We need to acknowledge genocides outside of the European/Jewish Holocaust
I expect more room to be made to acknowledge the same kinds of brutalities carried out against so many others.
by Josie Pickens
I first met my good friend—my sister—Hadeel through another mutual friend some years ago. Around that time, I was researching Black American towns destroyed by White vigilantes, and who were often aided by local and national governments.
She was a shorty like me, of five feet and a few inches. Wild, curly, dark hair and gorgeous brown eyes that squinted when she laughed. A real beauty.
Hadeel is Palestinian. One of our first conversation centered on what it feels like to be—and in my case feel—stateless. Even more, we reflected on how devastating it is to witness what we both recognize as incremental genocides waged against our people.
Hadeel is an anthropologist who studies the migration of Palestinian families during and after the Nakba—where more than 700,000 Palestinians were violently expelled from their land during the creation of Israel. So, naturally, when 60 Palestinians were killed and 2,771 were injured (with 1,359 injuries from live bullets) by Israeli soldiers at the border-fence that separates Gaza and Israel during a demonstration marking the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, she was the first person I thought of.
On this very same day, the Trump Administration intentionally opened the doors to its U.S. embassy in Jerusalem (originally located in Tel Aviv)— which was a move that very clearly “abandoned even its previous modest restraint on Israeli actions.”
The ways in which the U.S. (under countless administrations) has supported and continues to support Israel’s war against the Palestinian people deserves its own critical essay. An essay that might question, foremost, why the U.S. has committed to providing Israel with 38 billion dollars in military aid, and one that goes on to ask why U.S. Police forces are trained by the Israeli military, which has been cited for countless human rights violations.
President Trump’s decision to name Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is also worth noting—especially considering Trump’s ties to U.S. evangelical Christians (a majority of his voting base) who believe that Israel is absolutely connected to Christ’s return to earth and reign supreme.
A conversation I am more interested in having, at this time, is how the people of Israel, who so vehemently chant “Never Again” when referring to the absolutely horrendous events surrounding the Jewish Holocaust—also known as the Shoah— can support its government and military’s continuous movements towards fully annihilating the Palestinian people.
Furthermore, I am interested in why so many Jewish people refuse to acknowledge that there have been and continue to be other holocausts happening in the world that deserve equal recognition as the critical crimes against humanity which affected them.
With Hadeel, I attempted to sort out why some Jewish people (and often others) refuse to acknowledge victims of other holocausts and ethnic cleansings—especially if those people are Black or Brown, it seems.
I told her about when the leaders of a Houston based Shrine of the Black Madonna Church toiled to create a tribute to the Maafa, or African Holocaust, but were warned by the local Jewish community that using the word “holocaust” in the exhibition’s title was offensive and even anti-Semitic.
Of course, I understand that not all Jewish people believe in the supremacy of the Shoah. I was reminded of this recently when reading several news reports about the Oscar-winning Israeli Jewish actor Natalie Portman’s decision not to attend the awards ceremony for the Genesis Prize because she refused to endorse Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
While preparing to release her directorial debut in the film, A Tale of Love and Darkness, a few years ago, Portman echoed my question about holocausts. During an interview with The Independent news site, Portman probed, “I think a really big question the Jewish community needs to ask itself, is how much at the forefront we put Holocaust education.”
The actor and director went on to say that she recalls attending a Jewish school during the time the Rwandan Holocaust took place, but there was no mention, at all, of the violence and genocide in the African nation. She learned about it only after she traveled to Africa and visited a museum there.
Portman felt that she should have already known about this tragedy as a world citizen. She was taught—as a student of the Jewish faith—that such carnages must be remembered and recorded.
Holocaust education should also include teaching about the more than 5 million European Holocaust victims killed by Nazis who were not Jewish, including Black people (many of whom emigrated to Germany from German colonies like Cameroon, Burundi, Tanzania, and Rwanda), gay people, the Roma, people who were mentally or physically disabled, communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, and resistance fighters.
To be clear, I remember knowing very little about the Rwandan Holocaust, even as a college Freshman at an HBCU, likely because many maintain that the U.S. ultimately played a role in the slaughter of Rwanda’s Tutsi people.
Like many people, I grew up knowing very little about massacres and ethnic cleansings outside of the Shoal; the genocides that happened in Darfur, or the Congo, or even Guatemala, and more. The ones I did know about, like the incremental genocides of Indigenous Americans and Black Americans in the U.S., were never awarded the title of “genocide” or “holocaust” by members outside of the communities harmed.
The “civilized world” would never celebrate Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini in the same ways that it celebrates Cecil Rhodes, the father of South African Apartheid who orchestrated the murder of over 60,000 South Africans. The beloved and coveted Rhodes Scholarships are named in honor of this man—a monster and a thief.
The mass murders of Black and Brown people are not documented properly, are not taught through educative initiatives, and are never on the receiving end of “Never again!” slogans or propaganda. Our lives—and therefore our deaths—do not matter to those who control the narratives.
While I do not condemn the efforts of the Jewish People to educate their community and the world about the brutalities carried out during the Jewish/European Holocaust, I expect more room to be made to acknowledge the same kinds of brutalities carried out against so many others—and sometimes layers and waves of brutalities suffered by the same people. I also hope that questions, like some raised here, will not be received as an attack on the Jewish people, or as anti-Semitic.
What I hope most is that the international community will hold Israel accountable for its vicious and inhumane treatment of Palestinians, and that we will hold others accountable for the kinds of crimes against humanity still happening to Black and Brown folk elsewhere. Unless we acknowledge all genocides that have existed, and are existing, there will always be another.
Josie Pickens is a professor, cultural critic, writer and griot. Follow her on Twitter at @jonubian.