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  • samchris51

The Polish way

It is three months since the horrific attack by Hamas on the communities across the Gaza border.  Israelis continue to try to come to terms with the consequences of that horrific strike, while Gazans continue to suffer the consequences of Israel’s response to that attack.  The two populations are suffering alongside each other but with little, if any awareness of each other’s agonies.  Around the world, in the meantime, people have been quick to pick sides and passionately line up behind their righteous choice.  Few have taken the time to educate themselves regarding what their choice involves.

I continue to endeavor to walk a path that allows me to acknowledge the pain and suffering of both sides.  To recognize how both Israel and Hamas have spilled an enormous amount of Israeli and Palestinian blood with no apparent end in sight.  I am less overwhelmed by my depression in response to events in Israel and Gaza and have been able to resume my life’s normal activities and once again take pleasure in those things that give me pleasure.  For that, I am truly grateful. 

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of my daughter being contacted by Nimrod Shapira, the son of my maternal first cousin, the son of my mother’s brother.  This contact would end up upending my sense of self and linking me to an extensive extended family I had no knowledge of, and for which I am grateful.  It is because of this event, whose importance in my life I failed to appreciate at the time, that the situation in Israel and Gaza is now taking up so much space in my heart and soul as well as in my thoughts.

Three months after Israel declared war on Hamas, about 23,000 Gazans have been killed.  Whole families have been wiped out; entire neighborhoods leveled.  To me, Gaza looks like the Warsaw Ghetto or Warsaw itself after the Germans intentionally set out to demolish both.  Israel claims to have killed 8,000 Hamas fighters.  I have no idea how they came up with that number, but I am sure they have created two or three times as many to replace them. 

Negotiations for the release of the Israeli hostages that remain in Gaza are on hold after the killing of a senior Hamas official, Saleh al-Arouri.  It seems to me that should have been anticipated by the Israelis, which again suggests bringing the hostages home is not as important as certain other priorities.

Israel is being accused of genocide by South Africa before the International Court of Justice. At the same time, its cabinet members, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, have advocated for the “voluntary emigration” of Gaza’s population to other countries as part of their postwar vision.  Israelis would then be free to re-settle the Strip, thus bringing to an end the possibility of Israel being again threatened from Gaza.  This view is gaining support not only among extremist members of the Knesset but among Israelis in general.  Netanyahu’s office has issued statements insisting that Smotrich and Ben Gvir do not represent the government policy on the matter, while at the same time making comments that clearly demonstrate his support for the idea of evacuating Palestinians from Gaza.

The situation along the Lebanese border remains volatile, and Israel has not ruled out a military option for resolving the conflict if they are not able to prevail through diplomatic means.  As complicated as that situation is along the Northern border, from the Israeli perspective, there may be some advantage to engaging Hezbollah militarily now when there are no people in the Israeli communities along the border. 

This week, the Israeli Supreme Court rendered its decision affirming that it had the right to be the final legal authority regarding laws passed by the Knesset.    The judicial reforms introduced by the Netanyahu government sought to limit the Supreme Court's authority over the Knesset's legislative authority.    These reforms were part of wide-ranging judicial reforms and inspired weekly protests from January 7th to October 7th by Israelis who came out in considerable numbers to defend their “liberal democracy.”  The demonstrations scrupulously avoided the issue of the occupation and Palestinian rights out of concern that raising these issues would splinter the coalition that had been formed.  It is ironic that the Supreme Court’s decision was handed down during the war against Hamas, and hardly anyone feels compelled to comment as it has no bearing on what is happening in Israel today.   The Palestinian cause was not important to the struggle for democracy waged by Israeli Jews, and the Supreme Court's decision has no bearing on what is happening to Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, or inside Israel. Historically the Court has not been supportive of Palestinian rights.

The war continues to be fought in Gaza.  The UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs has declared that "Gaza has simply become uninhabitable. "  Most of those who have survived the bombing, about a hundred and seventy million people, have been crowded into a safe space of roughly 20 square kilometers (8 square miles) in southwest Gaza.  Food, water, fuel, and medical supplies are inadequate.  At best, half of what entered Gaza before October 7th is entering now.  Hunger is part of the daily reality of most Gazans.  In these conditions, it is not surprising that viruses, bacteria, and infectious diseases should spread.  According to Haaretz, “Last week, an Israeli soldier died after contracting a fungal infection in Gaza…10 more soldiers were sickened by similar fungi, which may have come from soil that was polluted by wastewater.”  I am sure Israelis are very concerned about how these conditions affect the soldiers fighting in Gaza, their sons and daughters, but do not have the same concern for the sons and daughters of Palestinians living in Gaza. I find that very distressing.

Israelis are utterly oblivious of what is happening in Gaza. They are instead focused on the fate of about 250,000 people who have been displaced from communities along the Gaza and Lebanese border.  These families are staying in hotels, and guest houses spread across the country.  When I was in Netanya, I saw them filling up the hotels.  As difficult as the circumstances are for these families, it is not easy for them to be displaced from their homes for an indefinite period; none of them have to worry about where their next meal is coming from or where they will flee when they get bombed.   Israeli media continue to tell stories of the horrible trauma lived by the survivors of the October 7th attack by Hamas.  Stories of relatives of those who are still being held hostage in Gaza.   A common refrain in Israel is that this is not the time for us to focus on what is happening to the Palestinians. They attacked us first.  Israelis quickly set aside that it was Hamas who led the attack; they did not seek the consent of Palestinians in Gaza, nor did they warn them about what was about to happen. It is disproportionately the Palestinian civilians, women, and children who are bearing the consequences of the attack.

I ask myself, if not now, then when? When will Israelis be ready to confront the reality of what the IDF is doing in the name of protecting them?  Or will Israel take the Polish route and never confront the reality of the price of hatred and prejudice by one group that considers itself superior to another group?  In the case of Poland, the victims were Polish Jews, and the perpetrators were Polish Catholics.  Poland has never really come to terms with its history of antisemitism.  During the German occupation, living conditions were harsh, and antisemitism thrived among some. Many willingly collaborated in the extermination of Jews, and there were also many Poles who risked their own life to shelter Jews.  After the war, fear of retribution sparked numerous acts of violence against Jews who had survived the war and were in Poland or returning to it.  As a result, today, there are at most 10,000 Jews living in Poland as compared to the 3.3 million who lived in Poland before the German Occupation in September of 1939. The Poles prefer to see themselves as victims of German occupation and, subsequently, Soviet tyranny. They would like to explain all their actions toward their Jewish brethren during and immediately after the war as actions forced upon them by the occupier. Poles see themselves as heroes who, throughout history, have valiantly fought for their right to live in a free Poland. History has been interpreted to fit with this myth of the noble Pole. What does not fit the heroic frame is denied.  I wonder if the Israelis will do the same.

Will they use the attack by Hamas, combined with a history of conflict with Palestinians, whom they see as a threat to Israel, to justify everything that is happening in Gaza now?  Will they and the world stand by as the Palestinians in Gaza who survive the war are subjected to another Nakba?  Will the world stand by and watch as the ghetto of Gaza is emptied not by liquidating its inhabitants but by relocating them “voluntarily,” thus ethnically cleansing the area? Will Israel follow the Polish example and decrease the population of Palestinians in Gaza from 2.2 million to just a few thousand?

And through all this tragedy, Netanyahu continues to affirm that "The war must not be stopped until we achieve all of its goals: Eliminating Hamas, returning all of our hostages and ensuring that Gaza will never again constitute a threat to Israel."  He is the one person who stands to gain the most by continuing the conflict and thus avoiding any accountability.  If he could manage to hang on past the calls for his resignation that are beginning to get louder, long enough to empty Gaza of most of its Palestinians, wouldn’t Israelis forgive and forget? Couldn’t he go out as a hero?  I imagine Netanyahu contemplating such a scenario.  It would be a win-win.  He wouldn’t be held accountable for how he contributed to the October 7th attack, and Israelis wouldn’t have to reflect on the price their retribution had on the lives of Palestinians living in Gaza. They could continue to delude themselves that they fought a righteous war in which they were the unblemished heroes.

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