Jacques Bude survived the Nazi genocide because he was saved by Belgians as a child. His parents were deported and murdered in Auschwitz.
A retired professor, Bude supports the call for a boycott of Israeli universities complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights.
He lectured in social psychology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, but prefers to identify as a “deserter from the Israeli army.”
As a 16-year-old, Bude was taken in 1949 to Israel from an orphanage for Jewish children in the Belgian port of Antwerp.
Two years later, after evading military conscription, he fled Israel. Today, he expresses admiration for young Israelis who refuse to join the army.
When Bude spoke to The Electronic Intifada at his home in Brussels, it was the first time he had told a journalist about his experiences.
To understand his position on Israel, Bude says, you have to know that “my parents were deported when I was 8. They were murdered in Auschwitz.”
“If I had remained with my parents I would be dead,” Bude says. “Not one child of my age from Belgium came back from deportation.”
Bude says he was saved by the social worker at the factory where his father worked: “She took me to farmers who hid me during the war. You should not look at me for some mythical identification with the Jewish community. My community is Belgium.”
Bude’s father emigrated from Poland to Belgium in about 1929 to work in the steel mills. “We spoke Yiddish at home,” Bude recalls of his childhood in the city of Liège. “My parents had a very modest income, were illiterate and did not speak French. In no way could they have escaped the Nazis.”
After years in hiding, Bude was moved after the war to the orphanage in Antwerp.
In exile in Israel
“In 1949 all the children from the orphanage were taken to Israel by the Zionist movement,” Bude recalls.
“I was 16 and didn’t want to leave Belgium. I wanted to go to school,” Bude says. “My father taught me the importance of education.”
According to Bude, the school director found a family to take him in, “but the day before we were leaving he said it was impossible.”
“I should have run away, but I was a child,” Bude says now, recalling that he felt a determination to come back to Belgium if Israel didn’t suit him.
“I did not want to stay right from the start,” Bude says without hesitation when asked how he felt on arriving in Israel. “It was horrible. We were put in some kind of derelict place, it must have been an agricultural school from the Palestinians, right next to Gaza. Everything was scarce, the only things that were not scarce were weapons.”
But coming back was not a simple matter, as he would have had to complete three years of military service in order to obtain an exit visa.
In the decade after the 1948 Nakba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by the Zionist movement, Israel doubled its Jewish population by bringing in hundreds of thousands of people.
But while Zionism marketed this population transfer as a liberation and the fulfillment of a dream, it was anything but for the young Bude.
“I really felt in exile,” he says. “I was destroyed by German militarism and I came to Israel and again encountered militarism.”
“We had to speak Hebrew, but Yiddish is my mother tongue,” he recalls. “They were insulting me and my parents because we were not Zionists.”
“We had not defended ourselves and were in a way held responsible for the killings,” Bude says, describing the attitude he encountered towards survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide.
“They were real racist militarists,” he says. “Don’t expect much nuance about Jewishness and Israel from me. For me, Israel is founded on ethnic cleansing. And if I identify with somebody, it is the Palestinian kid.”
Bude left the orphanage in Israel where the Belgian children had been transferred and was hiding from the army in Ashkelon, the name Israel gave the Palestinian city of al-Majdal after thousands were driven from their homes in 1948.
“All the houses were empty. I lived in one of these houses,” he says. “I never saw Palestinians.”
He recalls an incident when there was a rumor that there were Palestinians in the market, “and we ran there to see.” That handful of Bedouin women selling produce “were the only Palestinians I saw.”
“The story that Israel was an empty land is completely false,” Bude says, recalling the empty Palestinian homes he saw in al-Majdal and “the well-kept orange plantations in the surroundings.”
Bude worked at one of those plantations, trying to earn money to leave the country.
“They gave me a Mauser gun with ammunition,” he recalls. “I was a kid of 17 and had to protect a plantation which was stolen from the Palestinians. It was now exploited by Jews.”
“I was sent there so the Palestinians wouldn’t come to steal fruit,” he says. “It was shoot to kill! To kill the person who comes to ‘steal’ what belongs to him! I would never shoot anyone.”
Bude eventually did get home to Belgium. He bought a passport on the black market, but still needed papers showing he had done his military service. In the end a cousin who had come to Israel earlier and fought in the army lent him his papers, which Bude used to get out.
“The duty of memory”
Though Bude spent only two years in Israel, that time had a profound influence on the rest of his life, and he cannot help but relate it to what his family suffered during the war.
“To me a Jewish Israeli militarist ultra-nationalist – which is what they are – is like a German ultra-nationalist,” he says. “A right-wing general, Jew or not, is a right-wing general.”
“When I hear Jewish state, I hear Aryan state,” he says, making a juxtaposition many would find difficult to stomach.
But in drawing a parallel, Bude does not claim experiences were the same. The Nazi ideology “led to the genocide of the Jews, the Roma, the Sinti, homosexuals and the mentally disabled,” he says. “It is the worst dehumanization that happened until today. It was industrial and they went all the way. They dehumanized them completely, to a pile of hair and gold.”
“So the duty of memory is to say never more dehumanization,” Bude explains. “If we say ‘never again,’ we have to decide where we stand and condemn it.”
“I am against ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, which is a form of dehumanization,” Bude says. “I am not against the existence of Israel but in Israel the overwhelming majority vote for these policies so I can say the Israeli people failed heavily, like the German people then.”
“The best of the best”
Bude supports many Palestine solidarity groups. His message for Palestinians is simple and somber: “Try to stay alive.”
He has declined invitations to visit the occupied West Bank because it would be too hard.
“If I go there, the only thing I could say to these children is despise the soldiers that occupy you, the settlers that come and sit on your land,” he says. “Not the Jews, but the people who do this to you.”
“You have to, to remain a human being,” he adds. “If I didn’t despise the people who killed my parents I would have become crazy.”
“But most of all with my past, I can’t go,” Bude says. “If I see a soldier, and even more if I know that he is Jewish, I think I will explode.”
Bude recalls that before the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, resistance fighters tried to kill the Jewish chief of the ghetto police – a collaborator with the Nazis. In this history, Bude hears an echo too.
“If I would go to Palestine, I would tell them that the Palestinian Authority is the same thing,” he says. “They are the administrators of the ghetto. So if there is another intifada it should be of course against the Israelis, but also against the PA.”
Resistance, whatever form it takes, is not a duty that belongs only to Palestinians, according to Bude.
Asked how he feels about Noa Gur Golan and Hadas Tal, both recently jailed for refusing to go to the army, Bude says, “Many young people leave Israel, but these young women are the redeemers of the nation. They are the best of the best to me.”