Farah (left) tweets from Israeli controlled Gaza, Anne (right) wrote a diary in German occupied Holland
When I came across the tweets of Farah “Gazan”, a 16 year old Palestinian teenager from a bombed out and shattered Gaza Strip, I could not help but think of a young Jewish teenager hiding away in an Amsterdam attic during the Second World War. Annelies Marie Frank, known as “Anne” committed her thoughts during that time to a diary given to her on her 13th birthday, 12th June 1942. Farah, like Anne writes with poignancy, fear and frustration as she share her feelings with the world,
“I want to speak about what is happening these days in Gaza. We cannot leave our houses because it’s dangerous outside”
“this is in my area. I can’t stop crying. I might die tonight.”
Unable to attend school when the Germans occupied Holland and no doubt missing the company of old friends, Anne wrote her diary to a make-believe friend she named “Kitty” and reveals that putting thoughts to paper was a form of emotional release,
“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”
Farah, who began blogging when she was just 12 sends her messages to be read by global audience, most of whom she will never meet. The internet has now taken over from the pen and pencil of Anne’s days opening up a far wider virtual world to teenagers today but the human spirit remains the same. Both young women record their apprehensions and dreams in a very challenging and hostile environment.
Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt in 1929, the daughter of a German- Jewish family who relocated to Holland to escape the growing anti-Semitism of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. Farah lives under Israeli occupation near to Gaza city’s Shifa hospital where many of the wounded and dying are transported after being caught up in a maelstrom of horror from Israeli attacks.
Anne was largely imprisoned in the annex of a building observing the world from an upstairs window whereas Farah is residing within the world’s largest open-air prison controlled by military checkpoints and daily oppression. She too is treated as an inferior person by the Israeli regime, trapped on a small strip of land with no safe place to hide.
Just as Anne was reliant on others to bring food to her place of shelter so Farah and the people of the Gaza Strip have become dependent on the tunnels dug all over the city to bring in edibles, medicines and other necessities of daily life. They are deprived of water rights and energy supplies and now the lifeline of the tunnels has also been bombed in the latest Israeli military operation “Protective Edge”.
Anne’s writing gives an indication of a claustrophobic environment shared by her family and others, terrified of that moment when they might be betrayed and their hiding place revealed. Farah and her family are being buried alive by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, clamping down on their freedom and human rights and in some cases literally burying young people under tons of rubble as homes, hospitals, schools and mosques are repeatedly bombarded by aerial strikes. Farah tweets,
“I care about human rights and I see that we ‘Palestinians’ have no rights and nobody asks… we cannot travel or visit our relatives and friends who live in Jerusalem and the West bank and the other cities in Palestine. And this is unfair. But this isn’t my aim right now”
Forms of communication are also a reflection of social history. The tweets of today are succinct confined to 140 characters, in Anne’s time during the 1940s a diary provided an opportunity for a free flowing style with greater elaboration of thought but both are as powerful put into context.
Anne at work on her diary
Anne who could only rarely venture beyond her attic for fear of being spotted by German soldiers wrote,
“the best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles”
American poet John Berrymen described Anne’s writing of her daily life as “the conversion of a child into a person”. The Diary of Anne Frank has been translated into 67 languages and sold over 30 million copies, it remains the most often read primary account of the holocaust. Farah now has 167,000 followers on Twitter growing by the day. Somewhat surprised by her popularity she states, “I did not expect it. I was writing for a small circle of people, and the number has become too many.”
Seventy years ago as the Independent recalls Anne, the cheerful and spirited teenager was arrested,
“on the morning of 4 August, an anonymous tip was given to the security police, known as Sicherheitsdienst, and SS-Oberscharfuhrer Karl Silbernba, who arrived at the house on Prinsengracht aided by Dutch police in order to seize the Jews in hiding”
The young teenager was detained along with her family and put on the last transport from Westerbork to Auschwitz concentration camp where she died (possibly from a typhus epidemic that swept the camp in 1945) along with her sister Margot. She was 15 years old.
Farah’s tweets in recent days have been filled with the sound of explosions, gunshots and ambulances, she tweets,
“smoke seen from my window because of bombing a factory”
It was therefore a relief to see the following tweet come through and hopefully a time will come when she can get on with her life, free from the fear of death and instead see the world in a new light, she writes,
“I woke up today without drones, f16s, ambulances, blasts sounds, so I smiled from the deep of my heart”
Farah is a young woman who deserves the right to a happy and peaceful life and it is for her and all youth that campaigners must double our efforts to ensure this happens.
Although Anne did not survive the war her legacy remains. The young woman denied at future did leave us timely messages to consider, she wrote,
“think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy”
“how wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad . She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.