|By: Gideon Spiro|
30 January 2010
(translation uploaded 9 February 2010)
International Holocaust Remembrance Day
In 2005 the General Assembly of the UN a passed Resolution to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The date that was chosen was 27 January, the date on which the Auschwitz death camp was liberated by the Red Army. The Resolution was a fitting one, because the Holocaust was a catastrophe not only for the Jews, but for all humanity. The Jews were the primary victims of the Holocaust, but not the exclusive ones. Along with the Jews there were the Roma, who also lost a third of their people, the Communists, the socialists, the liberals, the homosexuals, the “unfit” (sick people and those with physical defects – Action T4) who according to Nazi ideology were harming the purity of the Aryan race; the Russians, the Poles, the English, the Serbs, Americans and many others.
And that was reflected in the text of the Resolution. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (a document that is not popular in today’s Israel), which was passed by the UN in 1948 as one of the lessons of the Holocaust, is mentioned in its preamble. The operative side of the Resolution contains a condemnation of xenophobia and violence on the basis of ethnicity or religious belief.
Among the important lessons of the Holocaust are the imperative to struggle against racism and homophobia, for respect of human rights, to help refugees who are fleeing from genocide and political persecution and to put war criminals on trial.
Israel’s leaders spread out all over the globe to give speeches on the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day, but they did not go with clean hands. Peres’ speeches in the German Bundestag and Netanyahu’s at the summit at Auschwitz contained many fine words, but they are hollow in the face of the squalid reality of the Occupation in Israel, a desecration of the memory of the Holocaust when we go back and read the text of the UN Resolution.
A day before Netanyahu spoke at Auschwitz on the need to uproot evil, he planted a tree in one of the settlements in the Apartheid Occupied Territories that are immersed in a sea of Israeli wickedness. While Peres was speaking at the German parliament about the love of justice and humanity that we have inherited from the Bible, settlers conducted a pogrom in a Palestinian village, injured people, smashed windows of houses, burned cars – a kind of mini-Krystallnacht as part of their “price tag” policy, which they inherited from the Israeli Occupation army, a policy that was implemented by anti-Semites when they rioted against Jews.
In case President Shimon Peres and the heads of Yad Vashem did not hear about it, I have the honour of bringing to their attention the fact that Nazi Germany set a precedent for the settlements in adopting the “price tag” policy. The Krystallnacht pogroms, which I experienced as a child in Berlin and to my good fortune I survived due to my mother’s resourcefulness, there was the implementation of a “price tag” according to which the Jews in Germany had to pay the price for the assassination by a Jew of a German diplomat in Paris.
I do not know how many Israelis are aware of the fact – I would guess not many –that the Krystallnacht pogroms were justified by the German government at the time as “an outbreak of mass anger.” Not something the government initiated. Similar phenomena occur in the Occupied Territories when settlers pour out their wrath on innocent Palestinians as the Israeli Occupation army and police stand aside and permit the rioters to punish the Palestinians.
The leaders of Israel have converted the Holocaust into a lucrative economic asset, and they use it as a political weapon under the cover of which they commit their crimes.
Already I anticipate that readers will say “there he goes again, making comparisons to the Nazis”; and my reply is to reiterate the position that I have consistently held for years now: we must compare, otherwise we will not learn lessons. The question is, what and who are being compared. When Peres and Netanyahu in their speeches compared Ahmadinejad to Hitler, they were guilty of a flawed comparison. Would that Hitler had treated the Jews of Germany and the German-occupied countries like the Ayatollahs’ regime treats the Jews of Iran! The leaders of Iran have no plan to destroy the Jews of the world. They claim that Israel is a political entity that was created at the expense of the Palestinian people, and they propose that Europe and the USA should allocate territory for a state for the Jews. That position does not differ from those of ministers in the Israeli government who say that the Palestinian people have no right to a state in the Land of Israel, and that the Arab states should take care of them.
The comparisons that I make, on the other hand, are fitting in the context. After all, Germany did not start with Auschwitz. It started with racism, xenophobia and political oppression. That is where Israel is at today. Racism, the Occupation and political oppression must be extirpated from the Israeli reality, otherwise there is a danger that the slogans that settlers in Hebron scrawled on the doors of Palestinian shops, one of which said “burn the Arabs”, will turn into an Israeli government action plan – God forbid.
Israel and Iran are two states among many others that to my dismay have not learned from the Holocaust. People are executed in both places, human rights are denied in both places on the basis of religious scripture and there is political oppression in both places. But despite all that, neither Ahmadinejad nor Netanyahu is Hitler.
To conclude: a story that I heard from Professor Moshe Zimmerman, who is a treasure-trove of knowledge related to Germany, past and present. At the general meeting of the Hamburg football team that took place recently, one of the resolutions that was passed expressed sorrow and conveyed apologies for Hamburg fans’ treatment of Jews during the 1930s. This raises a question in my mind: when will Betar Jerusalem* do the same regarding its racist treatment attitude to Arabs?
Will they wait 70 years?
A university under the protection of the Occupation’s bayonets
In a lesson class civics class in an Israeli high school, the teacher asks: who can name a state in which the Defence Minister also acts as the authority for higher education, and upgrades a college to university status, and the military governor, who holds the rank of general, signs the order?
Student: “I know, I know, it’s the only democracy in the Middle East!”
Teacher “Well done – you will go to the civics matriculation exam with a class grade of 100%!”
This dialogue reflects the reality in Israel’s neutered democracy.
General Ehud Barak, the Minister of Defence, the ruler of the Occupied Territories, declared a few days ago that Ariel College would from now on be a university. The head of the IDF Central Command, who is also the governor of the West Bank, signed the declaration and – hey presto, the college, of a dubious academic calibre, became a university on the whim and the signatures of the two generals.
Apart from the question of the college’s academic calibre, the new university is a symbol of the Occupation and Israeli apartheid. I talked to a spokeswoman of the college, and I asked her if Palestinian residents of the West Bank study there. The answer was, absolutely not – nada. Based on the guidelines of what we call the “security forces” (the ISA/Shin Bet, the army and the police) Palestinians from the Occupied Territories are not permitted to study at the college.
The leaders of the college take pride in the Arab citizens of Israel who study there, thereby supposedly prettifying its face; but that is an inadequate fig-leaf for the shame of racism and apartheid.
The administration of the new university has taken to formulate regulations that forbid any political activity (such is “academic freedom” under the sponsorship of the Occupation) so that the Arab students are politically castrated. If they try to hold a demonstration against the Occupation in the college, they will be kicked out.
The new university is a stain on the entire Israeli academic milieu. First, because it is financed by the Council for Higher Education, and secondly, no administrators of the established universities in Israel have spoken out against the new university on the grounds that the existence of an educational institution sponsored by a military administration under conditions of apartheid negates the principles of democracy and academic freedom. The maximum they were prepared to say was that there is no room for a new university, which will bite into the budget and reduce the share remaining for the six established universities. The existing universities suffice for Israel’s needs.
The new university in the Occupied Territories will strengthen the hand of those who are calling for an academic boycott of Israel.
His Honour the Racist Rabbi
Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the head of the ’Od Yosef Hai yeshiva in the settlement of Yizhar, was arrested by the ISA on the suspicion that he knows who set fire to the mosque in the neighbouring village of Yasuf. It was also claimed that it was necessary to check whether, above and beyond his knowledge, he also was involved in the crime. Rabbi Shapira has recently been in the headlines because of a book he wrote, entitled Torat ha-Melech (“The King’s Torah”) that deals with Israel’s relations with the Nations in time of war. According to the rabbi, it is permitted in halacha (Jewish religious law) to murder Gentiles, even babies and Righteous Gentiles, if doing so will help to save Israel.
The rabbi did not cooperate with the investigators. And that was not difficult, for after all he was not subjected to brutal means of interrogation, like the “banana position” (bending the subject backwards over a chair), subjection to extreme cold temperatures even in the winter, deafening music designed to drive the subject crazy, slaps, curses, withholding of toilet facilities compelling the subjects to relieve themselves in their pants, bringing family members to the next room and compelling them to shriek with pain in order to “soften” the subject. I have not listed all the methods of torture; you can get more detailed information in the publications of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel.** Those methods are reserved for the thousands of Palestinians who are interrogated with cruel torture that leaves some of them physically and psychologically harmed for the rest of their lives. But when a Jewish rabbi is involved, the interrogation is conducted in a businesslike and even friendly manner. (According to reports, the rabbi and his interrogators sang together)
The day after the arrest, the rabbi was taken to the Magistrate’s Court in Jerusalem for a remand hearing. Magistrate Anat Singer decided that the intelligence material that was presented to her did not justify detention, and ruled that he should be released. The ISA appealed to the District Court, Judge Yoram Noam presiding, but he too decided to release him. This was a most rare occurrence: two judges rejected a request by the ISA for extension of detention. That is the advantage for the detainee of being a settler rabbi. Tens of thousands of Palestinians – whether residents of the Occupied Territories of citizens of Israel – who have been arrested by the ISA, the army and the police and brought before judges – both military and civilian – for remand, have not received such treatment. Racism has worked hand-in-hand with the justice system since the beginning of the Occupation.
I do not object to the fact that the rabbi has received fair treatment from the interrogators. It is good that judges conduct a thorough inquiry to see if there are grounds for detention. Proponents of human rights are merely asking that the rights and dignity of suspects be respected, even when they are Palestinians, migrant workers and anti-Occupation activists.
To Chief Justice Beinisch
I sent the following letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, Dorit Beinisch:
It is a pleasure for me occasionally to find myself with the majority, and I join to all those who wished you a rapid recovery after you were struck on the head by a shoe that was thrown during a session in one of the Supreme Court’s hearing-rooms. Like everyone, I was glad that the injury you suffered was a minor one and that you returned to continue the deliberations after just a short while.
But from here on in I return to the minority position. The throwing of the shoe elicited many superlatives. “It crossed all the red lines” was the most popular one. President Peres called you from Berlin (or maybe it was Davos, Switzerland, whence he went from the International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies to rub shoulders with the world’s wealthy and powerful) and stated that the Supreme Court was a “holy place”. That is, of course, utter nonsense. The court is not a holy place. Those who preside over it are flesh-and-blood judges, who are sometimes right and sometimes wrong, some of them distort justice, some of them do not, some of them are racist, the minority are not, and their actions are subject to public criticism.
Unlike the commentators and politicians who tried to attribute the throwing of the shoe to the ongoing public debate over the role of the Supreme Court, which attribution is groundless in my opinion, I seek the roots of the act in the growing violence in Israeli society, violence to which the Supreme Court has contributed with its judgments.
The fact that the man chose to throw a shoe can perhaps be attributed to our being part of the global media village, in which everyone saw the Iraqi journalist throw a shoe at President Bush. But the very perceived need for violence evidently stems from the combination of a short fuse that is quick to explode, a great sense of grievance, and the rising atmosphere of violence in the society.
We should take note of the words of the thrower of the shoe, Pini Cohen, a Mizrahi Jew,*** not one of the rich of this land, who said in an interview: “I wrote dozens of letters to everyone. No one replied. Those Ashkenazis sit up on high and do whatever they want. I am the little guy whom they see as a fly.” (Yediot Aharonot 28 Jan. 2010). Maybe if somebody had taken him seriously, he would have not felt the need to throw a shoe. That too is one of the characteristics of our society: the alienation of the citizen, especially the poor one without connections, in the face of the powerful establishment that crushes him.
As we have noted, violence is a spreading phenomenon in Israeli society. And in my humble estimation there is an unbreakable link between the violence of the State in the Occupied Territories and its repercussions that are redounding on Israeli society. The violence conducted by the organs of the State – the army and the police and the ISA – in the Occupied Territories during 42 years of Occupation, has been burned deeply into the consciousness of Israeli society.
That violence received backing and ratification from the courts in Israel, first and foremost the Supreme Court. Go over all the Supreme Court’s judgments related to the Occupation for the past 42 years and you will discover the dreadful picture of nearly wholesale ratification of violence by the Occupation regime, including collective punishment like the demolition of houses, prolonged curfews, shooting at the civilian populations, violence against Palestinians in police stations in the Territories, tortures in the dungeons of the ISA (even the ruling that allegedly rejected torture, permitted it by means of the “defence of necessity”), extra-judicial executions (focused “preventive strikes”), daily abuse by soldiers and police of Palestinians who cross their paths, theft of land, the daily humiliations of the checkpoints, the construction of settlements (a war crime) and more and more and more. A disheartening chronicle of backing from the courts.
In this reality it was unlikely the Supreme Court alone would remain a pastoral reserve, into no violence could penetrate. It was only a matter of time until you too, in what is called the “palace of justice”, would also be exposed to violence.
The remedy for this grim situation will not come from condemnations of shoe-throwing, nor from the warm embrace you received. Without the extirpation of the Occupation, which feeds into the culture of violence, there will be no redemption for Israel. Can you contribute to uprooting the violence of the State? I am not sure: do you want to but cannot, or can you do it, but do not want to?
* Betar Jerusalem is one of the leading football teams in Israel, and the team and its fans – especially the latter – are known for their racist attitude towards Arabs. The team absolutely refuses to sign on any Arab players. When Betar plays against Arab teams, extremist Betar fans shout racist slogans like “death to Arabs” from the stands.