Friday, January 11, 2008

The Responsibility of Bystanders

Normblog posted an interesting comment concerning the issues of guilt and responsibility of bystanders.

He says:

After the Second World War, the philosopher Karl Jaspers wrote a book on the question of German guilt, in which he distinguished four different types of guilt: criminal, political, moral and metaphysical. Provided one maintains the distinction between criminal and the other kinds of guilt, one can speak loosely of bystanders being guilty in a moral sense. But it is probably better to focus on people's responsibilities or obligations to one another. Guilt - both the extent and the occasions of it - is hard to pin down where safe and tested procedures for doing so are absent.

I was wondering where, in Jaspers' system could we place Arab responsibility for sharing in Hitler's crimes? I'm not speaking of the direct and unmediated ideological and practical collaboration of some Arabs with the Nazi regime.

I'm speaking of this period in history:

The Arabs of Palestine, though addressed with the most explicit plea in the report for showing "generosity" to the persecuted Jews of Europe, existentially threatened, did not for a second consider this possibility and continued to mount their pressure on the British to seal the borders. When there was hardly a country in the world open to accept Jewish refugees fleeing from Hitler's ominous programmes, Mandate Palestine, which had been commissioned with the provision of a safe haven for Jews, chose to close ranks with the Arabs and seal the borders, against the Jews.

The only place that would have welcomed these refugees and could have saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives, joined the rest of the world's complicity in these crimes.

Today, the staple Palestinian argument is that they had no responsibility whatsoever for what happened to the Jews. But they did. They bear at least the same responsibility as as every country that ever refused to accept Jews who were looking to get out of Europe.

I said "at least" because there is a strong case to be made that they were not merely indifferent bystanders. They were actively engaged in obstructing Jewish survival. They cannot pretend the innocence of ignorance when they were directly addressed by the Peel Report, in 1937, with a warning of what may befall the Jews.


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