Israeli spokesmen and women of all political stripes, as well as many liberal Jews internationally, seem to be having real trouble with criticism from the global mainstream over the actions of the Israeli government in Gaza. “Pernicious” is the word one British Jewish academic, speaking on the radio, used to describe commentators who have drawn parallels between the assault on Gaza and the Warsaw ghetto.
Pernicious, according to my desktop thesaurus, also translates as: evil, insidious, spiteful, malicious. With the benefit of a series of search engines I reacquainted myself with the hideous events that began in Warsaw in 1939 culminating in April 1943, when German Nazi troops embarked upon a plan to finally eradicate the Jews of the ghetto as a birthday gift for Adolph Hitler. From a small district in the centre of Warsaw, 113,000 Poles were evacuated to make way for the city’s 400,000 Jews. Conditions were cramped. In November the ghetto area was closed off by a formidable wall, topped with barbed wire.
Life for the Jews of the ghetto started badly and became worse. Those who had managed to hold on to any of their wealth were able to live a little more comfortably but as the years went by all fell into a state of penury. They were hungry and had little or nothing in the way of organised education, health care or other essentials. Smuggling was commonplace, through a series of underground canals, in this way they were sometimes able to supplement their meagre rations. Many thousands of Warsaw Jews were transported from the ghetto to extermination camps although some brave freedom fighters hid themselves in deserted buildings and put up a spirited resistance with guns smuggled in through the underground canals. Eventually, in April 1943, Nazi troops went into the ghetto to finish the job of exterminating the Jews that remained there. Unable to flush them out they bombed and burned every building to the ground.
Well, call me pernicious if you will but a small area with people forced to live in cramped, unsanitary conditions, surrounded by an impassable, fortified wall, their movements restricted by armed troops, reduced to smuggling through underground channels, their homes bombed and burned – ring any bells with you? I could be describing Gaza in January 2009, just as easily as Warsaw more than 65 years ago. It becomes all too easy to see where parallels might be drawn. What was inflicted on the people of the Warsaw ghetto and the rest of the six million Jews, the gypsies and the homosexuals killed by the repulsive Nazi regime in Europe, was abhorrent; it remains a sickening, sordid stain on the collective memory of the human race. Sadly, we have no power to change the past – we cannot put right the damage done in Europe in the 1930s and 40s – but the future is in our collective hands.
Hamas, with its home-made rocket attacks, provided Tel Aviv with the excuse to go into Gaza with a vengeance, launching airborne and ground attacks, using sophisticated weaponry as well as phosphorous bombs. Its vicious assaults on one of the most densely occupied areas on the face of the earth was bound to wreak tragedy and havoc – and it did. The dead and dying filled our television screens and newspapers day after day; the bodies of men, women and tiny bloodied children bound for the graveyard. The actions of the Israelis in Gaza in late December and January were just about as pernicious, as evil, insidious, spiteful and malicious as it gets. After the bombing of schools and UN buildings where people who should have been safe were murdered in the Israeli onslaught, there is talk of Israel being prosecuted for war crimes, just as those responsible for the barbarity inflicted upon inmates of the Warsaw ghetto were brought to account for their crimes. How horribly ironic that a state which grew and developed through the efforts of those who escaped the Nazi savagery should be responsible for inflicting a 60-year reign of oppression and savagery all its own.