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Palestinian comments on Holocaust underscore internal divides

A Palestinian official prompted a heated debate when he visited Auschwitz last month. Many Palestinians believe that recognition of the Holocaust detracts from their own suffering. 

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In the eyes of Hamas, however, his visit was a kind of sacrilege. In remarks quoted by Reuters, spokesman Fawzi Barhoum termed the Holocaust ''an alleged tragedy'' and said the visit came ''at the expense of the true Palestinian tragedy.'' BBC reports that an editorial in Hamas's Filastin newspaper asked, ''What is the wisdom in such a simple step that supports the Jews and their crimes? Neither the Jews nor we believe that Hitler killed six million Jews.''

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Salah Bardawil, another Hamas leader, stopped short of Holocaust denial, but vehemently criticized Bandak and accused him of giving cover to Israeli behavior that Bardawil compares to that of the Nazis.

''A great number of Jews and Europeans were killed by the Nazis, but this cannot be exploited for Israel's interests while Israel commits the same crimes against the Palestinian people that were committed against European peoples at that time. This visit is wrong and unacceptable to the Palestinian people," Mr. Bardawil says.

Two years ago, some Hamas figures criticized efforts by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which administers Palestinian refugee camps across the region, to include lessons about the Holocaust in the schools in runs in Gaza. The program still has not been implemented, and an UNWRA spokesman declined to comment on it. Without referring specifically to the UNRWA plans, Bardawil says he is against teaching about the Holocaust in Palestinian schools.

''He who wants to study the human crimes in general must include all the crimes, including the expulsion of Palestinians from their lands in 1948, the siege of Gaza, the war on Gaza, and the many crimes in the region. Focusing on the crimes of the Nazis of killing Jews is political, and Israel will try to benefit from this," he says. 

Bandak's act comes two months after Salah Abdel-Shafi, the PLO envoy to Berlin, called the Holocaust ''the worst crime in human history'' while speaking to Israeli journalists. In an interview with the Monitor this week, Mr. Abdel-Shafi reiterated that statement. 

But, in a formulation that angered Israeli officials who were contacted after the interview, he defined the Holocaust as including non-Jewish victims of the Nazis, such as the Russians who died in the German invasion of the Soviet Union.

''This is a crime against humanity at large. Not only were Jews the victims of the Holocaust but also Germans, Russians, people of different political affiliations, social democrats, communists, homosexuals. The magnitude of the crime, and its being against anything that had to do with humanity and progress, makes it into the worst crime in history,'' Abdel-Shafi says.

Yigal Palmor, the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, says Abdel-Shafi's statement shows that despite Bandak's gesture, the Palestinians ''haven't made a step forward toward reconciliation. We haven't made any progress at all.''

''Without denying the tragedy of all the people who died, the Holocaust is a term specifically used for the systematic massacre of Jews and it is also used for the systematic massacre of Gypsies. But it is not used by anyone to describe the plight of other peoples," Mr. Palmor says.

However, Yehuda Bauer, one of the country's foremost Holocaust scholars and an academic adviser to Israeli Holocaust research center and museum Yad Vashem, termed Bandak's visit to Auschwitz ''significant.''

''The more leaders of the Palestinian national movement realize the background of the Jewish people, the better it is. In the very long run this could help create a climate for reconciliation'' Mr. Bauer says.

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