This story hurts. Today a group of German Roman Catholic Bishops, including the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Josef Meisner (photo left), compared the Palestinian territories governed by the Palestinian Authority to Nazi-occupied Poland, includinbg the Warsaw Ghetto. "This morning we saw pictures of the Warsaw ghetto at Yad Vashem [Israel's official Holocaust Memorial] and this evening we are going to the Ramallah ghetto," said German Bishop Gregor Maria Franz Hanke.
"Cages in the image of ghettos," said the Bishop of Augsburg of the territories. While crossing one of the checkpoints into East Jerusalem the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, told reporters: "This is something that is done to animals, not people." Meisner said that the fence reminded him of the Berlin Wall and that in his lifetime he did not believe he would see such a thing again. As the Berlin Wall was brought down so will this wall be brought down, he said, adding that the fence served no purpose.
I wish I had been there, and that I had been given an opportunity to point out a few factual distinctions between the border between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, on the one hand, and Nazi-occupied Poland, the Warsaw Ghetto, Jewish ghettos in Europe in general, and the Berlin Wall, on the other. This may strike the reader as chutzpah (nerve) on my part; after all, the Roman Catholic Church should know all about European Jewish ghettos, since it was the Medieval society overseen by the Church that established them. And who should know more about Nazis and the Berlin Wall than German clerics? Indeed, their Church watched in silence as the Nazi regime murdered six million European Jews. Nonetheless, here is what I would have pointed out to them:
1. The Jewish ghettos were established by the various governments of Medieval and Renaissance Europe and the Arab lands as neighborhoods where Jews were compelled to live. Jews were not allowed to live anywhere else. The Palestinian territories governed by the Palestinian Authority were established pursuant to the Oslo Accords, a treaty entered into freely by Israel and the PLO, and hailed at the time by the Roman Catholic Church. Palestinians may and do live in many places throughout the world other than in the Palestinian territories. Those territories have international border crossings with the Kingdom of Jordan and Egypt. Palestinians who wish to leave and live elsewhere may do so, and may also return.
2. For the same reason, it is hardly accurate to describe the territories as "cages in the image of ghettos." It is true that the standard of living was much higher, and the economy much stronger, in the Arab communities of the West Bank and Gaza when they were occupied by Israel from 1967 through 1993, before the onset of the Palestinian Authority. It is true that the corrupt Palestinian Authority has siphoned off tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of dollars of international aide into private bank accounts, weapons purchases and the establishment of terrorist militias, but that can hardly be blamed on Israel. Affairs inside the Palestinian territories are run by the Palestinian Authority, which, for all its faults, is the Palestinians' own government.
3. Nazi Germany established the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940 as the concentration point for Polish Jews before they were shipped off to slave labor and extermination camps. The Jews of Poland had not attacked Nazi Germany. The Jews of Poland had never attempted to destroy Nazi Germany. Nazi Germany, however, had decided to exterminate them. After three years of starvation, disease, killings and deportations had reduced the population of the Warsaw Ghetto from 450,000 to 37,000, a remnant of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, realizing that they had nothing to lose, revolted against their Nazi oppressors. After three months (longer than the entire nation of Poland had resisted the Nazi invasion), the revolt was crushed and the surviving Jews in the Ghetto were shipped to extermination camps. Only a handful survived to see the end of World War II.
In contrast, the Palestinians have sought the destruction of Israel since its creation in 1948. At virtually any time since the 1993 Oslo Accords the Palestinians could have had their own sovereign, independent nation state, merely by forswearing violence and agreeing to live in peace with Israel. To this day, the official position of the Hamas party, which governs the Palestinian Authority, is that Israel has no legitimacy and no right to exist. Terrorist militias from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah constantly attempt attacks on Israel. It is they in their murderous hatred who resemble the Nazi oppressors in Poland, not the Israelis.
4. The Berlin Wall was built by the Communist regime of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) to keep its citizens in. The security barrier (mostly a fence, a wall in perhaps 5% of its length) was built by Israel to keep unauthorized Palestinians, especially terrorists, out. Why does anyone need to point this distinction out to Cardinal Meisner? That is also the purpose of the checkpoints. Contrary to the Cardinal's remark, animals do not go through checkpoints where their identification papers are checked. However, checkpoints are fairly common at border crossings.
5. Contrary to Cardinal Meisner's statement, the security barrier does serve a purpose. Based on the decline in suicide bombings and other terrorist murders, it has saved tens, perhaps hundreds of Israeli lives.
Of course, perhaps to Cardinal Meisner, saving Jewish lives serves no purpose.
Update March 7, 2007:
JTA reports that Jewish community leaders in Germany reacted angrily to the Bishops' remarks:
The remarks were "appalling and completely unacceptable," said Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, in a statement Tuesday.
"If Bishop Gregor Hanke compares -- and thus equates -- the Warsaw Ghetto and the fate of the Jews interned there during the Holocaust with the situation of the Palestinians in Ramallah, then this reveals either alarming deficits in his knowledge of history, or he is trying to turn the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and their children today into perpetrators, and to play the role of therapist himself," Knobloch said.
"Not only does it misrepresent the facts of the conflict in the Middle East and Israel's security situation to impute racist motives a la Nazi Germany to the State of Israel and its government, but it also promotes cliches that are borderline anti-Semitic."
According to the German Press Agency, the Bishops Conference has rejected the criticism.
Normally, the wise public relations reaction to an incident such as this would be for the German Bishops Conference to apologize for any offense that their comments may have caused, while insisting that they were motivated by human rights concerns for the Palestinian Arabs. That the Bishops Conference decided instead to simply blow off the criticism from the German Jewish community, for remarks that were demonstrably false as well as patently offensive, is doubly disturbing. Indeed, it suggests that anti-Jewish libels are once more respectable in Germany (and elsewhere).