RIP Uri Avnery
I have assiduously followed the writings of Uri Avnery for what feels to me like a long time now—at least 15 years. Those fifteen years were but the coda to Avnery’s extremely long and productive and honorable life. He was an Israeli peace activist with a wicked pen—right up until his death in August of 2018 at 94 years of age. He will be missed.
I include below two encomiums/elegies/obituaries from two other writers whose writings and reporting I respect deeply, Jeffrey St. Clair (editor of CounterPunch magazine and eminently reliable source of information for U.S. domestic environmental policy and politics ) and Robert Fisk (longtime correspondent for the Independent and eminently reliable source of informations for all things related to the Middle East, where he has lived in Lebanon for many decades).
A Mighty Voice for Peace Has Gone Silent: Uri Avnery, 1923-2018 by Jeffrey St. Clair (CounterPunch)
“Avnery, who was one of the first Israelis to call for the creation of a Palestinian state, was 94. He lived a sprawling life. He was born in Germany in 1923 and his family fled to British Palestine a few months after Hitler came to power. As a young man, he dispersed leaflets for the Irgun, a terrorist Zionist organization, and it haunted him for most of his life. Avnery would later play chess with Yasser Arafat and become one of the PLO’s most ardent Israeli defenders.”
Uri Avnery: One of My Few Heroes in the Middle East by Robert Fisk (CounterPunch)
“It was somehow fitting that first news of Uri Avnery’s plight should reach me from one of Israel’s staunchest enemies, the Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. One legend sending sad news of another, you see, a socialist preparing to mourn a fellow socialist, sending his sympathy for the 94-year-old Israeli political philosopher. That same philosopher was once a German Jewish schoolboy, originally called Helmut Ostermann, who refused to give the Hitler salute at school, but who was, when I received Jumblatt’s message – still, just – “an indispensable mind to understand the history of fascism, a major destructive element of the 20th century”. Jumblatt’s words. Avnery, he added, also understood “the history of Zionism, another despicable apartheid theory that is an offshoot of fascism”.”
“I must admit that Uri Avnery was one of my Middle East heroes – there aren’t many – and his story is worthy of a movie, though there will be no Spielbergs to direct it: writer, journalist, leftist, veteran of the Israeli army in the country’s War of Independence – and, as he never forgot, the same war which drove 750,000 Palestinians from their home and lands.”
The following two citations are from Avnery himself, included by Fisk in his article.
“[citing Avnery]: I will tell you something about the Holocaust. It would be nice to believe that people who have undergone suffering have been purified by suffering. But it’s the opposite, it makes them worse. It corrupts. There is something in suffering that creates a kind of egoism.”
“[Again, citing Avnery]: You are presuming you know what they [Netanyahu’s government] want and you presume they want peace – and therefore that their policy is stupid or insane. But if you assume they don’t give a damn for peace but want a Jewish state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, then what they are doing makes sense up to a point.”
Finally, I dug back through my as-yet unpublished notes to find some I’d taken from Avnery’s missives from the last couple of years, just to give an idea of what I liked about his writings. I found notes from 2006–2018.
“The authors do not call into question the Lobby’s legitimacy. On the contrary, they show that hundreds of lobbies of this kind play an essential role in the American democratic system. The gun and the medical lobbies, for example, are also very powerful political forces. But the pro-Israel lobby has grown out of all proportion. It has unparalleled political power. It can silence all criticism of Israel in Congress and the media, bring about the political demise of anyone who dares to break the taboo, prevent any action that does not conform to the will of the Israeli government.”
“That year, during Black September, I held a press conference in Washington DC, under the auspices of the Quakers. It seemed to be a huge success. The journalists came straight from a press conference with Prime Minister Golda Meir, and showered me with questions. Almost all the important media were represented – TV networks, radio, the major newspapers. After the planned hour was up, they would not let me go and kept me talking for another hour and a half. But the next day, not a single word appeared in any of the media. Thirty-one years later, in October 2001 I held a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, and exactly the same thing happened: many of the media were there, they held me for another hour – and not a word, not a single word, was published.”
“The great message of Obama is Obama himself. A person who has roots in three continents (and another half: Hawaii). A person whose education spans the wide world. A person who can see reality from the viewpoints of America, Africa and Asia. A person who is both black and white. A new kind of American, an American of the 21st Century.”
This is lovely prose, but, as with many other Obama supporters, one gets the feeling that more is being said by the supporter than by the supportee—the utopic views expressed so lovingly cannot be provably extrapolated from Obama’s actual, stated policy. However, in the same breath Avnery acknowledges this and justifies it better than any other, to date:
“I am not as naïve as I sound. I realize that in his speeches there is more enthusiasm than content. We can’t know what he will do once elected president. President Obama may disappoint us. But I prefer to take a risk with a man like this than to know in advance what the two routine politicians, his competitors, will do.”
This is an excellent statement of support, which is wholly realistic and accomodating of America’s very limited political spectrum.
“All this matter of “recognition” is nonsense, a pretext for avoiding a dialogue. We do not need “recognition” from anybody. When the United States started a dialogue with Vietnam, it did not demand to be recognized as an Anglo-Saxon, Christian and capitalist state.”
“The trouble is that propaganda is most convincing for the propagandist himself. And after you convince yourself that a lie is the truth and falsification reality, you can no longer make rational decisions.”
“Hundreds of millions of Arabs from Mauritania to Iraq, more than a billion Muslims from Nigeria to Indonesia see the pictures and are horrified. This has a strong impact on the war.”
“Even if the Israeli army were to succeed in killing every Hamas fighter to the last man, even then Hamas would win. The Hamas fighters would be seen as the paragons of the Arab nation, the heroes of the Palestinian people, models for emulation by every youngster in the Arab world. The West Bank would fall into the hands of Hamas like a ripe fruit, Fatah would drown in a sea of contempt, the Arab regimes would be threatened with collapse.
“If the war ends with Hamas still standing, bloodied but unvanquished, in face of the mighty Israeli military machine, it will look like a fantastic victory, a victory of mind over matter.
“What will be seared into the consciousness of the world will be the image of Israel as a blood-stained monster, ready at any moment to commit war crimes and not prepared to abide by any moral restraints. This will have severe consequences for our long-term future, our standing in the world, our chance of achieving peace and quiet.
“In the end, this war is a crime against ourselves too, a crime against the state of Israel.”
“The Israeli government rules Washington, D.C., more firmly than ever. The new Congress is even more loyal to Israel than the old one, if that is possible. Just now, the outgoing House unanimously passed a resolution objecting to the declaration of Palestinian statehood. After his resounding defeat in the midterm elections, Obama must start to think about the presidential election in two years’ time. It’s difficult to imagine that in these two years he would dare to provoke the mighty Israel lobby, which can now rely not only on the Jewish organizations and the millions of evangelical Christians, but also on the people of the Tea Party (many of whom are anti-Semites like Nixon, as revealed in the tapes: he despised the Jews and admired the Israelis).
“Obama can say what he wants: in a real test he will have to veto any Security Council resolution which is distasteful to the Israeli government. He will have no choice. And he will also supply Israel with all the airplanes it desires – and more.”
“A new Caliphate in the 21st century is as unlikely as the wildest creation of the imagination. It would have been diametrically opposed to the zeitgeist, were it not for its opponents: the Americans. They needed this dream—or nightmare—more than the Muslims themselves.
“The American Empire always needs an antagonist to keep it together and focus its energies. This has to be a worldwide enemy, a sinister advocate of an evil philosophy.
“American freedoms have to be restricted; the U.S. military machine grows by leaps and bounds. Power-hungry intellectuals babble about the Clash of Civilizations and sell their souls for instant celebrity.
“To produce the lurid paint for such a twisted picture of reality, religious Islamic groups are all thrown into the same pot—the Taliban in Afghanistan, the ayatollahs in Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, Indonesian separatists, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere, whoever. All become al-Qaeda, despite the fact that each has a totally different agenda, focused on its own country, while bin Laden aims to abolish all Muslim states and create one Holy Islamic Empire. Details, details.”
“For eight years, longer than most of his predecessors, Dagan led the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, comparable to the British MI6.[…] And here, after leaving office, he speaks out in the harshest terms against the government’s plans for an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations. Not mincing words, he said: “This is the stupidest idea I have heard in my life.””
“This week he was overshadowed by the recently relieved chief of the Shin Bet [Yuval Diskin]. (Shin Bet and Shabak are different ways of pronouncing the initials of the official Hebrew name “General Security Service.”) It is equivalent to the British MI5, but deals mostly with the Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories.
“According to Diskin – and who would know better? – Israel is now led by two incompetent politicians with messianic delusions and a poor grasp of reality. Their plan to attack Iran is leading to a world-wide catastrophe. Not only will it fail to prevent the production of an Iranian atom bomb, but, on the contrary, it will hasten this effort, this time with the support of the world community.
“Going further than Dagan, he stated that the only factor preventing peace negotiations with the Palestinians is Netanyahu himself. Israel can make peace with Mahmoud Abbas at any time, and missing this historic opportunity will bring disaster upon Israel.”
“For some time now, the world has lost much of its interest in Palestine. Everything looks quiet. Netanyahu has succeeded in deflecting world attention from Palestine to Iran. But in this country, nothing is ever static. While it seems that nothing is happening, settlements are growing incessantly, and so is the deep resentment of the Palestinians who see this happening before their eyes.”
Contrast to how Pakistan was treated when it was (illegally) created a nuclear weapon.
“The settlers assert that not a single settlement has been set up without secret government consent. And indeed, all the “unlawful” settlements have been connected at once to the water and electricity grids, special new roads have been built for them, and the army has rushed to defend them — indeed the Israel Defense Forces have long ago become the Settlements Defense Forces. Lawyers and shysters galore have been employed to expropriate huge tracts of Palestinian land.”
“Was there an alternative? Obviously, the situation along the Gaza Strip had become intolerable. One cannot send an entire population to the shelters every two or three weeks. Except hitting Hamas on the head, what can you do?
“First of all, you can abstain from “reacting”. Just cut the chain.”
“It would cut the ties between the Israeli state and more than 20% of its citizens. Some Israelis may dream of evicting the Arabs altogether from the historical country – all six million of them in Israel proper, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – but that is a pipedream. The world in which this was once possible does not exist any more.”
“True, he is sending a rabid Jewish-American ultra-right Zionist as his ambassador to Tel Aviv (or to Jerusalem, we shall see.) A person so right-wing that he makes Netanyahu himself almost look like a leftist. But at the same time Trump has appointed as his closest assistant a radical white racist with full anti-Semitic credentials. Perhaps, as some believe, it depends entirely on Trump’s moods. Who knows what his mood will be on the morning of the first important UN vote on Israel? Will he be Trump the Zionist or Trump the anti-Semite? Actually, he can be both. No problem, really. The avowed aim of Zionism is to ingather all the Jews in the world in the Jewish State. The avowed aim of the anti-Semites is to expel the Jews from all their countries. Both sides want the same. No conflict.”
So tongue in cheek. Keep on truckin’, Uri!
“[the] day before, Trump was despised by half the American people, including most of the media. Just by launching a few missiles, he has won general admiration as a forceful and wise leader. What does that say about the American people, and about humanity in general?”
“When the British withdrew from Palestine in 1948, there were in the country between the Mediterranean and the Jordan about 1.2 million Arabs and 635,000 Jews. By the end of the war that ensued, some 700,000 Arabs had fled and/or were driven out. It was a war of what was (later) called “ethnic cleansing”. Few Arabs were left in the territory conquered by Jewish arms, but it should be remembered that no Jews at all were left in the territory conquered by Arab arms. Fortunately for our side, the Arabs succeeded in occupying only small slices of land inhabited by Jews (such as the Etzion bloc, East Jerusalem et al.), while our side conquered large, inhabited territories.”
“The US is still far from war with Iran but we are not. Perhaps we are already in it, without believing it. These days – or should I say, these nights – our brave boys fly over Syria and bomb Iranian army installations there. Until this minute, the Iranians have not reacted, except for a feeble attempt that was quickly answered by a massive Israeli air strike.”
“How is this done? It’s quite simple, really: one has to suppress all other voices. One has to make sure that the citizen hears only one voice. One that repeats a few messages over and over, endlessly. This way the lie becomes truth. In such a situation, the ordinary citizen becomes convinced that the official line is really their own personal opinion. This is an unconscious process. When one tells a citizen that they are brainwashed, they are deeply insulted.”
“The use of these terms, hundreds of times every day, clearly constitute brainwashing, without the citizens noticing it. They are getting used to the fact that all Gazans are terrorists, mekhablim. This is a process of dehumanization, the creation of Untermenschen in the Nazi lexicon. Their killing is allowed, even desirable.”
“There is in the country a tiny band of commentators who are not afraid to tell the truth, even when this is considered treason. Gideon Levy, Amira Hass, and a few others. We must ensure that their voice is heard. They must be encouraged.”
“It has been said that a clever person is able to extricate himself from a trap into which a wise person would not have fallen in the first place. Stupid people do not extricate themselves. They are not even aware of the trap.”