It happened somewhere else…

Quote

“In April 2012, Nitin Pai, founder of the New Delhi-based think tank Takshashila
Institution, expressed concern over the “systematic” killing of Pakistan’s
minorities, saying: “[The attacks] are called sectarian violence, gang warfare,
ethnic cleansing, kill-and-dump or counter-insurgency. It is perhaps because
there are individual names for these crimes that we are missing the possibility
that they might amount to a bigger one – genocide.”

— Tufail Ahmad, “Calls To Put Pakistan On Genocide Watch Amid Mounting Persecution Of Its Religious Minorities

A journey into memory

I had the privilege on January  9 to be interviewed for a documentary on the subject of Jewish resistance during the Second World War in Belarus.  The documentary is being produced by Julia Mintz for national release later this year.  During the interview, she led me to recount stories of the period prior to the War in the 1930’s when the Nazis took power in Germany and began their hate campaign against the Jews.  Even when the hate campagain eventually spilled over into Poland, in Belarus in the east where I lived at the time, I did not experience any blatant anti-semitism. The Belarus were a minority in Poland, and we Jews were a minority among them.  So there was generally an amiable relationship among the population.

In the process of the interview for the documentary, I recalled that the news of what was going on in Germany and in western Poland certainly had reached us at the time.  But as it is in human nature, unless one experiences something oneself, it not was easy to believe that what we were hearing could affect us directly.  As with most ordinary people, we were simply naive enough to rely upon the humanity of our fellow humans.  This proved to be a great disappointment, to put it mildly.

When words of hate are being disemminated we need to take it very seriously. There is never room for complacency, even when it seems that we ourselves are safe and unlikely to be affected by such speech.  Words of hate lead to acts of hate, acts of hate lead to atrocities and genocide.  We did not believe at the time that the words we were hearing could affect us in such a short time.  But hate has no borders: those words did affect us, and they eventually affected the entire world.

“Love blinds us to faults, hatred to virtues” — Moshe Ibn Ezra

Silence is Acquiescence

Egypt’s government, a member of the UN, is obligated to promote peace and tolerance among nations.  But it is prosecuting those who insult President Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood, but it tolerates incitement to genocide by Muslim clergy.  The hate mongers are very clear about their objective, as evidenced by the Egyptian cleric Mahmoud Al-Masri and many others.  They mean what they say, and we should take it very very seriously.

What can we do? Inaction is not an option. Our voices are heard only when we ask our representatives in Congress, our Senators, and others to whom we are connected in the wider world to notice these statements and speak out against them on our behalf.

Now that you are aware, beware! Let’s keep the issue alive.  Words can and do kill.

Opening Minds

December 19, 2012.  Ambridge, Pennsylvania. I was invited to speak for a school assembly of the upper classes at Ambridge High School, approximately 500 students.  To my great surprise, my entrance into the auditorium was preceded by two ROTC Marine cadets carrying flags. The assembly rose for the Pledge of Allegiance. Then I was flanked by six ROTC cadets, three on each side, to the stage.

I shared my story accompanied by six slides illustrating particular moments in my presentation.  I introduced our documentary, “A Look In The Eyes Of the Resistance” where myself and my wife share fragments of our story during WWII.  Questions and answers followed.

One of the students asked the following question: “What right had the United Nations to divide Palestine?” To him I replied, “Your sources of information are from news sound bytes. Since you are in school, you should learn more about the subject — I recommend that you Google ‘history of Palestine’.” I know that that if he does so, he will get a fairly objective view of the actual history of Palestine.

Then the same student asked “Why do the Israelis kill Palestinians like the Nazis did to the Jews?”  To the second question I remarked that it was offensive.  “You just watched historical footage from the Nazi era:  concentration camps, extermination camps, liquidation of the ghettos where elderly and young were herded onto trucks, driven to a vacant building and machine-gunned and burned alive. Nothing like this is happening in Gaza. Again, your information comes from sources whose purpose is to disseminate hate and demonization and brutalization of their perceived opponent.  The comparison between what you watched and what is happening in Palestine is obscene — there simply is no comparison.  You should learn the history of the conflict which might give you the ability to form a more objective assessment of the situation.” I hope that this student will discover that there are more Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank now than there were when the camps were created in 1967.  If the Israelis had operated in the same way as the Nazis, there would be none.

This is why at age 93, I am still going out to speak about my experiences. I was there that day for that particular boy with that particular question, to ensure that he learns that to present one’s view it is not necessary to denigrate or demonize a perceived opponent.

Acts that Kill

Joe Penney for the New York Times 12-28/2012

And the world is helpless.  The New York Times front page on December 28, 2012 had this photo of a left-hand amputee.  There have been 14 cases of amputations in northern Mali since the Islamists took over.

Twenty-one Shiite pilgrims on the way to Iran have been killed in Pakistan in the last few days.

Yesterday, six aid workers in a girls’ school in Pakistan were shot to death because of their work educating girls.

And on and on almost daily.  News of atrocities committed on civilians, and the perpetrators are rarely caught. Those who inspire and finance and guide the murderers are rarely if ever brought to justice.  Who are they?  Where do they find safe haven to raise money, obtain the latest weapons and equipment, to recruit the perpetrators and operate with impunity?

Those who commit these atrocities are not from Mars.  Most of the time they are known in the communities that they attack.  How do they get away with it?  Are there sympathizers who are willing to tolerate their methods?  Is the majority intimidated into silence, rendering them complicit in the violent acts?

As history shows, the extremists will eventually turn against the bystanders. In northern Mali, it is happening now, just as it happened in  Afghanistan when the Taliban were in power from 1996 until 2001. And now we see the potential vulnerability of countries like Pakistan, once again in Afghanistan, and perhaps even Iran.

Those of you who know who these people are are now forewarned.  Act, before it is too late.