Holocaust & Mavi Marmara survivor

Posted: October 17, 2010 in Hedy Epstein, Israel
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Hedy Epstein

We live in such a strange world. Everyone is led to believe that those who were on board the Mavi Marmara flotilla were some sort of hardened bloodthirsty militants only ready to kill and be killed.

Would it surprise you that there was in fact a Jewish holocaust survivor on board by the name of Hedy Epstein

The information on her reads :
(née Wachenheimer, 15 August 1924—) is an American political activist known for her support of the Palestinian cause through the International Solidarity Movement and for her background as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany[1] Born in Freiburg, Germany, she immigrated to the United States in 1948, and she currently resides in St. Louis, Missouri

I believe she has a testimony on “Ifamericaknew” web site. apparently she went over to demonstrate peacefully against the building of the Jewish wall. That the one they are slowly building across Palestinian land.

On her exit from Israel she was grabbed by the Israeli security and take to the police station where she was stripped searched inside and out. She was called a terrorist. Which by the way is used to describe anyone who disagrees with israeli policies.

 Hedy Epstein was Interviewed  by Mark Lieberman.   I post it as reported.

09 July, 2010

Hedy Epstein has been fighting the good fight for more than 60 of her 86 years. She escaped death in 1939 by being placed on one of the British-sponsored Kindertransport ships that carried more than 10,000 children to England and Northern Ireland.

Both her parents and almost all of her family perished at Auschwitz. Arriving in the US in 1948, she embarked on a lifelong campaign of conscience, speaking out for reproductive rights, fair housing and peace. She has raised her voice in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Cambodia. “My lesson [from the Holocaust] is that when I see injustice — I don’t care who is responsible — I must do what I can.”

In 1982, following the Israeli-sanctioned massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, her attention began to focus on Palestine and its suffering. In 2001 she founded the St. Louis chapter of Women in Black — the international women’s peace organization.

In 2009 she joined the 1,000 activists on the Gaza Freedom March, which attempted to enter Gaza from Egypt. During that march she embarked on a hunger strike in solidarity with the Palestinians. She has visited the Occupied Territories five times since 2003. Most recently she was in Cyprus offering logistical support for the Gaza flotilla.

According to the website discoverthenetworks.org, “She proudly reports that she has rewritten the post-Holocaust motto, ‘Never again!’: ‘As I stood next to the 25-foot high cement wall in Qalqilya, I coined this phrase: “Never Again (for Jews), Again by Jews”.”

Her autobiography, published in 1999, is fittingly titled “Remembering is Not Enough.” Shortly after her return to the US from Cyprus, Ms. Epstein spoke in an exclusive interview with Today’s Zaman.

Ms. Epstein, your critics claim that because you are a Holocaust survivor you should be especially sensitive to the survival of Israel. How do you reconcile that with your advocacy for Palestinian rights?

In some ways my being a Holocaust survivor has nothing to do with my criticism of Israel’s policies and practices. On the other hand, it is this very experience that has sensitized me to the suffering of others, especially of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli government and military. What is the lesson to be learned from the Holocaust? It is that the victims and their descendants should not become victimizers of “the other,” in this case, the Palestinians.

You describe yourself as “anti-Zionist.” What is the origin of that philosophy?

I was born in Freiburg, a village in the Black Forest. All the Jewish children belonged to a Zionist youth organization — I was the only one who didn’t belong, because my parents were anti-Zionist. When Hitler came to power in 1933, I was 8 years old. My parents very quickly realized that they had to leave Germany. They were willing to go anywhere in the world: “nur raus!” — just get out!

But they would not go to Palestine because they did not believe in Zionism. As a young child I did not completely understand Zionism or anti-Zionism — but if my parents were anti-Zionist, I was too.

In 1948, about the same time that Israel was created, I arrived in the US. I had mixed feelings then about Israel. On the one hand, I was glad that there was a place for Holocaust survivors who could not, or chose not to, return to their place of origin. But on the other hand, I remembered my parents’ anti-Zionism. What would happen I could not guess — but I feared that no good would come of the birth of the state of Israel. I was new to the US, having new experiences and new things to learn and Israel/Palestine stayed on the back burner of my interest and remained there until 1982, when I read about the Israeli-sanctioned massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. I knew that I needed to find out exactly what happened there. Who was responsible? Who had been adversely affected? What had happened between 1948 and 1982, when I was paying little attention to that part of the world?

As I learned more, I became increasingly disturbed by the policies and practices of the Israeli government and military vis-a-vis the Palestinians and their land. I began to speak out against these policies and practices.

In 2003 I went to the Israeli-occupied West Bank for the first time and have been back there five times since, most recently with the Gaza flotilla. I have tried unsuccessfully four times to enter Gaza, but permission has repeatedly been denied. They say that I am a “security risk”! An 86-year-old woman!

Earlier this month, you told The Guardian, “The mainstream American Jewish community almost speak in one voice and if you dare to criticize Israel you are called anti-Semitic and if you are Jewish you’re called self-hating, a traitor.” How do you react to accusations that advocating for human rights in Palestine equals anti-Semitism?

Naturally, being called a “self-hating Jew” or “a traitor” is not among my most pleasant experiences. However, such remarks have not and will not stop me from doing what my conscience tells me is the right thing to do.

Last year, when you were in Egypt as a member of the Gaza Freedom March, you said, “My message is for the world governments to wake up and treat Israel like they treat any other country and not to be afraid to reprimand and criticize Israel for its violent policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians.” Why do you believe there is such reluctance on the part of the world’s governments? What are they afraid of?

Fear of being accused of being anti-Semitic. … In Germany, guilt feelings about the Holocaust also play a significant role.

Despite the fact that there is a growing pro-Palestinian rights movement in Israel, the great majority of Israelis still believes that the current state of affairs in Gaza and Israeli policies are correct. Does this indicate a national apathy to suffering?

I believe this is changing, especially after the Israeli massacre in Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 and especially after the attack on the Gaza flotilla.

The average Israeli who is not politically savvy believes the government mantra that Israel is constantly under attack and is the victim — and he/she also believes in the demonization of the Palestinians. Most Israelis are not really aware of the extent of the suffering of the Palestinian people, who may live just a short distance from them.

Israelis do not visit the Occupied Territories because they have been ordered not to go there. Yes, there is apathy, of living smugly in a very small world, not knowing and not wanting to know what is really and truly taking place in their names.

What is the underlying reason for this national apathy?

There are several explanations: Fear of “the other,” who has been described as “a terrorist”… government-initiated PR … a complicit media that serves only as a government tool by misrepresenting the reality and plays on the existing fear by fear-mongering.

Are you satisfied with President Barack Obama’s response to the flotilla murders?

Absolutely not! Surely, he knows better. In his younger years, when he befriended Edward Said, Obama was clearly advocating for Palestinian rights. But when he came to the White House, he surrounded himself with pro-Israeli neocons like Rahm Emanuel. Where is President Obama’s backbone? Why is he so afraid of AIPAC — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee? Do the pro-Israel folks have something on Obama?

If you could meet President Obama what would you advise?

I will probably not have that opportunity, but if I did, I would ask only one question: “What would your mentor Edward Said say about your position on the Israeli-Palestine question?”

As you are certainly aware, Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognize Israel and, furthermore, Jews have enjoyed a climate of tolerance in Turkey for more than 500 years. Are you satisfied with the reaction of the Turkish government to the flotilla massacre? What advice would you give Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan?

Turkey’s reaction is much like what the reaction of what any other country would be in similar circumstances. The flotilla attack was an attack on the sovereignty of Turkey, but the relationship between Turkey and Israel has been deteriorating recently as a result of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s outspokenness. We can also recall the meeting between Israeli and Turkish diplomats at which the Turkish representative was purposely seated at a lower level than the Israeli.

But it would be presumptuous of me to give advice to the Turkish prime minister.

Are you optimistic about the future of Gaza?

I am an eternal optimist and so I continue to hope that some day Gaza and its people will be free and able to pursue their lives in dignity — a dignity that will prevail, despite all odds against them.

Finally, may I add a message of condolence to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims?

It is impossible to express the deep sympathy I feel for you. I wish so very much that I could lift the feelings of emptiness and disappointment from your hearts. It is very hard to understand why something like this had to happen. Life is so very unfair at times. Words are so inadequate at a time like this. I do want you to know that the memory of your loved ones is in my constant thoughts, as are you, who have lost so very much.

There will be many difficult times and tasks ahead of you. At this distance (I live in the United States) I don’t know what I can do to be of most help to you, but I hope you will give me the opportunity to be your friend by letting me know if there is any way that I can be of comfort and assistance to you.

Mark Lieberman is a lecturer at İstanbul Technical University

Now if even jewish holocaust survivors recognise that there is something seriously wrong with Israels policies, maybe we need to sit up and recognise it too?

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  1. Apparantly another passanger on the Mavi Marmara freedom flotilla was Hanin Zoabi. Who is an Arab Israeli member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

    Hanin Zoabi is the first woman to be elected to the Knesset as a representative of an Arab party. She was on the Mavi Marmara, the ship that was among those raided by the Israeli commandos. It was on her ship that the majority of the activists that were and that the commandos killed nine of the activists.

    When she returned to Israel to speak in the Knesset, she was verbally assaulted by parliament members for her participation in the flotilla.

    This is an intervew she gave :

    HANIN ZOABI:At half past four in the morning, when I saw fourteen Israeli ships approaching us, with helicopters, each ship with tens of soldiers, I thought to myself that this is not the kind of forces that’s to stop us. We are 600 passengers. Maybe less than a quarter of these forces, maybe less than tenth of these forces, can just prevent us very, very easily. And I was—I actually—maybe for the first time, I think, in my life, I was very afraid. And I thought to myself, this will not—the end of this will be a tragic [inaudible] end. It will not end without dead bodies.

    A helicopter attacked us, or a helicopter with soldiers just shoot—I cannot—I didn’t count. Maybe more than ten, twenty soldiers, or ten, came out from the helicopter. I couldn’t count. And they start—not the soldiers inside the helicopter, the soldiers inside the ship surrounding Marmara started to shoot. I don’t know if it is real bullets or it’s just noise bullets. I don’t realize, but all of us were in panic, all of us were afraid. And most of us enter the room.

    After ten minutes, two injured, seriously injured, went inside and sat on the floor, and they died after a while. Then, after twenty minutes, another three came inside. One died after a while. They were hurt in their neck, in their head, and in their stomach, in their stomach [inaudible]. And a fourth and a fifth man didn’t die. They just bleeded ’til death. I approached the soldiers with a sign in Hebrew asking them for medicine for—to give us some medical help for the two injured who are bleeding. I just for twenty minutes tried to approach them and tried to—and to ask them, and I did twice, also verbally and also by writing this sign. They refused to—they refused just to give us this support. And the two men died after maybe half an hour.

    AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe what happened when you went into the first Knesset meeting, the first parliament meeting, after the Israeli commando raid on the ship that you were a part of? What happened to you?

    HANIN ZOABI: During the first meeting, there was a hard aggression, and they called me “traitor” and “terrorist.” “Where are the knives? Where do you hide the knives?” You see, and even sexual—even sexual remarks, even things related to my age, even things related to the fact that I’m a single, I’m not a married woman. They said to me, “Go to Gaza. You are thirty-eight years old. Go, and we will see if you will manage to be in Gaza and to live in Gaza as a single woman, thirty-eight years old.” It was below any level. It was below not just unethical remarks and not just unhuman remarks. It was something that I never imagined to be in the Parliament. It was something unbelievable.

    They couldn’t argue with me on the political level. They couldn’t challenge my political discourse and claims. I was in a political activity. I am against siege. I am against occupation. What happened in the flotilla is not—this is what I said in the Knesset. What happened in the flotilla is not the big crime of Israel; this is the small crime of Israel. The big crime of Israel is the occupation and the siege. And I am against, and it’s my right to be active. This is what—this is what I am for in the Knesset. People didn’t vote for me just to sit down and just to agree with Israeli policies. I have a program. I have a political program. I have a vision of democracy. I am a citizen, and I take my citizenship seriously. I have a vision of equal rights between Arabs and Palestinians and Jews in Israel.

    AMY GOODMAN: Hanin Zoabi, were you physically shoved in the Knesset in that first meeting?

    HANIN ZOABI: Because there were tens of bodyguards around me, no one could touch me. Immediately, the guards inside the Knesset came and surrounded me. A lot of Knesset members approached me, also women, also men. And I think if I was a man, that two Knesset members—one from the Likud, one from Yisrael Beiteinu—wouldn’t reach me, wouldn’t come close to me. But because I am a woman, so also the woman Knesset member participated in this, first of all, [inaudible]. But because the bodyguards of the Knesset surround me and prevent them from approaching me.

    AMY GOODMAN: Did a Knesset house committee vote to revoke some of your privileges as a Knesset member?

    HANIN ZOABI: Yes, yes. My diplomatic passport will be revoked. The Knesset will not cover my legal fees. If my immunity be revoked for the price of criminal prosecution, so the Knesset will not cover these legal fees. And another thing elected to a special permission that I must have from the state when I travel outside, but what—it is unpractical—this is unpractical sanction. But the two practical sanctions is not covering my legal fees if my immunity be revoked for the purpose of criminal prosecution and, as I said, to prevent me from my diplomatic passport.

    AMY GOODMAN: Why did you join the flotilla?

    HANIN ZOABI: Actually, for me, it’s very taken for granted. For me, the right question to address to anyone is why you didn’t join the flotilla. But I joined the flotilla because I am against putting people in a big prison. I am against putting one-million-and-a-half people in an open-air prison without the right to travel outside, without the right of having food, or without the right of preventing the houses that the Israelis destroyed during the attack on Gaza. One hundred sixty-five schools were destroyed by the Israelis. One hundred and five manufacturers were destroyed, and without any opportunity for the Palestinians, because of the siege, to rebuild these houses and schools and manufacturers. So this is about dignity for human beings. This is about dignity of the men and women and children. This is about normal lives. This is about the freedom of people to live. This is about not oppressing people.

    AMY GOODMAN: Hanin Zoabi, more than 500 people have signed a Facebook page calling for your execution. Are you under armed protection now?

    HANIN ZOABI: Yes, I am. Yes, I am. I have two bodyguards who follow me.

    AMY GOODMAN: Are you afraid?

    HANIN ZOABI: I cannot say no, and I cannot say yes, because I don’t think about it. I just think about the responsibility I have. When I interview you, for example, I don’t think just about my political responsibility. I don’t think just about my human values that I should be loyal to. I also think about the nine people who have [been] killed. And I feel the responsibility, their responsibility. I feel that they shouldn’t be dead for nothing, that I have their story to tell, and that I have more responsibility than the 600 passengers who were on the ship, because I have the immunity that they wanted to take it from me, because I am a Knesset member, because I am a parliamentarian. And because I have tool and this powerful position, I have more responsibility from all of the 600 passengers who were on the ship. And I am glad—I just believe in this responsibility, and I want to do it without any hesitation.

    AMY GOODMAN: Are you sorry that you went on the Gaza flotilla?

    HANIN ZOABI: What do you think? Not at all. Not at all. And if they invite me again, I would do it again. I would participate again.

    From the http://www.democracynow.org/2010/6/9/palestinian_member_of_israeli_knesset_receives

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