Writer Veronica Zundel’s relatives were murdered in gas chambers for being Jewish, but she argues that to defend the state of Israel without consideration for the people of Palestine denies the full story.


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What to say on the current Israel/Hamas conflict? Hasn’t enough already been said? ‘I wondered’, the editor of this platform emailed me, ‘whether you felt you had something of a different angle to share on Woman Alive online?’ Well perhaps I do. I have, as they say, skin in this game – on both sides. 

First, and most importantly, on 5th April 1942 my maternal grandmother, great-aunt and great-uncle were murdered in the gas chambers at Chelmno, Poland – for the sole crime of being Jewish. Second, and not insignificant, for thirteen years I sponsored a little Palestinian Christian girl, from the ages of five to eighteen; and I support Community Peacemaker Teams, who act as international observers in Hebron and elsewhere of the behaviour of the IDF and the experience of Palestinians. I am only too aware of how often my sponsee was unable to go to school because checkpoints were closed, or how Palestinian children have to use different, much longer roads to school than the Jewish children do, and how on those roads they are liable to have stones thrown at them by illegal Israeli settlers – not to mention having their homes, schools and clinics arbitrarily demolished, or going hungry because their parents cannot reach their own olive groves across the ‘wall of separation’. 

It is my view that it (Hamas) will only be destroyed when there is no more support for it

I know, therefore, how the Hamas attack, while unprecedented in Israel’s history, did not emerge out of a vacuum, but has a context. Hamas exists because of decades of oppression by Israel of its Palestinian neighbours – just as the IRA existed because of centuries of oppression by Great Britain of its Irish neighbours, and discrimination against the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland since partition. The IRA is now effectively destroyed. But it was not destroyed by military action, but by a political solution. Nor will Hamas be destroyed, as the Israeli authorities boast, by military action. It is my view that it will only be destroyed when there is no more support for it, because a just political solution has been reached which creates equality and opportunity for the Palestinians as well as security for Jews. 

Until recently, because of my family’s past, I would have spoken out strongly for the state of Israel. I’m not so sure now. In 1948 the world thought it had found an effective two-state solution to the ‘Palestinian problem’. That was undermined, first by Palestinian resistance (and who can blame them?) but more thoroughly in 1967, less than 20 years later, by Israel’s invasion of the vast majority of Palestinian land, which it has occupied ever since. When more than 30 years ago I first saw a map of the 1948 fairly equal territorial division (though Palestine was in two separated halves), compared to one in the early 1990s, with scattered tiny enclaves held by Palestinians in Israel, my first thought was “Bantustans”*. This was an apartheid state, and still is. And South African apartheid was not solved by violence but by peaceful negotiation.

South African apartheid was not solved by violence but by peaceful negotiation

One more thing, as Columbo would say. It is completely invalid to equate the modern secular state of Israel with the Old Testament chosen people of God. Nevertheless, the Jewish people, as Paul points out at length in Romans 9-11, still have an important role to play in the purposes of God. They have not, as I explained in a recent sermon on the parable of the tenants in the vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46) been replaced as the chosen by the largely Gentile church. But if you read the Hebrew Bible carefully, you will see that possession of the land was always conditional upon doing justice to the widow, the orphan and especially to ‘the alien in your midst’. Failure to do this was the reason that Israel and then Judah were invaded, and their peoples deported into an exile which lasted millennia.

I have no reason to think God’s concern for justice has changed. If my Jewish people want to keep a home in their ancient land in the Middle East, they will have to earn it. And not just by what we have suffered in the past, but by what we are prepared to share in the future.

* A Bantustan was a territory that the National Party administration of South Africa set aside for black inhabitants of South Africa and South West Africa, as part of its policy of apartheid.