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All I learned from Dr. Alfred Lilienthal.

08/03/2024 19:17 PM

All I learned from Dr. Alfred Lilienthal.

Celebrating Women International Day and the path to a just peace.

by Kiki Tzeggai

All I learned from Dr. Alfred Lilienthal.

All I learned from Dr. Alfred Lilienthal.
Celebrating Women International Day and the path to a just peace.

I want to look at Dr. Lilienthal’ lifetime struggle to point at errors on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

Dr. Lilienthal was an American – Jew with an extensive diplomatic and political life. He was someone I worked for on my free time and helped him put orders in his papers and type his biography. He was a very pleasant man. The first time he saw me – we were introduced by our common friend Russel W. Howe, himself a writer and former war journalist- Dr. Lilienthal, a man around his 78/80 years old, said :”Had I met you 40 years ago, I would have asked you out” and then he laughed. I replied,” I already “went out” and married a freedom fighter ”.

I earned his trust not only by Russel’s reference, but by my blunt honesty Dr Lilienthal said.

All I learned from Dr. Lilienthal is vast, but if I have to squeeze some of the lessons that I believe could apply to Eritrea, these are the points I want to identify with:

Lilienthal was proud of being a Jew. He faced his fellow Jews and never backed from the notion that Palestine had the right to exist. Lilienthal’s thorn was the love for these two countries; he loved them equally.

When I dared tell him “Is not that a paradox Dr. Lilienthal? You admire Gamal Abdel Nasser and yet you fought for Israel’s right to exist?”

He said “Kiki, you will face many paradoxes in your life, being able to find and understand the right music on both sides will make you reach a compromise. Learn by observing and not by asking questions as they roll in your mind”

I did not want to “lose” the opportunity to work for Dr. Lilienthal, so I learned to listen and observe, and not ask much.

I saw him breathing deep when his mother’s name would come up. He would say “she is asking me how I could do this? So I need to write a play and give her name as the title”

He cherished a ring President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt gave him and wore it on his left hand; he never parted with it.

One day, he and I walked around his apartment holding hands, for he had problem walking. There was a framed handwritten letter from President Kennedy to him. There was a photo of Yasser Arafat and he said “He betrayed his own people by becoming …” no adjective was uttered. I left it at that.

There was also a framed cover of his own book “What price Israel?”? I asked him to have a copy. He took one book from his shelf, signed it and gave it to me. I cherish the book and Dr. Lilienthal’ autograph. Later on, Lilienthal would give me few books and a hand-painted Russian egg. When giving me the latter, he mischievously smiled and said “Keep it, beautiful Eritrean-Greek…where did you parents meet anyway? One day I will follow you to Eritrea if the mess of a liberation war and after liberation mess comes to an end” I promised him that I would take him around and make him visit the Jewish cemetery not far from the Greek cemetery in Asmara. I was quite puzzled about what his quote “ after liberation mess” could mean! Like all fellow Eritreans, I do understand now!

Today, I remember Dr. Lilienthal and ask “What price Eritrea?” How do we compromise and accept paradoxes with a country that is building more prisons than schools? How do we prepare for leaders we want to have them face a court of law, but need to remember that they are Veterans as well? There is an ambivalence that is not easy to capture.

I turn to a proud - but fair enough - Jew to understand that errors need to be faced squarely in their face and then find solutions within rules of law and give all human beings the right to exist. “You will face many paradoxes…stop asking and observe. You will learn” Dr. Lilienthal words roll in my mind.

How to make these words reach the jailers, the killers, and the ransom collectors?

Eritreans need to be ready for acrobatics ideologies that could become legal matters in a court of law. I am not a legal expert, but if I was one to take the place of becoming the attorney for any government member of today’s Eritrea, I would be studying the ideology that made them join the liberation front. I would then analyze the reasons behind the collective arrests, their reason to deny legal representation to so many. The reason they have to watch a huge part of our population drawn at sea and still go on with ordinary government’s meetings, as if nothing happened; how a ruling body based on no-constitution, no rule of law, no right to court day is the norm. I would ask help from doctors, scholars and try to win my clients a lesser sentence. Still treat them as Eritreans, because they are not treating us as such.

Here comes the “paradox” Dr. Lilienthal told me about. As an Eritrean woman that lost so much, such “ compromise” is hard to accept and yet, it looks as the only journey towards the Eritrea we all want to rescue.

I would ask them to be ready to shift their equation of individual – and at this time – so personal non-sense political acts and disprove the “criminal” label. Because we will give the right to defense. They never gave us a right to defense, but we will learn from paradoxes. So to keep our own sanity and rescue the future of our youth . Wrong regimes need to end. However, a blood bath among Eritreans is not what our Martyrs expect from us.

Decades after our independence, we are surrounded by unlimited “opposition parties” but we would be better get ready with a judicial system with extensive acceptance of all. Our legal experts better stop asking questions and learn from the surrounding of countries that – one way or the other- went through building a system with rights for all, including the “political criminals”. A penal system ready to be applied when we will all walk into a new Eritrea. After hugging our families and bowing our heads to so many graves, the time to open jails’ door will come. We will feel anger, we will feel the need to avenge…but rule of law to stop us needs to be prepared now. A terrain filled with struggle of different aspects is already waiting for us at Asmara airport. It is captive inside out. Our freed political prisoners need to seat in a court of law with discipline, not listening to weapon and bullets cracking the skies of Eritrea.

Our lawyers and psychologists need to emerge out of anger and create a multifaceted compound around this deep pain. We all need to believe in creating an apparatus that overrides and takes control of the function of law and order, to ensure social and legal control. The anger gets deeper in each of us by the day.

I still keep learning from Dr. Lilienthal, from Nelson Mandela, from Desmond Tutu…and so many of our elders, mothers and fathers alike.

However, on a day closer to universally celebrate Women International Day I think about the lessons to absorb from each woman around us. In particular from Eritrean women whose fights seem to never end, and yet they uphold the power to see justice prevail in Eritrea. The wisdom of united women is our strength!

Thank you.

Kiki Tzeggai
March 08, 2024

Alfred M. Lilienthal was an American Jew, Attorney and writer, he was a prominent critic of Zionism.
Born on December 25, 1915, New York City, NY USA Died: October 6, 2008, Washington D.C. USA
Books: What price Israel?
Education: Cornell University, Columbia Law School. Wikipedia

ckdu Voice of Eritrea -
Naz Yemane (Sunday July 12, 2015 show)
Martyr Berhane Tesfamariam (Wedi Balilla), member of EPLF underground activists in Asmara, Eritrea, who was killed in the notorious Derg-prison "Gibi" (Asmara) in 1978; his story is told by his wife (Kiki Tsegai), his colleagues፡ fedayn Hidray Fesseha and others. What a sacrifice!

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