Paul Eisen

Paul Eisen

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Greatest Dissident of Our Time

This film is about Ernst Zundel, in my view, the greatest dissident of our time.

While Noam Chomsky was in MIT complaining that he wasn't getting enough op-ed pieces in the New York Times, Ernst Zundel was defending the indefensible in a Toronto courthouse and clearing the rubble in his firebombed house. While Aung San Suu Kyi was giving press conferences to a breathlessly waiting world, Ernst Zundel was serving five years in a German prison.

Truth is, it's one thing to be a feted and admired Nelson Mandela, it's quite another to be an isolated and despised Ernst Zundel.

But why his struggle is so important? Leaving aside the shining example of his courage, there is also the question of his message. The Holocaust not only defames the German people, it also defames pretty well everyone. I’m going to quote myself:

“The German and Austrian peoples who, we are told, conceived and perpetrated the slaughter; the Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Rumanian, Hungarian, peoples etc., etc who supposedly hosted, assisted in and cheered on the slaughter ; the Americans, the British, the French, the Dutch, the Belgians, the Italians (but not the Danes and the Bulgarians) etc. who apparently didn’t do enough to stop the slaughter; the Swiss who earned out of the slaughter and the entire Christian world who, it seems, created the faith-traditions and ideologies in which the slaughter could take place – and now the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim peoples who seemingly want to perpetrate a new slaughter – in fact, the Holocaust oppresses the entire non-Jewish world and indeed much of the Jewish world as well.”

And not only that, it legitimizes the assaults on Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Iran - you name it.  So there you go.

I'd read about Ernst and I'd written about him but it was only two years ago that I met him. He was soft-spoken, kind and gentle but every so often you could see the flash of steel. He'd just been released from prison and was engaged in rebuilding his ancestral home. It's a peasant's house in the Black Forest, in the  heart of Germany - been there for two-hundred and fifty years - and it had housed his woodcutter father, his large family and the young Ernst. Never have I seen an edifice so rooted in the land. Like Ernst himself, it seemed to grow out of the soil.

Anyway, here's the first episode of the film. It was made by Ernst's wife, soul-mate and fellow struggler, Ingrid. Watch it and then watch the other episodes.

Episodes 2-7

Monday, 23 July 2012

The Sun Always Sets on Deir Yassin

Dr Esti Rimmer wrote this after attending the 2001 Deir Yassin commemoration at the Peacock theatre in London. I haven't seen her since but I hope she won't mind my publishing this piece.
Deir Yassin from Yad Vashem - The bodies of the victims are thought to be buried under the water cooler (top centre-left)
I may be one of the few Israelis who could never forget Deir Yassin for the simple reason that I could see the ruined village from my bedroom window, all through my childhood and growing up years. Every night before I went to bed I would witness one of those glorious spectacular sunsets over the Jerusalem hills and would see the red fire ball of the sun slowly descend over Deir Yassin. My window was facing west and our apartment block was on the eastern slope of the valley, opposite the village of Deir Yassin.

Our neighbourhood was made up of these new apartment blocks built in the 1950s to house new immigrants and second-generation children of immigrants or refugees of lower-middle class, hard working Israelis. Many teachers, civil servants and nurses lived on those little flats in this new and vibrant community, ironically named Yeffe Nof - “beautiful view”. The stunning view from the windows, which made up for the modesty of the flats and the lack of lifts and central heating in the cold and windy Jerusalem winters, was the view of Deir Yassin.

As children we used to roam those hills, jumping between the beautifully stoned terraces of cultivated land were almond trees, olive trees and apple trees would each year blossom and give their fruits freely to us delighted children. Such an idyllic setting our parents thought to bring us up in as a new generation of children who will fear no persecution and would be able to run around in the hot caressing sun, barefoot and carefree.

However, the questions remained unanswered, who planted the trees and cultivated the valley? Certainly not our parents who were busy building a new Jerusalem, civil and urban society. And why was this village left to ruin? And where were the people? There was no one to answer these questions, not a teacher, a parent, a youth leader, not a sign, a mark, a stone to tell the story.

From my window, if you stretched your neck further south, you could see the hills on your left. The lower one Mount Hertzel Military Cemetery, the higher one Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. As children we would visit, every year on Memorial Day - the day before Independence Day, the military cemetery.

Dressed in blue and white we would carry flowers and blue and white flags to put on the brave soldiers’ graves. We would sing songs and hear prayers recited, we would see the parents of the these soldiers with vacant looks in their eyes, often dry of tears looking at us school children from the same school their sons and daughters went to before they were sent to war. Somehow, I could always spot the bereaved parents from the rest of the adults. The way they held their bodies, their gestures, awkward, stiff, frozen, as if they were there and not there. Later they would be the parents of my friends and classmates.

And on Holocaust Memorial days, our neat little group of blue and white school children carrying more flowers would march higher up the hill to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. There we would come upon that nameless dread, the nightmares after seeing the children’s eyes in the photos in the museum, the silence the adults would hush into when someone mentioned the ‘camps’. My father’s inability to talk about his perished family drove him to an early grave. My mother used to tell me more about her family, her childhood, her parents’ house and wine shop, and the vineyards owned by her grandfather from which the wine was manufactured. All lost, never to be retrieved but not forgotten.
Yet, no one mentioned Deir Yassin to me. It was as if the village, so prominent in my view, never existed.
Later as a young  psychology student, I would visit the mental hospital set up on the hill of Deir Yassin, Kfar Shaul, the village of Saul.  Another naming irony, for which Israelis are so famous. Saul the mad, melancholic king who suffered from the bad spirits giving his name to a place set up to heal the tortured souls who survived the camps. I would walk along the small cabins of the hospital which housed the fortunate of unfortunate survivors whose souls had long ago been murdered and make feeble attempts at conversation, at some normality and at some possibility of rehabilitation. And I wondered, did those restless tormented souls know that the safe haven they had come to be healed in and freed from memories of massacres, had seen another massacre, the one that took place in the village around whose destroyed houses their rehabilitation hospital was set up? I have already come to learn of it from the little that slipped through the walls of silence and to mourn even the loss of the beautiful view of the ruined village, which was later covered up by petrol tanks.

So can anybody forget the view of their childhood, the scene outside their bedroom window, which is etched in their mind’s eye? My mother’s was fertile hills and grapevines of Transylvania, mine the charred and destroyedvillage of Deir Yassin.

I grew up in a country established by people who are so good at remembering. The Jewish faith is marked by days of remembrance. It is memory that keeps us as human beings superior to other species. Yet, my neighbourhood Yeffe-Noff was built on the denial of memory. “Look at the beautiful view” but don’t see and don’t accept that the children of the old and sick people in the hospital are the ones responsible for uprooting, expelling, exiling, killing, tormenting and humiliating other people’s children.

But can we allow ourselves not to open our eyes and see all there is to see in the valley between Yad Vashem, with its lists of names of victims and acknowledgments of responsibility by torturers, and Deir Yassin’s ruined stones with no list of names, no memorial services, no candles, no flowers and no children of survivors coming to see the horrors with their trusting and innocent eyes, and no acknowledgment of responsibility by the perpetrators? If not, the whole of the land of my childhood will be covered with Mount Hertzel like graveyards, the few survivors wondering with their lost souls in the corridors of hospitals. And the olive and almond and apple trees will give fruit to nobody’s children.


In a comment on deLiberation I mentioned that I found Gilad's "Anti-Zionist Zionist"  a 'poor description'. another commentator asked me to elaborate - so here goes:

First, the term ignores an important distinction between the relatively recent (but ongoing) crime of Jewish supremacism in stealing Palestine from the Palestinians and other, older examples of Jewish abuse of non-Jews. The most noticeable of these is the Jewish role in the crimes of Bolshevism against the Russian and other Eastern European peoples and the horrific (and also ongoing) crimes against the German people. Zionism, as I understand the term, refers to Jewish notions of political nationhood and the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Neither the crime against the Russians nor the crime against the Germans were specifically crimes of Zionism.

I also think the term is inaccurate. I've met loads of Jewish Marxists who claim to be anti-Zionists (In fact few non-Jewish anti-Zionists can match the bile with which these Jews express themselves on the subject) and as far as I can see, they are indeed what they claim to be - they really do hate Israel and Zionism. The fact that this is an essentially family squabble about which group of Jews will lead the Jewish supremacist movement is immaterial - the anti-Zionist Jews really are anti-Zionist.

The other commentator didn't agree and, in a previous exchange, offered some very well-chosen examples of how Jewish anti-Zionists will adopt positions that end up protecting Israel. Of course he's right and he gave the example of how Jewish anti-Zionists will violently object to any notions of American foreign policy being dictated by the Jewish lobby. These anti-Zionist Jews insist that American foreign policy is just part of general, all-round American imperialism.

But this is not protecting Israel or Zionism - it is protecting Jewish power from proper scrutiny - the fact that Israel may benefit from it is just collateral damage - a price that has to be paid to secure their own brand of Jewish supremacism. Sure, on this occasion they're acting like Zionists but to use this to designate them as Zionists seems to me to be confusing.

Of course, it could be argued that unconsciously these anti-Zionist Zionists really DO want to protect Israel because, although they may not much like it, Israel is still a Jewish endeavour and therefore must be protected. I would be the last to argue against the power of  unconscious motivations and there is something in this point. But the term as it stands, with its complete lack of accompanying analysis in our debates - serves only to mislead. The same goes for the notion that in the term 'anti-Zionist Zionist' the word 'Zionist' is used as an all-round word for Jewish supremacism much as Lenin used it when he described the Bund (The AZZs of his time) as "Zionists with sea-sickness".

And this brings me onto my second reason why I dislike the term

It, and its even worse abbreviation of  'AZZs', is just one more slogan. It joins 'one-state', 'two state', 'Free free Palestine', and the ever-ghastly Zio-this and Zio-that as just something to chant at demonstrations and spatter the comments columns of internet journals. True, they're  easy to write and even easier to chant but, in the absence of any proper and accompanying analysis, what do they really mean? And how do they advance the debate?

We need properly developed ideas - not soundbites.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

A Memorial at Deir Yassin

Deir Yassin Remembered has long dreamt of a memorial to Deir Yassin, at the site of the village itself. But it has also long accepted that this is unlikely to be realized in the near or medium future. It would require both huge funding and Israeli permission, neither of which is at present, available.  

Nor might such a memorial be entirely desirable. Amidst the present injustice, a memorial now at Deir Yassin could at best, be a diversion from, and at worst, even a legitimization of the injustice. An Israeli government could well say to us at some time in the future,
“Sure, go build your memorial!” and, when built, they could use it to show visitors, en route to pay homage to Jewish suffering at Yad Vashem.
But a truthful memorial at the village, in clear sight of the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem, might be not only a way out of the current horror, but the only way out.   

And why Deir Yassin? Because, apart from being an enduring symbol of Palestinian life, history and survival and of the relationship between the suffering of Jews and Palestinians, Deir Yassin is a symbol of exactly who did, and is doing, what and to whom.

Jewish theologian Marc Ellis has written about a "revolutionary forgiveness" - a forgiveness with truth and justice at its centre, and therefore far removed from the realms of fake piety. This is not Jews and Palestinians holding hands in a peace tent. The road to Deir Yassin is a hard one.

Such a forgiveness lies well with Arab and Islamic reconciliation traditions and indeed our own common sense, that before reconciliation can take place, both perpetrator and victim must acknowledge the truth.
Ellis proposes that this forgiveness take place in what he calls "the broken middle of Jerusalem". Those of us committed to the memory and meaning of Deir Yassin agree, but, rejecting false notions of ‘balance’, we ask that it take place, not quite in the middle, but slightly off-centre at the village of Deir Yassin.