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The German Package

We have close friends in Germany. They are both retired Lutheran priests. She officiated for many years as head of the church in a big city. He was a priest in small communities, and lectured on theology at a teachers’ seminary most of the time. They are both second-generation Nazism survivors. Their parents were not Nazi criminals, but unfortunately they lived as German citizens during the Nazi rule. His father was a soldier captured by the Russians, and spent five years in a Soviet POW camp from which he returned broken body and soul. Her father was a physician in German army camps, and was captured by the French. He was in POW camp in France, nothing nice about that either.

Our couple spent years feeling very guilty about the Jewish people and Israelis. They dedicated much of their time caring for the Jewish community in their town which took in Russian Jews who did not care to emigrate to Israel. Every year they organized common delegations of Jews and Christians who traveled around Israel and did volunteer work here. In one of these trips, we got to know them. We happened to sit at the same supper table on the shores of the Dead Sea. That evening we became friends with a mutual family commitment. Soon we were no longer second-generation Shoah and Nazism survivors, but rather people who have a nice time together. Anyway, I had a hard time understanding their guilt feelings. After all, they were not responsible for the horrors of the Third Reich. They were born in the mid-1950s, and even their parents were in fact victims of Hitler’s regime.

Now I understand them. Moreover, my present guilt feeling is greater than theirs. I am an Israeli citizen, and my own generation is complicit with crimes against humanity. I no longer see any difference between myself and any elderly German woman in 1942 who either knew or didn’t know what members of her own people and her own soldiers were doing to members of another people. Apparently, I know much more than that elderly German woman during the Second World War.

I know harsh, horrifying details about the death of women and children in bombings and about babies dying of hunger, about demoniac humiliations of uninvolved men, about destruction and final ruin of anything that is the fiber of life. I know horrible facts about torturing the wounded and the sick. I know about looting. I know about racist, beastly behavior of Israeli soldiers in a Gazan home. I know without any ability to un-know this.

The news from Gaza accumulates on top of new piles of violence in the West Bank, a territory occupied for decades. I know about the theft of land and livestock, about blocking wells, intimidation and invasion of residential compounds, about unpunished murder, about demoniac arrests in the middle of the night, about harassing detainees who are minors. These are the everyday deeds of occupation by colonists, soldiers and police. All of them are criminals against humanity.

I know all of these things because I am involved, demonstrate against the phenomenon of occupation, and now against this brutal war. The fact that I too am a victim of this absurd government headed by a psychopath who sacrifices Israelis for the sake of his doubtful office does not exempt me from knowing or feeling guilty. I am exposed to the smaller and greater details, all created by this Israeli time. I am familiar with the begging and angry and horrible gaze of a girl holding out a bowl through iron bars towards a person handing the hungry a spoonful of lintel soup, while a starving crowd pushes behind her. I hear the nightmarish noise in which this girl screams, voiceless.

And while I know all of this, I also know the mysterious horrors of the Israeli captives.

I have no precise details about their days and nights, but this factual blackout only makes the horror greater.

So now, this whole German package which I am now responsible for as an Israeli citizen is unbearably heavy. I am guilty.

I am as guilty as any Israeli citizen of the Hamas assault that emerged from the dark because of the total loss of hope. Because of years in which the State of Israel melted any option of creating a Palestinian state and the beginning of a sane life on this grief-struck piece of earth. Israelis and Palestinians have lost the hope of seeing normal existence, free of the fear of sudden death during their lives, and I have a part in this loss for the mere fact of living here. I am complicit with the crazed revenge campaign that has been taking place in the Gaza Strip since October 7th. My complicity is a result of my being a citizen of the State of Israel now and in all the previous moments of my life. I carry my guilt with me wherever I go. I feel guilty with my morning coffee, as I water my plants, listen to music, demonstrate in the evening. I feel guilty about the captives and soldiers dying in vain, and I feel guilty towards all Palestinians, living and dead.

I know my own guilt that is merciless. It is simply the way it is. This is what it’s like to be a conscious citizen in Israel. The guilt is with and in you. And it is present inside Israeli citizens who are not conscious of it. No one will emerge guiltless from this horror. We shall all carry it to the end of time.


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