Memory, Hope, and Responsibility
Wednesday, August 1: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv
Building Mutual Respect
Today we met Bassam Aramin, who is with “Combatants for Peace,” an organization composed of Palestinians who were former political prisoners and Israelis who refuse to fight. The first thing I noticed about Bassam was the fact his face and sad eyes conveyed the impression he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. We sat and listened to Bassam’s story. He shared with us the fact that when he was l6 years old, the Israelis came into his neighborhood and surrounded the streets. He and his young friends would go outside their homes and raise the Palestinian flag. On one occasion he and his friends threw stones at the Israeli soldiers, and Bassam was arrested. He was 17 years old at the time, and he spent 7 years in an Israeli jail. While in jail, Bassam began having some dialogue with one of the Israeli guards (who was a settler). The dialogues went on for months, and at some point the guard became supportive of Palestinians and their rights. Bassam learned from this experience that dialogue and mutual respect are essential to a peaceful and just resolution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
Just this past January, Bassam’s 10-year-old daughter was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. His daughter had gone with some of her girl friends to the store to buy candy. As she and her friends were coming out of the store, she was shot. Apparently, the shooting was totally unprovoked and, thus, was a shock to Bassam and his entire family. The investigation initiated regarding the death of his daughter doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
One would think Bassam would be seeking revenge. Instead, he is committed to non-violence and knows that further violence or seeking revenge will only make the situation worse.
One would think that after all Bassam has gone through that he would be full of self pity. Instead, he feels sad for his friends who are still (after 17 years) in Israeli jails, and they were thrown in jail “just for dreaming to end the occupation.”
Bassam spends much of his time working with young people and encouraging them to continue their education and to be accepting of others. Additionally, Bassam speaks to Israeli citizens, as he believes many of them are unaware of the extent to which Palestinians are oppressed and the degree of violence inflicted upon them.
All of us were deeply moved by Bassam’s story and believe that Bassam’s dedication to a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict inspires us and makes us more committed to doing our part.
Snapshots of Hope
This was a full somewhat tiring day. It was also one which gave me some hope for this land. Meeting Bassam Aramin, a former Palestinian resistance fighter who had been imprisoned and tortured by the Israelis, yet had renounced violence was uplifting. The fact that he still stands by that decision despite the fact that his 10 year old daughter was killed by the IDF is amazing. That he now joins Israeli refuseniks to try to persuade others to renounce violence is miraculous.
At Sabeel we met Omar, a young Palestinian Christian. A friend of his was tortured and murdered when in fifth grade. When he was in school, missionaries would come and tell them they should peacefully accept that God had given their land to the Jews. However after meeting Israelis working to end the occupation, he adopted nonviolent resistance tactics and now organizes Young Adult Conferences for Sabeel to educate people from around the world about the situation in the occupied territories.
Next we met with a young Israeli woman (an IDF veteran) why Palestinians refer to the war in 1948 as the “Nakba,” (the great disaster). The war is usually referred to as the War of Independence by Israelis. She had discovered why Palestinians use a different term by researching old buildings and ruins that she learned were homes and towns that belonged to Palestinians who were driven off (sometimes massacred) by Zionists. She helped form an organization called Zochrot (remembering) to educate others about this. They post signs at the sites of villages describing there history. This of course does not make her popular with many Israelis, who, like Americans, would rather not hear the truth about their government’s actions. Her courage and that of the others in Zochrot give me hope.
Finally we met New Profile. This group of Israelis is working to demilitarize Israeli society by helping young people who do not want to participate in the occupation by serving in the IDF as required. And by helping soldiers who decide not to take part in the oppression. I felt some kinship with them having been a draft resister during our Viet Nam era.
Friday, August 3: Jerusalem
The Holocaust: Reminders for Today
This morning our IFPB delegation spent two hours in Yad VaShem, the Holocaust museum in West Jerusalem. I have had the opportunity to visit the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC, and similar museums elsewhere in the US and abroad. During the five years I served in Munich, I made a habit of devoting the last day of a visitor’s stay to Dachau, the first concentration camp, established in 1933.
At the very end of the tour through the still standing barracks now used as a museum at Dachau stands the famous quote for Santayana, “Those who do not remember history are condemned to relive it.” That dictum kept racing through my mind as history passed by on the Yad Yashem museum walls. Things leapt off the walls, mocking the ubiquitous “Never Again.” Particularly poignant was the fresh history evident in the city of Hebron which we visited yesterday, the destroyed Palestinian farms and houses we drove past, and the illegal Israeli settlements sitting sprightly on the highest hills dominating the environs. And, just as poignant, were the parallels that stood stark naked for any thinking American to see: parallels between Hitler’s success in grabbing dictatorial power in Germany—largely because of a supine Parliament, an acquiescent Church, a leaderless Army, and a fear-full populace—and the situation we Americans face at home today.
I Pledge Allegiance
There they were; it was only 1934, and the German Army generals were in the limelight swearing allegiance to Hitler—not the German Constitution (what was left of it); the German Supreme Court swearing allegiance to Hitler—not to the law and Constitution; and, not least, the Reich’s Bishops swearing allegiance to Hitler—not to God and the people they were supposed to serve. (I noticed that one of the English-speaking guides, pointing out the generals and jurists, neglected to mention the bishops, and I could not resist encouraging him to make full disclosure.) And right there on an adjacent wall was the Hamlet-like Pope Pius XII, trying to make up his mind on whether he should put the Catholic church at risk, while Jews were being murdered by the thousands.
It was the military brass swearing a personal oath to Hitler that disturbed me most. For the US senior officer corps, like so many senior civil servants, has been politicized to such extent that I fear the Army’s current generals would act as though the oath they took were to the president, and not to the Constitution. Lecturing last fall at the Naval Academy, I encountered hesitance on the part of the “mids,” when I asked them to whom or what they had sworn an oath. When reminded, they agreed, sort of, that it was to the Constitution. The implications, I noted, could be immense. Let’s say they were ordered to violate US and UN legal restrictions and attack, say, Iran. What would they do? Is the Constitution which they swore to protect and defend, just a “piece of paper?” as the president has been quoted as saying.
The Giant Radio
It was an incredible poster. In the midst of thousands of people stood a huge radio, 50 times the size of a person. The explanation beneath: “Radios received one channel only—the official Nazi party station. Radios were distributed to the German population as a means of disseminating Nazi ideology.”
The radios were very effective—and this before the arrival of FOX and Clear Channel, not to mention the “mainstream media” and 24-hour corporate-owned cable channels like….well like all the others.
But we have a free media in the US. They say it couldn’t happen here. Right! It has already happened!
Kristallnacht and Pretexts
I had forgotten that the German storm troopers led the country-wide smashing of Jewish glass-enclosed and other shops, synagogues, etc., on a pretext. A German diplomat in Paris had been murdered by a victim of Hitler’s repression. I was reminded that rogue governments, like the Nazi, like other governments, often select a pretext to launch major operations…whether it be Kristallnacht, the burning of the Reichstag in early 1933, or attacking Fallujah after those Blackwater mercenaries were slain.
Autobahnen: Through Germany; Through Palestine
There was a giant poster of the uniformed Hitler and his uniformed retinue digging with spades to inaugurate the building of the first Autobahn in Germany. Then copious praise for having completed 1,000 kilometers in just three years (1933-36).
The Israeli government has built a similar network of Autobahnen in the occupied territories, with almost as many Volkswagens as there were in Germany when the first Autobahn was completed. But the Autobahnen in the occupied territories have entrances and exits not for das Volk, but only for Israelis…most of them settlers on land taken from Palestinians.
This reality, and the other indignities we had already observed, gave a special poignancy to the quote that greeted us at the entrance to the museum. It was by Kurt Tucholsky, a German essayist of German origin:
“A country is not just what it does—it is also what it tolerates.”
The most compelling quotation came from Imre Bathory, a Hungarian who, like many others, put their own lives at grave risk by trying to save persecuted Jews:
“I know that when I stand before God on Judgment Day, I shall not be asked the question posed to Cain; ‘Where were you when your brother’s blood was crying out to God?’”
Our challenge: Will we, like Bathory, have no fear before that question—whether our brother/sister is Palestinian, Jewish, Iraqi, Iranian?
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