Amira Hass / Some free advice for Israel's lawmakers
Take note: even in communist Romania, people were willing to take risks for the sake of justice.
Last week, an Israeli woman I know drove a Palestinian woman to the western side of the separation barrier - not for a day of fun in Tel Aviv, as a few Israeli Jewish women do regularly, but due to urgent, unfortunate personal reasons. The police, at the behest of right-wing activists, summoned the transgressors for questioning. In Jewish and democratic Israel the Israeli women are double offenders. They transport Palestinian women without that piece of paper that only Palestinians are required to carry, and bring them out via one of the roads that are open to anyone in the world except for the legal owners of the land on which they were built.
That reminds me: In 1977 I found myself in Romania during the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. Among his many prohibitions in the name of socialism was a ban on hosting foreigners. But I had grown very close to a young couple with a baby who lived in a matchbox in a crowded Bucharest tenement. "Ceausescu can't tell me who can sleep in my apartment," Vera said defiantly as she made up a cot for me in their narrow kitchen. We lost touch after a few years, but her courage still warms my heart. I recall that one could be fined the equivalent of one or two months' wages and earn another black mark from the Securitate. I don't remember even asking about the punishment for the tourists.
When I returned, a few months later, a nosy neighbor made a remark. I don't know whether he was a proud right-winger, but my friend was from a Jewish family and as a member of the Communist underground her father had sat in a Fascist jail, in the same cell as Ceausescu (and beat him at chess, according to the family folklore ). After 1956 her father (Pavel Campeanu ) left his high position in the party for academia, where he enriched us with theoretical research on Stalinism.
Later on I stayed, clandestinely, with another family, Hungarian Jews who were also party members. They too knew that one must set limits to obedience and fear. They had two rooms, with a separate entrance, for rent. A driver who worked all day lived in one of them. They didn't fear that he would report them, and they refused to take money from me for the month I lived with them, without being caught.
A friend of Vera's family was less lucky. She played host, in her Bucharest home, to a French couple that had hidden her in their home in France during the Nazi occupation. Her crime was discovered and she was forced to pay a huge sum from her meager pension. Neither the time she had spent in a Romanian jail, as a Communist, nor her story about having being rescued by the couple could save her. The law is the law. This is being mentioned here as an additional source of inspiration to some of our Knesset members.
My family's past is besmirched with similar crimes. There is no space here to cite them all, so we will make do with a particular favorite.
In 1941 my mother's brother and his family fled from Sarajevo to the area of the Italian occupation in Dalmatia. To facilitate the capture of "partisans' nests," nonresidents were detained and sent to Italy. My uncle's family, together with friends and acquaintances, lived as captives in deluxe conditions in Asolo, a small town in northern Italy. Everyone knew they were Jewish and it did not bother anyone, so it seems. They were thus spared the fate that awaited the rest of the family, including my mother - a Gestapo jail, concentration camps and gas chambers.
After Italy surrendered to the Allies, in September 1943, it was conquered by the German army. The first mission of my uncle's family was to obtain new identity cards, without their incriminating real names. "The only people we could think of and knew, in a position to issue such documents, worked in the municipal office in Asolo," my cousin Jasha Levi, who was 22 at the time, wrote in his memoir, recently published in the U.S. as "The Last Exile: The Tapestry of a Life."
They "decided to take a chance on the mayor, Il Podesta" - Ernesto Pasini. They sent their friend Zdenka, "bella, bionda, grassa - beautiful, blonde, and ample - the contemporary Italian man's ideal of desirable womanhood" to persuade him. It is not clear whether the mayor was a willing member of the Fascist party, but he was a mayor under a Fascist regime that was anticipating the Nazi occupier.
Zdenka entered his office and he rose to greet her; she shot out her request, declaring he was their only hope. Zdenka sensed he was distressed and agitated. He walked to his desk and sat down without offering her a seat.
"Left standing by the door where he had first greeted her, Zdenka said her heart sank," Jasha wrote. "She watched him move his head from left to right and right to left, as if in disbelief ... I thought he must be about to have a heart attack, or that I would have one myself," Jasha quotes Zdenka as telling him later.
The mayor rose, shaking, and said, "I can't do this! It is impossible for me to do this!"
The mayor explained that if the Germans found that he was involved in a forgery they could destroy the town. Zdenka felt as if she had been hit by a bomb but understood the logic behind his argument.
"But with that, to her relief, he brightened up, apologized for having left her standing at the door, and motioned her to a chair. He began: 'On the other hand, my predecessor -.'" He did not finish the sentence and left the room. A while later, he returned with five new identity cards officially signed and stamped by the previous podesta. The podesta who was long dead.