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27 May, 2010 02:48

“Jews who themselves suffered are now causing suffering to Palestinians”

Hedy Epstein lost her parents in Auschwitz and now extends a helping hand to Gaza.

Hedy Epstein is 86. She was born in 1924 in a small German village.

She was 15 when her parents sent her off to London together with other Jewish children.

“My parents realized that something was about to happen. They would’ve liked to go with me but Jewish organizations were inviting children under 17 only. We were separated. Thus, in May 1939 I ended up in London, and they stayed back there. And on September 1, the war began. In 1942, both of my parents were arrested and sent to Auschwitz, as well as all their neighbors who hadn’t left by then. I never saw them again. Later, they were separated and sent to different camps. They died apart from each other. And they have no graves. Ibelieve their names are written in the Israeli museum. Names of all deceased are written there.”

After the war, she moved to America. She got married and had a son. She was involved in public activities, like other numerous happy and non-indifferent Americans.

“I didn’t know anything about Palestinians. I wasn’t even thinking about this issue until I read by chance about what happened in the Palestinian refugee camps in Sabra and Shatila. This was 2 years after they had been killed there. I was really stricken when I realized this was performed by Jews. I started reading and learning. The more I learned about the way the Palestinians were treated, the less I felt I could stay away from this issue. It really hurts to realize that Jews who themselves suffered so much are now causing cruel suffering to Palestinians. Didn’t we learn that lesson from our history? I can see that we didn’t. This hurts me excruciatingly.”

Hedy is willing to understand those who remain ignorant, but she finds it hard to accept the reasoning of those who consciously perform injustice against Palestinians and present it as their obligation in the name of the nation.

“In 2003, I arrived in the West Bank for the first time, and I saw many things with my own eyes. Since then, I’ve been there 5 times. And I see that each year things have been just getting worse. Palestinians tell me: ‘Go back and tell all Americans and whoever you can, as they do know what fairness means; it’s not their fault that media has been keeping quiet about us.’ Universities, churches and mosques have all been asking me to tell about Palestine. It’s only the synagogues that never ask me to speak there.’

She has many friends in St. Louis, Missouri, where she lives. Many of those friends are her neighbors, including Jews. Upon her return, they always ask her with great sympathy to tell them everything. “Israel was the only place that called me a self-hating Jew. In 2004, I was held at the airport for 5 hours while they were interrogating and searching me. They called me a terrorist. That’s exactly what they said: ‘You’re a terrorist.’ Because I talked to Palestinian women and children. You know, I talked to many Palestinians. These people amaze me with their endurance and their openness at the same time. Whenever I introduce myself I tell people that I’m Jewish. Not even once have Palestinians said anything hurtful to me. I never experienced anti-Semitism or a racist attitude from them. Israel calls me – a Jew whose parents died in the concentration camps – a ‘threat to their national security.’”

She is convinced that the problem is not as hopeless as it’s usually described.

“Israelis talk a lot about peace, about negotiations – but they only talk; they’re not interested in peace. They want to achieve everything for Jews only. They forgot their experience, even though there have been so many words about it. I see that Palestinians have a broader view of the world; they don’t pursue their interests only. They will make it, because different people support them all over the world.

Israel is supported by particular politicians, whereas Palestinians are supported by people.” She explains the difference.

“Obama had been involved in this issue many years ago. He knew the situation that Palestinians were in. Now he is a politician and he is limited in his actions. Oh well, that’s alright, with help of such people as those of the Free Gaza movement, Palestinians will survive.”

According to her, the offer of Israel to forward cargos to Palestinians shouldn’t be accepted.

“I don’t believe them. After the war, Israel hasn’t allowed any shipments to Gaza. They made a list of 200 banned items. It’s often prohibited to bring small parts for modern medical equipment without which this equipment is no good. Meanwhile, people are dying, because doctors are powerless to help them. People are dying without medicines and without equipment. This is a slow genocide.”

Hedy has worked in the US human rights area for many years. She knows the laws. “We are forced to act, because governments are idle. We are operating within the law, we don’t go into their waters; we are not going to Israel. We want to deal with people from Gaza, not from Israel, and our cargos are legal.’

Does she understand why delivery of medicines and notebooks to Palestinians is interpreted by Israel as displays of anti-Semitism?

“As little as saying ‘It’s raining in Israel, it’s bad for tourists’ makes one an anti-Semite. Recently, Israel has been debasing its image all the time: the Goldstone report, a Palestinian murdered in Dubai, the last war of 2009. It’s time to stop. But they have been running like a wounded wild animal crushing everything they come across, unable to stop, even though it goes against their own interests.”

Fragile and absolutely unwarlike, Hedy is coughing a lot. “Usually I don’t sound like this,” she says smiling. “But that’s alright, Gaza will heal me!”

She is one of 750 volunteers accompanying 9 cargo ships in the “Freedom Flotilla,” which is going to Gaza with medicines, construction materials and other legal goods. 60 countries participated in its formation.

Representatives of 50 countries will follow the flotilla. They include members of European parliaments, lawyers, writers, two deputies of the Israeli parliament and journalists.

Nadezhda Kevorkova, Larnaca, for RT