Why school shootings don’t happen in Israel (& the Polish government’s outrageous lies)

February 21, 2018

Miriam Bergman as a child. She was denounced by Poles and sent to a concentration camp. When Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman mentioned his mother’s fate to the Polish prime minister at the Munich security conference, the Polish PM responded with an anti-Semitic remark.



[Note by Tom Gross]

Israel is in many respects a liberal country, where much of the population hold the same kind of liberal social attitudes Scandinavians and some Europeans do towards issues such as gay and transgender rights, abortion, capital punishment and gun ownership.

There is therefore much anger in Israel, among both right and left, that in the US, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its supporters wrongly cite Israel as a country which allows easy access to guns.

I first sent out the column below in 2015. It was published on October 7, 2015 following the deadly shooting of students at Umpqua Community College in Oregon on October 3, 2015, and the killing the before that of an eight-year-old girl in Tennessee by her neighbor, an 11-year-old boy, who shot her dead when she refused to let him see her puppy.

In recent days following last week’s Florida school shooting, this 2015 article has been widely shared by Americans opposing the use of Israel as a propaganda weapon by the NRA.

The gun death rate in Israel is low by international standards: about two homicides per 100,000 people in Israel.

Most of those are the result of clan and gang warfare among some of Israel’s Arab minority, where there is a proliferation of illegal weapons, mostly smuggled in from the Palestinian Authority.



The second piece below, published yesterday in Israel’s best selling newspaper Yediot Ahronot, is by Ronen Bergman, the paper’s military and intelligence affairs correspondent.

While covering security matters at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, Bergman tested Poland’s new Holocaust revisionist law, by addressing Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in the Q&A session and speaking about his own Holocaust survivor mother who was denounced by Polish Nazi collaborators and sent to a death camp.

“Would I be considered a criminal in your country for speaking about this?” Ronen Bergman wondered.

In answer to Bergman’s question, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki gave what Bergman called a “hollow and blood-curdling look” at him and then claimed that the Holocaust had also been perpetrated by Jews. Israelis from across the political spectrum vehemently denounced the Polish prime minister, one calling his remarks the “most disgusting and evil lie told by the leader of any European country since the Holocaust itself”.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called Morawiecki’s words “outrageous” and said they display a “lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people.” Netanyahu has since spoken with the Polish prime minister and again told him that his remarks are “unacceptable.”


Historians estimate that of the 3.5 million Jews killed on Polish soil (including over one million children) during the Holocaust, 200,000 were murdered either directly or with the help of Poles. The rest were killed by Germans, Austrians, and by the Ukrainian volunteer SS units who did much of the killing at Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec extermination camps.

It is true that the proportionate level of participation in the murder of Jews was even higher among Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Latvians and Croatians than it was among Poles. And it also true that until now there has been an even higher level of cover up and historical distortion by political leaders in those four countries about their central role in the Holocaust (as well as distortion by some politicians in Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and elsewhere too). But nonetheless there was a high level of participation by Poles in the Holocaust, just as there were massacres of Holocaust survivors in Poland two years after the defeat of Nazi Germany, forcing most of the remaining Jewish survivors still in Poland in the late 1940s to flee the country to Israel and Germany.

Leading Polish historian Professor Jan Gross wrote in the Financial Times earlier this month: “I’ve read hundreds of survivors’ testimonies, yet I do not recall a single one where the writer has not described an episode of betrayal, blackmail or denunciation on the part of their fellow Polish citizens.”

Of course, the Germans and Austrians were so vilely responsible for the Holocaust that anyone who colluded with them, however enthusiastically, is in a different league. But the Germans are today on the whole honest about their role, which cannot be said of many in other European countries.

-- Tom Gross



Why School Shootings Don’t Happen in Israel
By Yael Shahar
October 7, 2015

Why is it that in Israel – a country surrounded by weapons of war – we don’t see the same gun violence as that which cost the lives of students in Oregon and little McKayla from Tennessee?

I spent most of last Wednesday renewing my gun license. Contrary to what many in the United States believe, owning a firearm in Israel is neither common nor easy. Applying for a license is a grueling process, often taking months of security checks and training courses. Keeping that license requires an investment of time, effort, and money.

In my case, the license was a legacy of many years as a volunteer in the Israel Police sniper unit and later in the Israel Defense Forces reserves. It had been years since I was actively involved in security work, aside from the occasional civil guard patrol. But, given the rather volatile security situation, its considered desirable that those who have the training keep up their proficiency and continue to carry.

And so, on Wednesday morning I drove into the nearest town to get the necessary forms signed by my family doctor, who certified that I’m not taking any medication that might impair my alertness, that I have no history of psychological disorders, and that I’m more or less in my right mind—at least most of the time.

And then it was off to the shooting range. Together with 15 others, I stood in line for half an hour to have my designated self-defense weapon examined, tested for any malfunctions that would endanger myself or passersby. The serial number was matched with the paperwork to make sure the weapon was legally mine and had not been put on any watch lists. Another 40-minute wait (part of it spent in the Sukkah outside the range chatting with an elderly veteran of four of Israel’s wars) and we were ushered into the range for our training session.

The session was conducted by someone whom I had known as an instructor back in my days in the police sniper unit. He went over changes to the laws of owning a firearm: If your weapon is stolen from your house and you cannot prove that a safe was broken open to get at the weapon, then you are a criminal and may do jail time.

And if we ever have to use a weapon in self-defense? You had better be certain that you had no other recourse, that you did what you could to warn the attacker, and that had you not taken action, at least one innocent life could have been lost. And you may still do jail time.

We spent about an hour at practice, refreshing our ability to deal with safety issues and malfunctions, honing our skills. One by one, we were certified as competent and sent out to collect our paperwork, duly stamped and fed into the computer, from which it would go into some government database. The process took up most of the day.

I thought of all this when I read of yet another (reportedly, the 294th this year) mass shooting in the United States—this time at a small community college in Oregon. Four firearms. An attention-seeking, imbalanced, suicidal young man walked into a classroom with four firearms. Police later found five pistols and one rifle at the college, and another three pistols, four rifles, and a shotgun at his home. All the weapons were purchased legally by the shooter or his family members.

And then Tuesday’s headlines tell us that an 11-year-old boy in Tennessee shot and killed an eight-year-old girl, his neighbor, when she refused to let him see her puppy. The boy retrieved his family’s 12-gauge shotgun from an unlocked closet, and fired at McKayla Dyer as she stood in her yard.

There is something seriously wrong about a system where a disturbed young man can acquire deadly weapons as easily as buying a new laptop. Where children can treat firearms as casually as toys.

I live in a country with wars raging on all sides, with failed states collapsing into a primordial stew of hatred and nihilism an hours drive north of me, with suicidal regimes seeking nuclear weapons in order to carry out their expressed goals of obliterating me, my family, and everyone with whom I interact on a daily basis. But for all this, I dont feel as if Im living in a war zone. We know about death and we know about weapons of war, but we don’t fetishize them.

And the United States? A country bounded by friendly regimes and by neutral water. Apparently a nation lacking natural enemies may simply become its own enemy.



In the name of my mother, the Holocaust survivor
By Ronen Bergman
Yediot Ahronot
February 20, 2018

It was all unexpected and unplanned. Two of the world’s youngest leaders were sitting on the stage at the main conference hall of Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Both are eloquent, sharp and very self-confident speakers.

I listened to the Polish leader talk about economy, energy and other Polish-related issues. He spoke about everything, apart from the issue everyone wanted him to address: The legislation prescribing prison time and a fine for accusing Poland and the Poles of taking part in the Holocaust. This legislation, which has created a major global controversy and sparked a lot of anger in Israel, wasn’t important enough for Morawiecki.

During the question and answer session, I stood up to talk. I wanted to ask a general question about the law, but I was suddenly flooded with memories. My entire family, my late mother and my father and their families, experienced the Holocaust. Few survived. Most were killed. The Holocaust has been hanging over our heads as a big shadow our entire life.

We knew very little. Mother was a very modest person, but the few relatives who survived said she had been recognized as a prodigy at an early age. While in kindergarten, she had already received a special prize from the Polish education minister for “good Polish,” but that’s usually where the story ended. The relatives refused to say anything else, and mother kept silent too. “One day, I’ll tell you more,” she used to say to my sisters and me.

Throughout the years, mother made sure to serve as a separating buffer between the children and the memories from the horrors. All we knew was that grandmother and mother had escaped to the woods, joined the partisans and managed to survive the war. Grandfather, on the other hand, hid in sewage tunnels in his hometown and came out when the Gestapo had withdrawn.

And there was one more thing we always knew, that “the Poles were worse than the Nazis.” It’s something mother occasionally spoke about—the neighbors and parents of acquaintances from class, and the merchants, and those who worked for Jews.

From a historical perspective, I believe mother was wrong. Clearly, the Nazis were the ones who initiated the Holocaust, and they were the ones who built the death camps. But mother knew the Poles and this was her very personal and moral judgment of what had happened. There is no doubt that there were many Poles who risked their lives and saved many Jews. The names of some of them are engraved at the entrance to the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations at the entrance to Yad Vashem.

“They all betrayed us and turned us in to the Gestapo,” she said. She and other family members, she told us, had paid a Polish peasant money to hide in his farm. “We were constantly hungry. It was starvation to the brink of death,” she told me. “Although it was forbidden, one day I sneaked in to see if the landlords had anything to eat. They didn’t see me, and then I heard those horrible words. They said they would call the Gestapo the next day to take us too.”

Only years after she died, I found out that the story we knew about the sewage tunnels and the partisans and the meeting after the war was all true—apart from one detail: grandmother and grandfather didn’t know each other before the war.

My biological grandfather escaped with grandmother and mother to the woods. He caught pneumonia there—or was wounded by German fire, there are two versions—and mother and grandmother buried him in the snow with their own hands.

Mother and grandmother, and a few other relatives who survived, spent the rest of the war in the woods, with the partisans.

The man I knew as my grandfather met grandmother and mother after the war. Two lost people in a destroyed world, one of them carrying a little girl with sad eyes. The other, our “Grandpa Yaakov,” lost his entire family in one of the death camps. Two people who searched for comfort and found each other.

When grandmother met Yaakov, they decided to stick to each other. Together with mother, they decided to bury this secret in Europe. They immigrated to Israel in 1949 as one family unit, and told everyone how they had been forced to separate because of the Nazis and how they had met happily after the war.

Mother passed away in 1993, after battling cancer for 15 years. I believe that the horrors from back then, along with her stubborn attempt to serve as a buffer and not to tell us anything, to hold it all inside, not to talk, not to unload, were what eventually killed her.

Why didn’t she tell us she had buried her real father in the snow? “She didn’t want to be subject to anyone’s pity,” a relative of ours concluded when we learned the truth, years after mother’s passing.

While still in Europe, mother swore to never say another word in Polish. And she kept that promise. She was willing to speak German, but Polish? Absolutely not.

I gave a summary of this story on Saturday to the audience at the Munich Security Conference and to the Polish prime minister, who gave me a hollow and blood-curdling look.

“My mother was able to save much of her family because she heard during the night that the neighbors were going to tell that they have Jews in their vicinity to the SS the next morning. If I understand correctly, after this law is legislated, I will be considered a criminal in your country for saying this. What is the purpose? What is the message that you are trying to convey to the world?”

When I was done, everyone applauded. Later, I was approached by senior German officials from different government organizations, who thanked me for saying what they are unable to say. But the Polish prime minister was neither confused nor impressed, and didn’t even offer me any sympathy. He is faced by a man with a lump in his throat talking about how his family was exterminated in the Holocaust, and he stares as me at if he is examining some kind of nuisance.

“It’s extremely important to first understand that of course it’s not going to be punishable or seen as a crime to say that there were Polish perpetrators as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian and Ukrainian perpetrators, not only German perpetrators,” he replied.

“There were no Polish death camps, there were no Polish concentration camps. There were German Nazi death camps. The mere fact that we have to explain it today stems from our history. We cannot agree with mixing perpetrators with victims.”

These comments left me flabbergasted. My eyes were filled with tears of pain and rage. I was glad I had at least helped reveal his true colors with my question.

“I believe there is no better closure than what you did today for mother and the score she had to settle with the Poles. It’s a shame she didn’t get to see it,” my sister, Liora Houbara, wrote me after watching the broadcast from the conference.


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