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    War of words over Lebanon’s history

     
    This photo, taken in 1940, shows Anne Frank at the age of twelve in Amsterdam. (AFP/HO)

    Generally speaking, many extremists who fanatically defend just causes are the worst enemies of those causes. This principle applies directly to the whole hubbub started by Al-Manar when it accused certain groups of being compliant in exposing “the educational sector in Lebanon to the Zionist cultural invasion.” This charge was due to the fact that an English-language textbook being used in several schools in Beirut contained passages from the diary of Anne Frank, the thirteen-year-old German girl who wrote her journal entries in hiding during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands before she was captured, later dying along with most of the members of her family in Nazi concentration camps.
     
    The television report, which caused this whole stir when it aired on the evening of October 30 on Al-Manar news, was no more than a three-minute segment put together by an overly zealous journalist and featuring a Hezbollah MP and lawyer. But it was enough to cause the book to be taken out of circulation after an unfortunate and unjust decision on the part of then-Minister of Education Bahia Hariri. It was also enough for some authorities at Al-Manar to think they scored an additional point in Lebanon’s continuing political disputes, when actually they handed over – on a silver platter – a priceless gift to extremist Zionist propaganda, which for years has sought to link currents of anti-Semitism in Europe to the resistance movements against the Zionist occupation in our region. 
     
    A short television report prepared by an impetuous journalist, after it had been transcribed on the front page of Al-Manar’s website, was enough to be picked up by AFP in Beirut and rereleased in a number of languages. From there it was seized upon by world media outlets and published by the international press on their front pages under the headline that Hezbollah censored Anne Frank in Lebanon. Indeed, it is enough for a report like this to create a firestorm over Lebanon, its Resistance, its media and even its educational institutions.
     
    The most terrible and peculiar part is that Al-Manar’s website, in transcribing the content of the broadcast, neglected the egregious error committed by the journalist who prepared the report. When boasting about his discovery, the journalist held the book in his hands, displayed its pages to the viewing public and said: “This is the book which is studied in Beirut schools and talks about the memoirs of a young Israeli girl during the Second World War.” Perhaps this journalist was unaware that during the period when Anne Frank wrote her journal entries – between 1942 and 1944 – there was still no state in the world called Israel. Such a blunder is appalling. Or perhaps he indeed was aware but in his haste to prepare the report committed this gaffe. That would be an even greater mistake. What is important is that this report, and all other similar matters, is being used by all who want to erroneously and shamelessly make the link between anti-Semitism and the crimes in Europe with the Resistance in Lebanon. Otherwise, how could we justify this journalist’s protest against the Star of David appearing in the book – the star that Jews were forced to wear on their chests by the Nazis as a scarlet letter. This was the only manner in which it appeared in the textbook!
     
    It was not lost upon this broadcast report to take on a semi-official stamp as it hosted Hezbollah MP Hussein al-Hajj Hassan. The MP would not acknowledge that Anne Frank’s story was really a tragedy when he said, “No one studies a book in Lebanese schools without examining the content. So instead, these long-endured and respected schools teach what the so-called, quote-unquote tragedy of this young girl, being ashamed to teach the tragedy of the Palestinian people, the tragedy of the Lebanese people, the history of the Resistance, the history of Lebanon’s resistance, and the suffering of the people of the South and the people of Lebanon by the Zionist occupation.”
     
    The truth is MP Hussein al-Hajj Hassan would not have so begrudgingly described the story of Anne Frank as a “tragedy” if he had been afforded the opportunity during the various stages of his education to examine the truth of the misfortune that befell the young German Jew; if he had read her diary and come to know how she hid away with her family in a house attic in Amsterdam for 25 months during which she compiled her entries before her family was discovered by Nazi police; or if he had studied how she and her sister were separated from their father and all moved to Nazi concentration camps where no one in her family was spared, except the father.
     
    Moreover, MP Hajj Hassan would not have stuck to this comparison which so negatively differentiated between the tragedy of Anne Frank and the tragedies of the Palestinians and Lebanese if he had understood that it is not only how the diary accounts became, for such a large portion of the world, the voice and conscience for all of those who perished in Nazi concentration camps; but rather, also how Zionist propaganda has attempted to monopolize her diary for its own interests and use them to justify the establishment of the state of Israel as a national homeland for the Jews as the victims of the Holocaust.
     
    The truth is, had MP Hajj Hassan reviewed recent history even a little, he would have recalled that, amid all the protests of Zionist organizations from The Netherlands and around the world, former PLO head Yasser Arafat visited the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam in 1996, acknowledging the tragedy that befell the Jews in World War II. On the same token, he refuted any notion that anti-Semitism and the just battle of the Palestinians were interrelated.
     
    Indeed, had MP Hajj Hassan looked even a little bit into the truth about the Nazi concentration camps and the place that this great crime against humanity occupies in the European collective conscience; had he looked even a little bit into the difficult task being undertaken by several progressive groups in Europe to prevent Israel from becoming the sole spokesman for the victims of the Holocaust; had he only stressed that the Palestinians, in the end, are the victims of the victims, he would have been able to make a comparison between the tragedy of Anne Frank and the victims of the Holocaust and the tragedies of the Palestinian and Lebanese peoples in a way that is integrative, not differentiating.
     
    Wouldn’t it have been nice if he, prior to making this unfortunate comparison, had heard of the controversy in the Netherlands last year when Boomerang Publishing produced postcards depicting Anne Frank, considered by many in Europe to be the symbol of Jewish suffering at the hands of the Nazis, wearing the red Palestinian Kuffiyah, the symbol of the Palestinian struggle, which were distributed for free in universities, theaters and coffee shops. This postcard created a major stir in the Netherlands and it drew intense opposition from numerous Jewish organizations who demanded, in vain, that the publishing house take the cards out of circulation.
     
    Even Harry Kney-Tal, the Israeli ambassador to the Netherlands, got involved in the issue. He displayed his deep anger over the subject, saying: “Anne Frank was an icon in [The Netherlands’] history and was killed because she was Jewish. The artist was wrong to use this icon to interpret a political crisis which is completely different from that of the Palestinians and the Israelis. This is a disgraceful matter and I cannot use any other words to describe the image.”
     
    Such disgrace, as it were, was also undertaken by UNESCO, an organization deserving of great praise here, when this year it added UNRWA’s photo and film archives of Palestinian refugees alongside Anne Frank’s diaries in Paris to its Memory of the World Programme.  Such disgrace, as viewed by the Israeli ambassador, should have been explored further by MP Hajj Hassan. Not only could he, after delving further, have made an integrative comparison between Anne Frank’s suffering and that of the children of Qana, Janin and Gaza, but he could also begin to encourage our children, via school curricula, to take after Anne Frank and record in their daily notebooks with candor and clarity the suffering that they have had to endure. At that point it would be difficult for the so-called Israeli Defense Forces to turn the children’s bodies into the nameless, voiceless, bloody corpses displayed on our satellite channels.

    What makes matters worse is that this sort of back-and-forth bickering, which has taken on wide-reaching international dimensions, was not lost on the Lebanese interior. On LBC’s program “Your Day Is Happy”, MP Sami Gemayel did not let the Al-Manar report go by without not only coming out in defense of the freedom of expression and education and the right to teach the Anne Frank Diaries in Lebanese schools; but he also said, in the name of decentralization, that every region in Lebanon should be able to teach its own particular history alongside Lebanon’s common history. The logic of equality between Lebanon’s sects, according to Gemayel, should be as follows: “I’m coming from the logic of equality. If Hezbollah wants to control the curriculum of [the International College], we should also examine the curricula that it teaches in its schools.”

    However, the young Gemayel was not satisfied with that. He went on to demand that his party receive the Ministry of Education because “the history book is among the priorities of the [Kataeb] party, [a party that] believes it necessary to submit this issue to a major workshop based on [the idea that] the writing of Lebanese history [should be] shared by everyone and with respect to all of their sacrifices made for the sake of Lebanon.” The upstart Gemayel went on to say that “we recognize [Hezbollah’s] martyrs and we demand that they recognize our martyrs as well. We only demand equality between us as afforded by the Lebanese constitution.” However, if the other side does not respect the Kataeb’s martyrs, then Gemayel threatened to review the entire configuration of the country, saying: “We have offered sacrifices for this country and we deserve respect from the other side, whoever that might be. And if the other side does not acknowledge us, then we should take a look at this country’s configuration.”

    In light of this dispute we can only imagine how the history of this country would be written by both those who believe that the presence of the diary of Anne Frank in history textbooks will lead to the normalization and continuation of “the educational sector in Lebanon legitimizing the Zionist cultural invasion,” and those who want to obtain the Ministry of Education in order to rewrite Lebanese history.

    Did not Sami Gemayel declare upon his election to parliament that “I shall enter [parliament] with all of our martyrs; with our martyrs from Tal al-Zaatar and the Hundred-Day War. I will not leave them outside parliament; rather I shall bring them in with us. And we will tell the truth, and we will not be quiet. I will be your conscience, your identity and your history inside parliament.” Today he is not only trying to do what he said he would in parliament, but also in the Ministry of Education!

    Indeed, this is a matter of Lebanese history being rewritten by those who want to cram it full of anti-Semitism on the one hand and on the other those who have not learned a single thing from the past and still are proud of the massacre of Tel al-Zaatar – viewed under international law as a crime against humanity – and who consider it, as they have said, “a golden page” in the history of the Lebanese resistance. 

    Mohammad Ali AL-ATASSI
    NOW Lebanon
    14.11.2009

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