The human spirit: Dear Margot

What do you think, Ms. Wallström? Should we Israelis start wearing armor instead of shooting the terrorists who attack us?

Margot Wallström (photo credit: REUTERS)
Margot Wallström
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I’m 10 years old. Soldiers and healthcare workers place me on a boat which sails from Germany to Sweden. The dock leads to a long boardwalk. Walking is so difficult that even a few hundred feet feel like a marathon. In the end, I am too weak to walk, so they carry me.
“I am transferred to the so-called aliens camp in Bjarred, a coastal town that’s 20 kilometers north of Malmö.
“In Sweden, we’re given pudding and jelly to help heal and fill our shrunken stomachs. The nurses know about those of us who died from eating the wrong food in Bergen-Belsen. We eat bland potatoes and fish balls, fruit, and berries of all kinds, sweet cream and sour cream. We have to drink fish oil, and we comply even though it tastes bad. We get thick pancakes for breakfast. We’re encouraged to play outside and to bask in the sunshine while it lasts. We get new clothing, including warm wool coats.
“How lonely I am. Throughout the war, I hoped that my parents would somehow return. I was waiting to tell them everything that had happened to me since we parted.
“Papa promised to meet me after the war. He surely must be coming for me. I hope that my parents are somehow safe in Palestine and will come for me. Even as I hope, in my heart of hearts, I know they aren’t coming back, and that I am alone in the world.
“At last, my body lice are gone but I am so sick that I am transferred to a hospital in Hässleholm, a nearby town. There I am diagnosed with both typhus and diphtheria.
“My mind is fuzzy. I have to overcome my illness. When I am well enough to think clearly, months have gone by.
“In the hospital, there are Swedish families who visit. They are so healthy looking and attractive: blond, neatly dressed with round faces and bright blue eyes. Sometimes their eyes get teary when they visit me. Someone tells me they have seen the photographs of us in Bergen-Belsen.
“There was no war in Sweden. I don’t understand how that can be. Children here went to school, had birthday parties, enjoyed thick pancakes with syrup while we were starving.
“Now these nice men and women want to help me. The Swedes are energetic, straightforward and punctual. They have a sort of no-nonsense approach to getting things done, combined with a warm, human touch.
“I can never judge Sweden. I was reborn in Sweden. I will be forever grateful to that country and its people.”
Rena Quint, a daughter of many mothers To Margot Wallström Shalom Ms. Wallström, I’ve been thinking a lot of the passage above, as I follow your career as foreign minister of Sweden, particularly your outspokenness about two Middle Eastern countries, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
As a woman, a contemporary of yours and fellow feminist, I have been eager to see what the application of what you call “feminist policy” means in the real world. The women of Saudi Arabia will have to answer for the reactions of their own country, but I want to share my thoughts about your attitude to Israel.
Here you have been accused of anti-Semitism. I don’t think you are an anti-Semite.
Our prime minister has said that your comments about us summarily executing knife-wielding terrorists is “outrageous... immoral and... stupid.” You can’t be stupid. You have such an impressive career. You have served as minister of social affairs, civil affairs, including consumer affairs, women and youth, and minister of culture. You were elected to the Swedish parliament at the age of 25. In 2006, you were voted the most popular woman in Sweden, more popular than actress Anita Ekberg and Queen Silvia.
So why do you misjudge us Israelis? My theory is that in your extreme efforts to be a moral influence in the world, you over-identify with those you see as the underdog, no matter how immoral they are. You are influenced by an old European romanticism over the noble native, and so have created a legend that the Palestinians live lives of penury, abuse and apartheid-like discrimination at the hands of us Big Bad Israelis.
You’re so committed to this skewed view that when your own continent is threatened by terrorism, it’s somehow our fault, too. When we defend ourselves against knife-wielding terrorists, you see us as the perpetrators.
Perhaps you think that because of the young age of some of the terrorists, the knives are ninja toys. I know you have a close relationship with United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon, who last May appointed you a member of the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, an initiative aimed at preparing recommendations for the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit.
When Ban was in Israel recently, he visited Richard Lakin, an American-born civil rights marcher, English teacher for Jewish and Palestinian youth and social activist, in the intensive care unit of Hadassah University Medical Center. Tutored by instructions on the Internet, the Palestinian teenager inflicted knife injuries that were so extreme – systematic cutting through the internal organs – that all the antibiotics in the world couldn’t stave off the infection that killed Lakin.
You would have liked Lakin, a person who had dedicated his life to freedom. But imagine that it was your beloved husband or one of your two sons daydreaming on a bus in Jerusalem or Stockholm when an armed terrorist boarded. How would you have stopped him before he murdered everyone on the bus? One of the terrorists in the attack did survive and shared the intensive care unit with Lakin. The secretary- general of the United Nations didn’t want to visit him.
Because of the danger of the knife attacks, particularly the stabbing of my husband’s colleague lecturing at Aish HaTorah in the Old City, I have been thinking about buying protective clothing for our family. Despite the situation, our local camping store isn’t stocking flak jackets. Body armor for riot police is for sale online, but I can’t imagine my husband, who bikes to work, decked out like the medieval knights who arrived in the Crusades. I phoned the manufacturer of lightweight protective jackets, designed for homeland security and prison guards in England.
The helpful sales rep in England wanted to make sure that I knew the jackets aren’t foolproof. “We have a lot of customers calling from Israel these days, and I must tell you that this jacket is slash-proof but it won’t stop a terrorist stabbing you.”
Suddenly a new vocabulary: slash-proof, stab-proof.
What do you think, Ms. Wallström? Should we Israelis start wearing armor instead of shooting the terrorists who attack us? These are matters you’ll have to consider yourself.
Your country is 20 times the size of ours, with a slightly larger population: 9.8 million in Sweden and 8.5 million in Israel. Last year when you took in 16,785 Syrian refugees, we took in 26,500 Jews, many leaving troubled Europe.
To keep your population numbers close to replacement level, you rely on immigration because of your lower birthrate. These days you are getting so many men that you soon will have more men than women in Sweden – not a good strategy for future population growth. In addition, you’ve changed your open-door policy to one that deters asylum-seekers, and are now embracing what’s called “the EU minimum.” That must be a moral dilemma, like the one you faced to maintain your neutrality in World War II.
You took in sick children like my friend Rena Quint after the war, but during the war closed your gates to hundreds of thousands of Jews who went to their deaths. Those who survived aren’t willing to stand idly by while we are stabbed or slashed. I know you aren’t either.
Barbara Sofer, Jerusalem
The author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses on the wondrous stories of modern Israel. She serves as the Israel director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The views in her columns are her own.