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Red Rag: Hiroshima survivors in Israel
By: Gideon Spiro
17 September 2012 (English translation posted 26 September 2012)

Hiroshima survivors in Israel

Recently a delegation of survivors of the nuclear hell in Hiroshima visited Israel. In Japan they are called hibakusha (literal translation: people who were affected by bombing). It was deeply moving to see the four members of the delegation, two women and two men in their 70s and 80s, enlisting in an international campaign against nuclear weapons. They met with members of the Knesset from the Labour Party and Kadima, journalists and of course anti-nuclear activists. They set up meetings in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, all in a short visit of a few days, and despite their advanced ages and the Israeli heat they stood discharged their mission honourably. From Israel they proceeded to Greece and Egypt in a Japanese peace boat.

By way of reminder: the atom-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 at 8:16 AM. Eighty thousand human beings perished immediately, and due to the radiation number of those perished grew to 140 thousand, over more than half the population of the city at that time. The power of the destruction was vast and the city was essentially erased.

Each in their own way, the four survivors related what happened to them and members of their families on the day the bomb was dropped. In their quiet way they conveyed the images of terror after the dropping of the bomb, as if the world had returned to the stone age. One of them related that a cancerous growth in his liver had recently been discovered, and on based on the type of growth, which is very slow, the doctors concluded that its source was the bomb and so he was recognized as a hibakusha. Even 67 years after the dropping of the bomb, people are still being harmed. Their message was clear: nuclear bombs endanger the continuation of the existence of our planet, and if we desire life, we must eliminate the stockpiles of nuclear weapons, which today number 23 thousand bombs and missiles.

Particularly moving was the meeting of the Hiroshima survivors with Holocaust survivors that was arranged at Yad Vashem. [1] There can be no doubt that the atom bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are on the order of magnitude of the Holocaust. For all the differences – and there are differences – there are more than a few points of similarity between the two events, the essence of which is a massive indiscriminate attack on innocents, the struggle of the survivors to return to normal life, the difficulty that many have in speaking of the horrors, all is bottled up inside, and a shared objective that is expressed in the slogan “Never Again” – never again Hiroshima, never again the Holocaust.

The participation of Members of the Knesset from Kadima and the Labour Party and former MKs from Meretz in a meeting with Hiroshima survivors is perhaps a first crack in the wall of silence on this subject in Israel. In this area the regime has succeeded in creating a nearly wall-to-wall consensus that prevents the subject of Israel’s nuclear arsenal from being discussed publicly, and the press has collaborated. As these lines are being written, the Establishment print media have not reported on the delegation’s visit. On the Internet, the other hand, which is not subject to the control of capitalists and governmental restrictions, there was a report. Israel is a slaughterhouse for the creation of weapons of mass destruction – atomic, biological and chemical. Accordingly it constitutes a danger to itself, its neighbours and the world. Let us hope that the visit of the delegation of Hiroshima survivors will contribute to some thinking outside the Dimona box. [2]

I cannot conclude this segment without pointing with praise to Sharon Dolev, who founded and heads the anti-nuclear-weapons organization “According to Foreign Sources”, who conceived and initiated the delegation’s visit, and who also set the agenda. Without her energy, dedication and resourcefulness, the visit could not have taken place. In the short time that the organization has existed it has undertaken a number of projects, including many joint demonstrations against war with Iran, and mobilized new people to action on the issue. And she is still at it. In religious sources women like her are referred to as “virtuous women” (eshet hayil in Hebrew). My exegesis.

They have closed their eyes and ears

As the New Year approached [3], the Association of Israelis of Central European Origin held its 43rd national conference. The Association of Israelis of Central European Origin was founded in 1932 by immigrants from Germany. It is the organization of that Jews from Germany – “Yekkes” as they were called back in the day by those who did not come from Germany – founded for themselves. The Association constituted a kind of second home for many Jews who had been uprooted from their homeland. The Association published a newspaper in German and helped as much as possible those who were having difficulties adapting to the new country. The veterans among us still remember “Yekkes” with doctoral degrees who worked as cleaners or taxi-drivers or selling sausages on the street. More than a few “Yekkes”, both men and women, had difficulty learning the Hebrew language. My mother, for example, had trouble with Hebrew, and German-speaking members of the Association smoothed over some of the hardships of absorption in the new country.

My father, Dr. Shmuel Spiro – may he rest in peace – who served as the chief doctor of Youth Aliyah, adapted well but he maintained contact with people from Germany through the Association’s German-language publications. As a child I remember very well the Association’s organ at the top of which appeared the letters “MB”. In the natural course of things the Association was bound to disappear because its founders, who immigrated to Palestine from Germany in the 1930s against their will because of the Nazi dictatorship, have passed on from this world. But wonder of wonders: the Association is alive and kicking. Members of the second generation have taken over, it has branches in Israel’s three big cities and it publishes a splendid newspaper, half in German and half in Hebrew. The Association’s leaders report that new members have joined. Before the conference I too joined the Association. Unlike most members of the second generation who were born in Israel, I am among the few who were born in Germany. I decided to join out of respect for my parents and a desire not to break the chain as well as out of curiosity: what are they doing and who is financing them?

It turns out that the Association is controlled by a hegemonic establishment in the broad sense of the term. Its chairman and president is Reuven Merhav, who was a high-ranking member of the Mossad and later Director-General of the Foreign Ministry, and today the Chairman of the Claims Conference, the body that claims to represent the Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust and have no known heirs. And in fact the Claims Conference reached an agreement with Germany that the proceeds of all Jewish property for which heirs have not been located will go to the organization. In Israel there is much anger at this organization – over the millions for huge salaries, luxurious offices and sharp lawyers who have made a tidy sum at the expense of those who perished, instead of directing that money to helping Holocaust survivors who are living under conditions of severe hardship. The Claims conference rejects the allegations and claims that it is acting in accordance with the mandate it was given, which includes aid to needy survivors.

The Association of Israelis of Central European Origin has also played its part in the big production about money from Germany, and it controls a budget of millions by means of which it pays salaries to employees of its branch offices, and according to reports in the Association’s organ Yakinton they give stipends to students and support the Association’s retirement homes, among other things.

The editor of Yakinton is Micah Limor, a retired Israeli television employee. When I asked him if he would be willing to publish criticism of what is going on in Israel and the Occupied Territories, he told me that “we are a Zionist newspaper”. When I replied that I would write without mentioning Zionism, he said that if the criticism were gentle, then we had something to talk about. A look through the last issue of the newspaper strengthens the impression that this is a newspaper that will upset no one. It contains a lot of nostalgia, and the political part is firmly in the hands of Reuven Merhav and his ilk.

Back to the conference: in the context of the general discussion of the various resolutions that were to be put to a vote, I proposed that the conference adopt a resolution condemning Israel’s treatment of refugees, specifically those 20 refugees who sat next to the border fence for a week in the terrible heat of Sinai, including a pregnant woman, and Israel turned its back and withheld food from them (the army provided water in a measuring-cup). The woman miscarried and the refugees were forced to return to Egypt. No one knows what has happened to them. The Association for Human Rights and Physicians for Human Rights have concluded that Israel acted in violation of international conventions that it has signed.

Addressing the delegates to the conference, I said that we are all refugees and children of refugees, and I see a moral duty to demand that a conference of refugees and children of refugees exhibit solidarity with refugees who are seeking asylum. My proposal was rejected nearly unanimously along with hostile heckling. I did not recognize the voices, but the children of the “Yekkes” revealed themselves here to be a bunch of zeroes and proved that they have learned nothing from their history. They are arrogant and they have embraced the racism and the hard-heartedness from which their parents, as well as some participants at the conference, like me, had fled.

There are “Yekkes” who have passed on from this world who are turning over in their graves over the decision of the conference to reject my proposal. Professors Martin Buber and Ernst Simon and Attorney Mordechai Virshubski are three out of a long list of people of conscience who would have cried out on behalf of the fetus that did not survive the hunger and thirst that the government of Israel and its army imposed on its mother who was therefore unable to nourish it.

A judge who fell into the Occupation’s trap

Four and a half years ago, settlers invaded a large house in Hebron on the claim that they had acquired it from its Palestinian owner. The settlers, whose very presence in the Occupied Territories is illegal, exhibited a macabre sense of humour and called the house “House of Peace”. Settlers and peace – can there be a greater contradiction? For once the press exhibited a realistic approach and did not buy the settlers’ mendacious pretext, and called it the “House of Contention”. The owner of the house claimed that he had not sold it. Thus a new friction-point was created between the invading Jews and the local Palestinian residents.

The Defence Minister decided that the settlers should be removed from the building, and they were quickly removed in a rapid police action. The settlers then appealed to the Jerusalem District Court so that the latter could hand down a ruling that would affirm that the house had been legitimately purchased and the settlers were its owners. Nearly five years passed and the settlers are rejoicing: Jerusalem District Court Judge Moshe Bar-Am ruled that the deal is legitimate and that the claim of the Palestinian owner of the house that he had cancelled the deal the moment it became clear to him that the company that had conducted the negotiations was representing the settlers, is untrue. The judge fined the Palestinian owner of the house, Hebron resident Fayez Rajabi, NIS 50 thousand plus court costs. This is the essence of the story as published in
Maariv on Friday, 14 September 2012!

Judge Moshe Bar-Am is either a supporter of the Occupation and the settlers and so he ruled in their favour, or he is a naïf who fell into the snare of the sharp land-dealers, or he is an ignorant fool whom the settlers are manipulating like a puppet on a string (a meagre possibility, but it cannot be ruled out altogether).

I assume that he is an intelligent man who fell victim to the systematic lies and deception that characterize the theft of lands that are carried out by the
settlers in the Occupied Territories.

This fact must be stressed: there can be no legitimate business deal between the occupier and the occupied. An occupier with power and privileges cannot conduct legitimate deals with members of the occupied nation who live under the boots of the occupation army under conditions of apartheid and without basic human rights. For such a deal to be legitimate, it has to be contracted between two free human beings with equal rights; only then does the deal meet the minimum requirements of a democratic society. In other words, such contracts can legitimately be annulled.

Journalism in decline

The media, especially the print media, but also part of the electronic media, are in trouble. The newspaper Maariv, which had been part of the mainstay of the Israeli press, is in danger of closing. The tycoon Nohi Danker, who bought it not long ago, has run into difficulties and is trying to sell it. Two thousand employees of the newspaper are in danger of being thrown into the street. Now it has become clear that the owners of the newspaper - Danker, and Nimrodi before him - did not transfer the money paid for pensions and social insurance to the appropriate funds. The debt to the workers in these categories alone now reaches several tens of millions. This is robbery in broad daylight. The writers for Maariv loyally served the owners by supporting the privatization of everything that moves. Now they are learning at the expense of their own flesh the despicable side – real theft – of the private owners when they run into difficulties.

Maariv is not my newspaper. It turned sharply to the Right. The newspaper became a podium for McCarthyist incitement against the Left, Arabs and human rights. Ben Dror Yemini, at the disposal of whom the editor of Maariv put two entire columns every Friday, is now the hangman of the Left. He is the Israeli version of the Soviet Zhdanov who decided who was legitimate and who would go to the camps. He was often accompanied by Ben Caspit, Erel Segal and Kalman Liebskind. And as for the editor, Nir Hefetz, until not long ago he was responsible for running Prime Minister Netanyahu’s propaganda department. The temptation to welcome their disappearance from the print media is great, but with cold and democratic calculation, it is better that the newspaper continue to appear, even if today it provokes disgust among proponents of human rights. These are opinions that deserve protection under the principle of freedom of expression; and also, let us not forget, a newspaper can change. And moreover, we must support the workers and their demands that the owners pay what they owe them.

Happy New Year?

Another year has passed and we are on the verge of a new Jewish year. Was the last year a good one? A reading of my columns will not lead to that conclusion. The holiday season is the golden age of social NGOs of various kinds. Instead of the government ensuring that every citizen has a decent life, it leaves struggling families behind and obliges the NGOs to become gemachim (Jewish religious charitable associations that provide interest-free loans to the poor). The latter solicit donations from the public, and then we learn that some managers of these social service NGOs earn enormous salaries: corruption at its worst.

I stopped donating to those NGOs and now I settle for making modest donations to human rights organizations.

I wish a happier new year to my readers and to the asylum-seekers.

Translator’s notes

1. Israel’s official holocaust memorial, institute and museum.

2. Israel’s main nuclear reactor and nuclear-weapons factory is near the town of Dimona in the south of the country.

3. The Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashana – began on the evening of 16 September 2012.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

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