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  • samchris51

Never Again!

Tomorrow is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Today, the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel must do everything in its power to prevent acts of genocide in the Gaza Strip.  The ruling came in response to the case brought by South Africa alleging that Israel’s actions in Gaza constitute genocide. 

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a relatively new holiday declared by the United Nations in 2005.  It is intended to create one day when all UN member countries will honor the 6 million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis as well as members of other minorities targeted for extermination by the Nazis; the Roma and Santi (gypsies), Asocials (this group included beggars, alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, and pacifists) the disabled (close to 250,000 disabled people were murdered under the Nazi regime),Gay Men (10-15,000 men who were accused of homosexuality were deported to concentration camps. Most died in the camps) Jehovah Witnesses (approximately 1,500 Jehovah’s Witnesses were murdered under the Nazi regime) Polish and Slavic Citizens (it is estimated that the Nazis killed at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians, in the German-occupied Soviet Union, during the autumn and winter of 1941-1942, German military authorities and the German Security Police collaborated on a racist policy of mass murder by the shooting of Soviet Prisoners of War, Jews, persons with ‘Asiatic’ features, and top political and military leaders.)

I was vaguely aware of this holiday, but it never had much meaning for me until five years ago when I learned that I had family members among the victims of the Holocaust; my maternal grandmother and two of her daughters, my aunts were deported from the Kraków Ghetto to Belzec where they were exterminated.  An uncle of my father’s and one of his brothers died in the Jewish Ghetto uprising in Warsaw.  I’ve been paying more attention to this holiday since then.

This year, marking the holiday seems especially important.  I was in Israel on October 7th when Hamas fighters came across the Gaza border and brutally attacked Israeli men, women, and children, perpetrating acts of enormous cruelty. Taking great pleasure in what they were doing, filming themselves, and brazenly posting the evidence of their cruelty.  I was there when the country went into shock.  What had happened in the early hours of that morning was too much to take in.  It would take several weeks for the complete picture of the horror to be uncovered.  Meantime, the government declared war on Hamas, deployed its army, called back its reserves, intensified the siege on Gaza, and began bombing.

There were approximately 1,200 people slaughtered that day and another 230 taken hostage.  The victims were predominantly Jewish residents of the kibbutzim moshavim and town along the border, as well as attendees at a rave.  Some were agricultural workers from Thailand, some were Bedouins, the indigenous people of the area, and others were family members who had traveled to spend time with family for the Jewish Holidays.  Hamas did not discriminate, they did not care all they saw were Jews, not humans like themselves but something less than, something that you could vent your rage on in any manner you wished. 

Hamas has a stated goal of killing Jews and eliminating the Jewish state, Israel.  In Hamas cosmology Jews are not humans in the same way that Palestinians are human, they are often referred to as animals pigs or apes part of a process of dehumanizing them, making them more disposable.  Jews are seen as a threat to the well-being of Palestinians (with some justification).  These conditions made it easy for Hamas leadership to encourage their followers to unleash violence upon Israelis and be assured that moral concerns could be been disengaged.  This is essentially the same process that the Nazis used against the Jews. 

Israel’s response to the Hamas attack was visceral.  They set out to destroy their enemy with superior force, asserting their right to defend themselves.  I wholly understand a human response.  The trouble is that they fell into the trap Hamas had set for them by reacting this way.  Hamas is an apocalyptic organization that values martyrdom for the cause of eliminating Israel more than it values life.  Hamas expected Israel to respond with ferocity.  They had dug themselves in tunnels beneath Gaza, and if Israel wanted to get at them, they would have to kill thousands of innocent Gazans and destroy Gaza’s civilian infrastructure.  This, they hoped, would cost Israel in international goodwill and would bring support to the Palestinian cause.  They were correct.

South Africa a country with a history of sympathy for the Palestinian cause dating back to 1990 when Mandela and Arafat met in Zambia affirming the bonds between them as freedom fighters on behalf of their people, brought a case against Israel to the International Court of Justice charging Israel with genocide.  So here we are 79 years after the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army in January of 1945. The country whose reason for existing is to provide a safe haven for Jews finds itself having failed in its principal mission and in its effort to defend itself and restore the trust of its citizens in its ability to protect them finds itself charged with genocide.  I can certainly sympathize with Israelis at the unfairness of this turn of events.  However, when I read the reports of what some members of Israel’s government say about the war in Gaza, as well as ordinary Israelis, I detect the same patterns as I see in Hamas propaganda.  First of all, little effort is made to distinguish between Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza, who are essentially rendered invisible.  It is easy for Israelis to see no images of the suffering of Palestinian people since these images do not appear in Israeli media.  Palestinians are depicted as dangerous to the safety of Israel.  Settlers in the West Bank are encouraged to behave violently toward Palestinians and completely disregard their rights. 

I don’t believe that as horrific as the way Israel is waging its war on Gaza is, its intent is genocidal.  However, the fact that there is enough wrong with how Israel treats the Palestinians that a charge of genocide can legitimately be brought before the International Criminal Court, and the Court hears it is troubling for me.  For too many Israelis, it is evidence of worldwide antisemitism, the reflexive response to anyone who criticizes Israel.  I am certainly not going to argue that politics is not involved in the charge of genocide being leveled at Israel and that antisemitism may not play a part in it, but that does not mean that, at some time, Israelis are not going to have to come to terms with the reality of the consequences on the inhabitants of Gaza and themselves of the way they are conducting the war against Hamas. 

The phrase “never again” is often used in reference to the Holocaust.  It was first used by liberated prisoners from Buchenwald and popularized by far-right Rabbi Meir Kahane in his 1971 book, “Never Again! A Program for Survival.”  Since then, there has been a debate in some circles as to whether the phrase refers only to preventing a second Jewish Holocaust or whether it is a universal injunction against all forms of genocide against all people.  On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day I say “never again” should the world stand by and watch one people be victimized by another people such that their very existence is in peril.   

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