The more I drift into Pappe”s book on the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the more it becomes depressing; never being one for the “sordid” details, when looking at historical events I am generally content to look at the “big picture” and at least attempt to come to a conclusion as to what that big picture implies.
For instance, do we really need to know that Petra Brzica, on the night of 29th August 1942, cut the throats of 1,300 new arrivals at the Jasenovac camp and earned himself the title of “srbojek” (serb cutter) (1), do we really need to know about the perverse games that some of the SS guards played before sending the camp inmates to be gassed, do we need to know how the ‘Khmer Rouge’ tortured their victims before killing them and do we need to know exactly how the individual villages and, indeed, villagers were treated by the Haganah and Irgun during and after the ethnic cleansing of Palestine? In the past I have contented myself with the “big picture” with the figures, and it has been sufficient to know that some 750,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their homeland and that countless men, women and children were murdered, it was enough to know that up to 700,000, mostly Serbs but also Jews and Gypsies, were massacred at the Jasenovac camp, that about 30% of Cambodia’s population died at the hands of the ‘Khmer Rouge’ and that millions and millions died because of the Nazi death machine. However, the more I delve into historical events, the first “delving into” I have done in some twenty years, the more I realise two things. Firstly, if you content yourself with the “big picture” you will have your doubters, the hecklers, the Holocaust deniers, the “Yes, some Serbs died but the figure is closer to 50,000 than it is to 100,000” Croats and the “Palestinians fled when the Arab League attacked the Jews” Israelis and secondly, when you look closely at the details that is when you understand the real nature of the crime in a way that figures cannot tell you and that is when it becomes depressing.
Today I won’t read any more details of the ethinic cleansing of Palestine. It is overcast here in Munich and the cafes are full, today is a day for cups of latte, people watching, meeting a couple of friends, reading the papers and a few pages of Dawkins. Pappe’s book is beginning to depress me and it is also beginning to make me angry; those are feelings that I have in the past associated with work and today I am going to have a holiday.