Jewish Holocaust survivors respond to Wiesel and call for justice in Gaza

40 Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust and 287 descendants of survivors and victims issued a letter this weekend condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza. The letter, with signatories from 26 countries representing four generations of survivors, runs in the Saturday, August 23rd edition of the New York Times:

As Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine.

Elie WieselElie Wiesel

Their letter is in reponse to a statement by Elie Wiesel, the Nobel prize-winning author, and Shmuley Boteach, an outspoken American-born Orthodox rabbi. An advert jointly written by Wiesel and Boteach called on David Cameron and other political leaders “to condemn Hamas‘ use of children as human shields”:

Elie wieseA part of the advertisement

The advertisement by Wiesel and Boteach was carried in US newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the New York Observer. It compares the murder of children during the Holocaust to Hamas’ actions in Gaza. The Times of London declined to run it and the Guardian published a response for free. In an open letter on its website, the Stop The War coalition, the UK anti-war organisation, described the advert as a “wildly inaccurate and inflammatory advert from supporters of the state of Israel branding Palestinians opposing Israel in Gaza as ‘child killers’.”

The Holocaust survivors in turn expressed their dismay over Israel’s assault and misrepresentation of their shared history. Liliana Kaczerginski, daughter of a Vilna ghetto resistance fighter, said:

What Israel is doing goes against everything that my father fought for; it is a violation of my family’s memory and I am proud to honor them with my signature.

Hajo Meyer, a survivor of Auschwitz who lives in the Netherlands expressed outrage at the racism coming out of Israel:

The dehumanization of Jews is what made possible the Nazi genocide. In the same way, we are witnessing the escalating dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society.

 In their response letter, the survivors write:

We are disgusted and outraged by Elie Wiesel’s abuse of our history to justify the unjustifiable: Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children.

Dr Hani Jamah, a Palestinian living in California who lost 30 family members in an Israeli bombing said:

When Israel started it’s bombardment of Gaza, I turned on the news and discovered that 30 of my aunts and cousins had died in a single bomb blast. Joining my voice with 40 survivors of the Nazi genocide adds power to our call that we must work together to bring justice to Gaza.

Said Monadel Herzallah, who is part of the US Palestinian Community Network and has family in Gaza:

With the growing number of people around the world holding Israel accountable for its genocidal crimes, I applaud the courageous statements by holocaust survivors and their families being on the right side of justice,”  “Our children and grandchildren inside of Gaza deserve a life of believing that Never Again means Never Again for Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime.

Raphael Cohen, grandson of survivors who lives in the United States, called on people to take action to demand justice for Palestinians:

It is my own government paying for this violence. When governments won’t do what’s right, individuals and communities must speak out. That’s why I support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions.

The signatories hope that their letter will strengthen the claim that the legacy of Jewish suffering must mean never again for anyone, least of all, to be used in defense of Israeli violence.

Signatories will be hosting a press conference on Monday, August 25th, 2014 at 11:00 am Eastern Time

[8/22/14 San Francisco, CA]
Press Contact: Lee Gargagliano – survivorsletter@gmail.com

UPDATE ON CHILDREN IN GAZA:

A UNICEF field officer in Gaza reported that to date, 469 chjildren died as a result of violence against Gaza since early July. The report added “there is not a single family in the tiny enclave that has not been touched by the current violence.”

“The impact is has truly been vast, both at a very physical level, in terms of casualties, injuries, the infrastructure that’s been damaged, but also importantly, emotionally and psychologically in terms of the destabilizing impact that not knowing, not truly feeling like there is anywhere safe place to go in Gaza,” Pernilla Ironside, Chief of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Gaza field office told a press conference at UN Headquarters.

UNICEF has 50 psychologists and counsellors in Gaza reaching out to children directly impacted by loss. They have reached 3,000, but the needs are “staggering” as parents are also in a state of trauma, Ms. Ironside said, noting that today 373,000 Palestinian children need “immediate psycho-social first aid.”

Meanwhile, Defence for Children International Palestine reported how a Palestinian child was used as a human shield by Israeli forces:

humanshield.profile2.21august2014_0Ahmad Abu Raida was only 16 when Israeli soldiers repeatedly used him as a human shield for five days in Khuza’a, southern Gaza

Ramallah, August 21, 2014—Israeli soldiers repeatedly used Ahmad Abu Raida, 17, as a human shield for five days while he was held hostage during Israel’s ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Ahmad, from Khuza’a, near the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, was just 16 years old when he was taken from his family on July 23. He was forced at gunpoint to search for tunnels for five days, during which time he was interrogated, verbally and physically abused, and deprived of food and sleep. Ahmad told DCI-Palestine in a sworn testimony that Israeli soldiers attempted both to extract information from him regarding Hamas members, and recruit him as an informant, before releasing him on July 27.

“The Israeli military has consistently accused Hamas of using civilians – particularly children – as human shields, but this incident represents a clear case of their soldiers forcing a child to directly assist in military operations,” said Rifat Kassis, executive director of DCI-Palestine. “Israeli officials make generalized accusations while Israeli soldiers engage in conduct that amounts to war crimes.”

Ahmad’s ordeal began on July 21, when Israeli tanks entered Khuza’a, a town where Israeli forces allegedly committed war crimes during the the ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. After two days of hiding at home, Ahmad’s family and neighbors attempted to flee intense artillery fire. As they tried to leave, however, Israeli soldiers assembled civilians, separating young men from others.

Ahmad was singled out, detained with his hands tied behind his back, and kicked and insulted by a soldier. His family was released, but lost sight of him as they fled the area.

In the days that followed, despite not being associated with Hamas, Ahmad was interrogated about his political affiliation and the location of Hamas tunnels. He managed to sleep for just two hours on the first night, sitting in a chair with his hands tied behind him. Every day he was made to search for tunnels, including at one point digging under the afternoon sun.

Speaking to DCI-Palestine, Ahmad said, “[The Captain and the soldiers] were walking behind me, with their rifles pointed at me. “Get in and see if there are tunnels or not,” [the Captain] ordered me. They made me search all the rooms for tunnels. Whenever I told them there were no tunnels, they would take me out and search the room themselves.”

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BDS South Africa commemorating the Holocaust/Shoah

I often hear that advocating for a free and just Palestine means that I am against Jews, or that I deny the right of Israel’s existence.  And then I am asked to rather focus on the rights of Christians (as I am one).

With these kinds of arguments, individuals are grouped together in homogenous, faceless categories, as if all share the same values.

faceless

I cannot agree with such an approach.

Individuals choose how they interpret and position their religion, or their view of humanity (if they are not religious). Fundamentalist Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, humanists and others from basically all orientations practice exclusion, superiority and separatism – approaches that divide people and deny the dignity of some. The sociologist Manual Castells (2005) mentions, for example, a number of such examples from across the globe.

But then there are people from the same orientations who recognise the human dignity (and rights!) of all people, and they in turn choose for positions of inclusion or pluralism.  These are the people with whom I like to associate.

coexist

And so does Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) South Africa.  They agree wholeheartedly with those South African Jews who recently declared in a public statement that their proclamation of “Never again”  should mean:

“‘Never Again’ unconditionally, and to any human being – including the Palestinians.”

Visitors stand outside the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museumVisitors at Yad Vashem (the Holocaust/Shoah museum) look out at the landscape in Jerusalem. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

BDS South Africa and Open Shuhada Street held a Holocaust Remembrance Day event on Sunday the 27th of January in Johannesburg at the Constitutional Hill.  (Open the link if only to see the stunning visual).

Mbuyiseni Ndlozi of BDS South Africa sketches the background to the event:

“We, BDS South Africa and Open Shuhada Street (two primarily Palestine solidarity-focused human rights organizations) are embarking on this – hopefully regular event – firstly, in the recognition that the Nazi Holocaust was a human tragedy of unspeakable proportions.

Secondly, Holocaust denial and even anti-Semitism, occasionally emerges within Palestine solidarity circles. This needs to be dealt with and confronted head-on. This is a step in that direction.

Finally, we are tired of the Nazi Holocaust being monopolized to serve narrow, racist and ethnic interests; we want to provide a space for mourning and commemoration to those who truly believe that an injury to one is an injury to all – that when we say, ‘Never Again!’ we mean ‘Never Again!’ to any and all groups of people.”

(South African human rights organizations that endorsed the event include the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the Coalition for a Free Palestine, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI – South Africa), Kairos Southern Africa, Ndifuna Ukwazi, People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP), Saint George’s Cathedral (Cape Town) and the South African Council of Churches).

Photos from the event

YouTube video clip from the event – very touching.

NOTES:

BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – an approach that played a huge role in the end of apartheid in South Africa. There are currently several BDS campaigns worldwide to end Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

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Castells, M. 2005. The Power of Identity. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Vol. 2. Oxford: Blackwell.

Faceless picture: http://iswimorsink.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/faceless.jpg

Shuhada Street used to be a lively street bustling with shops and people in the city of Hebron in the West Bank (Palestine) before it was closed and all the doors locked up to drive Palestinians out of their own city (picture below).

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“Shoah” (שואה) (also spelled Sho’ah and Shoa) which means “calamity” is accepted as the general Hebrew term for what others generally calls the “Holocaust”.