24 February, 2010
The Gaza Ghetto At 2010
is a psychotherapist and counsellor. She is a former Israeli citizen
and a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. She recently moved
from Canberra Australia to the Scottish Highlands. Her website
is at: www.avigailabarbanel.me.uk
Growing up in Israel,
one of the most striking things I learned about the Holocaust
was that the Nazis were not just content to kill Jews. They wanted
to rob them of their human dignity, to dehumanise them. This policy
was particularly evident in the way the Nazis created and ran
their infamous ghettos. One of the most well-known of those was
the Warsaw ghetto.
The Warsaw ghetto was
created by sealing off a section of the city and trapping the
Jewish population within its walls. The wall that surrounded the
ghetto was 3.5 metres high and had barbed wire and broken glass
at the top. It took a long time and cost a lot of money to build.
The Gates were heavily guarded and the guards would shoot anyone
who tried to enter or leave without permission. The policy was
'shoot to kill because the lives of those inside the ghetto
had no value. They were walking dead, abandoned by the social
rules and laws that safeguarded human rights.
The Nazis had complete
control over the amount of food, water and other essentials that
were allowed into the ghetto. They dictated how much and what
was allowed in. Everything was rationed to create a deliberate
shortage, to make sure that there wasnt enough for everyone
and that nutrition was inadequate. As a child growing up in Israel
I read stories about peoples struggle to feed their children
in the ghetto. I remember how horrified and guilty I felt reading
a story about a mother trying to convince her reluctant daughter
to eat potato peels because thats all that was available.
Although I was so young, the mothers powerlessness in the
story was very clear to me.
Naturally life within
the ghetto deteriorated rapidly. With inadequate living conditions,
poor sanitation, no healthcare or medicine, overcrowding, shortage
of water, food and clothing, the signs began to show on the people.
Disease and death were rampant. Smuggling of food and essentials
into the ghetto became a vital function, at a great cost to those
volunteering to do the job. The black market flourished. Competition
over food turned some people ruthless as they were trying to help
themselves and loved-ones survive one more day. Mental health
deteriorated rapidly. The Nazis controlled the social and political
organisation of the ghetto and made sure that Jews turned against
one another. They created policies deliberately designed to elicit
and encourage the worst traits in human nature. Some Jews stole
from other Jews and some people betrayed others just to survive
another day. Worst of all, they had no idea what was going to
happen next, why it was done to them and when it was all going
Why did the Nazis do
this? Why go to all this trouble and cost, when what you really
plan to do is kill them all anyway? I think the answer lies in
the massive effort of Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda and in the policy
of allowing outsiders to get a peek into ghetto life. Ordinary
buses passed by the ghetto and people could catch a glimpse of
the people living in it. They were not allowed to get too close,
but they were close enough to see the filth and the deprivation.
They could see how dirty and pathetic people in the ghetto appeared,
how unhealthy and lost they looked.
Put any group of people
under impossible conditions and very soon what we think of as
human dignity begins to drop off. Dirty, poorly fed and dressed
people always look like they have less dignity than those who
are well groomed and well fed. In reality they do not have any
less dignity but humanity has always relied a bit too much on
outward appearances to make judgments about peoples character.
In any case the message to outside spectators of the Warsaw ghetto
was, 'You see? Thats what Jews are like. This is how they
Its well known
that dehumanising people makes it easier to kill them. It also
makes it easier for the killer to escape criticism. Dehumanisation
can even provide an excuse for killing. It makes the job of murder
seem almost desirable. The killer can be seen as helping the world
rid itself of problem people that no one really wants. Of course
the real reasons for killing have nothing to do with the dignity
of the other. But making your victims look less human is certainly
good for propaganda. It also helps to convince your own soldiers
and bureaucrats that those they are killing are not as human as
you, that they are therefore dangerous and dont deserve
Reading Sara Roys
report, 'Gaza: Treading on Shards (17th February), I noticed
that what Israel has been doing in Gaza is chillingly similar
to what the Nazis did in Warsaw and in its other ghettos. I dont
think that the citizens of Gaza have any less dignity than anyone
else. Perhaps they even have more. I dont know how they
survive and how they get up every morning and keep going. As a
mental health professional I can only guess at what these people
actually feel from moment to moment and what long term damage
is being done to them. We already know that all the children in
Gaza suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Everyone in Gaza
would have lost someone close to Israeli bombings. There is bound
to be unimaginable grief there.
How do you hold on
to your sense of hope and meaning when your life is reduced to
living on scraps, when you cant feed your children or keep
them safe, and when you have absolutely no control over what is
happening to you; and worst of all, how do you keep going when
you are incarcerated indefinitely with no chance of escape, and
when so few in the outside world care about what is happening
Most people would agree
that what the Nazis did was monstrous and wrong, that ghettos
were inhumane and should never have been allowed to exist in the
first place. So why is the Gaza ghetto allowed to exist in 2010?
Why is Israel allowed to dehumanise, control, humiliate and murder
1.5 million people and get away with it? Israel is breaking every
human rights law conceivable in the way it treats the citizens
of Gaza, and no one stops it.
Israel and Jewish institutions
around the world work so hard to make sure that the Holocaust
isnt forgotten. Holocaust Memorial Day is a big deal even
here in Britain. Research into the Holocaust goes on. New perspectives
and facts are revealed all the time and are taught to the world,
so that 'we never forget. We may not have forgotten the
Holocaust but we have learned nothing at all from it. There is
absolutely no difference between the citizens of Gaza and the
Jews of the Warsaw ghetto. These are all human beings like you
and me. Of course the majority of Israeli Jews dont think
so. They consider the Palestinian people on the whole and Gazas
citizens in particular, to be a lower form of life, a 'less than.
But those of us less brainwashed can and should recognise the
humanity and dignity of Gazas citizens, and their innocence.
Europe and the US were
all complicit in the Holocaust by not reading the signs in advance.
They allowed the gradual escalation of the Nazi regimes
institutionalised and legalised human rights violations against
Jews; an escalation that was building up to mass extermination.
By the time the ghettos were created, things had already gone
too far but still, no one who had the power to make a difference
did anything. The Jews were nobodies then, and now the Palestinians
are suffering the same fate. Just like European Jews, the Palestinians
are ordinary people caught in the grip of a murderous regime bent
on destroying them for its own reasons. The Palestinians are todays
nobodies, and no one who has the power to change anything cares
World leaders not only
choose to say and do nothing. They openly embrace Israels
anti-Palestinian propaganda. Looking at the suffering people of
Gaza they see people who appear to the outside to have no dignity.
Gazans are portrayed as less than human, ruthless, devious, blood-thirsty
Jew and American-hating extremists, undesirables. Its much
easier to kill undesirables and get away with it, or just turn
a blind eye to their endless suffering and subsequent death. Back
in the 30s and 40s, Europe and the US could have excused their
inaction by saying they were busy fighting a war. What is the
Israel is intent on
destroying Gaza eventually, however long it takes. Its policies
there are not random. They are calculated and systematic and they
are leading somewhere. In the meantime Israel is busy desensitising
an already largely uncaring world by slowly escalating its policies
and the violations and injustice they cause (not just in Gaza
but against the whole Palestinian population). Why its doing
it is the subject of psychological analysis and another article.
Israels agenda may not be based on Nazi-style 'race science
but Israels actions are very similar and their outcomes
are leading in the same direction as the outcomes of Nazi anti-Jewish
Lets just not
say we didnt know or didnt read the signs. Good, honest
people like Sara Roy must continue to write and report so that
in the future if people wake up and begin to ask questions, our
leaders wouldnt be able to say that they didnt know
what was going on.
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