The war on Gaza – two essays by Gideon Levy

The war on Gaza, 2014. Photo: NBC

JVL Introduction

We try not to focus on Israel and the occupation here. There are other websites whose central concern that is.

But in the face of the latest bombings of Gaza and before this Saturday’s national demonstration in support of the Palestinians we have to comment; we do so by way of republishing two recent articles by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy. Cause for reflection…


Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) in Israel falls on the 27th day of Nisan, 2nd May this year in the western calendar.

In two blistering pieces Gideon Levy inveighs against what Israel is doing and what Israel has become.

Not afraid to tread on toes, oblivious of what the IHRA definition of antisemitism says you can or can’t say, Levy dares to make direct comparisons between what happened to Jews and what Israel is doing to the Palestinians in Gaza

In On This Holocaust Remembrance Day, Let Us Forget he writes

“I have yet to hear a single teenager come back from Auschwitz and say that we mustn’t abuse others the way we were abused. There has yet to be a school whose pupils came back from Birkenau straight to the Gaza border, saw the barbed-wire fence and said, Never again. The message is always the opposite. Gaza is permitted because of Auschwitz.”

In The Gaza Ghetto Uprising he writes

Half a week after Holocaust Remembrance Day,  the knowledge that 2 million people have been locked up more than 12 years behind barbed wire in a giant cage doesn’t remind Israel of anything and doesn’t arouse anything.


On This Holocaust Remembrance Day, Let Us Forget

Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz
2nd May 2019

The most appropriate thing to do on Holocaust Remembrance Day would be to revisit the unforgettable piece written by Yehuda Elkana in Haaretz in the spring of 1988, called “The Need to Forget.” Instead of a thousand Marches of the Living, this article should be studied in every school; instead of the host of ceremonies there should be a public debate about this essay.

Elkana, a brilliant intellectual who was an Auschwitz survivor, said there is no greater risk to the future of the State of Israel than forcibly instilling the memory of the Holocaust. “What are children supposed to do with this experience? … Remember for what purpose? … ‘Remember’ can be interpreted as a call to blind, ongoing hatred. … For our part, we must learn to forget. I see no more important political and educational task for the leaders of this nation than to take the side of life, to dedicate ourselves to building our future and not to be preoccupied morning and night with symbols, ceremonies and lessons of the Holocaust.”

Elkana was a prophet; as he predicted and warned, Holocaust memory has turned into incitement to hatred. Tens of thousands of teenagers and soldiers have since traveled to Auschwitz and come back haters. They hate the world, the Poles, the Germans, the Arabs and the foreigners; they love themselves, wallow in their disaster and believe only in their own power. That’s the “remembrance,” and that’s what we need to forget.

In his essay, Elkana stated that democracy is put at risk when the memory of the victims participates actively in the democratic process. Thirty-one years later, the Holocaust is flourishing in the democratic process, whose cracks are becoming wider since the right wing appropriated it for its needs and propaganda. First they made the national flag and anthem right-wing, and now the Holocaust as well.

In our childhood, we didn’t want to hear about the Holocaust because they taught us to be embarrassed by it; now its distorted lessons are alienating anyone who doesn’t want [to] live in a militaristic state of hatred. Remembering the Holocaust is now for nationalists only. There’s no universal conclusion or moral lesson. It didn’t have to be this way.

I have yet to hear a single teenager come back from Auschwitz and say that we mustn’t abuse others the way we were abused. There has yet to be a school whose pupils came back from Birkenau straight to the Gaza border, saw the barbed-wire fence and said, Never again. The message is always the opposite. Gaza is permitted because of Auschwitz.

The conclusion is that Elkana was even more correct than it seemed back then: We have to forget as quickly as possible and make others forget to the degree possible. The time has come to get past the past. We needn’t erase it, but put it in its place; it’s over. It cannot serve as a primary guide to the present and future, certainly not in the crooked way it is being presented.

The legacy of the Holocaust has caused Israel fateful damage; it solidified nationalism and validated militarism instead of shaping humanism, justice, morality and compliance with international law, which in Israel 2019 are considered treason or weakness. Elkana was convinced that Holocaust memory was the source of existential anxiety and it was this that led to hatred of Arabs.

But in this he erred, I think. It’s not fear that drives the hatred and racism toward Arabs, but rather the opposite, the self-victimization. After the Holocaust we are permitted to do anything, and of course, only with force.

During Thursday’s memorial siren I will once again imagine that I’m seeing a large fire, a conflagration. Since my childhood I’ve viewed the siren as a fire that consumes human beings. I will think about Sofie and Hugo, my grandparents, whose names are listed on a wall in a Prague synagogue among the names of other victims, and I will see them burning. I will not think about the soldiers from the paratroopers’ battalion that I met three weeks ago when they were conducting an exercise with the German army in a Bavarian forest near Nuremberg, who all declared how important it is that Israel be strong. If that’s the lesson, let’s forget it.


The Gaza Ghetto Uprising

Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz
5th May 2019

A boy plays football next to a mural painted by Palestinian artist Ali Al-Jabali in the remains of a building that was damaged during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, in Gaza City, April 30, 2019. Hatem Moussa/

The cruelty and temerity of the people in Gaza once more reached new heights Saturday: dozens of rockets on Israel before the week of its Independence Day, just after its Holocaust Remembrance Day, and worst of all, two weeks before its Eurovision. How dare you Gaza, how dare you.

Israel still hasn’t recovered from the Holocaust, is preening itself for its Independence Day, the musicians are starting to arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport, and you’re firing Qassam rockets. How will we be able to celebrate? News reports give the impression that Israel is under siege; Gaza is threatening to destroy it. Twitter has already suggested “Eva’s Story on the Gaza Border” – a play on the social media campaign about the Holocaust.

Pundits explain that it’s all because of Hamas’ greed. Ramadan is beginning and “they’re under crazy pressure for cash.” Or, “It’s all because of the weak security policy that has gotten the terror groups used to Israel; we only strike buildings.”

And so they shoot, those villains. Hamas wants money, Israel’s too soft on them, they are terror, we are peace; they were born to kill. On Friday the army killed four protesters by the Gaza border fence, but who’s counting. In Israel a teenage boy tripped while running for a shelter. “When a lack of policy and continuity yields to blackmail,” a voice of wisdom mumbled, and nobody could figure out what he was proposing. Benny Gantz, the alternative. This is what we have an opposition for.

Everything is completely disconnected from context and reality, intentionally and willfully. Half a week after Holocaust Remembrance Day,  the knowledge that 2 million people have been locked up more than 12 years behind barbed wire in a giant cage doesn’t remind Israel of anything and doesn’t arouse anything. Half a week before Independence Day, the struggle for freedom and independence of another people is perceived as murderous terror for no reason.

Even the desperate attempt to prevent the brink of starvation is perceived as greed; the effort to somehow impart the appearance of a holiday in the holiest month of the year is depicted as extortion. That’s how low the brainwashing goes and no one protests. Everyone accepts it with a shrug.  Anyone who doubts how hollow and destructive the inculcation of the Holocaust is in Israel should look at the responses in Israel to this Gaza Ghetto Uprising. Anyone who ignores the reality in Gaza or tries to deny its disaster has learned nothing.

Gaza is a ghetto and what’s happening in the south is a ghetto uprising. There’s no other way to describe it. You can make claims against Hamas but you can’t make any claims against Gaza. It’s fighting for its freedom and no struggle is more just than its struggle, and Hamas is its leader.

The countdown to Hamas’ death has already begun: Only seven more months until the UN report, until Gaza is unfit for human habitation. But Israel yawns and its spokespeople only know how to tout “deterrence,” that monster we’ve created to justify every killing, closure and bout of destruction, as we lie ourselves to death that there’s something to deter 2 million unemployed, desperate, humiliated people, some of whom are hungry or dying for lack of medical care, and all of whom are locked up.

No one in Israel can imagine life in Gaza over the past 12 years. There are people who see to it that we don’t know, including Israel’s ban on the entry of Israeli journalists, which has stoked no protest at all. “Eva’s Story” should be filmed in Gaza way before it’s filmed in the Gaza border area.

A country that is established on the memory of the ghettos, which only a few days ago sanctified that memory, hides its face from the much larger ghetto that it built with its own hands and doesn’t want to see, one hour from the center of that country. A country that was established in a bloody struggle will not recognize the justness of the struggle of another people and wonders whether that people even exists. A society that considers itself exemplary, which was established on the world’s indifference to its suffering, shows monstrous heartlessness to the suffering it is causing.

“What were they before?” a woman asked me Friday in a lecture I gave in Tel Aviv. And what were we? What have we become?

Comments (2)

  • Sara says:

    The racist corrupt Israeli government has used the Holocaust for years to hide behind when they commit terrible atrocities, deny the Palestinians help, medicines, food and target innocent people. They use their huge arsenal of weapons upon them and indiscriminately kill and murder thousands. The Israeli government have completely lost any moral authority and should answer for their crimes. They bring shame.

  • Richard Hayward says:

    Tremendously brave and moving truth-telling.

    Thanks, JVL, for that.

    We often hear in other contexts about ‘moving on’. This sort of perception is the way in which it can be done.

Comments are now closed.