Thursday, January 28, 2010

Shoah and Tell - an Arab's Holocaust Museum

As the sirens wail for Holocaust Remembrance Day and the Israeli diplomatic corps urges the world to remember and never permit such atrocities to happen again, one Arab lawyer takes history lessons about the Holocaust out to the Palestinian people. Khaled Kasab Mahameed faces opposition from Holocaust deniers, but still he persists with his quixotic mission: traveling to the West Bank to educate Palestinians about the Shoah, the final solution, the Holocaust.

Many Palestinians have never heard that the Nazis killed 6 million Jews during Word War II — it doesn't rate a mention in their school history books. Others deny that the Holocaust ever happened. According to this blinkered reasoning, the Jews are fighting Palestinians over their homeland, and they cannot afford to have sympathy for their enemy. Mahameed sees this view as tragically misguided. He says:

The key to the Palestinians achieving their own goals is to understand the Holocaust, and the place it holds in the Israeli psyche and its obsession with security.

Mahameed passes around a death-camp photo of a Jewish inmate standing over a mass grave full of naked corpses. The room of Palestinians falls silent. "That man, that survivor, in the photograph came to Israel. Can you imagine the nightmares, the horrors that he brought with him? It's a suffering that nobody, even us Palestinians, can begin to comprehend," he says with quiet, lawyerly persistence. The photo moves around the room, again and again, in silence. Finally, a retired Palestinian general, Abdul Latah Solimia, once captive in an Israeli military prison in Lebanon says: "As a militant, I know the cost of war and hatred. For 60 years, we have tried to eliminate each other, and neither has won. We Israelis and Palestinians should share this land."

Mahameed's obsesison with teaching Arabs about the Holocaust occurred four years ago, when he took his two children to see the massive 20-foot high concrete wall that Israel has erected around parts of Jerusalem to keep out Palestinians. It is so high in places that it seems to sever half the blue sky. "I told my son to break off a piece of the wall as a souvenir. It was very difficult, and while he was trying, I asked myself, what would drive the Israelis to do such a thing to us, build such a monstrosity as this wall?" He gathered his son and daughter and drove them to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. "It was very moving. I couldn't breathe. Six million. It's like something off another planet," he recalls.

Touring the somber museum, it occurred to Mahameed that "we Palestinians are the victims of the terrible things that were inflicted on the Jews by the Holocaust." The images of the crimes perpetrated against the Jews of Europe also made him understand international support for Israel. "If an Israeli child dies from a Gaza rocket, the Israelis can take a photo of that child to America and them about 1.5 million Jewish children who died in the death camps, and Israelis will be given more money and weapons to use against us," he says. Most Israelis experience the same images of a Gaza rocket attack in the exterminationist frame of Auschwitz, not simply as a product of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over land.
Using photos donated by Yad Vashem and images from the Naqba — the "Catastrophe," which is how Palestinians refer to the events surrounding Israel's independence, which left thousands of Palestinians in exile and in refugee camps — the lawyer set up a one-room museum in his hometown of Nazareth, called the Arab Institute for Holocaust Research and Education. Every week, he travels to towns, villages and refugee camps in the West Bank trying to enlighten his fellow Palestinians. Says Mahameed, "Even with the militants, when I explain to them that Israel's brutal policies in the Palestinian territories stem from the Holocaust, they tell me 'You're bringing us an atomic bomb. We need to think about this.'"
Sometimes, his message is greeted with hostility — even in his own family. Mahameed has been ostracized by his brothers, who say that his obsession with the Holocaust is tantamount to sympathizing with Israel. False rumors that he is secretly on Israeli payroll dog him.
On the Israeli side, there is incomprehension, too. Yad Vashem staffers question his agenda." Replies Mahameed: "They don't want us Palestinians to have pity on them. They only want to show us how mighty they are."

Mahameed is an avid believer in Mahatma Gandhi's dictum that truth leads to non-violence, and he sees himself practicing a kind of ju-jitsu, using Israel's own moral superiority over the Holocaust as a way to shame the Israeli 'occupiers' in the West Bank into more humane treatment for the Palestinians. "If the Israelis believe that the Holocaust justifies this kind of brutal discrimination, then they're wrong."

He travels through army checkpoints showing his ID card and a photo from Auschwitz. At first he's met with suspicion. "I tell the soldiers that this could be a photo of their grandfather, and that I understand that they, as Jews, are unique victims. But the paradox is that we Palestinians have the Holocaust on our shoulders, too."

Hat tip to TIME magazine

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Harem Scare'em at Tel Aviv apartments

An Israeli man who kept a cult-like harem of women and fathered dozens of children with them has been arrested on suspicion of enslavement, rape and incest, police said Thursday.

Police say Goel Ratzon kept 17 women in a state of near-total obedience in at least three apartments in the Tel Aviv area, the Associated Press reported. Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said they bore him 37 children, some of whom were born to his own daughters.

Ratzon, a self-described healer about 60 years old with flowing white locks and a bushy white beard, controlled the women's money and sometimes abused them if they dared to challenge his control, police alleged. Read more here. His is not the usual Middle Eastern harem of orientalist fantasy. No eunuch, little pleasure.

Goel Ratzon, self-claimed Healer

House rules, confiscated from the household by police, were printed in Haaretz and other media. These commandments are an insight into polygamy amongst the ultra-Orthodox, though one wife insists they were "just a joke." All the concubines had the visage of Goel tattoed on their bodies, and all children bore his name.

1 No women shall marry nor shall any woman attack another, either verbally or physically.
Fine: 2,000 shekels (£330) into the family kitty

2 No woman shall question another about her whereabouts.
Fine: 100 shekels

3 No conversation is permitted in rooms other than the living room. It is forbidden to talk nonsense.
Fine: 200 shekels

4 No woman shall sit idle when there are dishes to be washed, cleaning to be done, children to look after etc.
Fine: 2,000 shekels

5 Any two women caught fighting will be punished equally.
Fine: 2,000 shekels

6 It is absolutely forbidden to question Ratzon on his whereabouts or intention.
Fine: 400 shekels

7 It is permissible to ask to accompany him; but refusal is to be accepted without appeal.
Fine: 300 shekels

8 No woman shall interrupt Ratzon or intervene in matters not concerning her.
Fine: 500 shekels

9 All orders are to be obeyed immediately.
Fine: 300 shekels

10 No woman shall work while a man of over 12 years of age is in the house.
Fine 3,000 shekels

Monday, January 11, 2010

Eyeless in Gaza - as cornea transplants put off

Israel prevented 17 sight-impaired Gazans from leaving for cornea transplant operations on time; as a result, dozens of donated corneas went down the drain

The Israeli authorities at Erez checkpoint this week prevented the exit of 17 sight-impaired patients, suffering from various eye diseases, from the Gaza Strip in order to undergo cornea transplants, a treatment that is not available in the Gaza health system. Because of this delay, the medical window of opportunity to perform the transplants for these patients was closed, because corneas can be transplanted only within the shortest time frame (24-48 hours after they are extracted from the donor's body). The patients from Gaza whose exit was prevented will therefore have to wait for another donation, which may or may not happen.

At the beginning of the week Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-Israel) received an appeal from the Musallam Medical Center in Gaza. According to the appeal, a large group of 14 patients from Gaza, who were invited to Ramallah for cornea transplants from Sunday to Wednesday this week (January 3-5, 2010), did not reach their destination. Three other patients approached PHR-Israel separately. The group of patients includes some who were waiting weeks or even months for cornea transplants. The longest wait was 31-year-old S.A., who has been waiting for this operation for three years.

The main Musallam Medical Center in Ramallah this week received two deliveries from the US with dozens of corneas, donated by Tissue Bank International, an American organization that facilitates cornea and tissue transplants. Every year corneas are sent during Christmas break, during which such operations do not take place in the US, as a donation to the Palestinian health system, and dedicated especially to eye patients from Gaza.

The inquiry by the medical center in Ramallah raised the concern that the exit of the patients from Gaza was being prevented by the Israeli authorities, and accordingly PHR-Israel on Sunday made an urgent request to the DCO in Gaza, responsible for issuing exit permits to patients. In its appeal to the DCO, PHR warned that preventing the exit of the vision-impaired patients for eye operations this week will necessarily cause them to lose the opportunity for cornea transplants in the near future, if ever, because the corneas designated for the transplants have a very short expiration date.

Despite this request, the Israeli authorities prevented the exit of the 17 patients for the operation on time. Five patients were not given any answer; two patients were summoned to investigations by the General Security Service (GSS), scheduled for dates later than the cornea expiration dates; two requests were rejected; and eight requests were approved only after media intervention, but after the corneas had already expired.

This case, with its far-reaching consequences for the vision-impaired patients who now lost the opportunity to repair their eyesight, illustrates the many difficulties that face the residents of Gaza who need medical care that is not available in the Gaza Strip. The delays, apathy and rejection by the Israeli authorities, which every month curtail the access of dozens of patients to medical care, had particularly severe significance in this case, because prevention of these patients' exit from Gaza caused the loss of the corneas (which can be transplanted within no more than 48 hours from the moment of donation). Now the patients will have to wait for another cornea donation, at an unknown time and likelihood.

Therefore, PHR-Israel strongly protests the blatant disregard of the Erez checkpoint authorities for the medical urgency of allowing the exit of patients for cornea transplant operations.

Hat tip to Ran Yaron at for this post!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

A Mideast Bond Through Pain and Healing

Marya, a Palestinian, and Orel, an Israeli, are 8-year-old neighbors at Jerusalem's Alyn Hospital.Hat tip to Ethan Bronner and photographer Rina Castelnuovo of the NY Times, for this poignant story about two hurt 8-year-old kids.

Volunteers who help [in Alyn Hospital, Jerusalem] are often religious Jews performing national service. Some ask Mr. Aman how he can live among the people whose army destroyed his family


“I have never felt there was a difference among people — Jews, Muslims, Christians — we are all human beings,” he says. “I worked in Israel for years and so did my father. We know that it is not about what you are but who you are. And that is what I have taught my children.”

Mr. Aman’s hospital door is rarely closed. Asher Franco, an Israeli Jew from Beit Shemesh who has been coming to the hospital for six months for his daughter’s treatments, was a recent visitor. They greeted each other warmly. A manual worker and former combat soldier, he was asked about their friendship.

“I was raised as a complete Zionist rightist,” he said. “The Arabs, we were told, were out to kill us. But I was living in some fantasy. Here in the hospital, all my friends are Arabs.” Ms. Elizarov, Orel’s mother, noted that in places like Alyn Hospital, political tensions do not exist. Then she said, “Do we need to suffer in order to learn that there is no difference between Jews and Arabs?”