By Sandra Mansour, Daily Kos – 4 Dec 2009
A Holocaust survivor, a retired military officer wife and I issued an invitation to Elie Wiesel to come to Gaza with us. This invitation was extended as he spoke before a standing-room crowd of around 2800 people on Tuesday evening, December 1, at St. Louis University. His presentation consisted of a series of loosely threaded stories and observations. The audience was invited to submit questions on cards, but the brief question period, consisting of 3 or 4 questions posed by the moderator, took place as the cards were being collected.
Hedy Epstein, J’Ann Allen, and I stood during the rigged question and answer period and issued our invitation. We three, a Jew, a Palestinian and a military wife, are traveling to Gaza soon after Christmas to join over a thousand internationals from approximately 40 countries on the Gaza Freedom March. Along with 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza, we will march to call attention to the ever-worsening humanitarian crisis there.
He responded with an immediate and dismissive “I heard you.” He then turned and looked in the other direction. Video below the fold.
Our written appeal that was distributed to audience members at the event reads in part:
In his 1986 address upon receiving the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel pointed out that, during the Holocaust, “the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.”
Yet, on one of the great issues of our time, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Mr. Wiesel has not abided by the moral maxims he championed in the above address. For example, in the second volume of his memoirs, he admitted, “Indeed, I can say in good faith that I have not remained indifferent to any cause involving the defense of human rights. But, you may ask, what have I done to alleviate the plight of the Palestinians? And here I must confess: I have not done enough….In spite of considerable pressure, I have refused to take a public stand in the Israeli-Arab conflict. I have said it before: since I do not live in Israel, it would be irresponsible for me to do so.”
Elie Wiesel was paid $50,000 for his appearance at St. Louis University and stipulated that he would take no “live” questions. At the end of his talk that included important messages about exile, statelessness and transcending identity to see the “other”, the organizers indicated that they would accept questions from the audience on slips of paper. However, the questioning began before the papers were collected and included “tough” queries like “What do you consider to be your life’s greatest accomplishment?”
It was not an easy decision to take this direct action, but I personally was moved by many factors to participate in the Gaza Freedom March and in presenting the invitation to Mr. Wiesel, the most pressing being the situation in Gaza. I felt that this small token of support could give hope to Palestinians by letting them know they are not forgotten. Our message is simple and clear. We stand as a Holocaust survivor, a Palestinian and an American united in our concern. Mr. Wiesel’s words echoed in my thoughts during his talk:
When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.
Without giving Palestinians hope that they are supported by the international community, how can we expect them to carry a non-violent struggle? The video documenting our invitation was my first priority because I know it will give hope to many in the region and will compel others to take a stand.
I was taken aback by another beautiful consequence of this action, namely the community building it garnered. The planning and implementation of the action and the discernment that went into my decision about participating in the march were gifts that I treasure. I am forever grateful to those who participated in formulating this message and delivering it. As I grappled with tough questions about why I should be the one to travel to Gaza, my friends and spiritual community supported me with love and wisdom. Our community is stronger for this act of love.
We still await an answer to our invitation.
Let us go, Mr. Wiesel, and listen to the lamentations of Palestinian parents who have lost their children, and the children who are now orphans;
Let us go, and stand amid the desolate ruins everywhere the eye can see—of destroyed homes, hospitals, clinics, factories, mosques, and schools;
Let us go, and interview a few of the tens of thousands of still homeless men, women, and children;
Let us go, and listen to the doctors’ heart-rending accounts of the misery and maiming inflicted on civilians by the munitions of the Israel Defense Forces;
Let us go, and walk with the farmers among their destroyed fields, greenhouses, and groves;
Let us go, Mr. Wiesel, and make eye contact with the Gazans who daily battle hunger and daily fight despair due to Israel’s inhumane siege.
Let us refuse neutrality. Let us not be silent.