Israel Resource Review 27th January, 2009


The Holocaust Did not Begin in the Gas Chambers - it Began with Words
Prof. Irwin Cotler
Member of Canadian Parliament and fomer Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

On this United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Day, words may ease the pain, but they may also dwarf the tragedy. For the Holocaust is uniquely evil in its genocidal singularity, where biology was inescapably destiny, a war against the Jews in which, as Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel put it, "not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims."

This year, in the immediate aftermath of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international Magna Carta of human rights born out of the ashes of the Holocaust, and the Genocide Convention - the "Never Again" Convention which has tragically been violated again and again - we should ask ourselves: What have we learned, and what must we do?


The first lesson is the importance of remembrance itself. For as we remember the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust - first defamed, demonized and dehumanized, as prologue or justification for genocide, then murdered - we have to understand that the mass murder of millions is not a matter of abstract statistics. For unto each person there is a name - unto each person there is an identity. Each person is a universe. As both the Talmud and Koran teach us, whoever saves a single life, it is as if he or she has saved an entire universe - just as whoever has killed a single person, it is as if they have destroyed an entire universe. And so the abiding imperative: that we are each, wherever we are, the guarantors of each other's destiny.


The enduring lesson of the Holocaust and the genocides that followed is that they occurred not simply because of the machinery of death, but because of a state-sanctioned ideology of hate. This teaching of contempt, this demonizing of the other - this is where it all begins. As the Canadian Supreme Court recognized, in words echoed by the international criminal tribunals in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers - it began with words. These, as the courts put it, are the chilling facts of history. These are the catastrophic effects of racism.

Sixty years later, these lessons not only remained unlearned, but the tragedies have been repeated. For we were all bystanders during a growing state-sponsored hate in the Balkans, Rwanda and Darfur that took us down the road to genocide.

At present, we are witnessing yet another state-sanctioned incitement to hate and genocide, whose epicentre is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran - denying the Nazi Holocaust as it incites to a Middle Eastern one.

This constitutes a direct violation of the overriding prohibition in international law against the direct and public incitement to genocide, and a clear legal trigger for the international community to intervene in fulfilment of its obligation to prevent genocide, as established in the Genocide Convention.

As one involved as Minister of Justice in Canada in the prosecution of Rwandan incitement, I can state that the aggregate of precursors of incitement in the Iranian case are more threatening than were those in the Rwandan one.


Indeed, the genocide of European Jewry succeeded not only because of a culture of hate and an industry of death, but because of crimes of indifference and conspiracies of silence. And we have witnessed an appalling indifference and inaction in our own day which took us down the road to the unthinkable - ethnic cleansing in the Balkans - and down the road to the unspeakable - the preventable genocides in Rwanda and Darfur. No one can say that we did not know. We knew, but we did not act in Rwanda, just as we know and do not act in Darfur, ignoring thereby the lessons of history, betraying the people of Darfur, and mocking the Responsibility to Protect doctrine.

And so, it is our responsibility to break down these walls of indifference, to shatter these conspiracies of silence - to stand up and be counted and not look around to see who else is standing before we make a decision to do so; because in the world in which we live, there are few enough people prepared to stand, let alone be counted. Indifference always means coming down on the side of the victimizer, never on the side of the victim.

Let there be no mistake about it: indifference in the face of evil is acquiescence with evil itself - it is complicity with evil.


If the last century - symbolized by the Holocaust - was the age of atrocity, it was also the age of impunity. Few of the perpetrators were brought to justice; and so, just as there must be no sanctuary for hate, no refuge for bigotry, there must be no base or sanctuary for these enemies of humankind. In this context, the establishment of the International Criminal Court must be seen as the most dramatic development in international criminal law since Nuremberg. But it requires active support to prevent it from being another opportunity for impunity.

One need look no further than the case of Ahmed Haroun, the Sudanese Minister of the Interior indicted for his direct role in the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in Darfur, who was then cynically rewarded for this indictment by being appointed Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs and made responsible for hearing the human rights complaints from the very victims he had assaulted.


Nazism succeeded, not only because of the "bureaucratization of genocide," as Robert Lifton put it, but because of the trahison des clercs - the complicity of the elites: physicians, church leaders, judges, lawyers, engineers, architects, educators and the like. As Elie Wiesel put it: "Cold-blooded murder and culture did not exclude each other. If the Holocaust proved anything, it is that a person can both love poems and kill children."

Those of us to who have been entrusted with the education and training of the elites should ensure that Elie Wiesel is studied in schools of law and not just in classes of literature; and that the double entendre of Nuremberg - of Nuremberg racism as well as the Nuremberg Principles - is as much a part of our learning as it is a part of our legacy.


We should reaffirm today that never again will we be indifferent to racism and hate; that never again will we be silent in the face of evil; that never again will we ignore the plight of the vulnerable; that never again will we acquiesce in the face of mass atrocity and impunity. We will speak and we will act against racism, against hate, against anti-Semitism, against mass atrocity, against injustice - and against the crime whose name we should shudder even to mention: genocide.

May this day be not only an act of remembrance, which it is, but a reminder to act, which it must be.

The writer is the former Canadian minister of justice and attorney general and is a law professor (on leave) from McGill University. He has written extensively on international human rights law and genocide prevention.

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Mitchell, A Mideast Envoy With A Tendentious Legacy
David Bedein

Following President Obama's appointment of former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell of Maine as his Middle East envoy, it may be instructive to remember the tendentiousness of George Mitchell's 2001 report titled

"The Mitchell Report on the al-Aqsa Intifadah"


The genesis of this report stemmed from President Bill Clinton's October 2000 appointment of an international investigation commission to determine the causes of the Palestinian insurrection, which was deemed the Second Intifada the Arabic term for "shaking off" in this instance, shaking off Israel. To this commission, President Clinton named Sen. Mitchell, who is of Arab descent through his mother, as its chairman, along with a Jewish-American, former U.S. Sen. Warren Rudman, to the panel, in addition to three prominent European diplomats.

The initial Israeli response to the publication of the Mitchell Commission report in May 2001 was a sigh of relief when the Mitchell Commission did not blame Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for instigating the riots in September 2000 when he visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which some said had sparked the Arab rioting.

However, even with the Sharon Temple Mount accusation out of the way, the Mitchell Commission report accepted every Palestinian premise for the violence at the time.

The Mitchell Commission accepted as a given that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)-led riots were based on a movement for "independence and genuine self-determination," without giving any credence to the PLO goal, stated in all PLO publications, maps and media outlets, even during the current Oslo process, which consistently and clearly states that "liberation" of Palestine, all of Palestine in stages remained the goal.

For some reason, the Mitchell Commission characterized the rioters armed with Molotov cocktails as "unarmed Palestinian demonstrators," a term that they apparently borrowed from PLO information reports that were published at the time.

The Mitchell Commission took the position that Israel's security forces did not face a clear and present danger when faced with a mob trying to kill them with rocks and firebombs.

It made no mention that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has amassed 50,000 more weapons than they were supposed to have, in clear violation of the written Oslo accords.

The Mitchell Commission surprisingly accepted the notion that the PA security officials are simply "not in control" of their own tightly controlled security services.

The Mitchell Commission would not consider reliable intelligence reports that documented the PA had planned the uprising. It also failed to relate documentation showing the PA had spent past seven years preparing its media, school system and security services for a violent confrontation with Israel.

Indeed, in late May 2000, a senior official of Israeli intelligence conducted a press briefing where he revealed intelligence information that the PLO was planning riots for late September 2000.

It said the notion the PA leadership had failed to prevent terrorist attacks against Israel as only an Israeli "view," ignoring consistent incitement that Arafat had conveyed to his own media for the previous seven years.

The Mitchell Commission also rejected Israel's characterization of the conflict, as "armed conflict short of war"; (How else would you describe an army that fires mortar rounds into Israeli cities?)

The Mitchell Commission also condemned the Israel Defense Force's killing of PLO combat officers during a time of war, without giving an alternative.

Instead of issuing a clear call to the PLO to stop sniper attacks on Israel's roads and highways, the Mitchell Commission simply "condemned the positioning of gunmen within or near civilian dwellings," leaving the observer to assume that PLO attacks from empty embankments would be acceptable.

The Mitchell Commission suggested that "the IDF should consider withdrawing to positions held before September 28, 2000, to reduce the number of friction points," ignoring the fact that this would leave entry points to many Israeli cities without appropriate protection during a time of war.

The Mitchell Commission also demanded that Israel should transfer to the PA all tax revenues owed, and permit Palestinians who had been employed in Israel to return to their jobs, strangely recommending that Israel once again pay salaries of armed PLO personnel who were at war with Israel.

Meanwhile, the Mitchell Commission took a page out of Arab propaganda when it called on Israeli "security forces and settlers to refrain from the destruction of homes and roads, as well as trees and other agricultural property in Palestinian areas," and would not relate to the possibility that some of the trees and agricultural land had been razed may have been provided cover to PA security forces during combat.

The Mitchell Commission also accepted the notion that "settlers and settlements in their midst" remains a cause of the Palestinian uprising, because these Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria violate "the spirit of the Oslo process," even though not one word appears in the actual Oslo accords would require the dismemberment of a single Israeli settlement.

In conclusion, the Mitchell Commission drew a strange comparison between "settlement activities" and the Palestinian inability to resume negotiations, so long as "settlement activities" continue, providing an excuse for the PLO to continue its armed conflict.

In short, the Mitchell Commission Report drove a nail into the coffin of any credibility that George Mitchell could ever have to serve as a potential Middle East envoy.

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When is a Cease-fire is not a Cease-fire?

As journalists cover complex Middle East negotiations, wire services often interpret the lulls in hostilities as an armistice or a cease-fire, reminiscent in the western mind to the end of hostilities in World War I, which terminated on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the eleventh month on November 11 1918, paving the way to the Versailles peace treaty and the genesis of the League of Nations.

However, the western media often ignore the nuanced Arabic words: which connote a message that has nothing to do with cessation of hostilities:

hudna a tactical pause intended only for rearmament,


tahida a temporary halt in hostile activity which can be violated at any time

hudaybiyyah there will be no fighting for 10 years named after the "treaty of Hudaybiyyah" in 628 AD

or even

sulch a total cessation of hostile activity.

The reality is that hudna, tahida and the hudaybiyyah offered by the PLO and Hamas do not compare to the mu'ahada treaty of peace that Egypt signed with Israel in 1979, or the mu'ahada treaty of peace that Jordan signed with Israel in 1994.

Philadelphia attorney Beryl Dean contributed to this report.

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