Israel Israeli Arabs Palestinians

Notes on a passionate Palestinian moderate

Film maker Harvey Stein is working on a documentary about Khaled Mahammed, the remarkable Palestinian citizen of Israel whose work on Holocaust education has been widely publicized.

Stein sent me the following description of Mahammed, and I immediately recognized a kindred spirit, the kind of truly passionate moderate that is hard to find in Israel and the territories, in the U.S., or –for that matter– anywhere. It takes no courage for a passionate moderate to pontificate on a blog, or to sign petitions and letters to Congress. It takes no courage to be Dan Fleshler. It takes a great deal of courage to be Khaled Mahammed. Here is Harvey Stein’s take, lightly edited:

Mahameed is a lawyer by trade, and a complex “intellectual in action” by nature. Since at least age 18 (when his Jewish tutor at Hebrew University responded to his request to study more about Nazi Germany with, “Why would an Arab want to do that?”) he has basically been obsessed with the Holocaust – unpacking its meaning and its effect on both Palestinians and Israelis, and their fraught relationship.

I think Mahameed gets his contrarian nature from growing up in Israel (if you haven’t been here, Israeli Jews specialize in it). He relishes confronting both Palestinians and Israelis-–the former for their stubborn Holocaust denial/ignorance, and the latter with a challenge that is something like: “You who have experienced such great tragedy, why are you not more sensitive to the immense suffering you are now causing us Palestinians?”

And yes, he gets his hands dirty – he presents lectures in Palestinian refugee camps, armed only with 2’ x 3’ Holocaust photos he buys from Yad Vashem. He also takes the photos to face off with Israeli soldiers at the weekly tear-gassed demonstrations in West Bank villages whose land has been confiscated by the path of the infamous Wall (the most well known village being Bilin, which has begun to attract celebrity activists like “the Elders” — Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, et al.)

His primary goal is not to prove the…rightness of any “side”, but to creatively provoke, confront, stimulate debate (and sometimes a bit of satyagraha-inspired shame) on both sides. I think he enjoys the angry confusion when Israelis….freak out after drawing their guilty conclusions that he’s saying the Holocaust and the occupation are similar (he would say, no they’re not, but the comparison is revealing, and seeing the connection between the two is important).

He asks his Palestinian audiences (after showing a photo of an emaciated, liberated Jew standing over a pit full of his brethren’s bodies) – “How can someone who experienced this have the mental space to think about our problems?” And then (often engaging with young stone throwers at West Bank demonstrations) he proposes that non-violent resistance to the occupation is the only way: because of the Holocaust wound and countless wars, Israelis only respond to violence with 1000 times more in kind.

Mahameed’s non-ideological activism is courageous as well as intellectually challenging…It needs to be seen and discussed more in the United States.

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