|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
1 - 7 February 2001
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Tea at the Pension Viennoise
We spent the summer of 1946 in Platras, a small mountain resort in Cyprus. I remember those months as among the most boring in my life. There were no other children to befriend and we mostly hung around the grownups, in the unlikely hope of catching snippets of interesting conversation.
Every afternoon, our interminable walks were somewhat enlivened by the promise of afternoon tea at the Pension Viennoise. In those post-war days, Cyprus was economically deprived and treats were few and far between. My parents agreed, however, that the pastries at the pension were a notch above the local fare. It also featured a further attraction: tea was served in a charming, sunny garden, where tables clothed in spotless red and white checks awaited visitors eager to enjoy the outdoors. The place was frequented mainly by war refugees, elderly people who greedily munched their tarts while conversing noisily in a foreign language. I don't think I knew at the time that they were speaking Yiddish, but I was annoyed to miss the drift of their chatter.
The owner of the pension was a boisterous and talkative woman, who had no qualms serving pork to her most observant Jewish customers, gaily passing it off as first-rate veal. This fraud irritated my parents immensely. Since we were renting a villa that summer, and my mother was buying our supplies at the local market, she knew for a fact -- in these pre-imported-meat days -- that veal was unknown on the island. If there were no cows (only goat's milk was available), she asked the innkeeper one day, where did the veal come from? The woman shrugged, gestured vaguely towards the residents having their early dinner, and whispered something in German, then burst out laughing. My hazy knowledge of the language allowed me to grasp the gist of the sentence, which was that "given half a chance, they would attempt to fool the entire world, so what's wrong with fooling them?" It made little sense to me, and certainly did not help me understand why we abruptly stopped the afternoon tea practice.
I remained in the dark until much later, when the identity of the pension's guests was revealed to me. By this time, 1948 and 1967 had come to pass, and I had become politically savvy. I was thus able to understand at last the connotations of what had remained for a long time an unexplained puzzle.
I often think of the Pension Viennoise these days, when I hear the Israelis hysterically claiming that their security is threatened by stone-throwing pre-teens, while they are allowed, with total impunity, to take pot shots at Palestinian children, murder them, maim them, bulldoze and loot their houses, kill their parents then scream that Jewish lives are in danger, and must be protected at any cost, since they are more sacred than other human -- let alone Arab -- lives.
What astonishes me is the ease with which the erstwhile victims managed to dupe or bully the rest of the world into acquiescence. In the Pension Viennoise era, Jewish holiness had not yet been established, nor had the Israelis' incredible brutality been revealed and documented. Nothing heralded an epoch in which every Israeli attack would be followed by a proportionate increase in international approval. America had yet to be sold the merits of acquiring its special partner.
For some time now, a number of political thinkers have been aware of a collusion aimed at perpetuating the new dogma of Israel's vulnerability. Books have been published, articles have been written denouncing the biggest scandal of the century, only to be quickly swept under the rug.
Norman Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry, which I have just finished reading, has been an eye-opener. The world once chose to ignore the crimes of the Nazis; now it is spreading its mantle of indifference over those of the Israelis. It is the Arabs' turn to be demonised for convenience.
Unsurprisingly, Finklestein's damning study of the many ways in which Jewish international organisations have milked the Holocaust for their own profit is not readily available. Few bookstores have it in stock in the United States. Let us not forget that the Holocaust has come to occupy a special place in American culture. At this point in time, revisiting the facts and the recent compensation agreements is deemed nothing short of iconoclastic. Obviously, neither Americans with their powerful Jewish constituency, nor Europeans who have been bled dry (and taken it with a stiff upper lip) would care to address Finklestein's question: if so many Holocaust survivors have to be compensated today, who exactly died in the concentration camps?
The fact that major Jewish organisations have cheated the real plaintiffs -- who are often living their last years in poverty -- has been amply documented, albeit by only a few courageous researchers. The voices raised in protest of this ultimate fraud have been silenced systematically. In the same spirit, those who have dared to defend the rights of Arabs are treated like pariahs, their books banned from libraries, their articles virulently attacked before they are made to disappear. The authors of such books and articles are branded apostates and Jew-haters, while the new religion, based on Israeli infallibility, marches on. The truth, however, has a bothersome tendency to endure, and is bound to surface unexpectedly at any moment. Hope springs eternal; meanwhile, I remember the Pension Viennoise.
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