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The writing on the Warsaw Ghetto wall- an interview with Yonatan Shapira
On Tuesday, July 6, I set down with Yonatan Shapira, to talk about his recent act in the Warsaw Ghetto. Yonatan and a Polish activist Ewa Jasiewicz, held a press conference in front of one of the remaining walls in the Warsaw Ghetto and sprayed two sentences: “liberate all Ghettos” (in Hebrew) and “Free Gaza and Palestine“.
Yonatan is a refusnic, who in 2003 was the initiator of the “Pilots Letter”, a letter signed by other 27 pilots in the Israeli military who stated that they will refuse to take part in the deployment of Israeli soldiers and bombardment of Palestinians. He is also a supporter of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) movement, and an activist in Israel. In the past, I had the pleasure of being arrested and sharing a cell with him for a whole weekend, following a demonstration in East Jerusalem.
MC: What were the reactions in Israel to what you did?
YS: I wanted to start by saying that my whole presence in Poland was part of promoting the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign. It was organized by the kampania-Palestine group, a Palestinian solidarity movement based in Poland. The organizers wanted to raise awareness about the economic and military cooperation between Poland and Israel.
Many of the reactions in Israel were angry and hostile. It’s expected, Israelis are socialize to look at the Holocaust as a justification for a militaristic, racist, and a Zionist ideology. For many Israelis, victims can never be non Jews. So when someone speaks of Gaza as a Ghetto, people blow up.
The same kind of reaction happened when we published the “Pilot Letter”, in order to wake Israelis up to the reality that surrounds us. We were attacked, fired from our jobs, and silenced. This is what happens with any initiative that tries to waken Israelis to the reality of the occupation. This time too, we are trying to confront the Israeli society with what is happening in Gaza. I was interviewed on a couple of Israeli mainstream media shows. They all insisted on avoiding the question of what is happening in Gaza, and instead focused on whether the memory of the holocaust was desecrated. In one show a debate was carried as to how to get the Polish or Israeli government to prosecuted me. Again the issue of Gaza or the occupation was ignored.
I would like to add the I also received a lot of support from Israelis, people who are descendants of Holocaust survivors, and Holocaust survivors themselves.
MC: can you elaborate more about the holocaust being appropriated by Zionists and the state of Israel?
YS: The Holocaust has been appropriated for years now by the Israeli government and the Israeli education system. The Israeli establishment would rather have Jews and Israelis in a state of frightened victim that worship militarism. I’m saying that as someone who was a victim of that brainwashing and that cynical use of the holocaust. In our action we tried to separate between the actions of the Israeli Government and Jews.
MC: as someone who is a descendant to a family of a Holocaust survivors, what does the Holocaust represent to you? What are the lesson that should be learned from the holocaust?
YS: the lesson that should be learned are resistance to any form of racism. Resistance to ethnic cleansing and forced expulsion of people. Resistance to the starvation of humans and their confinement into ghettos. These are issues that the Israeli policy makers would like us to ignore and forget. Its not surprising, for example, that the story of Marek Edalman, a Jew and one of the top commanders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising is not known in Israel or taught in Israeli high-schools. Edalman was a social activists and an Anti-Zionist, repressing an ideology that the Israeli establishment could not allow. His story had to be silenced and buried in Israel.
MC: you know I was in Silwan the other day, a Palestinian village in East Jerusalem where settlers are trying to expel Palestinians from their houses. We talked with some Israeli soldiers who took over Palestinian houses. They claimed that they are stationed in Silwan to protect Jews and that we and the Palestinians are Nazis. It seemed that they were unaware that they are occupying a village, thousands of Palestinians, in the name of protecting a number of religious fanatic settlers. That although they and the settlers are making the Palestinians lives in the area a living hell, they still viewed themselves as victims.
YS: Yes, that’s sounds very familiar. I can tell you of a recent example that shows that kind cynical and false use of victimhood. The unit that I was part of in the Israeli military participated in the taking over of the Mavi Marmara. It was a hostile takeover by a group of armed soldiers of a civilian ship in international waters carrying medical and food supplies. When these soldiers were opposed, when the soldiers were opposed with very primitives weapons, the Israeli government framed the whole thing as a lynch.
MC: so now the government of Israel is appropriating African American history and not just the Holocaust.
YS: yeah, its another case in which the Israeli government is making the perpetrator a victim, the oppressor the oppressed.
MC: in one of the interviews that you gave to the Israeli media you were accused of being a hypocrite because you don’t go and demonstrate about human right violation in Arab courtiers, what do you say to that?
I will join any demonstration that calls attention to human right violation, here and around the world. Beside that, I’m Jewish and Israeli. I have responsibility for the crimes that are taking place by the Israeli government in my name. My affect as a military refusinc is here, in Israel. The privileges that we receive in Israel, as an Apartheid state, caries with them also the responsibility to resist and expose that system. For example, when a Palestinian goes oversees to talk about the occupation, to support the BDS campaign, upon their return they will be arrested, if not worse. So as a Jew and Israeli I need to use the privileges that I get, to call an end to this whole racist system.
MC: I wanted to thank you for this interview and your act, its very inspiring. I agree that as Jews we carry the responsibility of stopping the government of Israel and Zionist representatives from appropriating the Holocaust to justify apartheid and occupation. We as Jews must oppose the apartheid system.
YS: thank you, I appreciate that.
This interview was translated from the Hebrew by MC.