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An exact copy of the Al Aksa mosque of Jerusalem was built by Hezbollah in front of the Israeli village of Avivim, home to 400 Israelis (half of them, women, children and old people, are evacuated when the fire occurs in the border). There is fresh air and flocks on the green of Avivim, full of cedars and pines. Imagine what it means to be an Israeli in Avivim. Waking up every morning with the apocalypse in your face. But they don’t leave their houses. I am also thinking of the families that created foundations in the name of their murdered relatives. These foundations help Jews and Arabs alike.
It’s not only a book about mourning, it tells the story of “the land of blood and honey.”
FP: Your thoughts on those in the West who support the monsters who have caused the pain to the Israeli people that you document in your book?
Meotti: Today Israel is a pariah state, boycotted and condemned to death. The process of depersonalization and dehumanization of these victims began at the United Nations. In 2004, during the Second Intifada, the United Nations chose to condemn the defense of Israelis civilians as “illegal.” I am referring to the UN’s decision against the security barrier built by Israel to stop the suicide bombings. Ahmadinejad now can announce the end of Israel in an international summit at the UN, and all the West does is shake his hand. And piece by piece, bit by bit, they are destroying the structure of universalism and natural justice that arose after World War II. A great responsibility is also upon the shoulders of the European Union, because its current policy against Israel and because they funded the Palestinian anti-Semitism with textbooks, television programs and cultural activities.
The journalists and the intellectuals also contributed their own part: they were decisive by formulating the image of the Jewish State as an alien and temporary presence in the Middle East. Look at the Freedom Flotilla recent episode in Gaza: all over the world, journalists immediately spread the idea that Israel wanted to attack and kill a group of “pacifists.” They always invent a cruelty, a racism, a persecution, a desire for conquest and a scorn for peace that never existed.
Europe is becoming again the realm of Jews hatred. A group of Israeli tennis players was only allowed to play behind closed doors in a Swedish stadium. In Hannover, an Israeli dance group was stoned by demonstrators shouting “Juden Raus.” A major Swedish newspaper wrote that Israeli soldiers kill young Palestinians to harvest their organs. It’s a new blood libel. European supermarkets have more than once decided to boycott Israeli goods. The Israeli movies are ousted from global festivals. Scientific discoveries, technological products are systematically boycotted. Israeli academics are expelled from European universities and conferences. Nobody raises an eyebrow to the fact that the socialist and pacifist Spain bars gay Israelis from participating in a gay pride parade in Madrid, when the Palestinian gays are now hiding in Israel. Also the Christian establishment has its own moral responsibility. Pope John Paul II during his visit to Israel in 2000 met President Bashar Assad in Quneitra on the Syrian border. I can’t forget how Assad told the Pope and the media that the Israelis were doing to the Palestinians what the Jews had done to Jesus in his day. And the Pope was silent.
FP: Tell us about what Judaism teaches about the importance of “remembering” for survivors.
Meotti: I see Israel as the most relevant expression of Judaism. Israel is the miracle of a nearly three-thousand-year moral and intellectual capacity for survival amid the greatest tragedies. The sense of prodigy that Israel represents dominates the day of Hanukkah, which recalls the miracle of oil during the battle of the Maccabees; Pesach, with the flight from Egypt, evokes the contemporary feeling of a return to liberty after millenia of slavery in the Diaspora; Yom Kippur is the necessity of expiation before the suffering of humanity and one’s own. These three festivities explain this everlasting human misery that survived to Greek hegemony, to the Pagan Romans, to the Christian conversions, to the slavery under Islam, and later, to Nazi and Communist totalitarianism.
The secret of Jewish survival lies in its way to memory. We can easily see this phenomenon in Israel. Soldiers who have given their lives for Israel are remembered in ceremonies devoid of nationalist rhetoric and with familial warmth, with exaltations of love and of courage that lack militaristic connotations: no threats to the enemy as in Tehran or Damascus, no ferocious accusations, no racism. Instead, amid pain and tears, girlfriends and brothers remember the trips, sports, the passion for music and art of their lost loved ones, and also their ability to imbue confrontation with civil and moral values. Civil and military values are combined in the national day of remembrance for fallen soldiers, Yom ha-Zikkaron, in which, for twenty-four hours of ceremonies, of special television and radio programs, peace and not war is lauded without intermission. There is also always a pervasive feeling of optimism. Maybe it comes from Judaism’s belief in a happy conclusion to creation, represented by the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah is always around the corner.
FP: The effect writing the book had on you? It must have taken a lot of emotional and psychological strength, but also taken a toll.
Meotti: Entering into the world of sorrow of the terrorist’s victims was a very difficult task, generating often depression and intellectual solitude, but during these years of research and discussions with the victim’s families, I was rewarded by the warmth and empathy developed by these contacts. I also realized that, in spite of the gas chambers and terrorism, Israel represents the essence of liberty. In my job I fought against a lot of hostility because Europe is a paranoid place against Israel. But I always knew that I had to pay a price for bringing back the lost voices of thousands of people killed just because they were Jews. I don’t regret anything about this black adventure, because as said to me by a mother of two girls killed one June evening while they were dancing, “you have to bring the truth to the world.”
FP: What is this conflict about? Is there any sense or meaning that one can make out of all the evil and suffering that we see before our eyes?
Meotti: The conflict has political, economical, diplomatic, religious, human and ideological causes. The whole world is now a victim of a kind of malaise, hysteria, a collective fantasy that makes Israel, the collective Jew, the purveyor of all ills. We must never forget that Israel is on our side in the battle against terror. Israel stands on the front line of that fight as a bulwark of Judeo-Christian values. The belief that democracies can sacrifice the tiny Israel in order to placate Islamism is profoundly dangerous. Appeasement failed in the 1930s and it will fail today. We all have something to learn from the Israeli mothers who must face the disturbing fact that an eighteen-year-old is on the front lines in conditions of life-threatening danger.
FP: What do you hope your book will help achieve?
Meotti: Hostility to the Jews has been a stain on the Western world’s honor for centuries. It’s time to put it to an end. We have a lot to learn from the epic of a people that has suffered all of the worst injustices of the world, and above all is reborn time and again thanks to its moral strength. Many people I think would find my stories of victims of terror very important for their own conscience. All the Jews who care about Israel and want to know the stories forgotten by the mainstream media; All those Christians who love Israel and care about the fate of the Jewish people after the Holocaust. All the “neutral” readers that have never known what is going on in that far away land.
I hope these stories will open the eyes to the human rights organizations in the global forums: for the first time this book tell the crimes against humanity against the Jewish people. The memories of these victims, living monuments to life and hope, can help to fight impunity and hatred. During the Second Intifada, every day in Israel bus drivers, waiters, store owners, doctors, and students grabbed terrorists with their hands, threw them to the ground, and removed bags with explosives from their backs and saved the passengers of a bus, customers in a supermarket, patrons of a café. Are we today, we Europeans and Americans, just as ready to consider our citizens more important than ourselves or our families? The national rebirth in its original homeland of a people threatened with extinctions for three thousand years, should represent, especially in the eyes of our civilization a promise of redemption for all humanity. That’s the greatest message of the book. Israel is a lighthouse of life, when life is the most endangered value of our times. And therefore, the most envied while it flows in the veins of a people constantly under threat.
FP: Giulio Meotti, thank you for joining us and thank you for writing this book – one of the most vital books of our time.
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