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Uri Avnery: Nasser and I

Uri Avnery
October 3, 2015

FORTY-FIVE YEARS ago Gamal Abd-al-Nasser died at the early age of 52. It is not an event of the past. It continues to have a huge influence on the present, and probably will on the future.

My meetings with him go back to 1948. I used to joke that “we were very close to each other, but we were never properly introduced!”

It happened like this: in July we were desperately trying to stop the advance of the Egyptian army towards Tel Aviv. The cornerstone of our front was a village called Negba. One evening we were told that an Egyptian unit had cut the only road to this kibbutz and dug in across it.

The company to which I belonged was a mobile commando unit riding on jeeps, each with two machine guns. We were ordered to storm the position and retake it at any costs. It was a crazy idea – you don’t use jeeps to attack dug-in soldiers. But the commanders were desperate, too.

So we advanced in the darkness along the narrow road until we reached the Egyptian position and were met with murderous fire. We retreated, but then the battalion commander joined us and led another attack. This time we literally overran the Egyptians, feeling human bodies under our wheels. The Egyptians fled. Their commander was wounded. As I later found out, he was a major named Gamal Abd-al-Nasser.

After that, the fortunes of war turned. We got the upper hand and surrounded an entire Egyptian brigade. I was a part of the besieging force when I was severely wounded. On the opposite side was Major Abd-al-Nasser.

FOUR YEARS later, Gingi called me in great excitement. “I must meet you immediately,” he told me.

Gingi is the Hebrew slang version of ginger, as the British call a red-haired person. This particular gingi was a small, very dark Yemenite. He was nicknamed Gingi because he had very black hair – that was our kind of humor then.

Gingi (his actual name was Yerucham Cohen) had served during the war as the adjutant of the Southern front commander, Yigal Alon. During the fighting, a short ceasefire had been arranged to allow both sides to retrieve the dead and wounded left lying between the lines. Gingi, who spoke excellent Arabic, was sent to negotiate with the emissary of the encircled force – Major Abd-al-Nasser.

As so happens, during their several meetings, a friendship sprang up between the two men. Once, when the Egyptian was very depressed, Gingi tried to comfort him and said: “Cheer up, ya Gamal, you will get out of here alive and have children!”

The prophecy was fulfilled. The war ended, the encircled brigade returned to a hero’s welcome in Cairo. Yerucham was appointed to the Israeli-Egyptian armistice commission. One day his Egyptian counterpart told him: “I was asked by Lieutenant-Colonel Abd-al-Nasser to tell you that a son has been born to him.”

Yerucham bought a baby suit and at the next meeting, gave it to his counterpart. Nasser sent back his thanks and an assortment of cakes from the famous Groppi Café in Cairo.

IN THE summer of 1952, the Egyptian army rebelled and, in a bloodless coup, sent the playboy king Farouk packing. The coup was led by a group of “Free Officers”, headed by a 51-year old general, Muhammad Naguib.

I published in my magazine a message of congratulation to the officers.

When I met Gingi, he told me: “Forget about Naguib. He is just a figurehead. The real leader is a fellow called Nasser!” So my magazine had a world scoop – long before anyone else in the world, we disclosed that the real leader was an officer called Abd-al-Nasser.

(A word about Arab names. Gamal is a camel, a symbol of beauty for Arabs. Abd-al-Nasser – pronounced Abd-an-Nasser – means “Servant of [Allah] the victorious”. Calling the man just Nasser, as we all did, conferred on him one of the 99 names of Allah.)

When Nasser officially became the leader, Yerucham told me in deepest secrecy that he had just received an astounding invitation: Nasser had invited him to come, privately, to see him in Cairo.

“Go!” I implored him. “This may be a historic opening!”

But Yerucham was an obedient citizen. He asked the Foreign Office for permission. The minister, Moshe Sharett, the renowned peace-lover, forbade him to accept the invitation. “If Nasser wants to talk with Israel, he must apply to the Foreign Office,” Yerucham was told. That was, of course, the end of the matter.

NASSER WAS an Arab of a new type: Tall, handsome, charismatic, a spellbinding orator. David Ben-Gurion, who was already getting old, was afraid of him, and perhaps envied him. So he plotted with the French to overthrow him.

After a short voluntary exile in a Kibbutz, Ben-Gurion returned in 1955 to his post as Minister of Defense. The first thing he did was to attack the Egyptian army in Gaza. By design or mistake, many Egyptian soldiers were killed. Nasser, angry and humiliated, turned to the Soviets and received large shipments of arms.

Since 1954, France was facing a war of liberation in Algeria. Since they could not imagine that the Algerians would rise up against France of their own free will, they accused Nasser of inciting them. The British joined the club because Nasser had just nationalized the British-French company that ran the Suez Canal.

The result was the 1956 Suez adventure: Israel attacked the Egyptian army in the Sinai desert, while the French and the British landed in their rear. The Egyptian army, practically surrounded, was ordered to return home as hastily as possible. Some soldiers left their boots behind. Israel was intoxicated by this resounding victory.

But the Americans were angry, and so were the Soviets. US President Eisenhower and the Soviet President Bulganin issued ultimatums, and the three colluding powers had to withdraw completely. “Ike” was the last American president who dared to face down Israel and the US Jews.

Overnight, Nasser became the hero of the entire Arab world. His vision of a pan-Arab nation moved into the realm of possibility. The Palestinians, deprived of their own homeland which was divided between Israel, Jordan and Egypt, saw their future in such a broad nation and admired Nasser.

In Israel, Nasser became the ultimate enemy, the devil incarnate. He was referred to officially and in all the media as “the Egyptian tyrant”, and frequently “the Second Hitler”. When I proposed making peace with him, people considered me insane.

CARRIED AWAY by his immense popularity throughout the Arab world and beyond, Nasser did a foolish thing. When the Israeli Chief of Staff, Yitzhak Rabin, threatened the Syrians with invasion, Nasser saw an easy way to demonstrate his leadership. He warned Israel and sent his army into the demilitarized Sinai desert.

Everybody in Israel was frightened. Everybody except I (and the army). A few months before, I was informed in secret that a leading Israeli general had confided to friends: “I pray every night that Nasser will send his army into Sinai. There we will destroy it!”

And so it happened. Too late Nasser realized that he had walked into a trap (as my magazine announced in its headline.) To stave off disaster, he issued blood-curdling threats “to throw Israel into the sea” and sent a high-ranking emissary to Washington to plead for pressure to stop Israel.

Too late. After a lot of hesitation, and after getting explicit permission from US president Lyndon B Johnsen, the Israeli army attacked and smashed the Egyptian, the Jordanian and the Syrian forces within six days.

There were two historic results: (a) Israel became a colonial power and (b) the backbone of pan-Arab nationalism was broken.

NASSER REMAINED in power for another three years, a shadow of his former self. He obviously did some thinking.

One day my French friend, the renowned journalist Eric Rouleau, asked me to come urgently to Paris. Rouleau, an Egyptian-born Jew working for the prestigious French newspaper Le Monde, was at home with the Egyptian elite. He told me that Nasser had just given him a long interview. As agreed, he submitted the text to Nasser for confirmation prior to publication. After some consideration, Nasser struck out a crucial section: an offer to Israel to make peace. It was essentially the offer that formed the basis for the Sadat-Begin peace agreement nine years later.

But Rouleau had the full interview on tape. He offered to give me the text, so that I could transmit it to the Israeli government on condition of total secrecy.

I rushed home and called a leading member of the Israeli government, Finance Minister Pinchas Sapir, who was considered the most dovish member of the cabinet. He received me at once, listened to what I had to say and showed no interest at all. A few days later, during the Black September crisis in Jordan, Nasser suddenly died.

WITH HIM died the vision of pan-Arab nationalism, the rebirth of the Arab nation under the flag of a European idea based on rational, secular thought.

A spiritual and political vacuum was created in the Arab world. But nature, as we all know, does not tolerate empty spaces.

With Nasser dead, and after the violent end of his successors and imitators, Sadat, Mubarrak, Gaddafi and Saddam, the vacuum invited a new force: Salafi Islamism.

I have warned many times in the past that if we destroy Nasser and Arab nationalism, religious forces would come to the fore. Instead of a fight between rational enemies which can end in a rational peace, it will be the beginning of a religious war, which will by definition be irrational and allow for no compromise.

That’s where we are now. Instead of Nasser, we have Daesh. Instead of the Arab world led by a charismatic leader, who gave the Arab masses everywhere a sense of dignity and renewal, we are now facing an enemy which glorifies public beheading and wants to bring back the seventh century.

I blame Israeli and American political blindness and sheer stupidity for this dangerous development. I hope we still have enough time for it to be reversed.

Uri Avnery: Netanyahu as the magicians apprentice

Uri Avnery
August 22, 2015

* The Magician’s Apprentice*

ONE HAS to choose: Binyamin Netanyahu is either incredibly shrewd or incredibly foolish.

Take his Iran policy. Actually, there is little to choose from. Netanyahu has no other policy to speak off.

According to him, Iran constitutes a mortal danger to Israel. If it obtains a nuclear weapon, God forbid, it will use it to annihilate Israel. It must be stopped by any means, preferably by American armed intervention.

This may be quite wrong (as I believe). But it makes sense.

So what did Netanyahu do?

FOR YEARS, he alarmed the world. Every day the cry went out: Save Israel! Prevent the destruction of the Jewish State! Prevent a Second Holocaust! Prevent Iran from producing The Bomb!

The world did not take any notice. It was busy with many other matters. There are crises galore everywhere, all the time. Economic depressions. Plagues. The warming of the earth.

But Netanyahu did not let off. He used every rostrum, from the Knesset to the United States Congress, to shout his message.

At long last, a weary world paid heed. OK, the Jews warn of the Iranian bomb? So let’s do something to prevent it. Not just something. No. Let’s get all the great powers of the world together to compel Iran to end this nonsense.

And they did. The USA, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – practically the whole world – commanded Iran to start negotiations.

There was only one single issue: preventing Iran from getting The Bomb. Nothing else mattered. Compared to this giant issue, everything else was insignificant.

And then something unexpected happened. Iran’s political system replaced their loudmouth president with a very different one: a soft-spoken, eminently reasonable politician. Negotiations started, and Iran sent an even more soft-spoken, eminently reasonable diplomat to conduct them. The foreign ministers of the world were enchanted.

After playing a little hard-to-get, Iran accepted an agreement. The World got, more or less, everything it wanted. No bomb for a long time. Very intrusive inspection procedures. (They were not really needed. Up-to-date espionage techniques can quickly detect any movements toward a bomb.)

EVERYBODY WAS happy. Everybody, that is, except Netanyahu. He was furious.

What kind of an agreement is this?

The Iranians will get the bomb. If not now, then in 15 years. Or in 25. Or in 50.

The Iranians will cheat! Persians always cheat! They can’t help it! It’s in their blood! (Not like us, who built dozens of nuclear weapons in secret. After the Holocaust, we are allowed to do things like that.)

And anyway, even if they don’t get the bomb, the Iranians will get legitimization. And money. They will support anti-Israeli terrorists, like Hezbollah and Hamas. (Not very convincing, after Netanyahu had demanded concentration on The Bomb, and not on anything else.)

The huge Israeli propaganda machine was set in motion. The terrible agreement is being denounced from every rooftop. Of course we knew all the time that Barack Obama is an anti-Semite, as is John Kerry. Now we have the proof.

Actually, the play is over. An agreement signed by the entire world cannot be made to disappear with a puff from Bibi. It will be there, even if the US Congress does vote against it and overrides the presidential veto. The world is tired of Netanyahu’s whims. The man got what he wanted, so what now?!

I believe that the Iranians did not want the bomb very much anyhow. According to all available evidence, the agreement aroused joy in the streets of Tehran. The prevalent mood seems to be: “Thank Allah, at long last we’ve got rid of this whole nonsense!”

BUT THE bomb that isn’t has already caused immense damage to Israel. Much worse than if it existed in some dark cavern.

All Israelis agree that the one supreme asset Israel has is its special, unparalleled relationship with the US. It is unique.

Unique and priceless. In military terms, Israel gets the most up-to-date weapon systems, practically for nothing. No less important, Israel can not conduct any war for more than a few days without an airlift of munitions and spare parts from the US.

But that is only a small element of our national security. Even more important is the knowledge that you cannot threaten Israel without confronting the entire might of the United States. This is a formidable umbrella, the envy of the world.

More than that, every country in the world knows that if you want something from Washington DC, and especially from the US Congress, you better pass through Jerusalem and pay a price. How much is that worth?

And then there is the veto. Not the little veto Obama will use to neutralize a Congress vote against the agreement, but the Big Veto, the one that blocks every single UN Security Council resolution to censure Israel, even for actions that cry to high heaven. A 49 year old occupation. Hundreds of thousands of settlers who contravene international law. Almost daily killings.

Condemn Israel? Forget it. Sanctions against Israel? Don’t make us laugh. As long as the almighty US protects Israel, It can do whatever it wants.

All this is now put in question. Perhaps the damage has already been done, like hidden cracks in the foundations of a building. The scale of the damage may become apparent only in coming years.

Another hidden crack is the rift between Israel and a large part of the Jews around the world, especially in the US. Israel claims to be the “Nation-State of the Jewish People”. All Jews throughout the world owe it unquestioning allegiance. A mighty apparatus of “Jewish organizations” is policing the vassals. Woe to the Jew who dares to object.

Not anymore. A rift has opened within world Jewry, that probably cannot be repaired. Commanded to choose between their president and Israel, many American Jews prefer their president, or just opt out.

Who is the anti-Semite who has managed to bring all this evil about? No other than the Prime Minister of Israel himself.

DOES THIS trouble the world? Not really.

We Israelis believe that we are the center of the world. But it ain’t necessarily so.

While Israel is obsessed with the Iranian bomb, great changes are taking place in our region. The almost forgotten 13-century old rift between Sunni and Shiite Muslims has suddenly reappeared all over. This rift, almost as old as Islam itself, was plastered over by the artificial order established by the notorious colonialist Sykes-Picot agreement during World War I.

What is happening now is a political earthquake. The landscape is changing dramatically. Mountains disappear, new ones are formed. The Shiite axis, from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, to Hezbollah in Lebanon is overtaking the Sunni bloc of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Libya and Yemen are tossed around, Egypt harkens back to its glorious Pharaonic past, and in the middle of it all, a new power is raising its head – the Islamic Caliphate of Daesh, which attracts Muslim youth from all over the world.

In the middle of this raging storm, Netanyahu is a man of the past, a person whose perceptions were formed decades ago, in another world. Instead of addressing this new world, with its great dangers and great opportunities, he fumbles around with the non-existent Bomb.

The US and the other Western powers are cautiously changing their stance. They are afraid of Daesh, as they should be. They perceive that their interests are getting closer to those of Iran and further away from those of Saudi Arabia. The new nuclear agreement fits well into this pattern. Netanyahu’s permanent trouble-making does not.

IS THIS being discussed in Israel? Of course not. It’s all about the bomb, the bomb, the bomb. The little quarrels between the Muslims are more or less ignored.

Sunnis, Shiites – they are all the same. Anti-Semites. Holocaust-deniers. Israel-haters.

Yet there are great opportunities. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, as well as Egypt, are already hinting that they could cooperate with Israel. In deepest secrecy, of course. Nobody can shake hands openly with Israel as long as the Arab masses see every day on their TV sets the misdeeds of the settlers, the killings of the occupation army, the humiliation of the Palestinian brothers. Like a heavy weight tied to the leg of a swimmer, the occupation prevents us from reacting to the changes in the region.

Lately, there have been ever-stronger rumors about secret negotiations between Netanyahu and Hamas for an eight or ten year-long armistice, that would amount to an unofficial peace agreement. It would create a tiny Palestinian mini-state, while isolating even more Mahmoud Abbas and the main body of the Palestinian people, who are committed to the Arab peace plan.

All this for what? For enlarging the settlements and perhaps annexing another part of the West Bank (“Area C”).

So is the man shrewd or just foolish? A magician or just a magician’s apprentice?

Uri Avnery: Netanyahu´s divide and rule-policy

Uri Avnery
August 8, 2015

BINYAMIN NETANYAHU is not known as a classical scholar, but even so he has adopted the Roman maxim Divide et Impera, divide and rule.

The main (and perhaps only) goal of his policy is to extend the rule of Israel, as the “Nation-State of the Jewish People”, over all of Eretz Israel, the historical land of Palestine. This means ruling all of the West Bank and covering it with Jewish settlements, while denying any civil rights to its 2.5 million plus Arab inhabitants.

East Jerusalem, with its 300,000 Arab inhabitants, has already been formally annexed to Israel, without granting them Israeli citizenship or the right to take part in Knesset elections.

That leaves the Gaza Strip, a tiny enclave with 1.8 million plus Arab inhabitants, most of them descendents of refugees from Israel. The last thing in the world Netanyahu wants is to include these, too, in the Israeli imperium.

There is a historical precedent. After the 1956 Sinai War, when President Eisenhower demanded that Israel immediately return all the Egyptian territory it had conquered, many voices in Israel called for the annexation of the Gaza Strip to Israel. David Ben-Gurion adamantly refused. He did not want hundreds of thousands more Arabs in Israel. So he gave the strip too back to Egypt.

The annexation of Gaza, while keeping the West Bank, would create an Arab majority in the Jewish State. True, a small majority, but a rapidly growing one.

THE INHABITANTS of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip belong to the same Palestinian people. They are closely connected by national identity and family ties. But they are now separate entities, geographically divided by Israeli territory, which at its narrowest point is about 30 miles broad.

Both territories were occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-day War. But for many years, Palestinians could move freely from one to the other. Palestinians from Gaza could study in the university of Bir Zeit in the West Bank, a woman from Ramallah in the West Bank could marry a man from Beth Hanun in the Gaza strip.

Ironically, this freedom of movement came to an end with the 1994 Oslo “peace” agreement, in which Israel explicitly recognized the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as one single territory, and undertook to open four “free passages” between them. Not a single one was ever opened.

The West Bank is now nominally administered by the Palestinian Authority, also created by the Oslo agreement, which is recognized by the UN and the majority of the world’s nations as the State of Palestine under Israeli military occupation. Its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, a close colleague of the late Yasser Arafat, is committed to the Arab Peace plan, initiated by Saudi Arabia, which recognizes the State of Israel in its pre-1967 borders. No one doubts that he desires peace, based on the Two-State Solution.

IN 1996, GENERAL elections in both territories were won by Hamas (Arab initials of “Movement of Islamic Resistance”). Under Israeli pressure, the results were annulled. Whereupon Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. That’s where we are now: two separate Palestinian entities, whose rulers hate each other.

Superficial logic would dictate that the Israeli government support Mahmoud Abbas, who is committed to peace, and help him against Hamas, which at least officially is committed to the destruction of Israel. Well, it ain’t necessarily so.

True, Israel has fought several wars against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, but it has made no effort to occupy it again, after withdrawing from it in 2005. Netanyahu, like Ben-Gurion before him, does not want to have all those Arabs. He contents himself with a blockade that turns it into “the world’s largest open-air prison”.

Yet, a year after the last Israel-Gaza war, the region is rife with rumors about indirect negotiations going on in secret between Israel and Gaza about a long-range armistice (’hudna" in Arabic), even bordering on unofficial peace.

How come? Peace with the radical enemy regime in Gaza, while opposing the peace-oriented Palestinian Authority in the West Bank?

Sounds crazy, but actually isn’t. For Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas is the greater enemy. He attracts international sympathy, the UN and most of the world’s governments recognize his State of Palestine, he may well be on the way to establish a real independent Palestinian state, including Gaza.

No such danger emanates from the Hamas mini-state in Gaza. It is detested throughout the world, even by most of the Arab states, as a “terrorist” mini-state.

SIMPLE PRAGMATIC logic would push Israel towards Hamas. The tiny enclave does not present a real danger to the mighty Israeli military machine, at most a small irritation that can be dealt with by a small military operation every few years, as happened during the last few years.

It would be logical for Netanyahu to make unofficial peace with the regime in Gaza and continue the fight against the regime in Ramallah. Why maintain the naval blockade on the Gaza strip? Why not do the opposite? Let the Gazans build a deep-sea harbor, and rebuild their beautiful international airport (which was destroyed by Israel)? It would be easy to put in place an inspection regime to prevent the smuggling in of arms.

Once there was talk of Gaza turning into an Arab Singapore. That is a wild exaggeration, but the Gaza Strip may well become a rich oasis of trade, a harbor of entry for the West Bank, Jordan and beyond.

This would dwarf the PLO regime in the West Bank, deprive it of its international standing and avert the danger of peace. The annexation of the West Bank – now called “Judea and Samaria” even by Israeli leftists – could proceed step by step, first unofficially, then officially. Jewish settlements would cover the land more and more, and in the end nothing else would remain there except some small Palestinian enclaves. Palestinians would be encouraged to leave.

FORTUNATELY (for the Palestinians) such logical thinking is alien to Netanyahu and his cohorts. Faced with two alternatives to choose from, he chooses neither.

While seeking an unofficial hudna with Hamas in Gaza, he keeps up the total blockade of the Gaza Strip. At the same time, he tightens the oppression in the West Bank, where the occupation army now routinely kills some six Palestinians per week.

Behind this non-logic there lurks a dream: the dream that in the end all the Arabs would leave Palestine and just leave us alone.

Was this the hidden hope of Zionism from the beginning? Judging from its literature, the answer is no. In his futuristic novel, “Altneuland”, Theodor Herzl describes a Jewish commonwealth in which Arabs live happily as equal citizens. The young Ben-Gurion tried to prove that the Palestinian Arabs are really Jews who at some time had no choice but to adopt Islam. Vladimir Jabotinsky, the most extremist Zionist and forefather of today’s Likud, wrote a poem in which he foresaw a Jewish state where “The son of Arabia, the son of Nazareth and my son / will flourish together in abundance and happiness”.

Yet many people believe that these were empty words, attuned to the realities of their time, but that underneath it all was the basic will to turn all of Palestine into an exclusively Jewish state. This desire, they believe, has unconsciously directed all Zionist action from then to now.

However, this situation did not result from any diabolical Israeli plan. Israelis don’t plan things, they just push them along.

By splitting into two mutually hating entities, the Palestinian people actually collaborate with this Zionist dream. Instead of uniting against a vastly superior occupier, they undermine each other. In both mini-capitals, Ramallah and Gaza, there rules now a local ruling class, which has a vested interest in sabotaging national unity.

Instead of uniting against Israel, they hate and fight each other. Cutting the small Palestinian nation into two even smaller, mutually hostile entities, both helpless against Israel, is an act of political suicide.

ON THE face of it, the right-wing Israeli dream has won. The Palestinian people, torn apart and rent by mutual hatreds, are far removed from an effectual struggle for freedom and independence. But this is a temporary situation.

In the end, this situation will explode. The Palestine population, growing day by day (or night by night) will come together again and restart the struggle for liberation. Like every other people on earth, they will fight for their freedom.

Therefore, the “divide et impera” principle can turn into a catastrophe. The real long-term interest of Israel is to make peace with the entire Palestinian people, living peacefully in a state of their own, in close cooperation with Israel.

Uri Avnery: -The Second Battle of Trafalgar

Uri Avnery
July 4, 2015

A MIGHTY naval battle took place this week on the waves of the Mediterranean. It will go down in history as the equal of Salamis or Trafalgar.

In a daring move, the navy of the State of Israel intercepted the enemy, consisting of the trawler Marianne and the 18 people aboard. Israel naval commandos captured the ship and towed it to the harbor of Ashdod.

The admiral who commanded this glorious action has so far modestly remained anonymous. Therefore we cannot honor him with a column in the center of Tel Aviv, like Admiral Horatio Nelson’s column in London’s Trafalgar Square. Pity.

However, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu lauded the courage of the victors in glowing terms, expressing the gratitude and admiration of the nation for their gallant deed.

I WOULD continue in this vein, but even sarcasm has its limits.

The whole affair was a masterpiece of stupidity.

Five years ago, several boats tried to reach Gaza, as a symbolic act of support for the beleaguered enclave, and were let through by the Israeli navy. No one mentioned them again.

Then there came the “Turkish flotilla”. Several boats were led by the larger Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, with hundreds of Turkish and international peace activists on board. This time, Netanyahu and his minions were determined to show the world that Israel rules the waves. He ordered an attack on the flotilla.

Israeli naval commandos were lowered onto the deck of the Marmara from a helicopter, and in the ensuing mêlée nine Turks (one of them also an American citizen) were killed. A tenth died later from his wounds. All of them were unarmed but resisted violently.

The other boats were captured without violent resistance. All were brought to Ashdod harbor.

The international reaction was immense. For many, the Marmara became a symbol of Israeli brutality. The propaganda catastrophe compelled Netanyahu to release all the imprisoned activists and crew and send them on their way home.

Altogether, what could have been a negligible incident, soon forgotten, turned into a great victory for the activists. The entire world paid attention. The Gaza blockade became the center of international interest.

EVEN WORSE were the political consequences. Turkey became an enemy.

For many years, Turkey – and especially the Turkish armed forces – had been a staunch ally of Israel. Secret relations between the two non-Arab Middle Eastern powers were woven. During the reign of David Ben-Gurion, a “peripheral theory” became the cornerstone of Israel’s regional policy. Accordingly, Israel established an unofficial alliance with the non-Arab states that surround the Arab world: Kemalist Turkey, the Shah’s Iran, Ethiopia, Chad and so on.

Israel sold arms to the Turks. Joint army maneuvers were held. Eventually open diplomatic relations were established.

All this came to an end with the Marmara affair (except the military part, which continues in secret). Emotions were aroused. Turkish public opinion reacted with fury. Israel refused to pay the high indemnities demanded for the bereaved families. (Negotiations about them are still going on.)

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an adroit politician, exploited the incident in order to change fronts and reestablish Turkish influence in the Arab countries which had belonged to the late Ottoman Empire.

What did Israel gain from this incident? Nothing.

DID THE Israeli government draw any conclusions from this debacle?

How could they? For them it was not a debacle at all, but rather an admirable demonstration of Israeli prowess and determination. This week’s incident was the inevitable outcome. More will follow.

In order to weigh up the results of a hostile encounter, one has to ask what each side wanted to achieve.

The organizers of the flotillas wanted to stage a provocation, in order to draw the world’s attention to the pernicious blockade. From their point of view, the Israeli reaction serves their purpose admirably.

Netanyahu wants to keep the blockade going, drawing as little attention to it as possible. From this point of view, the attacks are counterproductive. In short, they are stupid.

THE MAIN question is, of course: Why, for God’s sake, is there a blockade at all? What purpose does it serve?

Officially, the purpose is to prevent weapons reaching the Gaza strip, so as to prevent Hamas from attacking Israel.

If so, why cause the whole drama? Boats sailing to Gaza, purportedly to supply it with medicines and food, can be searched by mutual agreement in their harbors of departure. The organizers cannot object to this without arousing suspicion.

Alternatively, the boats can be stopped on the high seas, searched and released. Such a procedure is quite usual.

The Israeli government has rejected these possibilities, thereby raising the suspicion that the purpose of the blockade is quite different. It is to prevent any supplies from reaching Gaza in order to keep the overcrowded territory totally dependent on supplies coming from Israel, which lets through only the bare necessities of life.

The hidden purpose is to let the 1.8 million inhabitants, the majority descendents of refugees from Israel, vegetate on the brink of starvation, in order to induce them to rise up and overthrow the Hamas authorities. If so, it has been a miserable failure. On the contrary, under the cruel pressure, the inhabitants seem to draw ever closer to Hamas. After all, Hamas is not a foreign invader, but the brothers and sons of the inhabitants.

Leaving aside the question whether the blockade is legal under international law, it certainly has not fulfilled its promise. The rule of Hamas in Gaza seems to be as solid as ever.

THIS BEING so, one might raise the opposite option. Why not lift the blockade altogether? (Gasp!)

I can imagine a situation of open borders and open sea. Food, medicines, building materials and everything else, except arms, flowing into the Strip from all directions – by sea and by land from Egypt and Israel.

Why not let the Gazans build a harbor or obtain a floating harbor? Why not let them reactivate their airport? The beautiful building they once built near Dahaniya was destroyed by our armed forces. Why not build it again?

Simple logic dictates that the more the people of Gaza have to lose, the less will they be inclined to provoke another war. If we really want quiet and tranquility, that is the way.

Yes, but what about arms? Establish strict supervision by international inspectors. That has been done before in history. No problem.

BEHIND THE tactical stupidity of this whole affair there lurks a much larger strategic stupidity.

The air of the Middle East is full of rumors about an ongoing secret effort to forge an Israel-Hamas armistice, even a kind of alliance.

This is based on the disinclination of the Israeli government to re-conquer the Gaza strip, with its 1.8 million Palestinian Arabs. It’s not only a problem of security – a guerrilla war by Hamas would be certain – but something much worse. What really frightens all Israeli governments, right and left, is demography. 1.8 million more Arabs, multiplying all the time? A nightmare for Zionists!

In all the dreams about the annexation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip is always left outside. True, it is geographically and historically part of “Eretz Israel”, but who wants it? To hell with it!

Our present government, composed of extreme right-wingers, wants to eventually annex the West Bank, with as few Arab Palestinians as possible. Because of this, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is a far more dangerous enemy of Netanyahu and his ilk than Hamas. Abbas attracts international recognition. He enjoys growing UN and US support.

By this logic, Netanyahu could be expected to fight Abbas and support Hamas in creating a separate mini-state in Gaza. But he behaves like a child who has to choose between two sweets: he wants both.

So he tries to undermine Abbas while at the same time fighting his glorious battles on the high seas against Hamas. But he is also engaged in secret negotiations with his new friends, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, in order to forge a long-term armistice (“hudna”) with Hamas.

Complicated? Indeed.

SOMETHING PERSONAL: I have been asked why I was not on the boat that tried to run the blockade this week.

Frankly, I would have loved to go. I love the sea. I love boats. I would have enjoyed the company of the former Tunisian prime minister and the Arab member of the Knesset who were on the boat. Breaking the blockade would have appealed to me very much.

The trouble is that the organizers of these flotillas insist on a political program that negates the existence of the State of Israel. Much like the organizers of the BDS, they insist on the One-State chimera.

I believe in peace. Peace means peace between the two states: Israel and Palestine. I support the Palestinian struggle for independence as part of my struggle for a peaceful, democratic Israel.

So I missed the Second Battle of Trafalgar.

Uri Avnery: War Crimes? Us???

Uri Avnery
June 27, 2015

WAR IS HELL!” the US general George Patton famously exclaimed.

War is the business of killing the “enemy”, in order to impose your will on them.

Therefore, “humane war” is an oxymoron.

War itself is a crime. There are few exceptions. I would exempt the war against Nazi Germany, since it was conducted against a regime of mass murderers, led by a psychopathic dictator, who could not be brought to heel by any other means.

This being so, the concept of “war crimes” is dubious. The biggest crime is starting the war in the first place. This is not the business of soldiers, but of political leaders. Yet they are rarely indicted.

THESE PHILOSOPHICAL musings came to me in the wake of the recent UN report on the last Gaza war.

The investigation committee bent over backwards to be “balanced”, and accused both the Israeli army and Hamas in almost equal terms. That, in itself, is problematic.

This was not a war between equals. On one side, the State of Israel, with one of the mightiest armies in the world. On the other side, a stateless population of 1.8 million people, led by a guerrilla organization devoid of any modern arms.

Any equating of such two entities is by definition contrived. Even if both sides committed grievous war crimes, they are not the same. Each must be judged on its own (de)merits.

THE IDEA of “war crimes” is relatively new. It arose during the 30 Years War, which devastated a large part of Central Europe. Many armies took part, and all of them destroyed towns and villages without the slightest compunction. As a result, two thirds of Germany were devastated and a third of the German people was killed.

Hugo de Groot, a Dutchman, argued that even in war, civilized nations are bound by certain limitations. He was not a starry-eyed idealist, divorced from reality. His main principle, as I understand it, was that it makes no sense to forbid actions that help a warring country [or “party”] to pursue the war, but that any cruelty not necessary for the efficient conduct of the war is illegitimate.

This idea took hold. During the 18th century, endless wars were conducted by professional armies, without hurting civilian populations unnecessarily. Wars became “humane”.

Not for long. With the French revolution, war became a matter of mass armies, the protection of civilians slowly eroded, until it disappeared entirely in World War II, when whole cities were destroyed by unlimited aerial bombardment (Dresden and Hamburg) and the atom bomb (Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Even so, a number of international conventions prohibit war crimes that target civilian populations or hurt the population in occupied territories.

That was the mandate of this committee of investigation.

THE COMMITTEE castigates Hamas for committing war crimes against the Israeli population.

Israelis didn’t need the committee to know that. A large share of Israeli citizens spent hours in shelters during the Gaza war, under the threat of Hamas rockets.

Hamas launched thousands of rockets towards towns and villages in Israel. These were primitive rockets, which could not be aimed at specific targets – like the Dimona nuclear installation or the Ministry of Defense which is located in the center of Tel Aviv. They were meant to terrorize the civilian population into demanding a stop to the attack on the Gaza strip.

They did not achieve this goal because Israel had installed a number of “Iron Dome” counter-rocket batteries, that intercepted almost all rockets heading for civilian targets. Success was almost complete.

If they are brought before the International Court in The Hague, the Hamas leaders will argue that they had no choice: they had no other weapons to oppose the Israeli invasion. As a Palestinian commander once told me: “Give us cannons and fighter planes, and we will not use terrorism.”

The International Court will then have to decide whether a people that is practically under an endless occupation is allowed to use indiscriminate rockets. Considering the principles laid down by de Groot, I wonder what the decision will be.

That goes for terrorism in general, if used by an oppressed people that has no other means of fighting. The black South Africans used terrorism in their fight against the oppressive apartheid regime, and Nelson Mandela spent 28 years in prison for taking part in such acts und refusing to condemn them.

THE CASE against the Israeli government and army is quite different. They have a plentitude of arms, from drones to warplanes to artillery to tanks.

If there was a cardinal war crime in this war, it was the cabinet decision to start it. Because an Israeli arrack on the Gaza Strip makes war crimes unavoidable.

Anyone who has ever been a combat soldier in war knows that war crimes, whether in the most moral or the most base army in the world, do occur in war. No army can avoid recruiting psychologically defective people. In every company there is at least one pathological specimen. If there are not very strict rules, exercised by very strict commanders, crimes will occur.

War brings out the inner man (or woman, nowadays). A well-behaved, educated man will suddenly turn into a ferocious beast. A simple, lowly laborer will reveal himself as a decent, generous human being. Even in the “Most Moral Army in the World” – an oxymoron if there ever was one.

I was a combat soldier in the 1948 war. I have seen an eyeful of crimes, and I have described them in my 1950 book “The Other Side of the Coin”.

THIS GOES for every army. In our army during the last Gaza war, the situation was even worse.

The reasons for the attack on the Gaza Strip were murky. Three Israeli kids were captured by Arab men, obviously for the sake of achieving a prisoner exchange. The Arabs panicked and killed the boys. The Israelis responded, the Palestinians responded, and lo – the cabinet decided on a full-fledged attack.

Our cabinet includes nincompoops, most of whom have no idea what war is. They decided to attack the Gaza Strip.

This decision was the real war crime.

The Gaza Strip is a tiny territory, overcrowded by a bloated population of 1.8 million human beings, about half of them descendents of refugees from areas that became Israel in the 1948 war.

In any circumstances, such an attack was bound to result in a large number of civilian casualties. But another fact made this even worse.

ISRAEL IS a democratic state. Leaders have to be elected by the people. The voters consist of the parents and grandparents of the soldiers, members of both regular and reserve units.

This means that Israel is inordinately sensitive to casualties. If a large number of soldiers are killed in action, the government will fall.

Therefore it is the maxim of the Israeli army to avoid casualties at any cost – any cost to the enemy, that is. To save one soldier, it is permissible to kill ten, twenty, a hundred civilians on the other side.

This rule, unwritten and self-understood, is symbolized by the “Hannibal Procedure” – the code-word for preventing at any cost the taking of an Israeli soldier prisoner. Here, too, a “democratic” principle is at work: no Israeli government can withstand public pressure to release many dozens of Palestinian prisoners in return for the release of one Israeli one. Ergo: prevent a soldier from being taken prisoner, even if the soldier himself is killed in the process.

Hannibal allows – indeed, commands – the wreaking of untold destruction and killing, in order to prevent a captured soldier from being spirited away. This procedure is itself a war crime.

A responsible cabinet, with a minimum of combat experience, would know all this at the moment it was called upon to decide on a military operation. If they don’t know, it is the duty of the army [or “military”] commanders – who are present at such cabinet meetings – to explain it to them. I wonder if they did.

ALL THIS means that, once started, the results were almost unavoidable. To make an attack without serious Israeli casualties possible, entire neighborhoods had to be flattened by drones, planes and artillery. And that obviously happened.

Inhabitants were often warned to flee, and many did. Others did not, being loath to leave behind everything precious to them. Some people flee in the moment of danger, others hope against hope and stay.

I would ask the reader to imagine himself for a moment in such a situation.

Add to this the human element – the mixture of humane and sadistic men, good and bad, you find in any combat unit all over the world, and you get the picture.

Once you start a war, “stuff happens”, as the man said. There may be more war crimes or less, but there will be a lot.

ALL THIS could have been told to the UN committee of inquiry, headed by an American judge, by the chiefs of the Israeli army, had they been allowed to testify. The government did not allow them.

The convenient way out is to proclaim that all UN officials are by nature anti-Semites and Israel-haters, so that answering their questions is counterproductive.

We are moral. We are right. By nature. We can’t help it. Those who accuse us must be anti-Semites. Simple logic.

To hell with them all!

Uri Avnery: Who will save Israel?

Uri Avnery
May 23, 2015

THE BATTLE is over. The dust has settled. A new government – partly ridiculous, partly terrifying – has been installed.

It is time to take stock.

The net result is that Israel has given up all pretense of desiring peace and that Israeli democracy has suffered a blow from which it may never recover.

ISRAELI GOVERNMENTS – with the possible exception of Yitzhak Rabin’s – have never really desired peace. The peace that is possible.

Peace, of course, means accepting fixed borders. In the founding declaration of the state, which was read out by David Ben-Gurion on May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv, any mention of borders was deliberately omitted. Ben Gurion was not ready to accept the borders fixed by the UN partition resolution, because they provided only for a tiny Jewish state. Ben-Gurion foresaw that the Arabs would start a war, and he was determined to use this for enlarging the territory of the state.

This indeed happened. When the war ended in early 1949 with armistice agreements based on the final battle lines, Ben-Gurion could have accepted them as final borders. He refused. Israel has remained a state without borders that it recognizes itself – perhaps the only one in the world.

This is one of the reasons for the fact that Israel has no peace agreement with the Palestinian nation. It did sign official peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, based on the internationally recognized borders between the former British government of Palestine and its neighbors. No such borders are accepted by the Israeli government between Israel and the undefined Palestinian entity. All Israeli governments have always refused even to indicate where such borders should run. The much-praised Oslo agreement was no exception. Rabin, too, refused to draw a final line.

This refusal remains government policy. On the eve of the recent elections, Binyamin Netanyahu unequivocally declared that during his term of office – which for him means until his demise – no Palestinian state would come into being. Thus, the occupied territories would remain under Israeli rule.

No peace agreement will ever be signed by this government.

NO PEACE means attempting to keep the territorial status quo frozen forever, except that settlements will continue to grow and multiply.

This is not the situation concerning democracy. It is not frozen.

Israel is famously “the Only Democracy in the Middle East”. That is practically its second official name.

It is debatable how a state that dominates another people, depriving it of all human rights, not to mention citizenship, can be called a democracy. But Jewish Israelis have been used to this for 48 years, and just ignore this fact.

Now the situation inside Israel proper is about to change drastically.

Two facts attest to this.

First of all, Ayelet Shaked has been appointed Minister of Justice. One of the most extreme right-wing Israelis, she has not made a secret of the fact that she wants to destroy the independence of the Supreme Court, the last bastion of human rights.

This court has managed, throughout the years, to become a major force in Israeli life. Since Israel has no written constitution, the Supreme Court has succeeded, under strong and determined leadership, in assuming the role of the guardian of human and civil rights, even annulling democratically adopted Knesset laws that contradict the imagined constitution.

Shaked has announced that she would put an end to this impertinence.

The court has survived many onslaughts because its composition cannot be easily changed. Contrary to the practice in the US, which looks scandalous to us, judges are appointed by a committee, in which politicians are held in check by incumbent judges. Shaked wants to change this practice, stuffing the committee with politicians loyal to the government.

The court is already cowed. Lately it has made a number of ignoble decisions, such as outlawing calls for boycotting the settlements. But this is still heaven compared to what is bound to happen in the near future.

PERHAPS WORSE is Netanyahu’s decision to retain for himself the Ministry of Communication.

This ministry has always been disdained as a low-level office, reserved for political lightweights. Netanyahu’s dogged insistence on retaining it for himself is ominous.

The communication Ministry controls all TV stations, and indirectly newspapers and other media. Since all Israeli media are in very bad shape financially, this control may become deadly.

Netanyahu’s patron – some say owner – Sheldon Adelson, the would-be dictator of the US Republican party, already publishes a give-away newspaper in Israel, which has only one sole aim: to support Netanyahu personally against all enemies, including his competitors in his own Likud party. The paper – “Israel Hayom” (Israel Today) – is already Israel’s widest-circulation newspaper, with the American casino king pouring into it untold millions.

Netanyahu is determined to break all opposition in the electronic and written media. Opposition commentators are well advised to look for jobs elsewhere. Channel 10, considered slightly more critical of Netanyahu than its two competitors, is due to be closed at the end of this month.

One cannot avoid an odious analogy. One of the key terms in the Nazi lexicon was the atrocious German word Gleichschaltung – meaning connecting all media to the same energy source. All newspapers and radio stations (TV did not yet exist) were staffed with Nazis. Every morning, a Propaganda Ministry official by the name of Dr. Dietrich convened the editors and told them what tomorrow’s headlines, editorials etc. were to be.

Netanyahu has already dismissed the chief of the TV department. We don’t yet know the name of our own Dr. Dietrich.

As a humorous counterpoint, Miri Regev has been appointment Minister of Culture. Regev is a loud-mouthed woman, whose vulgar style has become a national symbol. No one can even guess how she had become the army spokesperson. Her style, such as concluding every public utterance with the call “Applause!”, has become a joke.

THE MOST efficient instrument of de-democratization is the education ministry (which is not efficient in anything else.)

Israel has several education systems, all of them financed – and hence controlled – by the Education Ministry.

Two systems belong to the government outright: the general “state” system and the autonomous “religious state” system.

Then there are two orthodox systems, one Ashkenazi and one Oriental. In some of these, only religious subjects are taught – no languages, no mathematics, no non-Jewish history. This makes alumni unfit for any employment. They remain dependent on their religious community’s handouts forever.

Before the state came into being, there was also a leftist system with socialist values, especially in the kibbutzim. This was abolished by David Ben-Gurion in the name of “statism”.

The last government tried in a timid way to compel the orthodox to introduce “core studies” into their schools, such as arithmetic and English. This has been abandoned now, since the orthodox have become members of the government coalition.

The real battle, which is starting now, is about the “general” state schools, which have been free to some extent. My late wife, Rachel, was a teacher in such a school for almost 30 years, and did what she wanted, trying to instill in her pupils’ minds humanist and liberal values.

Not any more. Israel’s most extreme nationalist-religious leader, Naftali Bennett, has now been installed as Minister of Education. He has already announced that his main objective is to imbue the young with a nationalist-Zionist spirit, raising a generation of real Israeli patriots. No mention of humanism, liberalism, human rights, social values or any other such nonsense.

Netanyahu has also retained the Foreign Ministry in his own hands. Many of its functions have been dispersed between six other ministries. The pretext is that Netanyahu is keeping the prestigious ministry open for Labor Party leader Yitzhak Herzog, who he is pretending to invite into the government. Herzog has already loudly refused. (I suppose that the real owner of the government, Sheldon Adelson, would not allow him in anyway.)

Netanyahu’s real aim is to prevent any potential competitor from gaining international and national prestige in this position. He does conduct foreign policy alone anyhow.

ALTOGETHER, A deeply troubling picture for anyone who loves Israel.

It is not so much that the balance of power in Israel has changed (it has not) but that the worst elements of the Right have taken over, pushing out almost all right-wing moderates. Until now, these extreme elements had been subdued, talking loudly but carrying a small stick. This has now changed. The extreme right has found its self-assurance, and is determined to use its power.

The Israeli Left (timidly calling itself “center-left”) has lost its spirit. Its only hope is “foreign pressure”. Especially from the White House. Barack Obama hates Netanyahu. Any time now, American pressure will be applied and save Israel from itself.

That’s a comfortable thought. We don’t have to do anything. Salvation will come from the outside, deus ex machina. Halleluja.

Unfortunately, I am a non-believer. What I see is the US increasing its support of the Netanyahu regime, offering huge new arms deliveries as “compensation” for the budding Iran nuclear deal. John Kerry, humiliated by Netanyahu and treated with open contempt, is groveling somewhere at our feet. Obama boasts that he has done more for “Israel” (meaning the Israeli Right) than any other president.

Salvation will not come from that direction. God will remain in the machine.

THERE IS only one kind of salvation: the one we carry inside us.

Some hope for a catastrophe that will cause people to open their eyes. I don’t wish for catastrophes.

I don’t want Israel to become a replica of al-Sisi’s Egypt, Erdogan’s Turkey or Putin’s Russia.

I believe we can save Israel – but only if we get up from the couch and play our part.

Segregation in Israeli courts

The race segregation in Israeli buses turned out to be a public relations disaster for the government, and PM Benjamin Netanyahu stated that the arrangement would be suspended. However, the segregation on buses is not cancelled. Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, has made it clear that this is a temporary suspension, not a cancellation of segregation.

Much worse discrimination is the segregate judicial system: A civil system for Israeli settlers and their children, and military courts for the Palestinians living in the territories occupied by Israel.

Since 1967, Israel has colonised these occupied territories, even though to do so, is forbidden according to International law. In these occupied territories; East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, there is one civil law for Israeli settlers, and a military jurisdiction for Palestinians. A child of an Israeli settler throwing stones, and a child of a Palestinian doing the same thing, will therefore face two quite different judicial systems.

There’s a group of lawyers and human rights activists, Military Courts Watch, working to improve the treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military courts, in military and police custody and in the prisons.

They have covered the segregation issue here.

Uri Avnery: A boy called Bibi

Uri Avnery
May 2, 2015

THERE ARE two different opinions about Binyamin Netanyahu. It is difficult to believe that they concern the same person.

One is that Netanyahu is a shallow politician, devoid of ideas and convictions, who is led solely by his obsession to remain in power. This Netanyahu has a good voice and a talent for making shallow speeches on television, speeches devoid of any intellectual content – and that’s all.

This Netanyahu is highly “pressurable” (a Hebrew word invented almost solely for him), a man who will change his views according to political expediency, disclaiming in the evening what he has said in the morning. None of his words should be trusted. He will lie and cheat anytime to assure his survival.

The other Netanyahu is almost the exact opposite. A principled patriot, a serious thinker, a statesman who sees danger beyond the horizon. This Netanyahu is a gifted orator, able to move the US Congress and the UN plenum, admired by the great mass of Israelis.

So which of these descriptions is true?

Neither.

IF IT is true that the character of a person is shaped by his early childhood, we must examine the background of Netanyahu in order to understand him.

He grew up in the shadow of a strong father. Benzion Millikowsky, who changed his foreign name to the Hebrew Netanyahu, was a very dominant and very unhappy person. Born in Warsaw, then a provincial town in the Russian Empire, he immigrated to Palestine as a young man, studied history at the new Hebrew University in Jerusalem and expected to become a professor there. He was not accepted.

Benzion was the son of an early adherent of Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky, the extreme rightist Zionist leader. He inherited from his father a very extremist outlook, and passed it on to his three sons. Binyamin was the second one. His elder brother, still a child himself, called him Bibi, and the childish appellation stuck.

Benzion’s rejection by the prestigious young Hebrew University turned him into a bitter man, a bitterness that lasted until his death in 2012, at age 102. He was sure that this rejection had nothing to do with his academic qualification, and everything with his ultra-nationalist opinions.

His extreme Zionism did not stop him leaving Palestine and seeking his academic luck in the United States, where a second-rate university gave him a professorship. His life’s work as a historian concerned the fate of the Jews in medieval Christian Spain – the expulsion and inquisition. It engendered in him a very dark world view: the conviction that Jews will always be persecuted, that all Goyim (non-Jews) hate the Jews, that a straight line connects the auto-da-fé of the Spanish inquisition with the Nazi Holocaust.

During the years, the Netanyahu family went back and forth between the US and Israel. Binyamin grew up in America, acquired perfect American English, essential for his future career, studied and became a salesman. His obvious talent for this profession attracted a Likud foreign minister, who sent him to the UN as Israeli spokesman.

BENZION NETANYAHU was not only a very bitter person, who accused the Zionist and Israeli academic establishment of failing to recognize his academic stature. He was also a very autocratic family man.

The three Netanyahu boys lived in constant awe of Father. They were not allowed to make any noise at home while the Great Man worked in his closed study. They were not allowed to bring other boys home. Their mother was completely devoted to her husband and served him in every way, sacrificing her own personality.

In every family, the second child of three is in a difficult position. He is not admired like the eldest, nor indulged like the youngest. For Binyamin this was especially hard, because of the personality of the eldest.

Yonatan Netanyahu (both names mean “God has given”) seems to have been a specially blessed boy. He was good-looking, gifted, much liked, even admired. In the army, he became the commander of the revered Sayeret Matkal (“General Staff Commando Unit”) – the elite of the army’s elite.

As such he was the ground commander of the daring 1976 Entebbe commando raid in Uganda, which liberated the captive passengers of a flight hijacked by Palestinian and German guerillas on the way to Israel. Yonatan was killed and became a national hero. He was also adored by his father, who never quite accepted the qualities of his second son.

Between his father, the embittered Great Thinker, and his elder brother, the Legendary Hero, Binyamin grew up as a quiet but very ambitious boy, part Israeli, part American. He worked for some time as a furniture salesman, until he was discovered by the far-right Likud foreign minister, Moshe Arens.

Between his obsessive need to be approved by his father and to be found equal to his glorious brother, Netanyahu’s own character was forged. His father never quite appreciated him, once saying that he would make a good foreign minister, but not a prime minister.

Being his father’s son, Netanyahu incited the people against Yitzhak Rabin after the Oslo Agreement and was photographed on the speaker’s balcony during the demonstration in which a symbolic coffin of Rabin was carried around. Soon after, when Rabin was murdered, he denied all responsibility.

Rabin’s successor, Shimon Peres, failed miserably, and Netanyahu became prime minister. It was a total catastrophe. On the evening after the next elections, when it be came clear that he had lost, multitudes streamed to Tel Aviv’s central square (now named after Rabin) in a spontaneous demonstration of joy like that at the liberation of Paris.

His successor, Labor’s Ehud Barak, had no more luck. A former army Chief of Staff, admired by many and especially by himself, he compelled President Bill Clinton to convene an Israeli-Palestinian peace conference at Camp David. Barak, who was quite ignorant of Palestinian attitudes, came to dictate his terms and was shocked when they were rejected. Coming home, he declared that the Palestinians want to throw us into the sea. Hearing this, the public threw him out and elected the tough far-right general, Ariel Sharon, the founder of Likud.

Netanyahu became Minister of Finance. As such he was quite successful. Applying the neo-liberal ultra-capitalist teaching he had absorbed in the US, he made the poor poorer and the rich richer. The poor seemed to liked it.

Sharon was the father of the settlements in the West Bank. To strengthen these, he decided to give up the Gaza Strip with its few settlements, which were a disproportional drag on the army. But his unilateral retreat from the Gaza Strip shocked the rightist camp. The elder Netanyahu called the move a “crime against humanity”.

Inpatient with opposition, Sharon split the Likud and founded his own Kadima (“Forwards”) party. Netanyahu again became the leader of Likud.

As usual, he was lucky. Sharon suffered a stroke and fell into a coma, from which he never recovered. His successor, Ehud Olmert, was accused of corruption and had to resign. The next in line, Tzipi Livni, was incompetent and unable to form a government, though all the ingredients were there.

Netanyahu, the man who was kicked out just a few years earlier by the cheering masses, came back as an imperator. Again the masses cheered. Shakespeare would have loved it.

SINCE THEN, Netanyahu has been elected again and again. The last time was a clear personal victory. He vanquished all his competitors on the Right.

So who is this Netanyahu? Contrary to popular opinion, he is a man of very strong beliefs – the beliefs of his far-right father. The entire world is out to kill us at all times, we need a powerful state to defend ourselves, all of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan has been given us by God (whether he exists or not). Everything else is lies, subterfuges, tactics.

When, in a famous speech at Bar-Ilan university near Tel Aviv, Netanyahu embraced the principle of “Two States for Two Peoples”, those who knew him could only smile. It was as if he had recommended the eating of pork on Yom Kippur.

He dangled this statement before the eyes of the naive Americans and let his Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, lead endless negotiations with the Palestinians, whom he despises. Whenever it seemed that the negotiations were nearing some goal, he quickly put up another condition, such us the ridiculous demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People. He would not dream, of course, of recognizing the Palestinian territories as the Nation State of the Palestinian People – a people he does not really believe exists at all.

On the eve of the last election, just now, Netanyahu announced that there would not be a Palestinian state as long as he was in power. When the Americans remonstrated, he repudiated himself. Why not? As his Likud predecessor, Yitzhak Shamir, famously said, “It is permitted to lie for the Fatherland.”

Netanyahu will lie, cheat, repudiate himself, raise false flags – all for the purpose of achieving his one and only real goal, the Rock of our Existence (as he loves to say), the heritage of his father – the Jewish State from the sea to the river.

THE TROUBLE is that in this area, the Arabs are already the majority, a small majority, but one that is bound to grow steadily.

A Jewish and democratic state in the entire country is impossible. The popular joke has it that this is too much even for God. So He decreed that we have to choose two of the three attributes: a Jewish and democratic state in part of the country, a Jewish state in all of the country that will not be democratic, or a democratic state in all of the country that will not be Jewish.

Netanyahu’s solution to this problem is to ignore it. Just go on, enlarge the settlements, and concentrate on the immediate problem: install his fourth government and plan for his fifth, four years from now.

And, of course, show his father, who is looking down on him from heaven, that after all little Bibi, his second son, is worthy of him.

Uri Avnery: -There Are Still Judges...

April 18, 2015

THIS WEEK I won a dubious distinction: a groundbreaking Supreme Court judgment has been named after me.

It is an honor I would have gladly dispensed with.

MY NAME appeared at the head of a list of applicants, associations and individuals, which asked the court to cancel a law enacted by the Knesset.

Israel has no written constitution. This unusual situation arose right from the beginning of the state because David Ben-Gurion, a fierce secularist, could not achieve a compromise with the orthodox parties, which insisted that the Torah already is a constitution.

So, instead of a constitution, we have a number of Basic Laws which cover only a part of the ground, and a mass of Supreme Court precedents. This court slowly arrogated to itself the right to abolish Laws enacted by the Knesset which contradict the nonexistent constitution.

STARTING FROM the last Knesset, extreme right-wing Likud Members have been competing with each other in their efforts to castrate the Supreme Court one way or another. Some would stuff the court with right-wing judges, others would radically limit its jurisdiction.

Things came to a head when a group of far-right Likud members launched a veritable avalanche of bills which were clearly unconstitutional. One of them, and the most dangerous one, was a law that forbade people to call for a boycott of the State of Israel and, in a sinister way, added the words “and of territories held by it”.

This revealed the real aim of the operation. Some years before, our Gush Shalom peace organization had called on the public to boycott the products of the settlements in the occupied territories. We also published on our website a list of these products. Several other peace organizations joined the campaign.

Simultaneously, we tried to convince the European Union to do something similar. Israel’s agreement with the EU, which exempts Israeli wares from customs, does not include the settlements. But the EU was used to closing its eyes. It took us a lot of time and effort to open them again. In recent years, the EU has excluded these goods. They have demanded that on all merchandise “made in Israel”, the actual place of origin be stated. This week, 16 European foreign ministers called upon the EU foreign affairs chief to demand that all products from the settlements be clearly marked.

The law passed by the Knesset not only has criminal aspects, but also civil ones. Persons calling for a boycott could not only be sent to prison. They could also be ordered to pay huge damages without the plaintiff having to prove that any actual damage had been caused to him or her by the call.

Also, associations which receive government subsidies or other governmental assistance under existing laws would be deprived of them from then on, making their work for peace and social justice even more difficult.

WITHIN MINUTES after the enactment of this law, Gush Shalom and I personally submitted our applications to the Supreme Court. They had been prepared well in advance by advocate Gaby Lasky, a talented young lawyer and dedicated peace activist. My name was the first in the list of petitioners, and so the case is called: “Avnery v. the State of Israel”.

The case laid out by Lasky was logical and sound. The right of free speech is not guaranteed in Israel by any specific law, but is derived from several Basic Laws. A boycott is a legitimate democratic action. Any individual can decide to buy or not to buy something. Indeed, Israel is full of boycotts. Shops selling non-kosher food, for example, are routinely boycotted by the religious, and posters calling for such boycotts of a specific shop are widely distributed in religious neighborhoods.

The new law does not prohibit boycotts in general. It singles out political boycotts of a certain kind. Yet political boycotts are commonplace in any democracy. They are part of the exercise of freedom of speech.

Indeed, the most famous modern boycott was launched by the Jewish community in the United States in 1933, after the Nazis came to power in Germany. In response, the Nazis called for a boycott of all Jewish enterprises in Germany. I remember the date, April 1, because my father did not allow me to go to school on that day (I was 9 years old and the only Jew in my school.)

Later, all progressive countries joined in a boycott of the racist regime in South Africa. That boycott played a large (though not decisive) role in bringing it down.

A law cannot generally compel a person to buy a normal commodity, nor can it generally forbid them to buy it. Even the framers of this new Israeli law understood this. Therefore, their law does not punish anybody for buying or not buying. It punishes those who call on others to abstain from buying.

Thus the law is clearly an attack on the freedom of speech and on non-violent democratic action. In short, it is a basically flawed anti-democratic law.

THE COURT which judged our case consisted of nine judges, almost the entire Supreme Court. Such a composition is very rare, and only summoned when a fateful decision has to be made.

The court was headed by its president, Judge Asher Gronis. That in itself was significant, since Gronis already left the court and went into compulsory retirement in January, when he reached the age of 70. When the seat became vacant, Gronis was already too old to become the court president. Under the then existing Israeli law, a Supreme Court judge cannot become the court’s president when the time for his final retirement is too close. But the Likud was so eager to have him that a special enabling law was passed to allow him to become the president.

Moreover, a judge who has been on a case but did not finish his judgment in time before retiring, is given an extra three months to finish the job. It seems that even Gronis, the Likud’s protégé, had qualms about this specific decision. He signed it literally at the very last moment – at 17.30 hours of the last day, just before Israel went into mourning at the start of Holocaust Day.

His signature was decisive. The court was split – 4 to 4 – between those who wanted to annul the law and those who wanted to uphold it. Gronis joined the pro-law section and the law was approved. It is now the Law of the Land.

One section of the original law was, unanimously, stricken from the text. The original text said that any person – i.e. settler – who claims that they have been harmed by the boycott, can claim unlimited indemnities from anyone who has called for this boycott, without having to prove that they were actually hurt. From now on, a claimant has to prove the damage.

At the public hearing of our case, we were asked by the judges if we would be satisfied if they strike out the words “territories held by Israel”, thus leaving the boycott of the settlements intact. We answered that in principle we insist on annulling the entire law, but would welcome the striking out of these words. But in the final judgment, even this was not done.

This, by the way, creates an absurd situation. If a professor in Ariel University, deep in the occupied territories, claims that I have called to boycott him, he can sue me. Then my lawyer will try to prove that my call went quite unheeded and therefore caused no damage, while the professor will have to prove that my voice was so influential that multitudes were induced to boycott him.
YEARS AGO, when I was still Editor-in-Chief of Haolam Hazeh, the news-magazine, I decided to choose Aharon Barak as our Man of the Year.

When I interviewed him, he told me how his life was saved during the Holocaust. He was a child in the Kovno ghetto, when a Lithuanian farmer decided to smuggle him out. This simple man risked his own life and the lives of his family when he hid him under a load of potatoes to save his life.

In Israel, Barak rose to eminence as a jurist, and eventually became the president of the Supreme Court. He led a revolution called “Juristic Activism”, asserting, among other things, that the Supreme Court is entitled to strike out any law that negates the (unwritten) Israeli constitution.

It is impossible to overrate the importance of this doctrine. Barak did for Israeli democracy perhaps more than any other person. His immediate successors – two women – abided by this rule. That’s why the Likud was so eager to put Gronis in his place. Gronis’ doctrine can be called “Juristic Passivism”.

During my interview with him, Barak told me: “Look, the Supreme Court has no legions to enforce its decisions. It is entirely dependent on the attitude of the people. It can go no further than the people are ready to accept!”

I constantly remember this injunction. Therefore I was not too surprised by the judgment of the Supreme Court in the boycott case.

The Court was afraid. It’s as simple as that. And as understandable.

The fight between the Supreme Court and the Likud’s far-right is nearing a climax. The Likud has just won a decisive election victory. Its leaders are not hiding their intention to finally implement their sinister designs on the independence of the Court.

They want to allow politicians to dominate the appointment committee for Supreme Court judges and to abolish altogether the right of the court to annul unconstitutional laws enacted by the Knesset.

MENACHEM BEGIN used to quote the miller of Potsdam who, when involved with the King in a private dispute, exclaimed: “There are still judges in Berlin!”

Begin said: “There are still judges in Jerusalem!”

For how long?

Uri Avnery: -If the left wants to win, it must reform itself!

Uri Avnery
March 21, 2015

THE MESSIAH HASN’T COME and Bibi hasn’t gone.

That’s the sad outcome.

Sad, but not the end of the world.

As the American saying goes: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

I would say: “Today is the first day of the battle for the next elections!”

The battle for the salvation of Israel must start right now.

SOME PEOPLE say that the best course now is a so-called National Unity Government.

Looks like a nice idea. Unity always sounds nice.

I can muster some good arguments for it. The combination of the two major parties creates a bloc of 54 seats (of 120). Such a coalition needs only one other party to form a majority. There are several possibilities, headed by Moshe Kahlon’s 10 seats.

The advocates of this choice have one good argument: it’s the Lesser Evil. The only other possibility is an extreme right-wing-religious government, which will not only stop any step towards peace, but also expand settlements, enact more laws to choke democracy and impose reactionary religious laws.

It’s a good argument, but it has to be rejected outright.

The Unity Government would be dominated by the Right. At best it would be a government of total immobility. It would be unable and unwilling to make even the slightest move towards ending the historic conflict, terminating the occupation and recognition of Palestine. Settlements would expand at a frantic pace. The chances of an eventual peace would move even further away.

It would do a lot of harm. The Labor Party would be obliged to justify and beautify this disastrous course, disarm the Obama administration and progressive Jewish forces throughout the world. It would be a huge fig leaf for evil.

It would also leave Israel without an effective opposition. If the government coalition broke up somewhere along the way, the Labor party would be too besmirched to constitute a credible alternative. The initial success of Yitzhak Herzog in rousing the old party from its comatose state cannot be repeated a second time. Labor would become a spent force, a vegetable.

Fortunately for the Labor Party, this possibility died almost immediately after the election. Netanyahu killed it with one stroke.

BY THE way, a curious side effect of a National Unity Government would have been that the leader of the (Arab) Joint List, Ayman Odeh, would have become Leader of the Opposition.

By law, the title is bestowed automatically on the chief of the largest opposition party. It confers on its holders many of the privileges of a cabinet minister. The Prime Minister is obliged to confer with them regularly and share government secrets with them.

But even if there is no Unity Government, and Herzog becomes Leader of the Opposition, one outstanding result of the election is the changed situation of the Arabs in the Knesset.

There is a certain humor to this. It was Avigdor Lieberman, the almost pathological Arab-hater, who induced the Knesset to raise the minimum threshold to 3.25%. This was intended to eliminate the three small Arab parties (including the Communists, who also have some Jewish voters), who responded by overcoming their mutual disagreements and animosities and forming the joint list. Lieberman had great difficulties in crossing his own threshold, and Eli Yishai’s party, which includes the heirs of the fascist Meir Kahane, was – thank God – left outside the Knesset.

It is to be hoped that the Joint Arab List will not break up. Odeh represents a new generation of Arab citizens, which is much more willing to integrate in Israeli society. Perhaps next time the old taboos will at long last disappear and the Arab citizens will become a real part of Israel’s political life. This time, Labor did not yet dare to accept it as a full-fledged member of a Leftist coalition.

I DON’T like to say “I told you so”. It does not make one more popular. This time I cannot avoid it, because there is a lesson to be learned.

At the beginning of the election campaign I wrote two articles in Haaretz, suggesting that the initial momentum created by the Herzog-Livni union should be continued and intensified by creating a much larger Unity List, including the “Zionist Camp” (Labor) , Meretz, Lapid’s Yesh Atid and, if possible, even Moshe Kahlon’s new party.

The response? None whatsoever. None of the parties even took official notice.

The idea was that such a united front would create an irresistible momentum and attract voters who would not vote for any of these parties individually (or not vote at all). Together with the joint Arab list they would have created a blocking force that would have made a Likud comeback impossible.

I added that if the proposal was not accepted, all the parties involved may

THE MORNING after the elections, Meretz leader Zehava Galon resigned. It was the honorable thing to do.

Meretz barely overcame the threshold clause and shrunk to four seats, though many voters (including me) rallied to its help at the last moment.

The party has suffered from a long line of lackluster leaders. But its malaise goes much deeper. It is existential.

From its very beginning, Meretz was a party of the Ashkenazi intellectual elite. It says the right things. But it is resented by the masses of the Oriental community, hated by the religious, pushed away by the Russian immigrants. It lives on an isolated island, and its members give the impression of being quite happy to be among themselves, without all the riff-raff.

Zehava Galon is a very good person, honest and well-meaning, and her resignation (immediately after the first results came in and it seemed that Meretz had shrunk to 4 seats) does her credit. But the party has become – well – boring. Nothing new from it for a long, long time. Its message is right, but stale.

Meretz needs a leader – an inspiring person who arouses enthusiasm. But most of all it needs a new attitude – one that allows it to come out of its shell and actively appeal to voters who shun it now. It needs to work very hard to appeal to Orientals, Russians, Arabs and even the moderately religious.

BUT IT is unfair to demand this only of Meretz. It applies to the entire social and liberal part of Israel, the camp for peace and social justice.

The election results have shown that the dark prophecies about a decisive, irreversible shift of Israel to the right are unfounded. The dividing line runs through the middle, and can be shifted.

(The general picture has not changes. The right-wing (Likud, Bennet, Lieberman) has gained only one single seat: from 43 to 44. The center-left (Zionist Camp, Meretz, Lapid has lost 8 seats: from 48 to 40, but most of them went to Kahlon, who gained 10. The orthodox went from 17 to 14. The Arabs gained 2 – from 11 to 13. The false impression of a huge change was created by the advance polls with their artificial dramas.)

But in order to effect this, there must be a readiness to start from the beginning.

The present setup of the Israeli left will not do. That is the simple truth.

The most outstanding fact of this election is that the outcome reflects exactly the demographic composition of Israeli society. Likud won decisively within the Oriental Jewish community, which includes the lower socio-economic strata. Likud also retained its partial foothold in the Ashkenazi community.

The Zionist Camp and Meretz won decisively within the well-situated Ashkenazi public – there, and nowhere else.

The attitude of the Likud people to their party resembles the attitude of football fans to their team. It has a big emotional content.

I was always convinced that election propaganda and all the media hullabaloo of the election carnival have little, if any effect on the outcome. It is the demographic facts that are decisive.

The left must invent itself anew according to this reality. Otherwise it has no future.

IF ONE of the existing parties can do it, fine. If not, a new political force must be formed. Now.

Non-party organizations, with which Israel is lavishly endowed, cannot do the job. They can, and do, try to remedy many existing faults. Their activists fight for human rights, propagate good ideas, highlight abuse. But they cannot do the main job: change the policy of the state. For this we need a political party, one that can win elections and set up a government. That is the most important requirement. Without it, we are heading for disaster.

First of all, our failures must be clearly analyzed and admitted. The fateful failure to win over a large part of the Oriental Jewish community, even the second and third generation. This is not a fact ordained by God. It must be recognized, analyzed and studied. This can be done.

The same, and even more so, goes for the immigrants from the former Soviet Union. They are totally estranged from the Left. There is no reason for that in Israel today. The second and third generation can and must be won over.

The taboo that prevents the Jewish left from uniting with the Arab political forces must be broken. It is an act of self-castration (on both sides) and dooms the left to impotence.

There is no reason for the complete break between the secular left and even moderate religious forces. The provocative anti-religious stand that is typical for some parts of the center and left is plain stupid.

SO WHAT to do?

First of all, a new leadership must be encouraged to emerge. Zehava Galon’s (first) laudable example should be followed by others and by herself. Really new leaders must come forward, who are not a replica of the old.

The greatest danger is that after the first shock, everything will settle down again to the old ways, as if nothing had happened.

A determined effort must be made to pinpoint the frictions between the Left and the estranged sectors. Test groups must be set up in order to get to the roots – conscious and unconscious, practical and emotional – of the estrangement.

Overbearing attitudes must be shed. No one sector has an exclusive right to the state. Everybody has a right to be listened to and to express their deeper feelings and aspirations. Exclusiveness, often unconscious, must be replaced with inclusiveness.

To my mind, it is a mistake to try to hide our convictions. On the contrary, the fact that the words “peace” and “Palestine” were not mentioned at all in the campaign did not help the Left. Honesty is the first requisite for convincing people.

In short, if the Left wants to win next time – which may come much sooner than expected – it must start to reform itself and overcome the reasons for its failure.

It can be done. The time to begin is right now.