by Marc H. Ellis on September 28, 2011
Last week, I listened to Barack Obama, an African American and my President, speak at the United Nations. I became sad beyond words. I wonder where his sense of history went.
I am a Jew. President Obama spoke of Jewish history – the years of exile and persecution, the Holocaust, the return to our ancient homeland. We deserve the respect of our Arab neighbors and the world.
I wonder if he speaks of American history in the same way.
Peoples and nations have their travails. History is bleak. We search for the good.
Is it possible to remain silent about slavery? Slavery is the defining moment of American history.
Can Jews be silent about the ethnic cleansing of Palestine? The ethnic cleansing of Palestine is among the defining moments of contemporary Jewish history.
Yes, persecution, exile, Holocaust and return. Now the violence of the Israeli state. The occupation of the Palestinian people.
Israel will not stop itself. Palestinians cannot stop Israel. Many Jews and Palestinians want a way beyond this endless violence. When the powerful deny the history we Jews are creating we become stuck in a quagmire. We sink deeper.
Some Jews worry about those who deny that the Holocaust occurred. Denying that 6 million Jews were murdered in Europe during the Nazi period is horrendous. Beyond words.
Yet in the President Obama’s address there is no mention of what happened to the Palestinians in 1948. What is still happening to the Palestinians. Don’t Palestinians have a history that needs acknowledgement?
Palestinians refer to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine as the Nakba, in Arabic, the Catastrophe.
Mr. President, are you a Nakba denier?
1948 may be inconsequential to you and indeed for many Jews. But just as the Holocaust needs to be remembered, the Nakba needs to be remembered.
Without remembering, how will we get to the root of the Catastrophe that has befallen the Palestinian people?
Or to the root of the catastrophe that has also befallen the Jewish people?
There are catastrophes that happen to you. There are catastrophes you create for others.
That Jews brought catastrophe to another people is a stain on Jewish history.
Our history of exile, persecution, Holocaust and the return to our ancient homeland now includes the Nakba.
No presentation of Jewish history makes sense without including what Jews have done and are doing to the Palestinians. Not in books on Jewish history. Not in presentations by Jewish academics. Not in policy statements from Jewish organizations. Not in press releases from Israel’s Prime Minister. Not from the peace process Quartet. Not from the President of the United States.
I won’t attempt a rendition of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address at the United Nations. It was worse than President Obama’s. Much worse. Shameful.
The Jewish High Holidays are upon us. Time to celebrate the New Year. Time to hone our repentance.
Time to mourn.
The Jewish High Holidays come and go. We recite our history of exile and persecution, Holocaust and the return to our ancient homeland. We are silent about the Nakba.
Endless the end. That has no ending.
Only mourning can save us now, Jews and Palestinians together. For what has been lost. For could have been. For what could be.
Denying the Nakba only delays the reckoning.
And the mourning.
Marc H. Ellis is University Professor of Jewish Studies, Professor of History and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Baylor University. He is the author of many books, most recently Encountering the Jewish Future: with Wiesel, Buber, Heschel, Arendt, Levinas.