INDEPENDENT NEWS

Holocaust survivor protests wall by Hedy Epstein

Published: Mon 8 Nov 2004 10:40 AM
Holocaust survivor protests wall by Hedy Epstein
First published at: daily.stanford.edu
Hedy Epstein is a Holocaust survivor. Her story is featured in the Academy Award winning documentary, "Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport." .
Holocaust survivor protests wall
By HEDY EPSTEIN
In 1939, I left the village of Kippenheim, Germany, on a Kindertransport - a small group of children allowed to go to England - thus surviving the Holocaust. In December, I went to Israel to honor the memory of my parents, Ella and Hugo Wachenheimer, who did not survive the war against the Jews. At a monument near Jerusalem, I lit candles for my parents and for the other 80,000 Jews deported from France to the death camps.
It is impossible to visit Israel these days without being aware of the constant threat posed by terrorists. Suicide bombs kill and maim innocent persons riding in buses or taking a meal in a restaurant.
We Jews who survived the Shoah know all too well that the intentional targeting of civilians is illegal and immoral. So I grieve the loss of life in Jerusalem from the suicide bombs.
But I also grieve the loss of life in Palestine, which occurs almost on a daily basis. So I went to Palestine as a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to observe the difficult conditions of daily life under military occupation.
It would have been enough to reach out and touch just one Palestinian and place my hand on her shoulder and tell her that I was with her in her pain. But I saw and did much more.
In Bethlehem, I saw a Caterpillar bulldozer ripping up centuries-old olive trees to clear a path for rolled razor wire and antitank trenches dividing the town where Jesus was born.
In Qalqilia, I was dwarfed by Israel's separation wall rising more than 25 feet. In President George W. Bush's phrase, it "snakes in and out of the West Bank." It keeps farmers from their fields and hems in 50,000 residents on all sides.
In Masha [Mas'ha], I joined a demonstration against this wall. I saw a red sign warning ominously of "Mortal Danger" to any who dare cross this fence. Then I saw Israeli soldiers aiming at unarmed Israeli and international protesters.
I saw blood pouring out of Gil Na'amati, a young Israeli whose first public act after completing his military service was to protest against this wall.
I saw shrapnel lodged in the leg of Anne Farina, one of my traveling companions from St. Louis. And I thought of Kent State and Jackson State, where National Guardsmen opened fire in 1970 on protesters against the Vietnam War.
Near Der Beilut, I saw the Israeli police turn a water cannon on our nonviolent protest. And I remembered Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 and wondered why a democratic society responds to peaceable assembly by trying literally to drown out the voice of our protest.
At the end of the journey I had a shocking experience. I knew that what I had said and done was viewed by some as controversial but surely not as threatening.
So I did not imagine that the Israeli security force that guards Ben-Gurion Airport would abuse a 79-year-old Holocaust survivor, holding me for five hours and performing a completely unnecessary strip search of every part of my naked body.
The only shame these security officials expressed was to turn their badges around so that their names were invisible. The only conceivable purpose for this gross violation of my bodily integrity was to humiliate and terrify me.
Of course, I felt humiliated by this outrage, but I refuse to be terrified by cowards who hide their identity while engaging in such unnecessary disrespect. It is a cruel illusion that brute force of this sort provides security to Israel. Degrading me cannot silence my small voice.
Similarly, humiliating Palestinians cannot extinguish their hopes for a homeland. Only ending this utterly unnecessary occupation will bring peace to the region.

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