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75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, Gaza is my prison

Opinion
on 8 Comments

Israel marked the 75th anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz last week, the Nazi death camp where the German government murdered more than one million people during the Holocaust, hosting the event in Israel for the first time, rather than Poland. During my Erasmus Programme in Poland in 2015, a European Union student exchange, I visited the city of Krakow to the north of where the Auschwitz concentration camp was built during World War II. On my first day, I joined with my friends one of the free city tours with a local guide. “Where are you from?” the tour guide asked me. “Palestine,” I answered. “You shouldn’t explicitly reveal your Palestinian origin in this city. But you can always ask for police help whenever you are in trouble,” he commented. His response left me speechless. I paused for a moment, trying to process what has just been said to me and finding an excuse to calm myself down. “What did you just say?”I asked again, wishing that my family’s genetic disease of hearing loss has reached me. He calmly explained to me that many Palestinian tourists are threatened and discriminated against here and added that “Krakow is a conservative city.”

The next day was planned to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp, which is the main reason of our Krakow visit. Many elements were triggering once I stepped in, such as the Hebrew language. In my experience, Hebrew was the language of the occupation and it was all over the place along with the Israeli flag which was present in many banners. Several individual and inter-generational traumas took over my body. The pain of the refugee label I was given when I was born that has had complete power in shaping my life flooded over me. I recalled Israeli bombings that I was fortunate enough to survive; my grandmother describing her expulsion from our village, Bayt Jirja, and her escape to Gaza with two babies on her lap; my mother witnessing my dad’s arrest during her pregnancy; my dad’s 18-year imprisonment in Israel that he continues to recall as if it had just occurred. Despite the painfully overwhelming feelings, I went on and toured through the different parts of the camp including the punishment block, the death wall and the block where medical experiments were performed on women.

Tamam Abusalama's father, photo was taken by the Israeli Prison Service while he was detained in an Israeli prison, and sent her family. (Photo: courtesy of the author)

Tamam Abusalama’s father, the photo was taken by the Israeli Prison Service while he was detained in an Israeli prison, and sent her family. (Photo: courtesy of the author)

It was absolutely horrible and emotionally hard to come that close to a place where more than 1 million faced systematic torture and death. At the same time, I couldn’t stop thinking about Gaza, where I was born and raised.  Gaza is monitored and controlled by highly- advanced technologies that impose and expand Israel’s illegitimate power over lands and bodies. At this moment, there are 4,544 Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons, including 186 children, around 40 women, and 464 who are detained without charges. An image of my dad, who was sentenced for seven lifetimes plus 10 years but was lucky enough to be released after 13 years in a prisoner exchange in 1985, popped. “I thought it would be my grave,” my dad once told me during a conversation about his imprisonment dark years. I do agree that the horrors of Auschwitz shouldn’t be forgotten but also other nations should not pay the price of what European countries committed against their minorities.

Since 2007, Gaza has been hemmed in by an Israeli and Egyptian siege. They continue to collectively punish 1.816 million in an area of 365 km² with the most inhumane living conditions. Yet, the international community continues to be committed to either hallow condemnations of silence.

No one mentioned Gaza during the Holocaust commemoration in Israel, which was the country’s largest-ever gathering of world leaders. Netanyahu reportedly used the opportunity to lobby pressure on the International Criminal Court as The Hague investigates possible war crimes by Israel and Hamas. Days before the event, Netanyahu told an evangelical broadcaster he would seek “concrete actions, sanctions, against the international court – its officials, its prosecutors, everyone” from visiting heads of state.

Those world leaders have unashamedly expressed their complicity in supporting Israel’s ongoing crimes at the expense of Palestinians, through their participation in the forum. When will these world leaders take action on current crises? Gaza is now 13 years under siege and I wonder what lessons have they learned?

Postscript: These calls are not stemming from hope in the majority of the world leaders and their nations because of the countless slaps we have received. Indeed, the main source is deep despair and outrage generations of Palestinians have carried inside, seeing how injustice prevails in today’s world. Regardless, faith in those who have an alive conscience is still there.

Tamam Abusalama

Tamam Abusalama is a Palestinian blogger, born and raised in the Gaza Strip. She currently lives in exile Belgium. She is originally from the Palestinians village of Bayt-Jirja, which was razed to the ground by Israeli forces in 1948.

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8 Responses

  1. eljay on February 6, 2020, 2:18 pm

    There’s no question that the Holocaust was a great tragedy and that – like all great tragedies – it should be commemorated so that humanity can learn from it.

    There’s no question that it is obscene to commemorate – and to make a show of commemorating – acts of immorality and injustice committed by others against Jews while actively:
    – advocating, engaging in, supporting and/or defending acts of injustice and immorality committed by Jews against others; and
    – using the Holocaust as justification.

  2. just on February 6, 2020, 6:22 pm

    Tamam~ you’ve touched my heart and my mind. I am so sorry for your pain and that of the Palestinians in Gaza and everywhere. You should live in peace with all human rights and freedom and dignity. You should never be afraid to tell people where you came from, nor should any Palestinian pay the price of this:

    ” I do agree that the horrors of Auschwitz shouldn’t be forgotten but also other nations should not pay the price of what European countries committed against their minorities.”

    Where and why is the original sin that the US gave the historic Palestinian land away to European and other foreigners and have continued to vociferously support their theft and cruelty and colonialism? How in the world did we get here? Didn’t Jesus come from Palestine? What would he say? What would Muhammed (PBUH) say? Isn’t Al- Quds crying out? Why are Jordan and Egypt complicit in these great crimes? Why is Israel allowed (and given) nukes while Iran is being starved? Why are people legislating against free speech and BDS?

    Anyway, thank you for sharing some of your story. I’ll hold it close and keep the fire in my heart and head burning until you and yours are free. I don’t know how you ‘feel’ in Belgium, but I would love to know that you can declare your birthplace and birthrights freely anywhere you choose to roam, including home to Palestine. I’ve been there and have been the grateful recipient of generosity, kindness, smiles, beauty, and lovely humanity.

    Here’s a song that you might enjoy. I count it as most special:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19DigHsZJx8

    • Misterioso on February 7, 2020, 10:31 am

      @just

      The “Christian” crusaders occupied Palestine for about 200 years. In terms of history, the Jewish Zionist occupation will prove to be a blip. Indeed, it is readily apparent that Zionism is in accelerating decline, most importantly, among enlightened Jewish youth.

      • CHUCKMAN on February 14, 2020, 12:15 am

        Indeed.

        So many people have no historical perspective, the only perspective in the end that matters.

  3. just on February 6, 2020, 7:45 pm

    Wow, Tamam~ I just went over to Electronic Intifada and found this that was published today from David Cronin:

    “Why is Belgium being cruel to Gaza’s refugees?” …

    https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/david-cronin/why-belgium-being-cruel-gazas-refugees

    Stay safe.

  4. Tom Suarez on February 7, 2020, 5:27 am

    Thank you, Ms. Abusalama, for this beautiful and timely piece.
    Regarding “Gaza is now 13 years under siege…”, would it not be more accurate to say 72 years under siege? Since late 1948, anyone in Gaza caught trying to go to their own legal home (such as in Bayt-Jirja), or cross through Israeli-occupied Palestinian land to reach the West Bank, was shot dead on sight, arrested, or if lucky, simply blocked. That, to me, is a siege. My reason for asking is that dating the siege to the election of Hamas and its confinement to Gaza, risks inadvertently supporting, in the public understanding, the Israeli lie of blaming their siege on Hamas.

  5. John D on February 8, 2020, 8:57 am

    There are a couple of points that require clarification.
    Firstly, it was the UK – not the US – that started off the process of deligitimising the Palestinian people (though American zionists did also play an important role) when the British government issued the infamous Balfour Declaration in November 1917.
    In reality, the oppression of the Palestinian people and the theft of their land was planned and began over a century ago.
    Secondly, it is not right to describe Auschwitz concentration camp as a death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. After the invasion by Nazi Germany and – two weeks later – the Soviet Union, Poland effectively ceased to exist and the former Poland became just part of the Third Reich.
    It is not right to keep blaming the Poles for what happened in places like Auschwitz.

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