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Some Optimism from Uri Avnery--11/24/07

Uri Avnery
24.11.07

               Omelettes into Eggs

I WAS awakened from deep sleep by the noise. There was a commotion
outside, which was getting louder by the minute. The shout of excited
people. An eruption of joy.

I stuck my nose outside the door of my Haifa hotel room. I was told
enthusiastically that the United Nations General Assembly had just
decided to partition the country.

I went back into my room and closed the door behind me. I had no desire
to join the celebrations.

November 29, 1947 - a day that changed our lives forever.


At this historic moment, how could I feel lonely, alienated and most of
all - sad?

I was sad because I love all of this country - Nablus and Hebron no less
than Tel-Aviv and Rosh-Pina.

I was sad because I knew that blood, much blood, would be shed.

But it was mainly a question of my political outlook.

I was 24 years old. Two years before, I and a group of friends had set
up a political-ideological group that aroused intense anger in the
Yishuv (the Hebrew population in Palestine). Our ideas, which provoked a
very strong reaction, were regarded as a dangerous heresy.

The "Young Palestine Circle" ("Eretz-Yisrael Hatz'ira" in Hebrew)
published occasional issues of a magazine called "ba-Ma'avak" ("In the
Struggle"), and was therefore generally known as "the ba-Ma'avak Group")
advocating a revolutionary new ideology, whose main points were:

-  We, the young generation that had grown up in this country, were a
new nation.

-  Our language and culture meant we should be called the Hebrew Nation.

-  Zionism gave birth to this nation, and had thereby fulfilled its mission.

-  From here on, Zionism has no further role to play. It is a hindrance
to the free development of the new nation, and should be dismantled,
like the scaffolding after a house is built.

- The new Hebrew nation is indeed a part of the Jewish people - as the
new Australian nation, for example, is a part of the Anglo-Saxon people
- but has a separate identity, its own interests and a new culture.

-  The Hebrew nation belongs to the country, and is a natural ally of
the Arab national movement. Both national movements are rooted in the
country and its history, from the ancient Semitic civilization to the
present.

-  The new Hebrew nation does not belong to Europe and the "West", but
to awakening Asia and the Semitic Region - a term we invented in order
to distance ourselves from the European-colonial term "Middle East".

-  The new Hebrew nation must integrate itself in the region, as a full
and equal partner. Together with all the nations of the Semitic Region,
it strives for the liberation of the region from the colonial empires.


WITH THIS world view, we naturally opposed the partition of the country.

Two months before the UN partition resolution, in September 1947, I
published a pamphlet called "War or Peace in the Semitic Region", in
which I proposed a completely different plan: that the Hebrew national
movement and the Palestinian-Arab national movement combine into one
single national movement and establish a joint state in the whole of
Palestine, based on the love of the country (patriotism, in the real sense).

This was far from the "bi-national" idea, which had important adherents
in those days. I never believed in this. Two different nations, each of
which clings to its own national vision, cannot live together in one
state. Our vision was based on the creation of a new, joint nation, with
a Hebrew and an Arab component.

We hastily translated the essence of the pamphlet into English and
Arabic, and I went to distribute it to the editorial offices of the Arab
newspapers in Jaffa. It was no longer the town I had known from earlier
days, when my work (clerk in a law office) frequently took me to the
government offices there. The atmosphere felt dark and ominous.


WITH THE expected UN resolution looming, we decided to publish a special
issue of ba-Ma'avak devoted completely to it. A student of the Haifa
Technical University volunteered to supply a drawing for the front page,
and that's why I found myself at that fateful moment in that small Haifa
hotel.

I couldn't go back to sleep again. I got up and, in the excitement of
the moment, wrote a poem that was published in that special issue. The
first verse went like this:

"I swear to you, motherland, / On this bitter day of your humiliation, /
Great and united / You will rise from the dust. / The cruel wound / Will
burn in the hearts of your sons / Until your flags / Will wave from the
sea to the desert."

One of our group composed a melody, and we sang it in the following
days, as we bade farewell to our dreams.



THE MOMENT the UN resolution was adopted, it was clear that our world
had changed completely, that an era had come to an end and a new epoch
had begun, both in the life of the country and also in the life of every
one of us.

We hurriedly pasted on the walls a large poster warning of a "Semitic
Fraticidal War"' but the war was already on. When the first bullet was
fired, the possibility of creating the joint, united single country was
shattered.

I am proud of my ability to adapt rapidly to extreme changes. The first
time I had to do this was when Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany and
my life changed abruptly and completely. I was then nine years old, and
everything that had happened before was dead for me. I started a new
life in Palestine. On November 29, 1947, it was happening again - to me
and to all of us.

As the well-known saying has it, one can make an omelette from eggs, but
not eggs from an omelette. Banal, perhaps, but how very true.

The moment the Hebrew-Arab war started, the possibility that the two
nations would live together in one state expired. Wars change reality.

I joined the "Haganah Battalions", the forerunner of the IDF. As a
soldier in the special commando unit that was later called "Samson's
Foxes", I saw the war as it was - bitter, cruel, inhuman. First we faced
the Palestinian fighters, later the fighters of the wider Arab world. I
passed through dozens of Arab villages, many abandoned in the storm of
battle, many others whose inhabitants were driven out after being
occupied.

It was an ethnic war. In the first months, no Arabs were left behind our
lines, no Jews were left behind the Arab lines. Both sides committed
many atrocities. In the beginning of the war, we saw the pictures of the
heads of our comrades paraded on stakes through the Old City of
Jerusalem. We saw the massacre committed by the Irgun and the Stern
Group in Deir Yassin. We knew that if we were captured, we would be
slaughtered, and the Arab fighters knew they could expect the same.

The longer the war dragged on, the more I became convinced of the
reality of the Palestinian nation, with which we must make peace at the
end of the war, a peace based on partnership between the two peoples.

While the war was still going on, I expressed this view in a number of
articles that were published at the time in Haaretz. Immediately after
the fighting was over, when I was still in uniform convalescing from my
wounds, I started meeting with two young Arabs (both of whom were later
elected to the Knesset) in order to plan a common path. I could not have
imagined that 60 years later this effort would still not be over.


NOWADAYS, THE IDEA appears here and there of turning the omelette back
into the egg, of dismantling the State of Israel and the
State-of-Palestine-to-be, and establishing a single state, as we sang at
that time: "from the sea to the desert".

This is presented as a fresh new idea, but it is actually an attempt to
turn the wheel back and to bring back to life an idea that is
irrevocably obsolete. In human history, that just does not happen. What
has been forged in blood and fire in wars and intifadas, - the State of
Israel and the Palestinian national movement - will not just disappear.
After a war, states can achieve peace and partnership, like Germany and
France, but they do not merge into one state.

I am not a nostalgic type. I look back at the ideas of my younger days,
and try to analyze what has been superseded and what is left.

The ideas of the "Ba-Ma'avak group" were indeed revolutionary and bold -
but could they have been put into practice? Looking back, it is clear to
me that the "Joint State" idea was already unrealistic when we brought
it up. Perhaps it would have been possible one or two generations
earlier. But by the middle of the 40s, the situation of the two peoples
had changed decisively. There was no escaping from the partition of the
country.

I believe that we were right in our historical approach: that we must
identify with the region we are living in, cooperate with the Arab
national movement and enter into a partnership with the Palestinian
nation. As long as we see ourselves as a part of Europe and/or the USA,
we are not able to achieve peace. And certainly not if we consider
ourselves soldiers in a crusade against the Islamic civilization and the
Arab peoples.

As we said then, before the partition resolution: the Palestinian people
exists. Even after 60 years, in which they have suffered catastrophes
which few other peoples have ever experienced, the Palestinian people
clings to its country with unparalleled fortitude. True, the dream of
living together in one state is dead, and will not come to life again.
But I have no doubt that after the Palestinian state comes into being,
the two states will find ways to live together in close partnership. The
walls will be thrown down, the fences will be dismantled, the border
will be opened, and the reality of the common country will overcome all
obstacles. The flags of the country - the two flags of the two states -
will indeed wave side by side.

The UN resolution of November 29, 1947, was one of the most intelligent
in the annals of that organization. As one who strenuously opposed it, I
recognize its wisdom.

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