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Uri Avnery Reflects on Israel’s Disengagement

I’ve noticed that Uri Avnery is writing some of the most thoughtful, cogent and powerful commentary about the Gaza disengagement (thanks to Gush Shalom for bringing it to my attention). Avnery is an Israeli journalist, peace activist, soldier in Israel’s War of Independence, and former Knesset member. In a way, I’d call him the I.F. Stone of Israeli politics and journalism (though of course there are dissimilarities).

Avnery is ecstatic about developments in Gaza. Perhaps more ecstatic and optimistic than he has a right to be. But in the horrid state Israelis and Palestinians find themselves in today, a little optimism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Here is a large portion of his August 20th commentary:

A historic event. A message for the future.

This was the day on which the message of the Israeli peace movement finally got through. A great victory, for all to see.

True, it is not us who did it. It was done by a man far removed from us. But, as the Hebrew saying goes: “The work of the righteous is done by others.” “Others”: meaning those who are not righteous, who may even be wicked.

At the beginning of the settlement activity, during one of my clashes with Golda Meir in the Knesset, I told her: “Every settlement is a land-mine on the road to peace. In due course you will have to remove these mines. And let me tell you, Ma’am, as a former soldier, that the removal of mines is a very unpleasant job indeed.”

If I am angry, profoundly sad and frustrated today, it is because of the price we all have paid for this monstrous “enterprise”. The thousands killed because of it, Israelis and Palestinians. The hundreds of billions of Shekels poured down the drain. The moral decline of our state, the creeping brutalization, the postponement of peace for dozens of years. Anger with the demagogues of all stripes that started and continued this March of Folly, out of stupidity, blindness, greed, intoxication with power or sheer cynicism. Anger over the suffering and destruction wrought on the Palestinians, whose land and water were stolen, whose houses were destroyed and whose trees were uprooted – all for the “security” of these settlements.

I have also sympathy for the plight of the inhabitants of Gush Katif, who were seduced by the settlers’ leadership and successive Israeli governments to build their life there – seduced either by messianic demagoguery (“It’s God’s will”) or by economic temptations (“A luxury villa surrounded by lawn, where else could you dream of this?”) Many people from the remote townships in the Negev, stricken with poverty and unemployment, succumbed to these temptations. And now it is finished, the sweet dream has evaporated and they have to start their life anew – albeit with generous compensation.

The television networks did us a great favor when they reran, between the scenes of the evacuation, old footage of the founding of these settlements. We heard again the speeches of Ariel Sharon, Joseph Burg, Yitzhak Rabin (yes, he too), and others – the whole litany of nonsense, deceit and lies.

During the last few years, the peace camp has been seized by a fashion for despair, despondency and depression. I keep repeating: there is no cause for this. In the long run, our approach is winning. Now it must be emphasized: the Israeli public would not have supported this operation, and Sharon would not have been able to carry it out, if we had not prepared public opinion by voicing ideas that were far removed from the national consensus and repeating them countless times over the years.

This was the day when the settlers’ ideology collapsed.

If there is a God in heaven, He did not come to their rescue. The messiah stayed at home. No miracle occurred to save them.

Many of the settlers were so sure that a miracle would indeed happen at the very last moment, that they did not take the trouble to pack their belongings. On television one could see homes where the uneaten meal was still on the table and the family photos on the wall. Sights I remember well from the 1948 war.

All the boasts and bluster of the pair of settlers’ leaders, [Pinchas] Wallerstein and [Bentzi] Lieberman (who always remind me of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, the two villains in “Hamlet”) went up in smoke. The masses did not stream into the streets all over Israel and use their bodies to block the forces sent to empty the settlements. The hundreds of thousands, including the opponents of the disengagement, remained at home, glued to their television sets. The mass refusal of soldiers to obey orders, promised and incited by the rabbis, just did not happen.

At the decisive moment, the reality we always knew about was exposed for all to see: the messianic-nationalist sect, the leadership of the settlers, is isolated. In their behavior and style, they are foreign to the Israeli spirit. The hundreds of settlers who have lately been seen on television, all the men wearing yarmulkes, all the women wearing long skirts, with their interminable dancing and their endlessly repeated ten slogans, look like the members of a closed sect from another world.

Neve Dekalim--orange Star of DavidNeve Dekalim settler wears orange ‘Jude’ Star of David (credit: Roberto Schmidt/ AFP)

“It looks as if we are not one but two peoples: a people of the settlers and a people of settler-haters!” moaned one of the rabbis when his settlement was emptied. That is accurate. In the confrontation between the lines of soldiers, who were drafted from all strata of society, and the lines of the settlers, it is the soldiers who, in this unique situation, represent the people of Israel, while the settlers embody the negative side of the Jewish ghetto. The unending bouts of collective weeping, the meticulously staged scenes designed to evoke images of pogroms and death marches, the monstrous imitation of the frightened boy with his arms raised from the famous holocaust photo – all these were reminiscent of a world that we thought we had shaken off when we created the State of Israel.

I think it was a bit of a cheap shot to say that the settlers “embody the negative side of the Jewish ghetto.” This is Avnery’s Zionist rhetoric rearing its ugly head. His avowed secularism seems unnecessarily condescending and hostile to the settlers’ religiosity (“all the men wearing yarmulkes, all the women wearing long skirts, with their interminable dancing…look like members of a closed sect from another world”). Though to tell the truth, the settlers seem to have encouraged the analogy in precisely the ways Avnery notes (see the image accompanying this text). And he may certainly be forgiven for picking up on their twisted misappropriation of Jewish symbols and history for their own ideological/theological ends.

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  • Mike Brand August 24, 2005, 5:32 AM

    Hi Richard,

    You can see a short transcript of the interview I had with Mr.Avneri on the English All For Peace website.

    Best Regards

    Mike