Bonnie Price Lofton | Gaza tragedy calls to mind Holocaust stories

A half-dozen years ago, Rania Kharma of Gaza was my classmate, earning a master’s degree in conflict transformation from Eastern Mennonite University, a peace-oriented college in Harrisonburg. In October, 2007, Rania wrote me and others she knew at EMU to ask for our help in breaking “the siege on Gaza.”

Rania reported that Gaza had almost no food, medicine, fuel for cooking and generators, or access to materials for growing food or building homes. Residents could not leave Gaza for work or to further their education. They couldn’t even leave for medical care. Rania, who has worked for the United Nations and World Bank and who disliked Hamas, wrote: “Last time I was trying to cross the Erez checkpoint to Ramallah, there was a little child … around 7-8 years old… a cancer patient, who had an appointment in a hospital in Jerusalem. I will never ever in my whole life forget his little face covered with tears as he knew he was denied access.” By December, 2007, Rania reported that matters had worsened.

Today, a year later, the news is more horrific. Israel is bombing a place where 1.5 million people have no place to hide or run. They are sitting ducks in a small pond. Supposedly this will destroy the minority of men known as Hamas who came to power in Gaza in 2006 and who have launched homemade rockets that have killed fewer than 20 civilians in Israel, according to The Washington Post.

Israel’s actions go beyond an “eye for an eye.” Israel seems to be saying, “If I lose an eye, I will kill you and your entire extended family and all your neighbors. I will do so first by depriving you of food and other means of survival. I will block aid shipments, from whatever source, even from the United Nations and Red Cross. And if any one of you resists violently, I will kill all of you, even the children.”

Such heartlessness reflects a collective psyche hardened to cries of pain. It reflects an inability to empathize with those suffering. It reflects a rationalization that “our lives,” at whatever cost, matter more than a multitude of “other lives.”

In a former marriage, I was part of an extended family of Holocaust survivors – I was related to Polish Jews who escaped from an Auschwitz work camp and hid in an attic for years. I also was related to Jews who fled Nazi-occupied Austria. I listened to their stories, and I learned of Christian neighbors and schoolmates who turned on them. I learned of cruel people in Nazi Europe, as well as a handful of kind, courageous ones. When my Jewish family members said, “never again,” I said “amen.”

What happened to “never again”? Does it only apply to those who once suffered and not to those suffering now? Today the Palestinians look like the victims. They are living in what amounts to a huge prison camp, with bombs raining down.

I no longer hear from Rania. I can only pray that she and her family are safe. What news I get from Gaza comes from a young man in his early 20s named Sameh Habeeb. Describing himself as a “photojournalist and peace activist, humanitarian, and child relief worker,” Sameh somehow finds a way to post remarkably unemotional English-language reports at about the devastation around him.

Recently Sameh closed his e-mail with this simple appeal: “Hold Israel accountable to international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, article 33, which forbids the collective punishment of a civilian population.” Almost as an after-thought he added, “Please don’t let Gaza’s plight be forgotten.”

I join others saying: “End the killing. This will solve nothing and will lay the seeds for more violence. God gave us brains and hearts. Please, let’s use them to find life-giving solutions and not perpetuate a cycle of atrocities.”


– Bonnie Price Lofton is a writer in Harrisonburg and a 1994 MA graduate of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. This article originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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