Palestine’s Anne Frank

By Vacy Vlazna

The graffiti image of Anne Frank wearing a kuffiyeh by Netherlands artist known as ‘T’ has long drawn indignation and controversy though its original intention was related to the fashionable wearing of a kuffiyeh. Recently BDS Amsterdam’s use of the image is rekindling the controversy. Haaretz’s Bradley Bursten complained, “No, those who are affected most directly by the Anne Frank image – and most deeply hurt – are Holocaust survivors and their descendants.”

Personally, I think, it is these same persons who, through the empathy of suffering, should understand the moral symbiosis of the image and its tragic significance today.

Anne Frank, the Jewish teenager, who spent two years with her family hidden in a building in Amsterdam and who was betrayed, deported and died in Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi concentration camp, has become a beloved icon of the dreams of children annihilated by violence past and present.

The Anne Frank Foundation states that “Through her diary,  Anne Frank has become a worldwide symbol representing all victims of racism, anti-Semitism and fascism. The foremost message contained in her diary sets out to combat all forms of racism and anti-Semitism.”

Virulent racism and anti-Semitism is victimizing another Semitic people, the Palestinians.

Anne fearfully wrote, “All Jews must be out of the German-occupied territories before 1 July. The province of Utrecht will be cleansed of Jews [as if they were cockroaches] between 1 April and 1 May.”

Palestinians are also vilified with the racial slur of ‘cockroach.’  Israeli Rafael Eitan who served as Chief of Staff of the IDF, and later as Knesset member and government minister announced, “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged roaches in a bottle.” And Israeli peace activist, Professor Nurid Peled-Elhanan has made a thorough analysis of Zionist education resources: “When images of Arabs do figure they are often negatively depicted as less human or sub human, subservient, deviant, criminal and evil… [Palestinians] are seen as cockroaches, vermins, creatures who should be stamped out…”

In the context here of youthful suffering, let us view the similarities of the Nazi victimizing, traumatizing and slaughtering of Anne Frank to the victimizing, traumatizing, mutilating and slaughtering of the teenagers and children of Gaza trapped, or as Anne may have put it, “chained in one spot, without any rights” for 7 years in the largest concentration camp in the world.

The Gaza Strip with its population of 1,763,387 of which 43% are under 14 years of age and a median age of 18.1 has been in a state of humanitarian crisis since the 2006 illegal Israeli blockade controls all of Gaza’s borders in collaboration with Egypt.

Following the horrific Israeli 2009/10 war on Gaza’s defenseless population, Iman Aoun, director of the Ramallah Astar Theatre produced The Gaza-Mono-Logues based on moving stories of thirty-one teenagers impounded in the Gaza ghetto. As Fateema, 14, laconically observes “Gaza’s fish ran away. But the people were not able to.”

Just as the world fell silent on Anne’s holocaust and bewilderment,

“Who has inflicted this upon us? Who had made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now”?

So too, to the massive bombardment on defenseless Gazan families (ironically because they are not Jewish) of Israel’s arsenal of Depleted Uranium, Dense Inert Metal Explosives, White Phosphorous, Anti-Personnel/Anti-Materiel Tank Rounds, Fuel Air Explosives, Anti-Door Short-Range Anti-Armor Weapon, Spike Multi-Purpose Anti-Armor Missile, GBU-28s bunker buster bombs, GBU-39s GPS guided  munitions, “M433 40mmhigh explosive, dual-purpose (HEDP) cartridges and M889A1 81 mm high explosive cartridges, M107 155 mm high explosive artillery rounds, M141 83 mm bunker defeat munitions, and M930 120 mm illuminating cartridges fired  by F16s, Helicopters, UAVs or Drones, Armored tanks, Caterpillar Armored D9 Bulldozers, Naval war ships and  IOF forces including Max Brenner’s proud Golani and Givati brigades plus the invasion of M889A1, and M107 tanks specifically designed to spray some 2,000 pieces of shrapnel and to breach walls…

The world silently allowed the slaughter of 1400 Gazans including 320 children and their dreams…

Sujoud, 15 declares, “They took our land and threw us out of our homes. And because we are defending ourselves, all this happens to us. There’s no water…no electricity…no phones…no petrol…What are we to the world, aren’t we human?”

Silence reared again during the Israeli Operation Pillar of Cloud in November last year that killed 105 Gazans as well as the dreams of 30 children

Trapped in the Secret Annexe, the sounds of war terrorized Anne,

“I still haven’t got over my fear of planes and shooting, and I crawl into Father’s bed nearly every night for comfort. I know it sounds childish, but wait till it happens to you! The ack-ack guns make so much noise you can’t hear your own voice.”

Reem, 14, shared this terror, “Yesterday I was sitting in school and heard the sounds of planes. I got really scared; I wanted to run away from school. I felt I was going to die because I remembered the war. The scenes of war won’t leave my mind.”

Unconscionably, this anguish in Gaza’s children is purposely heightened by Israel regularly and mercilessly bludgeoning Gazans with series of sonic booms, mainly at night, that sound like massive explosions which can cause miscarriages, heart attacks as well as trauma, loss of hearing, breathing difficulties and bed-wetting in children.

Anne describes second-hand the devastation from the bombardments on her city and intimately on herself,

“North Amsterdam was very heavily bombed on Sunday. There was apparently a great deal of destruction. Entire streets are in ruins, and it will take a while for them to dig out all the bodies. So far there have been two hundred dead and countless wounded; the hospitals are bursting at the seams. We’ve been told of children searching forlornly in the smoldering ruins for their dead parents. It still makes me shiver to think of the dull, distant drone that signified the approaching destruction.”

Ahmad 14, shares first-hand his traumatic experience, “In the Shifa hospital I saw a sight I will never forget. Hundreds of corpses, one on top of the other. Their flesh.. their blood, and their bones all melting on each other You wouldn’t know the woman from the man or even the child. Piles of flesh on the beds, and lots of people screaming and crying, not knowing where their kids are, their men or their women.

That night, I came home from hospital and was awake until morning from fear. I thought it would only be that night that I couldn’t sleep, but till today I see them in front of me and I can’t sleep.”

Anne dreaded the Gestapo roundup of civilians,

“Mr Dussel has told us much about the outside world we’ve missed for so long. He had sad news. Countless friends and acquaintances have been taken off to a dreadful fate. Night after night, green and grey military vehicles cruise the streets.”

In the West Bank, Israel systematically ramps up a state of anxiety and fear with night-time raids and violent home invasions. Arrests of children and adults occur mainly at night when the whole family is suddenly awakened, their home invaded by armed soldiers shouting and ransacking the family’s possessions then kidnapping the frightened target leaving the family distraught and their lives devastated. Reuters reported that according to UNICEF “approximately 700 Palestinian children, between the ages of 12 and 17, are kidnapped, detained and interrogated by the Israeli army, the Police and security agents in the West Bank every year, and were subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in direct violation of the Convention on the Right of the Child, and the Convention against Torture.”

Respected Gaza journalist, Mohammed Omer, points out in “For Gaza’s children the trauma never ends”:

“The Nazi persecution and World War II in Europe, which lasted from 1933 to 1945, affected an entire generation of children. By contrast, Israel’s dispossession and occupation of Palestine has lasted some six decades—and counting. Generations of Palestinian children have been affected physically, psychologically and materially.”

For Anne the war drove a wedge of surrealism through her life,

“When I think back to my life in 1942, it all seems so unreal. The Anne Frank who enjoyed that heavenly existence was completely different from the one who has grown wise within these walls.”

For Khalil, 13, for whom the Israeli violence is ongoing, “Excuse me, but the war has wiped blank all my beautiful memories,” he says somewhat sarcastically. “The front half of my house was damaged, so that I am transferred to a life-situation that I never dreamed I would be experiencing.” (IMEMC 23-1-11)

Anne discerned that After May 1940 the good times were few and far between: first there was the war, then the capitulation and then the arrival of the Germans, which is when the trouble started for the Jews. Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees: Anne then lists the humiliations Jews were subject to under the Nazi’s apartheid regime.

Anne’s statement can easily be reworded to make relevant the Palestinian experience;

After May 1940 the good times were few and far between: first there was the never-ending arrival of the Jewish settlers, then the capitulation of the British and then the Israeli war and Nakba, which is when the trouble started for the indigenous Palestinians. Freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Palestinian apartheid decrees violating international law: Palestinians live under military law while Israelis live under civil law, identity cards only for Palestinians, segregation between Jewish and Palestinian communities, Jews only roads and transport, movement restrictions, unequal access to land and property, forcible eviction and home demolitions, Palestinians forbidden the right of return while Jews anywhere in the world have the right to live in Israel, deportation of prisoners, Palestinians are forbidden from living with  Israeli Arab spouses, separate and unequal education systems, forced resettlement of Bedouins. Adalah reports that “In the four short months since the current Knesset came to power, MKs have proposed as many as 29 new discriminatory bills that attack the rights of Palestinians in Israel and the OPT.”

Even though for Anne “the approaching danger [was] being pulled tighter and tighter” and she felt “like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling itself against the bars of its dark cage,” we share with her that confounding universal metamorphosis of the human teenager into a young adult overflowing with her heartfelt reflections, confessions, emotional struggles, lamentations, her loves, her fears, her hates, her hopes.

The tragic poignancy of her existence was that a globally ignored unfettered evil cut short her life, aspirations and spiritual generosity,

“If God lets me live, I’ll achieve more than Mother ever did, I’ll make my voice heard, I’ll go out into the world and work for mankind! I now know that courage and happiness are needed first! Yours, Anne M.Frank.”

Like Anna, Reem, 14, has the spiritual generosity and energy leaders and most people lack, “The thing that upsets me and makes me cry are children’s tears – all children in the world regardless of their nationality, religion or color. When I grow up I want to be a pediatrician, and that’s the hope that gives me a big push in life.”

Hearing of the sorrows, hopes and aspirations of Gazan children trapped in the dark cages of Zionist oppression, the image of Anne Frank wearing a kuffiyeh, the badge of Palestinian resistance, has an aura of grace and makes profound sense.

– Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001. She contributed this article to

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  1. Dr. Vlasna makes out a good case for this very compelling piece of art being a valid comment on life for Palestinians today.

  2. Excellent piece! Was offended by Haaretz’s Bradley Bursten’s assumption that all Holocaust survivors and their descendants are Zionists.

    This image of Ann Frank has a personal meaning, my grandfather Henri B. van Leeuwen, an Orthodox Jew, a leader in the Dutch Resistance and international anti-Zionist movement, survived Bergen-Belsen, the same camp (btw: not Auschwitz) that Ann Frank perished in. After being released from the camp he continued to speak-out against Zionism until his death 40 years ago.

    “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.” – Ann Frank

  3. You really shouldn’t compare Anne Frank or any other symbolism associated with the Holocaust with Palestinians, Palestinian Refugees or anything else. It just demonstrates that the author doesn’t understand the Holocaust, or isn’t interested in understanding. It’s also why the reaction to this kind of an article is either a form of utter disdain toward the author and/or the vehicle to which it was published, or no one will pay attention because it’s nonsense.

  4. The difference between Anne Frank and children in Gaza is that Jews do not engage in murderous attacks upon civilians. Palestinians do.

  5. Time to remember that the Jews were picked on out of bigotry as much in the Arab World as in Europe and not because they were conducting a guerrilla of not so low level violence, nor campaigning against the legitimacy of their host societies.
    Also the Arabs of Palestine were offered a state 8 times and refused every offer – that tis if they really want an Arab state? Four of the offers including the Armistices opportunity: 1937, 47 , 49 – 67 and 67 itself were all before there were any Israelis East of the Green Line.

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