Khaled Kasab Mahameed waited until the very last moment, hoping that his visa would come through. A Muslim lawyer from the Israeli Arab city of Nazareth, he had reserved a seat on an afternoon flight December 10 from Amman to Tehran, expecting to address Iran’s international conference on the Holocaust. His bag was packed. His wife and two children were ready to take him at 9:00 a.m. to the Jordanian border crossing.
But at 9:00 a.m., his hopes were dashed. In a phone call to the Iranian Embassy in Amman, a clerk informed him that there was no visa waiting for him. “I was so disappointed,” he said. “I sat depressed, and I waited an hour and called again. Then another hour and called again. In the end, they said Israelis don’t get visas.”
Mahameed, 44, had been waiting for this day from the moment he received his invitation to the conference from Iran’s Foreign Ministry. In 2005, Mahameed opened the world’s first Holocaust museum for Arabs, called the Arab Institute for Holocaust Research and Education. It shares a floor with his law office.
In a way, the conference was his moment of truth. Not only would Mahameed have an international platform to teach Muslims and Arabs about the Holocaust — and possibly to get more financial support for his work. More important, in his opinion, he finally would be listened to. For the first time, he had been invited by Muslims to speak about his views. And maybe, just maybe, he could convince some to open their minds and hearts — to Jewish pain.
But it was not to be. “I thought about it,” he said, “maybe they invited me because they thought I live in the Palestinian Authority.”
Mahameed, an Israeli Arab whose family lost its land to a kibbutz when the State of Israel was created, is sympathetic to Palestinian claims. However, his approach to the subject is a unique one:
“When you don’t understand the Holocaust, it hinders the peace process,” he said. “I wanted to go tell the Iranians that when you play down the Holocaust or deny it, you are directly hurting the Palestinian refugees who are in camps. By denying it, they are making the Jewish people feel persecuted — which doesn’t allow options for peace to develop.”
“Ninety percent of the Israeli identity is based on the experience of the Holocaust — the horrors of the Nazis,” Mahameed said. “So when [the Iranians] deny the Holocaust, they are actually saying [Palestinians] are facing something that doesn’t exist. But it does exist.”
Mahameed’s knowledge is expansive, quoting from Heine and Clausewitz. But his focus is very much at home — directed at the conflict that affects his own life.
“I remember since I was 6, my father always said we are paying for the horrors of the Holocaust.”
Almost counter-intuitively, Mahameed argues that the Palestinians cannot win by talking of Israeli atrocities, but rather by acknowledging the atrocities perpetuated against the Jews.
“Palestinians talk about Israelis killing 1,000 or 2,000 in Sabra and Shatila,” he said, referring to a massacre that happened under Israeli watch after the 1982 Lebanon War. “But the Israelis have 6 million. I say, Palestinians need to adopt the Holocaust. The result of adopting the Holocaust is that then they don’t need to be violent against the Jews. That’s the power of the Holocaust. So let’s bring information to the Palestinians about the Holocaust.”
But he also believes that Jews need to make an effort: “I also request from the Jews to overcome the Holocaust. Yes, it was a horror, but why let Hitler continue to dictate our lives?”
He blames Israelis and Europeans for not teaching Arabs and Muslims about the Holocaust. “Israelis always speak of the need to preserve the security of the Jewish state. Why not explain why? Why not describe what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust so the Arabs will understand that the Holocaust is an important factor in shaping policies toward the Arab world?”
Now, one may quibble with many aspects of Mahameed's opinions. I'm not sure what more the Israelis and the Europeans can do to teach Arabs and Muslims about the Holocaust, or how they would go about it in the face of the state-run, Holocaust-denying propaganda machines in many Arab states. Something tells me that a proposal to launch European- or Israeli-run Holocaust Study Centers would not be particularly welcome in most Arab and/or Muslim countries.
Such quibbles notwithstanding, Mahameed is also someone who is placing the responsibility on his fellow Arabs and Muslims to move past the Holocaust denial and the Jew-hatred so rampant in the Muslim and Arab world, and to start by confronting the reality of the Holocaust. At the time of the grotesque assemblage in Tehran, that's a good start -- particularly when the preachers of hate have their contingent of European and American enablers.
Iran's denial of a visa to Mahameed speaks volumes, of course, about the true intent of the "scientific" conference on the Holocaust. Then again, it doesn't tell us anything about this event that we didn't already know.