A group of activists armed with spray cans marched last week in Warsaw in protest of the Gaza blocade. Among them were Palestinians, Poles, Israelis, and one celebrity: Israeli peace activist and former fighter pilot Jonathan Shapira.
Shapira first gained fame for refusing to bomb Palestinian targets from the air. He later became even better known as the protagonist of a pop song. His classmate, singer Aya Corem, authored a funny hit about her old crush for him. One line of the song sets Shapira apart from all other, run of the mill, members of the male species:
Mom Always says: all men are the same
One goes today, another will come tomorrow.
But mom never met Jonathan Shapira.
Oh, if mother only knew what Jonathan Shapira does where grandmother was starved and enslaved. At the end of their march, the activists performed an unexpected act of provocation: they sprayed grafitti on remains of the old ghetto's walls with the statement: "Free all ghettos, Free Gaza".
Organizations of Holocaust survivors were outraged, calling for Shapira to visit Yad Vashem and "get his history straight". Their idea of course is that Jerusalem's (truly incredible) Holocaust museum will teach him how much worse the Holocaust was than the occupation and make him rethink his deeds.
I doubt that Yad Vashem would do the trick. Personally, I come out of every visit to the place with a sense of double loss. I lost a great number of family members in the Holocaust, only to witness my nation lose it's moral path.
We, the Jewish people, have a great responsibility and privilege. As those who witnessed and suffered such horrors, we can be a beacon unto the nations and shine the light of human rights around the world. We have forsaken this responsibility, this privilege. Instead of caring for everybody, we decided to care for ourselves. Rather than making sure such thing will never happen again, we are making sure such things will never happen again to us.
Of course the Holocaust was worse than the occupation, much, much worse. Of course the holocaust and the occupation have things in common, many, many things. The wall of the Warsaw Ghetto has everything to do with the fence surrounding the Gaza strip. Ignoring that is akin to disrespecting the memory of the Holocaust's victims. pointing it out is fulfilling their legacy. Their loss can and must teach us to be humane towards each other, to shun state propaganda, to promote personal dignity and liberty to all and not to stand by when someone near us is suffering.
Their loss left us with a disaster that we must learn from. It's too bad mother never met Jonathan Shapira. Mother has a lot to learn from such an individual, one who keeps his eyes open and his compassion strong despite our horrible national PTSD. Of course there is no comparing to the Holocaust, but if we do not draw analogies from history we're doomed to repeat it every day, never mind on what scale.
Those who fear that Shapira's act is defaming the Jewish people and wronging the memory of six million victims should make absolutely sure they are not doing so themselves by supporting Israel's various policies. I understand their sensitivity and I respect it, but I am saddened by the immunity to the suffering of others that such sensitivity produced.
I'm glad that it did not have this effect on all hearts, and that a few are willing to make a stand. A simple sand cannon can clean the graffiti and return the Warsaw wall to its original condition. It'll take much more to make that wall as irrelevant as we wish it were.
(Top image shows grafitti found in the vicinity of Hebron.)