In a demonstration in Poland, Israeli activists who refuse to serve in the military (refuseniks) painted the words ‘Free Gaza’ and ‘Liberate all the ghettos’ on the wall of a ghetto that used to imprison Jews during World War II – a move which sparked disgust from the Holocaust Museum in Israel.Yonatan Shapira, one of the Israeli refuseniks who participated in the action, was the author of a 2003 ‘Pilots Letter’ signed by 23 Israeli pilots who refused to serve in missions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – the West Bank and Gaza. He lost both his military rank and commission, and his commercial pilots’ license for taking that action.
Shapira challenged what he called the ‘appropriation of the Holocaust’ by Israeli leaders, including the current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in order to serve their political interests.
In writing ‘Free Gaza’ on the last remaining wall of the Warsaw Ghetto, Shapira told reporters, he was not trying to equate the horrors of the Holocaust with what Israel is doing in Gaza, but trying to open a dialogue about the Israeli occupation of Palestine. He said, ‘I am not saying there is a comparison with the monstrosity of Nazi death camps, but I am saying we must talk about the silence in Israel and the world when people are confined in a ghetto-like place.’
During his statement to the press gathered at the site, Shapira added, ‘Most of my family came from Poland and many of my relatives were killed in the death camps during the Holocaust. When I walk in what was left from the Warsaw Ghetto, I can’t stop thinking about the people of Gaza who are not only locked in an open air prison but are also being bombarded by fighter jets, attack helicopters and drones, flown by people whom I used to serve with before my refusal in 2003.’
He continued, ‘I am also thinking about the delegations of young Israelis that are coming to see the history of our people but also are subjected to militaristic and nationalistic brainwashing on a daily basis. Maybe if they see what we wrote here today they will remember that oppression is oppression, occupation is occupation and crimes against humanity are crimes against humanity, whether they have been committed here in Warsaw or in Gaza.’
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Israel condemned the action, saying that Shapira had “lost all factual and moral judgment”, adding that they were ‘repulsed’ by the protest and graffiti-painting on the Warsaw Ghetto Wall.