Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
August 20, 2001
Victims of oppression are new oppressors
One peaceful day in May, I was playing with my younger sister in the street in front of our home. I was five years old. The traffic at that time consisted of bicycles, horse-drawn wagons and the pushcarts of vendors, which left the street a safe place for children to play.
All of a sudden a screeching noise broke the normal tranquility as a small airplane came diving out of the sky. While we craned our necks to identify the source of the racket, we were lifted up by strong adult arms and swiftly carried off to the house across from our own.
I remember standing in the hallway, looking through the small window in the neighbour's front door, to make sure our own home hadn't vanished and hoping for a sign of life from my parents, for surely, we had been kidnapped.
The man who rescued us from a possible aerial attack was an officer in the Navy and a Jew. As the war unfolded, he was picked up and taken to a concentration camp, where he died.
I never had a chance to thank him, but the image of him jumping over the small front yard gate with us dangling in his arms, will remain with me always.
After the Holocaust, there was a general reflection about how the Jews had been dispersed and mistreated for centuries and the world agreed that the surviving Jews had a right to a homeland where they could live in peace.
Who knows, this might have been mixed with other feelings motivated by a consensus to get rid of the Jewish problem one way of the other. It wasn't till Pope John XXIII, for instance, that we deleted the reference to "perfidious Jews" in our liturgy.
The logical place for such a homeland was Palestine, the biblical Promised Land from which the Jews had been scattered. The problem was of course that this land was inhabited by generations of Palestinians.
With massive U.S. assistance the territory was cleared of undesirables and opposition and the state of Israel was declared a little over 50 years ago. Jews, who had experienced centuries of oppression, turned around and became the oppressors.
Like the occupation of the American West, the aboriginal population was annihilated or pushed out of the way to extend the frontiers and make room for new settlers.
From their refugee camps, the exiled Palestinians made their claims for a return of their homeland. But siding with their cause was deemed un-American, politically incorrect and decidedly anti-Semitic.
The guilt of the Holocaust had robbed us of the will or ability to speak out with integrity. The feeling was that criticism of ongoing brutalities should come from the Jewish community itself.
Surely, their long religious tradition as the chosen people of God, would open the eyes of some brave person to recognize that sacred covenants had been broken. Paradoxically, it is the most orthodox on both sides who insist on stepped-up violence. Palestinian response to the sophisticated weaponry has been primitive. Children throw rocks at Israel's heavy metal and young zealots sacrifice themselves as living time bombs in the marketplace.
Last year, Israel elected Ariel Sharon to lead it to victory. This hard-nosed general, known as "the butcher," stands accused of mass murder and war crimes for his role in a three-day massacre of some 2,000 Palestinian refugees in 1982.
What should give us pause is that he was assisted by the Lebanese Phalangist militia. This time Sharon has let it be known that he wants no interference from anyone as he is about to bomb the enemy into submission.
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