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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Holocaust survivor speaks up for Palestine

Published: October 22, 2010
Section: Front Page

PHOTO BY Haley Fine/The Hoot

Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor and vocal critic of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) policies, said that the IDF continues to unjustly inflict violence on Palestinian civilians during a lecture inside the Levin-Ross room Thursday evening.

“American media portrays Israelis as the victims, and Palestinians as the terrorists. That’s not the way it is,” Epstein said.

Epstein told the audience that Hamas, an organization based largely on the principals of Islamic Fundamentalism, was “democratically elected with international supervision” and therefore her opinion was not significant.

That Hamas is called a terrorist organization by the United States “has been arbitrarily decided by the United States and Israel,” Epstein said.

Students from the Brandeis Zionist Alliance and Stand With Us spoke out against Epstein’s talk, asking challenging questions and passing out flyers that read, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex. There is suffering on both sides. Hedy focuses on just one.”

“She doesn’t actually know the facts,” said Steve Feldman ’12, a student from the Brandeis Zionist Alliance.

Epstein was 8-years-old when Adolf Hitler came to power in her native country of Germany and her family was desperate to escape.

She also grew up exposed to the politics of her parents, two anti-Zionists. In her village, there was a Zionist youth group that many of the children belonged to; however, by her parents’ rules, she was not allowed to join it.

Epstein escaped the Holocaust when her parents sent her to Britain on the Kinder transport.

In May of 1948, Epstein arrived in the United States, the same year that Israel became an independent state. She did not, however, pay much attention to Israel until more than 40 years later, when two Palestinian refugee camps, Sabra and Shatila, were attacked in Beirut, Lebanon in 1982.

She wanted to know who was responsible and became increasingly more concerned with Israeli policies and its military forces.

In September 2003, Epstein participated in her first vigil in St. Louis, protesting the war in Iraq. A few months later, she visited the West Bank for the first time. She and the other women on her trip underwent participated in non-violent resistance training with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).

In her time there, Epstein visited several villages. In the farming village of Masha, Epstein saw an electrified fence surrounding it; this is now a 25-foot tall wall. The wall is part of Israel’s security fence that separates Israel from Palestinian-occupied terrain in the West Bank.

Epstein criticized the wall, saying Israel should not have built it in Palestine because on one side of the wall, there are Palestinians, and on the other side, there are Palestinians, “so how does that provide security?” She has since made five other visits to the West Bank.

On the flyer that Feldman and the Brandeis Zionist Alliance handed out, it said that “the fence was built in direct 700 civilians who were murdered in terrorist attacks.”

Feldman said that ISM, a group Epstein has supported, “advocated for terrorist groups. It’s not a peaceful group.”

This march, Epstein hopes to visit Gaza for the first time.

Explaining that one day she hopes to see peace in the region, Epstein said “I have failed so far, but that doesn’t mean that failure will be in the future.”

“Peace will be in the future,” she said.