Dutch Lawyer who saved Jewish Boy in WWII returns Medal to Israel over Bombing of his Family in Gaza

By Juan Cole

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:

“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.


33 Responses

  1. Obviously not the first Holocaust-era hero to oppose Israel as a Zionist state.

    Warsaw Ghetto uprising subcommander Dr. Marek Edelman, a non-Zionist, had ,until his death a few years ago in Lodz, Poland, met with Palestinian activists and corresponded with Palestinian activist Dr. Mustafa Barghouti about initiating a joint movement between leftist Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs to push for a final status agreement between Jews and Palestinians in the region.

    He is a virtual non-person in Israel due to his opposition to Zionism. He had bitter arguments with David Ben-Gurion over the decision to declare a Zionist state in 1948.

    Dr. Edelman was a renowned cardiologist and fought with the Polish Resistance after escaping the Warsaw Ghetto. He eventually became a delegate in Lech Walesa’s Solidarity Congress.

    • As I have stated below, the honor is not bestowed by the State of Israel but by “Le people juif reconaissant”. Hence Mr. Zanoli is not returning his honor to that state but to the thankful Jewish people.

      • “Cultures of Hatred: Israelis, not Palestinians, Excel at Vengeance: by JONATHAN COOK – link to counterpunch.org

        “The first is that the Israelis thirsting for reprisals are simply echoing their politicians and religious leaders whose statements for vengeance surpassed even the ugly grandstanding of Hamas, which had praised the Israeli teenagers’ abduction.”

        As a majority in the government goes so, apparently, do a majority of the people.

        Perhaps, Mr. Zanoli should have told the embassy to relay his honor to the Israeli people.

      • “Le people” did not press the medal, the Israeli state did. ‘Le people’ did not award the medal, the Israeli state did. He gave it back to the right source.

      • You are incorrect.

        The “Righteous Among the Nations” award was established by the Israeli Knesset when it created Yad Vashem in 1953.

        Since 1963, a commission organized by the Israeli Supreme Court and headed by one of its justices has been entrusted with issuing the award to worthy recipients according to selected criteria.

        No private organization has ever been involved in the bestowing of this honor – only the government of the State of Israel.

      • Gideon Levy, one of the most respected of Israeli journalists (outside Israel), doesn’t appear to have a favorable opinion of Israelis.

        “Gideon Levy, journaliste critique d’une société israélienne « malade »” Par Hélène Sallon – link to lemonde.fr

    • It’s an archaic phrasing. “Reveals his legal training” would be a more common way to put it these days.

  2. Dignity, decency, comity. Into what darkness have such honorable gestures disappeared? Is there nothing left but grasping, cursing, a flood of careless killing?

  3. There are countless other stories that could be told, but somehow his story succinctly brings the issue into extraordinary focus.

    Such moments and actions are more than just gestures: they have an outsized ability to make a difference. More will follow.

  4. “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.”
    Zanoli has said no such thing. This is your incorrect interpretation. Zanoli asked only that the Palestinians be granted the same rights as the Jews as he believed were entitled to in Europe. He did not ask for a 1 or 2 state solution but for the same rights..
    Why is it that the illegal squatters in the west bank are deemed to have more rights to the land they have stolen than the rightfull owners… the palestinians. There is no reason on earth why they cannot be moved back into Israel behind the original line of division of1947… never mind 1967.

    • I totally agree with you about the frontiers of 1947, a partition decided under the League of Nations without the 2 million Palestinians’ opinion and consent and kept as such when the United Nations replaced the League of Nations. Quite frankly, the UN should put its UN hat and pants and force Israel to give back all the land stolen from the original three (3) partitioned Palestinian territories and amounting to 47% of their territory while roughly 150,000 Palestinian Jews were given 53%. Israel should be forced to add economical retribution and technical help to rebuild housing units, destroyed Palestinian infrastructures, chicken farms and other food producing facilities, provide Palestinians full access to the underground water tables, electricity, airports (to be rebuilt for having been destroyed by Israel, especially the then brand new Gaza airport) and so on. The day Israel will correct its ways and give Palestinians their due, I’ll stand and applaud Israel. I’ve been practicing applauding for decades so I’ll sound loud and clear on that glorious day.

      • Unless getting the Israelis back behind definitive borders is the primary specific objective of global BDS it is likely to falter. Such a purpose would unite BDS supporters in a single unequivocal purpose and it would be clear when it had been achieved. No negotiation would be necessary beyond setting a reasonable time schedule. The borders should, of course, be those set in 1947. The official Palestinian BDS movement states its objectives thus:

        Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;

        Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

        Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.s

        link to bdsmovement.net

        The second and third objectives should not be allowed to obscure the first. An article in Mondoweiss mentions the story reported here as maybe giving the Israelis a ‘wakeup call’, an attitude that implies a line of adjustment, but that in itself is unnecessary, it should not concern BDS whether the Israelis are asleep or awake, only that they be pressured until they vacate all occupied land.

      • Your proposal is likely to have the following practical effects:
        The Jews of present-day Israel will be forced to abandon their 2,000 year hope of living anywhere as a free people and not as a persecuted minority;

        The Israeli government will disband and be replaced by a Palestinan one;

        All Israel banks will be forced to distribute out to the new Palestinian governemnt all funds held in Israeli banks, including its central bank, and, if necessary, by their forced bankrupcy;

        And that all the Jews living there do one of the following things:
        (1) Leave the country and migrate to, say, Antarctica, since the likelhood of any other country willing to admit them as refugees is somewhere between slim and none;
        (2) Remain in the country as lessees of whatever place they happen to inhabit , with the new governernment of Palestine as owner and lessor, and take their chances that the Palestinians will be merciful to them and allow them to live in peace thereafter (another example of the triumph of hope over experience).

        In short, we all know that your version of Israel correcting its ways amounts to committing national suicide.

        • So what makes one persecuted minority of more value to you than another, given that Israel’s leadership has done everything in its power to burn all bridges so that its people would have no choice but to pursue an endless cycle of persecution, provocation and incremental ethnic cleansing, or face the option that you’re presenting to shame us into silence?

          And don’t be ridiculous; the light-skinned Israelis are useful to capitalism and will all be welcomed to America the way that all Soviet Jews were, thanks to their lobby controlling both our political parties. As for the swarthier ones, even Donald Sterling pointed out that Israel doesn’t treat them well now.

    • “…..[t]here is no reason on earth why they cannot be moved back behind the original line of 1947…never mind 1967.”

      Colette Avital, former Labor Party Knesset member and a former Israeli Foreign Ministry official has advocated just that – all West Bank Jewish settlers to be relocated behind the 1967 Green Line with just compensation awarded them from the Israeli government. She is a Holocaust survivor from Romania who came to Israel shortly after it was founded.

      • The Palestinians never accepted the new Jewish state of Israel based on the so-called 1947 borders and will never be content to accept a Jewish with ANY borders falling within the original (British-run) Palestine.

        • Explain to me what right the UN had to make the Palestinians give up any land at all from what Prof. Cole pointed out many times was a League of Nations mandate meant to become a single Palestinian state? Recall King Ibn Saud telling Franklin Roosevelt that it was wrong that Palestinians should be punished for the crimes of Germans – and extracting a promise from him that nothing would be done to them without consulting with Arab leaders. Just another broken US promise to the redskins, I guess.

    • I saw it on-line yesterday and the Seattle Times has an article that (with picture) takes up almost half of page 3. Since it’s attributed to the NY Times, it’s getting attention.

  5. What a sad story, disillusion is one of the toughest emotions to bear. Observing the sheer viciousness of Israelis, and their Orwellian disregard for truth, I find it hard to imagine either an harmonious two state future or a workable Israel with equal rights for everyone. Israelis simply would neither respect the first nor tolerate the second. Maybe a bit of both might work, one state of Palestine with an autonomous region for those diehard Jews who simply cannot live with others, a bit like the Vatican or Monte Carlo. I don’t see a racist Jewish region as the worst of all possible solutions so long as it is not on occupied land but confined within internationally recognised borders. The Zionist dream itself would better have remained a ‘dream of the night’. Remember Lawrence:

    “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”

    Whatever the future, it must be properly planned in all detail, including such things as the right of return, and what is to happen to the Jewish squatters. Also, I don’t think going to the ICC will solve anything. The notion may be better left as a threat. What is really needed is a fresh start.

    • “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”

      Just to be clear, Lawrence was not referring to the Zionists who established Israel; rather, he was referring to the Hejaz campaign of 1916-1917, led by Lawrence and other British officers along with the various Arab tribes, that delivered the Hejaz and Damascus from the Ottoman Turks.

  6. “As Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide, we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonisation of historic Palestine. We further condemn the United States for providing Israel with the funding to carry out the attack, and western states more generally for using their diplomatic muscle to protect Israel from condemnation. Genocide begins with the silence of the world.”

    “Gaza propaganda machines”: link to theguardian.com

  7. If they had integrity similar to that displayed by Henrik Zanoli, there are many Americans, civilian and military, who would return their medals to the White House and the Pentagon.

  8. Stéphane Hessel was another Holocaust survivor and resistance fighter who opposed Israel’s actions in Gaza. I have a friend who refused the opportunity to be a “Just among the Nations”, though he saved the lives of several French Jews when he was a very young man in the Resistance.

    • Stéphane Hessel is a brilliant and rightful intellectual. I wish his work and words were translated into English.

  9. On the plaque which all honorees receive is written “Le people juif reconnaissant”. This implies that the honor is not from the government of Israel, is not from the State of Israel, but is from “Le people juif reconnaissant” among which there must be persons who agree with Mr. Zanoli.

    • Obviously, the Israeli State claiming to speak for the Jewish people, friend, through the inscription on the plaque.

      This is not hard to understand.

  10. It may say that “the Jewish people recognize,” but given that there is no worldwide assembly of Jewish persons who vote, and the museum is in Israel, it seems reasonable to assume that it is an Israeli recognition. In any event, whatever the exact source may be does not invalidate his decision to make this protest, which will at least draw some publicity in Europe, not quite so immersed in pro-Israel reporting.

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