“A victory? What have we won? We’ve won a rock in the middle of a wasteland, on the shores of a poisoned sea.” Cornelius Flavius Silva, speaking of Masada
It’s Christmas Eve and for me, personally, this is the time to remember Jesus’ birth and to rejoice and be glad. I wish all of my readers and listeners a wonderful holiday, whatever your faith may be or however you choose to celebrate it.
I want to address something that is extremely concerning to me, which is the rise of antisemitism. This will only continue to escalate. I talked about it in my last essay, Welcome to the Nazi World Order. I think it is important that I clarify my position.
Yes, the Holocaust happened. I’m not going to try to prove it historically. I’m going to talk about it from a personal standpoint.
To discount the personal experiences of those who lived through the Holocaust is offensive. I cannot begin to express how wrong it is. As a survivor of severe domestic violence, I know what it is like to have people belittle what I went through, or to simply gaslight me because it’s a subject that makes them uncomfortable. For a long time, I wasn’t able to talk about it, precisely because of how vulnerable it made me feel. What if people didn’t believe me? My husband had so much more power than me, surely they would believe him. After my daughter was born, my mom came from Los Angeles to help me. She stayed for a couple of weeks in the flat above where we lived. One night, I climbed the stairs, determined to tell her what was happening to me. I held up my hand to knock on the door and my hand just hovered there. I tried and tried to make it knock, and I couldn’t. What would I say when she opened the door? How could I get the words out? I’d been silenced for so long.
I walked back down those stairs, defeated. Everyone in the old Victorian building where we lived, near Nottinghill Gate, knew what was happening to me. But they looked the other way. They remained silent. And so, did I. How could I talk, when it seemed as if there was not a single person in the world who would listen?
And then, one day, my dear sister called me and asked a simple question. “Karen, is he abusing you?”
That’s all it took. One person asking that question. I didn’t have to start the conversation. All I had to do was answer, “Yes.”
In that moment, a door opened for me. It didn’t magically make everything better. But it was a start. Without it, I don’t know if I could ever have found the courage to take that first step toward freedom.
So, I understand the courage it takes to talk about things so unpleasant that most people just don’t want to hear about it. And even worse, they will tell you that you are a liar and that it never happened.
In my last essay, I mention visiting Dachau at the age of ten. My mom was a Mennonite and she spoke German fluently. We encountered a woman there who was emotionally distraught, but it wasn’t from looking at the horrific photos of the experiments that were conducted on the prisoners, as you might expect. It was from walking through the barracks. She was shaking her head in a kind of shock, saying in German, “It was never like this, it was never like this.”
My mom explained that she was saying this because it was all clean and empty now. The woman remembered how it had been when she was there, filled with abused and starving women. How it looked now conveyed nothing of the horror that she had experienced.
On those first traveling adventures in 1966 and 67, we visited the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary in Darmstadt. They built their sisterhood from the rubble of the war. They, too, were witnesses to the truth of the holocaust.
One night, we had dinner with a survivor of the war, a Jewish man who had hidden in a cupboard for 14 months. He told us what had happened to him. Imagine the impression all of these experiences made on me as a child. They are forever burned into my memory. Not least, because my mom, a history teacher, kept a journal of our travels and we talked of those experiences many times over the years.
The people we encountered were real. What they had lived through was true.
I’ve previously mentioned, but not all my readers know, how during those first travels, the country my parents most wanted to visit was Israel. We took a ferry to Egypt first, but as fate would have it, we arrived shortly before the 6 Day War. As a result, we didn’t make it to Israel. When my dad tried to ask about it at the tourist office, they screamed at him that Israel did not exist. Nassar’s voice blared from loudspeakers in the streets, death to America and Israel. Crowds of men carrying guns roamed the streets, the screams of their leader feeding their hatred.
The situation became increasingly dangerous for us, and we had no choice but to abandon our plans to go to Israel. We went to Lebanon and then ended up literally escaping out of Syria into Turkey 36 hours before the borders were closed.
Still, I loved Egypt. I especially loved Luxor. I loved it so much that I returned there in 2017 and stayed for three years. But wouldn’t you know it, I had to get out during the pandemic due to dangerous circumstances. I felt as if I was reliving my childhood experiences all over again., a story I wrote about for Egyptian Streets in Tales of Eclipse: the Lost (Foreign) Women of Luxor.
I support the people of Israel, not the government. All governments are corrupt, and Israel’s, as I said in my last piece, sold its own people to Pfizer. So, I support the people of Israel. I also support the Palestinian people; the mothers, fathers and children who are pawns being played in a political game. I have to clarify that over and over, because, just as people accuse me of being a Putin lover when I say I don’t support Zelensky, they do the same thing when I say I support Israel. Please look at Israel on the map. It is a tiny nation surrounded by Arab nations that repeatedly call for its annihilation and the death of every Jew on the planet. This is why I support President Trump’s Abraham Peace Accord. Yes, of course, the leaders of nations continue their manipulations. But anything that can bring some element of peace in this corrupt world should be celebrated.
I did finally visit Israel and I can tell you, speaking from experience, as a woman of any faith or ethnicity, I would rather live in Israel than under the rule of Hammas or another Muslim nation. While I was living in Egypt, a woman was thrown off her balcony to her death because she allowed a man to visit her, as a friend, in her apartment. The men of Luxor told me in no uncertain terms that if their wives were unfaithful, they would kill them and they would have every right to do so. Whose fault is this? It is the leaders’ fault, especially the religious leaders who indoctrinate them in this belief. Christian leaders have done the same and I’m not saying otherwise. At least in this day and age, in Western nations, these atrocities will not happen to a woman. If I were gay and a Muslim, I would rather live in Israel, considering I would be thrown off a rooftop if I lived under Hammas. This is not an exaggeration.
And then, contrary to all of that, in my essay The Bloodsuckers, I write of my experiences as a child in Fez listening to a professor, we met in a cafe tell the wonderful story of the five layers of Islam. There are layers and layers to everything, and we must look at the whole in order to understand the details. I’ve been fortunate to have had such rich and varied personal experiences. Those experiences weren’t always easy, but it was worth it. I’ve learned the hard way (as so many people do) how often hatred can exist beneath the smiles. This is a tragedy. One can hope that such hatred could be washed away in these modern times. But it never seems to be the case. In so many parts of the world, such as the Balkans, Ireland and Northern Ireland, all across Africa, I could go on and on, old wounds never die. Corrupt leaders continually reopen those wounds to keep the populace weak and fighting amongst themselves. If only we realized this and refused to be manipulated.
I was 26 when I went to Israel to visit some friends. The father was Polish Jewish, and the mother was Filipino. My husband and I were friends with their two sons and their daughter, who were around our ages. They lived in Tel Aviv, and we traveled with them to Jerusalem where we met their good friends, an Arab family, who owned a shop in the old quarter. We stayed overnight with them in their home. They were so gracious and kind. They gave us jellabiyas to sleep in and we lay down, all in a row, on the floor in the main room. In the morning, we had the most fabulous breakfast and then went on our way, traveling by bus to Masada. We climbed to the fort and looked out at that incredible view across the Dead Sea. Here, the last community in Judea with 960 rebels, including many women and children, made their last stand against the Romans in 70 A. D.
I’ve said before that it is easy from the comfort of our homes in the United States to condemn people in other countries, such as Israelis for defending their homeland, because it’s the liberal thing to do. And I cannot stress enough that I respect and stand against the injustices and tragedies of what is happening to the Palestinians. But for any American to play judge and jury is the height of hypocrisy when our country is responsible for encouraging so much of the violence abroad.
When war comes to our doorstep, when it ceases to be an intellectual argument, then you will understand. Suddenly, it becomes personal. Suddenly, you’re fighting for your own family, your own children. You are not talking about some far-off battle. You’re not talking at all. You’re just trying to survive another day. War doesn’t have to be from some outside force. It can happen internally. You start to eye your neighbor suspiciously, someone who you had lived next to in harmony for years. The suspicion escalates until your neighbor attacks you, or informs on you, or even kills a family member and hatred replaces reason. It is our leaders who do this to us. And we allow it. It has nothing to do with anyone being of a certain religion or ethnicity, least of all our leaders. Every country in the world has the same problems and the more power the leaders attain, the more corrupt they become. I’m talking about any kind of leader, be they government, corporate, media, health, etc.
The history of humanity is a violent one. It isn’t getting any better. What I find the height of appalling arrogance is how our leaders talk so boldly about “conquering space.” About how we will colonize distant planets. Do we really think that we deserve to do this? Do we really think that we have so much to offer the universe? Do we really think we are in the right frame of mind as a species to take our bad habits beyond the borders of this planet. No. Don’t we teach our children that “wherever you are, there you are? We cannot escape from ourselves. If we do not clean up our own house, we will only make a bigger mess out there.
And yet, there is always hope, as expressed by the children of Tissardmine and all the children I encountered from the Sahara Desert to Costa Rica to Norther California to Ecuador to Columbia through the program I created, My World Project. Let’s listen to our children. Let’s do all we can to protect their innocence.
So, that’s what I have to say this Christmas Eve. I wish you all many blessings. Peace. Love. Joy.