‘Anything that happens to the Jews they will exaggerate’

Israeli filmmaker heads to the West Bank to document what Palestinians think of the Holocaust

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

What do average Palestinians think about the Holocaust, if they know about it at all? Amateur Israeli filmmaker Corey Gil-Shuster, who moved to Israel from Canada 15 years ago, set out to the West Bank to find out as part of his YouTube series, “Ask an Israeli, ask a Palestinian.”

The results, unscientific though they were, weren’t especially encouraging.

There were three types of answers that surfaced during his interviews: lack of knowledge about the Holocaust, the view that the Holocaust happened but was exaggerated or is what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians now, or the idea that Adolf Hitler was right for killing Jews.

The question “Palestinians: What do you know/think of the Holocaust?” was sent in by “Jason from Canada.” Gil-Shuster and his translator filmed on his $180 Best Buy camera mainly in Ramallah while this summer’s fighting in Gaza was still ongoing.

“Me and the translator walked down the street and he mainly picked people who looked like they were intelligent,” Gil-Shuster told The Times of Israel. “Sometimes I asked people. We mainly asked people who look like they have two minutes to answer a question.”

Ayoud in Ramallah, for example, said that “The same they did to the Jews, the Jews are doing now,” according Gil-Shuster’s translator.

“They are basically massacring the Palestinians, just like Hitler did to them,” agreed his companion Najla from the US, “except people had more sympathy for the Jews than they do for the Palestinians, ’cause in American media, they portray the Jews as the ones being hit by the Palestinians.”

Corey Gil-Shuster is ready to ask your questions of Jews and Arabs living in the region. (courtesy)
Corey Gil-Shuster is ready to ask your questions of Jews and Arabs living in the region. (courtesy)

Mohammad from Ramallah said that 100,000 Jews were killed, “but they keep announcing 6 million were killed… Anything that happens to the Jews they will exaggerate.”

Also in Ramallah, Malek said, “It’s exaggerated in the media; still I am against it and against the killing of civilians anywhere… Nobody denies the Holocaust, it happened, and it is real. But what Israel does now is use this as an excuse to play victim on the entire world… they kill us Palestinians, just like they were killing them.”

Speaking in Nablus, a man named Ahmed said, “All respect to Hitler.” He added that he wanted to kill Jews “because the Jews are occupying the land.”

A young woman in Ramallah named Amani opined that “Hitler left a few Jews to let the world know why he burned them.” Are Jews evil? she was asked. “Yes, of course.”

Several respondents didn’t know much about the Holocaust, beyond that it was where Hitler burned the Jews.

Abdel-Karim in Ramallah seemed to be the most well-informed. “They were killed, they were burned, they were expelled,” he said. “Hitler was a dictator who liked to take over everything… He wanted all people to be scared of him. Because of that he burned the Jews. To show the people of the world what powers the Germans had.”

The self-funded Ask project started somewhat by chance around three years ago, when Gil-Shuster got fed up with non-Israelis making claims about Israeli society that didn’t match what he had experienced living here. He started by asking on Facebook for a for questions to pose to Israelis. The project, which has garnered over 100,000 views for some of its videos, has received more than a thousand question submissions.

Gil-Shuster said that he has a set of rules for the approximately 250 videos he has made: “The majority of responses will be random people on the street that I meet. I include all responses no matter what they say. I don’t edit out any of the content of what they say; I only edit their names out or if someone interrupts or something. I try to get a representative sampling of Israelis — young, old, men, women, Arabs, Jews, etc. This doesn’t always work because older people, women and Arabs, for example, are less likely to agree to be in the project. So it is not scientific sampling but I try.”

He said he was aware that acknowledging the Holocaust was taboo in Palestinian culture, and that many either know little or think it is a lie made up by Jews.

Still, he said, he “was a little shocked at the depth of hate they have for Jews and Israelis. I wanted to yell at them when they answered these things but I don’t want to burn bridges so they will think I have an anti-Palestinian motive to ask questions.”

He said he did not feel he was in danger asking questions about the Holocaust. “I present myself as a Canadian. No one ever asks if I am Jewish and I don’t think they care about foreign Jews so much. But if they suspected I am Israeli, they will likely think I am a Shin Bet agent or some kind of spy looking for information.”

The project has given Gil-Shuster certain insights into Palestinian society, he said. “I noticed that in Ramallah where they are more worldly, wealthier, live a better quality of life, they have more hate than poorer, more uneducated Palestinians living in Jenin, for example.”

A 2010 video by Gil-Shuster showing Palestinians visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem gave a very different impression, as the young West Bank residents expressed horror at the event and a desire to learn lessons from it.

Jeff Moskowitz contributed to this report. 

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