A son still alive - stories of genocide

Witnesses, survivors, perpetrators

A Family in War

Lilli Gold gazes out of train window

Escaping Germany

A Family in War, Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba through a Century of Letters

Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, Aberystwyth  20 Ebrill 2020  18:30

National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth  20 April 2020  18:30

Four generations of one family, experiencing two wars, a genocide and ethnic cleansing, all recorded in a hundred years of letters and messages.  A genocide history told in the here-and-now, dramatising the words and experiences of the people who lived it.

None of these writers knew what was about to happen, any more than we do in our lives today. Their words, full of hopes and fears for the future, are ignorant of what was about to happen

But do we know any better? History seeks meaning, but the past is a mess. History offers convenient beginnings and endings, but these are tricks of storytelling. The judgments that history makes about the past may reveal more about the needs of the present.

To make sense of the past, we return to those voices as they lived it, and listen carefully to what they say, felt, hoped and feared. A Family in War dramatises a century of turmoil through the words of people as they lived it. For tickets, click the headline.

The story attested by these papers proved too challenging to narrate on 27 January, but it will be revealed in Aberystwyth on 20 April – well sadly no.

Performance was originally scheduled for 27 January, but pulled following the intervention of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. It was then rescheduled for 20 April, but now on 17 March, postponed indefinitely by the global pandemic, following the National Library of Wales ‘indefinite’ closure.

The National Library will restage A Family in War in the future that we all now hope for.

For the story of the HMD Trust’s evidence-free claims about the event which caused its suppression in January, see the Western Mail of March 2 2020.

Meanwhile there are also moves to stage A Family in War online in future – check here for news.


Christians and Israel

“Outspoken and memorable”

Image of Bashir Gemayel from a 1982 interview

Bashir Gemayel

In February 2017, Rebecca Ruth Gould, a lecturer at Bristol University was condemned for ‘one of the worst cases of holocaust denial’ by a former Conservative MP, Eric Pickles.

When he left the Commons for the Lords, Theresa May appointed Lord Pickles as her ‘UK Government Special Envoy on post-Holocaust issues’. His opinions on Holocaust issues therefore matter.

Speaking of Rebecca Gould, Pickles said: ‘to describe the murder of six million Jewish people like this frankly beggars belief. I am all for debate and freedom of speech but this passes into a new dimension.’ The author should ‘consider her position’.

“One of the worst cases of holocaust denial”

Was a British university really fostering Holocaust denial? And what was the source of Eric Pickles’ remarkable authority on antisemitism? From these first questions grew something much larger : this exploration of the extraordinary relationship between Zionism and Christianity. This centuries-long history takes in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in Beirut, the modern British Conservative Party, and the close ties between Trump’s USA and Netanyahu’s Israel.

Two events in 2018 made this investigation timely: Trump’s provocative decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the long-delayed release of a secret appendix to Israel’s official inquiry into the Beirut massacre of 1982. So this article provides one of the first detailed reports of how in 1982 the highest leaders of Israel and Lebanon – Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon and Bashir Gemayel – conspired to perpetrate a massacre of Palestinians.

This story, which begins with a Bristol University academic accused of antisemitism, ends with a former Bristol University student, today a Welsh MP, who heads the UK’s most influential pro-Zionist lobby.

Christians and Israel was published in  Planet Extra on 17 December 2018

POSTSCRIPT 13 February 2019

Christians and Israel investigates some remarkable consequences of Christian dedication to Israel.  My study was sparked by the attack on literature scholar Rebecca Gould, by the UK’s Christian ‘Holocaust Envoy’, Eric Pickles. Following my publication, Professor Gould wrote –

I’m so grateful to you for shedding light on these difficult topics relating to the history and politics of antisemitism, and for your courage in speaking out against Israel’s human rights violations, as well as the weaponisation of antisemitism. Your journalistic eye for detail enables you to unearth many forgotten and suppressed details of Jewish history and to bring to light the complicity of European powers in evading responsibility for their crimes against humanity.

Eric Pickles has recently called for the “Universal adoption of  the IHRA definition of Antisemitism”. I have still not heard from him following my articles which show the real purpose of the IHRA code – to defend Israel’s indefensible aggression against Palestine.

Read Christians and Israel here

and see how readers are responding to Christians and Israel

“rigorous, moving and original”   “a brilliant article”

“this should get wide coverage”

“outspoken and memorable”   “an absorbing read”

“powerful and extraordinary piece”

Readers respond to Christians and Israel

“poisoning the whole of Western political discourse”

Christians and Israel tells a strong story, and has received an equally strong welcome. (Find the article here)

Of many comments, here are four from contrasting backgrounds, informed by Christianity, Judaism and Marxism, starting with the Lebanese lawyer who took Ariel Sharon to court in 2001

Chibli Mallat, human rights lawyer, former candidate for Lebanese presidency

We had the so-called secret Appendix and used it in the Belgium [trial of Sharon]’ … the interview with ‘Paul’ is touching and confirms many other similar testimonies.

Here’s the remarkable background to these comments: In Belgium in 2001, representing 23 survivors of Sabra & Chatila, Chibli Mallat took Israeli PM Sharon, Lebanese warlord Elie Hobeika and others to court for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Legal victory came on 12 February 2003, as Belgium’s Supreme Court ruled that the case could proceed under a Belgian law which permitted universal jurisdiction in the case of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Israel immediately withdrew its ambassador from Belgium, and Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israel’s foreign minister, told the Belgian ambassador that the court action was equivalent to a ‘blood libel’ against the Jewish people. Chibli Mallat observed: “The case probably created the most significant rift between Israel and Europe since the establishment of the state in 1948”.

US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell warned that unless Belgium’s universal jurisdiction law was struck down, all US government business including NATO meetings would be moved out of Belgium.

Belgium complied, and on 24 September 2003, the Supreme Court stopped all cases concerning Sabra and Chatila. It was 21 years since the UN General Assembly had resolved that the massacre was an act of genocide.

Chibli Mallat wrote of the victims he represented, “the bottom line is simple: they have not been compensated in any way, and those responsible for the massacres, Lebanese and Israeli, have not been tried for the crime … The moral and legal victory remained – the highest court in a Western country had ordered the trial of [those] implicated”.

Liz Foreman-Dean, broadcaster

You’ve produced a perfect Challah [braided loaf for the Jewish Sabbath] – one strand political, another historical and a third, the powerful, personal story of a family bearing witness to world events.  I think the balance you’ve achieved is perfect.

It’s great story telling; just sad that such tales need telling again and again.

Mark Levene, genocide historian

A vastly impressive piece of yours… controlled, disciplined passion. The way you meld the personal and political is brilliantly well navigated. … There was one factual bit of yours I’d contest, though I can see why the symmetry between British Christian Zionism and your wider theme mattered. The Balfour Declaration, had almost nothing to do with Christian millenarianism. It’s a well-trod red herring! See my article – The Balfour Declaration: A Case of Mistaken Identity

That aside, Mike, yours is very powerful indeed. And the detail on the back story to Sabra-Shatilla very important. I need to look up the Kahan report material for my own current work on genocide and the cold war! It was the time [1982] when me and my and siblings’ enthusiasm for Israel, already shaky, completely collapsed, actually galvanised by the siege of Beirut prior to the massacres. Led to some horrible arguments with our parents…

You write about all this with an astringent immediacy, Mike, and in the best Jewish tradition, ‘truth to power’.

Euryn Ogwen Williams, broadcaster

Ardderchog, Mike. Llongyfarchiadau ar erthygl sylweddol a phwysig. The current lack of understanding of history is deeply troubling. It is particularly so among fundamentalist Christians – the absolutists who refuse to recognise a century of biblical and archaeological research that has opened up Old and New Testament thinking. It is poisoning the whole of Western political discourse.

It astounds me that evangelical Christians fail to understand the challenge of the great Old Testament parables of Ruth and Job and the good Samaritan in the New Testament. And what they make of the Golden Rule of all religions is a mystery of our times. Da iawn ti am roi’r cyfan mas yna.

A deliberate policy to destroy the Armenians

Today the UK government is one of several that deny that Armenians suffered genocide in 1915. Yet remarkably, the UK government acknowledged and denounced the Armenian Genocide as early as 1915.

“It was a long-considered, deliberate policy to destroy and wipe out of existence the Armenians in Turkey”

This was how Foreign Office Minister Lord Robert Cecil announced the British Government’s position in 1915, the year of the genocide. His statement was a textbook definition of genocide.

Eight years later, under diplomatic pressure from Turkey, the government started denying that a genocide happened.

To this day, they continue to deny the Armenian genocide.

Mike Joseph addresses parliamentary session

In parliament

Ten years ago I brought this uncomfortable history of policy U-turns to parliament, and addressed members from most parties and both Houses. Today nothing has changed. The UK government remains in denial.

Here is an unedited transcript of my 2008 presentation:

Responsibility of the UK parliament

The Hundred Year House

‘Talk about what you know’

As a journalist and broadcaster with ITV and BBC, I was ready to cover any story at any place and  time. But I was not quite so ready for this story, a very personal account of how my mother became a refugee, a story which eventually turned me into a historian of genocide.

The Hundred Year House was produced by BBC Wales, and broadcast on Radio 4 and BBC World Service in 1999. The programme follows my visit to my mother’s childhood home in the German city of Leipzig, and then further east to Ukraine, where German SS and Ukrainian militia killed her family in 1941-2.

crowds of East and West Germans gather as the Berlin Wall opens

East meets west as Berlin Wall opens

In the west, we had long known about the Nazis, Belsen, Auschwitz. But until the 1990s, our knowledge of what really happened in the occupied Soviet Union was fragmentary, deliberately suppressed by Stalin and his successors. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and then the collapse of the Soviet Union finally made it possible to explore and narrate the perpetration of the holocaust a half-century earlier in the east of Europe.

With communism defeated, the West’s complacency was challenged in 1994 as genocide erupted in Rwanda, and the world failed to intervene. It was one of the most intensive killing campaigns in human history.

Europe was not immune: in 1995 came the genocide of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War. Genocide was not simply a shadow from the past. It was in the news every week.

BBC Radio 4 The Hundred Year House

IHRA antisemitism definition an attack on non-Zionist Jews

Published in Planet Extra, 20 August 2018

Israeli soldiers deposit their weapons at Yad Vashem Holocaust museum

IDF recruits at Yad Vashem

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism dangerously conflates anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

To demonstrate the problem, this article brings together Jewish voices from Wales and beyond, all of whom breach the IHRA code by what they say. An antisemitism code that seeks to suppress Jewish voices is a remarkable thing. The article warns Labour and Plaid Cymru that they harm Welsh Jews by adopting the IHRA  definition in full. Read the article in Planet Extra

“An antisemitism code that seeks to suppress Jewish voices is a remarkable thing”

Following this article, I expanded and deepened my investigation into what lies behind the IHRA definition.  The result is Christians and Israel, which explores the Christian context to the IHRA definition, and the long relationship between fundamental Christianity and Zionism. It is also published in Planet Extra. Read it here.