THE BLOG

Israel vs. Hamas Through the Eyes of a Son of Holocaust Survivors

08/01/2014 09:09 am ET | Updated Oct 01, 2014
AFP

I mourn for all those who died on both sides in the wars that Israel has fought to become and remain a free state because to me every life is valuable. From my comfortable home in the United States, where there are neither rockets being fired at me every day nor children growing up running to shelters when they hear sirens, and I am not seeing my family and friends killed by artillery fire and living without hope in Gaza, it is nearly impossible to determine which actions are right or wrong at every moment. I went to sleep last night thankful for the most recent 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire and woke up this morning to find it has been shattered by Hamas attacking and capturing an Israeli soldier and Israel responding with force.

I didn't grow up in a never-ending war zone. I grew up in New York, in a German Jewish neighborhood, hearing many stories about the Holocaust from survivors, including my parents. My father left Hamburg, Germany, on one of the last boats available. His parents couldn't and he found out they were rounded up by the Nazis, sent to Auschwitz and gassed. My mother was 13 when she and my grandmother got visas to leave Vienna. They were paid for and passed to my grandfather secretly under a table. There were only two, so my grandfather stayed behind and my grandmother went from having a maid to becoming one in London. After about two years they made their way to New York and my grandfather finally got his visa and joined them. They told me he was never the same and he died at 55.

My mother went to high school to learn English and worked in a beauty salon in Harlem, where she lived. My grandmother trained to become a masseuse and worked till she was in her 70s. My father, older when he got out of Germany, lived with distant relatives in New York and joined the U.S. Army. Through friends my parents met, and when my father got notice he was being sent overseas, they married late one night in a rabbi's study. Two days later he shipped out. He spent the next couple of years overseas, came back with a Bronze Star, and never talked about his experiences.

My father had distant relatives who left Germany earlier than he did immigrating to the land that was to become Israel where they helped establish a kibbutz south of Tel Aviv.

So my opinion of the fight for the very existence of the State of Israel may be seen as biased. Yet I grew up in a home with parents who believed there had to be a peaceful solution and the Palestinian people deserved to live a decent life. There was an understanding of the Palestinian people's frustration when they lived in camps and Israel was turning the desert into a sort of oasis. They taught me that all people, of every background, have a right to live in peace and bring their children up in a world with hope for a better future.

Today there is a backlash against Israel in many parts of the world and a revival of anti-Semitism in many places, including Germany. That is frightening for every Jew.

But we know that those suffering most today are the women and children in Gaza. What is inexplicable is that they continue to support Hama, which stands in the way of any hope for them to have their own state and a better future. Living in a once-occupied area that is still closed off to the world and knowing just a couple of miles across the border in Israel people are living a good life in beautiful cities must be unbelievably difficult. Knowing that just across that closed border children are growing up with a good education, the ability to travel and see the world, and become anything they want while yours cannot must be close to unbearable.

But they must also know that Israel has made peace with many of their neighbors who once also called for their destruction. Those Arab neighbors now shun Hamas. In the peace treaties Israel signed with both Egypt and Jordan they returned lands to them and the peace has lasted. The people of Gaza must see that the same could be their future if only they reject Hamas and their mission to destroy the State of Israel.

I am as appalled at the killing of innocent civilians, women and children, as any humane person must be. But the loss of life in Gaza can be laid at the feet of Hamas. They could stop the killing today if they agree to recognize the right of Israel to exist. Instead Hamas leaders have told the world they have built those tunnels under the border to Israel for the single purpose of killing Israelis. They shoot thousands of rockets into Israel trying to kill innocent civilians every day. They don't allow their own wounded to get medical help at an Israeli field hospital when it's offered and they hide their rockets in UN schools and hospitals. Terrence McCoy wrote in the Washington Post,

"According to longtime Middle East analyst Matthew Levitt, Hamas has long planted weapons in areas inhabited by vulnerable residents. 'It happens in schools,' he wrote in Middle East Quarterly. 'Hamas has buried caches of arms and explosives under its own kindergarten playgrounds,' referencing a 2001 State Department report that said a Hamas leader was arrested after 'additional explosives in a Gaza kindergarten' were discovered."

Hiding behind the skirts of their women and children is as inhumane as anything people say Israel is doing.

There is a two-state solution possible if Hamas would agree to recognize Israel. The PLO has agreed, yet Hamas appears willing to see thousands of their own people die in a continuing fight they can't win. In exchange for recognition Israel will be forced by world opinion, and their own people who want peace, to return some of the land that their settlements are on to be part of a Palestinian state. It can be a state with open borders. The world will contribute billions of dollars to build an economy and schools so the next generations will have a better future. Israel will contribute to building this state as it will be in their interest.

Until that day comes I support Israel's right to defend itself and do what it must to keep Hamas from being a daily threat to it. I would urge Israelis to do all they can with their advanced capabilities to try to avoid hurting civilians but Hamas will be responsible if they continue to fight by hiding behind those civilians. No nation would do less to protect its people. No nation would turn a blind eye time after time when rockets are fired on their people from a sworn enemy. Why would the world expect Israel to do that?

As a child and grandchild of the Holocaust, I have been to Israel and stood by the eternal flame at Yad Varshem, the Holocaust memorial to the 6 million killed, and said a prayer for the grandparents I never knew. Today my prayers are for the safety of the people of Israel but also for the Palestinian people. May our prayers help to move Hamas to recognize and accept Israel, and for Israel to then accept terms that will ensure a better future for the people of Gaza. The formation of a new Palestinian State will not be easy but it will make life for all the people there so much better.