Liberate all ghettos

The authors hold a Palestinian flag beside graffiti written on the grounds of the old Warsaw Ghetto. (Anna Łapińska)

The action that we recently undertook on the terrain of the old Warsaw Ghetto — to spray the words “Liberate all ghettos” in Hebrew and “Free Gaza and Palestine” in English — has been used by some commentators in Israel and the Jewish community in Poland to accuse us of anti-Semitism.

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, called the action “a provocation that perverts the history both of the Holocaust and of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” and the graffiti as “tainted with anti-Semitism.”

Noah Flug, Chairman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors, said “Those who compare the Warsaw Ghetto to the Gaza Strip are in the same category as Holocaust deniers.”

Dr. Leah Nass, Israel’s Deputy Minister for Pensioner Affairs, called the action a “vile act” which “demonstrates how imperative commemoration is these days, in order to prevent Holocaust denial.” He added that he planned “to contact the authorities in Poland to prosecute the law-breakers and anarchists.”

Piotr Kadlik, Chairman of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, also said, “The perpetrators of this hooliganistic escapade should be punished as ordinary vandals. Where will Jasiewicz leave her signings next? In Treblinka?”

These reactions do not come as a surprise to us. Our action was deliberately accountable which was why it was documented on film with statements of explanation. We wanted people to know who was responsible and the thinking behind it.

First, the wall we chose is already a public space of artistic expression. We have been portrayed as if we have grafittied a grave or a memorial — this is not the case. We deliberately avoided the old red brick perimeter wall of the ghetto.

On the same wall above our words are the words “Kamien I Co?” a play on words meaning “Tenement House” and also “Stones and what else?” painted by Polish artists. To the left of our words was the symbol for “A Fighting Poland” commemorating the resistance fighters of the Warsaw Uprising.

This wall cannot be compared to the memorial sites that are Treblinka and the other extermination camps in Poland. In Palestine, Gaza is a ghetto. Israel’s blockade has been described by the United Nations as “a crime against humanity.” There are towns and villages in the occupied West Bank that have been entombed by Israel’s apartheid wall such as Abu Dis and Qalqiliya. Ghettoization as a strategy of collective punishment and containment and division is being practiced daily by the state of Israel against the Palestinian people.

There is a manmade humanitarian crisis and a human rights crisis in Gaza that international aid organizations, the United Nations and the people of Gaza themselves testify to. Gaza has been steadily ghettoized for the past 15 years.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, more than 360 people have died since 2007 due to being prevented from receiving medical treatment. Anyone approaching the walls or electrified perimeter fences of Gaza is shot on sight. Ninety percent of the population are dependent on food aid. The World Health Organization reports that malnutrition is rife with 66 percent of infants and 30 percent of expectant mothers suffering from anemia. Some six percent of children under the age of 16 are showing symptoms of stunting.

The BBC recently reported that the Israeli government has written a report, “Red lines — Food Consumption in the Gaza Strip,” setting the caloric intake each woman, man and child should have. Israel has been systematically attacking the civilian population, infrastructure, factories, hospitals, schools and agricultural land of Gaza with F-16 fighter jets, white phosphorous shells, bulldozers, Apache helicopter gunships and drones for the past decade. Most of Gaza is still in ruins after the massacres committed by Israel during its 2008-09 winter invasion. When Israeli state representatives say: “There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” it is because they have ceased to see Palestinians as human beings.

History as we well know can be co-opted and sanctified and instrumentalized to serve present-day agendas of colonization and repression. Our action seeks to intervene in this kind of exploitation and ring an alarm about ghettoization in Palestine today. We all have the right to be political and to forge interventions and new representations of the contested here and now and relate it to an unfrozen past.

Our action is a small act of unarmed resistance intended to break the international silence on Gaza. It is to stir the conscience of Israeli tourists visiting the site of the old ghetto. It is to lift the spirits of the Palestinian people trapped inside ghettos in Palestine. We are civilians with little else in our hands aside from our solidarity and a spray can.

Our action is about the future and the kind of world we want to live in. It is one which supports and promotes our collective humanity. It is one of dignity, mutual respect and solidarity. A world without ghettos and walls of discrimination and prejudice.

“Never Again” means never again to crimes against humanity and dehumanization anywhere in the world. Liberate all ghettos.

Yonatan Shapira is an Israeli solidarity activist supporting the Palestinian
call for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel.

Ewa Jasiewicz is a coordinator with the Free Gaza Movement and the Polish Kampania Palestyna.