Hiroshima Memo: Hiroshima united with Palestine and Israel

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Auschwitz: these three names have become fixed in history as sites of mass killing committed during World War II. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki spawned the perilous nuclear age and the prospect of destroying human civilization on a global scale, while Auschwitz has become a symbol of genocide incited by anti-Semitism and racism.

The citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the A-bomb survivors (hibakusha) among them, managed to surmount the many difficulties posed by the devastation of the atomic bombings and revive the two stricken cities.

Though the years passed, not all the hibakusha were able to overcome the bitterness they felt toward the U.S., the country which dropped the bombs. Their physical injuries and psychological wounds could not be easily cured. And many have been reluctant to speak about their experiences of the bombings.

After World War II, however, some hibakusha, in the face of a global arms race fueled by the confrontation between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union, began to warn of the looming danger to humankind. Appealing for the abolition of nuclear weapons and peace in the world, they would even expose their keloids to the public to drive home their message.

These A-bomb survivors have been calling for a change in thinking “from a civilization of force to a civilization of love” and appealing for the importance of “reconciliation, not retaliation” and “dialogue, not military force.” Visitors to Hiroshima and Nagasaki have not only come to grasp the reality of the destruction that nuclear war would wreak, they have found affinity and hope in the spirit of nonviolence that has flowered in these two cities as a result of their A-bomb experiences.

Meanwhile, as many as 6,000,000 people of Jewish descent lost their lives across Europe during World War II, including those in Germany. After the war, some moved to Palestine, a biblical site, to find a place where they could live in peace. Because of this influx, many Palestinians lost their lands and became refugees. Since 1948, when the Jewish people established the nation of Israel, the country has built up its military strength to protect its territory and people from the Palestinians and neighboring Arab nations. Israel has even developed nuclear weapons at facilities located underground in the Negev Desert.

The people of Israel, who hold in memory the cruelty and inhumanity of the holocaust, surely understand the tragedy of war as well as anyone. Many believe, though, that the holocaust was able to occur due to their lack of self-defense measures. The result is a highly sensitive survival instinct with the Israeli military resorting to aggressive attacks against the Palestinians, in the process killing a large number of innocent, unarmed civilians, including women and children. These attacks then give rise to greater Palestinian resistance. There seems to be no end to the cycle of violence and hatred.

In November 1997, Israeli President Shimon Peres, the former prime minister, visited Hiroshima and wrote the following message in a guest book at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum: “Our hearts are with the victims of Hiroshima.” Though his sentiment, I’m sure, is genuine, it was Mr. Peres and the Israeli government that issued the order to launch large-scale attacks against Gaza, an assault which began at the end of December 2008 and lasted more than three weeks. I wonder if Mr. Peres can say that his heart was with the victims during that time. Are such actions justifiable in the name of "security" and “self-defense”?

In February 2009, speaking at the award ceremony for an Israeli literature prize--the Jerusalem Prize--that he had won, Haruki Murakami, a Japanese novelist, made reference to the Gaza attacks, which resulted in a death toll of more than 1,300, including the deaths of children and unarmed civilians.

Mr. Murakami said: “…allow me to deliver one very personal message. It is something that I always keep in mind while I am writing fiction. I have never gone so far as to write it on a piece of paper and paste it to the wall: Rather, it is carved into the wall of my mind, and it goes something like this: ‘Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.’ What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them. The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others-- coldly, efficiently, systematically.”

This statement is a frank criticism of the Israeli attacks on Gaza whereby the idea of “nation” devolves into “The System.” Many other countries, including Germany and Japan, have made the same mistake in the past. Even today, this error is seen not only in the actions of “major powers” but in developing countries, including some African nations.

A doctor engaged in Israel’s antinuclear movement once appealed to me: “We need fresh air from the outside world to change the air of hatred here, which has ruled over this region. I hope that you will bring the spirit of Hiroshima to us.” And a priest from Palestine, while visiting Hiroshima, told me: “Hiroshima is the most suitable place for people from Palestine and Israel to overcome their distrust and hatred and foster an understanding of each other as human beings.”

Citizens in the A-bombed city of Hiroshima have begun to pay greater attention to the Palestinian issue. They have learned about the situation in the region and raised the idea of possible roles that Hiroshima can play, expanding the local network to provide support to the people there.

Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an enormous challenge. But the spirit of Hiroshima, conveyed by A-bomb survivors and citizens of Hiroshima, will surely take root as a “seed of peace” for the region.

(Originally published on March 16, 2009)

Related article
Ties between Hiroshima and Palestinian regions strengthened through grassroots exchanges (March 21, 2009)
Editorial: Efforts must be made to end the bloodshed in Gaza (Jan. 31, 2009)
Column: “Assuming I’m still alive” (Jan. 14, 2009)