Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"Don't be a fool and die for your country. Let the other sonofabitch die for his."

Monday in Israel was again an interesting experience.
The day startes as what is called Yom Hazikaron (the remembrance day for the fallen soldiers) and then goes over into the Yom HaAzmaut (the day of independence).
Three sirens, one on Sunday and two on Monday followed by one minute of silence marked the day. Many people were wearing white shirts in respect for the fallen soldiers. Flags were on half-mast.

I went to the Mount Herzl military cemetery. Here all the fallen soldiers of Jerusalem are buried, alongside Yitzhak Rabin and Theodor Herzl. The graves are sorted in an interesting fashion, first by company and then by the war. The entire graveyard was filled with relatives of the fallen once. Speakers commented on the heroic of falling for the country, the cause that those soldiers had died for, as Josef Trumpeldor said it, “Never mind, it is good, to die for our country.”
This is not the time of the year to comment on the death of the soldiers, I am told. What do you want to believe in, when your son has died during the last three days of the Second Lebanon War, just because the Israeli Government was not willing to sign the amistice agreement? Those voices were not heard on Monday.
But it was not the graves that shocked me, the people mourning, or even the teenager with flowers in their hands asking me, “Where is the second Lebanon War?”.

What shocked me was at the side of the graveyard. There, behind the graves of the newly buried soldiers, is a space that is left open, unpaved, waiting for the new soldier, who soon will be buried here.
The morning puts me into a moody feeling, I guess also because I was with an Israeli family, who lost a brother, a son, an uncle. But then it gets bizzar. I listen to the Tiqkva (Israel’s National Anthem) for the sixth time that day, they play it everywhere. At the evening is another ceremony at the Mount Herzl. The military marches, parades, the cabinet appears. The day of the fallen soldiers, turns into a show off of the IDF (Israel’s army). The flag is raised from half post to full and now it is Independence Day, with fire works, music and dance show featuring the most beautiful of the army girls. Weird! I conclude what my impression was: The sovereignty of Israel, the independence, relies upon the Army and the death of those soldiers serving in it. Why not emphasize the culture, the multitude of religions and the beautiful nature. If Israel does not want to be seen as an all military nation, maybe it should stop to represent and think of itself as one.

But it also must be noted that Israel is in need of its army on a daily base. Along with the fire works for the Independence Day, people in the Negev could hear and see a few dozen Quassam rockets and mortar shells fired by the Hamas. By breaking the curve with Israel for the first time in five month on the Independence Day, the Hamas once again emphasizes why Israel institutes those measurements that we in Europe criticize as too hard.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Survivors of the Shoah are still here!

That was the motto for the demonstration in front of the Knesset, yesterday on the Yom Hashoa, the remembrance day for the victims of the holocaust.

On Yom HaShoa everybody is supposed to be in grief, so the television channels only air pause pictures, except for those channels that show the official commemoration ceremony or as was the case this year for the first time, a documentary of the situation of many of the holocaust survivors in Israel.
Zeev Factor, chairman of the Holocaust Survivors Welfare Fund, says that 80.000 Shoah-survivors out of the 250.000 living in Israel live in poverty and many of them are hungry on a regular base. Every year some 10.000 of these people die.
When Germany and Ben Gurion signed the Luxemburg Agreements for restitution, Germany gave an amount of money and goods to Israel, being the heir of the victims of the Shoah. Ben Gurion invested the money in Israel’s industry, which also led to Israel’s economical boom.
Germany also allocated an amount of money to be distributed among those who survived the Shoah. These funds are handled by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (“claims conference”).
The Claims conference today compensates survivors with 1700 NIS a month. Germany also gives a direct compensation to those survivors, who came to Israel before 1953.
Those who came afterwards however, the majority, needs to live on the allocations from the claims conference and on the national retirement allowance by the state of Israel. But the mentioned survivors come from the sovjet union after the 1990. They have not worked in Israel and are thus not eligible to receive any retirement allowance. Many survivors are unable to make themselves a living with the sparce support. Many have lost their family and thus the family support in the holocaust. Malnutrition and exhaustion in the camps makes them more vulnerable to illnesses today and they need on average more money for the medicine.
The state of Israel has the responsibility to make sure that the survivors receive at least 3000 NIS a month, but this is not followed up and not often granted. The Israeli government in February allocated and amount of 11 Million NIS as an emergency aid to the survivors, but boiled down, that equals 137 NIS a person. Also the government opened saving accounts in different Israeli banks, all of which deny that this is an emergency, where funds need to be released.
There is an emergency fond allocation of around $300 Million (1.2 Billion NIS) with the Claims Conference, but they don’t consider the situation an emergency. The claims conference came into public focus last year, when it was revealed that the Executive Director, Gideon Taylor, had an annual salary of more then $400.000, which is more then the allocation for 100 survivors.
The question of who needs to take care of the survivors is difficult. Israel surely has an moral obligation to make sure that all the basic needs for the survivors are met. Also the claims conference needs to allocate funds. But if this does not happen soon, then there is no reason to do it at all. If I would by cynical I would say that the problem solves itself in 5-10 years from now.

But so I went to the demonstration in front of the Knesset, which students from the Hebrew University, the Israeli Pensionist Party and Meeretz Party had organized. Around a thousand youngsters showed up. Most of them 17-18 years old, schoolchildren and boyscouts. Maybe 20 survivors also managed to come. The demonstration was over after 3 hours and I was sitting on a bench enjoying the sunshine, when a girl, who also was at the demonstration, asked me: “Sorry, do you actually know where the Knesset-building ist?”. I shook my head in resignation and pointed at the building behind me. If these kids are all the support that stands up for the Dignity of the Shoah-Survivors, then they are surely forgotten.
During the last few years, the survivors have started going back to Germany. In Germany they have an reasonable pension of around 6000 NIS and free Medicare. It can’t be more ironical and has a strong symbolical meaning, that they are going back to Germany, in order to live a better life, before they die.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Ghetto Ramallah

A few weeks after the bishops from Germany made statements comparing the pictures of Ghettoes, which they saw in Yad Vashem to the situation in Ramallah, I went there.
We were a group of 10 people, crossing into the Ramallah/ El Bira area in a rented Arabic taxi. We then went to the Headquarters of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Here we had a Smalltalk about the current problem in Palestine (evil Israel, evil Fence, evil Checkpoints). There we met up with a local photographer, who showed us around Ramallah and we ended up in an area, where the Presidential Guard, maid up mainly by former members of the Force 17, was securing a complex. We walked in and then found out, that this was the seat of the Palestinian Authority. There it is, the Mausoleum of Arafat. I took a picture of the place, with the flowers that Secretary General of the United Nations had placed there just a week earlier. We also asked a guard, if we can talk to the President, Abbas, but they told us, that he was not there at the moment, if we want to meet him we have to come back later! Then a walk through Downtown Ramallah, which looks pretty much exactly like downtown Jerusalem, fancy shops, restaurants, life, culture, but there a posters everywhere showing middle aged men running around and shooting with weapons. Unfortunately my Arabic is not so good, but I think I get the message. We had a very nice lunch at a local restaurant, excellent food, I really think about spending a few more days in Ramallah. This third world city is not so different then other places I have been to, and the food is guaranteed better then the breakfast served in the youth hostels in Paris! And we go on! The next activity on our site seeing tour is the refugee camp Amari. A professional tour guide takes us around. The camp is around one square kilometer in size, with a population of 8500 people. 65% of them are under the age of 16. Many workers refer to the camp as a children’s camp. The streets are narrow, unorganized and crowded with children. The houses build of concrete. The streets are clean. Our guide stops and asks me if I have ever seen something as awful as this. I tell him, that I have been to Malawi and have seen people living in houses made of cardboard, with no running water, no electricity and no sewer system. He shuts quiet for a second. The Refugee camp is run by the United Nations to be more specific the UNRWA. They take care of the administration, the healthcare and education as well as sewer systems. The inhabitants don’t pay tax, even though most of them work, they only need to cover electricity and water. Too much for some of them anyway, since many families have 10 children and more. Many families still believe that having a lot of children is going to guarantee their pension. The opposite is the case. Families with less children have a chance to pay for their children’s education, and thus they get better jobs, eventually making their way out of the poverty. I ask our guide, if the families can leave the camp? The inhabitants of the camps are full Palestinians, with a Palestinian passport and nationality. They can leave the camp, whenever they want, he says. But they don’t leave, they stay because they are refugees, evicted from their homes and land in Israel. If they stay in the camp they set a political sign, he says. If they leave the camp, what will become of their struggle.. I am looking at a four or five year old boy, playing soccer on a bumpy street. Somehow it does not go into my head, that this little boy wants to be a political activist. Was he ever asked if he wants to stay in a camp like this, for 60 years and wait for a return home to a land, which he has never seen in his life, and never will? I guess not!

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Hey tut mir leid ich bin grad einfach zu gestresst, gernervt, zu müde, keine Ahnung …und dann haben sich noch unsere lieben W-lan spendenden Nachbarn ausm Staub gemacht, d.h. kein I-net im Moment .
Deshalb passiert hier erst mal auch nix bis ich wieder etwas Motivation gefunden hab aber keine Angst sonst ist alles Ok und es geht bestimmt bald weiter!

Chag Sameach!!!

Bilder: Mea Sharim rockt ---Brotverbrennungsvolksfest vorm Sederabend