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Red Rag column: nuclear submarines, Mordechai Vanunu etc.
Gideon Spiro
28 April 2015 (English translation 3 May 2015)

Words spoken at the Yesh Gvul alternative torch-lighting ceremony, 22 April

A few days ago I read in the news that Israel had taken delivery of the fifth
submarine Germany made for it. Like her sisters, that submarine is armed with
nuclear missiles, and I wonder if Chancellor Angela Merkel has ever asked
herself why a small state like Israel needs to be armed with nuclear-missile-
carrying submarines. The German hand that arms Israel is sabotaging the other
hand that wants to prevent Iran from acquiring such weapons. The road to Iran
passes through Dimona. Either we will all have nuclear weapons, which I
wouldn’t recommend in a region as volatile as ours, or more desirably, none of
us will. Someone needs to explain to the Chancellor that igniting a nuclear
war in the Middle East is not a fitting way to atone for the last Holocaust.
As if nuclear submarines were not enough, along comes the Supreme Court with
its own stink bomb: I am referring to its support for the Boycott Law, which
forbids calling for a boycott on Israel or any territory it controls. Not only
is this a grave attack on freedom of speech; even worse, the Supreme Court put
its seal of approval on the Occupation and war crimes and the apartheid
regime. Yet another turn to the Right. The court is lining itself up with the
grim anti-democratic past. The judge who wrote that contemptible ruling is
Hanan Meltzer, who until his appointment to the Supreme Court was a member of
the Labour Party. I wrote to him that he was acting like a miserable Mapainik
[1] who had wandered into the more benighted parts of Likud territory. I will
continue to call for a boycott of Israel until the disgrace of Occupation and
apartheid is removed.

I am filled with sorrow and shame at the Israeli government’s brutal and
racist treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers. I am a refugee from Nazi
Germany who came to Mandate Palestine, in historical terms minutes before the
outbreak of World War II. With what speed did the Israeli authorities forget
the fate of Jewish refugees, the moving story of the ship the MS St. Louis
that carried a thousand Jews fleeing the Krystallnacht pogroms, seeking
refuge. The ship sailed to Cuba but the government of Cuba refused to accept
them. An appeal to the US was also met with refusal. Lacking any alternative,
the ship returned to Europe and many of its passengers were murdered in the
death camps. I do not believe a word of the fine phrases uttered by our
leaders at Holocaust Day gatherings. The lessons have not been learned. It’s
all a show to get money and weapons.

Allow me to conclude on a personal note.

2015 is the 80th year of my life, and I look back in with satisfaction and
anger; satisfaction at my many years of activism and anger that I have not
succeeded in overthrowing the kingdom of the Occupation. I pass the torch to
my children, my grandchildren and my partner, in the hope that they will agree
to accept it. There remains much work to do to bring down the dark forces of
Israeli fascism. In my decades of activism I have met wonderful people, Arabs
and Jews and members of nations from all corners of the globe, all of them
lovers of peace and equality. We are not alone here.

I light the torch in honour of the retirees who do not let their suffering
silence them and who continue to participate, each one to the extent that they
can, in the struggle to create an Israel of all its citizens, and in honour of
Mordechai Vanunu, whom the government of Israel continues to torment. If the
Prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones comes true, we will have a class
reunion in another hundred years or so. Let us hope that those will be better
days. Until next time.

Gideon Spiro

Günter Grass, RIP

Not only was Günter Grass a literary giant, he was also a politically-involved
citizen, in my view on the correct side of the political map, due to his
commitment to preserving and nurturing democracy. As soon as he began to
understand the moral abyss toward which the Nazi regime led Germany, he took a
stand along with others against racism. And faced with the effort to make
people forget or to play down the crimes of the Nazis, he reminded his people
that Germany could not flee from its past. We must learn and teach about that
dark period and draw the correct conclusions, lest the terror return.
True, Grass criticized policies of the government of Israel, and rightly so.
He earned the right to criticize Israel, because he demanded of it what he
demanded of Germany: democracy, peace and a struggle against racism. He
believed, rightly, that it was not compulsory to support Jewish racism or
Jewish colonialism because of the Holocaust. On the contrary, he expected that
the Jewish victims of the Holocaust would lead a global struggle against
racism and xenophobia and hatred of the Other. Instead of that, Israel is on
the front line of racist policy, imposing a regime of apartheid and leading a
nuclear arms race in our region. Günter Grass maintained that that policy
should not enjoy immunity just because Jews stood behind it. Certainly not
when it comes to Jews who continue with the slave trade the moment the siren
in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust stops.

Günter Grass did not begin his criticism of Israel in recent years. As an
intellectual of renown he knew how to look at the reality behind the scenes,
even during a short visit. In the winter of 1971 Günter Grass visited Israel
on the occasion of a German cultural week. He visited the University of Haifa
on a very tight schedule. As the editor of the student newspaper Post
I was given a quarter of an hour with him. Since I speak German we
could save time on the interpretation. The interview was published on 17
November 1971. Below are two quotes from the interview: “In the fifties
Germany underwent a transition from antisemitism to philosemitism, and
sympathy for Israel was blind. If we are going to forbid German youth from
criticizing Israel, that will lead to hypocrisy. I do not think that criticism
of Israel constitutes disrespect for those who were murdered at Auschwitz or
by the Nazis. Moreover every German youth bears the historical burden of his

“Do you have criticism for Israel”? I asked him.

“Yes,” he replied.

And what is the criticism?

“I was here before the Six Day War and it looked to me like Israeli socialism
was clearer, and seemed like a real alternative. Today it looks to me like
socialism has been set aside and the emphasis is on the importance of the
army. It looks like the gap between rich and poor has grown, and that some
people have gotten rich from the war. There is the phenomenon of former
military people getting high-level jobs in the civilian sector. There is a
danger that Israel will take on a Spartan character, with excessive emphasis
on the importance of the army. And that has never been helpful for any
country.” (Post Mortem, ibid.) Time has not eroded the truth of those
words. And the two poems he wrote, “What needs to be said” which is mainly
against nuclear weapons both in Israel and in Iran and “The hero of our age”,
in which he praises Mordechai Vanunu, are praiseworthy not only because they
are true, but also because they attest to the universal values of the author:
a world free of nuclear weapons and appreciation for those who act to promote
that objective. There was an outcry over the sentence that represents nuclear
Israel as a danger to the peace of the world. “We are a danger”? – asked
Israelis from the governing circle and their supporters with feigned innocence
and surprise. Yes, most definitely. What else can we call a state with a
nuclear arsenal that makes every effort to push a global power to a war that
is likely to be the end of all of us? I hope, with much humility, that my
article “A danger called Israel” (Hagada Hasmalit, 11 April 2010), [2] which
was translated into German and English and published in German periodicals,
reached the attention of Günter Grass.

In their distress the detractors of Grass seized on his military past, which
was very short. As a 17 year old youth he enlisted in the Waffen SS, towards
the end of the Second World War, when the Allied armies were already besieging
Berlin. What could have been expected of a German youth who had grown up under
a tyrannical regime and who had been brain washed since kindergarten on the
importance of military service? To be join “the good and the brave”. I know
that very well from my kibbutz education. It would not have occurred to me to
join the paratroopers and take part in unnecessary wars if not for the
brainwashing I had received in kibbutz school on the importance of military
service and especially service in elite units.

The Waffen SS was an elite unit in the German army that acquired a reputation
as daring fighters, and as an occupation force it committed war crimes. In
Israeli translation it was something like a combination of Unit 101 and the
paratroopers. In any case, Günter Grass did not commit war crimes, he did not
murder prisoners or civilians. He was wounded in the battle for Berlin,
captured and then began his journey to the pinnacle of social democratic
humanism. In Israeli translation he became one of those who Break the Silence.

When I read the reactions of Israeli writers to Grass’ death, such as that of
the Holocaust writer Aharon Appelfeld, who in an interview with Haaretz
cast aspersions on Grass’ morality, I try to remember: Appelfeld – have I come
across that name in the struggle against the Occupation, the settlements, the
apartheid regime, the theft of land, the oppression, the torture, the killing
of Palestinian children and more? No, I have not. When Appelfeld and those
like him attain the moral level of Grass, I will be grateful if someone brings
it to my attention.

To stand or not to stand for the siren?

Every year at 11 o’clock on Remembrance Day for the Fallen Soldiers a siren
sounds and the entire country stands still for two minutes. Should one stand
with them or to continue to walk? - a friend asked me. I am no authority on
the matter, and everyone can do as they see fit. But in any case I can state
my opinion, which it is this: Remembrance Day is one of the most disgusting
days the year for me. On that day the concentration of lies that issue from
the mouths of political and military leaders at official ceremonies and at
military cemeteries reaches particularly toxic levels. Every year on that day
we hear the same hackneyed clichés about “the best of our youth who risked
their lives in defence of the Homeland” while most of those who lie under the
headstones fell in unnecessary wars. That is how I hear the siren: a cynical
measure by a government that sends soldiers to needless death and afterwards
cleanses itself with a two-minute Memorial Day siren. But I have no interest
in seeking a confrontation with those who see the siren as important. And so I
have made a practice of not leaving the house until after the siren, and that
way I solve the problem.

Intifada of knives

Recently nearly every day brings news of an incident in the Occupied
Territories in which a Palestinian, usually young, stabs an Occupation soldier
with a knife. An exposed Palestinian with a knife against a soldier wrapped in
layers of armour and armed with a gun. Spokespeople for the Occupation claim
that the stabbers are acting on personal initiative, without any
organizational affiliation. Those youthful personal initiatives serve to
remind us that despite the Palestinian Authority’s cooperation with the
Occupation, under the surface the situation is close to explosion, and when
that happens it will express the anger that has accumulated over 47 years of
Occupation. In the eyes of his people the solitary knifer is a hero of the
resistence (“popular terror” in the language of the Occupation). They will not
defeat the Occupation, but a million Palestinians armed with knives acting on
the instructions of the resistance movement, striking the forces of the
Occupation like a tsunami and sweeping away all before it is a possible
scenario, which can be prevented through wise policy aimed at ending the

Benito for education

If the news at the time of the writing of these lines is correct, then the
next Minister of Education will be Naftali (“Benito”) Bennett, the leader of
the neo-fascist party Jewish Home. We’d better not fall asleep on watch lest
we wake up one day and see a fascist youth movement, financed by the Ministry
of Education.

Translator’s notes

1. Mapainik: a member or supporter of Mapai, the Workers` Party of the Land of
Israel, the party of David Ben-Gurion and the dominant party in Israel`s early
years. Merged with 2 other parties in 1968 to become the Israeli Labour Party.

2. English translation:


Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent

"Post Mortem", 17 Nov. 1971
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