Uri Avnery is an amazing Israeli Jew. I have never met him but receive articles from him regularly and would like to share the last three of them with you. His history is remarkable. You can read part of it in the second article below (December 23) and more of it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uri_Avnery. Needless to say I share his views, as do many (but by no means all) of the Israelis I have met and worked with in Israel. You can keep up with his writing here: http://uriavnery.com/en/hatur.html
November 18, 2017
A History of Idiocy
I am furious. And I have good reason to be furious.
I was going to write an article about a subject I have been thinking about for a long time.
This week I opened the New York Times and lo, my yet unwritten article appeared on its opinion pages in full, argument after argument.
How come? I have only one explanation: the author – I have forgotten the name – has stolen the ideas from my head by some magical means, which surely must be branded as criminal. A person once tried to kill me for doing the same thing to him.
So I have decided to write this article in spite of everything.
THE SUBJECT is idiocy. Particularly, the role of idiocy in history.
The older I get, the more convinced I am that sheer stupidity plays a major role in the history of nations.
Great Thinkers, compared to whom I am a mere intellectual dwarf, have pursued other factors to explain what has turned history into a mess. Karl Marx blamed the economy. The economy has directed humankind from its earliest beginnings.
Others blame God. Religion has caused awful wars, and still does. Look at the Crusades, which for almost two hundred years raged in my country. Look at the 30-year War, which devastated Germany. No end in sight.
Some accuse Race. Whites against Red Indians. Aryans against Untermenschen. Nazis against Jews. Terrible.
Or geopolitics. The White Man’s Burden. The Drang-nach-Osten.
For many generations, Great Thinkers have been searching for some deep explanation for war. There must be such an explanation. After all, terrible historical events cannot just happen. There must be something profound, something sinister, which is causing all this untold misery. Something that has accompanied the human race from its very beginnings, and that still directs our destiny.
I HAVE adopted most of these theories in my time. Many of them impressed me very much. Great thinkers. Deep thoughts. I have read many thick volumes. But in the end, they left me unsatisfied.
In the end it hit me. There is indeed one factor common to all these historical events: foolishness.
I know that this sounds incredible. Foolishness? All these thousands of wars? All these hundreds of millions of casualties? All these emperors, kings, statesmen, strategists? All fools?
Recently I was asked for an example. “Show me how it works,” an incredulous listener demanded.
I mentioned the outbreak of World War I, an event that changed the face of Europe and the world forever, and which ended just five years before I was born, My earliest childhood was spent in the shadow of this cataclysm.
It happened like this:
An Austrian archduke was killed in the town of Sarajevo by a Serbian anarchist. It happened almost by accident: the planned attempt failed, but later the terrorist happened upon the duke and killed him.
So what? The duke was a quite unimportant person. Thousands of such acts have happened before and since. But this time the Austrian statesmen thought that this was a good opportunity to teach the Serbs a lesson. It took the form of an ultimatum.
No big deal. Such things happen all the time. But the powerful Russian empire was allied with Serbia, so the Czar issued a warning: he ordered the mobilization of his army, just to make his point.
In Germany, all the red lights went on. Germany is situated in the middle of Europe and has no impregnable natural borders, no oceans, no high mountains. It was trapped between two great military powers, Russia and France. For years the German generals had been pondering how to save the Fatherland if attacked from the two sides simultaneously.
A master-plan evolved. Russia was a huge country, and it would take several weeks to mobilize the Russian army. These weeks must be used to smash France, turn the army around and stop the Russians.
It was a brilliant plan, worked out to the finest detail by brilliant military minds. But the German army was stopped at the gates of Paris. The British intervened to help France. The result was a static war of four long years, where nothing really happened except that millions upon millions of human beings were slaughtered or maimed.
In the end a peace was made, a peace so stupid that it virtually made a Second World War inevitable. This broke out a mere 21 years later, with even larger numbers of casualties.
MANY BOOKS have been written about “July 1914”, the crucial month in which World War I became inevitable.
How many people were involved in decision-making in Europe? How many emperors, kings, ministers, parliamentarians, generals; not to mention academicians, journalists, poets and what not?
Were they all stupid? Were they all blind to what was happening in their countries and throughout their continent?
Impossible, one is tempted to cry out. Many of them were highly competent, intelligent people, people versed in history. They knew everything about the earlier wars that had ravaged Europe throughout the centuries.
Yet there you are. All these people played their part in causing the most terrible war (up to then) in the annals of history. An act of sheer idiocy.
The human mind cannot accept such a truth. There must be other reasons. Profound reasons. So they wrote innumerable books explaining why this was logical, why it had to happen, what were the “underlying” causes.
Most of these theories are certainly plausible. But compared to the effects, they are puny. Millions of human beings marched out to be slaughtered, singing and almost dancing, trusting their emperor, king, president, commander-in-chief. Never to return.
Could all these leaders be idiots? They certainly could. And were.
I DON’T need the examples of the thousands of foreign wars and conflicts, because I live in the middle of one right now.
Never mind how it came about, the present situation is that in the land that used to be called Palestine there live two peoples of different origin, culture, history, religion, language, standard of living and much more. They are now of more or less equal size.
Between these two peoples, a conflict has now been going on for more than a century.
In theory, there are only two reasonable solutions: either the two peoples shall live together as equal citizens in one state, or they shall live side by side in two states.
The third possibility is no solution – eternal conflict, eternal war.
This is so obvious, so simple, that denying it is sheer idiocy.
Living together in one state sounds logical, but is not. It is a recipe for constant conflict and internal war. So there remains only what is called “two states for two peoples”.
When I pointed this out, right after the 1948 war, the war in which Israel was founded, I was more or less alone. Now this is a world-wide consensus, everywhere except in Israel.
What is the alternative? There is none. Just going on with the present situation: a colonial state in which 7 million Israeli Jews oppress 7 million Palestinian Arabs. Logic says that this is a situation that cannot go on forever. Sooner or later it will break down.
So what do our leaders say? Nothing. They pretend to be oblivious to this truth.
At the top of the pyramid we have a leader who looks intelligent, who speaks well, who seems competent. In fact, Binyamin Netanyahu is a mediocre politician, without vision, without depth. He does not even pretend that he has another solution. Nor do his colleagues and possible heirs.
So what is this? I am sorry to have to say it, but there is no other definition than the rule of idiocy.
December 23, 2017
Cry, Beloved Country
ANYONE PROPOSING the death penalty is either a complete fool, an incorrigible cynic or mentally disturbed – or all of these.
There is no effective therapy for any of these defects. I wouldn’t even try.
A fool would not understand the overwhelming evidence for the conclusion. For a cynic, advocacy of the death penalty is a proven vote catcher. A mentally disturbed person derives pleasure from the very thought of an execution. I am not addressing any of these, but ordinary citizens of Israel.
LET ME start by repeating the story of my own personal experience.
In 1936, the Arab population of Palestine launched a violent uprising. The Nazi persecution in Germany drove many Jews to Palestine (including my own family), and the local Arabs saw their country slipping away from under their feet. They started to react violently. They called it the Great Rebellion, the British talked of “disturbances” and we called it “the events”.
Groups of young Arabs attacked Jewish and British vehicles on the roads. When caught, some of them were sent by the British courts to the gallows. When the Arab attacks did not stop, some right-wing Zionists started a campaign of “retaliation” and shot at Arab vehicles.
One of these was caught by the British. His name was Shlomo Ben-Yosef, a 25 year old illegal immigrant from Poland, a member of the right-wing youth organization Betar. He threw a grenade at an Arab bus, which failed to explode, and fired some shots that hit nobody. But the British saw an opportunity to prove their impartiality.
Ben-Yosef was sentenced to death. The Jewish population was shocked. Even those who were totally opposed to “retaliation” pleaded for clemency, rabbis prayed. Slowly the day of the execution drew near. Many expected a reprieve at the last moment. It did not come.
The hanging of Ben-Yosef on June 29, 1938 sent a powerful shockwave through the Jewish public. It caused a profound change in my own life. I decided to fill his place. I joined the Irgun, the most extreme armed underground organization. I was just 15 years old.
I repeat this story because the lesson is so important. An oppressive regime, especially a foreign one, always thinks that executing “terrorists” will frighten others away from joining the rebels.
This idea stems from the arrogance of the rulers, who think of their subjects as inferior human beings. The real result is always the opposite: the executed rebel becomes a national hero, for every rebel executed, dozens of others join the fight. The execution breeds hatred, the hatred leads to more violence. If the family is also punished, the flames of hatred rise even higher.
Simple logic. But logic is beyond the reach of the rulers.
Just a thought: some 2000 years ago, a simple carpenter was executed in Palestine by crucifixion. Look at the results.
IN EVERY army, there are a number of sadists posing as patriots.
In my army days, I once wrote that in every squad there is at least one sadist and one moral soldier. The others are neither. They are influenced by either of them, depends on which of the two has the stronger character.
Last week something horrible happened. Since the announcement of the American Clown-In-Chief about Jerusalem, there have been daily demonstrations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip approach the separation fence and throw stones at the soldiers on the Israeli side. The soldiers are instructed to shoot. Every day Palestinians are wounded, every few days Palestinians are killed.
One of the demonstrators was Ibrahim Abu-Thuraya, a 29 year old legless Arab fisherman. Both of his legs were amputated nine years ago, after he was injured in an Israeli air-strike on Gaza.
He was pushed in his wheelchair over the rough terrain towards the fence when an army sharpshooter took aim and killed him. He was unarmed, just “inciting”.
The killer was not an ordinary soldier, who may have shot without aiming in the melee. He was a professional, a sharpshooter, used to identify his victim, take careful aim and hit the exact spot.
I try to think about what went on in the shooter’s brain before shooting. The victim was close. There was absolutely no way not to see the wheelchair. Ibrahim posed absolutely no threat to the shooter or to anyone else.
(A cruel Israeli joke was born immediately: the sharpshooters were ordered to hit the lower parts of the bodies of the demonstrators. Since Ibrahim had no lower parts, the soldier had no choice but shoot him in the head.)
This was a criminal act, pure and simple. An abhorrent war crime. So, did the army – yes, my army! – arrest him? Not at all. Every day, a new excuse was found, each more ridiculous than the other. The shooter’s name was kept secret.
My God, what is happening to this country? What is the occupation doing to us?
Ibrahim, of course, became overnight a Palestinian national hero. His death will spur other Palestinians to join the fight.
ARE THERE no rays of light? Yes there are. Though not many.
A few days after the murder of Ibrahim Abu-Thuraya, an almost comic scene was immortalized.
In the Palestinian village Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank, two fully armed Israeli soldiers are standing. One is an officer, the other a sergeant. A group of three or four Arab girls, about 15 or 16 years old, approach them. They shout at the soldiers and make abusive gestures. The soldiers pretend not to notice them.
One girl, Ahd Tamimi, approaches a soldier and hits him. The soldier, much taller than her, does not react.
The girl comes even closer and hits the face of the soldier. He defends his face with his arms. Another girl records the scene with her smartphone.
And then the incredible happens: both soldiers walk backwards and leave the scene. (Later it appears that the cousin of one of the girls was shot in the head a few days earlier.)
The army was shocked by the fact that the two soldiers did not shoot the girl. It promised an investigation. The girl and her mother were detained that night. The soldiers are in for a rebuke.
For me, the two soldiers are real heroes. Sadly, they are the exceptions.
Every human being has the right to be proud of his or her country. To my mind, it’s a basic human right as well as a basic human need.
But how can one be proud of a country that is trading in human bodies?
In Islam, it is very important to bury the dead as soon as possible. Knowing this, the Israeli government is withholding the bodies of dozens of “terrorists”, to be used as trading chips for the return of Jewish bodies held by the other side.
Logical? Sure. Abhorrent? Yes.
This is not the Israel I helped to found and fought for. My Israel would return the bodies to the fathers and mothers. Even if it means giving up some trading chips. Isn’t losing a son punishment enough?
What has become of our common human decency?
December 30, 2017
The Man Who Jumped
NOBODY DESCRIBED the outbreak of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict better than the historian Isaac Deutscher.
A man lives in a house that catches fire. To save his life, he jumps out of the window. He lands on a passer-by in the street below and injures him grievously. Between the two a bitter enmity arises. Who is to blame?
Of course, no parable can reflect reality exactly. The man who jumped out of the burning house did not land on this particular passer-by by chance. The passer-by became an invalid for life. But on the whole, this parable is better than any other I know.
Deutscher did not provide an answer to the question of how to solve the conflict. Are the two condemned to fight each other forever? Is there a solution at all?
COMMON SENSE would say: of course there is. True, the injured person cannot be restored to his former condition. The man who caused the injury cannot return to his former home, which was destroyed by the fire. But…
But the man can – and must – apologize to his victim. That is the minimum. He can – and must – pay him compensation. That is what justice demands. But then the two can become friends. Perhaps even partners.
Instead, the man continues to harm the victim. He invades the victim’s home and throws him out. The victim’s sons try to evict the man. And so it goes on.
Deutscher himself, who fled the Nazis from Poland to England in time, did not see the continuation of the story. He died a few days after the Six-day War.
INSTEAD OF quarreling endlessly about who was right and who was wrong, how wonderful we are and how abhorrent the others are, we should think about the future.
What do we want? What kind of a state do we want to live in? How do we end the occupation, and what will come after?
Israel is divided between “Left” and “Right”. I don’t like these terms – they are obvious misnomers. They were created in the French National Assembly more than two hundred years ago by the accidental seating of the parties in the hall at the time, as seen by the speaker. But let’s use them for convenience sake.
The real division is between those who prefer the people to the land, and those who prefer the land to the people. Which is more sacred?
In the early days of the state there was a joke making the rounds. God summoned David Ben-Gurion and told him: you have done great things for my people, make a wish and I shall grant it.
Ben-Gurion answered: I wish that Israel will be a Jewish state, that it will encompass all the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River and that it be a just state.
“That is too much even for me,” God said. “But I will grant you two of your three wishes.”
Since then we have the choice between a Jewish and just state in part of the country, or a Jewish state in all the country that will not be just, or a greater and just state, that will not be Jewish.
Ben-Gurion must be weeping in his grave.
SO WHAT are the solutions proposed by the two major forces in Israeli politics?
The “Left” has by now an orderly program. I am proud of having contributed to it. It says, more or less:
(a) A State of Palestine will come into being next to the State of Israel.
(b) Between the two states there will be peace, based on an agreement that will provide for open borders and close mutual relations.
(c) There will be joint institutions as necessary, by consent.
(d) The united city of Jerusalem will be the capital of both states, West Jerusalem the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine.
(e) There will be a limited, agreed, one-to-one exchange of territory.
(f) There will be a limited, symbolic return of refugees to Israel, all other refugees will receive generous compensation and “return” to the State of Palestine or remain where they are.
(g) Israel will remain a mainly Jewish state, with Hebrew as its first official language and open for Jewish immigration according to its laws.
(h) Both states will join regional institutions.
This is a clear picture of the future. Both ardent Zionists and non-Zionists can accept it wholeheartedly.
WHAT IS the program of the “Right”? How do its ideologues see the future?
The simple fact is that the Right has no picture of the future, no program, not even a dream. Only vague sentiments.
That may be its strength. Sentiments are a strong force in the life of nations.
What the Right would really like is the endless continuation of the present situation: the military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the indirect occupation of the Gaza Strip, enforced by blockade.
Cold logic says that this is an unnatural situation that cannot go on forever. Sooner or later it has to be institutionalized. How?
There are two possibilities, and only two: an apartheid state or a binational state.
That is so obvious, that even the most fanatical right-winger cannot deny it. No one even tries to.
There is a vague hope that the Arabs in Palestine will somehow pack up and just go away. That will not happen. The unique circumstances of 1948 will not and cannot repeat themselves.
A few well-to-do Palestinians may actually leave for London or Rio de Janeiro, but their demographic weight will remain negligible. The mass of people will remain where they are – and multiply.
Already now, there live between the sea and the river, in the Greater Israel of the dream, according to the last count (July 2016): 6,510,894 Arabs and 6,114,546 Jews. The Arab birthrate is bound to fall, but so will the Jewish one (except for the Orthodox).
What would life be like in the Israeli apartheid state? One thing is certain: it would not attract masses of Jews. The split between Jewish Israelis and Jews in the USA and other countries would widen slowly and inexorably.
Sooner or later, the disenfranchised majority would rise, world opinion would condemn and boycott Israel, and the apartheid system would break down. What would remain?
What would remain is the thing almost all Israelis dread: the binational State. One person – one vote. A country very different from Israel. A country from which many Israeli Jews would depart, either slowly or rapidly.
This is not propaganda, but simple fact. If there is a right-wing ideologue somewhere who has an answer to this – let them stand up now, before it is too late.
I CANNOT resist the temptation of telling again the old joke:
A drunken British lady stands on the deck of the Titanic, with a glass of whisky in her hand, and sees the approaching iceberg. “I did ask for some ice,” she exclaims, “but this is ridiculous!”