Uri Avnery: Eyeless in Gaza

JasonBox unnamedAugust 16, 2014

Eyeless in Gaza

THE TROUBLE with war is that it has two sides.

Everything would be so much easier if war had only one side. Ours, of course.

There you are, drawing up a wonderful plan for the next war, preparing it, training for it, until everything is perfect.

And then the war starts, and to your utmost surprise it appears that there is another side, too, which also has a wonderful plan, and has prepared it and trained for it.

When the two plans meet, everything goes wrong. Both plans break down. You don’t know what’s going to happen. How to go on. You do things you have not planned for. And when you have had enough of it and want to get out, you don’t know how. It’s so much more difficult to end a war than to start a war, especially when both sides need to declare victory.

That’s where we are now.

HOW DID it all start? Depends where you want to begin.

Like everywhere else, every event in Gaza is a reaction to another event. You do something because the other side did something. Which they did because you did something. One can unravel this until the beginning of history. Or at least until Samson the Hero.

Samson, it will be remembered, was captured by the Philistines, blinded and brought to Gaza. There he committed suicide by bringing the temple down on himself and all the leaders and people, crying out: “Let my soul die with the Philistines!” (Judges 16:30)

If that’s too remote, let’s start with the beginning of the present occupation, 1967.

(There was a forgotten occupation before that. When Israel conquered the Gaza Strip and all of Sinai in the course of the 1956 Suez war, David Ben-Gurion declared the founding of the “Third Israeli Kingdom”, only to announce in a broken voice, a few dates later, that he had promised President Dwight Eisenhower to withdraw from the entire Sinai Peninsula. Some Israeli parties urged him to keep at least the Gaza Strip, but he refused. He did not want to have hundreds of thousands more Arabs in Israel.)

A friend of mine reminded me of an article I had written less than two years after the Six Day War, during which we occupied Gaza again. I had just found out that two Arab road-construction workers, one from the West Bank and one from the Gaza Strip, doing exactly the same job, were paid different wages. The Gaza man was paid much less.

Being a member of the Knesset, I made inquiries. A high-level official explained to me that this was a matter of policy. The purpose was to cause the Arabs to leave Gaza and settle in the West Bank (or elsewhere), in order to disperse the 400 thousand Arabs then living in the Strip, mostly refugees from Israel. Obviously this did not go so very well – now there are about 1.80 million there.

Then, in February 1969, I warned: “(If we go on) we shall be faced with a terrible choice – to suffer from a wave of terrorism that will cover the entire country, or to engage in acts of revenge and oppression so brutal that they will corrupt our souls and cause the whole world to condemn us.”

I mention this not (only) to blow my own horn, but to show that any reasonable person could have foreseen what was going to happen.

IT TOOK a long time for Gaza to reach this point.

I remember an evening in Gaza in the mid-90s. I had been invited to a Palestinian conference (about prisoners), which lasted several days, and my hosts invited me to stay with Rachel in a hotel on the sea-shore. Gaza was then a nice place. In the late evening we took a stroll along the central boulevard. We had pleasant chats with people who recognized us as Israelis. We were happy.

I also remember the day when the Israeli army withdrew from most of the Strip. Near Gaza city there stood a huge Israeli watchtower, many floors high, “so that the Israeli soldiers could look into every window in Gaza”. When the soldiers left, I climbed to the top, passing hundreds of happy boys who were going up and down like the angels on the ladder in Jacob’s dream in the Bible. Again we were happy. They are probably Hamas members now.

That was the time when Yasser Arafat, son of a Gaza Strip family, returned to Palestine and set up his HQ in Gaza. A beautiful new airport was built. Plans for a large new sea-port were circulating.

(A big Dutch harbor-building corporation approached me discreetly and asked me to use my friendly relations with Arafat to obtain the job for them. They hinted at a very large gratuity. I politely refused. During all the years I knew Arafat, I never asked him for a favor. I think that this was the basis of our rather strange friendship.)

If the port had been built, Gaza would have become a flourishing commercial hub. The standard of living would have risen steeply, the inclination of the people to vote for a radical Islamic party would have declined.

WHY DID this not happen? Israel refused to allow the port to be built. Contrary to a specific undertaking in the 1993 Oslo agreement, Israel cut off all passages between the Strip and the West Bank. The aim was to prevent any possibility of a viable Palestinian state being set up.

True, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon evacuated the more than a dozen settlements along the Gaza shore. Today, one of our rightist slogans is “We evacuated the entire Gaza Strip and what did we get in return? Qassam rockets!” Ergo: we can’t give up the West Bank.

But Sharon did not turn the Strip over to the Palestinian Authority. Israelis are obsessed with the idea of doing things “unilaterally”. The army withdrew, the Strip was left in chaos, without a government, without any agreement between the two sides.

Gaza sank into misery. In the 2006 Palestinian elections, under the supervision of ex-President Jimmy Carter, the people of Gaza – like the people of the West Bank – gave a relative majority to the Hamas party. When Hamas was denied power, it took the Gaza Strip by force, with the population applauding.

The Israeli government reacted by imposing a blockade. Only limited quantities of goods approved by the occupation authorities were let in. An American senator raised hell when he found out that pasta was considered a security risk and not allowed in. Practically nothing was let out, which is incomprehensible from the “security” point of view of weapons “smuggling” but clear from the point of view of “strangling”. Unemployment reached almost 60%.

The Strip is roughly 40 km long and 10 km wide. In the north and the east it borders Israel, in the west it borders the sea, which is controlled by the Israeli navy. In the south it borders Egypt, which is now ruled by a brutal anti-Islamic dictatorship, allied with Israel. As the slogan goes, it is “the word’s largest open-air prison”.

BOTH SIDES now proclaim that their aim is to put an end to this situation. But they mean two very different things.

The Israeli side wants the blockade to remain in force, though in a more liberal form. Pasta and much more will be let into the Strip, but under strict supervision. No airport. No sea-port. Hamas must be prevented from re-arming.

The Palestinian side wants the blockade to be removed once and for all, even officially. They want their port and airport. They don’t mind supervision, either international or by the Palestinian Unity Government under Mahmoud Abbas.

How to square this circle, especially when the “mediator” is the Egyptian dictator, who acts practically as an agent of Israel? It is a mark of the situation that the US has disappeared as a mediator. After the futile John Kerry peace mediation efforts it is now generally despised throughout the Middle East.

Israel cannot “destroy” Hamas, as our semi-fascist politicians (in the government, too) loudly demand. Nor do they really want to. If Hamas is “destroyed”, Gaza would have to be turned over to the Palestinian Authority (viz. Fatah). That would mean the re-unification of the West Bank and Gaza, after all the long-lasting and successful Israeli efforts to divide them. No good.

If Hamas remains, Israel cannot allow the “terror-organization” to prosper. Relaxation of the blockade will only be limited, if that. The population will embrace Hamas even more, dreaming of revenge for the terrible devastation caused by Israel during this war. The next war will be just around the corner – as almost all Israelis believe anyhow.

In the end, we shall be where we were before.

THERE CAN be no real solution for Gaza without a real solution for Palestine.

The blockade must end, with serious security concerns of both sides properly addressed.

The Gaza Strip and the West Bank (with East Jerusalem) must be reunited.

The four “safe passages” between the two territories, promised in the Oslo agreement, must at last be opened.

There must be Palestinian elections, long overdue, for the presidency and the parliament, with a new government accepted by all Palestinian factions and recognized by the world community, Including Israel and the USA.

Serious peace negotiations, based on the two-state solution, must start and be concluded within a reasonable time.

Hamas must formally undertake to accept the peace agreement reached by these negotiations.
Israel’s legitimate security concerns must be addressed.

The Gaza port must be opened and enable the Strip and the entire State of Palestine to import and export goods.

There is no sense in trying to “solve” one of these problems separately. They must be solved together. They can be solved together.

Unless we want to go around and around, from one “round” to the next, without hope and redemption.

“We” – Israelis and Palestinians, locked for ever in an embrace of war.

Or do what Samson did: commit suicide.

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5 Responses

  1. Poo says:

    Oh joy, more Avnery. In the Knesset he was known for his volume of speeches, somewhere north of 1,000. Much like Obama, Avnery loves little more than the sound of his own voice unless it is the look of his own words. I suspect he reads them aloud, for the double pleasure. Like Obama, he favors writing books about himself. At least he never made Prime Minister. Israel can be thankful for that much at least.

    Once a fighter, Avnery one day decided that he was a pacifist and the fighting was over. If people would only just listen to him. But they didn’t. That’s why everybody else is wrong. Ho hum. The Gaza story is a ‘once upon a time’ tale Avnery consistently ignores in his missives.

    As he said in his official biography, “if there is any such thing as a Palestinian people, it is I, Yasser Arafat, who created them.” That from the mouth of Avnery’s pal Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian icon and undoubtedly Gaza’s most famous resident.

    Born Helmut Ostermann, Avnery likes to make up people too. “The Arabs think I am a Zionist. I invented the term ‘post-Zionist.” Maybe that’s why he and Arafat got along. They shared fantasy worlds.

    Arafat was born and raised primarily in Egypt. He studied at the University of Cairo and served in the Egyptian military. So much for being a Palestinian, except for making them up, that is.

    Throughout its long history, Gaza has often been Egyptian territory and under Egyptian control. 47 years ago, prior to the 1967 Six Day War, the Gaza Strip was held by Egypt. The West Bank was then held by Jordan. Egypt did want Gaza back but then Arafat turned Gaza into a terrorist haven. Egypt sensibly chose to separate itself from the terrorists and all that goes along with the jihadist mayhem. Jordan wants no part of the West Bank either. Do we see a pattern here?

    Egypt still does not want Hamas-run Gaza back in the Egyptian fold. You’d think they would what with Gaza’s offshore energy riches, but they don’t. Gaza could develop their resources, with outside help, but will do so only for money to buy arms rather than the goods and services needed by Gazans. So much for that. Egypt’s plan in any post-war settlement is to keep Gaza and its 20,000 armed terrorists as far away from Egypt as possible. Who can blame them for that? Most Egyptians feel the same way. They are repulsed by Hamas and their terrorist activities. Who isn’t? Egypt also has enough problems of its own.

    The Arab states, including Egypt and Jordan, go along with Arafat’s ‘distinct people’ fiction in order to isolate Palestinians and protect their own regimes. When they call for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, they aren’t calling for Gaza to go back under Egyptian rule, or for the West Bank to go back to Jordan. They are calling for the Palestinians to be contained in their own state. They expect Israel will then keep Palestinian terrorists at bay so they won’t have to. They have good reason to fear them. In truth, the Palestinians are not all that popular in the Arab world. Israel does not want to incorporate Gazans and West Bankers into Israel proper either hence it goes along with Arafat’s fiction. Oddly, it works for everybody except the ‘Palestinians’ themselves. They have chosen terror. Does anyone expect them to get open borders, a port and an airport for that? Avnery believes this can all be talked away, blah blah, willy nilly, but when does Hamas drop the terrorism? When? Avnery sounds like Obama talking about ISIS, vacant, wishful and completely unrealistic.

    Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, host of the ceasefire negotiations in Cairo, is considered a traitor by Gazans who are bitter over the unofficial alliance between Israel and Egypt. They feel let down by a man they consider a “fellow, countryman.” But how can a foreigner be a “countryman,” a “traitor?” He is not a Palestinian. It is because many Gazans see themselves as Egyptian. As Fathi Ḥammad, the Ḥamas Minister of the Interior and of National Security said two years ago, “Half of the Palestinians are Egyptian.” He went on, “Who are the Palestinians? We have many families called al-Masri, whose roots are Egyptian! They may be from Alexandria, from Cairo, from Dumietta, from the north, from Aswan, from Upper Egypt. We are Egyptians; we are Arabs. We are Muslims. We are part of you. Egyptians! Personally, half my family is Egyptian and the other half are Saudis.”

    “Masri,” in fact, means “the Egyptian” in Arabic. As most Palestinian Arabs well know, with very few exceptions, they are not indigenous local peoples but relative newcomers who migrated in the 19th and 20th centuries to the land then called Palestine. Many Jews who migrated to Palestine during the same centuries. The Jewish people have maintained a well-documented, unbroken presence in Israel for well over 3,000 years. The Muslim Qur’an refers to the Jewish people as the “Children of Israel”. In fact, until Arafat invented a “Palestinian” people to further his goal, which was justifying wiping out Israel, Jews were the ones called Palestinians. Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank may share genetics with Jews and other Semites but they are essentially the same as other Arabs. Palestinians cannot help but know their non-Palestinian origins. Other common names in Palestine include al-Djazair (the Algerian), el-Mughrabi (the Moroccan) and al-Yamani (the Yemenite).

    The first idea of an Arab state resting between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea precedes Arafat but is still a twentieth-century concept. Its origins can be traced to a single year, 1920. In January of that year, Palestinian nationalism hardly existed; by December, it had been born.

    Contrary to page one only Googlers, nationalism is not centuries old in Palestine or anywhere else. It originated only in late eighteenth-century Europe. It is more recent among Muslims who until recently, thought of themselves mainly in terms of religion. Islam emphasized bonds between fellow-believers, allowing little scope for territorially-bound loyalties. When nationalism reached the Middle East, the difficulty was exactly how to apply the national ideal and where would the boundaries be placed? Just who would get a nation of their own based on religion, the Maronite Christians, the Christians of the Levant, the Syrians, the Arabs or the Muslims? For good reason, no one, however, imagined a Palestinian nation. Palestine had always been, and at that time remained, a Jewish and Christian concept. It was utterly foreign to the Muslims. There had never been an independent state in Palestine ruled by Muslims, Christians and Jews yes, but not Muslims. The term “Palestine,” which today symbolizes the Arab rejection of Israel, not long ago served the Jews as the symbol of Jewish nationalism. My how times change. History is like that. Fairy tales, not so much.

    Palestine was effectively brought into existence by the British imperial authorities, not by Arabs and most certainly not by Palestinians. No Palestinian endorsed the act when it took place in 1920. To the contrary, there was intense opposition from Arabs all over the region no matter what they called themselves.

    “Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story.”…African Proverb

    He started it. No, they did. Who cares?

    The history of war is as ugly as it is chaotic. Dresden, Hiroshima, Pearl Harbor, the Armenian Genocide, Mustard Gas; all the way back to the Menai Massacre of AD 61. The ensuing years contain many more atrocities topped off to some by 9/11 or the Holocaust. I could go on throughout history. It was ever thus. It is never pretty. War crimes exist only in the mind of the beholder. War itself is the crime.

    William Tecumseh Sherman once famously noted that, “War is hell.” It certainly is for the Palestinians who suffer mightily while their government draws fire then hides in the tunnels. The peace hasn’t been so much for Israel either what with the rockets that have rained down on them over the last 9 years, some 13,000 in fact. Gaza was no peace-picnic either what with their government being made up of terrorists. These are elected terrorists so that tells you something or explains it. Pick one.

    The majority of Muslims should not be blamed for the actions of a violent and perverted minority, albeit a growing one. What they can be blamed for is their lack of effort in uprooting and reporting them. In the Muslim world, silence falls as jihadist terror rises. There is outrage over Israel’s response to Hamas rocket fire on non-military targets, in other words, civilians. The very same activist-yappers are hypocritically silent about atrocities committed in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere by fellow Muslims. These wankers attack Jewish citizens, firebomb their synagogues and launch outrageous protests against all things Jewish. Allegedly, this is in the name of solidarity with Palestinian “victims.” But they have no objection to the 200,000+ innocent non-combatants who are in danger of real genocide at the hands of ISIS. This is not a spin of vile words but actual, ruthless genocide perpetrated by illiterate thugs upon a private and peaceful people. Can the picketing class really compare Hamas to the Yazidi? Can the population of Gaza that voted for, supports and hides Hamas killers really be compared to the Yazidi?

    Even other terrorists shun ISIS as most civilized countries shun Hamas. Terrorists are terrorists but ISIS outdoes them all. A brutal and merciless Sunni terrorist group they been rampaging through town after town along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Now they are besieging the “infidels” known as the Yazidi, a Kurdish ethnic subgroup with an obscure religion all their own. About 40,000 Yazidi have fled their homes. Some are now are encamped on Mount Sinjur with little food and water. Within the Muslim Middle East, the Yazidi are a tiny people, easily extinguished. Western activists like to throw words like “genocide” around. But on that mountain right now, without international military and humanitarian intervention, the word will become grimly appropriate. There will be a real, horrific mass scale extermination of a people, in other words a genocide.

    Oddly, or perhaps not, the violent ISIS advance and all its horrors has inspired no campaigns of outrage in the streets of the West. There are no marches in Toronto or Paris or anywhere else. It is not fashionable to march against ISIS. They have no stores to loot, I guess. “Proportionality,” the leftist international catch phrase thrown around as a buzz word to indict Israel for fighting back too hard or too well, appears nowhere in the protestors’ response to the world’s many other injustices.

    Not surprisingly to the objective observer, Obama World seems surreal and fictional in its evilness. The Yazidi of Iraq are facing genocide. Boko Haram and the Taliban continue their reign of horrifyingly, brutal, cruel and inhuman terror from beheadings to kidnapping to rape. Where is the outrage in the Muslim world over these atrocities?

    Apparently, there is such a thing as Muslim activists, moderates if you will. For their efforts, I am told, they are labelled as traitors or heretics.
    Today, ISIS indiscriminately kills women and children in Iraq and Syria. They want women to undergo female genital mutilation and cover their faces. Can you say 7th century? Yazidi women are kept as sex slaves. Their men are killed. In Pakistan, minorities are persecuted for no reason other than their existence. The movement to eradicate them has been given a religious justification. The perpetrators are celebrated as heroes. The so-called “civilized world” is frozen by either political correctness or ignorance. My vote is with the latter.

    It falls upon the local communities where these atrocities occur to take action. Where are the moderate Muslim voices to counter the evil of ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah and all the other terrorist organizations? Where are the protest groups? When a recent documentary exposed the crimes perpetrated against women in many Muslim countries, so-called “moderate and progressive” Muslim women opposed the cause. Riddle me that.

    So-called moderate and activist Muslims consistently allow themselves to be shouted down by the media savvy jihadists and their western sycophants. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, all is good, I guess. Twitter me that!

    Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, has flatly stated his group’s intention to march on Baghdad and move into “direct confrontation with the United States.”

    Tolerance of the intolerant is not the sign of an open mind. It is the sign of a closed mind, or even worse, an empty one.

    • Pindori says:

      Poo’s observation:” For good reason, no one,however,imagined a Palestinian nation. Palestine had always been, and at that time remained,a Jewish and Christian concept. It was utterly foreign to the Muslims.”

      So, because nationalism was a Jewish “concept”,
      the Arabs living in Palestine are to be wished away just because they did not have a “concept” of nationalism-never mind that at that time they
      constituted 75% of the population! And of course because, as Poo has stated, nationalism is an 18nth century concept, his obvious implication is that those who missed this bus 200 years ago, have missed it for all times, and nationalism must remain out of reach for them. This logic is enough to take one’s breath away, and even upstages Golda Meir who denied the very existence of the Palestinians altogether.
      But Poo has charitably left a window open for for Christians to lay a claim to the “concept” of nationality.
      Therefore, may one assume that the Christians among the Palestinians may justly lay claim to Palestinian nationality?

  2. Poo is correct.
    In the current wave of ebullient global
    Antisemitism Uri Avnery is a reminder of a morally lofty Jew.
    “Your ruiners and destroyers will come out from you”


  3. The best thing about a Uri Avnery contribution to Nomadics is that it is invariably followed by a comment by the amazing and mysterious Poo.

  4. Poo says:

    Pindori seems to have confused past tense with present tense. I referred, quite clearly I thought, to claims of a so-called Palestinian Nation by Christians and Jews in the area centuries ago when Muslims bonded by religion rather than nations. Nothing new there. The Jews trace their roots in the area back nearly four thousand years to the eastern region of Canaan, known today as Israel and Palestinian. Arabs also trace their roots to the area similarly. They were once all neighbours. For the record, Judaism is some 2,700 years older than Islam. Also for the record, I hold to no religion.

    Pindori should read what I said, not what he/she thinks I said. I never infer, implicate or charitably open any doors. Ask anyone who knows me. I say what I mean and received an ‘A’ in logic back in my university days. I was speaking/writing/typing (just so Pindori is clear) in the past tense and referenced a period and a place where “nationhood” was unknown to Muslims. I suppose I could have said Muslims themselves were unknown to that place and time. Nationalism was never stated as a Jewish “concept” only as one they shared with Christians in that place all those centuries ago. Sheesh. Hey, there may have been others. They just weren’t Muslims or Palestinians unless you count the early Jews and Christians as Palestinians which many do, including Arafat.

    I never wished any Arabs living in Palestine or anywhere else to be “wished away.” To follow Pindari’s flimsy grasp on logic, or should I say reality, must I then “infer” the Arabs are now entitled to 75% of the land as per their population? I mean they have more than that now. Do they want less?

    Those who missed Pindori’s Bus can clamor on the next one. The world has not suffered from a shortage of nation creation or nation building.

    I cannot speak to Golda’s logic or the lack thereof. Maybe she was just cranky that day or tired of being at war with her neighbours. Remember too that it is the Muslim Qur’an itself which refers to the Jewish people as the “Children of Israel”. Maybe she was puzzled that its followers did not. I left no window open. I did not close one either.

    Pindori may “assume” all he/she wants. Christians and Jews among Palestinians today do claim heritage to the region and its peoples. Whether or not they would choose to live there as part of a Muslim nation run by terrorists is yet to be seen but somehow doubtful.

    To lay claim to nationhood does not make it so. By that definition, ISIS is a nation. I didn’t invent the history, Arafat did. He said so. Please see quote I cited at the outset.

    Anyone who wishes to build a nation can. Who am I to oppose? If the Palestinians wish to create a nation for themselves so be it. Lets hope it is a peaceful one. Terrorists groups, rocketeers, suicide bombers and kidnappers will not build roads to nationhood any more than the creation of fictional history will. That is what I said (quoting Arafat) and that is what I meant. No one accepts terrorism as a road to anywhere except terrorists.

    It is one thing to make a claim, it is quite another to say that you did even when you did not. At least Arafat was honest, he said he made up the Palestinian people and he did. The Palestine in question today is neither a multicultural nor a multi-faith society as was its origins. Hamas says it wants to drive Israel “into the sea.” The alleged “moderate” Abbas wants a “Jew free state.” Nice people, some new state but that is their choice. It would simply be a relatively new country, created as it was by the British in 1920. Pindori should go talk to them.

    Pindori might also like to consider that from its creation, Israel has been under attack. Maybe they are a little pissy about that. No doubt the Palestinians are a little “pissy” too but that is their choice. They could have built a garden, ‘Singapore on the Mediterranean’ as they say. They chose to fight from day one. That never ends well, for anyone.

    I trust this clears up Pindori’s confusion. Oh yes, in case Pindori is further confused, Poo is a ‘he’.

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