Living In A
By Uri Avnery
04 May, 2004
A few days ago,
the State of Israel celebrated its 56th anniversary according to the
Hebrew (lunar) calendar.A chance to escape from reality for a day, at
a time when the whole country was braced for suicide-bombings to avenge
the assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Dr. Abd-al-Aziz al-Rantissi.
A day of nostalgia for the Israel of the early years, the years of innocence
and youth. There were speeches, spectacles, fireworks. The solemn voice
of Amikam Gurewitz recited the memorial prayer for the fallen soldiers
of all our wars in decades-old tradition. Bereaved parents relive their
pain. Groups of soldiers, male and female, exchange flags. Boys and
girls dance the old and half-forgotten folk dances. The media full of
the heroic deeds of our soldiers facing a cruel enemy, the sacrifices
of the pioneers, the selfless idealism of the founders. A lot of speeches
about democracy and the hope for peace.
Not a word about the Palestinians, God forbid! Not a word about the
transformation of the glorious Israeli Defense Army into a blood-stained
colonial police force. No mention that the celebrated Air Force which
destroyed the air forces of three Arab states in a few hours in 1967,
has now become a specialist in extra-judicial executions, often killing
not only the targeted Palestinian militants but also their wives and
children, as well as random bystanders.
Israel looked into
its magic mirror and saw a beautiful state that arose from the embers
of the Holocaust and transformed a downtrodden and persecuted people
into a proud and mighty nation, with brilliant achievements in all spheres
of endeavor. How wonderful!
In a few days, the
Palestinians will commemorate the catastrophe that befell them 56 years
ago, according to the general (solar) calendar.
It will be a day of mourning, of longing, and anger about all that happened
and is still happening. There will be demonstrations, speeches, shooting
in the air. Everybody will remember the Naqbah, the catastrophe, when
half the Palestinian people were expelled from their homes and fields
by a cruel enemy. Many of them are still languishing in miserable refugee
camps, where they survive by the grace of international institutions
that provide them with food and education.
The refugees will
remember with longing the 450 villages that were conquered by the enemy
and razed to the ground, each of which lives on in their imagination
as a little paradise, surrounded by lush fields and plantations. They
will yearn for the streets of Haifa and Jaffa, Ramle and Bir-Saba, the
Jerusalem neighborhoods of Katamon and Talbieh, all of them the epitome
of beauty and perfection.
will look into the magic mirror of the past and they will see a people
that lived idyllically on their land until the appearance of cruel foreigners
who condemned them to a life of humiliation and misery, oppression and
exile, with no redemption in sight.
These two events
may look as if they happened on two different planets, say on Mars and
Saturn. But both happened on our small planet, in one small country.
The two events are,
actually, one and the same event.
It is natural that two peoples at war will view the events in different
and contradictory ways. But war is generally an exceptional state that
lasts only a few years. Before and after the war there is peace, and
in a state of peace the normal life and new contacts cause bitter memories
to fade and differences between the perceptions to narrow.
In World War II
the Germans conquered France and imposed a cruel occupation regime.
One need only recall the wholesale slaughter of hostages. But less than
ten years later, Frenchmen created the vision of a unified Europe, based
on a French-German alliance, and since then the borders have all but
disappeared, a common currency has been created and friendship is blossoming.
There is hardly any difference of opinion about what happened between
the two peoples in the past.
During the same
war, the Germans killed a third of the Jewish people with slave labor,
starvation, mass execution and the gas chambers. This is a crime without
parallel in modern history, as far as its character and methods are
concerned. But less than ten years after the crematoria of Auschwitz
had cooled, an agreement was already signed between Germany and Israel,
which called itself "the state of the survivors". Now Germany
and Israel try to outdo each other in commemorating the Holocaust.
Nothing like that
is happening with the two peoples in this country. The war between them
is not an extraordinary state, but has become normality. All the toxins
produced by war - fear, hatred, prejudices - continue to poison the
minds of the new generation, the fifth that has been born into this
war, a generation whose entire mental world is shaped by the war.
Thus each of the
two peoples lives sealed in its closed bubble, cut off from the other,
and, indeed, from the world at large. Inside its bubble, each people
cultivates their grievances, the conviction of being the ultimate victim,
the memory of the injustices done to them, the anger at the other, cruel,
murderous and detestable people. Each side believes that absolute justice
is on its side, and hence in the absolute injustice of the other side.
This bubble is a
prison, closed and secured by more than walls and barbed wire. Israelis
and Palestinians are hostages of their mental worlds. They are unable
to see each other, unable to see the world as it is. They see only the
mirror, the magic mirror that shows them what they want to see.
For both, the bubble is a vital need. It is a means of self-protection
which provides them with mental security, the certainty in the rightness
of their cause and a sense of orientation. The world outside is cold
and hostile, inside the bubble there is warmth and a sense of belonging.
Anyone who tries to break the bubble will be exposed to a wave of hatred
and anger that may be lethal.
This does not apply
only to what is happening now. It concerns everything that has happened
between the two peoples in the last 120 years, since the beginning of
the Zionist enterprise in this country. Every event, large or small,
without exception, appears in the collective memory of the two peoples
in a different and contrary fashion. As a result, everything that is
said now, everything that is proposed by one side sounds different,
suspicious and menacing to the other. Every negotiation becomes a battle,
every summit meeting only increases the mutual hatred.
A vicious circle
is operating: without removing the bubbles there can be no peace, without
peace it is impossible to remove the bubbles.
And a personal note: I became convinced many years ago that this vicious
circle not only must, but can be broken. Since then I have been trying
to build a joint, common Israeli-Palestinian narrative that incorporates
the narratives of both peoples, not by contriving an artificial compromise
but by seeking the truth. I have already written books and essays about
this. This week a booklet called "Truth Against Truth" has
been published by Gush Shalom. In it we have tried to outline a common
narrative of the conflict, taking into account the viewpoints of both
It has become clear
to me that without a sincere endeavor by each side to become fully aware
of the viewpoint of the other, no effort to achieve real peace between
the two peoples will bear fruit.