At age 14, a painting changed my life.
The painting was van Gogh’s “The Potato Eaters.” It told me, in Thoreau’s words that, “the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.”
It made me into a radical.
I am now 85 and still a radical. I have gone through life believing that justice for the underprivileged is society’s prime obligation.
I was born in Holland, lived on a kibbutz, was a truck driver, worked in a sweatshop, became a union organizer in Tel Aviv. fought in World War II and in the Israel Independence war
Called up in 1943, I and a dozen Dutch nationals, were ferried around Africa to England where we joined a Dutch brigade tish. We were the first Allied troops to enter my native city, The Hague.
Although no longer being a Zionist, I still volunteered for the Israel Independence war, feeling that 2000 years of persecution had been enough.
In 1949 I left for America.
The Six-Day War was not a war of choice, but it has made Israel into an oppressor and implanted a notion that Power is everything.
Sometimes an individual acts of kindness still is possible.
In 1967 someone knocked at the door of a house in Talbye, a formerly affluent Arab quarter of Jerusalem that had been occupied by Israel in the 1948 war. The Israeli women who lived there now, opened the door. She saw that the visitor was not an Israeli but an Arab.
“How can I help you?” she asked.
In broken English the Arab woman replied, “Please pardon me, but would you allow me to look around in the house. I used to live here before the Israeli army came in, during the Naqba in 1948.”
“Certainly, come in,” said the Israeli woman. The Palestinian entered, looked around and nodded. “Yes,,” she said, “it’s all so familiar.” She hesitated. “There is something else. Before we left I buried my jewels under the floor of the bedroom. If I find them, you may have half.”
“Oh no!” said the Israeli, “if we find them they are yours. I don’t have any right to them.”
They pulled up a plank from the bedroom floor and there, in a space, were the jewels, intact.
Haltingly, in a whisper, the Palestinian woman confessed, “there is something worse.” She had difficulty controlling her voice. “On that terrible day when the Israelis stormed in, we had to flee for our lives. My husband left before me with the two boys. I followed an hour after him, taking the two girls. I thought he had the baby with him and he thought the baby was with me. When I arrived in Nablus, the baby was missing.” Her voice broke. Between tears she blurted out, “I have really come to find out if anybody knows what happened to the child.”
The Israeli woman too, was shaken. “In 1948 my husband was an officer in the Israel army. He died three years ago. When he came to this house he heard a baby crying and when he went in he found the child on the floor, wet and hungry. He changed it and cleaned it and had the baby fed. He liked the house very much and requested permission from the army’s command to come and live here and bring up the child as his own. We had three older children ourselves.”
“What happened to the child, what happened to the child?” the Palestinian asked with a quaking, urgent voice.
At that moment the door opened and a young Israeli soldier walked in. “Imah, ani babayit leyomayim, Mother, I’m home for two days.”
“There is your son…”
Both women now live in the house together, widows both, sharing their lives, sharing their son.
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