to be the Jewish neighborhood, marks the place of the big synagogue which was completely ruined. In spite of all of that, when I walked in the ruins of Kbebe, I thought if there is a similaritybetween the visit of Khaled and his family and Um Muhammad and her family, and my visit at the places where my family used to live in Germany.
While Boaz told us that we are going to visit Khaled's home (not where his home used to be), I understood at that moment the big difference between us, regarding disengaging from the past against our will. The history of my two families in two German cities, which can be located on five to six generations, was over. Nothing remained, except few graves. We are not referring with indifference to this reality, but we don't miss Germany or Europe. Our home is here in Israel. Here my parents are buried; my grandparents and our dear son, Ziv. Our Palestinian friends are still in a different place, a different stage of accepting reality; it's their right! (Who are we to give them a license to dream about returning back?)
I would like our Palestinian friends, who were so impressed after their visit in "Yad ve Shem", to adapt the position that the Naqba, which is to their understanding their Holocaust, is a historic event; a foundation event in the history of the Palestinian nationality. I wouldn't like them to see it as an event that justifies violent actions in order to change the reality. The ambition to return to their childhood areas will still be a dream worth dreaming but not something that's possible to implement. The methodical extermination of more than five hundred Palestinian villages, in the area of the Israeli state, as we saw in Kbebe, obliges us, Israelis, to treat them with more generosity, but obliges them, too, to start rehabilitating the refugees in their present residences.
Today, acceptance is easier for us, my dear friends. It's not because we hurt less, not because the amount of cruelty was different; it's because we succeeded as a Nation to establish a home which can shelter and protect us all. The Palestinian reality, nowadays, is different, much harder. That's why remembering and identifying with your catastrophe has, perhaps, a different meaning, perhaps a much harder one.
I would also like my Palestinian friends to understand that for me the Holocaust isn't just a pending threat, which may happen again sooner or later and which I must prevent by all means possible. The Holocaust is the most diabolical expression of the darkness of the human soul, which was able to create an annihilating machine, methodical and cruel just for annihilating the "other" - the loathsome, the abominable, and the one who has no right to live and exist. The Holocaust isn't just the efficient annihilating machine which was activated by the Nazis, the Germans and their co-partners in Europe. It's also the line between the majority which cooperated, in an active or passive way just because of the obligation to belong to the national camp, and the minority, the elect, who risked their lives and tried to act against racial madness.
In Yad veShem I saw again and recalled the words of Pastor Niemöller about the Jews, the Communists and the Unionists: "First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me."
Therefore when I came out of Yad veShem, with you, my Palestinian friends, I took with me the words that were on one of the posters: "It’s not what a nation does, but what a nation tolerates." I took those words with me the next day to Kbebe and I'm carrying them with me every time I think about the eleven year-old Abir Aramin. I want to believe that you too will take those words with you when the next bus will explode in Israel. Then and only then we, the two nations, will gain true maturity!
Jona Bargur 26.02.2007
Photography: Eyal Offer.