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Dutch Lawyer Who Saved Jewish Boy in WWII Returns Medal to Israel Over Bombing of His Family in Gaza

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Posted on Aug 18, 2014

By Juan Cole

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    Henk Zanoli, second from right, photographed with his family in the 1940s. Yad Vashem museum


This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s Web page.

Henk Zanoli, a 91-year-old Dutch attorney who in 1943 saved a Jewish boy from the Nazis, has returned to Israel the “Righteous among the Nations” medal awarded him three years ago by the Yad Vashem museum.  Zanoli’s mother had sheltered the boy, Elchanan Pinto, at risk to her own life, until the end of the war.

Zanoli’s grand-niece married a Palestinian, Ismail Ziadah, who had a house in Gaza where some of his relatives continued to reside.  On July 20, an Israeli fighter jet bombed Ziadah’s home, killing his mother, three of his brothers, his sister-in-law and a nephew.  These were, as Zanoli noted in his letter to the Israeli ambassador to the Netherlands, the blood relatives of Zanoli’s mother’s own descendants: “The great- great grandchildren of my mother have lost their grandmother, three uncles, an aunt and a cousin at the hands of the Israeli army…”

He said to the ambassador:

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“I understand that in your professional role, in which I am addressing you here, you may not be able to express understanding for my decision. However, I am convinced that at both a personal and human level you will have a profound understanding of the fact that for me to hold on to the honour granted by the State of Israel, under these circumstances, will be both an insult to the memory of my courageous mother who risked her life and that of her children fighting against suppression and for the preservation of human life as well as an insult to those in my family, four generations on, who lost no less than six of their relatives in Gaza at the hands of the State of Israel.”

Zanoli added in support of a one-state solution:

“After the horror of the holocaust my family strongly supported the Jewish people also with regard to their aspirations to build a national home. Over more than six decades I have however slowly come to realize that the Zionist project had from its beginning a racist element in it in aspiring to build a state exclusively for Jews. As a consequence, ethnic cleansing took place at the time of the establishment of your state and your state continues to suppress the Palestinian people on the West Bank and in Gaza who live under Israeli occupation since 1967. The actions of your state in Gaza these days have already resulted in serious accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity…The only way out of the quagmire the Jewish people of Israel have gotten themselves into is by granting all living under the control of the State of Israel the same political rights and social and economic rights and opportunities.”

Zanoli’s personal connection with some of the many civilian victims of Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza provoked him to this gesture.  But his endorsement of a one-state solution betrays his legal training.  He is objecting to the Palestinians being stateless, and therefore lacking political, social and economic rights and opportunities.  Populations that do not enjoy citizenship in a state lack, in Warren Burger’s words, “the right to have rights.”  It was the Nazi stripping of citizenship from German Jews that laid the groundwork for the Holocaust. 

The same conscience that drove Mr. Zanoli to intervene to save a Jewish life in 1943 is now driving him to call for an end to the victimization of the Palestinian people.  It is typical of his courage and conscience that he did not stop with a simple condemnation of the reckless disregard for the lives of non-combatants exhibited by the Israeli army in Gaza.  Rather, he insisted on pointing to a solution to the over-all problem, which is driven by Israel holding Palestinians as colonized subjects.  That, he said, must end, and the exclusionary character of the Israeli polity, which advertises itself as primarily for Jews, is unacceptable.  Zanoli seems to realize that the two-state solution is no longer plausible, given the hundreds of thousands of Israeli squatter settlements on the Palestinian West Bank and the physical isolation and siege of Gaza.  He therefore has called for life for Palestinian children as citizens of Israel, just as he insisted on life and rights for Dutch Jews who had been denaturalized by the National Socialists.


Read also Gaza Psychologist Becomes Trauma Victim, Tragically Losing 6 Close Relatives in Recent Attack, the story of Hassan al-Zeyada whose younger brother is married to Zanoli’s grandniece.


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