Gaza/Warsaw Ghetto

Auschwitz wasn’t any kind of positive learning experience, and the overwhelmingly majority of the Jews who had anything to do with the Holocaust learned nothing from it because they were killed by it. It wasn’t a learning experience and it wasn’t an experience which made people better, or more left-wing, or more anti-racist. There was no silver lining to the Holocaust. --David Hirsh
I am not going to say anything here for now about the current, awful round of Israel/Palestine conflict. I haven't worked out my thoughts and feel too much anguish to be able to articulate a response. The denseness of the fog of this war - and the manifold untruths, fake pics, claims, counterclaims and viral lies circulating in the media and especially on social media - makes it hard to call what's actually going on.

But something that I do want to comment on is the inappropriate comparisons people make in discussing the situation.

For instance, I've seen pro-Israelis claim Israel is experiencing a 9/11 24/7, because of Hamas rockets, and I've seen anti-Israelis claim that Palestine is experiencing the same thing. Of course, the notion is ridiculous: 3000 people died in a single day in the September 2001 attack (not counting the rescue workers who died later as a result). 3000 is greater the death toll of the entire Second Intifada. Even Assad's Ghouta chemical attack killed only half that number; even Syria is not experiencing a 9/11 every day.

But for me the most pernicious comparison is of Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto. Pernicious because the two events are utterly incomparable, and additionally offensive because it uses Jewish suffering against Jews.

Melvin Goodman, one of those ex-CIA paleocon wingnuts beloved of Counterpunchwrote a stupid piece there comparing the two, for example noting that unemployment was a problem in the Ghetto, just like Gaza. Marginally smarter, Glenn Greenwald didn't invoke Warsaw, but did compare Netanyahu to Goebbels, then disingenuously added that to compare two things isn't to say they're the same. A retired academic writing for MondoWeiss uses the Warsaw Ghetto because an Auschwitz comparison is not quite right; what's going on in Gaza, thankfully, is "not exactly the same" as the actual death camps, but is comparable to the Ghetto.

Here's some more examples:

What do these comparisons actually mean?

The Twitter account RealTimeWWII, a project of history graduate Alwyn Collinson, has been tweeting the history of the Second World War as it unfolded on this day 72 years ago. It is now up to 1942: the Warsaw Ghetto. It makes for difficult reading.

In the Warsaw Ghetto, 400,000 Jews were forced into an area of 3.4 square km (1.3 square miles). Gaza is 139 square miles with a population of 1.8 million. The population density of Gaza is high: 13,069.1/sq mi, twice that of Tokyo (but much less than, say Manila's 111,000, Chennai's 67,000, Macau's 55,000, or Paris' 54,000). The population density of the Warsaw Ghetto was 307,692.

In the Ghetto, nearly a quarter died of starvation and disease (that's comparable to 450,000* Gazans). Of those that remained, most were taken to Treblinka and killed, along with 2000 Romani people and some million other Jews. 7000 Jews were taken from the Ghetto to the camp every day in the summer of 1942. Around 20,000 survived after less than three years.

That is what genocide looks like. I don't think that is what Gaza, however bad it gets, looks like. I understand your anguish about Gaza, but please don't make this kind of comparison.

For pointing out that these comparisons are not on, here is the kind of response one gets:


Unknown said…
Thank you for this post - 100% agree with you. Unfortunately, as you said, these people, as a whole, don't want peace. You gently, calmly, state the facts, and you're a "Zionst Nazi mother------."

I'll definitely be linking to your site often!
Anonymous said…
I totally agree that it's not the same. But (of course there is a but)the building of the walls, the controlling of water supplies, medicines, food etc., the checkpoints,the killing of children and so on and so forth doesn't have any similarity to any other chapter of our history. The closest one is the Warsaw ghetto and again let me stress, I do realize that it is not the same, but I do understand the tendency of people to draw parallels between these two.
And since it was the Jewish people that all the terrible terrible things has happened to for centuries, many just can't believe that a nation with it's sad history of being oppressed seems to have become the oppressor, doing these horrible, degrading and destructive things to the people of Gaza.

That said, the blame game is useless. The killing has to stop now.
Unknown said…
Why is Gaza and the Ghetto not comparable ?The above arguments are ludicrous. Can we not compare a strawberry and an apple, and note that while they are manifestly not the same they are both fruits. Of course Gaza and the Ghetto are not the same, but they are both the consequence of a very similar racist, supremacist and excepionalist mind set, and therefore have something significant in common.
Anonymous said…
I'm sorry, but a comparison between the Warsaw Ghetto and the siege and blockade of Gaza since 2007 can definitely be made. I was always a blind supporter of Israel, but in the last year, my eyes have been opened by the many articles I have read about the atrocities being committed every day by the Israeli military on the citizens of Gaza. Netanyahu's aim is to completely destroy Gaza rendering the area uninhabitable thereby taking Gaza as Israeli territory. I can no longer believe any statements by the Israeli government, or for that matter,the many one-sided reports coming from the US mainstream media. Israel has lost all credibility.
Anonymous said…
I agree, but the racists in question are the minority of Palestinians in Gaza who want death to the Jews and whose elected government proudly states that its goal is to destroy Israel and kill all Jewish men, women and children.
bob said…
Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto are of course "comparable" like a strawberry and apple. Question: are they the same? Answer: no. (If strawberries and apples are the same because both fruits, we would also say that tomatoes, peaches and pineapples are the same, as we might say that Gaza is the same as Campsfield Detention Centre, the situation on the Indian/Bangladeshi border, Chinese-occupied Tibet - i.e. not the same except at a level of generality that is meaningless.)

Why do people need to draw any parallels in these cases? The situation in Gaza is dreadful in its own right; it doesn't need us putting a finger into the most painful wound in Jewish people just because we can't think of a better parallel.

Building of walls, controlling of supplies and checkpoints are features common, sadly, to many nation states, from Spain (with its barbed wire fence around Cueta) to the US (where the Mexican border has become hyper-militarised and literally hundreds die of dehydration trying to cross the border every year). The killing of children, tragically, is a feature of all modern wars and conflicts, most starkly just 118 miles from Gaza in Syria. We don't need to look far for plenty of parallels. Why look to the Holocaust?

It is seven years since the blockade, 9 years since the disengagement. Gaza has suffered horribly in that time, but it has also had a very high population growth rate, one of the highest in the world. If Israel is committing a genocide in Gaza, it is doing it in a way that increases the population. Look again at the death rate in the Warsaw Ghetto: hundreds of thousands perished in just a couple of years. So: rage about Gaza, but on its own terms, not by meaningless and offensive comparisons.
max said…
Bob, I sgree with you that comparisons are academic.
Is it or isn't it like this or the other siege doesn't matter, what matters is that in absolute terms the shelling of Gaza is a war crime.

Dale said…
The victims of the Warsaw ghetto were imprisoned in Warsaw and controlled by the Nazis. They were forbidden to leave on pain of death. The civilians of Gaza are imprisoned in Gaza and forbidden to leave on pain of death. They are warned to vacate their homes because they are going to be shelled. They have nowhere safe to go. Israel controls their food, calculates their calorie requirements and ensures they provide less than that to keep the population on the edge of starvation. A senior Israeli figure has proposed raping Palestinians to deter them from resisting. Gaza is, or has been described as, the world's biggest open air prison, only in this prison if you stand near a child you are likely to be killed. The numbers may not be comparable, but the murder is real and is no less a war crime for that. White Phosphorus (filmed and recorded by western journalists), flechette rounds, the definition of an asymmetric 'conflict'. Gaza is a ghetto. Palestinians are being murdered.
Frank Jacobs said…
It seems to me that the comparison between a strawberry and an apple is only useful in illustrating how different they are.
bob said…
Dale, some of your claims are true or half-true, others probably not. I haven't seen a single credible report for the use of white phosphorus in this round of the conflict. I have seen credible reports of the use of flechette rounds, which, if true, although not technically constituting a war crime, is certainly absolutely appalling in a built-up area. Israel did in 2007 count calories to calculate a supposed "humanitarian" minimum per capita as part of its blockade, but it did not ration supplies. A random academic (an assistant professor, so not even that senior in his university) made an utterly horrific statement that only threats of rape would deter terrorists (although I don't think it was actually a "proposal").

But even if every single one of your points was true, there would also be enormous differences, in the scale and in the intent, as I detail in the post above. I do not see in what way it illuminates or explains anything about Gaza to make this comparison.
Unknown said…
My point is that while they are not the same it is legitimate to point out similarities. Maybe, Bob, you could get to be famous by being the first to successfully explain to me why Israel banned the entry of lentils into Gaza.The two most prominant theories seem to be....

a) Past bad experiences with lentil bombs

b) lentils are just too damn nutritious
Anonymous said…
There are at least three critical differences between Gaza and the Ghetto. First, as Bob has explained, the difference in scale is enormous. Second, it is neither a public nor private goal of Israel's to exterminate Gazans. You can debate the morals and strategic value of Israel's actions, but it doesn't want to kill Gazans and it doesn't want the territory. Third, unlike Hamas, the Jews did not have a stated platform of wiping Germans off the map. Again, you can debate whether it justifies Israel's actions, but Israelis have objectively good reasons to fear Palestinians and Hamas, whereas Germans had no reason but hatred for killing Jews and others.
Anonymous said…
Gaza is bordered by two countries. Out of curiosity, why don't I hear anyone complaining that Egypt won't open its borders to people and supplies?
Unknown said…
Well that is part of the much bigger, much asked question of why pick on Israel when there are much worse places/regimes in the world.
zhaomafan said…
people insist on the parallel between Gaza and Warsaw (or any of the other dozens and dozens of Nazi ghettos) for one or both of two reasons:

1. the actual horrific situation in which this conflict places Gazan civilians is not bad enough (or their powers of description are inadequate to the task) and so they grasp for the most horrifying case they can think of; and/or

2. they want to delegitimise the Jews' historic memory of the Shoah by referring specifically to the worst thing which happened to the Jews, and say "You're just as bad as the Nazis". (perhaps a 3rd reason is ---as someone once said, and I cannot take credit for this burst of insight --- Europe has never forgiven the Jews for the Holocaust).

Yes, it is a terrible situation. Yes, it would be a legitimate (although in my view grossly erroneous) political stance to primarily blame the Israelis for this murderous mess. That's within the realm of fair (even if incorrect) comment. But no, it is not legitimate to accuse the Israelis of perpetrating another Holocaust, because that is not what's happening.
Dave Brockley said…
It is perfectly possible to condemn Israeli action in Gaza without resorting to Warsaw ghetto or Nazi comparisons.
The reason Nazi comparisons are used is clearly to upset jews.
The holocaust is used to condemn Israelis and ask them to uphold standards that others are not expected to. It,s a kind of euro centric way of looking at the conflict and asking one side to uphold better morals,This despite many Israelis not originating from europe and having little to do with the holocaust.
The holocaust reduced to a event to chastise one side in this conflict.Of course the Palestinians have had a minor though tragic role in the holocaust. Providing pressure on the British to stop holocaust survivors reaching Palestine.In the case of the mufti of jerusalem collaboration with the nazis that depending on who you believe directly caused jewish deaths.
Anonymous said…
Gosh, it is a very irritating style of response to say you agree when you don't. There is massive racism on the Israeli side also. When you demonise people, they are easier to kill. Hence breaking the Geneva convention and committing war crimes seems to matter less, then.
Anonymous said…
It doesn't look like they don't want to kill Gazans.
Rusty Shackleford said…
Thanks for putting this post together Bob -needed to be spelt out and a useful resource for the future. Here's another tweet (of 1000s of possible candidates) to add to the collection. It's from a chap quoting Sukant Chandan in an interview: This is the sort of the deranged shit you'd expect from Chandan, but the guy quoting it is apparently the secretary of the Enfield Southgate Labour Party. You'd think they might be more picky.
geya said…
It does to anyone not blinded by racist jew-hate. They've achieved a ratio of terrorist : civilian deaths almost 1:1 - better than any other army in history, but the lies continue to spew.
geya said…
The IDF achieved a ratio of nearly 1:1, terrorists to civilians, even Mahmoud Abbas admits that. Better than any other army in history. So I'd say that, yes, to anyone who isn't blinded by jew-hatred, it does look very convincingly like they don't want to kill gazans.

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