Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Israel's "Auschwitz borders" revisited

Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 8 December 2008

"......In Hebron, however, it is Israeli settlers protected by the Israeli army who frequently paint threats such as "Arabs to the gas chambers" on Palestinian houses.

Comparisons of present-day Israel to Nazi-occupied Europe are common in Israel itself although they remain taboo everywhere else. The late Tommy Lapid, justice minister in Ariel Sharon's government, caused an uproar in 2004 when he said that images of an elderly Palestinian woman in Gaza "crouching on all fours, searching for her medicines in the ruins of her house" demolished by the Israeli army reminded him of his own grandmother who perished at Auschwitz. Lapid compared the Israeli army's writing of numbers on the arms and foreheads of Palestinian prisoners to the Nazi practice of tattooing concentration camp inmates. "As a refugee from the Holocaust I find such an act insufferable," he said in 2002.

Lapid, who was chairman of Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial, also likened the routine harassment of Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron to the anti-Semitism of pre-World War II Europe. "It was not crematoria or pogroms that made our life in the diaspora bitter before they began to kill us," he said in 2007, "but persecution, harassment, stone-throwing, damage to livelihood, intimidation, spitting and scorn." Lapid did not live long enough to see Hebron settlers attempt to burn down a house with a large Palestinian family trapped inside, an act witnessed on 4 December by Avi Issacharoff, reporter for the Israeli daily Haaretz, who called it "a pogrom in the worst sense of the word."......

Gazans are resisting and not primarily through armed struggle. Last January, hundreds of thousands broke through the border wall with Egypt, briefly freeing themselves before Egypt, in collusion with Israel and the US-backed puppet Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, restored the blockade. Palestinians' steadfast refusal to submit is their greatest act of resistance, but they cannot prevail alone.

Invoking another horror of the 20th Century, the president of the UN General Assembly, Nicaragua's Ambassador Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, recently likened Israel's siege of Gaza to "the apartheid of an earlier era." This is not likely to please Israeli officials; as Nelson Mandela wrote, with the exception of the Nazi genocide, "there is no evil that has been so condemned by the entire world as apartheid."

But it does at least offer a hopeful model for collective action and solidarity. D'Escoto Brockmann recalled the sanctions that helped end South African apartheid, adding, "Today, perhaps we in the United Nations should consider following the lead of a new generation of civil society who are calling for a similar nonviolent campaign." That campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions is already underway and scores new victories each week. It will strengthen in inverse proportion to the complicity of world governments, no matter what justifications Israel puts forward for its mounting crimes.

The Holocaust lesson that I learned at school is that we are obliged not to wait until things are as bad as Auschwitz before we speak out and act."

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