Gilad Atzmon: Guilt and Responsibility
- An open letter to the German People about Guilt and responsibility
From Gilad Atzmon
For the last five weeks I have been touring your country to promote
my new album and book. As an Israeli dissident (exile), a devoted
anti Zionist and an enthusiastic supporter of the Palestinian
struggle, I found myself repeatedly engaged in discussions with many
young people who face a growing moral dilemma to do with the
traditional German support of Israel. I would like here to stress the
need for a necessary revision of your attitude towards the Jewish
state and Zionism in general.
Feeling guilty for not feeling guilty.
Two weeks ago, a very young journalist, nearly half my age, shared
with me her deep sense of guilt. In a most sincere manner she opened
her heart and told me that she would never overcome the shame and
guilt she inherited from her `parent's and grandparent's generation'.
It was only then that I realised that I myself do not feel guilty for
my own grandfather's crimes. My grandfather was a Jewish right wing
militant. A high commander in the Irgun, a fascist paramilitary
Jewish terrorist organisation. It was my grandfather's terrorist
organization that was responsible for the Dier Yasin massacre, the
murderous slaughter of an entire Palestinian village, an atrocity
that led the vast majority of the Palestinian population to flee from
their homeland. It was my grandfather's Irgun who invaded Jafo, the
beautiful Palestinian town on the Mediterranean shore. It is with
shame that I admit that my grandfather and his friends were war
criminals but at the same time I must say that I myself do not feel
guilty for their conduct. I honestly believe that one should be
accountable for one's own crimes.
It was that interview two weeks ago with the young journalist which
helped me to understand the obvious: the German people should never
feel guilty for their grand parents and grand-grandparents
transgressions. But the situation could be different. Too many of you
are preoccupied with a form of guilt that could never be authentic or
genuine. It is a `state of feeling guilty for not feeling guilty'.
Naturally, the young amongst you find it impossible to identify
themselves with crimes that were committed in a distant war by people
that they have never met. Moreover, this form of shame is leading
many of you towards a devious and well orchestrated double bind:
Following official guidelines (formulated by post war German
governments together with Jewish and Zionist organisations), you
are supposed to feel guilty for your past and to support Israel
blindly. At the same time, the growing scale of atrocities committed
by the `Jewish State', brings many of you to a necessary and fully
legitimate rejection of Israeli policy. Paradoxically, the more
atrocities committed by Israel, the less you feel for the `Jewish
state'; the less you feel for the `Jewish state', the more you feel
guilty for not feeling guilty for your own past. Quite an absurd
situation The growing scale of Israeli atrocities make you feel more
and more guilty for not feeling guilty. This is a vicious circle and
I would like to suggest that you find your way out.
Guilt and Responsibility.
I do know what guilt is all about. I myself feel very guilty for my
own misdoing. When the time came, I was neither clever enough nor
brave enough to refuse to serve in the Israeli army. I myself was
part of the war machine that inflicts so much pain on so many
innocent people. For many years after I completed my compulsory duty
in the IDF, I shared my personal shame with anyone who would listen.
But then finally I realised that guilt and shame are far from
productive mental states. They are a form of righteousness that can
never bring real change into the world. It can never make anything
better. I understood that guilt should be transformed into
Following Emanuel Levinas, who based his search for ethical conduct
on Talmud, I understood that responsibility is `responsibility to the
Other'. I realised that I myself should be responsible to the
Palestinian people. Rather than feeling righteously guilty about
Palestinian misery, I myself should take responsibility for stopping
my ex patriots from distributing pain and misery. I am responsible
for bringing the Zionist affair to an end.
Responsibility, Germany and the Palestinian people.
It is clear that the Palestinian people are `Hitler's very last
victims'. Without Hitler and the holocaust, Zionists would never have
gained the United Nations support that was needed for the completion
of their expansionist colonial adventure. Without Hitler and the
holocaust the world would never have turned a blind eye to the
colossal crimes committed by Israel for so many years. I would even
go so far as to say that the Zionists themselves would never have
dared to expel the Palestinian people from their homeland, if they
were not so confident about their new status as the `world's ultimate
victim' - a status that was achieved thanks to Hitler's extermination
Therefore, I would like to suggest to you my dear German reader, that
if you do feel guilty for the atrocities committed by the mad
Austrian mustachio and his followers, your guilt should be
transformed into a form of responsibility towards the Palestinians.
The Palestinians are the last people to suffer the horror of the Nazi
insanity. For them WW2 is not yet over.
Antisemitism a dated concept
Too many German journalists I have met recently were overwhelmingly
concerned that any criticism of Israeli affairs would be
interpreted as an antisemitic act. I am here to announce as loudly as
I can: there is no antisemitism any more. As a result of the
formation of the Jewish state (1948), antisemitism ceased to exist. I
am not trying to say here that Jewish interests are not getting
mutilated and vandalized. I am not saying that Synagogues aren't
being attacked; that Jewish graves are not brutally smashed up. I am
trying to say that these acts, that are in no way legitimate, should
be seen as political reactions rather than racially motivated acts.
If Israel is the state of the Jewish people and the Jewish people
themselves do not stand up collectively against the crimes that are
committed on their behalf, then every Jewish person, Jewish symbol
and Jewish object becomes an Israeli interest and a potential
terrorist target. It is up to the Jewish people to take a stand
against their Jewish state and to disassociate themselves from their
zealous national movement.
If for instance, we woke up tomorrow morning and found out that
another American embassy in Africa had been blown to pieces, no one
would suggest that it was a `racially motivated anti American
attack'. We would be naturally inclined to view the incident as
an `act of terror' against `American interests'. Our political
analysts would probably tell us that it was a form of retaliation
against `American colonialism', `expansionism', `support of Zionism'
etc. Since Zionists want Israel to be seen as `a nation among
nations' we should not treat them as a unique case. We should treat
them as the Americans and the British who have already realised that
their different interests around the world are under severe threat.
If being a Jew is a national category rather than a religious one, we
should be consistent and regard any act against Jews as a political
reaction rather than an irrational racist attack. In other words: the
success of Zionism drains away any possibility of antisemitism.
Those among my German listeners who try to shake my argument that
antisemitism has gone usually raise the issue of `holocaust denial'.
For years I have argued that `holocaust denial' is not a very
interesting issue because the notion of `holocaust denial' is far too
wide. In actual, anyone who tries to oppose the official Zionist
interpretation instantly becomes a `holocaust denier'. It is true
that for quite a while the Zionists were pretty successful. They
managed to stop the world from studying the events of the WW2. Few
people in Germany or in Israel or anywhere else know about the
extensive collaboration between the Zionists and the Nazis from 33
right up to the end of the war. But then again, I am not an historian
and the question whether there were 6 million Jews who died in the
holocaust or rather 3 and a half million is not really my own major
concern. For me the act of killing is a catastrophe and `state
organised serial killing' is an unbearable colossal catastrophe.
Accordingly, the form of holocaust denial that really bothers me is
the denial of the on-going Palestinian holocaust. This holocaust is
documented and covered daily by our western televisions and press
media. The turning of Palestinian residential cities into
concentration camps; the deliberate starvation of the Palestinian
population; the cutting of medical aid; the wall that shreds the holy
land into isolated cantons and Bantustans; the continuous bombardment
of civilians by the IAF - is all known to us all. This holocaust
is committed by the Jewish state and, somehow, largely ignored. This
is the most serious form of holocaust denial.
My dear German reader, if I haven't manage to convince you that you
are truly innocent and free of any guilt as far as your `collective
past' is concerned, you are probably one of those supremely moral
people with an astonishingly well developed ethical awareness. If
this is the case, if you are so concerned with your own people's
past, you are probably exactly the right one to talk to the Israeli
people and to try to help them comprehend their murderous present.
I realise now that you, the German people, who are so concerned with
your past, may be the only people on earth to help the Israelis and
to redeem them from their vicious present and deadly future.
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