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Making the deserts bloom is not enough

By John Ebel - posted Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Palestinian cousins and fellow human beings, I heard your cry of pain and despair. You have my compassion in these tragic and terrible times.

I know what oppression and suffering is. I came to Australia at the age of 12 from Poland. My mother is a Nazi concentration camp survivor and both my mother's and father's families were virtually obliterated during the Holocaust - only one member of each, large extended family, apart from my parents, survived after World War II.

I was lucky enough to be born at all and grow up after the war in a provincial, although rather cosmopolitan, city in the south of Poland. I grew up among Poles, Germans, Jews and Gypsies and even though Jewish, feel part of each culture surging through me, as I do of Australian, Russian, and European.


That photo of the 12-year-old Palestinian boy, Rami, has haunted me - huddling next to his father, shot in cold blood by a volley of bullets. To me, that photo encapsulated what you Palestinians have had to endure since events during World War II in far away Europe, not of your own making, brought a calamity upon you.

As you know, the Jews were an oppressed and persecuted people before and, barbarously, during World War II, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe. Most were attracted to humanistic and egalitarian creeds which, if not always in practice at least in theory, propagated ideas of universalism, internationalism, cosmopolitanism and the sisterhood and brotherhood of all of humanity.

It was only after the war that the idea of establishing a Jewish state persuaded the remaining survivors of an almost annihilated community to opt for settling in Israel. Many, unfortunately, were totally ignorant of the fact that your people inhabited that area. I remember being in shock when I first came to Australia and met some Australian Jews trying to convince me that the dispossession of the Palestinians was justified, because the settlers “made deserts bloom”.

But, I thought that if the Arabs lived there they had the right to use it in whatever appropriate way they wanted. Why should advanced technology give any people, any nation, the right to dispossess another. (Like most people at the time, I was not yet aware that Palestinians existed as a separate national identity.) The 1967 War was for me a revelation, what some philosophers refer to as an epistemological break, and made me realise the evil that nationalist ideology causes.

To see my people, who know what oppression is, celebrating the successful imposition of oppression on other people who happen to be Palestinian, fills me with revulsion and nausea. My father was imprisoned in pre-war Poland for shooting at Polish fascists, with a starting pistol mind you. He got six months in a fetid, torture chamber of General Pilsudski. But then you Palestinians know all about prisons. I read about the dismantling of a horrible torture chamber run under the aegis of Israel in Southern Lebanon.

I know arguments will be presented from some people of my so-called Jewish side, particularly ardent right-wing Zionists, presenting a litany of atrocities committed by your side. I know that I will argue that the military might and brutal repression employed against the Palestinians is completely unjustified, simply over the top to put it mildly. I will also question as to where it is all leading, for what infinite time will it last.


I am also very concerned about its corrosion of and repercussions on Jewish identity and Jewish sense of history. For me, what the Israeli state has been doing to your people since 1948 is a betrayal of Jewish history, which is overwhelmingly one of an oppressed and downtrodden people.

At night and in my waking hours, I often ask myself: what right have the leaders of Israel to appropriate the legacy of the Holocaust, memories of my dead uncles, aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers, and all my cousins, when they behave like the oppressors and tyrants that caused their deaths.

Will the killing ever stop? I, too, at present sometimes despair. Despair, however, is not an emotion that I find will achieve anything other than maintain the present continuation of the status quo. I feel angry: angry for what is done by some people in the name of our whole people - by these brutal generals like Sharon, responsible for the Shatila and Sabra massacres, who have falsely promised the Israeli people that they will lead them out of the morass of wars, liberate them.

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About the Author

John Ebel was born in Poland, his mother is a Holocaust survivor and he maintains a psychotherapeutic practice (existentialist psychoanalysis). John has a particular interest in reconciliation between Palestinians and Jews.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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