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Satloff and Righteous Arabs

The debate on Foreign Policy

The decision of Yad Vashem to bestow, for the first time in history, the honor of Righteous between Nations to the Egyptian doctor Mohamed Helmy has reopened the long-standing question of  the recognition of the Righteous from Arab countries

Historian Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands, wrote a harsh article for the American periodical Foreign Policy that criticizes the refusal of the Jerusalem Memorial to recognize the courage of Arabs that risked their lives to save Jews from prosecution by Nazis. 

Saltoff critiques part of the assertions made by the director of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, at the moment of bestowal  of the title to Helmy. 

“Shalev said Arabs from Tunisia - the only Arab country occupied by the Nazis - were nixed for the righteous honor because the Nazi occupation there was brief (only six months) and that local Arabs helping Jews faced little physical threat. In other words, instead of judging individual cases on their merits, he suggested that circumstances in Tunisia made it impossible for anyone there ever to meet the test of "righteousness."

To support his arguments, the historian uses two stories that depict “righteous” Arabs, and with which he identifies the negative points of Shalev’s discourse. Initially, Satloff strongly critiques the fact that one of the criterion to be considered Righteous is to be able to withstand the duration of Nazi occupation, supporting that any period of time spent under German control is considered a horrible tragedy and remembering that the same Yad Vashem has already recognized Righteous in the Caucasus, where the German military presence was  briefer than in the Arab world. 

“If such standards hold, Yad Vashem would automatically rule out recognizing the brave exploits of someone like Hamza Abdul Jalil, an Arab who owned a bathhouse in a mixed, working-class neighborhood in Tunis. During my research, Joseph Naccache -- now an octogenarian in Paris but in late 1942 a young Jew on the run from Hitler's notorious SS -- told me that Abdul Jalil hid him for two weeks in the bowels of his bathhouse. Evidently, Yad Vashem's leadership believes Abdul Jalil didn't risk his life long enough.”

Satloff’s second point of criticism is the idea, supported by Yad Vashem, that the Arabs who helped Jews did not face any danger. The historian confirms that not only do concrete facts contradict this assertion-citing the story of Khaled Abdul Wahab, for whom a tree is dedicated in the Garden of the Righteous worldwide in Milan-but also that this diminishes the courage of the rescuers along with the suffering of Jews in Arab countries. 

“This is the argument made by three cousins who grew up together in the small Tunisian town of Mahdia -- the late Anny Boukhris, Eva Weisel of Los Angeles, and Edmee Masliah of France. These three women presented testimony to Yad Vashem that Tunisian farm owner Khalid Abdul Wahab saved their lives by protecting them and their family from violent attack by German officers. Despite this, Yad Vashem twice rejected Abdul Wahab for the righteous designation. The only plausible explanation for dismissing these claims -- and the claims of other Jews who have praised Arabs for saving their lives -- is that Yad Vashem doesn't really believe Tunisia's Jews were under threat.”

In Satloff’s article the response of Irena Steinfeldt, director of the department of the Righteous of Yad Vashem, is explained. She defends the prejudice accusations, explaining the motives of failing to recognize the two Tunisian examples of the historian- the lack of risk and the gaps in some testimonies-and reiterated the criteria of the Memorial for the choice of honorary figures. “Only be historical matters-reads Steinfeldt’s article-will determine who will be designated as one of the Righteous between nations”.

12 November 2013

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whoever saves a life saves the entire world

In Yad Vashem's Memorial, in Jerusalem, the Garden of the Righteous remembers those who tried to rescue the Jews in the Holocaust: those who hidd them, helped them expatriate with forged documents, nourished them or gave them a job; those who, seeing them suffer, helped them somehow instead of remaining indifferent.In Yerevan's Wall of Remembrance the memorial stones remember the rescuers of Armenians during the genocide of 1915, those who tried to stop the massacre, refused to obey orders, sheltered children, reported the extermination that was occurring beneath their hopeless eyes to the world's public opinion.
In 1994 in Rwanda, some Tutsies who were hunted by the interahamwe militias were protected by neighbours, friends - some times strangers, too - belonginf to the Hutu ethnic group, who refused participating in the "man hunt" with machetes that had been planned by other Hutus to exterminate the country's Tutsi minority.
While ethnic cleansing was ravaging Bosnia leading to the murder of thousands innocent victims some people trying to escape the massacre were helped in the same way by neighbours, school mates, friends, or strangers, who were members of other ethnic groups.
Still todate, in many places in the world, there are such rescuers who risk and sometimes lose their lives in the attempt of helping the victims, and become victims themselves. Other times they lose their jobs, wellbeing, social status or they are imprisoned, tortured, cast out. At any rate, even before starting their endeavours, they know they run a serious risk, but they prefer doing so rather than bearing the weigh of remorse for remaining indifferent for the rest of their lives. Everytime by their action they "save the entire world", as stands in the Talmud.


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