Celebrating the Genocide of Native Americans November 26, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, First Nations, Genocide, History, Imperialism, Racism.
Tags: concept pictures, Dartwill Aquila, decay, environment, face, genocide, gilbert mercier, good complicit Americans, history, holocaust, howard zinn, hubris, imperial fascism, imperialism, indispensable, NAE, native americans, people's history, pilgrims, racism, roger hollander, slavery, superiority, thanksgiving, U.S. imperialism
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Roger’s note: my holiday gift to you. Happy Thanksgiving!
The sad reality about the United States of America is that in a matter of a few hundreds years it managed to rewrite its own history into a mythological fantasy. The concepts of liberty, freedom and free enterprise in the “land of the free, home of the brave” are a mere spin. The US was founded and became prosperous based on two original sins: firstly, on the mass murder of Native Americans and theft of their land by European colonialists; secondly, on slavery. This grim reality is far removed from the fairytale version of a nation that views itself in its collective consciousness as a virtuous universal agent for good and progress. The most recent version of this mythology was expressed by Ronald Reagan when he said that “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”
In rewriting its own history about Thanksgiving, white America tells a Disney-like fairytale about the English pilgrims and their struggle to survive in a new and harsh environment. The pilgrims found help from the friendly and extremely generous Native-American tribe, the Wampanoag Indians, in 1621. Unfortunately for Native Americans, the European settlers’ gratitude was short-lived. By 1637, Massachusetts governor John Winthrop ordered the massacre of thousands of Pequot Indian men, women and children. This event marked the start of a Native-American genocide that would take slightly more than 200 years to complete, and of course to achieve its ultimate goal, which was to take the land from Native Americans and systematically plunder their resources. The genocide begun in 1637 marks the beginning of the conquest of the entire continent until most Native Americans were exterminated, a few were assimilated into white society, and the rest were put in reservations to dwindle and die.
When Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Americas in 1492, on his quest for gold and silver, the Native population, which he erroneously called Indians, numbered an estimated 15 million who lived north of current day Mexico. It was, by all considerations, a thriving civilization. Three hundred and fifty years later, the Native American population north of Mexico would be reduced to less than a million. This genocide was brought upon the Natives by systematic mass murder and also by disease, notably smallpox, spread by the European colonists.
Columbus and his successors proto-capitalist propensity for greed was foreign to Native Americans. They viewed the land as tribal collective ownership, not as a property that could be owned by individuals. “Columbus and his successors were not coming to an empty wilderness, but into a world which, in some places, was as densely populated as Europe, and where the culture was complex, where human relations were more egalitarian than in Europe, and where the relations between men, women, children and nature were more beautifully worked out than perhaps in any other places in the world.” wrote Howard Zinn in his masterful A People’s History of the United States.
In many ways, the US’ celebration of Thanksgiving is analogous to setting aside a day in Germany to celebrate the Holocaust. Thanksgiving is the American Holocaust. The original crimes of genocide and slavery are not limited to US early history but have found an extension in the policies of modern-day US. The systematic assault on other nations and cultures still goes on under various pretenses or outright lies. United States wars of empire are going on today more than ever before. These wars have left millions of people dead across the world in the course of American history, and they are still fought for the same reasons behind the Native American genocide and slavery: namely, to expand the wealth of the US elite.
Defenders of Thanksgiving will say that whatever the original murky meaning of the holiday, it has become a rare chance to spend time with family and show appreciation for what one has. For most Americans today, however, it is hard to be thankful. As matter of fact, unless you belong to the 2 percent who represent the US ruling class you should not be thankful at all. How can you be appreciative for what you have if you have lost your house to foreclosure, don’t have a job and can’t feed your family? How can you be appreciative if you are a homeless veteran? How can you be appreciative when you are poor or sick in a society without social justice? On this Thanksgiving day, rich celebrities and politicians will make a parody of what should be real charity by feeding countless poor and homeless. This will ease their conscience, at least for a while. Charity, however, should not be a substitute for social justice. Just to ruin some people’s appetites before they attack that golden turkey: keep in mind that today we are celebrating a genocide.
Gilbert Mercier is the Editor in Chief of News Junkie Post.
Imperial Evil Dressed in Indispensable Bullshit
Most people hearing of a superior race with the right to rule over other races have no problem recognizing the face of evil. Most people. Those who identify with the superior race are often blinded by the glow of their delusions of superiority. They cozy up in the warmth of the glow.
Instead of a race, a nation can be regarded as superior, with the right to rule over other nations. There’s no significant difference between a superior Aryan race with a right to conquer the world, and an indispensable nation with a right to rule the world. That is to say, there is no significant difference between the ideology of Nazi Germany and present day USA.
Leading Americans spit the venom of exceptionality from their stars-and-striped tongues all the time.
“If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation.” Madeleine Albright
“The United States is exceptional, and will always be the one indispensable nation in world affairs.” Barack Obama
“One indispensable nation”! Logically that means that all the other nations are dispensable. Read between the lines and it says that you had better do what the indispensable nation demands or find out what dispensable means.
Empires have always, without exception, considered themselves superior to all other peoples and nations. Always. The NAE (North Atlantic Empire/USA) is no different. Unfortunately, those who identify themselves as members of the superior NAE fail to see the implications and consequences of this “indispensable” superiority. The future will judge them on the same scales as those used to weigh the good German citizens under Hitler’s regime. The good Americans, like the good Germans, like the good subjects of every empire that cast its formidable, but temporary, shadow upon the earth, will plead both innocents and ignorance when their world lies in shatters and contempt flows down upon them from former victims of their imperial hubris. Their pleas will serve to intensify the contempt. When leaders speak openly of being exceptional, indispensable and superior, all lack of resistance qualifies as an admission of complicity in the crimes of the leaders, particularly those who stipulate the conditions, “You’re either with us or against us.”
“Pebbles, dust and sand,
the remains of greatness in history’s hand.”
Tags: abby zimet, civilian casualties, elie wiesel, gaza, genocide, hamas, holocaust, holocaust survirors, israel, Palestine, roger hollander
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History turns: Even as Israel’s onslaught in Gaza continues – in the latest insanity,obliterating an apartment building housing 44 families to punish one alleged combatant – over 300 Holocaust survivors and descendants have written a stunning condemnation of Jewish attempts to “justify the unjustifiable” and blasted “the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza.” Outraged by Elie Wiesel’s recent “abuse of our history” in an ad wherein he supported the assault on Gaza and compared Hamas to the Nazis, the survivors insist “nothing can justify” the murder of over 2,000 Palestinians, many of them children. Like a growing number of other Jews turning against Israel, they condemn both U.S. funding of Israel and Western silence, and call for an end to the siege and blockade of Gaza as well as a total economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. And they use the word from their own singular experience: “Genocide begins with the silence of the world.” Extraordinary.
“We must raise our collective voices and use our collective power to bring about an end to all forms of racism, including the ongoing genocide of Palestinian people…’Never again’ must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!”
Tags: abby zimet, auschwitz, history, holocaust, nazi, neo-nazi, rainer hoess, right wing, roger hollander, rudolph hess, rudolph hoess
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Roger’s note: well, I am not a great believer in elections as a means of fighting fascism, but I still think the message here is relevant, not to mention chilling. Not only are right wing neo-Nazi movements burgeoning throughout Europe, but around the globe, and that includes the United States. This is grounds for alarm of the highest nature.
With upcoming elections in a Europe beset by rising neo-Nazi frenzy, a new campaign by Swedish Social Democrats against the resurgence has a high-profile leader: Rainer Hoess, 48, grandson of Rudolf Hoess, the infamous commandant of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp who presided over the murder of over a million Jews and others before being captured and hanged near the crematorium he was so proud of. Hoess, who wears a Star of David around his neck, has spent years researching the Nazi movement, talking to survivors, and speaking to German schoolchildren about the dangers of right-wing extremism. He also appeared in the critically acclaimed documentary “Hitler’s Children.” The Swedish campaign, dubbed “Never Forget. To Vote,” stresses that “Nazi influences are growing in Europe for the same reasons they did back then. The social safety nets have been torn, and people are left behind…Hopelessness is what comes first. Then the hatred.”
Hoess on his murderous grandfather: “Generation after generation, we bear the same cross he put on our shoulders.”
Remember this lady? May 11, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Europe, Genocide, History, Race, War.
Tags: historym, holocaust, irena sendler, nazis, nobel peace, roger hollander, second world war, warsaw ghetto, world war II
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Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she had smuggled out,
No real refuge in Canada for some refugees June 15, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Human Rights, Immigration.
Tags: anti-semitism, bernie faber, Canada, canada refugees, canadian government, clayton ruby, holocaust, jewish refugees, phil berger, refugee health care, refugees, roger hollander
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PHILIP BERGER, BERNIE FARBER AND CLAYTON RUBY
The Globe and Mail Friday, Jun. 15 2012, 2:00 AM EDT
As Canadian Jews, we grew up hearing stories about how our families came to this country as refugees. We also heard about the relatives who never arrived because of the Canadian government’s closed-door policy for Jews. Historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper’s book None is Too Many told of this sad and ultimately deadly policy.
In the early 1900s, Jews fled persecution in European countries where anti-Semitism was rampant. They were not alone; the Roma and Sinti people were caught in the same web of hate.
When Hitler’s forces overran Europe, it was the Jewish and Roma communities that were singled out for annihilation. And with the rest of the world engaged in either compliance or apathy, the Nazi plan almost succeeded.
Bearing the scars of the Holocaust, most Jews fled Europe to countries like Canada, which finally opened its doors with a new immigration policy.
However, the Roma mostly stayed behind, and there has been an enormous escalation of discrimination and bigotry against them, especially in Hungary. And with resurgence of neo-Nazism in parts of Hungary and elsewhere in Europe, Roma face violent attacks. Many have tried to flee to Canada, where doors have once again become hard to pry open.
Most recently, with the passage of refugee and immigration Bill C-31, alongside suggested cuts to refugees’ health care, the federal government is creating what it calls “designated countries,” or DCOs, that it considers “safe.”
Refugees from DCOs will now have only a short time to prepare for their hearings, and will effectively lose their right of appeal. Additionally, refugees will have no access to primary or emergency health care, even in the case of pregnancy or heart attack.
While refugee claimants from DCOs are singled out for particularly alarming treatment under the new federal rules, the changes will harm all those claiming refugee status. Claimants will lose access to life-saving drugs, such as insulin, and to preventive care. Physicians across the country warn that these changes will result in severe illness and death.
While DCOs have yet to be named, Hungary will assuredly be on the list. If these policy changes come into effect, Roma refugee claimants will lose access to health care on June 30. We are also likely to see many more deportations of Roma back to Hungary.
Judaism teaches the concept of “ tikkun olam,” an exhortation to repair the world. If passed, Bill C-31 would be antithetical to these values. It is our hope that as Canadians hear more about the dangers of this legislation, they too will not stand by as refugees lose basic health care and persecuted groups or individuals are sent back to face violence in their home countries.
Today, we go on record as Jews and descendants of immigrants to say that we oppose cuts to refugee health care and the designation of so-called “safe” countries. Denying other human beings health care and a haven based on their country of origin is simply wrong. As Jews and human rights activists, we know well that countries deemed safe for the majority can be deadly for some minorities.
Pressure must continue. It’s never too late to ask for changes or amendments to the regulations. Ironically, we also understand that, were our families to arrive today under the federal government’s new rules, they would be denied health care, and, ultimately, citizenship. Returning to the retrograde policies that inspired “None is Too Many” must be rejected.
As a Holocaust Survivor, AIPAC Doesn’t Speak for Me April 29, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: aipac, democracy, hedy epstein, holocaust, holocaust surviror, human rights, israel, israeli occupation, Middle East, Palestine, Palestinians, protest, roger hollander, war, west bank
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At the end of one of my first journeys to the Israeli-occupied West Bank in 2004, I endured a shocking experience at Ben-Gurion Airport. I never imagined that Israeli security forces would abuse a 79-year-old Holocaust survivor, but they held me for five hours, and strip-searched and cavity-searched every part of my naked body. The only shame these security officials expressed was to turn their badges around so that their names were invisible.
The only conceivable purpose for this gross violation of my bodily integrity was to humiliate and terrify me. But it had just the opposite effect. It made me more determined to speak out against abuses by the Israeli government and military.
Yet my own experience, unpleasant as it was, is nothing compared to the indignities and abuses heaped on Palestinians year after year. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is based not on equal rights and fair play, but on what Human Rights Watch has termed a “two-tier” legal system – in other words, apartheid, with one set of laws for Jews and a harsh, oppressive set of laws for Palestinians.
This, however, is the legal system and security state AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) will defend from May 22-24 at its annual conference. And, despite this grim reality, members of Congress will converge to hail AIPAC and Israel. The Palestinians’ lack of freedom is bound to be obscured at the AIPAC conference with its obsessive focus on security and shunting aside of anything to do with upholding fundamental Palestinian rights.
Several years ago near Der Beilut in the West Bank, I saw the Israeli police turn a water cannon on our nonviolent protest. As it happened, I recalled Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 and wondered why an ostensibly democratic society responded to peaceable assembly by trying, literally, to drown out the voice of our protest.
In Mas’ha, also in the occupied West Bank, I joined a demonstration against the wall Israel has built, usually inside the West Bank and occasionally towering to 25 feet in height. I saw a red sign warning ominously of “mortal danger” to any who dared to cross in an area where it ran as a fence. I saw Israeli soldiers aiming at unarmed Israelis, Palestinians and international protesters. I also saw blood pouring out of Gil Na’amati, a young Israeli whose first public act after completing his mandatory military service was to protest against the wall. I saw shrapnel lodged in the leg of Anne Farina, one of my traveling companions from St. Louis. And I thought of Kent State and Jackson State, where National Guardsmen opened fire in 1970 on protesters against the Vietnam War.
So as AIPAC meets and members of Congress cheer, I hold these images of Israel in my mind and fear AIPAC’s ability to move US policy in dangerous directions. AIPAC does a disservice to the Palestinians, the Israelis and the American people. It helps to keep the Middle East in a perpetual state of war and this year will be no different from last year as it keeps up a steady drumbeat calling for war against Iran.
AIPAC pretends to speak for all Jews, but it certainly does not speak for me or other members of the Jewish community in this country who are committed to equal rights for all and are aware that American interventionism is likely to bring further disaster and chaos to the Middle East.
Israel, of course, would not be able to carry out its war crimes against civilians in Lebanon and Gaza without the United States – and our $3 billion in military aid – permitting it to do so. At 86 years old, I use every ounce of my energy to educate the American public about the need to stop supporting the abuses committed by the Israeli government and military against the Palestinian people. Sometimes there are people who try to shout me down and scream that I am a self-hating Jew, but most of the time the audience is receptive to hear from someone who survived the Holocaust and now works to free the Palestinians from Israeli oppression.
The vicious discrimination brought to bear against Palestinians in the occupied territories deserves no applause this week from members of Congress attending the AIPAC conference. Instead, they should raise basic questions with Israeli officials about decades of inferior rights endured by Palestinians both inside Israel and the occupied territories. As for me, I will be across the road at an alternative convention called Move Over AIPAC. To sign up and join me, visit www.MoveOverAIPAC.org.
Holocaust Survivor Hedy Epstein and others begin hunger strike to pressure Egypt on Gaza December 28, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: adam horowitz, elie wiesel, freedom march, gaza, gaza freedom, gaza seige, gaza solidarity, gaza strip, hedy epstein, holocaust, holocaust survivor, hunger strike, roger hollander
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by Adam Horowitz on December 28, 2009
Hedy Epstein in Cairo with school supplies for Gaza (Photo: Ali Abunimah)
About two weeks ago we posted on Hedy Epstein’s challenge to Elie Wiesel to travel to Gaza. She is now in Cairo trying to get into Gaza, and has embarked on a hunger strike to pressure the Egyptian government to let the Gaza Freedom March enter the occupied territories. Epstein explains, “It is important to let the besieged Gazan people know they are not alone. I want to tell the people I meet in Gaza that I am a representative of many people in my city and in other places in the US who are outraged at what the US, Israeli and European governments are doing to the Palestinians and that our numbers are growing.”
An 85-year-old Holocaust survivor was among a group of grandmothers who began a hunger strike in Cairo on Monday to protest against Egypt’s refusal to allow a Gaza solidarity march to proceed.
American activist Hedy Epstein and other grandmothers participating in the Gaza Freedom March began a hunger strike at 1000 GMT.
“I’ve never done this before, I don’t know how my body will react, but I’ll do whatever it takes,” Epstein told AFP, sitting on a chair surrounded by hundreds of protesters outside the United Nations building in Cairo.
To Gaza, With Love February 17, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: aipac, american jewish community, apache helicopters, Avigdor Lieberman, ceasefire, code pink, f-16, gaza, gaza children casualties, gaza massacre, gaza will not die, geneva conventions, genocide, hamas, holocaust, J Street, jewish community, just peace, massacre, massacre children, medea benjamin, Middle East, netanyahu, never again, Palestinians, roger hollander, smart bombs, tikun, tzipi livni, War Crimes, west bank, white phosphorus
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by Medea Benjamin, February 17, 2009
Published on Tuesday, February 17, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
When I traveled to Gaza last week, everywhere I went, a photo haunted me. I saw it in a brochure called “Gaza will not die” that Hamas gives out to visitors at the border crossing. A poster-sized version was posted outside a makeshift memorial at the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. And now that I am back home, the image comes to me when I look at children playing in the park, when I glance at the school across the street, when I go to sleep at night.
It is a photo of a young Palestinian girl who is literally buried alive in the rubble from a bomb blast, with just her head protruding from the ruins. Her eyes are closed, her mouth partially open, as if she were in a deep sleep. Dried blood covers her lips, her cheeks, her hair. Someone with a glove is reaching down to touch her forehead, showing one final gesture of kindness in the midst of such inhumanity.
What was this little girl’s name, I wonder. How old was she? Was she sleeping when the bomb hit her home? Did she die a quick death or a slow, agonizing one? Where are her parents, her siblings? How are they faring?
Of the 1,330 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military during the 22-day invasion of Gaza, 437 were children. Let me repeat that: 437 children-each as beautiful and precious as our own.
As a Jew, an American and a mother, I felt compelled to witness, firsthand, what my people and my taxdollars had done during this invasion. Visiting Gaza filled me with unbearable sadness. Unlike the primitive weapons of Hamas, the Israelis had so many sophisticated ways to murder, maim and destroy-unmanned drones, F-16s dropping “smart bombs” that miss, Apache helicopters launching missiles, tanks firing from the ground, ships shelling Gaza from the sea. So many horrific weapons stamped with Made in the USA. While Hamas’ attacks on Israeli villages are deplorable, Israel’s disproportionate response is unconscionable, with 1,330 Palestinians dead vs. 13 Israelis.
If the invasion was designed to destroy Hamas, it failed miserably. Not only is Hamas still in control, but it retains much popular support. If the invasion was designed as a form of collective punishment, it succeeded, leaving behind a trail of grieving mothers, angry fathers and traumatized children.
To get a sense of the devastation, check out a slide show circulating on the internet called Gaza: Massacre of Children (www.aztlan.net/gaza/gaza_massacre_of_children.php). It should be required viewing for all who supported this invasion of Gaza. Babies charred like shish-kebabs. Limbs chopped off. Features melted from white phosphorus. Faces crying out in pain, gripped by fear, overcome by grief.
Anyone who can view the slides and still repeat the mantra that “Israel has the right to self-defense” or “Hamas brought this upon its own people,” or worse yet, “the Israeli military didn’t go far enough,” does a horrible disservice not only to the Palestinian people, but to humanity.
Compassion, the greatest virtue in all major religions, is the basic human emotion prompted by the suffering of others, and it triggers a desire to alleviate that suffering. True compassion is not circumscribed by one’s faith or the nationality of those suffering. It crosses borders; it speaks a universal language; it shares a common spirituality. Those who have suffered themselves, such as Holocaust victims, are supposed to have the deepest well of compassion.
The Israeli election was in full swing while was I visiting Gaza. As I looked out on the ruins of schools, playgrounds, homes, mosques and clinics, I recalled the words of Benjamin Netanyahu, “No matter how strong the blows that Hamas received from Israel, it’s not enough.” As I talked to distraught mothers whose children were on life support in a bombed hospital, I thought of the “moderate” woman in the race, Tzipi Livni, who vowed that she would not negotiate with Hamas, insisted that “terror must be fought with force and lots of force” and warned that “if by ending the operation we have yet to achieve deterrence, we will continue until they get the message.”
“The message,” I can report, has been received. It is a message that Israel is run by war criminals, that the lives of Palestinians mean nothing to them. Even more chilling is the pro-war message sent by the Israeli people with their votes for Netanyahu, Livni and anti-Arab racist Avigdor Lieberman.
How tragic that nation born out of the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust has become a nation that supports the slaughter of Palestinians.
Here in the U.S., Congress ignored the suffering of the Palestinians and pledged its unwavering support for the Israeli state. All but five members out of 535 voted for a resolution justifying the invasion, falsely holding Hamas solely responsible for breaking the ceasefire and praising Israel for facilitating humanitarian aid to Gaza at a time when food supplies were rotting at the closed borders.
One glimmer of hope we found among people in Gaza was the Obama administration. Many were upset that Obama did not speak out during the invasion and that peace envoy George Mitchell, on his first trip to the Middle East, did not visit Gaza or even Syria. But they felt that Mitchell was a good choice and Obama, if given the space by the American people, could play a positive role.
Who can provide that space for Obama? Who can respond to the call for justice from the Palestinian people? Who can counter AIPAC, the powerful lobby that supports Israeli aggression?
An organized, mobilized, coordinated grassroots movement is the critical counterforce, and within that movement, those who have a particularly powerful voice are American Jews. We have the beginnings of a such a counterforce within the American Jewish community. Across the United States, Jews joined marches, sit-ins, die-ins, even chained themselves to Israeli consulates in protest. Jewish groups like J Street and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom lobby for a diplomatic solution. Tikkun organizes for a Jewish spiritual renewal grounded in social justice. The Middle East Children’s Alliance and Madre send humanitarian aid to Palestine. Women in Black hold compelling weekly vigils. American Jews for a Just Peace plants olive trees on the West Bank. Jewish Voice for Peace promotes divestment from corporations that profit from occupation. Jews Against the Occupation calls for an end to U.S. aid to Israel.
We need greater coordination among these groups and within the broader movement. And we need more people and more sustained involvement, especially Jewish Americans. In loving memory of our ancestors and for the future of our-and Palestinian-children, more American Jews should speak out and reach out. As Sholom Schwartzbard, a member of Jews Against the Occupation, explained at a New York City protest, “We know from our own history what being sealed behind barbed wire and checkpoints is like, and we know that ‘Never Again’ means not anyone, not anywhere – or it means nothing at all.”
On March 7, I will return to Gaza with a large international delegation, bringing aid but more importantly, pressuring the Israeli, U.S. and Egyptian governments to open the borders and lift the siege. Many members of the delegation are Jews. We will travel in the spirit of tikkun olam, repairing the world, but with a heavy sense of responsibility, shame and yes, compassion. We will never be able to bring back to life the little girl buried in the rubble. But we can-and will–hold her in our hearts as we bring a message from America and a growing number of American Jews: To Gaza, With Love.
For information about joining the trip to Gaza, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rules of War Weren’t Made for Only One People February 15, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
Tags: armenian holocaust, auschwitz, concentration camp, gas chanbers, gaza, geneva conventions, genocide, holocaust, imperial war museum, israel, leon greenman, lord blair, lyn smith, Middle East, Palestine, Palestinians, robert fisk, roger hollander, second world war, voices of the holocaust, ww ii
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Posted on Feb 14, 2009
|AP photo / Sven Kaestner|
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Independent.
The third and very final part of the “normality” of war. I have just finished reading Lyn Smith’s Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust. I admit to a personal interest. Lyn is a friend of mine for whom I have been recording my memories of Middle East wars for the Imperial War Museum. Nothing I have ever seen can equal this, however, and I can give only one example from the terrifying, outrageously brave and moving book this is.
It is the testimony of Leon Greenman, a British Jewish inmate of Auschwitz-Birkenau who arrived at the extermination camp with his wife and child. It speaks for itself. All other passages pale beside it:
“We were bullied out of the train and stood about waiting. It must have been about half past two in the morning. It was dark, a blue light was shining on the platform. We saw a few SS men walking up and down. They separated the men from the women. So I stood right in front of the men and I could see my wife there with the child in her arms. She threw me a kiss and she showed the baby … Then one of the prisoners in a striped uniform commanded us to follow him. Well, we turned to the left and walked a little way for two or three minutes. A truck arrived, stopped near us and on the truck were all the women, children, babies and in the centre my wife and child standing up. They stood up to the light as if it was meant to be like that – so that I could recognise them. A picture I’ll never forget. All these were supposed to have gone to the bathroom to have a bath, to eat and to live. Instead they had to undress and go into the gas chambers, and two hours later those people were ashes, including my wife and child.”
I recalled this searing passage this week when I received a letter from a reader, taking me to task for my “constant downplaying of the suffering of the Palestinians on the grounds that their deaths and suffering are minimal when compared with that of the Second World War”. Now, I should say at once that this is a bit unfair. I was especially taking exception to a Palestinian blog now going the rounds which shows a queue of Palestinian women at one of Israel’s outrageous roadblocks and a (slightly) cropped picture of the Auschwitz selection ramp, the same platform upon which Leon Greenman was separated from his young wife and child more than 60 years ago. The picture of the Palestinian women is based on a lie; they are not queuing to be exterminated. Racist, inhumane and sometimes deadly – Palestinian women have died at these infernal checkpoints – but they are not queuing to be murdered.
Yet our reader does have a point. The Second World War, she says, “does put it in a category apart … but surely if one is caught up in any war and sees one’s loved ones killed or maimed, one’s home destroyed … then that must be the greatest cataclysm in one’s life. The fact that a hundred others, a thousand, a hundred thousand, a million are suffering likewise is immaterial to the individual’s suffering. The Second World War lasted six years. The Palestinian suffering has lasted over sixty…”
And yes, I’ll go along with this. If it’s an individual being deliberately killed, then this is no less terrible than any other individual, albeit that this second person may be one of six million others. The point, of course, is the centrality of the Holocaust and – Israel’s constant refrain – its exclusivity. Actually, the Armenian Holocaust – as I’ve said on umpteen occasions – is also central to all genocide studies. The same system of death marches, of camps, of primitive asphyxiation, even a few young German officers in Turkey watching the genocide in 1915 and then using the same methods on Jews in the occupied Soviet Union. Numbers matter.
But our reader has another point. “After all,” she says, “in the Second World War, after the entry of the US and USSR on our side, people could feel pretty positive about the outcome. But where is such hope for the Palestinians? And now to cap the horror the BBC is refusing to even show an appeal to help Gaza…” I’m not at all sure that W Churchill Esq would have entirely placed such confidence in the outcome of the Second World War – he was initially worried that the Americans would use up their firepower on the Japanese rather than against Hitler’s Germany.
I think, however, there is yet one more point. The rules of war – the Geneva Conventions and all the other post-Second World War laws – were meant to prevent another Holocaust. They were specifically designed to ensure that no one should ever again face the destruction of Mrs Greenman and her child. They were surely not made only for one race of people. And it is these rules which Israel so disgracefully flouted in Gaza. It’s a bit like the refrain from Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara and a whole host of other apparatchiks when the torture at Abu Ghraib was revealed. Well, yes, they told us, it was bad – but not as bad as Saddam Hussein’s regime.
And of course, this argument leads to perdition. True, we were bad – but not as bad as the Baath party. Or the Khmer Rouge. Or Hitler’s Germany and the SS. Or the Ottoman Turks – though I noticed movingly that one of Lyn’s Jewish Holocaust survivors mentions the Armenians. No, the numbers game works both ways. A thousand Palestinians die in Gaza. But what if the figure were 10,000? Or 100,000? No, no, of course that wouldn’t happen. But the rules of war are made for all to obey. Yes, I know that the Jews of Europe had no Hamas to provide the Nazis with an excuse for their deaths. But a Palestinian woman and her child are as worthy of life as a Jewish woman and her child on the back of a lorry in Auschwitz.