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Uri Avnery, "A Freedom Ride"--1/20/07

Uri Avnery
20.1.07

              A Freedom Ride

MAHATMA GANDHI would have loved it. Nelson Mandela would have saluted.
Martin Luther King would have been the most excited - it would have
reminded him of the old days.

Yesterday, a decree of the Officer Commanding the Central Sector,
General Yair Naveh, was about to come into force. It forbade Israeli
drivers from giving a ride to Palestinian passengers in the occupied
territories. The knitted-Kippah-wearing General, a friend of the
settlers, justified this as a vital security necessity. In the past,
inhabitants of the West Bank have sometimes reached Israeli territory in
Israeli cars.

Israeli peace activists decided that this nauseating order must be
protested. Several organizations planned a protest action for the very
day it was due to come into force. They organized a "Freedom Ride" of
Israeli car-owners who were to enter the West Bank (a criminal offence
in itself) and give a ride to local Palestinians, who had volunteered
for the action.

An impressive event in the making. Israeli drivers and Palestinian
passengers breaking the law openly, facing arrest and trial in a
military court.

At the last moment, the general "froze" the order. The demonstration was
called off.


THE ORDER that was suspended (but not officially rescinded) emitted a
strong odor of apartheid. It joins a large number of acts of the
occupation authorities that are reminiscent of the racist regime of
South Africa, such as the systematic building of roads in the West Bank
for Israelis only and on which Palestinians are forbidden to travel. Or
the "temporary" law that forbids Palestinians in the occupied
territories, who have married Israeli citizens, to live with their
spouses in Israel. And, most importantly, the Wall, which is officially
called "the separation obstacle". In Afrikaans, "apartheid" means
separation.

The "vision" of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert amounts to the
establishment of a "Palestinian state" that would be nothing more than a
string of Palestinian islands in an Israeli sea. It is easy to detect a
similarity between the planned enclaves and the "Bantustans" that were
set up by the White regime in South Africa - the so-called "homelands"
where the Blacks were supposed to enjoy "self-rule" but which really
amounted to racist concentration camps.

Because of this, we are right when we use the term "apartheid" in our
daily struggle against the occupation. We speak about the "apartheid
wall" and "apartheid methods". The order of General Naveh has
practically given official sanction to the use of this term. Even
institutions that are far from the radical peace camp did relate it to
the Apartheid system.

Therefore, the title of former President Jimmy Carter's new book is
fully justified - "Palestine - Peace not Apartheid". The title aroused
the ire of the "friends of Israel" even more than the content of the
book itself. How dare he? To compare Israel to the obnoxious racist
regime? To allege that the government of Israel is motivated by racism,
when all its actions are driven solely by the necessity to defend its
citizens against Arab terrorists? (By the way, on the cover of the book
there is a photo of a demonstration against the wall that was organized
by Gush Shalom and Ta'ayush. Carter's nose points to a poster of ours
that says: "The Wall - Jail for Palestinians, Ghetto for Israelis".)

It seems that Carter himself was not completely happy with the use of
this term. He has hinted that it was added at the request of the
publishers, who thought a provocative title would stimulate publicity.
If so, the ploy was successful. The famous Jewish lobby was fully
mobilized. Carter was pilloried as an anti-Semite and a liar. The storm
around the title displaced any debate about the facts cited in the book,
which have not been seriously questioned. The book has not yet appeared
in Hebrew.


BUT WHEN we use the term "Apartheid" to describe the situation, we have
to be aware of the fact that the similarity between the Israeli
occupation and the White regime in South Africa concerns only the
methods, not the substance. This must be made quite clear, so as to
prevent grave errors in the analysis of the situation and the
conclusions drawn from it.

It is always dangerous to draw analogies with other countries and other
times. No two countries and no two situations are exactly the same.
Every conflict has its own specific historical roots. Even when the
symptoms are the same, the disease may be quite different.

These reservations all apply to comparisons between the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the historical conflict between the
Whites and the Blacks in South Africa. Suffice it to point out several
basic differences:

(a) In SA there was a conflict between Blacks and Whites, but both
agreed that the state of South Africa must remain intact- the question
was only who would rule it. Almost nobody proposed to partition the
country between the Blacks and the Whites.

Our conflict is between two different nations with different national
identities, each of which places the highest value on a national state
of its own.

(b) In SA, the idea of "separateness" was an instrument of the White
minority for the oppression of the Black majority, and the Black
population rejected it unanimously. Here, the huge majority of the
Palestinians want to be separated from Israel in order to establish a
state of their own. The huge majority of Israelis, too, want to be
separated from the Palestinians. Separation is the aspiration of the
majority on both sides, and the real question is where the border
between them should run. On the Israeli side, only the settlers and
their allies demand to keep the whole historical area of the country
united and object to separation, in order to rob the Palestinians of
their land and enlarge the settlements. On the Palestinian side, the
Islamic fundamentalists also believe that the whole country is a "waqf"
(religious trust) and belongs to Allah, and therefore must not be
partitioned.

(c) In SA, a White minority (about 10 percent) ruled over a huge
majority of Blacks (78 percent), people of mixed race (7 percent) and
Asians (3 percent). Here, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan
River, there are now 5.5 million Jewish-Israelis and an equal number of
Palestinian-Arabs (including the 1.4 million Palestinians who are
citizens of Israel).

(d) The SA economy was based on Black labor and could not possibly have
existed without it. Here, the Israeli government has succeeded in
excluding the non-Israeli Palestinians almost completely from the
Israeli labor market and replacing them with foreign workers.


IT IS important to point out these fundamental differences in order to
prevent grave mistakes in the strategy of the struggle for ending the
occupation.

In Israel and abroad there are people who cite this analogy without
paying due attention to the essential differences between the two
conflicts. Their conclusion: the methods that were so successful against
the South African regime can again be applied to the struggle against
the occupation -  namely, mobilization of world public opinion, an
international boycott and isolation.

That is reminiscent of a classical fallacy, which used to be taught in
logic classes: an Eskimo knows ice. Ice is transparent. Ice can be
chewed. When given a glass of water, which is also transparent, he
thinks he can chew it.

There is no doubt that it is essential to arouse international public
opinion against the criminal treatment by the occupation authorities of
the Palestinian people. We do this every day, just as Jimmy Carter is
doing now. However, it must be clear that this is immeasurably more
difficult than the campaign that led to the overthrow of the South
African regime. One of the reasons: during World War II, the people who
later became the rulers of South Africa tried to sabotage the anti-Nazi
effort and were imprisoned, and therefore aroused world-wide loathing.
Israel is accepted by the world as the "State of the Holocaust
Survivors", and therefore arouses overwhelming sympathy.

It is a serious error to think that international public opinion will
put an end to the occupation. This will come about when the Israeli
public itself is convinced of the need to do so.

There is another important difference between the two conflicts, and
this may be more dangerous than any other: in South Africa, no White
would have dreamt of ethnic cleansing. Even the racists understood that
the country could not exist without the Black population. But in Israel,
this goal is under serious consideration, both openly and in secret. One
of its main advocates, Avigdor Lieberman, is a member of the government
and last week Condoleezza Rice met with him officially. Apartheid is not
the worst danger hovering over the heads of the Palestinians. They are
menaced by something infinitely worse: "Transfer", which means total
expulsion.


SOME PEOPLE in Israel and around the world follow the Apartheid analogy
to its logical conclusion: the solution here will be the same as the one
in South Africa. There, the Whites surrendered and the Black majority
assumed power. The country remained united. Thanks to wise leaders,
headed by Nelson Mandela and Frederick Willem de Klerk, this happened
without bloodshed.

In Israel, that is a beautiful dream for the end of days. Because of the
people involved and their anxieties, it would inevitably turn into a
nightmare. In this country there are two peoples with a very strong
national consciousness. After 125 years of conflict, there is not the
slightest chance that they would live together in one state, share the
same government, serve in the same army and pay the same taxes.
Economically, technologically and educationally, the gap between the two
populations is immense. In such a situation, power relations similar to
those in Apartheid South Africa would indeed arise.

In Israel, the demographic demon is lurking. There is an existential
angst among the Jews that the demographic balance will change even
within the Green Line. Every morning the babies are counted - how many
Jewish babies were born during the night, and how many Arab. In a joint
state, the discrimination would grow a hundredfold. The drive to
dispossess and expel would know no bounds, rampant Jewish settlement
activity would flourish, together with the effort to put the Arabs at a
disadvantage by all possible means. In short: Hell.


IT MAY be hoped that this situation will change in 50 years. I have no
doubt that in the end, a federation between the two states, perhaps
including Jordan too, will come about. Yasser Arafat spoke with me about
this several times. But neither the Palestinians not the Israelis can
afford 50 more years of bloodshed, occupation and creeping ethnic
cleansing.

The end of the occupation will come in the framework of peace between
the two peoples, who will live in two free neighboring states - Israel
and Palestine - with the border between them based on the Green Line. I
hope that this will be an open border.

Then - inshallah - Palestinians will freely ride in Israeli cars, and
Israelis will ride freely in Palestinian cars. When that time comes,
nobody will remember General Yair Naveh, or even his boss, General Dan
Halutz. Amen.
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