Opinion

Gantz, Son of Holocaust Survivor, Mentions Bergen-Belsen but Ignores the Camp That Is Gaza

If Benny Gantz had the courage, he'd go to The Hague himself

A Palestinian man stands by a fence as he waits for a travel permit to leave Gaza through Rafah border crossing with Egypt, February 3, 2019.
\ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

Benny Gantz frequently mentions his mother, a survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Anshel Pfeffer wrote in Haaretz on January 30. My mother also survived Bergen-Belsen. The former IDF chief of staff’s mother encouraged him to continue fighting in Gaza, but not to stop sending food to its inhabitants. (To make things straight: Israel did not and does not send food to the Palestinians. The food is bought at full price from Israeli merchants and producers. What Israel can do is to prevent food and other essential products from entering Gaza, as it has done more than once.) My mother was revolted by generals, their wars against the Palestinians and the trafficking in the memory of the murdered Jews.

If Gantz had the courage, he would go to The Hague himself, to the Dutch district court there. The judge would have to decide whether the Dutch court has the authority to hear a civil suit against the former Israeli chief of staff for war crimes in Gaza in 2014 – the killing of six members of a family in one bombardment. Gantz’s lawyer would argue that the judge should reject the suit because the court has no jurisdiction, and in any case Gantz has immunity because he did what he did for the State of Israel, in the framework of his state-sanctioned role. This is also whyIsrael pays for his legal representation.

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Suing for war crimes specific people, who were serving in official capacities, is based on the concept that human beings, even soldiers and certainly their supreme commander, are creatures capable of thinking and are therefore responsible for their actions. They are not just following orders. A civil suit for a war crime committed in another country is based on the concept that universal values exist and that when international law is breached, a third state has the right to adjudicate.

If Gantz had the courage, he would leave his new Knesset (or cabinet) seat for a day or two and stand in The Hague before the plaintiff Ismail Ziada. But even if Gantz doesn’t go, two tracks of uprootedness, injustice and trauma, will intersect there. Europe made clear to Gantz’s parents, who were born in Hungary and Romania, that they were not wanted there. In fact, that they didn’t deserve to live. They were not killed, and they arrived in this country. In Israel we became the victors, and we continue to take revenge on those who have nothing to do with the expulsion and murder of the Jews.

The liberation of Bergen-Belsen by the Allies, 1945.
AP

Gantz was born on Moshav Kfar Ahim, on the land of the ruined Palestinian village of Qastina. Ziada’s parents were born in the village of Faluja. Parts of Kiryat Gat are built on its lands. The distance between Qastina and Faluja is 18.1 kilometers. The distance between Faluja and the refugee camp where Ziada was born, al-Bureij, is about 40 kilometers.

In February 1949, as part of the cease-fire agreement with Egypt, the Egyptian brigade that had been surrounded in the “Faluja pocket” withdrew. The inhabitants of the village remained there, along with those of Iraq al-Manshiyeh and about 1,000 Palestinian refugees from other villages. Some of the people of Faluja had already fled from the Israeli bombings and bombardments in October 1948. The military government that was established not only barred them from returning, they did everything possible to terrorize those who remained so they would flee. The man who initiated the terrorizing campaign was Yigal Allon, and it was carried out by Yitzhak Rabin, according to the website Zochrot, based on the historian Benny Morris. In other words: Israel made clear to Ziada’s parents and grandparents that they did not deserve to go on living in the place where they were born and where their families had lived for hundreds of years, and if they valued their lives, they should seek somewhere else to live.

The Gaza Strip today is a concentration camp, but not like Bergen-Belsen. The differences are clear and known. This writer is opposed to parallels lacking information, knowledge and understanding, drawn for purposes of provocation, but is also opposed to creating hierarchies of suffering, which, whether concealed or openly, justify any suffering that does not reach the “climax” (which we, the Jews, define). The use here of the term “concentration camp” is based on the need to break free of the linguistic bonds of the Nazi period.

In the Gaza Strip, which is closed off like a confined and separated camp, live some 2 million people in one of the most densely populated places in the world. About 70 percent of them are the descendants of refugees expelled from their homes. Absent freedom of movement condemned them to a life of unemployment, dreariness, poverty, disease, depression, contaminated water and soil, and dependence on ever-dwindling charity. And that is even without the military bombings and incursions.

Bergen-Belsen as a prisoners camp and thereafter as a concentration and extermination camp for Jews was dismantled after about four years of existence, with the defeat of the Third Reich. The concentration camp that is Gaza has existed under ever harsher conditions for almost three decades. Contrary to Israeli propaganda, it was created before the suicide bombings, before Oslo. Before Hamas took charge and developed its military skills. Israel has a political goal in mind in turning Gaza into a giant concentration camp: Cutting it and its inhabitants off from the rest of the Palestinians so that it will become a separate entity, deprived of history, roots and belonging. As chief of staff, Gantz was a full partner to this crime, including the killing of Ismail Ziada’s mother, his sister-in-law, nephew and three brothers.