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Who's afraid of the Holocaust survivor?By Nadezhda Kevorkova Special to Salem-News.com
Thunderous laughter keeps coming from a gym where an American team is training. I am sitting in the neighboring room where ordinary guests resembling retired military are ironing their clothes.
(MOSCOW RT) - Passengers from the US boat of the second Freedom Flotilla take turns in giving me interviews. My interlocutors are changing. So do the tough men with steam irons in their hands. Two hours passed. Then finally I saw a tiny fragile woman. Her eyes were shining with happiness. We hugged each other.
She is Hedy Epstein. She’s 87 years old. In May last year Hedy and 20 other European diplomats, members of parliament, writers and lawyers wandered like a gypsy band from harbor to harbor in Cyprus in search of a place from where they could sail and join the first flotilla “Free Gaza”. Police helicopters hovered over us. They hovered over Hedy’s head too. Her parents perished in Auschwitz during WWII and she herself got saved by some miracle. I want to believe that those policemen didn’t know anything about Hedy. I want to believe that had they known anything about her life, they wouldn’t have cruised over her head in such a fascist manner to stop her from joining the flotilla.
Four years ago we crossed the border separating the Greek and the Turkish parts of Cyprus four times on foot. The diplomats and members of parliament phoned their prime ministers in anger each time policemen stopped us to write down our names. Hedy was the only one who stayed absolutely calm. Late at night we reached the once-inaccessible port of Famagusta. While the rest of the team was ardently arguing with the port authorities, Hedy lay down on a wooden bench and fell asleep with a blissful smile on her lips.
“This is my fifth attempt to get into Gaza,” Hedy said when we hugged.
“We are going to organize flotillas so long as they don’t lift the blockade finally and completely,” said another Jew, Dror Fleiler, a musician and composer who was born in Israel, but left the country for Sweden in protest against Israel’s policy. This time he’s heading a Swedish delegation. He is the most rigid man in the flotilla.
Hedy wouldn’t say a harsh word to anybody. She irradiates love and forgiveness for all people. She’s kissing journalists from Israel who have dared to sail together with the flotilla. She’s kissing the Palestinians for whom participation in the flotilla is potentially fatal. She’s tenderly looking at American writer Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize laureate, who’s sailing with her on one vessel.
Hedy says that their captain has been threatened to be stripped of his US license if he agrees to steer their boat. “Can you imagine how horrible we are? But we are just peaceful and unarmed elderly people.”
Hedy is sure that one day she will step on the shore of the besieged Gaza. Many journalists would give a lot to see how an Israeli soldier is going to arrest an 87-year-old Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust. By the way, there are ten journalists on the US boat.
“They’ve invented a word for me in Israel. They call me ‘self-hating’. But I don’t hate anybody,” Hedy smiles, disarming everybody around with her smile. I am sorry that I am accredited on another vessel and I won’t see how an Israeli soldier is going to drop his submachine-gun and kneel down in front of Hedy and ask her and dozens of other American Jews to forgive him for coming to arrest them. I am sorry, but it’s very unlikely that anybody’s going to see that scene.
The American boat is the most disciplined part of the flotilla. All of them are dressed in black in memory of the nine people who died during the previous campaign: in memory of an Italian whom Israeli security services killed in the Gaza Strip and in memory of Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli excavator operator who was pulling down the home of yet another Palestinian family. Rachel stood in his way and he ran over her.
When a sixth American came for an interview dressed in black, I cried out loud, and then Regina Currie, dressed in red, materialized from the depths of the US delegation. She was so excited during the interview that we stopped recording it. But a man who looked like a military kept ironing his sportswear, as he was listening to what we were talking about, until his clothes were about to steam. Regina and I burst into laughter each time we looked at him. After all, we are women and it was very funny for us to see how a man was desperately ironing his sport trousers. That day the Israeli press was actively circulating the news that the flotilla was training how to attack the Israeli army. I heard and saw very well how the American team had been trained.
Their laughter was quite embarrassing. It was literally shaking the entire hotel. The activists’ babies were the only ones who were sleeping peacefully under the growls of American laughter. After a short discussion, Regina and I agreed that laughter was certainly one of the most terrible weapons. Here, the Israelis are certainly right. I don’t doubt that it’s exactly this weapon that the passengers are going to use against Israeli commandos if they crack down on their boats and start firing at people as if they were coins.
“Alright, I’ll tell you. I’m not afraid of almost anything in the world, except for dogs,” says Hedy. I think an 87-year-old Jewish woman who had survived the Jewish catastrophe can be forgiven for fearing dogs. Just as she can perhaps be forgiven for not understanding why her fellow tribesmen set their dogs on people – the way Nazis were setting their German shepherds on her parents.
Hedy herself is about just as tall as a large German shepherd; and she certainly weighs less than this kind of dog. But I want to believe that no animal would ever dare attack her. Hedy’s smile is so disarming. That’s what the Israeli army fears – Hedy Epstein’s smile. And her laughter.
The other day, Israeli propaganda invented a new threat: they informed that the boats were bringing bags of gunpowder, and nothing less than chemical weapons. In other words, the fleet’s team – which mostly consists of gray-haired American and European elderly, pacifists and vegetarians – was equated to some aggregate Saddam Hussein. But even Saddam Hussein was never accused of transporting bags of gunpowder by boat.
Journalists accredited on my boat (about 20 people) went to inspect our vessel. I won’t deny that I was really horrified: as our captain wandered around an empty, hollow hold, he caught three large rats by their tails – or at least they seemed large to me – and threw them overboard.
I leave the possibility open that in a few days to come, the world will hear about a secret unit of combat rats and mice that the Free Gaza fleet uses for armament. I’m afraid that in this case, the fleet will be accompanied by the noise suppression of “the enemy”, as all women, except for probably Hedy, will scream with horror when these well-trained rodents march the deck.
Seriously speaking, the fleet includes ten members of the European and national parliaments: two French, two Norwegians, three Swedes, and three Spaniards. Yesterday, several members of the Irish parliament joined the fleet as well. The fleet has eight boats, and two cargo vessels. Rumor has it that Jordan is preparing an additional boat. If this is true, then the Muslims will be represented in the fleet at least this way – so far, they can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Stepping out to break the siege are Americans, Europeans, Catholics, Orthodox, Jewish, Agnostics, and only a few Muslims.
Celebrities are also present in the fleet; for instance, one of the leading Italian photographers, a famous Swedish writer, film directors, historians. Moreover, there are useful people as well: three doctors, two nurses (on my boat alone), an Israeli Army veteran, engineers, a former skipper; as well as musicians, a designer, and a sociologist. And even a retired female US Army Colonel, Ann Wright. The youngest fleet participant is 19, a future medical doctor from the Netherlands.
Twenty-two countries are represented in the fleet. I’m the only one from Russia, and I’m not even a participant, but a journalist. This circumstance requires explanation. Many Russian volunteers signed up for the Mavi Marmara Turkish vessel, but on June 16 the Turkish organizing committee announced that their boat would not be able to go. It’s not easy for Russian citizens to get European visas overnight. Thus, I happened to be the only one from Russia in this fleet. To my consolation, I was told that China was also represented by just one person, a professor working in Malaysia. At the same time, there are many Israeli citizens on board. And, as these Israeli citizens say, the Israeli army should worry about this firstly, rather than about some mythical bags of gunpowder, or chemical weapon.
Americans, the slogan experts, wrote “Stay humane” on their black shirts. They believe it works. They believe that the 87-year-old Hedy Epstein, who lost her parents in Auschwitz, will finally, on the fifth try, step on the ground of the besieged Gaza, and will testify that there are Jewswho are ashamed that on their behalf, and that of the Holocaust victims, the occupation and the five-year-long siege is in place.
“Jews were subject to a collective punishment. How did it happen that now Jews themselves are carrying out a collective punishment of the Palestinians, on my behalf, among other things?” asks Hedy Epstein.
Originally published by Russian TV
Nadezhda Kevorkova managed to break through the Gaza blockade. She entered the Strip through the Rafah Crossing from Egypt, and returned. She was quick too; it only took her two trips from Cairo to Rafah. Hundreds of Palestinians, doctors from Jordan couldn’t make it to Gaza during the same days.
She spent nine days in Gaza. She traveled the entire Palestinian enclave and met with representatives of various professions, political groups and ages. The lives of doctors, teachers, fishermen, tunnel diggers, salesmen, widows, orphans, farmers, students, unemployed, builders and Christians in Gaza – this is what these Gaza Strip notes are about.Nadezhda Kevorkova has worked in the Caucasus, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan as a reporter for the Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the Novaya Gazeta and the Gazeta. She has also worked for the Nezavisimaya Gazeta as a reporter in the US.
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