The photo i.d. for Richard Pinder, the author’s father, when he was a slave laborer in Germany during the war
Why am I so passionate about injustice in Palestine?
I was born in London in 1941. From early childhood I was aware of injustice against the Jewish population in Germany. My mother had visited Berlin and Hamburg in 1936 and been appalled at what she witnessed – both the mass hysteria at a rally addressed by Hitler, and the anti-Semitism. One of my mother’s pre-war beaux, a frequent visitor, was a German Jewish banker who had fled to London; his parents perished. I remember him telling how they had been forced to cut grass with nail scissors.
My father volunteered for extremely dangerous work to defeat Hitler– Special Operations in France, parachuting in to help the resistance. To understand how dangerous, consider that of the 50 or so women who were dropped in, 15 were executed, often after hideous torture. Some survived (one had all her toenails pulled out; one who died recently had been waterboarded multiple times and survived several concentration camps). Dad was caught in a Forced Labor Round-Up and spent 11 months as a slave laborer. He was a skeleton when he came back to England in July 1945, and that was after being fed by the Americans for 5 weeks. After liberating him, they had arrested him and kept him prisoner in Munich, thinking he was Lord Haw-Haw!
The author’s father on 14 July 1945, the day he got back to the UK.
In 1947 I watched him give witness in the War Crimes Trials. And also in 1947 I accompanied my mother when she went to do relief work among the Displaced Persons in what had been the Neuengamme concentration camp. She was a member of the Catholic Women’s League. She worked with the adults, setting up workshops where they could ply their crafts (jewelers) and make leather gloves to sell and to cover prosthetic hands.
I remember the smell of the hides piled up on our dining room chairs. I played with the children. The dolls’ house that was made for me as a gesture of thanks is now on permanent display in the Spertus Museum of Judaica in Chicago. The British rabbi chaplain was a frequent visitor to our home – he always had hard boiled eggs in his pockets so as to have something kosher to eat.
Hamburg 1948, Author with her mother Jessica Thomson Pinder
So – from a very early age I was aware of injustice, prejudice, and inhumanity and the need for faith-blind ecumenical outreach.
I should add that I had some slightly comic experience of prejudice myself (quite apart from the still fairly standard anti-Catholicism in England) when I was 10 and at the French school on Koblenz (where my father was liaison between the British Army of the Rhine and the French Army of the Rhine). The kids beat me up and rolled me in the mud, because we had burned Joan of Arc. I didn’t hold any grudge – seemed perfectly reasonable to me, my lot had burned their lot’s saint. Though my mother said – Why didn’t you tell them that their leaders handed her over to the Occupying Forces, just as the Temple leaders did to Jesus? Of course I didn’t know that!
So I was all the more appalled when I went to the West Bank in 2007 and saw for myself the long waits in the blazing sun at check points that resembled cattle chutes, the Israeli-only roads, the “settlements” that are new cities of Judean limestone with fountains and swimming pools and irrigation. Excuse me, but bananas are not meant to be grown in the desert! While nearby Palestinian villages have inadequate water supplies, they are forbidden to drill new wells, and filth and garbage is thrown down existing wells (I saw it), and homes are routinely torn down because they may not have had building permits. Palestinians can’t get them!
And the acres and acres and acres of olive stumps – chopped down or dug up. For why?
Didn’t Josephus point out that Jewish law required consideration towards enemies: forbidding Jewish troops to cut down their enemies’ food-bearing trees (Deut.20:19).
I care deeply about the future of Israel and love my Israeli friends, and want their children and grandchildren to live in peace and security. To ensure that, a Palestinian state must be recognized, a real state, not one riddled with holes and exceptions etc. Sure it means working with political parties who currently support terrorism and will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state. To reach an agreement the moderate center always has to embrace the extremists on both sides (look at Northern Ireland – ask Senator Mitchell). It is also true that only a tiny minority of Palestinians support Hamas. Don’t keep looking for excuses – Israel should take the lead.
Keep thinking of your grandchildren! Can Israel not be a state for Jews? Does it have to be a Jewish state? All states, especially “made-up” ones change and evolve – look at the USA, look at France. Neither is what they were in 1776 or 1789. Since then France has gone through another monarchy, two Empires (or 3 emperors) and five Republics. England executed a king in the mid-17th Century; invited another one back twenty years later and now is a constitutional monarchy without a constitution!
Surely Israel can stand up and take the lead here, and instead of claiming to be the only democratic state in the Middle East, demonstrate that it is a builder of independent democracies in the Middle East. Surely, surely.
My father parachuted into occupied France with three other men. They were all Jews. One was English, I knew him after the war. The other two were the French Madagascarian Meyer brothers. None of them NEED have done that work. I feel strongly that I owe it to my father and his colleagues to stand up and scream about the injustice being perpetrated by a people Dad and his buddies sacrificed so much to liberate.