Once the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they introduced legislation to restrict the rights of Jews. Discrimination against Jewish doctors, lawyers and businesses began at about the same time.
The introduction of the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935 further increased Jewish marginalisation. Jews were banned from marrying non-Jews and their citizenship was removed, along with their right to vote. Slowly, more restrictions were brought in – Jews were barred from all professional occupations and Jewish children were prohibited from attending state schools. In 1938, further laws decreed that Jewish men must take the middle name ‘Israel’ and women ‘Sarah’. All German Jews would have their passports marked with a ‘J’1.
On 8-9th November 1938 the Nazis initiated attacks on Jews in Germany, the recently incorporated Austria and the Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia). It became known as Kristallnacht (Crystal Night: the night of broken glass) and was a night of vandalism, violence and persecution. At least 91 Jews were murdered and 30,000 were arrested, simply because they were Jewish, and were sent to concentration camps such as Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and others. 267 synagogues were destroyed and an estimated 7,500 businesses were vandalised2.
The German government made an immediate pronouncement that the Jews themselves were to blame for Kristallnacht and imposed a fine of one billion Reichsmarks (about $US400 million at 1938 rates) on the German Jewish community. The government confiscated all insurance payouts to Jews whose businesses and homes were looted or destroyed, leaving the Jewish owners personally responsible for the cost of all repairs2.
Subsequently, the German government passed dozens of measures designed to deprive Jews of their property and their livelihood. Many of these laws enforced the transfer of Jewish-owned enterprises and property to ‘Aryan’ ownership, usually for a fraction of their true value. Following legislation barred Jews, already ineligible for employment in the public sector, from practising most professions. The legislation made further strides in removing Jews from public life. Jewish children still attending German schools were expelled. German Jews lost their right to hold a driver’s license or own a car and had their access to public transport restricted. Jews could no longer gain admittance to “German” theatres and cinemas2.
A conference was held on January 20, 1942, in a villa in the Berlin suburb of Wansee. It was attended by 15 high-ranking Nazi Party and German government officials and was to discuss and coordinate the implementation of what they called the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question’. People in attendance included the convenor, SS* General Reinhard Heydrich, and SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann. The “Final Solution” was code for the systematic, deliberate, physical annihilation of European Jews. Some time in 1941, Adolf Hitler authorised this Europe-wide scheme of mass murder. It was estimated by the SS that as many as 11 million Jews would be exterminated under this plan. Most of the participants in the conference were already aware that the Nazi regime had engaged in mass murder of Jews and other civilians in the German-occupied areas of the Soviet Union and in Serbia3.
Operation Reinhard, as it came to be known, entailed the establishment of ‘killing centres’ in Poland, such as Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka and Majdanek, and later Auschwitz-Birkenau. Just in the latter centre, approximately one million Jewish men, women and children were murdered. Throughout the war, approximately six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis4.
As a prelude to this mass murder, Jews in numerous cities were forced to live in ghettos, to separate them from the non-Jewish population and other Jewish communities. In the occupied territories east of Germany, the Nazis established over 1,100 ghettos. The largest ghetto in occupied Poland was that in Warsaw. Other major ghettos were established in other Polish cities such as Lodz, Krakow, Bialystok, Lublin and Czestochowa5.
In October 1940, the Nazis established the Warsaw ghetto, with more than 400,000 Jews (30% of Warsaw’s entire population) being confined to an area of about 330 hectares, about 2.4% of the city’s area. Extreme overcrowding, minimal rations and unsanitary conditions led to starvation and disease, with thousands of Jews dying each month. Between October 1940 and the middle of 1942, 83,000 Jews died of starvation and disease. In the second half of 1942 the SS and police units carried out mass deportations from the ghetto to the Treblinka killing centre. During this operation, as many as 35,000 Jews were killed within the ghetto6.
In January 1943, SS and police units returned to Warsaw, this time with the intent of deporting thousands of the approximately 60,000 Jews remaining. This time, however, many of the Jews, understandably believing that the SS and police would deport them to Treblinka, resisted deportation, some of them using small arms smuggled into the ghetto. After seizing approximately 5,000 Jews, the SS and police units halted the operation and withdrew6.
On April 19, 1943, SS and police reappeared outside the ghetto walls, intending to ‘liquidate’ the ghetto and deport the remaining inhabitants. Spurred on by the ghetto resistance unit known as the Jewish Combat Organization (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa; ŻOB), ghetto inhabitants offered organised resistance in the first days of the operation, inflicting significant casualties on the well-armed and equipped SS and police units. They continued to resist deportation as individuals or in small groups for four weeks before the Germans ended the operation on May 16. Some 49,000 were deported and 7,000 died during the operation6.
On August 1, 1944, the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa; AK), a non-Communist underground resistance army with units stationed throughout German-occupied Poland, rose against the German occupation authorities in an effort to liberate Warsaw. The impetus for the uprising was the appearance of Soviet forces along the east bank of the Vistula River. The Soviets failed to intervene; the Germans eventually crushed the revolt and razed the centre of Warsaw in October6.
Reading up on the Warsaw ghetto uprising, I was struck by the parallels with what has happened and is happening in Gaza, but over a much longer timeframe. It all started with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire when Britain took control of Palestine. At the time, the land was inhabited by a Jewish minority and an Arab majority. Britain’s foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour declared in 1917 that a national home would be established in Palestine for Jewish people. This was endorsed by the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations. The Arab majority were not in favour of the plan. Beginning in the 1920s, the number of Jews arriving grew, and violence between Jews and Arabs and against British rule also increased7.
In 1947, the UN voted for Palestine to be split into separate Jewish and Arab states. That plan was accepted by the Jews but rejected by the Arabs and was never implemented. The British then buggered off and the Jews declared the creation of the State of Israel. The day after that declaration, five Arab countries attacked. In this war (the First Arab-Israeli War), hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced out of their homes in what they call Al Nakba (the catastrophe). By the time the fighting ended in a ceasefire (and not a peace agreement) the following year, Israel controlled most of the territory, but Jordan controlled the West Bank and Egypt occupied Gaza. Jerusalem was split between Jordanian forces in the east and Israeli forces in the west7.
In 1956, Gamal Abdel Nasser, on becoming president of Egypt took a hostile stance toward Israel and at about the same time, nationalised the Suez Canal (which was largely owned by the French and British). France and Britain struck a deal with Israel to invade Egypt with France and Britain intervening as pretend peacemakers to take control of the canal again. In October 1956 Israel invaded the Sinai Peninsula and occupied the Gaza strip. A UN Emergency Force was stationed in the area and the Israeli forces withdrew in March 19578.
In early 1967, Syria intensified its bombardment of Israeli villages from positions in the Golan Heights. When the Israeli Air Force shot down six Syrian fighter jets in reprisal, Nasser mobilised his forces near the Sinai border, dismissing the UN force there, and again sought to blockade Eilat. In May 1967, Egypt signed a mutual defence pact with Jordan. In what became known as the Six Day War, Israel struck back with overwhelming force, effectively destroying Egypt’s air force on the ground. Israeli ground forces drove Syrian forces off the Golan Heights, pushed the Egyptian forces out of Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula and the Jordanian forces out of the West Bank8.
In early October, 1973, the Israeli forces were caught off-guard when Egyptian forces crossed the Suez Canal and Syrian forces retook the Golan Heights, inflicting heavy casualties on the Israelis in what became known as the Yom Kippur War. The Israelis eventually reversed most of these losses with fighting continuing for most of October. Cease-fire agreements were eventually signed with Egypt and Syria, and a withdrawal agreement allowing Israeli forces to withdraw from most of Sinai. In a peace treaty signed between Egypt and Israel in March 1979, the entire Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt while Egypt recognised Israel’s right to exist8.
On June 5, 1982, less than six weeks after Israel’s eventual withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, agreed to under the 1979 peace treaty, during a period of increased tension between Palestinians and Israel, Israel bombed Beirut and southern Lebanon, where the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) had several strongholds. This was followed by an invasion and a few days later Israeli armed forces had encircled Beirut and shelled the western part of the city. A multinational force was eventually installed and Israel withdrew from Beirut, but it was another three years before the Israeli army withdrew from Lebanon8.
In July 2006, Hezbollah attacked Israel in an attempt to pressure them into releasing Lebanese prisoners, killing a number of Israeli soldiers in the process and capturing two. Israel launched an offensive into southern Lebanon to recover the captured soldiers; they also bombed Beirut. The war lasted 34 days but left more than one thousand Lebanese dead and about one million others displaced8.
The Gaza Strip was under Egyptian military rule from 1949 to 1956 and again from 1957 to 1967. The strip’s chief economic and social problem was the presence of large numbers of Palestinian refugees living in extreme poverty in squalid refugee camps. The Egyptian government did not consider the area part of Egypt and did not allow the refugees to become Egyptian citizens or to migrate to Egypt or to other Arab countries. Israel did not allow them to return to their former homes or to receive compensation for their loss of property. The refugees were maintained largely through the aid of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Many of the younger refugees became fedayeen (guerrillas); their attacks on Israel were one of the causes precipitating the Sinai campaign in 1956, when the Gaza strip was taken by Israel. The strip reverted to Egyptian control in 1957 following strong international pressures on Israel9.
In the Six-Day War of June 1967, the Gaza Strip was again taken by Israel, which occupied the region for the next quarter century. In December 1987 rioting and violent street clashes between Palestinians and occupying Israeli troops marked the birth of an uprising (the Intifada). In 1994, Israel began a phased transfer of government to the Palestinian Authority (PA) under the terms of the Oslo Accords that were signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). This government, led by Yasser Arafat, struggled with such problems as a stagnant economy, divided popular support, stalled negotiations with Israel over further troop withdrawals and territoriality, and the threat of terrorism from militant Muslim groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which refused to compromise with Israel and were intent on derailing the peace process.
Beginning in late 2000, a breakdown in negotiations between the PA and Israel was followed by a further, more extreme outbreak of violence, the second Intifada. In an effort to end the fighting, Israel announced in late 2003, a plan to withdraw Israeli soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip. In September 2005 Israel completed the pullout from the territory, and control of the Gaza Strip was transferred to the PA, although Israel continued to patrol its borders and airspace9.
In the 2006 PA parliamentary elections, Fatah—which had dominated Palestinian politics since the 1950s—suffered a decisive loss to Hamas, as Fatah was seen as corrupt and inefficient. Hamas’s victory prompted sanctions by Israel, the USA, and the EU, each of which had placed Hamas on their official list of terrorist groups. The Gaza Strip was the site of escalating violence between the competing groups, and a short-lived coalition government ended in June 2007 after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip and a Fatah-led emergency cabinet took control of the West Bank9.
The sanctions instituted by Israel in 2007 included power cuts, restriction of imports, and border closure. In January 2008, facing sustained rocket assaults into its southern settlements, Israel broadened its sanctions, completely sealing its border with the Gaza Strip and temporarily preventing fuel imports. Later that month, after nearly a week of the intensified Israeli blockade, Hamas’ forces demolished portions of the barrier along the Egypt border, opening gaps through which, according to some estimates, hundreds of thousands of Gazans passed into Egypt to purchase food, fuel and goods unavailable under the Israeli blockade. Egypt allowed this to continue temporarily to alleviate civilian suffering9.
In the years after the Israeli blockade commenced, the Free Gaza Movement made a number of maritime efforts to breach it. The first—which consisted of two ships bearing medical supplies and some 45 activists—was permitted to reach Gaza in August 2008. Four subsequent missions in subsequent months were also successful. However, in May 2010 a flotilla bound for Gaza was attacked by Israeli commandos in which 9 of the 600 activists involved were killed9.
In May 2011, Egypt reopened the Rafah border crossing, allowing about 1,200 people to cross the border daily, though it remained closed for trade. However, in 2013, traffic through the border crossing was reduced to 50 people per day because of security concerns, and was later closed altogether9.
After the PA took control of the Rafah border crossing in late 2017, Egypt began allowing 200 people per day to cross the border by May 2018. The border was closed briefly after the PA quit the Gaza Strip in January 2019, but it was reopened weeks later by Hamas. During this rare and prolonged easing of the border, tens of thousands of Gazans were reported to have permanently emigrated from the Gaza Strip9.
After months of violence between Israel and Hamas in mid-2018, Israel began to ease restrictions on its blockade as a part of an effort to promote a longer-term cease-fire agreement. In 2019 Israel allowed the flow of additional goods into and out of the territory, expanded the permitted fishing zone for Gazans to its largest extent in more than a decade, and began allowing thousands of Gazans to cross the border to work in Israel9.
In late 2018, Qatar offered tens of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, after this was supported by both Israel and Egypt. By 2021 it had donated nearly $400 million to the territory9.
By late 2021, the $1.1 billion wall and fence stretching along the entire boundary between Israel and the Gaza Strip, was completed10. There is also a maritime barrier which is able to detect infiltration by sea11. It is no wonder that so many Palestinians believe they live in the world’s largest open-air prison10.
Between 2008 and October 7, 2023, 5,360 Gazans were killed by Israel, with over 3,300 being killed by bombs or missiles from aircraft. In the West Bank, over 1,330 Palestinians have been killed, mostly by gunfire. Over that same period, 230 Israelis have been killed in Israel (74), the Gaza Strip (13) and the West Bank (143)12.
While nobody in their right mind would condone the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7th last year, when 1,200 Israelis were killed and 240 taken hostage, the response by Israel has been massive and indiscriminate. It is estimated that almost 25,000 Gazan men, women and children have been killed. It is also estimated that 60% of dwellings have been destroyed or damaged13.
As a US intelligence analysis indicates, nearly half of the 29,000 Israeli bombs dropped on the Gaza Strip are free-falling ‘dumb bombs’ which are imprecise and clearly are part of the reason that so many Gazans of all ages have been killed. One can only presume that the Israelis do not care who the casualties are14.
To anyone that thinks this is just a war against Hamas and not a genocidal operation, think about this. Israeli forces had used the Al Israa University Hospital as a military base for weeks. When they no longer needed it, they destroyed it with explosives14, 15. If it was so much under their control that they had been using it as a base, why would they destroy it? Could it be that they simply want to make the Gaza Strip uninhabitable so Israel can more easily expel the Palestinians from their land, as they have done previously in parts of what is now Israel, and as the ‘settlers’ are currently doing in the West Bank.
The similarities between the Warsaw Ghetto (and others like it) and the Gaza Strip are astonishing. Walls restrict the movement of people, and food, water and medicine are restricted, occasional incursions kill numerous people. I wonder if, like the Warsaw Ghetto, will Gaza be razed to the ground? I find it impossible to understand how Jews who suffered so egregiously 80 years ago, could be perpetrating the same sort of atrocities on the people of the Gaza Strip. Perhaps one meme I saw explains it perfectly. It was a picture of the blue and white Israeli flag with part of it torn and clearly shown behind it, the red flag of Nazi Germany exposing the centre circle and the enclosed swastika. The similarities between what happened in the 1940s and now are appalling, and the fact that this murderous invasion of Gaza could be perpetrated by the children and grandchildren of the people who suffered under the Nazis, beggars belief.
*SS: This was the Schutzstaffel. It began as a small paramilitary organisation to provide security for Nazi Party meetings in Munich in the early 1920s. Under Himmler’s direction (1929–1945) it became of the most powerful organisations in Nazi Germany. From the time of the Nazi Party’s rise to power until the regime’s collapse in 1945, the SS was the foremost agency of security, mass surveillance and state terrorism within Germany and German-occupied Europe. The two main constituent groups were the Allgemeine SS (General SS) and Waffen-SS (Armed SS). The General SS was responsible for enforcing the Nazi racial policy and general policing, whereas the Waffen-SS consisted of the combat units of the SS, with a sworn allegiance to Hitler16.