The graffiti image of Anne Frank wearing a kuffiyeh by the Netherlands artist known as “T’ has long drawn indignation and controversy, though its original intention was related to the fashionable wearing of a kuffiyeh. Recently, BDS Amsterdam’s use of the image has rekindled the controversy. Haaretz’s Bradley Bursten complained, “No, those who are affected most directly by the Anne Frank image–and most deeply hurt– are Holocaust survivors and their descendants.”
Personally, I think it is these same persons who, through the empathy brought by suffering, should understand the moral symbiosis of the image and its tragic significance today.
Anne Frank is of course the Jewish teenager who spent two years with her family hidden in a building in Amsterdam, and then was betrayed and deported to Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi concentration camp, where she died. She has since become a beloved icon in the dreams of children, past and present, who have been annihilated by violence.
The Anne Frank Foundation states that “Through her diary, Anne Frank has become a worldwide symbol representing all victims of racism, anti-Semitism and fascism. The foremost message contained in her diary sets out to combat all forms of racism and anti-Semitism.”
Today, virulent racism and antisemitism is victimizing another Semitic people, the Palestinians.
In her diary, Anne fearfully wrote: “All Jews must be out of the German-occupied territories before 1 July. The province of Utrecht will be cleansed of Jews [as if they were cockroaches] between 1 April and 1 May.”
Palestinians are also vilified with the racial slur “cockroach.” In 1983, Israeli Rafael Eitan, who served as Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), and later as Knesset member and government minister, announced: “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged roaches in a bottle.” And Israeli peace activist, Professor Nurid Peled-Elhanan, who has made a thorough analysis of Zionist education resources, tells us: “When images of Arabs do figure, they are often negatively depicted as less human or subhuman, subservient, deviant, criminal and evil…. [Palestinians] are seen as cockroaches, vermins, creatures who should be stamped out.”
The Suffering of Palestinian Children Is Not Unlike Anne Frank’s
In the context here of youthful suffering, let us consider the similarities between the Nazi victimising, traumatising and slaughtering of Anne Frank to the victimising, traumatising, mutilating and slaughtering of the teenagers and children of Gaza. The children of Gaza have also been trapped, or, as Anne may have put it, “chained in one spot, without any rights” for seven years in the largest concentration camp in the world.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip number 1,763,387, of whom 43% are under 14 years of age and the median age is 18.1. The population has been in a state of humanitarian crisis since the 2006 illegal Israeli blockade took control of all of Gaza’s borders in collaboration with Egypt.
Following the horrific Israeli 2009/10 war on Gaza‘s defenseless population, Iman Aoun, director of the Ramallah Astar Theatre, produced “The Gaza-Mono-Logues,” based on moving stories of thirty-one teenagers impounded in the Gaza ghetto. As one character, Fateema, 14, laconically observes, “Gaza’s fish ran away…but the people were not able to.”
In her diary, Anne Frank asks:
“Who has inflicted this upon us? Who had made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now?”
But, just as the world was silent during Anne’s holocaust and bewilderment, so too, was it silent during the massive bombardment on defenseless Gazan families (ironically, because they are not Jewish). Few took notice of Israel’s arsenal of Depleted Uranium, Dense Inert Metal Explosives, White Phosphorous, Anti-Personnel/Anti-Materiel Tank Rounds, Fuel Air Explosives, Anti-Door Short-Range Anti-Armor Weapons, Spike Multi-Purpose Anti-Armor Missiles, GBU-28s, Bunker Buster Bombs, GBU-39s, GPS Guided Munitions, M433 40mm-High Explosives, Dual-Purpose (HEDP) Cartridges, M889A1 81 mm High Explosive Cartridges, M107 155 mm High Explosive Artillery Rounds, M141 83 mm Bunker Defeating Munitions, M930 120 mm Illuminating Cartridges fired by F16s, Helicopters, UAVs (or Drones), Armored Tanks, Caterpillar Armored D9 Bulldozers, Naval War Ships, and IOF Forces, including Max Brenner’s Proud Golani and Givati Brigades, plus the invasion of M889A1 and M107 Tanks specifically designed to spray some 2,000 pieces of shrapnel and to breach walls….
Instead, the world silently allowed the slaughter of 1400 Gazans, including 320 children and their dreams….
Sujoud, 15, declares, “They took our land and threw us out of our homes…. And because we are defending ourselves, all this happens to us. There’s no water…no electricity…no phones…no petrol…. What are we to the world, aren’t we human?”
Silence reigned again during the Israeli Operation Pillar of Cloud in November of last year, which killed 105 Gazans as well as the dreams of 30 children.
Anne Frank, trapped in the Secret Annexe in the Netherlands, was terrorized by the noise of war. She wrote:
“I still haven’t got over my fear of planes and shooting, and I crawl into Father’s bed nearly every night for comfort. I know it sounds childish, but wait till it happens to you! The ack-ack guns make so much noise you can’t hear your own voice.
Reem, 14, shared this terror in Gaza. “Yesterday I was sitting in school and heard the sounds of planes. I got really scared, I wanted to run away from school. I felt I was going to die because I remembered the war. The scenes of war won’t leave my mind.”
Unconscionably, this anguish of Gaza’s children is purposely exacerbated by Israel, which regularly and mercilessly bludgeons Gazans with a series of sonic booms, mainly at night. Sounding like massive explosions, the booms can cause miscarriages and heart attacks, as well as trauma, loss of hearing, breathing difficulties, and bed-wetting in children.
Anne Frank, for her part, described second-hand the devastation from the bombardments on her city, and more intimately the effect they had on herself:
“North Amsterdam was very heavily bombed on Sunday. There was apparently a great deal of destruction. Entire streets are in ruins, and it will take a while for them to dig out all the bodies. So far there have been two hundred dead and countless wounded; the hospitals are bursting at the seams. We’ve been told of children searching forlornly in the smouldering ruins for their dead parents. It still makes me shiver to think of the dull, distant drone that signified the approaching destruction.”
Ahmad, 14, shares first-hand his traumatic experience in Gaza:
“In the Shifa hospital I saw a sight I will never forget. Hundreds of corpses, one on top of the other. Their flesh…their blood, and their bones all melting on each other. You wouldn’t know the woman from the man or even the child. Piles of flesh on the beds, and lots of people screaming and crying, not knowing where their kids are, their men or their women.
“That night, I came home from hospital and was awake until morning from fear. I thought it would only be that night that I couldn’t sleep, but till today I see them in front of me and I can’t sleep.”
Anne dreaded the Gestapo roundup of civilians:
“Mr Dussel has told us much about the outside world we’ve missed for so long. He had sad news. Countless friends and acquaintances have been taken off to a dreadful fate. Night after night, green and grey military vehicles cruise the streets.”
Today, the roundups dreaded by Anne Frank find new forms in the West Bank of Palestine. There, Israel systematically ramps up the state of anxiety and fear with night-time raids and violent home invasions. Arrests of children and adults occur mainly at night, when the whole family is suddenly awakened and their home invaded by armed soldiers shouting and ransacking the family’s possessions. This leads to the kidnapping of the family member, or members, targeted, leaving the family distraught and their lives devastated. Reuters reported that, according to UNICEF, “approximately 700 Palestinian children, between the ages of 12 and 17, are kidnapped, detained and interrogated by the Israeli army, the Police and security agents in the West Bank every year, and are subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in direct violation of the Convention on the Right of the Child, and the Convention against Torture.”
In both the West Bank and Gaza, the effect of unending oppression has become tragic for Palestinian children. The respected Gaza journalist Mohammed Omer points out in “For Gaza’s Children the Trauma Never Ends”:
“The Nazi persecution and World War II in Europe, which lasted from 1933 to 1945, affected an entire generation of children. By contrast, Israel’s dispossession and occupation of Palestine has lasted some six decades–and counting. Generations of Palestinian children have been affected physically, psychologically and materially.”
For Anne Frank, the experience of Nazi oppression had the effect of making her former life seem surrealistic. She wrote:
“When I think back to my life in 1942, it all seems so unreal. The Anne Frank who enjoyed that heavenly existence was completely different from the one who has grown wise within these walls.”
Khalil, 13, for whom the Israeli violence is ongoing, has had a similar experience. “Excuse me,” he says somewhat sarcastically, “but the war has wiped blank all my beautiful memories. The front half of my house was damaged, so that I am transferred to a life-situation that I never dreamed I would be experiencing.” [IMEMC 23-1-11]
Anne Frank recalls that, “After May, 1940, the good times were few and far between: first there was the war, then the capitulation and then the arrival of the Germans, which is when the trouble started for the Jews. Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees.”
Anne then lists the humiliations Jews were subject to under the Nazi’s apartheid regime. Interestingly, her experience can easily be reworded, as follows, to reflect the Palestinian experience:
“After May, 1940, the good times were few and far between: first there was the never-ending arrival of the Jews, then the capitulation of the British and then the Israeli war and Nakba, which is when the trouble started for the indigenous Palestinians.
“Freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Palestinian apartheid decrees that violate international law:
–Palestinians live under military law, while Israelis live under civil law.
–Identity cards only for Palestinians.
–Segregation between Jewish and Palestinian communities.
–Jews-only roads and transport.
–Movement restrictions for Palestinians.
–Unequal access to land and property.
–Forcible eviction and home demolitions for Palestinians.
–Palestinians forbidden the right of return, while Jews anywhere in the
world have the right to live in Israel.
–Deportation of Palestinian prisoners.
–Palestinians are forbidden from living with Israeli Arab spouses.
–Separate and unequal education systems.
–Forced resettlement of Bedouins.”
In addition, Adalah reports that “In the four short months since the current Knesset came to power, MKs have proposed as many as 29 new discriminatory bills that attack the rights of Palestinians in Israel and the OPT.”
All Children Have Dreams, and the Right to Make Them Real
Even though for Anne “t he approaching danger [was] being pulled tighter and tighter,” and she felt “like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling itself against the bars of its dark cage,” we Palestinian young people share with her that confounding universal metamorphosis of the human teenager into a young adult overflowing with the same heartfelt reflections, confessions, emotional struggles, lamentations, loves, fears, hates, and hopes.
The tragic poignancy of her life was that a globally ignored unfettered evil cut short her life, aspirations and spiritual generosity. This was her potential, which all young people have, along with the natural right to try to make it real:
“If God lets me live, I’ll achieve more than Mother ever did, I’ll make my voice heard, I’ll go out into the world and work for mankind! I now know that courage and happiness are needed first! Yours, Anne M. Frank.
Like Anne, Reem, 14, has the spiritual generosity and energy leaders and most people lack. “The thing that upsets me and makes me cry,” he says, are children’s tears–all children in the world regardless of their nationality, religion or color. When I grow up I want to be a pediatrician, and that’s the hope that gives me a big push in life.”
When viewed in the context of the sorrows, hopes and aspirations of Gazan children trapped in the dark cages of Zionist oppression, the image of Anne Frank wearing a kuffiyeh, the badge of Palestinian resistance, manifests an aura of grace and makes profound sense.
– Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor (more…)