Viser arkivet for stikkord yitzhak, rabin

The partition of Palestine 29th November 1947

THIS TUESDAY will be the 64th anniversary of a fateful day for our lives.

A day in November. A day to remember.

On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted, by 33 votes against 13 (with 10 abstentions), the Palestine Partition Plan.

This event has become a subject of endless debates, misinterpretations and outright falsifications. It may be worthwhile to peel away the myths and see it as it was.

BY THE end of 1947, there were in the country – then officially named Palestine – about 1.2 million Arabs and 635 000 Jews. The gap between the two population groups had turned into an abyss. Though geographically intertwined, they lived on two different planets. With very few exceptions, they considered each other as mortal enemies.

This was the reality that the UN commission, charged with proposing a solution, found on the ground when it visited the country.

One of the great moments of my life is connected with this UNSCOP (“United Nations Special Committee on Palestine”). On the Carmel mountain chain, near kibbutz Daliah, I was attending the annual folk dance festival. Folk dances played a major role in the new Hebrew culture we were consciously striving to create. Most of these dances were somewhat contrived, even artificial, like many of our efforts, but they reflected the will to create something new, fresh, rooted in the country, entirely different from the Jewish culture of our parents. Some of us spoke about a new “Hebrew nation”.

In a huge natural amphitheater, under a canopy of twinkling summer stars, tens of thousands of young people, boys and girls, had gathered to cheer on the many amateur groups performing on the stage. It was a joyous affair, imbued with camaraderie, radiating feelings of strength and self-confidence.

No one of us could have guessed that within a few months we would meet again in the fields of a deadly war.

In the middle of the performance, an excited voice announced on the loudspeaker that several members of UNSCOP had come to visit. As one, the huge crowd stood up and started to sing the national anthem, Hatikvah (“the Hope”). I never liked this song very much, but at that moment it sounded like a fervent prayer, filling the space, rebounding from the hills of the Carmel. I suppose that almost all of the 6000 Jewish youngsters who gave their lives in the war were assembled for the last time on that evening, singing with profound emotion.

IT WAS in this atmosphere that the members of UNSCOP, representing many different nations, had to find a solution.

As everybody knows, the commission adopted a plan to partition Palestine between an independent “Arab” and an independent “Jewish” state. But that is not the whole story.

Looking at the map of the 1947 partition resolution, one must wonder at the borders. They resemble a puzzle, with Arab pieces and Jewish pieces put together in an impossible patchwork, with Jerusalem and Bethlehem as a separate unit. The borders look crazy. Both states would have been totally indefensible.

The explanation is that the committee did not really envision two totally independent and separate states. The plan explicitly included an economic union. That would have necessitated a very close relationship between the two political entities, something akin to a federation, with open borders and free movement of people and goods. Without it, the borders would have been impossible.

That was a very optimistic scenario. Immediately after the committee’s plan was adopted by the General Assembly, after much cajoling by the Zionist leadership, war broke out with sporadic Arab attacks on Jewish traffic on the vital roads.

When the first shot was fired, the partition plan was dead. The foundation, on which the whole edifice rested, broke apart. No open borders, no economic union, no chance for a union of any kind. Only abyssal, deadly, enmity.

THE PARTITION plan would never have been adopted in the first place if it had not been preceded by a historical event that seemed at the time beyond belief.

The Soviet delegate to the UN, Andrei Gromyko, suddenly made what can only be described as a fiery Zionist speech. He contended that after the terrible suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust, they deserved a state of their own.

To appreciate the utter amazement with which this speech was received, one must remember that until that very moment, Communists and Zionists had been irreconcilable foes. It was not only a clash of ideologies, but also a family affair. In Tzarist Russia, Jews were persecuted by an anti-Semitic government, and young Jews, both male and female, were in the vanguard of all the revolutionary movements.

An idealistic young Jew had the choice between joining the Bolsheviks, the social-democratic Jewish Bund or the Zionists. The competition was fierce and engendered intense mutual hatred. Later, in the Soviet Union, Zionists were mercilessly persecuted. In Palestine, local Communists, Jewish and Arab, were accused of collaborating with the Arab militants who attacked Jewish neighborhoods.

What had brought about this sudden change in Soviet policy? Stalin did not turn from an anti-Semite into a philo-Semite. Far from it. But he was a pragmatist. It was the era of medium-range missiles, which threatened Soviet territory from all sides. Palestine was in practice a British colony and could easily have become a Western missile base, threatening Odessa and beyond. Better a Jewish and an Arab state, than that.

In the following war, almost all my weapons came from the Soviet bloc, mainly from Czechoslovakia. The Soviet Union recognized Israel de jure long before the United States.

The end of this unnatural honeymoon came in the early fifties, when David Ben-Gurion decided to turn Israel into an inseparable part of the Western bloc. At the same time, Stalin recognized the importance of the new pan-Arab nationalism of Gamal Abd-al-Nasser and decided to ride on that wave. His paranoid anti-Semitism came again to the fore. All over Eastern Europe Communist veterans were executed as Zionist-imperialist-Trotskyite spies, and his Jewish doctors were accused of attempting to poison him. (Luckily for them, Stalin died just in time and they were saved.)

TODAY, THE partition resolution is remembered in Israel mainly because of two words: “Jewish state”.

No one in Israel wants to be reminded of the borders of 1947, which gave the Jewish minority in Palestine “only” 55% of the country. (Though half of this consisted of the Negev desert, most of which is almost empty even now.) Nor do Jewish Israelis like to be reminded that almost half the population of the territory allotted to them was Arab.

At the time, the UN resolution was accepted by the Jewish population with overflowing enthusiasm. The photos of the people dancing in the streets of Tel Aviv belong to this day, and not – as is often falsely claimed, to the day the State of Israel was officially founded. (At that time we were in middle of a bloody war and nobody was in the mood for dancing.)

We know now that Ben-Gurion did not dream of accepting the partition plan borders, and even less the Arab population within them. The famous army “Plan Dalet” early in the war was a strategic necessity, but it was also a solution to the two problems: it added to Israel another 22% of the country and it drove the Arab population out. Only a small remnant of the Arab population remained – and by now it has grown to 1.5 million.

But all that is history. What concerned the future are the words “Jewish state”. Israeli rightists, who abhor the partition resolution in any other context, insist that it provides the legal basis to Israel’s right to be recognized as a “Jewish state” – meaning in practice, that the state belongs to all the Jews around the world, but not to its Arab citizens, whose families have been living here for at least 13 centuries, if not far longer (depends who does the counting).

But the UN used the word “Jewish” only for lack of any other definition. During the British Mandate, the two peoples in the country were called in English “Jews” and “Arabs”. But we ourselves spoke about a “Hebrew” State (medina Ivrit). In newspaper clippings of the time, only this term can be seen. People of my age-group remember dozens of demonstrations in which we invariably chanted “Free Immigration – Hebrew State”. The sound of it still rings in our ears.

The UN did not deal with the ideological makeup of the future states. It certainly assumed that they would be democratic, belonging to all their inhabitants. Otherwise they would hardly have drawn borders that left a substantial Arab population in the “Jewish” state.


The ultra-rightists who now dominate the Knesset want to use these words as a pretext for replacing democracy with a doctrine of Jewish nationalist-religious supremacy. A former Shin-Bet chief and present Kadima party MK has submitted a bill that would abolish the equality of the two terms “Jewish” and “democratic” in the official legal doctrine, and state clearly that the “Jewishness” of the state has precedence over its “democratic” character. This would deprive the Arab citizens of any remnant of equality. (At the last moment, in face of the public reaction, the Kadima party compelled him to withdraw the bill.)

THE 1947 partition plan was an exceptionally intelligent document. Its details are obsolete now, but its basic idea is as relevant today as it was 64 years ago: two nations are living in this country, they cannot live together in one state without a continuous civil war, they can live together in two states, the two states must establish close ties between each other.

Ben-Gurion was determined to prevent the founding of the Arab Palestinian state, and with the help of King Abdallah of Transjordan he succeeded in this. All his successors, with the possible exception of Yitzhak Rabin, have followed this line, now more than ever. We have paid – and are still paying – a heavy price for this folly.

On the 64th anniversary of this historic event, we must go back to its basic principle: Israel and Palestine, Two States for Two Peoples.

Uri Avnery
November 26, 2011

Uri Avnery on the 16th anniversary of the murder of Rabin

“YOU are Fed Up?”

“YOU CAN lie to all of the people some of the time, and to some of the people all of the time, but you cannot lie to all of the people all of the time.”

This slightly altered quotation from Abraham Lincoln has yet to be absorbed by Binyamin Netanyahu. He thinks it doesn’t apply to him. Actually, that is the core of his entire political career.

This week, he was given a very instructive lesson. After being treated to dozens of cordial encounters between Netanyahu and Nicholas Sarkozy, Israeli TV viewers got a glimpse of reality. It came in the form of an exchange of views between the presidents of the US and of France.

Sarkozy: “I cannot stand him (Netanyahu). He is a liar!”

Obama: “YOU are fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day!”

That came after it was leaked that Angela Merkel, the German prime minister, told her cabinet that “every word that leaves Netanyahu’s mouth is a lie.”

Which makes it more or less unanimous.

BEFORE PROCEEDING, I must say something about the media angle of this affair.

The dialogue was broadcast live to a group of senior French media people, because somebody forgot to turn the microphone off. A piece of luck of the kind that journalists dream about.

Yet not one of the journalists in the hall published a word about it. They kept it to themselves and only told it to their colleagues, who told it to their friends, one of whom told it to a blogger, who published it.

Why? Because the senior journalists who were present are friends and confidants of the people in power. That’s how they get their scoops. The price is suppressing any news that might hurt or embarrass their sponsors. This means in practice that they become lackeys of the people in power – betraying their elementary democratic duty as servants of the public.

I know this from experience. As an editor of a news magazine, I saw it as my duty (and pleasure) to break these conspiracies of silence. Actually, many of our best scoops were given to us by colleagues from other publications who could not use them themselves for the same reason.

Luckily, with the internet now everywhere, it has become almost impossible to suppress news. Blessed be the online Gods.

A FEW weeks after Yitzhak Rabin was elected Prime Minister (for the second time) in 1992, I met Yasser Arafat in Tunis.

He was, of course, curious about the personality of the newly elected Israeli leader. Knowing that I was meeting him from time to time, he asked what I thought of him.

“He is an honest man,” I replied, and then added: “as much as a politician can be.”

Arafat burst out laughing, and so did everybody in the room, including Mahmoud Abbas and Yasser Abed Rabbo.

Ever since Sir Henry Wotton said, some four centuries ago, that “an ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country,” it is generally assumed that diplomats and politicians may be lying, and not only abroad. Some do so only when necessary, some do it often, some, like Netanyahu, do it as a rule.

In spite of the general assumption of mendacity, it is not good for a leader to be branded as a habitual liar. When leaders meet personally, in private and face to face, they are supposed to tell each other the truth, even if not necessarily the whole truth. Some personal trust is of great advantage. If a leader loses it, he loses a precious asset.

Winston Churchill said of one of his predecessors, Stanley Baldwin, that (quoting from memory) “the Right Honorable Gentleman sometimes stumbles upon the truth, but he always hurries on as if nothing has happened.” One of our ministers said about Ariel Sharon that he sometimes tells the truth by mistake. People asked how you could tell when Richard Nixon was lying: “Easy: his lips are moving”.

Rabin was basically an honest man. He hated lying and avoided it as much as he could. Basically he remained a military man and never became a real politician.

LAST WEDNESDAY was the 16th anniversary of his assassination, according to the Hebrew calendar.

The event was marked in Israeli schools by speeches and special lessons. What these citizens of tomorrow learned was that it is very bad to murder a prime minister. And that, more or less, was that.

Not a word about why he was killed. Certainly nothing about the community the assassin belonged to, or what campaign of hatred and incitement led to the murder.

The Ministry of Education is now firmly in the hands of a Likud minister, and one of the most extreme. But the trend is not confined to the education system.

In Israel it is practically impossible to obtain a picture of Rabin shaking the hand of Arafat. Rabin and King Hussein? As many post cards as you might wish. But Rabin’s peace with Jordan was an unimportant matter, like the US peace with Canada. The Oslo agreement, however, was a historic watershed.

Only people branded as “extreme leftists” – one of the worst insults these days – dare to raise the obvious questions about the assassination: Who? Why?

There is tacit agreement that the only person responsible was the actual assassin: Yigal Amir, the son of Yemenite Jews, a former settler and a student of a religious university.

Would he have acted without the blessing of one or more rabbis? Most certainly not.

Amir was led to do what he did by months of intense incitement. An unprecedented campaign of hatred dominated the public sphere. Posters showed Rabin in the uniform of an SS officer. Religious groups publicly condemned him to death in medieval ceremonies. Demonstrators in front of his private home shouted: “With blood and fire / we shall remove Rabin!”

In the most (in)famous demonstration, in the center of Jerusalem, a coffin marked “Rabin” was paraded around, while Netanyahu looked on from a balcony, in the company of other rightist leaders.

And most tellingly: not a single important right-wing or religious voice was raised against this murderous campaign.

By general tacit agreement, nothing of all this was mentioned this week. Why? Because it would not be nice. It would “split the nation”. Honorable citizens do not do this kind of thing.

Rabin himself cannot be acquitted of all blame. After the incredibly courageous act of recognizing the PLO (and thereby the Palestinian people) and shaking hands with Arafat, he did not rush forward to create an irreversible historic fact of peace, but hesitated, dithered, held back and allowed the forces of war and racism to regroup and counter-attack.

When the Kiryat Arba settler Baruch Goldstein carried out his massacre in the “Cave of Machpela”, Rabin had a golden opportunity to clear out the nest of fascist settlers in Hebron. He shrank back from taking on the settlers. The settlers did not shrink back from killing him.

WHAT HAPPENED next? This week a very revealing document was leaked.

It appears that on the day of the assassination, Netanyahu spoke with the American ambassador (and Zionist Jew) Martin Indyk. Netanyahu, remembering his part in the incitement, was obviously in panic. He confided to the ambassador that if elections were to take place immediately, the entire Israeli right-wing would be wiped out.

But Shimon Peres, the new Prime Minister, did not call immediate elections, though several people (including myself) publicly urged him to do so. Netanyahu’s assessment was quite correct – the country was outraged, the right-wing was generally blamed for the assassination, and if elections had taken place, the Right would have been marginalized for many, many years. The entire history of Israel would have taken a different turn.

Why did Peres refuse to do so? Because he hated Rabin. He did not want to be elected as the “executor of Rabin’s testament”, but on his own merits. Unfortunately, the public did not have the same high opinion of these “merits”.

During the next few months, Peres committed every conceivable (and inconceivable) mistake: he approved the killing of a major Hamas militant which led to a flood of deadly suicide bombings all over the country. He attacked Lebanon, which led to the Kafr Kana massacre, and had to withdraw ignominiously. And then he called premature elections after all. In his election campaign, Rabin was not even mentioned. Thus Peres managed to be (narrowly) defeated by Netanyahu.

I once wrote that Peres suffered his most grievous insult just a few minutes before the assassination. Amir was waiting at the foot of the stairs from the tribune, his pistol ready. Peres came down the steps, and the assassin let him pass, like a fisherman contemptuously throwing a small specimen back into the sea. He was waiting for Rabin.

The rest is history.

Uri Avnery
November 12, 2011