By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
18 May 2013
In mid-April, an unusual exhibition was held in London, showcasing pictures of Muslims who saved Jews during the Holocaust. During the exhibition people saw love and harmony between people from different faiths, mainly Muslims and Jews. One month later, on May 15 the Palestinians marked the 65th anniversary of the Yaum Al-Nakba or the Day of Catastrophe. It was the beginning of a never-ending conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The conflict subsequently brought many Arab (Muslims) to the struggle and human lives were lost and unknown amount of assets were wasted. But on May 15 we didn’t find love and harmony, we saw clashes in the never-ending conflict.
These days, we see more efforts especially from the United States to bring the Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visits to the Middle East remind us of the shuttle diplomacy of the former American Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger in the 1970s. But the conflict in the Middle East is getting more complex. The number of Palestinians in the refugee camps who were promised 65 years ago that one day they would go back to their homes has increased many times in the past 65 years.
They are still living in refugee camps while the Holocaust survivors and their children have become Nobel Prize winners and are most recognized people in the fields of science, medicine and modern-day inventions. And if the conflict in Syria continues, then the Arab world will end up seeing the number of Syrian refugees surpass the number of the Palestinian refugees and many of the Syrians recently have even ended up in Palestinian refugee camps. This is very ironic because it was the Syrians who kept promising the Palestinian refugees a quick return to their homes since 1948? So why did we see 65 years pass by and the parties involved couldn’t find a solid ground to negotiate and solve the conflict once and for all?
Strangely enough, in the past and present, we saw Muslims and Jews putting their hands together and solving many common issues without the media coverage or the involvement of politicians. So let us talk about how easy it is to get Muslims and Jews together.
During the 1990s, when the tough negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis were taking place under the supervision of US President Bill Clinton, Palestinians and Israelis couldn’t find common ground for negotiations. They disagreed more than they agreed. But around that time there were many friendly meetings between Muslim and Jewish religious figures in the United States who were putting their hands together to persuade a steel mill not to lubricate its machines with any fat that came from pigs. The Muslim and Jewish delegations were able to succeed in their joint efforts.
Later on, at a time when we saw more conflicts between Hamas in Gaza and the Israelis, we saw Muslim and Jewish religious scholars uniting in Germany few months ago when the German government was debating about banning male circumcision, which is only practiced by Muslims and Jews. So the world saw many Muslim scholars and Jewish religious figures holding meetings and standing together to persuade the German government not to ban circumcision.
To be honest, I read this piece of news with a smile on my face because we saw Muslims and Jews putting their hands together and uniting in Germany not to talk about a lasting peace in the Middle East, but to discuss the fate of a decision which involves what to do with the extra skin on a newborn baby boy’s private part! All it took to get the Muslims and Jews to be together was when they saw what they have in common instead of discussing the differences.
One of the most historically significant events that brought the Muslims and the Jews together was during the Holocaust, which was considered the most difficult times for Jews. People know about the German businessman in Poland who saved many Jews whose story was turned into a movie in the 1990s and directed by Steven Spielberg. But do people know that Muslims saved more Jews during the Holocaust than some allied countries that participated in WWII.
Some historians, including many Jewish scholars say that Muslims have protected and saved more Jews than the United States and the United Kingdom. An Israeli Rabbi Meir Lau has spoken very extensively about the tens of thousands who were saved by Turkish Muslims and some others from Albania and Bosnia. It was circulated that as many as 190 prominent Jews were saved by Muslims from Turkey. Those Muslims risked their lives in the process and some of these Muslims were diplomats in Europe.
And for the information of the readers, there were others who saved many Jews during the Holocaust such as the Japanese, Swedish diplomats and most notably Germany’s Oskar Schindler whose list was named Schindler’s list. So the Muslims had a list of Jews whom they saved during the Holocaust and the list as I have mentioned above was in the tens of thousands. The efforts of the Muslims to save the Jews were brought to light in last month’s exhibition in London. The event highlighted the role Muslims played in saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust. The Righteous Muslim Exhibition was launched at the Board of Deputies of British Jews in Bloomsbury, London.
During the Holocaust, it wasn’t Jewish lives that were saved by Muslims. The Sarajevo Haggadah, a 600-year-old manuscript, which was hidden from the Nazis, was given to a Muslim cleric to hide it. Interestingly, he kept it under the floor of a mosque until the war ended. All these events tell us that our creator had created us to help each other not hurt each other. And now, we saw 65 years of attacks and counterattacks and no peace is achieved. The Middle East is going through the most difficult times in its history and the longer we wait in bringing different parties together the more difficult it will be to solve anything. The Palestinians and the Israelis must take every initiative for the sake of the future generations. History taught us that conflicts no matter how complicated they are can always be solved at the negotiation table not in the battlefield.