Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Today I met my first Holocaust denier...

Today I met my first Holocaust denier.

He’s in my English class, and he’s a 26-year-old math teacher.

Today was an especially chill class, because half of my students, who are siblings and therefore come as a group, weren’t there. I had prepared the song Independent Woman for this class to practice the verb “depend,” but since my only source of females didn’t show up, I had to sing it for the guys. They didn’t throw their hands up at me, but I think they enjoyed it.

After class I told them I was afraid that something had happened today, since they'd showed up late.
I'd gotten a call from my friend Mohib today and he told me he was in Ofer prison. At first I thought he was IN prison and for some reason still had his cell phone (?), but then he told me that soldiers were firing live bullets and rubber bullets, so I understood that he was at a demonstration outside the prison. I didn’t get a chance to read the news, so I was letting my imagination run wild. Maybe my students went to go join the revolution. No class today. I stopped Hekmat, the manager of the village sewing co-op, and asked him if he knew if something had happened with the prisoner movement. He said no, “but tomorrow morning, there is no shopping.”

My students confirmed that there’s a general strike tomorrow, as well as a possible march at 10am. The news had recently broken that there were hundreds of Palestinian bodied buried by the Israeli army in numbered graves in Israel, and the High Court had finally decided that the remains be returned to their families. One of my students (the one who’d been imprisoned for 3 years) suggested that the army is dragging their feet because they want to keep the remains as bargaining chips.
“We have one, Gilad Shalit, and they have thousands.”
I didn’t know much about the story that was broken, but I found it disturbing, the secret graves. I told my students it sounded too much like what happened in the war in Europe.
“You mean Germany?” my student asked, and everyone was like, “ahhh, yes.”
“Yes, Germany.”
“I don’t think this thing happen…”
It was a first, hearing someone say it, but it wasn’t that startling. I still had troubling responding.
“Well, no, it did happen, but it doesn’t make what Israel is doing right….in America we learn about Germany all the time. All the children know about Germany, but they don’t know about Palestine.”
“It’s the media,” another student said, “the media war.”
They all headed out, and I walked back to the apartment, made some spaghetti carbonara (with some leftover shawarma and hummus thrown in) and sat down to reflect. My student. The evil Holocaust denier. Ahmedinejad. What was going on here?
The Holocaust isn’t taught in Palestine. So any reason Israel gives for its victimhood is easily dismissed. To my students, Israel is not the victim, but the victimizer. The protector of the settlements, the demolisher of homes, three years in prison for throwing stones. The reason these professionals, with their Masters’ degrees and Doctorates, are denied entry into Jerusalem. So the Jews suffered. Who cares?
The term “Catch-22” doesn’t do it justice. To ignore the Holocaust is to remove the humanity of the Jews, just as omitting the Nakba from Israeli curriculum allows Israeli children to dehumanize Arabs. The difference is, one is the occupier, and one is the occupied. One incomplete education ends in military conscription, and the other ends in thinking that the Jews are doing it all for kicks. Because they’re just like that.
So can you teach the Holocaust to Palestinians living under occupation? Can you teach it in Jordan Valley schools that are under demolition order, can you teach it to refugees? Who can you teach it to if this man, this family man, this degree-holding math wizard, this education-seeking…educator…doesn’t want to hear it?

Can you teach this lesson under occupation, and can the occupation end without it?