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Herb Rothschild Jr.: History's bitterest irony

In 1952, SS administrator Franz Konrad and SS-Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop were hung in Poland. They had been convicted of war crimes by both Polish and U.S. military tribunals. Konrad had been administrator of the Warsaw Ghetto. Stroop led the forces that crushed the uprising in April 1943 and laid waste the ghetto.

After conquering Poland in 1939, the Nazis packed Poland’s three million Jews into city ghettos. Warsaw was the largest — between 300,000 and 400,000 in 3.3 square kilometers. Thousands died of disease and starvation before the first deportations to the death camps, in 1942. Only at the end of that year did those who remained learn what “resettlement to the East” really meant. So when a second round of deportations began, they took up what few arms they had. The uprising was doomed. 13,000 Jews were killed; of the surviving 50,000 Jews, most were captured and shipped to the camps.

Yitzhak Zuckerman, one of the surviving ghetto warriors, moved to Israel. In an interview on the 25th anniversary of the uprising, he said, “If there’s a school to study the human spirit, there [the uprising] should be a major subject. The important things were inherent in the force shown by Jewish youth after years of degradation, to rise up against their destroyers, and determine what death they would choose: Treblinka or Uprising.”

About 1.85 million Palestinians are packed into a 365-square-kilometer ghetto called Gaza. Gaza is dying. On World Refugee Day in 2014, Pierre Krähenbühl, the Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency wrote, “In Gaza, unsustainability has many yardsticks. One in particular has struck me profoundly. The number of Palestine refugees coming to UNRWA for food handouts has increased from 80,000 in 2000 to over 800,000 today ... 90 percent of water is unsafe to drink. The entire aquifer is likely to be unusable as early as 2016, with the damage irreversible by 2020 if present policies are not changed. There are few immediate signs that they will be.” Last year, the UN issued a report warning Gaza is already “unlivable.”

This is all the fault of Hamas. In 2006, it committed the unconscionable act of winning a free and fair election to govern the Occupied Territories. That outcome was intolerable to Israel and the U.S., which led a coup to restore control of the West Bank to the compliant Palestinian Authority and greatly ratcheted up the blockade to punish Gaza.

What else can Israeli soldiers do than kill Gazans when they choose death at the border wall over death by acquiescence? The soldiers even had to shoot 10 clearly marked medics ministering to the wounded, which they did on May 14. As Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted, “I want to emphasize, the leadership of Hamas is a gang of cannibals.”

Sarcasm aside, let’s accept that Hamas has fomented resistance, and that its tactics may bring death to its people sooner than the blockade will. Its defense has been that death by rockets and bullets attracts more public attention than death by disease and starvation. Hamas may be right; the world is paying some attention now. But thanks to the U.S., there’s little the world will do.

One of history’s bitterest ironies will be when, years from now, there’ll be side-by-side museums, one documenting the holocaust European Jews suffered, the other documenting the holocaust Israeli Jews perpetrated. If I’m alive, I’ll mourn in both.

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Tidings every Saturday.