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December 29, 2009

Holocaust Survivor Goes on Hunger Strike for Gaza

One year after Operation Cast Lead, Israel's 28 day military offensive against Gaza during which 14,000 people were killed, thousands of homes and hundreds schools and hospitals remain rubble. The economy is decimated, the water is undrinkable, food and basic goods are in short supply, water treatment plants pour raw sewage into the sea, and the children of Gaza still watch the skies in terror.

But the people of Gaza are not forgotten. On Tuesday Hedy Epstein, an 85 year old Holocaust survivor, began a hunger strike for Gaza.

"There comes a time in one's life when one has to step up and risk one's own body," she said.
Hedy Epstein escaped Hitler's Germany in 1939, when she was 14 years old. Her parents sent her to England on the Kindertransport -- a rescue mission that took place nine months prior to the outbreak of World War II to evacuate predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany. Epstein's parents remained in Germany and she was never to see them again; they perished in the extermination camp at Auschwitz in 1942. Her extraordinary childhood is one of the reasons Epstein found herself inclined to become involved in the Palestinian solidarity movement.

After World War II, Epstein worked as a research analyst at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi doctors who performed medical experiments on concentration camp inmates. After she moved to the US, Epstein became an activist for peace and social justice causes. It was a particular event though, that triggered Epstein's interest in the Israel-Palestine conflict. <http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2009-12-30-epstein.jpg>

"I think for me the wakeup call came in 1982 with the massacres in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon. Up until then I had not paid that much attention to what was happening in that part of the world. Then I heard about that and questioned what is this all about," she said. "As I learned more and I discovered more, I became increasingly more horrified by the practices of the Israeli government vis-a-vis the Palestinian people. And I began to speak out publicly against those policies," she added.

Epstein acknowledged that she represents somewhat of an anomaly in the American Jewish community. "There is an almost thoughtless, blind support of Israel no matter what it does," she said. Epstein did, however, note a slight change in attitude recently: "Since the massacre in Gaza at the end of last year, I do see a crack in the way people are looking at what Israel is doing, and that crack needs to be broken wide open, so that a change will take place."

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