VIEW FROM THE GALLERY By MAHMUD JEGA
What is happening in the Gaza Strip, is it proof of what Karl Marx once said, quoting Hegel, that “all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice”? The first time as Himmler and Bohemia, the second time as Netanyahu and Gaza?
Gaza is the most appalling case of overreaction, state directed terrorism, collective punishment and indiscriminate committing of war crimes in modern human history, and that is not even the most shocking part. These are being committed by people whose parents were once subjected to the same treatment by the Nazis and who ought to know better about occupation, resistance, mass reprisal and overreaction.
I am thinking of May 27, 1942. That was only 81 years ago, so many people must still be alive in Israel who either personally experienced it, or heard of it first hand from those who did. The circumstances are similar to October 7, 2023. Nazi Germans had been occupying Bohemia and Moravia [the territory known today as Czech Republic] since 1938, a scant four years, while Israel has been occupying Gaza Strip since 1967, when its troops captured it, together with the West Bank, Sinai Desert, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem in the Six Day War. Just as the Palestinians have been resisting the Occupation in various forms, Czechs, together with Jews, directed by the Czech Government-in-Exile in London and with help from the UK and other Allied secret services, had been resisting Nazi occupation of their lands with as much violence as they could muster.
Like October 7, 2023, like May 27, 1942. Two members of the Czech Resistance, trained by British intelligence in Scotland and armed by it, dropped by the Royal Air Force in Czech land, aimed to carry out a violent attack against the Nazis. They planned to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, commander of the German Reich Security Main Office, acting Governor of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and a principal architect of the Holocaust. Of course they had no hope of overthrowing the Nazis with that one attack, just as Hamas had no hope of ending Israeli Occupation with its October 7 attack. The Czech Government-in-Exile however had a motive for ordering the attack; it wanted to demonstrate to the Allied Powers that Czechs, too, were resisting Nazi occupation and to also galvanise their people into further resistance, as the Poles and Soviets were doing.
Hamas too had motives for the October 7 attacks, including to puncture Israeli feeling of invulnerability, remind the world that Palestinians are still under Occupation, wreck US-engineered attempts to get Arab states such as UAE and Saudi Arabia to normalize ties with Israel, drive out Israelis from border regions, and to generally create a climate of fear such that many Israelis, who hold dual citizenships, could flee the country and hollow it out.
So, in May 1942, Czech partisans Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis ambushed Heydrich’s Mercedes car at a street corner in Prague. They threw an anti-tank grenade at it. Heydrich, known throughout occupied Europe as “Hangman Heydrich” for his brutal ways, was badly wounded and he died eight days later on June 4, 1942. By comparison, Hamas’ October 7 attack killed 1,200 Israelis, most of them non-military targets and led to the abduction of another 250 or so. But Heydrich being a top ranking official of the Nazi police and Interior Ministry, the rage it ignited among Nazi leaders is similar to the one the Hamas attack ignited among Israeli leaders, who easily forgot that their ancestors staged a similar event eight decades ago for a similar reason.
The Heydrich assassination elicited a most brutal response from the Nazis, directed from the top by Reich Fuhrer Adolf Hitler and by Reichsfuhrer of the SS and Minister of Interior Heinrich Himmler, Heydrich’s boss. Himmler sent SS General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, who was known to be much more brutal than Heydrich, to Prague to arrange reprisals. At first Hitler ordered him to kill 10,000 “politically unreliable Czechs” to avenge for Heydrich. This figure is slightly less than the 12,000 Palestinians that Israel has so has killed in Gaza to avenge for October 7. Remarkably, it was Himmler that convinced Hitler to reduce the figure to 5,000 because “Czech territory was an important industrial zone for the German military, and indiscriminate killing could reduce the region’s productivity.” Apparently, there was no one in Israel to convince Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reduce the scale of his planned reprisals.
Although the Nazis managed to corner the assassins in a church and killed them, their relatives and associates, 294 in all, were publicly executed at Mauthausen in October that year. Another 13,000 people were arrested, including assassin Gabčík’s girlfriend, aunt and father, and were executed. Because Nazi intelligence reported that the assassins hid in Lidice village, the Gestapo completely destroyed the village. 199 men were killed, 195 women were deported to Ravensbruck concentration camp; 95 children were taken prisoner; 81 of them were later killed in gas vans at Chelmno extermination camp. The Czech village of Lezaky was also destroyed because a radio transmitter belonging to the assassins was found there. With all the inhabitants killed, both villages were burned and their ruins were levelled to the ground.
Like Nazis, like Israelis. Never mind Israelis’ deep psychology of persecution in the hands of the Nazis anchored in stories of the Holocaust. In a similar situation of power and occupation, its leaders, supported by its people, simply borrowed a grisly leaf from the Nazis. All 2 million people of Gaza were subjected to collective punishment. Relentless bombing of homes, yards, refugee camps, schools and even hospitals; total encirclement and denial of water, electricity, food, medicines and fuel for weeks on end; rejection of all pleas for humanitarian access or ceasefire, and even contemptuous rejection of a UN Security Council resolution calling for a humanitarian pause. The Nazis will be pleased with these Jewish copycats.
How come that Benjamin Netanyahu is a historical replica of Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler in the matter of overreaction and mass collective punishment, and he sees no irony in that? Netanyahu must have thought of the men who killed Heydrich as heroes, since they were fighting to regain their land from the Nazis and to end Nazi brutality against the Jews. How come then that he thinks of the Hamas attackers as evil, when they had exactly similar motives of liberating their land and ending the brutal Israeli occupation, which is a daily nightmare for all the people of Gaza and the West Bank?
One senior American journalist wrote recently that Netanyahu is the worst leader that Israel ever had. According to him, the man’s guiding philosophy, if it can be called that, in this war is not humanity, long-term national interest, what the world thinks of his country or even future repercussions from his actions, no. Netanyahu’s only concern is that he must retain power in Israel, and the only way to do that is to pander to the far-right allies of his Likud coalition, and the only way to pander to them is to visit Gaza with the harshest punishment, reoccupy it and resettle Jews there, who were earlier removed in 2005 when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ended Israeli rule of Gaza Strip.
And how come that United States, the self-appointed but fervently hypocritical guardian of modern-world morality, supports this 21st century atrocity in the name of “Israel’s right of self defence”? This, when it has been galvanizing the world in the last two years to be outraged by and to oppose Russian actions in Ukraine, which are much less outrageous than what it happening in Gaza? Although Russia has outrageously shot up many houses, schools, water plants and power stations in Ukraine in addition to military targets, its ground forces apparently do not molest civilians, which is why Ukrainians continue to live in Russian-occupied areas. It also never encircled Ukraine and collectively punished all its people, as Israel is doing.
Only 24 years ago, US President Bill Clinton led NATO to war with Serbia in order to stop the atrocities that Serbian soldiers were visiting on Kosovo. What the Serbs did in Kosovo or even at Srebrenica, was it anywhere near what the Israelis are doing in Gaza? The next time someone grabs another person’s land or subjects people to brutal mass punishment, would the US and the Western world raise their hands again and express outrage, given their condoning and in fact open support for Israel’s deeds in Gaza, including vetoing UN resolutions calling for a ceasefire as well as sending arms, ammunition and warships?
I have seen some Nigerians saying, why wouldn’t Egypt open the gateway to the Sinai Desert and allow all Gazans to relocate there in order to escape Israeli atrocities? That may be humane, but it means Israel will take all of Gaza’s land, probably demolish all the houses in the name of rooting out Hamas, and then resettle Jews in there, as the Israeli far right wants. That will only plant the seeds for a future conflict because it will breed a new Hamas.