uri avnery

0

Forgive me if you don’t immediately grasp the meaning of the title above. I was reading some of the optimistic reports from U.S. journalists about the progress of the ‘peace process’ for Israel/Palestine. I was reminded of that famous letter that appeared in the New York Sun on September 21st, 1897, entitled, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”.

It’s nice to believe in Santa Claus. It helps you to feel that all is right with the world and that good will be rewarded and evil punished. Belief in the Israeli/Palestinian ‘peace process’ plays exactly the same role, and it’s equally mythical!

Read the wisdom of Uri Avnery below, spelling out in a very straightforward way why there can never be any genuine ‘peace process’ until both parties actually want one, and the State of Israel has made it very clear that it is totally uninterested!

The only light on the horizon for the Palestinians is the fact that Syria seems to be surviving the foreign onslaught. If Syria can recover and if the Arab world can begin to unite, perhaps enough pressure can be brought to bear on Israel such that a Palestinian state might become a real possibility. Even so, this is a dim light on a distant horizon.

Father Dave

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery

Kerry and Chutzpah

IF YOU happen to bump into John Kerry at Ben Gurion Airport, you may wonder whether he is coming or going.  He may well be wondering himself.

For many weeks now he has been devoting most of his precious time to meetings with Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, trying to get these two people together.

It is about half an hour’s car ride between the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem and the Palestinian President’s Mukata’ah in Ramallah. But the two are more distant from each other than the Earth and Mars.

Kerry has taken it upon himself to bring the two together – perhaps somewhere in outer space. On the moon, for example.

TOGETHER FOR what?

Ah, there’s the rub. The idea seems to be a meeting for meeting’s sake.

We have watched this procedure for many years. Successive American presidents have undertaken to bring the two sides together. It is an American belief, rooted in Anglo-Saxon tradition, that if two reasonable, decent people get together to thrash out their differences, everything will fall into place. It’s almost automatic: meet – talk – agree.

Unfortunately, it does not quite work this way with conflicts between nations, conflicts that may have deep historical roots. In meetings between leaders of such nations, they often just want to hurl old accusations at each other, with the aim of convincing the world that the other side is utterly depraved and despicable.

Either side, or both, may be interested in prolonging the meetings forever. The world sees the leaders meeting, the mediator and the photographers working hard, everybody talking endlessly of peace, peace, peace.

I remember a Scandinavian gentleman named Gunnar Jarring. Remember him? No? Don’t blame yourself. He is eminently forgettable. A well-meaning Swedish diplomat (and Turkologist), he was asked by the UN in the early 1970s to bring the Egyptians and Israelis together and to achieve a peaceful settlement between them.

Jarring took his historic mission very seriously. He shuttled tirelessly between Cairo and Jerusalem. His name became a joke in Israel, and probably in Egypt, too.

The protagonists in those days were Anwar Sadat and Golda Meir. As we disclosed at the time, Sadat gave Jarring a momentous message: in return for getting back all of the Sinai peninsula, conquered by Israel in 1967, he was ready to make peace. Golda rejected this proposal out of hand. There was, of course, no meeting.

(A popular joke doing the rounds had Golda and Sadat facing each other from opposite banks of the Suez Canal. Golda shouted: “Make Love not War!” Sadat looked at her through his binoculars and replied: “Better war!”)

Everybody knows how this chapter ended. After Golda had rejected everything, Sadat attacked, won an initial surprise victory, the whole political world started to move , Golda was kicked out, and after four years of Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin came to power and agreed the same peace with Sadat that had been proposed before the war. The 3000 Israeli soldiers and around 10,000 Egyptians who died in the war did not see it.

Jarring, by the way, died in 2002, unsung and forgotten.

KERRY IS no Jarring. First of all, because he does not represent a powerless international organization, but the World’s Only Superpower. The full might of the United States of America is at his disposal.

Or is it?

That is really the most relevant – indeed the only relevant – question at this moment.

He will need a lot to achieve his heart’s desire: the meeting – not just the meeting, but The Meeting – between Netanyahu and Abbas.

That looks like an easy task. Netanyahu declares, with his usual sincerity,  that he wants to meet. Nay, that he is eager to meet. With the polished charm of a seasoned TV presenter familiar with the power of visual images, he even offered to put up a tent halfway between Jerusalem and Ramallah (at the infamous Qalandia checkpoint?) and sit down with Abbas and Kerry until a full agreement on all aspects of the conflict is achieved.

Who could resist such a generous offer? Why the hell does Abbas not jump at it and grasp it with with both hands?

For a very simple reason.

The very start of new negotiations would be a political triumph for Netanyahu. Actually, it’s all he really wants – the ceremony, the bombast, the leaders shaking hands, the smiles, the speeches full of goodwill and talk of peace.

And then? Then nothing. Negotiations that go on endlessly, months, years, decades. We have seen it all before. Yitzhak Shamir, one of Netanyahu’s predecessors, famously boasted that he would have dragged out the negotiations forever.

The profit for Netanyahu would be clear and immediate. He would be seen as the Man of Peace. The present government, the most rightist and nationalist Israel has ever known, would be rehabilitated. The people around the world who preach a boycott of Israel in all spheres would be shamed and disarmed. The growing alarm in Jerusalem about the “de-legitimization” and “isolation” of Israel would be relieved.

What would the Palestinian side get out of it? Nothing. No stop to the settlements. Not even the release of old prisoners who have been incarcerated for more than 20 years (like those who were released to Hamas in return for Gilad Shalit). Sorry, no “preconditions”!

Abbas demands that the aim of the negotiations be spelled out in advance: the establishment of the State of Palestine with borders “based on” the pre-1967 lines. The omission of this statement from the Oslo accords of 1993 led to their eventual evaporation. Why make the same mistake twice?

Also, Abbas wants to set a time limit for the negotiations. A year or so.

Netanyahu, of course, refuses all of this. At the moment, poor Kerry is trying to put something together that would satisfy the wolf while keeping the lamb alive. Give Abbas American assurances without Israeli assurances, for example.

IN ALL this bickering, one basic fact is ignored.

It’s that elephant again. The elephant in the room, whose existence Netanyahu denies and which Kerry is trying to ignore.

The occupation.

The assumption is generally made that the negotiations are between equals. In cartoons, Netanyahu and Abbas appear to be of equal size. The American picture of two reasonable people talking it out between themselves presupposes two more or less equal partners.

But this whole picture is basically false. The proposed “negotiations” are between an almighty occupying power and an almost totally powerless occupied people. Between the wolf and the lamb.

(it’s the old Israeli joke again: Can you keep a wolf and a lamb together? Of course you can, if you put in a new lamb every day.)

The Israeli army operates freely throughout the West Bank, including Ramallah. If Netanyahu so decides, Abbas may find himself tomorrow morning in an Israeli prison, together with the old people Netanyahu refuses to release.

Less drastically, the Israeli government can at any moment, at will, stop transfering the large sums of tax and customs money it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, as it has done several times already. This would immediately bring the PA to the brink of bankruptcy.

There are hundreds of ways, one more refined than the other, in which the occupation authorities and the occupation army can make life intolerable for individual Palestinians and their community as a whole.

What can the Palestinians do to put pressure on the Israeli government? Very little. There is the threat of a Third Intifada. It worries the army, but does not frighten it. The army’s answer is more repression and bloodshed. Or another resolution of the UN General Assembly, elevating Palestine to the rank of a full member of the world organization. Netanyahu would be furious, but the actual damage would be limited.

ANY PRESSURE to start meaningful negotiations that would lead to a peace agreement in – say – a year must come from the President of the United States of America.

That is so obvious that it hardly needs mentioning.

This is the crux of the matter.

Kerry can bring cash, a lot of cash, to bribe the Palestinians, or whisper into their ears dire threats to frighten them into meeting Netanyahu in his imaginary tent – it will mean next to nothing.

The only chance to start real negotiations is for Barack Obama to put his full weight behind the effort, to confront Congress and the hugely powerful pro-Israel lobby and dictate to both sides the American peace plan. We all know what it must look like – a combination of the (Bill) Clinton outline and the pan-Arab peace initiative.

If John Kerry is unable to deliver this pressure, he should not even try. It really is an imposition to come here and shake things up when you have no means to impose a solution. Sheer impertinence.

Or, as you say in Hebrew, Chutzpah.

Uri Avnery is founder of the Israeli Peace Bloc, Gush Shalom

 

0

I love Uri Avnery, but this defense of the two-state solution functions more to undermine any hopes for a ‘one-state solution’ than it does to foster hope for the traditional vision of two sovereign states, living peaceably side by side.

Avnery asks what a ‘one-state solution’ would look like? I think most ‘one-staters’ see three basic ingredients: 

  1. The end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza
  2. Equal rights for Arabs in Israel
  3. The right of return for Palestinian refugees.

These, of course, are the three goals of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, but if these three are met, surely a one-state solution has been achieved!

Father Dave

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery

The Donkey of the Messiah

“THE TWO-STATE solution is dead!” This mantra has been repeated so often lately, by so many authoritative commentators, that it must be true.

Well, it ain‘t.

It reminds one of Mark Twain’s oft quoted words: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

BY NOW this has become an intellectual fad. To advocate the two-state solution means that you are ancient, old-fashioned, stale, stodgy, a fossil from a bygone era. Hoisting the flag of the “one-state solution” means that you are young, forward-looking, “cool”.

Actually, this only shows how ideas move in circles. When we declared in early 1949, just after the end of the first Israeli-Arab war, that the only answer to the new situation was the establishment of a Palestinian state side by side with Israel, the “one-state solution” was already old.

The idea of a “bi-national state” was in vogue in the 1930s. Its main advocates were well-meaning intellectuals, many of them luminaries of the new Hebrew University, like Judah Leon Magnes and Martin Buber. They were reinforced by the Hashomer Hatza’ir kibbutz movement, which later became the Mapam party.

It never gained any traction. The Arabs believed that it was a Jewish trick. Bi-nationalism was built on the principle of parity between the two populations in Palestine – 50% Jews, 50% Arabs. Since the Jews at that time were much less than half the population, Arab suspicions were reasonable.

On the Jewish side, the idea looked ridiculous. The very essence of Zionism was to have a state where Jews would be masters of their fate, preferably in all of Palestine.

At the time, no one called it the “one-state solution” because there was already one state – the State of Palestine, ruled by the British. The “solution” was called “the bi-national state” and died, unmourned, in the war of 1948.

WHAT HAS caused the miraculous resurrection of this idea?

Not the birth of a new love between the two peoples. Such a phenomenon would have been wonderful, even miraculous. If Israelis and Palestinians had discovered their common values, the common roots of their history and languages, their common love for this country – why, wouldn’t that have been absolutely splendid?

But, alas, the renewed “one-state solution” was not born of another immaculate conception. Its father is the occupation, its mother despair.

The occupation has already created a de facto One State – an evil state of oppression and brutality, in which half the population (or slightly less than half) deprives the other half of almost all rights – human rights, economic rights and political rights. The Jewish settlements proliferate, and every day brings new stories of woe.

Good people on both sides have lost hope. But hopelessness does not stir to action. It fosters resignation.

LET’S GO back to the starting point. “The two-state solution is dead”. How come? Who says? In accordance with what scientific criteria has death been certified?

Generally, the spread of the settlements is cited as the sign of death. In the 1980s the respected Israeli historian Meron Benvenisti pronounced that the situation had now become “irreversible”. At the time, there were hardly 100 thousand settlers in the occupied territories (apart from East Jerusalem, which by common consent is a separate issue). Now they claim to be 300 thousand, but who is counting? How many settlers mean irreversibility? 100, 300, 500, 800 thousand?

History is a hothouse of reversibility. Empires grow and collapse. Cultures flourish and wither. So do social and economic patterns. Only death is irreversible.

I can think of a dozen different ways to solve the settlement problem, from forcible removal to exchange of territories to Palestinian citizenship. Who believed that the settlements in North Sinai would be removed so easily? That the evacuation of the Gaza Strip settlements would become a national farce?

In the end, there will probably be a mixture of several ways, according to circumstances.

All the Herculean problems of the conflict can be resolved – if there is a will. It’s the will that is the real problem.

THE ONE-STATERS like to base themselves on the South African experience. For them, Israel is an apartheid state, like the former South Africa, and therefore the solution must be South African-like.

The situation in the occupied territories, and to some extent in Israel proper, does indeed strongly resemble the apartheid regime. The apartheid example may be justly cited in political debate. But in reality, there is very little deeper resemblance – if any – between the two countries.

David Ben-Gurion once gave the South African leaders a piece of advice: partition. Concentrate the white population in the south, in the Cape region, and cede the other parts of the country to the blacks. Both sides in South Africa rejected this idea furiously, because both sides believed in a single, united country.

They largely spoke the same languages, adhered to the same religion, were integrated in the same economy. The fight was about the master-slave relationship, with a small minority lording it over a massive majority.

Nothing of this is true in our country. Here we have two different nations, two populations of nearly equal size, two languages, two (or rather, three) religions, two cultures, two totally different economies.

A false proposition leads to false conclusions. One of them is that Israel, like Apartheid South Africa, can be brought to its knees by an international boycott. About South Africa, this is a patronizing imperialist illusion. The boycott, moral and important as it was, did not do the job. It was the Africans themselves, aided by some local white idealists, who did it by their courageous strikes and uprisings.

I am an optimist, and I do hope that eventually Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs will become sister nations, living side by side in harmony. But to come to that point, there must be a period of living peacefully in two adjoining states, hopefully with open borders.

THE PEOPLE who speak now of the “one-state solution” are idealists. But they do a lot of harm. And not only because they remove themselves and others from the struggle for the only solution that is realistic.

If we are going to live together in one state, it makes no sense to fight against the settlements. If Haifa and Ramallah will be in the same state, what is the difference between a settlement near Haifa and one near Ramallah? But the fight against the settlements is absolutely essential, it is the main battlefield in the struggle for peace.

Indeed, the one-state solution is the common aim of the extreme Zionist right and the extreme anti-Zionist left. And since the right is incomparably stronger, it is the left that is aiding the right, and not the other way round.

In theory, that is as it should be. Because the one-staters believe that the rightists are only preparing the ground for their future paradise. The right is uniting the country and putting an end to the possibility of creating an independent State of Palestine. They will subject the Palestinians to all the horrors of apartheid and much more, since the South African racists did not aim at displacing and replacing the blacks. But in due course – perhaps in a mere few decades, or half a century – the world will compel Greater Israel to grant the Palestinians full rights, and Israel will become Palestine.

According to this ultra-leftist theory, the right, which is now creating the racist one state, is in reality the Donkey of the Messiah, the legendary animal on which the Messiah will ride to triumph.

It’s a beautiful theory, but what is the assurance that this will actually happen? And before the final stage arrives, what will happen to the Palestinian people? Who will compel the rulers of Greater Israel to accept the diktat of world public opinion?

If Israel now refuses to bow to world opinion and enable the Palestinians to have their own state in 28% of historical Palestine, why would they bow to world opinion in the future and dismantle Israel altogether?

Speaking about a process that will surely last 50 years and more, who knows what will happen? What changes will take place in the world in the meantime? What wars and other catastrophes will take the world’s mind off the “Palestinian issue”?

Would one really gamble the fate of one’s nation on a far-fetched theory like this?

ASSUMING FOR a moment that the one-state solution would really come about, how would it function?

Will Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs serve in the same army, pay the same taxes, obey the same laws, work together in the same political parties? Will there be social intercourse between them? Or will the state sink into an interminable civil war?

Other peoples have found it impossible to live together in one state.  Take the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia. Serbia. Czechoslovakia. Cyprus. Sudan. The Scots want to secede from the United Kingdom. So do the Basques and the Catalans from Spain. The French in Canada and the Flemish in Belgium are uneasy. As far as I know, nowhere in the entire world have two different peoples agreed to form a joint state for decades.

NO, THE two-state solution is not dead. It cannot die, because it is the only solution there is.

Despair may be convenient and tempting. But despair is no solution at all.

Read more Avnery wisdom on the Gush Shalom website

0

More wisdom from brother Uri, but it gives us little ground for hope.

Father Dave

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery

April 6, 2013

In Their Shoes

OBAMA IN ISRAEL: Every word right. Every gesture genuine. Every detail in its place. Perfect.

Obama in Palestine: Every word wrong. Every gesture inappropriate. Every single detail misplaced. Perfect.

IT STARTED from the first moment. The President of the United States came to Ramallah. He visited the Mukata’a, the “compound” which serves as the office of the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

One cannot enter the Mukata’a without noticing the grave of Yasser Arafat, just a few paces from the entrance.

It is quite impossible to ignore this landmark while passing it. However, Obama succeeded in doing just that.

It was like spitting in the face of the entire Palestinian people. Imagine a foreign dignitary coming to France and not laying a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Or coming to Israel and not visiting Yad Vashem. It is more than insulting. It is stupid.

Yasser Arafat is for the Palestinians what Gorge Washington is for Americans, Mahatma Gandhi for Indians, David Ben-Gurion for Israelis. The Father of the Nation. Even his domestic opponents on the left and on the right revere his memory. He is the supreme symbol of the modern Palestinian national movement. His picture hangs in every Palestinian office and school.

So why not honor him? Why not lay a wreath on his grave, as foreign leaders have done before?

Because Arafat has been demonized and vilified in Israel like no other human being since Hitler. And still is.

Obama was simply afraid of the Israeli reaction. After his huge success in Israel, he feared that such a gesture would undo the effect of his address to the Israeli people.

THIS CONSIDERATION guided Obama throughout his short visit to the West Bank. His feet were in Palestine, his head was in Israel.

He walked in Palestine. He talked to Palestine. But his thoughts were about the Israelis.

Even when he said good things, his tone was wrong. He just could not hit the right note. Somehow he missed the cue.

Why? Because of a complete lack of empathy.

Empathy is something hard to define. I am spoiled in this respect, because I had the good fortune to live for many years near a person who had it in abundance. Rachel, my wife, hit the right tone with everyone, high or low, local or foreign, the old and the very young.

Obama did so in Israel. It was really amazing. He must have studied us thoroughly. He knew our strengths and our weaknesses, our paranoias and our idiosyncrasies, our historical memories and dreams about the future.

And no wonder. He is surrounded by Zionist Jews. They are his closest advisors, his friends and his experts on the Middle East. Even from mere contact with them, he obviously absorbed much of our sensitivities.

As far as I know, there is not a single Arab, not to mention Palestinian, in the White House and its surroundings.

I assume that he does receive occasional briefings about Arab affairs from the State Department. But such dry memoranda are not the stuff empathy is made of. The more so as clever diplomats must have learned by now not to write anything that may offend Israelis.

So how could the poor man have possibly picked up empathy towards the Palestinians?

THE CONFLICT between Israel and Palestine has very solid factual causes. But it has also been rightly described as a “clash between traumas”: the Holocaust trauma of the Jews and the Naqba trauma of the Palestinians (without suggesting equivalence between the two calamities.)

Many years ago in New York I met a very good friend of mine. He was an Arab citizen of Israel, a young poet who had left Israel and joined the PLO. He invited me to meet some Palestinians at his home in a suburb of New York. His family name, by the way, was the same as Obama’s middle name.

When I entered the apartment, it was crammed full with Palestinians – Palestinians of all stripes, from Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, the refugee camps and the Diaspora. We had a very emotional debate, full of heated arguments and counter-arguments. When we left I asked Rachel what, to her mind, was the most outstanding common sentiment of all these people. “The sense of injustice!” she replied without hesitation.

That was exactly what I felt. “If Israel could just apologize for what we have done to the Palestinian people, a huge obstacle would have been removed from the road to peace,” I answered her.

It would have been a good beginning for Obama in Ramallah if he had addressed this point. It was not the Palestinians who killed six million Jews. It was the European countries and – yes – the USA which callously closed their doors to the Jews, who were desperately trying to escape the lot awaiting them. And it was the Muslim world which welcomed hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing from Catholic Spain and the inquisition some 500 years ago.

OUR CONFLICT is tragic, more than most. One of its tragedies is that neither side can be entirely blamed. There is not one narrative, but two. Each side is convinced of the absolute justice of its cause. Each side nurses its overwhelming sense of victimhood. Though there can be no symmetry between settlers and natives, occupier and occupied, in this respect they are the same.

The trouble with Obama is that he has completely, entirely, totally embraced one narrative, while being almost completely oblivious to the other. Every word he uttered in Israel gave testimony to his deeply-rooted Zionist convictions. Not just the words he said, but the tone, the body language, all bore the marks of honesty. Evidently, he had internalized the Zionist version of every single detail of the conflict.

Nothing like this was in evidence in Ramallah. Some dry formulas, yes. Some honest efforts to break the ice, indeed.  But nothing that touched the hearts of the Palestinians.

He told his Israeli audience to “put yourselves in the shoes of the Palestinians”.  But did he do so himself? Can he imagine what it means to wait every night for the brutal banging on the door? To  be woken by the noise of bulldozers approaching, wondering whether they are coming to destroy your home? To see a settlement growing on your land and waiting for the settlers to come and carry out a pogrom in your village? Being unable to move on your roads? To see your father humiliated at the road blocks? To throw stones at armed soldiers and brave tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and sometimes live ammunition?

Can he even imagine having a brother, a cousin, a loved one in prison for many, many years because of his patriotic actions or beliefs, after facing the arbitrariness of a military “court”, or even without a “trial” at all?

This week, a prisoner called Maisara Abu-Hamdiyeh died in prison, and the West Bank exploded in rage. Israeli journalists ridiculed the protest, stating that the man died from a fatal disease, so Israel could not be blamed.

Did any of them imagine for a moment what it means for a human being to suffer from cancer, with the disease slowly spreading through his body, deprived of adequate treatment, cut off from family and friends, seeing death approaching? What if it had been their father?

THE OCCUPATION is not an abstract matter. It is a daily reality for two and a half million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – not to mention the restrictions on Gaza.

It does not concern only the individuals practically denied all human rights. It primarily concerns the Palestinians as a nation.

We Israelis, perhaps more than anyone else, should know that belonging to one’s nation, in one’s own state, under one’s own flag, is a basic right of every human being. In the present epoch, it is an essential element of human dignity. No people will settle for less.

The Israeli government insists that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the “Nation-State of the Jewish People”. It adamantly refuses to recognize Palestine as the “Nation-State of the Palestinian People”. What is Obama’s position on that?

FOLLOWING THE visit, Secretary of State John Kerry is now working hard to “prepare the ground” for a “resumption” of the “peace talks” between Israel and the PLO. Many quotation marks for something so flimsy.

Diplomats can string together hollow phrases to conjure up the illusion of progress. That is one of their main talents. But after a historic conflict lasting some 130 years, no progress towards peace between the two peoples can be real, if there is no equal respect for their national history, rights, feelings and aspirations.

As long as the US leadership cannot bring itself to that point, the chance of its contributing to peace in this tormented country is close to nil.

read more from Uri Avnery on the Gush Shalom website

1

Here’s another wonderful offering from Uni Avnery, founder of Gush Shalom (the Israeli Peace Bloc). It’s his review of the now famous “5 Broken Cameras”.

I haven’t seen this movie yet. Hopefully it will start appearing on Australian screens soon. In terms of influencing public opinion, a good movie can achieve more than a thousand pieces of media propaganda!

Father Dave

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery

“Ich bin ein Bil’iner!”

THIS DOES not happen every day: a Minister of Culture publicly rejoices because a film from her country has NOT been awarded an Oscar. And not just one film, but two.

It happened this week. Limor Livnat, still Minister of Culture in the outgoing government, told Israeli TV she was happy that Israel’s two entries for Oscars in the category of documentary films, which made it to the final four, did lose in the end.

Livnat, one of the most extreme Likud members, has little chance of being included in the diminishing number of Likud ministers in the next government. Perhaps her outburst was meant to improve her prospects.

Not only did she attack the two films, but she advised the semi-official foundations which finance Israeli films to exercise “voluntary self-censorship and deprive such unpatriotic films of support, thus making sure that they will not be produced at all.

THE TWO documentaries in question are very different in character.

One, The Gatekeepers, is a collection of testimonies by six successive chiefs of the General Security Service, Israel’s internal intelligence agency, variously known by its Hebrew initials Shin Bet or Shabak. In the US its functions are performed by the FBI. (The Mossad is the equivalent of the CIA.)

All six service chiefs are harshly critical of the Israeli prime ministers and cabinet ministers of the last decades. They accuse them of incompetence, stupidity and worse.

The other film, 5 Broken Cameras, tells the story of the weekly protest demonstrations against the “separation” fence in the village of Bil’in, as viewed through the cameras of one of the villagers.

One may wonder how two films like these made it to the top of the Academy awards in the first place. My own (completely unproven) conjecture is that the Jewish academy members voted for their selection without actually seeing them, assuming that an Israeli film could not be un-kosher. But when the pro-Israeli lobby started a ruckus, the members actually viewed the films, shuddered, and gave the top award to Searching for Sugar Man.

I HAVE not yet had a chance to see The Gatekeepers. In spite of that, I am not going to write about it.

However, I have seen 5 Broken Cameras several times – both in the cinema and on the ground.

Limor Livnat treated it as an “Israeli” film. But that designation is rather problematical.

First of all, unlike other categories, documentaries are not listed according to nationality. So it was not, officially, “Israeli”.

Second, one of its two co-producers protested vehemently against this designation. For him, this is a Palestinian film.

As a matter of fact, any national designation is problematical. All the material was filmed by a Palestinian, Emad Burnat. But the co-editor, Guy Davidi, who put the filmed material into its final shape, is Israeli. Much of the financing came from Israeli foundations. So it would be fair to say that it is a Palestinian-Israeli co-production.    

This is also true for the “actors”: the demonstrators are both Palestinians and Israelis. The soldiers are, of course, Israelis. Some of members of the Border Police are Druze (Arabs belonging to a marginal Islamic sect.)

When the last of Emad Burnat’s sons was born, he decided to buy a simple camera in order to document the stages of the boy’s growing up. He did not yet dream of documenting history. But he took his camera with him when he joined the weekly demonstrations in his village. And from then on, every week.

BIL’IN IS a small village west of Ramallah, near the Green Line. Few people had ever heard of it before the battle.

I heard of it for the first time some eight years ago, when Gush Shalom, the peace organization to which I belong, was asked to participate in a demonstration against the expropriation of some of its lands for a new settlement, Kiryat Sefer (“Town of the Book”).

When we arrived there, only a few new houses were already standing. Most of the land was still covered with olive trees. In following protests, we saw the settlement grow into a large town, totally reserved for ultra-orthodox Jews, called Haredim, “those who fear (God)”. I passed through it several times, when there was no other way to reach Bil’in, and never saw a single man there who was not wearing the black attire and black hat of this community.

The Haredim are not settlers per se. They do not go there for ideological reasons, but just because they need space for their huge number of offspring. The government pushes them there.

What made this first demonstration memorable for me was that the village elders emphasized, in their summing-up, the importance of non-violence. At the time, non-violence was not often heard about in Palestinian parlance.

Non-violence was and remains one of the outstanding qualities of the Bil’in struggle. From the first demonstration on, week after week, year after year, non-violence has been the hallmark of the protests.

Another mark was the incredible inventiveness. The elders have long ago given way to the younger generation. For years, these youngsters strived to fill every single demonstration with a specific symbolic content. On one occasion, protesters were carried along in iron cages. On another, we all wore masks of Mahatma Gandhi. Once we brought with us a well-known Dutch pianist, who played Schubert on a truck in the midst of the melee. On yet another protest, the demonstrators chained themselves to the fence. At another time, a football match was played in view of the settlement. Once a year, guests are invited from all over the world for a symposium about the Palestinian struggle.

THE FIGHT is mainly directed at the “Separation” Fence, which is supposed to separate between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. In built-up areas it is a wall, in open spaces it is a fence, protected on both sides by a broad stretch of land for patrol roads and barbed wire. The official purpose is to prevent terrorists from infiltrating into Israel and blowing themselves up here.

If this were the real purpose, and were the wall built on the border, nobody could fairly object. Every state has the right to protect itself. But that is only part of the truth. In many regions, the wall/fence cuts deeply into Palestinian territory, ostensibly to protect settlements, in reality to annex land. This is the case in Bil’in.

The original fence cut the village off from most of its lands, which were earmarked for the enlargement of the settlement now called Modi’in Illit (“Upper Modi’in”). The real Modi’in is an adjacent township within the Green Line.

In the course of the struggle, the villagers appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court, which finally accepted part of their claim. The government was ordered to move the fence some distance nearer to the Green Line. This still leaves a lot of land for the settlement.

In practice, the complete wall/fence annexes almost 10% of the West Bank to Israel. (Altogether, the West Bank constitutes a mere 22% of the country of Palestine as it was before 1948.)

ONCE EMAD BURNAT started to take pictures, he could not stop. Week after week he “shot” the protests, while the soldiers shot (without quotation marks) at the protesters.

Tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets were used by the military every week. Sometimes, live ammunition was employed. Yet in all the demonstrations I witnessed, there was not a single act of violence by the protesters themselves – Palestinians, Israelis or international activists. The demonstrations usually start in the center of the village, near the mosque. When the Friday prayers end (Friday is the Muslim holy day), some of the devout join the young people waiting outside, and a march to the fence, a few kilometers away, commences.

At the fence, the clash happens. The protesters push forward and shout, the soldiers launch tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets. The gas canisters hit people (Rachel, my wife, had a big bruise on her thigh for months, where a canister had hit her. Rachel was already carrying a fatal liver disease and was strictly warned by her doctor not to come near tear gas. But she could not resist taking photos close up.)

Once the melee starts, boys and youngsters – not the demonstrators themselves – on the fringes usually start to throw stones at the soldiers. It is a kind of ritual, a test of courage and manhood. For the soldiers this is a pretext for increasing the violence, hitting people and gassing them.

Emad shows it all. The film shows his son grow up, from baby to schoolboy, in between the protests. It also shows Emad’s wife begging him to stop. Emad was arrested and seriously injured. One of his relatives was killed. All the organizers in the village were imprisoned again and again. So were their Israeli comrades. I testified at several of the trials in the military court, located in a large military prison camp.

The Israeli protesters are barely seen in the film. But right from the beginning, Jews played an important part in the protests. The main Israeli participants are the “Anarchists against the Wall”, a very courageous and creative group. (Gush Shalom activist Adam Keller is shown in a close-up, trying out a passive resistance technique he had learned in Germany. Somehow it did not work. Perhaps you need German police for it.)

If the film does not do full justice to the Israeli and international protesters, that is quite understandable. The aim was to showcase the Palestinian non-violent resistance.

In the course of the struggle, one of Emad’s cameras after another was broken. He is now wielding camera No. 6. 

THIS IS a story of heroism, the heroic struggle of simple villagers for their lands and their country.

Long after Limor Livnat will be forgotten, people will remember the Battle of Bil’in.

President Barack Obama would be well advised to see this film before his forthcoming visit to Israel and Palestine.

Some years ago, I was asked to make the laudatory speech at a Berlin ceremony, in which the village of Bil’in and the “Anarchists against the Wall” were decorated for their courage.

Slightly paraphrasing President John Kennedy’s famous speech in Berlin, I proposed that every decent person in the world should proudly proclaim: “Ich bin ein Bil’iner!”

0

Uri Avnery raises the question that’s on everybody’s lips.  Will the current turmoil in the West Bank continue to escalate? Is Netanyahu trying to foment that escalation? Is it all timed to strategically coincide with the Obama visit? These questions are difficult to answer, but, as Avnery points out, on one point we can be clear: while the Palestinian resistance is currently non-violent it cannot remain so for ever.

The First Intifada began non-violently. This is often forgotten. Ongoing imprisonments and aggression from the IDF eventually provoked a violent reaction from the Palestinians and hence the whole event is remembered as a virtual war. At the moment the Palestinian resistance is again largely made up of non-violent protests, hunger-strikes, and the world-wide BDS campaign. But continued provocations will eventually take their toll, after which the spin doctors will depict the uprising as an unprovoked explosion of Arab aggression!

Will Obama be able to leverage any positive influence in this process? It is doubtful, but while the influence of the US recedes into the background, the partisan support from the surrounding Arab nations and from the rest of the world is on the increase!

Father Dave

Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery

The Third Intifada?

by Uri Avnery

IS THIS the third intifada? This question was raised this week by a number of Israeli security experts. And not only by them – their Palestinian colleagues were almost as perplexed.

All over the West Bank, Palestinian youth threw stones at Israeli soldiers. All the 3500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons took part in a three-day hunger strike.

The immediate reason was the death of a young Palestinian man during interrogation by the Shin Bet. The autopsy showed no reason for the death. It was no heart attack, as first (and automatically) claimed by Israeli officials and their stooges, the so-called “military correspondents”. So was it torture, as practically all Palestinians believe?

Then there were the four prisoners on a hunger strike which has already lasted 150 days (mitigated by infusions). Since almost every Palestinian family has now – or had in the past – at least one member in prison, this generates much excitement.

So is this IT?

THE UNCERTAINTY of security officials stems from the fact that both the first and the second intifada broke out in an unexpected way. Both the Israeli and the Palestinian leaderships were taken by surprise.

The Israeli surprise was especially – well,  surprising. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip were, and still are, full of Israeli informers. Decades of occupation have allowed the Security Service to recruit thousands of them by bribery or blackmail. So how did they fail to know?

The Palestinian leadership, then in Tunis, was equally in the dark. It took Yasser Arafat several days to realize what was happening and laud the “Stone Children”.

The reason for the surprise was that both intifadas were completely spontaneous. No one planned them. Because of this, no informer could warn his handlers.

The trigger for the first one was a road accident. In December 1987, an Israeli driver killed several Palestinian workers near Gaza. All hell broke loose. The second was triggered by a deliberate Israeli provocation after the failure of the 2000 Camp David conference.

The Israeli army was quite unprepared for the First Intifada. Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin famously exclaimed “Break their bones!” which some commanders took literally and carried out faithfully. A lot of arms and legs were broken with rifle butts.

Though the second intifada was also unexpected, this time the army was prepared for any event. Troops were trained in advance. No bones were broken this time. Instead, sharpshooters were placed near unit commanding officers. When a non-violent demonstration approached, the officer pointed out the ringleader, and the sharpshooter killed him. Very soon the non-violent uprising turned into a very violent one.

I don’t know what the army plans for the third intifada. But one can be certain that even if it starts as a non-violent mass protest, it will not stay so for long.

TWO WEEKS ago, the Israeli Channel 10 showed a documentary about Ariel Sharon’s manipulation of the Second Intifada.

It started when Prime Minister Ehud Barak allowed Opposition Chief Sharon to visit the Temple Mount, accompanied by hundreds of policemen. Since Sharon was a pork-eating atheist, there was no religious motive for the visit. It was a provocation, pure and simple.

When Sharon approached the Muslim shrines, he was greeted with stones. The police killed the stone-throwers with live ammunition. And lo and behold, the Second Intifada was on the way.

Arafat in far-away Tunis had nothing to do with it. But once the intifada had started, he embraced it. The local Fatah cadres took command.

Soon after, Sharon came to power. He did everything possible to stoke the fires. In the documentary, his closest assistants were interviewed at length and disclosed that Sharon did this quite deliberately.

His aim was to cause a general uprising, in order to give him a legitimate reason for re-conquering the West Bank, after parts of it were turned over to the Palestinian authority in the Oslo agreements. And indeed, a large number of suicide attacks and other outrages provided the necessary national and international legitimization for Operation Defensive Shield, in which Israeli troops re-entered all West Bank towns and spread death and destruction. In particular, the Palestinian Authority’s offices were systematically ransacked, including the Education and Social Services ministries. Arafat was surrounded and isolated in the Ramallah Mukata’ah (“Compound”), and kept a virtual prisoners for years, till his murder.

In the film, the advisors readily admitted that Sharon did not even contemplate a political initiative to end the intifada – his sole aim was to vanquish the Palestinian resistance by brute force.  During this intifada 4944 Palestinians were killed, as against 1011 Israelis. (In the preceding intifada, 1593 Palestinians and 84 Israelis found their death.)

Israelis believe that Sharon’s brutal methods were a great success. The Second Intifada sputtered out.

WILL THERE be a Third Intifada? If so, when? Has it already begun or were the recent events only a kind of general rehearsal?

No one knows, least of all our security forces. There is no reliable information from the agents. Again, everything is spontaneous.

One thing is certain: Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s heir, is very much afraid of it. He waited for a few days, and then, once he was sure that this was not a general uprising, he ordered his American-trained police forces to intervene and put an end to the demonstrations.

More than that, he publicly condemned the outbreaks and accused Binyamin Netanyahu of deliberately fomenting them.

One of the causes for this suspicion was that on Friday the Israeli police did not prevent young Palestinians from reaching the Temple Mount (“Haram al-Sharif”), as they do frequently when there is the slightest suspicion of coming unrest.

I put the question to a circle of friends: Assuming for a moment that Abbas is right, what might have been Netanyahu’s motive?

One answered: He is afraid that Barak Obama will, in his upcoming visit to Jerusalem, demand the resumption of the “peace process”. Netanyahu will tell him that, in view of the new intifada, that is impossible.

Another volunteered: Netanyahu will tell the President that Abbas has lost his authority and therefore is not a viable partner.

Yet another: Netanyahu will tell the Israeli public that we have an emergency at hand, so we need to set up a Government of National Unity at once. All Zionist parties must be pushed by their voters to join.

And so forth.

BE THAT as it may, the pertinent question is whether a spontaneous outbreak is in the offing.

Frankly, I don’t know. I doubt if anyone does.

The absence of any genuine peace initiative makes another intifada probable at some point. How long can the harsh occupation continue without a serious challenge?

On the other hand, it does not appear that the great mass of the Palestinian people is mentally prepared for a fight. In the occupied territories, a new bourgeoisie has come to life, which has a lot to lose. Under the auspices of the US, the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, has succeeded in stimulating some sort of economy, in which quite a number flourish.

The prospect of another round of violence does not appeal to these people, nor does it attract poor people, who are already fully occupied with their daily survival. To get these people to rise up, you need an extremely provocative event. This can happen tomorrow morning, or within weeks or months, or not at all.

Abbas accuses Hamas of fomenting unrest in the West Bank, which is governed by Fatah, while Hamas itself, at the same time, is keeping the cease-fire in its own dominion, the Gaza Strip. Actually, both regimes, each in its own part of Palestine, are interested in quiet while accusing the other of collaborating with the occupation.

(A century and a half ago, Karl Marx denounced the efforts of his socialist adversary, Ferdinand Lassalle, to set up workers’ cooperatives. Marx asserted that once the workers had something to lose, they would not rise up anymore. If you want a revolution, Lenin is supposed to have said, “The worse things are, the better”.)

THE MORE people on both sides talk about the Third Intifada, the less it is likely to happen. As the Germans used to say, Revolutions foretold are not going to happen.

But if there is no end to the occupation in sight, the Third Intifada will break out one day, quite suddenly, when nobody has been talking about it, when everybody on both sides was thinking about other things. 

read more wisdom from Uri Avnery on the Gush Shalom website