Quote of the Day – 16th in our series: "Memory is a political issue"

Today’s quote of the Day – the 16th in our series — comes from remarks made by Israeli historian Tom Segev, interviewed by Ed Sanders in the Los Angeles Times about the significance of the 1961 trial in Jerusalem of Nazi officer Adolph Eichmann, months after Eichmann was captured and secretly abducted from a hiding place in Latin America by Israeli Mossad agents.

As’ad AbuKhalil (The Angry Arab News Service blog) linked to the interview, criticizing Sanders for asking, in a question, why Eichmann was the only person ever to have ever been given the death penalty and executed [he was hung] in Israel.

As’ad noted: “the writer then said: ‘Since Eichmann, Israel has not put anyone else to death. Why?’. Excuse me, but Israel has killed thousands since then but it does not put people to death after a trial anymore. In the case of Arabs, it kills them without trial. Eh, what does it call that? Targeted assassinations?”   This is posted both on the Angry Arab blog, and on his website here .

The interview, apparently inspired by an exhibit in an Israeli museum, is a fascinating exchange.

Sanders wrote: “Fifty years ago this month, Israel seemed to grind to a halt as people huddled around radios, listening to testimony in the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Captured by Israeli secret service agents in Argentina in 1960, Eichmann was tried, and eventually executed, as a chief architect of the Holocaust, in which 6 million European Jews were killed”. The interview is published here.

At the time of the Eichmann trial, Sanders reported, about one-fourth of Israel’s population were Holocaust survivors.

In the interview, Segev told Sanders:
“In a Cabinet meeting minutes three or four days after Eichmann’s capture, [Prime Minister] David Ben-Gurion talks about the need to bring the Holocaust closer to the new Israeli generation, which knows nothing about the Holocaust. Most of the meeting dealt with PR…. All the details are related to selling two ideas: A.) this is a sovereign country with a right to judge the criminal who hurt our citizens. And B.) that Israel represents the Holocaust victims. Israel may not represent the entire Jewish people. This would be too sensitive, especially vis-a-vis Jews in America. But it [Israel] does represent the 6 million victims“.

Question (Sanders)” So in a sense Israel was taking ‘ownership’ of the Holocaust?

Segev: “It took a monopoly on the Holocaust, which means the world owes us something. This is what it was really about. The trial formulated Israel’s official attitude to the Holocaust, which is still relevant today. The attitude says the establishment of Israel is the only response to the persecution of the Jews. In this way, the Holocaust is used as the ultimate proof of Zionist ideology: Israel as an answer to the Holocaust, and never again”

Question: Is there a risk or downside in that kind of identification?

Segev: There is a great risk. Memory is a political issue. Israel has to decide. Do I say that the lessons of the Holocaust are: Never again, Israel must be strong, Arabs are the new Nazis and Israel can never violate human rights because we are the victims? Or do you say: The Holocaust commands us to fight racism, defend democracy and defend human rights? You find both ideas in Israel today. But I think the first, the nationalist aspect, is stronger. Racism in Israel is much more part of the consensus. As far as I’m concerned, we have not drawn the right lessons from the Holocaust, and it started with the Eichmann trial”…


In this connection, one striking Israeli response to the murders of members of the Fogel family in the Itamar settlement in the northern West Bank near the city of Nablus, and yesterday’s shooting — in the same region, not far away — by Palestinian Authority policemen of Israeli hasidic men [of the Breslev or Bratslav movement] who visited Joseph’s Tomb in the Balata area of Nablus to pray (which they often do with great religious fervor) without proper “coordination” [with the Israeli military, who would then inform the Palestinians] — resulting in one death, and several injured — has been to claim that these people were killed for the sole reason that they were Jews, that they were Jewish.

The victim in the Easter Sunday shooting at Joseph’s Tomb happened to be the nephew of the Israeli Minister of Culture, Limor Livnat, who said at the funeral Sunday afternoon, according to a report in Haaretz, that her nephew “‘was killed by a terrorist disguised as a Palestinian policeman, through no fault of his own, just because he wished to pray. He was a person who just wanted to do good’. She tearfully added ‘my nephew was named for Shlomo Ben-Joseph who sacrificed his soul for the land of Israel, and now my nephew has been murdered for the land of Israel, my dear son’. The minister recalled how she ‘woke up this morning to a call from Ben-Joseph’s mother, telling me he was killed by a terrorist dressed as a Palestinian policeman, and this is cold blooded murder’. She said that all her nephew was trying to do was pray, and he was only killed ‘because he is Jewish’.” This Haaretz story is published here.

The same Haaretz article reported that “During and after the funeral, many of the funeral participants clashed with Palestinians in the West Bank village of Hawwara. The Israelis approached the village and began throwing stones at Palestinian vehicles, lightly wounding a child. The angry youth torched a car and tried to burn down a house, but were stopped after large security forces were deployed in the area”.

The Jerusalem Post reported that “Other teens and young adults who were part of Livnat’s funeral procession from the Elon Moreh settlement to Jerusalem, stoned and burned Palestinian cars in the Samaria region, injuring one Palestinian lightly.  Settlers said that it was ‘scandalous’ that Palestinians were allowed to drive on the road on a day like this“.

The JPost story added that ” Ben Yosef Livnat was killed when a vehicle he was in was shot at by a Palestinian Authority policeman as he and a group of other worshipers were exiting the city from prayer services held at Joseph’s Tomb. Magen David Adom said one person was in serious condition, one in moderate condition and two others in light condition. The four were detained by police for obstructing the investigation and refusing to tell authorities their version of events. Police have requested the Haifa Magistrate’s Court extend the remand of three of the injured. According to an IDF initial investigation, three vehicles containing Breslev worshipers entered the tomb in violation of a decree by the IDF’s Central Command prohibiting entry of Israelis into Area A [n.b. – in the West Bank] without prior coordination. A verbal confrontation ensued between the worshipers and the Palestinian policemen, who called on them to leave the area. The Breslev vehicles failed to stop at a checkpoint outside of the religious site, the investigation found. The policemen then fired shots in the air. The worshipers tried to flee the area, and their vehicles came under fire, killing Livnat, 24, father of four, and wounding four others. Following its own initial investigation, The IDF believes the PA policemen were fully aware that the men they fired on were Israeli worshipers who were unarmed and posed no threat despite entering the area without proper security coordination”. This JPost report is published here.

Haaretz reported in another story that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “demanded in a statement that the PA must take severe steps against the Palestinian policemen who ‘misbehaved’ and opened fire on the Israeli worshipers … Earlier, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that there was no excuse that could justify the Palestinian security forces’ fatal use of live fire against the Israelis who entered Joseph’s Tomb without authorization … ‘No problem of coordination can justify an incident like this and the shooting of innocent people’, Barak said, calling the incident no less than ‘murder’. A spokesman of the West Bank settlement council [Yesha Council of Settlements] declared that Israel could not let the shooting of its citizens by Palestinian security forces pass silently. ‘The defensive wall built by the IDF nine years ago has cracked once again, this time from bullets fired by those who want to be given a state’, added the spokesman”. This is published here.

The last line is a peculiar remark — the Yesha Council spokesman surely realizes that the shooting took place on the Palestinian side of The Wall. What is he saying here?

But, another Haaretz report stated that “A senior Israel Defense Forces termed the incident ‘a serious mishap caused by both sides’. The army is refraining from referring to the shooting as a terror attack, but has called it an unjustified attack against civilians. The Palestinian Authority opened its own investigation into the matter, and reported that that the officer on duty began shooting in the air in response to the Israelis’ ‘suspicious movement’. Defense Minister Ehud Barak condemned the incident as ‘murder’ and ordered the IDF to carry out an investigation of its own. He also demanded the Palestinians probe the incident quickly and take every step necessary to perpetrate those responsible. ‘No problem of coordination can justify an incident like this and the shooting of innocent people’, he said. The officers on duty during the shooting were detained for questioning by the Palestinian Authority, but it is not yet clear whether they will be taken in for investigation by Israeli forces as well. Livnat and the other three casualties were part of a group of some 15 worshipers who entered the site in three separate cars without military authorization … The tomb, which some believe to be the final resting place of the Biblical patriarch Joseph, is located in an area of the West Bank under full Palestinian control. Hours after the incident, dozens of Palestinians rioted near Joseph’s Tomb, and burned tires, Israel Radio reported. The tomb was attacked and ransacked by Palestinians at the start of the Palestinian uprising in 2000, and one of the Israeli policemen stationed there was killed.  After 2003, Jews were allowed intermittent access, which was expanded in 2009 to one coordinated monthly midnight visit.  Despite military warnings, flocks of Bratslav Hasidim and other religious pilgrims routinely enter the compound to pray without permission, often late at night.  Shots have been fired in the past at such groups entering without authorization.  Security forces have tried to crack down on the unauthorized pilgrimages and have in the past arrested trespassers, though every detainee has been released within hours without significant penalty.  A military spokesman on Sunday stressed that the army coordinated a monthly pilgrimage to the site for hundreds of worshipers, to give them authorized and secure access to the site. One such visit was held just two weeks ago, said the spokesman”. This is published here.

Palestinian news reports said that the hasidic men had not only run the roadblock, but also insulted the PA policemen and provoked them, using vulgar language and hand gestures. The PA policemen only shot into the air, initial Palestinian reports indicated… Of course, insults at roadblocks or checkpoints should not be grounds to shoot at people. But, here things are done differently. And, if the PA police did shoot only into the air, then they are spectacularly bad shots…

UPDATE: YNet reported on 26 April that the PA Governor of Nablus, Jibrin al-Bakri, “still maintains that the shooting occurred after the Berslov Hasidim who entered the compound provoked the Palestinian officers: ‘They removed the roadblock set at the entrance and some of them threw rocks at the police officers. One of them even tried to snatch away one of the policemen’s weapons’, al-Bakri said. ‘The officers tried to stop them, they fired warning shots. Then they got in their car to run and crashed into one of the barriers’ … The Nablus governor is certain his policemen did not mean to harm – let alone kill – the worshipers, and only fired because they thought they were in mortal danger”. This is reported here.

An Israeli Border Policeman was killed at Joseph’s Tomb in October 2000, in one of the iconic clashes [in which a number of Palestinians were also killed] shortly after the start of the second Palestinian Intifada. A few weeks later, the IDF handed Joseph’s Tomb over to the Palestinian police. according to Wikipedia, which adds that “After the events of October 2000, the IDF prohibited Israeli access to the tomb. However, some Breslov hasidim and others would visit the site clandestinely under the cover of darkness, evading army and police checkpoints. In May 2002, Israeli soldiers mistakenly opened fire on a convoy of settlers taking advantage of an ongoing incursion in Nablus to visit the tomb. Seven settlers were arrested by the army for illegally entering a combat zone”.

UPDATE: A Haaretz editorial published Tuesday said that “A swift, meticulous investigation is needed to find out not only who is responsible for the shooting and the uncoordinated entry, but also to examine the coordination between Israel and the Palestinians, and to prevent another fatal incident. As long as the inquiry is going on, it is improper and harmful to make inflammatory declarations, call the Palestinian officers terrorists and murderers, and treat the shooting as a terror attack that must be avenged”.

UPDATE TWO: On Tuesday, Haaretz published a story by Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, posted here, reporting that “As late as 5 a.m. Sunday, a Givati Brigade battalion still had guards stationed at the entrance to Nablus to keep Jews seeking to pray at Joseph’s Tomb from approaching the area without making arrangements first. About half an hour after the forces left, a group of Hasidim broke into the city, which led to the incident that ended in the killing of Ben-Yosef Livnat by a Palestinian policeman”.

So, the hasidic men were just waiting for the IDF to leave?

Look at how this story turns, and the reasoning used: “The way the events unfolded is infuriating. Instead of looking for and arresting Palestinian terrorists who aim to murder Jews, the Israel Defense Forces is busy protecting Israelis who are hell-bent on putting their own lives in danger. Entering Joseph’s Tomb on your own is dangerous and against the law, and the army has been warning all rabbis and Hasidim against doing it for years. Moreover, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have their own organized prayers in the compound. This act of stupidity by the Hasidim triggered an excessive Palestinian reaction with a tragic end”…

For some further background, see this Didi Remez post here., which highlights an article by Roi Sharon in Maariv, reporting that “nine years after the IDF’s withdrawal from Nablus, right wing groups plan to restore the Jewish presence in Joseph’s Tomb … After the removal of the Hawara roadblock near Nablus, illegal visits to Joseph’s Tomb increased. Contrary to earlier years, when Joseph’s Tomb worshippers would infiltrate in the depths of night using various bypass roads, in recent months worshippers enter during daylight of day and via the main roads”… here.

UPDATE THREE: YNet has just reported that its reporter visited Joseph’s Tomb with a small group led by Ben-Joseph Livnat just four day’s before Livnat was shot and killed in the same place — after outrunning IDF jeeps in a chase away from Huwwara checkpoints: “Entering Nablus with a group of Breslov Hasidim is terrifying … Around 30 Breslov Hasidim met in a spring located south of Nablus, in the West Bank. This is their semi-secret meeting place where they gather to bathe before the journey begins. It was nearly 2 am on Thursday … In the valley below us we spotted an IDF force at Hawara checkpoint, in charge of preventing worshipers from entering the holy city. Our group leaders, including Livnat, huddled around and came up with a plan to mislead the soldiers … Livnat broke the law when he entered Joseph’s Tomb without authorization, but that is not the reason he was killed. It is deeper than that. Joseph’s Tomb is a sensitive subject in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Livnat was killed because he was part of the battle to control the holy site. Everybody wants to renovate it, preserve it – but those who try the hardest are the Breslov Hasidim, and Livnat was one of their most vigorous standouts. On our way to Jerusalem we passed by the Palestinian town of Awarta, where the Fogel family killers came from. We entered. It turned out this is where Aaron’s sons, Ithamar and Eleazar, are buried as well as the seventy Elders. The sun was rising as we left Awarta. I breathed a sigh of relief”… This is posted here.

Another settler spokesperson, Gershon Mesika head of the Shomron Regional Council, quoted in another story published on YNet, said “that the Palestinian officers were clearly at fault: ‘Breslov Hassidim come to the Tomb to pray every week. They know them but for some reason, they decided to open fire this time’.” This is reported here.

Our own post on being refused a visit to Joseph’s Tomb last summer is here.


Returning to the LATimes interview of Israeli historian Tom Segev, Ed Sanders asked: You find some Israelis today who bristle at the suggestion that, as you said, the foundation of Israel was the answer or outcome of the Holocaust. Why?

Segev: “If Israel was created as a result of the Holocaust –which by the way, it says in Israel’s Declaration of Independence — then Arabs might have a case to say, ‘Why are we paying the price?’ The whole existence of Israel would become rather coincidental”.

Question: If the trial served as a kind of national healing and catharsis, why do Holocaust survivors still complain that Israel has failed to provide them with adequate social and financial support? You find survivors in homeless shelters and at soup kitchens.

Segev: “Prior to Eichmann, Holocaust survivors were kind of an interest group. But after the Holocaust became a national issue, survivors as a group become much weaker. Everyone owns the issue, so the voice of the survivors is weaker. The Israeli Finance Ministry is just waiting for them to die. It’s appalling”.

On 14 April, the Association for Immediate Help for Holocaust survivors sent out an email saying that “According to government statistics, there are 220,000 recognized Holocaust survivors in Israel today, 60,000 of whom live below the poverty line”.

The email reported that the Association — which said it assists more than 3,000 Holocaust survivors — is now in danger of closing for lack of funds.

The immediate problem, apparently, is that “the building they have rented for years was sold … The house was recently sold and in the surge in real estate prices, the association can not afford to rent another house”.

In this house, the Association said, it “offered round the clock care for Holocaust Survivors who needed care while recuperating from an illness or needed a place to live in. The house was also a center for gathering food donations that were sent to needy Holocaust Survivors all over Israel. Laundry services were given from the house to hundreds of Holocaust Survivors and the house was also a gathering point for blankets, house hold appliances and more”.

It added that “The Association for Immediate Help to Holocaust Survivors [was established and] is run completely by volunteers, who donate their own money to keep the organization functioning. The volunteers cook, help with cleaning and home-care, help with handiwork around the house, provide transportation to doctor’s visits, financed medical treatments that are not paid by the national health insurance, wash and fold the laundry for hundreds of struggling Holocaust survivors spread across Israel, and much more”.

The email noted that “As the association has no money and all are volunteers, crushed by the burden of caring for thousands of Holocaust Survivors, the volunteers had no time as yet to built a web-site” …

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