From deadly poisoning at gas chambers to forced labour, pest control chemicals to gunshot deaths, six million Jews were mercilessly killed at ghettos and concentration camps through starvation, disease, and other harsh conditions during the Holocaust.
The Nazis were savages. They were cruel. Their methods were inhumane but they were also ordinary human beings capable of undertaking such barbarity. Monsters who otherwise led largely ordinary lives. This is not an attempt to humanise who they were. On the contrary, to deny their human infallibility is to turn a blind eye on how evil can emerge from within us.
Like the nineteen hijackers from 9/11, soldiers and militants who killed innocent civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, drone operators stationed thousands of miles away from combat zones, these and other foot soldiers did what they were instructed to do by the chain of command as they were but only a cog in the system. Some did it out of duty, others filled with pure revenge, each being led to think they were making a difference.
Like the kamikaze pilots in Japan, Tamil tigers in Sri Lanka to post war-on-terror suicide bombers, each of whom were led to believe they could be as deadly as a bomb dropped from a fighter jet or drone. These were not just angry young men and women from another planet but ordinary human beings who walked and talked like us.
Like the suicidal, angry white male that make up most of the mass shootings in America, they eat, drink and sleep like the rest of us but are in a different parallel universe of their own spending weeks if not months preparing for their assault on innocent bystanders, falsely believing their gun violence is an act of justice, not an attack on innocent civilians.
They are no different from civilians in Sdérot who pulled up chairs to watch bombs raining down on Gaza or a small number of people who danced on the streets of East Jerusalem when the towers fell. These are ordinary human beings with a stupefying frame of mind, shaped by a steady diet of misinformation, mutual hatred and personal experiences. They are father, brother and son or mother, sister and daughter to someone but also evil incarnate to their perceived adversary. People living among us.
It is lazy however to lay the sole blame at the foot of ordinary people who celebrate tragedy or soldiers who expel people from their homes, or guards manning occupation posts, one for a certain race and metres apart a freeway for the other, because they each operate from within a complex system that thrives on manufacturing distrust of “the other”.
A hegemonic system that allows for the indefinite detention of rock-throwing teenagers, a military power that enforces a debilitating blockade on the world’s largest open air prison to a commanding officer who can order pilots to bomb electricity, water and sewage treatment plants and other critical civilian infrastructure, without the risk of international sanctions.
That system sits within a larger complex ecosystem of key politicians in the West that dare not challenge the status quo from changing for the better. A purposefully dysfunctional system where empty diplomatic statements that carry no weight are made whenever illegal settlements are built, enabling the occupier to usurp more land, making it ever more difficult to unwind for fear of displacing the settlers.
Nonetheless, what Israel is doing today does not compare to what the Nazis did during the Holocaust. Granted, there are no gas chambers today but we have a suffocating embargo in the world’s largest open-air prison that is Gaza, where over 80 percent of the population rely on humanitarian aid. Medicines are prohibitively expensive, if not unavailable altogether. Dying patients who are granted approval by Israeli hospitals can still be refused entry at the Israeli-run Erez crossing.
In 2006, air strikes were launched on Gaza’s power and wastewater treatment plants, an indictable war crime anywhere else except Gaza. As a result, less than 4 percent of freshwater in Gaza is drinkable. In violation of protocol 1 of the 1949 Geneva Convention, Israel in 2014 again bombed a major power plant in Gaza. The enclave has since learnt to survive on less than 4 hours of electricity each day.
During the 13-year Holocaust (1933-1945), starvation, disease, and harsh conditions were tools of war used at the Warsaw ghetto and other concentration camps. As a direct result of the 16-year blockade on Gaza, 64 percent of the population in the Palestinian ghetto otherwise known as Gaza is now food insecure.
Over in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Palestinians have to live with biometric tracking to AI-powered surveillance tools and need to put up with over 700 road gates, roadblocks and trenches to get by. At some checkpoints Palestinians face the threat of machine guns equipped with ready-to-fire stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets. At others, they face arbitrary arrests or illegal detention. Almost daily, young men, teenagers and elderly are shot or killed during nightly raids or in broad daylight in their homes, on the streets or at checkpoints.
While the Holocaust led to the terrible loss of eleven million lives including 6 million Jews, the founding of Israel 75 years ago in 1948 led to the catastrophic displacement of what is now over 7 million Palestinian refugees.
Most notably, the Holocaust lasted as long as it did because the Nazis were very successful in discrediting stories of their atrocities as exaggerated Allied propaganda. When the system of lies crumbled, the liberation of camps began.
Notwithstanding what many Palestinians have claimed for decades now, Oxfam, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and countless others too, have each condemned the inhumane land, sea and air blockade in Gaza as well as the apartheid, illegal occupation and daily raids at West Bank and East Jerusalem in the strongest possible terms. Yet nothing changes.
Unless the current system supporting the unconscionable lies crumbles, peace, justice and co-existence will remain elusive.
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