When they came for the Jews…

First they came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I was not a Jew.

Now they are coming for the Palestinians
I am speaking out.

Heaven knows, I am not a political person, and this is not a political blog. But Israel’s invasion of Gaza is barbaric and murderous. It would be gross hypocrisy for Chalkface to promote the teaching of citizenship and moral values, if I myself am unwilling to speak out when I see a great wrong being perpetrated.

Poem by Martin Niemöller, via Wikipedia.

Update 6/1/09: The Israelis have now attacked two schools. In one of them, they killed 40 people. The other, the American International School, was a customer of ours. There was one fatality and the building was entirely destroyed. I just cannot imagine how the teachers there feel, seeing their school destroyed and their students being bombed and shelled in their homes.


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15 responses to “When they came for the Jews…”

  1. How dare you equate the current situation in Gaza with that of the Final Solution. I did not see this person comment on the rockets speak out about rocket attacks by Hamas against Israel or condemn the Russian invasion of Georgia. Shame on you for politicising this site.

  2. There comes a point when everyone needs, and should, speak out.

  3. Dee and Carol, thanks for the support.

    Colin, what the Israelis are doing in Gaza is one step down from genocide, I’ll grant you. It is not the most evil thing ever, but it is still very, very evil.

    I chose to speak out about this particular evil whilst remaining silent about others, because I believe that by speaking out I can do something (if only a small thing) about this one. The Israelis can only do what they are doing because it is sanctioned by key Western governments, including ours. Through this blog I speak to several thousand teachers, people with influence in their communities. Those who agree with me may themselves find the courage to speak out, and so progressively we can pressurise our government to withdraw the tacit support it has so far extended for this monstrous slaughter.

    Incidentally, if you want to look more deeply into the role of education in creating this conflict, you might want to read this excellent article from Donald Clark.

  4. You are being so one-sided and biased, I am surprised and disappointed that a teacher in this day and age has the attitude you are taking, and sincerely hope you are not spreading your anti-semitism to your students. Whilst using violence to answer violence is not a solution in itself, you are completly ignoring the fact that Palestinians are continuously sending rockets into Israel with no care as to whether they hit a school or not, or whether they kill children or not. Israelis live in fear for their lives evey single day and are defending themselves because no one else will do it for them. If France had sent 3000 rockets over into England last year would you not want your country to do something about it and protect themselves. Most Israelis want peace, not just for themselves but for the Palestinian people who are being used as cover for the cowardly terrorists who obviously do not care about their own children and women. It is the Palestinian terrorists who do not want peace and therefore leave Israel with no choice. You are right that noone spoke out for Jews during the second world war and noone would let them into their country either. Israel is the only place that Jews have to go to and you can bet they will fight to protect themselves because they obviously still have noone who is willing to stand up for them.

  5. Joanna, would you also label ‘anti-semitic’ other opponents of the war such as Rabbi Rr Tony Bayfied, Professor Shalom Lappin or Rabbi Professor Mark Saperstein? Please be more careful before you hurl such insults.

    Try turning your question around. What if you found yourself trapped in your English town, with French planes bombing your schools and churches, French tanks shelling the homes of your elected civic leaders, your hospital denied medicines or power, and your children starving? Whom would you think were the terrorists, if you were caught in the middle of that nightmare?

    Let’s draw a lesson from the Holocaust that we must stand up to oppression wherever we see it, not just when it is applied to one particular race or nation.

  6. People such as Joanna who use ‘anti-semitic’ to criticise anyone who condemns Israel’s gross human rights abuses have fallen into the US/Israeli trap. We need to see beyond the idea that the conflict is about ‘Arabs vs Jews.’ It’s going on because the USA needs a watchdog in the middle east to look after its oil interests. We should not be afraid of approaching this topic and discussing it in class. Far better that than allowing children to believe that Israel is the face of the world’s Jews. As for presenting both sides of the argument, that’s fair enough. but remember to do the same thing next time someone wants to discuss Zimbabwe, Iran, North Korea, etc. And of course, you should explain the point of view of white slave owners in slave plantations in the south of the USA, the whites in apartheid South Africa, etc.

  7. I find it very difficult to understand how anyone can condone what the Israeli government are doing at this moment.

    What I do understand, is that hundreds of Palestinian children have been slaughtered in recent weeks. I understand that if this kind of genocide had been attempted in any other part of the world then the people would flee, en-masse… but in Gaza they are not allowed to. There is simply nowhere for them to go.

    A friend of mine is currently an aid worker in the Gaza strip. She chose not to flee with most of the rest of the foreign nationals when they had a chance to, as she felt it was important that there was at least some international presence in the strip. Everyday I log on to my e-mails in the hope that I will have heard from her and will know that she is still alive. Every day I read her e-mails I cry at the inhumanity of what I am reading. She has set up a blog so that the rest of the world can see for themselves what is going on. Read it for yourself on: http://talestotell.wordpress.com/

  8. I always thought that adults should try to live in peace with their neighbours, and perhaps put stupid feuds aside rather than kill each others children and risk the lives of their own. Or are the political power hungry warlords in charge of all nations involved so greedy and selfish that they would rather fight on over who was right? Perhaps we could all stand up for what is right. Paster Niemoller survived in concentration camps for years listening to the torture and execution of others. What do you really think he meant? Peace and forgiveness perhaps……

  9. Everyone keeps going on about ‘anti-semitics’. As far as I am aware most of the Isrealis are of European descent. On the other hand, the Palestinians/Arabs are semitic. So how can they be ‘anti-semitic’?

  10. I’m also disapointed that teachers have decided to use this blog for political purposes – it’s surely the wrong place to do so. However, my cousin lives in the south of Israel (in Ashkelon) where they have recently spent many long hours in their “strong room” equivalent to a World war 2 air raid shelter, sheltering from daily rocket attacks aimed at civilians. Hamas seem content to use the general populus of Gaza as human shields and will even use School yards as a launching pad (see http://www.road90.com/watch.php?id=k7NurfNvUm). It’s up to Hamas to break the circle of violence. Maybe then we can look at the real road ahead the so called “2 state solution”.

  11. Citizenship is by nature a political subject, as is history, geography, English, etc. So nobody should talk about education being apolitical, it’s obviously not. We teach the children that slavery was wrong, apartheid was wrong, racism is wrong. Israel is by nature a racist state, especially in the way it oppresses the Palestinians. As for Dan’s appeal on behalf of his cousin who is lucky enough to have a strong room(nobody in Gaza has such a luxury as even UN buildings are targeted by Israel!) where he can go for protection from air attacks, I ask him if he’d like to go and visit the ruins of thousands of bombed out houses of Palestinians (not a dozen like in Israel) in Gaza and the West Bank. The stats speak for themselves- Twenty Israelis have been killed in and around Gaza since 1998. Israel has killed more than 930 Palestinians in the last two weeks alone. The only way this can be ‘justified’ is by saying the life of an Israeli is worth more than that of a Palestinian, which is clearly racist. I’m totally with Ian and Dee. See this article from the Indy.

  12. Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of what Palestine has or not done, and whether Israel started this current bout (5-November 08) or whether the rebel rocketeers of Gaza did so by using the more modern weapons into Israeli towns, there is a legal basis here. It is clear cut. It is not up for debate and so it is uncontentious and unambiguous and is uncontroversial.

    The building of the ‘wall’ has been condemned by the ICJ as being against international law.
    The building of settlements on land in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem is illegal and contrary to the 4th Geneva Convention.
    Collective punishment is illegal under the Geneva Conventions.

    All of the above and more are crimes which Israel is committing daily, and has been for decades. It has recently escalated with Israel targeting convoys taking aid, despite the UN clearly communicating the intended routes and getting clearance. This resulted in at least one death of an aid worker driving a truck loaded with food, water and medicines. Also, the schools which were bombed were crowded with people from nearby homes who had been told to move out of their own homes by Israeli forces as the IAF were planning to bombard the area. When the families took up refuge in the schools they were bombed. I can think of little worse than this.

    Last year there was a journalist who was allowed out of Gaza to receive an award. He was allowed out to get it only with the intervention of a Dutch ambassador to protect him. When he returned some days later he was detained on the border of Gaza by Israeli police and beaten so badly he had trouble urinating and had to have his jaw wired up.

    Education is a great thing, and yet, as said above, it has to be open and honest for it to mean a thing. Someone mentioned 3000 rockets being fired over from France… how about another parallel? How about we compare to the German/Nazi occupation of Poland in 1941/2? How about we get even closer to a point and suggest that the jewish resistance fighters who lived, travelled and attacked from the cellars and sewers of Warsaw were terrorists who were attacking the more cultured and more rich and more socially developed nation of Germany, simply because they had claimed the land of Poland as their own – claiming they had an historic right to the land and needing lebensraum.

    I wonder, how many who point the finger of anti-semitism even know of what I am speaking here?

    Let me end with the words of Noam Chomsky, a very eloquent Jewish gentleman of the USA who until recently was considering moving to Israel. A man who studied Hebrew as a boy with his father, and who is a great scholar and intellectual. Let us see what this man has to say –


    “Traditionally over the years, Israel has sought to crush any resistance to its programs of takeover of the parts of Palestine it regards as valuable, while eliminating any hope for the indigenous population to have a decent existence enjoying national rights. Probably one factor in US support for Israel is that this resonates so well with American history, a fact that has not gone unnoticed.
    The West Bank and Gaza are, of course, a single unit: Occupied Palestine. Israeli military control of the West Bank, now with the help of US-trained collaborators, is so effective that protest or resistance there is unlikely. But the occupied Gaza Strip — and there has not been a day when it hasn’t been occupied — still has a degree of independence, and there are reactions there to Israeli crimes, which continue daily. The reactions can be condemned as criminal and politically foolish, but those who offer no alternative have no moral grounds to issue such judgments, particularly those in the US who choose to be directly implicated in these ongoing crimes — by their words, their actions, or their silence.”

    Noam Chomsky – 8 Jan 2009

    Let those who know which villages and towns were destroyed of the 400 to make way for the new Israeli towns now under fire from rockets speak. The rest, hold your tongue on why this is happening, you live in a cushioned world of propaganda.

  13. Thank you everyone who has commented on this; I am now closing further comments. Whilst there are clearly two opposed camps in this debate, I see we have a great deal in common. Every poster here appears to me to be responding to the suffering of one or the other side, and wanting it to stop.

    Here is one thing we can each do, that might have an impact. Write to your MP (you can do it online here) and ask him or her to support the recognition of all democratically elected governments in the Middle East, regardless of their political orientation.

    I know this won’t stop Israel’s attack, or Hamas’ rocket response. But eventually, they will have to stop fighting and start talking. My hope is that it will be easier to bring all sides to the table if they start from an equal footing.

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