Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Israeli leader urges education for youth

Silent Auschwitz and survivors’ testimony keep Holocaust alive

On the blood-stained soil of Auschwitz in Poland, Colette Avital, MK, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament and Chairperson of the Lobby for Holocaust Survivors in a candid interview spoke to Tejinder Singh about the Holocaust, birth of Israel, the pains of growth and vision for future.

Today, January 27, 2008, is third anniversary of UN Holocaust Remembrance Day. It took 60 years for the world body to acknowledge this sanguinary systematic annihilation of human beings. How do you feel about it today?

Its better late than never. It took a lot of time, almost 60 years before United Nation decided to adopt this resolution and it was not easy for UN to adopt it. The fact is that for 60 years they did not recognise the special conditions and special holocaust of the Jewish people which is unprecedented in history. I think today it is very important as it’s not just a question of remembering the past and giving recognition to the special history of Jews. It’s a question of educate the younger generation to know that this happened and should not happen again. The ceremony to mark the day is important but much more important is the message.

The question is whether it will be used to educate the younger generation to be more tolerant to accept other religions, to know that human life is sacred and you can not take human life as if its nothing. You can not think that one people is superior and one people is inferior. We all live on the same planet. If my skin is white or black or if I am a Christian or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Parsi, I have right to believe in the God I have chosen to believe in. This should be very much the part of educational system everywhere.

What will you say to a set of statements with “denial” of this Holocaust?

Its true because many people like (President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad (of Iran) and the leader of Venezuela and some in Muslim world say that the holocaust did not exist and that we invented it in order to make the world feel guilty towards us and in order to pay a heavy price. This is a terrible thing. It’s adding insult to injury. So one of the reasons that we have this group that goes to Auschwitz with political leaders from so many countries to show them what happened there and we are accompanied by a man who is a survivor of Auschwitz. Because as long as they are alive and they can say that I was here and this is what happened. Now the people understand and in many countries there is legislation against Holocaust denials. I believe that the younger generation today needs to know what the facts of the history are and not to deny and say it never happened.

How did Holocaust contribute to the making of Israel?

State of Israel was in the making because in 1917 there was Balfour declaration and then League of Nations, the predecessor of United Nations decided to give the British a mandate to prepare Palestine to become a Jewish Homeland. There was a lot of basis in creating Israel but at the end of second World War it became very clear what had happened in Europe. That was something that brought about determination on the part of not only Jews in Israel but also other powers in the world to actually accede to the demands of the Jews to have their own state. Although it was not the origin, it greatly contributed to the creation of the state of Israel, the process becoming much more faster, much more crucial and much more necessary because it was clear that the state of Israel was going to take in all the refugees from the concentration camps and it also became clear to the world that the Jews who were fleeing away from Europe when they knew what was happening, no country wanted to give them refuge including US. So the creation of Israel was seen by many powers as something very urgent and very necessary in order to solve the Jewish problem.

How do you assess the condition today and the ongoing struggle for peace?

The state of Israel was created on its ancient homeland but in the past hundred years there has been an ongoing conflict for the people who lived in the country, the Palestinians and some of the neighbours who did not want to accept the Jewish state. Slowly some of the Arab states did accept over time the existence of the state of Israel and even made peace with it, like Egypt, Jordon. With the Palestinians it has been an existential conflict because you have two people who claim the same land. I think as long as Palestine – Israel conflict is not resolved there will be no peace between us and other neighbours. But I think after seven years of Intifada now, there is a leadership in Palestine that wants to make peace with Israel and the rest of the Arab world also has started changing. Not all of them but majority of Arab states are willing now to live in peace with Israel if Israel resolves the problem with Palestinians.

What is your vision for the future?

My vision about the future and hope is that the state of Israel will continue to develop and be a state that is characterised by justice. My vision is that finally after so many years of war and conflict, we will be able not only to live in peace like everybody else here in Europe but also to normalise our lives. Because the purpose of Zionism at the time was not just to have a country of our own but to live normal lives in many senses. Like in Europe, many of the Jews did not have access to certain professions while they always lived in fear. My biggest vision and my biggest prayer is that we will be able to live normal lives.

What are your comments on the fear of ordinary citizens?

Depends more or less what happens. There was a time a few years ago when it was very difficult to go out in Israel as there were so many suicide bombers who came to cafes and blew up innocent people including children. In cafes, supermarkets and buses! We built a sort of security fence and that improved the situation and you know most Israelis don’t want to be prisoners in their own homes so they take the risks and they do go out. But it’s also true that in past two years, Israel is much more safe today.

What has come out of this ongoing pain?

People react very differently to pain. There are two ways: Some who react to pain wanting revenge and others who say I have suffered and now I don’t want others to suffer like me. The second one is probably nobler. In Israel and in Palestine, we have a group of parents who lost their children in wars, in terrorist attacks and they work together: bereaved parents, Israeli and Palestinian have formed a joint group together and have a strong message. They go everywhere and say we have paid the price but we don’t want you to pay the price. I think this is what should happen.

Finally, you are part of the democratic institution of Israel and what do you think is needed today to make it better?

I think it’s a great democracy. The only thing that sometimes we push democracy a little bit too far. The fact is that when the state of Israel was created it was the wish of its founding fathers to have every group in the population represented in the Knesset. It was a very good idea except that it translated into so many political parties that it became sometime very difficult to rule the country. In the beginning at least there were two big groups so that makes the country manageable but when you have multiplicity of small parties, its very difficult to keep the democracy because part of the democratic regime should be stability. When you have so little political parties that are trying to overthrow the government all the time, and you depend to form a coalition on small political parties then price you pay is very high. So we are very much in need for some political reforms to make the threshold a little bit higher. We all think it should be two and half percent and we are trying to see what kind of political reforms we can make to make political life more stable.

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