Monday, May 12, 2008

More than one kind of stench on the air

AS the Egyptian government tries to broker a cease fire that might end the siege of Gaza and open the door to new peace efforts, I am just digesting a message from a friend who wondered what to make of an approach to the United Nations by three Non-Governmental Organisations complaining about a Hamas 'educational' TV programme, entitled apparently "The murder of Jews in the Holocaust was a Zionist plot".

Their "urgent appeal" calls on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Human Rights commissioner Louise Arbour to condemn the programme, and reiterates "our disgust at the ongoing culture of hate toward Jews and Judaism that has culminated in an ultimate perversion, by the Gaza Hamas regime, of the Nazi genocide of six million Jews – and this just prior to the Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel and worldwide".

Knowing nothing about the organisations concerned, or their record on defending human rights in Gaza or anywhere else, I could not answer my friend's query about their credentials, or priorities. Being unable offhand to tell you what is on British TV right now, I am frequently impressed by the detailed knowledge which some Western-based organisations and politicians seem to command of what is in the Arabic-language media at any time.

Considering the terrible state of Gaza under siege in recent times, with the Israeli blockade creating shortages of food, medical supplies and electricity, and causing vital services to break down, I am also impressed that Hamas is apparently able to devote resources to TV programmes concerning the Nazi Holocaust, even from an unusual angle. Apparently the theme of this one is that the Zionists engineered the whole thing to remove unwanted sick and disabled Jews. Well, it makes a change from Ahmadinejad and guests questioning whether it even happened.

But what's it for?

To incite and sustain hatred of the Zionist state? The Israeli Defence Forces(IDF) are making a pretty good job of that on their own. If your family had been forced to flee Jaffa, or Majdal, in 1948, you grew up in a refugee camp, and you are reduced now to scavenging garbage for food for your kids, and stepping over untreated sewage in the street, you might feel sentiments other than brotherly love towards the neighbouring state you considered responsible. Even when its planes were not roaring overhead, terrorising your children with sonic booms if not killing them with rocket fire.

If you're anything like me, you'd feel hatred for Israel, and the powers that back it. You'd be unlikely to say "I can put up with the siege and all that, but did you see that TV programme last night when the electricity was on? That bit about what they did to their people in Poland and Hungary? That really got me".

So what's it all about? European and American racists and antisemites try to insult and belittle the Holocaust survivors, and deny what was done, in order to ease their own feelings of guilt and continue as before (just as some have given their support to Israel to cover what they really feel and turn their hatred on Arabs for now). But, as one of the hand-made posters on Saturday's Palestine demonstration in London said, "Arabs were not responsible for the Nazi Holocaust". Indeed not. In fact, the Palestinians were indirectly Hitler's last victims. What use can they, or their real supporters, have for Holocaust denial?

It can only further compound this tragedy if the Arab and Muslim world, which gave so much to human culture, should now be used as a dumping ground for Europe's old racist crap. The answer to Zionist misuse of history is not to deny it, or find excuses for the murderers, but to insist that its lessons be learned. 'Never again' must mean - never again to anyone.

All the same, I'd feel happier endorsing the condemnation of Hamas and what it was putting out on TV, assuming the reports are true, if I could feel sure that those petitioning the UN had been equally vociferous over the more obvious pollution that is going on as a result of Israeli action. I mentioned the stench in Gaza, because pumps and sewage works have been hit, or broken down for lack of power, and spare parts. Disease germs are no respecters of frontier posts. Maybe it would be poetic justice if some of what flows out to sea washed up on the beach at Tel Aviv. But we cannot wait for such consequences.

The columnist Johann Hari recently wrote on how he would like to celebrate the State of Israel's 60th anniversary, praising its cultural achievements and enlightened attitudes, but ...
'Whenever I try to mouth these words, a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit. Across the occupied West Bank, raw untreated sewage is pumped every day out of the Jewish settlements, along large metal pipes, straight onto Palestinian land. From there, it can enter the groundwater and the reservoirs, and become a poison.
'Standing near one of these long, stinking brown-and-yellow rivers of waste recently, the local chief medical officer, Dr Bassam Said Nadi, explained to me: "Recently there were very heavy rains, and the shit started to flow into the reservoir that provides water for this whole area. I knew that if we didn't act, people would die. We had to alert everyone not to drink the water for over a week, and distribute bottles. We were lucky it was spotted. Next time..." He shook his head in fear. This is no freak: a 2004 report by Friends of the Earth found that only six per cent of Israeli settlements adequately treat their sewage.
'Meanwhile, in order to punish the population of Gaza for voting "the wrong way", the Israeli army are not allowing past the checkpoints any replacements for the pipes and cement needed to keep the sewage system working. The result? Vast stagnant pools of waste are being held within fragile dykes across the strip, and rotting. Last March, one of them burst, drowning a nine-month-old baby and his elderly grandmother in a tsunami of human waste. The Centre on Housing Rights warns that one heavy rainfall could send 1.5m cubic metres of faeces flowing all over Gaza, causing "a humanitarian and environmental disaster of epic proportions".
So how did it come to this? How did a Jewish state founded 60 years ago with a promise to be "a light unto the nations" end up flinging its filth at a cowering Palestinian population?'

This does not make pleasant reading. But it is not as unpleasant as what it describes. You can switch off a crap television programme, or watch it without having to believe what it says. It is not so easy to avoid the stench of raw sewage, or escape from disaster, or disease.

Having described one kind of outpouring of effluent, Hari was deluged by another, as pro-Zionist commentators variously denounced him as an "antisemite" (Melanie Philips), comparing what he wrote with medieval stories of well-poisoning (as though he was making it up rather than commenting on something that was happening), or called him a "fat faggot" (John D.Norman), who liked Arabs too much.

Hari wanted to show that what's happening with sewage was symptomatic of an attitude to the Palestinians, as well as being an evil in itself, and what the response to his article showed is that this racist attitude, with its own form of denial, is rampant here. If the World Union for Progressive Judaism and the other bodies protesting a Hamas TV programme are concerned about those creating a culture of hatred, there are a few characters here in London they should look at. Bravo, and koech to Johann Hari, for telling the truth, and shaming the devil, at the risk of provoking the response he did.

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