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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Don't know much about history (or vocabulary, apparently)

Yesterday I got a comment from a woman who lives in the UK that ignored the substance of my post and simply accused Israelis of being a colonial power and of acting like Nazis towards the Palestinians.

Obviously I deleted the comment, but it never ceases to amaze me the way Europeans casually toss around the word 'Nazi' to describe the actions of Israelis towards the Palestinians.  It demonstrates a kind of willful amnesia of exactly what the Nazis did and the kind of ruthless, genocidal policies they were capable of carrying out.

But even more troubling than the casual use of the word 'Nazi' is the frequency with which Israel is accused by Europeans of being a brutal colonial power.  Given the European (and especially British) history of colonialism that's kind of ironic, no?

Just as a little reality check I decided to write a post today that gives a glimpse at just one tiny chapter in the long story of real European colonialism; the 'Mau Mau Rebellion' against British rule in Kenya. 

Remember, we're not talking about un-enlightened 17th, 18th or even 19th-century colonialism.  This is post-WWII!  The 1950s!  Many of you reading this were alive when this happened (or at least your parents were)!!!

Back before Kenya became an independent country, it was a British colony (quaintly termed a 'protectorate'). In addition to rich natural resources and strategically positioned ports, the cool highlands of the country were especially sought after by the British settlers (there's another word whose ironic use today to describe people like me escapes most Europeans) because of the rich farmland and moderate climates; perfect for cultivating tea and coffee. 

Up to and including the early 1950s the British settlers went an an unchecked campaign of confiscating land for their own use in Kenya's central highlands and relegating the native peoples to ever-shrinking reservations.

I won't go into the blow-by-blow details of what led to the creation of the civil and paramilitary rebellion forces of the native peoples against the British... but I recommend this page as a good starting place.  I will, however use some numbers to illustrate how things looked when all was said and done:

British settlers killed by Mau Maus:  26

Native Kenyans killed by British forces:  Somewhere between the 'official' number of 11,503... and as high as knowledgeable estimates of 50,000... with approximately 10% of the dead being children.  One study indicates that as many as 300,000 Kikuyus (the largest native Kenyan ethnic group and the mainstay of the Mau Maus) remain unaccounted for from that period.

During the uprising the British governor and military leaders created 'Special Areas' within which anyone who failed to halt when challenged could be legally shot on sight.  They also designated the Mount Kenya area and Aberdares Range as exclusion zones within which anyone without government authorization (papers) could be shot ... even without the nicety of being challenged.  These two policies were tantamount to declaring open hunting season on anyone with black skin. 

The British also allowed the cutting off of hands of the dead - ostensibly for fingerprint identification - but also to facilitate the collection of an unofficial bounty.

In the end, the Mau Mau Rebellion failed on a military level... but succeeded in hastening the end of British colonialism in Kenya and the establishment of an independent state.  And the real irony is that at the end of the rebellion, the British granted pretty much all of the demands that the originally peaceful protests / civil disobedience movement had demanded before the rebellion began.

So, I would say to the witless British woman who trolled my blog yesterday (and anyone else who is fuzzy about European history),  I encourage a serious review of your own country's track-record and policies on colonialism.  Real colonialism... as in a foreign power invading a land with which they have no previous connection and seizing territory and resources from, and subjugating, indigenous peoples.  And before you call Israelis Nazis, I suggest you visit Yad Vashem and learn a tiny bit of what the real Nazis did in their short, but genocidal, time in power.

Then, dear reader, if you feel the urge to accuse Israel of Nazism or colonialism, compare and contrast polices and actual facts before spewing your wrong-headed prejudices onto pro-Israel blogs and on-line forums.

Israel is not a colonial power for the simple reason that this land was ours historically (read your Bible), a fact that was reaffirmed again in modern times under international law by both the League of Nations and later the United Nations.  Not only are we not foreign interlopers (as you love to imply), but today far more legally purchased/owned Jewish property is held (illegally) by Arabs than the reverse. 

As a parting gift, I would direct you to the U.N. Declaration Of Human Rights; a document which is so often mis-quoted as a weapon against us.  It clearly states that "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country".  You can't turn over a stone anywhere in the length and breadth of this country (especially in Judea and Samaria; the areas you refer to as occupied Palestinian territory) without finding hard, indisputable evidence of an ancient and continued Jewish presence here.  The very label 'Jew' comes from the word 'Judea'; the real name for the southern half of the so-called 'West Bank'. 

You want to engage me in an intelligent discussion of prejudice, of second-class status, of disenfranchisement and confiscated property?  I won't rub your face in your own country's shameful conduct against the Jews (although by all rights I should).  Instead I will freely admit that like most countries in the world, Israel has many social and legal hurdles to clear before we have the Utopian society we would all prefer.  But our societal shortcomings and ills are not unlike the problems each and every one of your countries has had to face in trying to balance civil liberties and homeland security. 

But if you want to call me a Nazi?  If you want to tell me I'm a colonialist?  That tells me that not only are you not interested in an intelligent discussion... but that you don't even understand the meaning of those words.  

And by the way... in reference to your continued reference to Palestinians as the only indigenous people of this land, I am still awaiting the discovery of the first 'Palestinian' artifact tying that people to my homeland and giving them a greater claim to it than mine.

Posted by David Bogner on October 22, 2009 | Permalink


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Good response David, wasn’t it the British Legion Volunteer Police Force who openly flirted with Hitler?

Posted by: Rami | Oct 22, 2009 1:53:56 PM

Dave, next time you get a post like that, don't delete it. Let the rest of us have a go at her.

Posted by: Marsha in Englewood | Oct 22, 2009 1:56:24 PM

David: You've just been added to the UK's watch list of war criminals.


Posted by: Jameel | Oct 22, 2009 2:27:10 PM

That would explain those tunnels in Gaza. Clearly, those are archeologists at work, unearthing ancient Palestinian artifacts.

Posted by: Ari | Oct 22, 2009 4:00:45 PM

Rami... Considering that you are both Kenyan and Kikuyu, perhaps you can shed some light on the way the colonial period is viewed by your people.

Marsha in Englewood... Leaving it up often invites other trolls to come add their voice to the mix.

Jameel... hmmm, maybe I should be worried. I'm supposed to go speak at the Limmud conference at the end of the year. :-)

Ari... The only artifacts coming out of the ground in Gaza are weapons manufactured 9or at least paid for) in Iran.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Oct 22, 2009 4:22:31 PM

Hmmm.. I love hearing from dem colonial types. We ought to have some sort of tea party for them to discuss their actions here, there and every where.

Posted by: Jack | Oct 22, 2009 5:03:28 PM

The British regime then was very brutal, those were dark days, the kind of tactics used to govern the local population (positive and negative reinforcement)can, to this day be comparable only to what the Nazi did to the “life-unworthy life”.

Those calling Israel a colonial power using Nazi tactics on Palestinians need only visit Israel with an open mind, visit the archeological sites, interact with both the Jewish and Arab population, see how everyone goes about their business even with all the tension lingering in the background, you’ll realize that you cannot be a judge – you can’t point a finger at the Jew without first thinking about your own way of life or history at that, my 2 cents only!

Posted by: Rami | Oct 22, 2009 5:48:50 PM

If Jews don't originally come from the Middle East how do people explain the fact that Christinanity and Islam grew out of Judaism? Of course I'm being rational about it, granted. Where exactly do these people think Abraham came from? France?

Posted by: Alice | Oct 22, 2009 7:27:35 PM

Europeans (of which I am one - even of the historically most genocidal kind, the German one, who not only perpetrated history's most famous and probably sickening -despite there being some tough competition- genocide, but also the 20th centuries first one, when my forefathers did their darndest best to eradicate the Herero people in what today is Namibia) accusing anyone else of colonialism is absurdly funny. There is probably not a single European nation that hasn't participated in that murderous game once. Heck, even the Latvians had a colony once!

The only way to make this more absurd and stomach-turning (both because of malice and a lack of education) is to accuse exactly the people of imperialism and genocide, that suffered the most from it (again there are some noteworthy competitors like the Roma, which had to face a stiff wind throughout their history and continue to do so). Not agreeing with certain policies of the state Israel is one thing, although it is one thing that in many cases strongly reeks of anti-semitism barely cloaked as the not-really-nicer anti-zionism just due to the way it singles Israel out. But describing Israel as nazi-imperialists? Come on...

Posted by: Carsten | Oct 22, 2009 8:06:35 PM

People who use words that are so "charged" both historically and emotionally in this sort of sentences are particularly annoying. Hope some of them read your blog.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Oct 22, 2009 8:42:33 PM

I don't like to generalize but it is obvious that this person is from the left, ideologically. It is a popular left-side argument that owes its proliferation to repetition which precludes the necessity of original thought or investigation by those downstream from the source. This laziness of intellectual curiosity that perpetuates arguments like this is fundamentally dangerous. Consider the "logical" resolution to this argument; to make the Palestinians whole, Israel should cease to exist. Unfortunately, that is where the proliferation of this argument is leading.

Posted by: Kae Gregory | Oct 22, 2009 8:58:45 PM

Awesome post. Some of the comments had me laughing hard. Abraham wasn't french?

Posted by: David Bailey | Oct 22, 2009 9:37:01 PM

Kol HaKavod, David! Now if Israel really was a colonialist power - it wouldn't have shed Gaza and it wouldn't be agreeing to a Palestinian state. The only side that is standing in the way of their own freedom are the Palestinians... because they don't want a state alongside Israel but rather in place of Israel. And as for Nazi.... Israel's Arab population has increased ten fold in 60 years. Some "genocide" claim there! But those who hate Jews and wish Israel was gone don't want to be confused by the facts.

Posted by: NormanF | Oct 22, 2009 10:09:58 PM

Well said David. As a Brit I truly cringe at our Imperialistic history (which was mostly sanitised when taught in schools, of course). I also think there is a direct link between the way Britain lost much of its Empire from 1948 onwards, after the shameful way it dealt with the lead up to and the establishment of the State of Israel. And to Rami, I would like to humbly ask forgiveness for the terrible way your people were treated by my forefathers.

Posted by: Noa | Oct 22, 2009 10:28:14 PM

And, speaking of British Colonialism in action, how about the Batang Kali Massacre in 1948?

And if any one thinks the Dutch were sweethearts, I'll be glad to disabuse them of that idea.

Note especially the mention of the Dutch Marines in Java after WWII.
Which is where the Dutch massacred whole villages, and shot civilians for aiding the nationalists.

Posted by: At The Back of the Hill | Oct 22, 2009 10:30:40 PM

Then there is the question of International Law.

One the one hand...
Legally, Palestine was created as a homeland for the Jews by the San Remo Convention of 1920. They aren't going to have much luck repudiating this, as it is also the thing that legally created Iraq and other Arab states. So Jews have the legal right to live in Palestine under a Jewish administration.

One the other hand...
"International Law" is a species of toilet paper. It isn't the "Law" that will protect Israelis, it is the IDF. And, of course, it isn't "Law" at all. It is a series of treaties between sovereign nations, mostly rubber-stamping the results of military action.

Posted by: Fred | Oct 22, 2009 11:29:45 PM

This was very well said.

I find it very hard to counter those who make the comparison--of pretty much anyhting--to Nazis because I simply don't think that level of evil and cruelty has been replicated on earth since 1945.

I always have to remind myself that such arguments are the last resort of the sloganeer and of the intellectually bankrupt. They are hardly worth responding to, only, they are so offensive that they must be countered.

Posted by: Charlie H. Ettinson | Oct 23, 2009 3:56:37 AM

Mau-Mau is perhaps also the reason our president is so flippant re: cultivating the historically positive British/USA relationship. (see the blog "Baldilocks" for some pretty good blogging about this) ;o/

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Oct 23, 2009 4:41:59 AM

I don't really know how it finished in Kenya, however in much of Africa, such as Ghana and other former Colonies, the British withdraw did not mean that the natives got rights to their natural resources. The British maintain control of the Gold and Diamond mines.

Posted by: mekubal | Oct 23, 2009 5:12:44 AM

Trep, the Nazis were socialists. If you're not a socialist, you're can't be a Nazi.

Posted by: Nachum | Oct 23, 2009 8:44:29 AM

So true, David, good post. Considering what the British did to Jews here and how they kept sending innocent Jews to be murdered by the Nazis...

Posted by: Batya from Shiloh | Oct 23, 2009 10:52:39 AM

Brilliant historic rebuttal !!!

Posted by: Matthew W | Oct 23, 2009 4:17:06 PM

Alice -- The answer to your question is "yes." The Mahmouds are hard at work saying exactly that.

Mahmoud Abbas, head of the PA, has a Phd in explaining how there was never any temple or Jewish presence in present-day Israel. And the other Mahmoud -- the Ahmadinejad variety -- believes that the Holocaust never happened and that the Jews continuous presence in Israel is false.

You see, to conspiracy theorists, deniers and racists, truth doesn't matter a whit.

Posted by: Ari | Oct 23, 2009 4:55:32 PM

Excellent post cum smackdown, articulate and well thought out.

People who call Israelis "Nazis" are guilty of the most shameful form of Reaction-Formation and historical amnesia/ignorance. It's not the mark of an enlightened critic of the State of Israel or its policies; it's the mark of an anti-Semite of the first water. May all such people choke on peach pits, manage to swallow them, and have to deal with the Inevitable Painful Consequences a day later.

Posted by: Elisson | Oct 23, 2009 5:26:32 PM

It seems that "progressives" - regardless of what country they hail from - are victims of Derrida's disease.
Words mean nothing. Or anything. It's convenient, but makes for a difficult debate.

And let me know if you ever locate a Palestinian artifact of note.

Posted by: Dewey From Detroit | Oct 23, 2009 11:33:33 PM

Attributing the black deaths to the British seems to leave out the role of the Mau Maus. They slaughtered blacks who didn't support them killing most of the deaths you attribute to the security forces. Apparently you wish to paint this in this fashion for a reason. I wonder what tyhat might be?

Posted by: Thomas Jackson | Oct 24, 2009 1:26:35 AM


Posted by: Karl Newman | Oct 25, 2009 2:33:41 AM

You may be interested in a particular aspect of British policy in Kenya which has clear parallels with war crimes committed by the Nazis - the use of concentration camps or, as subsequently used in Northern Ireland, unlawful detention in camps, aka internment. Papers were recently filed in London by 5 Kenyans seeking reparations for torture and unlawful detention during the Mau Mau rebellion. Please see: http://en.afrik.com/article15852.html and also http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-we-owe-it-to-do-right-by-the-kenyan-victims-of-british-brutality-1692507.html A similar action may be brought by those detained in Northern Ireland for the impact, though not as serious as torture, of the use of internment on individuals and their families. There is an argument as to whether the severe limitations on Palestinians in Gaza with regard to freedom of movement constitutes unlawful detention. How depressing that the lessons of history seem never to be learnt!

Posted by: Caroline | Oct 27, 2009 6:07:08 PM

The most painful book I have ever read (it took me about one year to get my way through it) was The Nazi Doctors by Robert Jay Lifton. The events of the Holocaust were not only characterized by death by Nazis and the neighbours of Jews residing in eastern Europe but by their indescribable cruelty.

Incidentally, the only book I have ever read which may compare in terms of painful reading was by Ronald Wright, "Stolen Continents", the history of the colonialist savage destruction of Native Indians in North and South America by the reigning conquerers.

To call the Israeli regime "Nazi" is certainly either an ignorant misapplication or a purposeful lie used to indoctrinate the international community against Israel. To describe Israel as a "brutal" colonialist regime, as I have so often read, is either hysterical and misguided nomenclature or a manipulation by Arabs and their socalled "liberal" counterparts (including socalled "liberal" Jews) both in Israel and in western countries.

Posted by: Robert Haymond | Oct 27, 2009 9:38:02 PM

"a fact that was reaffirmed again in modern times under international law by both the League of Nations and later the United Nations."

I feel a field of tension here:

On the one hand, Israel's legitimacy is established by a UN resolution. On the other hand, Israel ignores some UN resolutions and numerous Israelis speak out very strongly against the UN.

I feel that this attitude undermines the very basis of the state...

Posted by: To UN or not to UN | Oct 28, 2009 10:40:37 PM

Just want to correct a common error that you made, as have many others. You called Judea

"Judea'; the real name for the southern half of the so-called 'West Bank'"

This is partly correct. However, the Romans in the heyday of their empire used the name Judea [IVDAEA] for all of the Land of Israel, including the Golan. As you may know, the emperor Hadrian changed the name of the Province of Judea to Province of Syria Palaestina. He also changed Jerusalem's name to Aelia Capitolina. This was after he had suppressed the Bar Kokhba Revolt about 135 CE.

My article clears up the confusion over the name Judea. See link:


Shalom and Best Wishes

Posted by: Elliott | Dec 17, 2009 10:39:52 AM

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