by S. Amjad Hussain
Recent visits of Mr. Benjamin Natanyahu and Mr. Yasir Arafat to Washington underscored two points. One is well known; the other a bit obscure.
The known point was their inability to come to terms on the peace accords. With the resignation of Israeli foreign minister David Levy, Mr. Natanyahu is left with a razor thin majority in the parliament and is at the mercy of religious hard liners. It appears that he has decided scuttle the Oslo Peace Accords. Despite President Clinton's frank talk Mr. Natanyahu remains defiant. Peace in Middle East remains a mirage.
The other point was the refusal of a federal agency to extend protocol and courtesy to a guest of the United States Government. Mr. Arafat was invited by the State Department to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, a gesture of reconciliation on the part of the Palestinian leader. He would have been the first Arab leader to visit the museum. The museum initially refused to receive him.
The Holocaust Museum was built on federal land by an act of Congress in 1980. The federal government pays 70% of its 134 million dollars annual budget. The council of the museum, a federal agency, sets policies and helps run the museum.
I listened to Mr. Miles Lerman, chairman of the Council of the museum, on National Public Radio. He gave an unbelievable explanation for the rebuff. He did not want to politicize the museum by welcoming Arafat because many Jews were against the idea. He stated that PLO-Israeli talks had divided Jews and to receive Mr. Arafat would cause further divisiveness.
Mr. Lerman and members of the museum council are victims of their own doing. It is difficult to extend hospitality to someone you have declared an enemy and have done your best to demean and demonize. Mr. Arafat was called "Hitler incarnate" by some Jews who were influential enough to force the museum to disinvite him.
Mr. Lerman and others, under pressure,changed their minds and reinvited Mr. Arafat. But given the forced nature of this response and the fact that his schedual had filled, it was no surprise he did not make the visit.
A few years ago I visited Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. It was here in an annex of a nondescript row house that Anne Frank, a young girl of 13, and her family hid from the Nazis during World War II. Her diary captures the pain and anguish of her family as they silently lived for two years. Tipped by an informer the Gestapo captured the family and sent them to concentration camps where the entire family except for her father died. Only a stone hearted person would not feel the pain of Anne Frank and her family and millions of others.
In the same house, now a museum, there is a photographic exhibition on refugees of the world, starting with WW II and ending with the war in Afghanistan, the latest refugees at the time. The exhibit vividly outlines the suffering Cambodians, Vietnamese, Afghans and many other people. Missing from the otherwise complete list were the Palestinian refugees who still languish in camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza and West Bank.
The museum explained that due to controversial nature of the subject Palestinian refugees were not included. The museum in Amsterdam, as the museum in Washington, seem to believe that Palestinians are not worth paying attention to.
The Holocaust remains an indelible blot on the collective consciousness of the world. To prevent it from happening again to any peoples it must not be wiped away. In the process of preserving the sacred memory politics and short sighted agendas should not play any part.
[Surgeon-writer S. Amjad Hussain lives in Toledo, Ohio where he writes a bi-weekly column for the Op-Ed pages of The Blade.]