About six years ago, as part of his Bar Mitzvah, my son Jed did a project on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, producing his own graphic novel about the underground fighters who used courage, creativity and the city’s sewer system to, in some small way, offer resistance to the murderous program of the Nazis to exterminate Poland’s Jews.
In the course of his research, Jed interviewed a friend of my father’s, a Polish man who had been a teenager in Warsaw during World War II. He told my son how one day, as he was riding the streetcar to a job, the tram came to a halt near the wall of the ghetto. Everyone was told they had to get out. Standing there in a crowd outside the wall, he saw vast amounts of smoke and heard an enormous amount of gun and cannon fire, and bombs exploding. Asking what was happening, he said he was told by a Polish woman near him, “They’re barbecuing the Jews!”
It was, it turned out, the final catastrophic leveling of the Warsaw Ghetto that he was witnessing, and this man recalled, still in horror at the memory, that people had gathered from all over the city to watch it happen, like going to a fireworks display.
Now we’re seeing the same phenomenon in Israel, as the Israeli Defense Force enters its second week of bombing and invading the walled-in ghetto of Gaza, where some 1.8 million Palestinian men, women and children have been trapped for years with nowhere to go to escape the bombs, rockets, cannon fire and IDF snipers.
And like the horrific case of the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, here too we have a small-scale, improbable, resistance being put up by fighters who use home-made rockets, small arms and a network of tunnels to challenge their much better armed attackers. We also have people — ironically this time it’s Jewish citizens of Israel — dragging lounge chairs and refreshments out to hillsides in the evening to watch the fireworks as the IDF’s tanks, bombers and ships off the coast of Gaza pulverize this huge ghetto that is fully under Israeli control.
As the New York Times reported in an article about the Israeli spectator sport of watching the leveling of Gaza, where by July 22 nearly 600 Palestinian, including over 100 children, had been killed by Israeli weapons, this was nothing new. Similar crowds gathered, equipped with comfortable seating and refreshments, during the prior bloody assault on Gaza in 2008-9 in which between 1160 and 1400 Palestinians were reportedly killed.
As in the prior Gaza assault, the IDF has been found to have targeted children, hospitals, mosques and populated residential areas. The Times reports that Danish reporter Allan Sorensen said at 9 pm local time, when he took his photo of the Israeli spectators, who were cheering each explosion in Gaza, the IDF had just fired what it called a “precision strike,” that by either error or design hit a beachside cafe in Gaza where people had assembled to watch the Soccer World Cup semi-final between Argentina and Netherlands. At least eight people died in that bombing.
I know war is always vicious and ugly. But at least, by International Law, it is supposed to be fought between combatants, not by slaughtering innocents and terrorizing an entire population. According to the UN, at least 75 percent of those killed by the IDF in this latest war on Gaza have been civilians, a large percentage of those being children. That compares to two Israeli civilians killed by Hamas fighters, who have also reportedly killed over 30 IDF soldiers.
Sadly, the hatred against Palestinians that has been stoked by politicians in Israel has been so vicious that seemingly civilized people can sit munching popcorn while cheering explosions and gunfire that are slaughtering little kids just a short distance away over a wall. That’s not to say that Palestinians don’t also cheer when they learn that an Israeli has been killed. I’m sure they do. But let’s be real here: the Palestinians trapped in their exploding ghetto hell are in no position to be sitting on couches munching popcorn while watching Hamas’s pathetic homemade rockets whiz off into Israel only to be, for the most part, knocked down harmlessly by the IDF’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
As the Canadian writer and Holocaust survivor Gabor Maté wrote yesterday in an opinion piece in the Toronto Star titled: “The Beautiful Dream of Israel Has Become a Nightmare”::
“There is no understanding Gaza out of context — Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians — and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood. The Palestinians use tunnels? So did my heroes, the poorly armed fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. Unlike Israel, Palestinians lack Apache helicopters, guided drones, jet fighters with bombs, laser-guided artillery. Out of impotent defiance, they fire inept rockets, causing terror for innocent Israelis but rarely physical harm. With such a gross imbalance of power, there is no equivalence of culpability.
Years ago, when President Nixon ordered the criminal “Christmas Bombing” of Hanoi and Haiphong, including (as Israel is doing today in Gaza) civilian targets like hospitals, schools and dikes along the Red River, I wrote an editorial in the Middletown Press, where I was a reporter, saying that to the Vietnamese under the bombing onslaught, delivered by giant planes flying almost too high to see, it was like living near an erupting volcano, but I pointed out that we, the Americans, controlled that volcano, and had the power to stop it from erupting. ”
This one-sided bloody-minded slaughter by the Israeli Defense Force has to stop. Once again, as with Nixon’s carpet bombing of North Vietnam, as the major supplier of Israel’s arms, the US is in a position to make that happen, but so far, as in prior assaults on Gaza, Washington is not demanding a halt to the killing (in fact both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry go out of their way to justify it). Neither, sadly, are most American citizens, with a recent poll showing that 57% support Israel’s murderous assault.
For a real understanding of what is going on inside of Israel, and of how it is reaching out and destroying freedom and democracy here in the US, watch this video of a talk by ex-IDF soldier Eran Efrati.