Remembering the Holocaust in Jerusalem

 - by Yahav Zohar -

‘No’, said the policeman, ‘you can’t come through’.

‘But we live here, we need to get home’.

‘The whole area’s closed. If you wait here maybe I can get someone to escort you home in 15 or 20 minutes.’

It was cold, we were hungry, my daughter was crying. The policeman walked away. There was no way home. We walked back past the roadblock to our parked car and drove to spend the evening elsewhere.

Living in West Jerusalem we often experience traffic delays because of all sorts of foreign dignitaries, as well as our own convoy-loving prime minister, but this was extreme. Our whole neighborhood was shut down for security reasons, to protect world leaders who had come for a fancy dinner in the Israeli President’s residence to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz.

I was offended by the way he just turned and walked away from us and so to console myself I thought: this kind of thing happens all the time to my neighbors in East Jerusalem. You see, Jerusalem is one of the most segregated cities in the world, not only do Jews and Palestinians live in separate neighborhoods, go to separate schools and use (mostly) separate public transport systems, we have different legal status, Jews are citizens and Palestinians are only residents. In Palestinian neighborhoods the police operates very differently, there it would be much more normal for a road to be indefinitely closed and people be denied access to their home.

But in East Jerusalem Palestinians still have some civil rights. Things are worse just outside the city, beyond the separation wall which surrounds Jerusalem on three sides, there Palestinians are under Israeli military government and can be detained indefinitely without ever being told the charges against them, houses are regularly taken over by the army to serve as makeshift positions while families are locked in a back room, and neighborhoods are placed under siege or curfew to facilitate searches and arrests.

I was glad to hear all those leaders who did come here got, according to reports, quickly and safely through the empty streets to a satisfying dinner at the president’s residence. And the next day at Yad Vashem they got to hear the German President say he is guilty, Netanyahu say we are strong and holocaust survivors move them to tears.  They would soon go home in the great convoy of jets they came in and continue to stall over climate crisis, and I would continue to enjoy my privileged Jewish status here. Did any of them see the irony of celebrating in an ethnically segregated city surrounded by walls and military government? Were any of them frustrated by the narrowness of the lesson drawn form the holocaust experience? Never again will this happen, to Jews.

Israel doesn’t seem to have a problem with legal segregation, with people shut behind walls, with people discriminated against by ethnic origin, just that it doesn’t happen to Jews. In fact, the state of Israel has adopted the Nazi definition of Jew and turned it upside down- those who the Nazis would have persecuted, we will treat preferentially.

 For the Israeli state, the holocaust is an ever relevant point, the proof that nobody can be trusted, and that if we do not have a strong army terrible things will happen to us. It is also perhaps the reason why Israel has no laws against arming those who commit genocides. Israel sold arms to Rwanda during the genocide there, and more recently to Burma as it was killing the Rohingya.  We cannot stop to consider ‘human rights’ say the Israeli generals and politicians (often the same individuals) we are as ever on the brink of another holocaust and must do whatever makes our military and alliances stronger. Let us arm the strong to kill the weak that we may become stronger, they say.

The next day things were even worse. The city was shut down for the event’s guest of honor, Russian president Vladimir Putin. Again, it’s hard not to think of the Irony, or the narrowness of the lesson drawn. Putin, whose government persecutes political opponents and the gay community, whose forces are responsible for war crimes in Chechnya (at least 100,000 civilian killed) who has expanded Russian rule into Ukraine and Georgia using force and following the logic that Russian speaking areas belong to Russia, and who recently completed the propping up of the murderous Asad regime in Syria came to Netanyahu’s Jerusalem to celebrate the liberation of Auschwitz. Too bad Netanyahu’s ally President Modi of India couldn’t be here with us to celebrate, he’s too busy looking for ways to strip non-Hindu Indians of their citizenship. Mr. Xi of China was also otherwise occupied, or he could be here to discuss his reeducation camps for Uyghurs.

 In Jorge Luis Borges’ story ‘Deutches Requiem’ a Nazi war criminal awaiting execution after the war gets news in his prison cell of the atom bomb dropped in Hiroshima and is greatly pleased. Germany, he says, may have lost the war, but our harsh logic (to borrow a phrase) has won. Total war, which does not differentiate civilian from combatant, raw force unrestricted by ethics, has won.

 Luckily, I thought, I am on the right side of history,  a Jew in the Jewish (supremacist) state. My house was safe once I could get back to it and I was free to vent my frustration at the police’s behavior in writing and in public. And yet that moment, the policeman just telling my daughter and I we had no way home and walking away to leave standing in the cold, stayed with me. It bothered me, I guess, not that the police could do that, I know what they do in East Jerusalem, it bothered me that they could do that to us, to Jews in the nice part of town. It planted the thought in my mind that once you train people well enough to follow orders and ignore their innate sense of empathy, the danger would never be just to whoever happened to be the original target. 
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- Yahav Zohar is based in Jerusalem, is a Partner of the Green Olive Collective, and Senior Tour Guide at Green Olive Tours. Read his profile here > >

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