|Editor’s Note: I usually love Avnery’s articles, but in the one below I think his contextualizing Hamas’ chief Meshal in his one time visit to Gaza (he was exiled out of Palestine in a deal after Israel’s failed attempt to murder him) can make fuzzy a truth that is not said clearly enough by Avnery: we who believe in peace and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine must unequivocally reject not only the murderous actions of Hamas, but also the murderous discourse that it supports as manifested in Meshal’s speech that called for armed struggle until Israel is eliminated totally. True enough, Meshal may be largely irrelevant in the Hamas power structure–a visitor from the past who does not control the decisions of Hamas. But his ideas do reflect a tendency within many who have given up hope of ever achieving human rights for Palestine in any way besides armed struggle, a depressive conclusion that was strengthen for some when the U.S. and Israel rejected even the merely symbolic recognition that the General Assembly gave to Palestine Nov. 29th, and when even liberal organizaitons like the Reform movement in Judaism opposed that most minimal statement of respect for the Palestinian people’s aspiration for a two state solution as undermining the possibility of negotiations (as though Netanyahu was going to stop expanding settlements if only the UN didn’t recognize Palestinian observer status at the UN–a ridiculous and blind perspective).
This kind of talk condemns Israel and Palestine to decades more of murderous behavior. It is immoral, it is disgusting, and we call upon the Palestinian people to reject it publicly just as we call for the Israeli people to reject the murderous talk of endless expansion of Israel into the West Bank and the frequently racist discourse that comes from right-wing politicians and rabbis in Israel and the U.S. No wonder Israelis fall for the right-wing “no alternative but iron fist” rhetoric when the right-wing can quote Hamas political leaders like Meshal. His speech was a disaster for all of us, Jews, Chrstians, Muslims, Israelis, Palestinians and peace-lovers around the world, and we should say publicly that that kind of commitment to an endless war against Israel is just as much part of why this struggle continues as anything that Israel does on the ground in expanding into Palestine and trampling on Palestinian human rights (which we abhor also).
And this is why it is so important to not dismiss the Palstinian Authority which rejects Meshal’s message, and the majority of Palesitnians who respond to Meshal only to the extent that they see no stop in Israel’s expansionism and cruelty toward the Palestinian people. So, as much as we reject Meshal and those in Hamas who really believe in his extremism, we refuse to identify all Palestinian or even most with their extremists just as we refuse to identify all or even most Israelis with their extremists. Much would be changed if Israel were to negotiate an economically and politically viable Palestinian state along the lines I outline in Embracing Israel/Palestine (www.tikkun.org/EIP).
On these days of Chanukah and coming Christmas, we Tikkunistas and Spiritual Progressives pray for the return of the light in the midst of the darkness, and the ultimate triumph of nonviolence, love, kindness, generosity, and caring for every human being on the planet equally, recognizing every human being as equally created in the image of God and equally entitled to her or his share of the well-being possible on this planet if we would only share it all in a spirit of generosity and love, and with a desire to preserve rather than exploit the planet earth! –Rabbi Michael Lerner
P.S. if you happen to live in the Bay Area, you are invited to Beyt Tikkun’s 8th night of Chanukah party, candle-lighting, singing, veggie pot-luck (bring a main course dish or $15 check made out to Beyt Tikkun), Achi ben Shalom teaching Israeli folkdancing, and Kabbalah and Hasidism teacher Rabbi Menachem Kallus joining me. 5 p.m.-9 p/.m. at the Berkeley Unitarian Fellowship Hall at Cedar and
Bonita in Berkeley (actually in the building to the south of the main building, and on its second floor). It will be fun! And to all: God’s peace be upon us all.
P.P.S. We also salute Roly Matalon, Marcello Bronstein and Felicia Sol at Bnai Jeshurun, and all other rabbis who have publicly welcomed the UN resolution giving Palestine “observer state” status at the U.N. The huge assault on these rabbis reminds us once again (as though physical attacks on my house was not enough to demonstrate this) that the Jewish world in the U.S. remains even more intolerant and repressive of honest debate than the Israeli population. and that it takes a lot of courage to speak out for the humanity of the Palestinian people and their human and national rights!
December 15, 2012
The Sea and the River
“Palestine, from the Jordan to the Sea, belongs to us!” declared Khaled Meshal last week at the huge victory rally in Gaza.
“Eretz Israel, from the sea to the Jordan, belongs to us!” declare right-wing Israelis on every occasion.
The two statements seem to be the same, with only the name of the country changed.
But if you read them again carefully, there is a slight difference. The direction.
FROM THE sea to the river, from the river to the sea.
Therein lies much more significance than meets the eye. It shows how the speaker sees himself – coming from the East or from the West.
When one says “from the river to the sea”, one sees oneself as belonging to the extensive region known to Westerners as the “Middle East”, a vital part of the Asian continent. The term “Middle East” is, itself, a patronizing expression with colonial undertones – it suggests that the area has no independent standing. It exists only in relation to a far-away world center – Berlin? London? Washington?
When one says “from the sea to the river”, one sees oneself as coming from the West and living as a bridgehead of the West, facing a foreign, and probably hostile, continent.
In its long recorded history, going back many thousands of years, this country – whether Canaan, Palestine or Eretz Israel – has seen many waves of invaders who came to settle here.
Most of these waves came from the hinterland. Canaanites, Hebrews, Arabs, and many others came from the East. They settled here, mingled with the existing population and were soon absorbed, creating new mixtures and establishing natural relations with the neighboring countries. They fought wars, made peace, prospered, suffered in times of drought.
The ancient Israelite kingdoms (not the mythical ones of Saul, David and Solomon but the real historical ones of Ahab and his successors) were a natural part of this environment, as witnessed by contemporary Assyrian and other documents.
So were the Arab invaders of the 7th century. They settled among the locals. These very slowly converted from Christianity and Judaism to Islam, adopted the Arabic language and became “Arabs”, much as the Canaanites before them had become “Israelites”.
QUITE DIFFERENT was the way of those invaders who came from the West.
There were three waves: the Philistines in antiquity, the Crusaders in the Middle Ages and the Zionists in modern times.
Coming from the West (even if, like the first Crusaders, overland)] the invader sees the vast enemy continent before him. He clings to the shore, establishes a bridgehead and advances to enlarge it. Significantly, no “western” invader ever established borders – they advanced or retreated as their forces and circumstances decreed.
This historical picture applies, of course, only to those invaders who came and settled in the country. It does not concern the invading empires which just wanted to control the area. They came from all directions and moved on – Hittites and Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians, Persians and Greeks, Romans and Byzantines, Arabs and Mongols, Turks and British. (The Mongols came here after destroying Iraq, and were beaten decisively by the Muslim general Baybars, heir of Saladin, in one of the most decisive battles in history.)
Eastern Empires usually continued through Egypt to the West, turning North Africa into a Semitic sphere. Western Empires continued to the East, towards India.
Tutmosis, Cyrus, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon and many others came and passed on – but none of them left a lasting mark on the country.
LIKE THEIR predecessors coming from the West, the Zionists had a bridgehead mentality from the start, and have it to this day.
Indeed, they had it even before the Zionist movement was officially founded. In his canonical book, Der Judenstaat, Theodor Herzl, the visionary whose picture hangs in the Knesset plenum hall, wrote that the future Jewish State would form a part of the “wall against Asia”. It would serve as a “forward position of the culture against the barbarism”.
Not just culture, but The Culture. And not just barbarism, but The Barbarism. For a reader in the 1890s, these needed no explanation: Culture was white and European, Barbarism was everything else, whether brown, red, black or yellow.
In today’s Israel, five generations later, this mentality has not changed. Ehud Barak coined the phrase which reflects this mentality more clearly than any other: “We are a Villa in the Jungle”.
Villa: culture, civilization, order, the West, Europe. Jungle: barbarism, the Arab/Muslim world surrounding us, a place full of wild animals, where anything can happen at any moment.
This phrase is repeated endlessly and accepted by practically everyone. Politicians and army officers may replace it with ”the neighborhood” (“Shekhuna”). Daily examples: “In the neighborhood in which we live, we cannot relax for a moment!” Or: “In a neighborhood like ours we need the atom bomb!”
Moshe Dayan, who had a poetic streak, said two generations ago in the most important speech of his life: “We are a generation of settlers, and without the steel helmet and the cannon we cannot plant a tree and build a house…This is the fate of our generation, the choice of our life – to be prepared and armed, strong and tough, or otherwise the sword will slip from our fist and our life will be snuffed out.” In another speech, a few years later, Dayan clarified that he did not mean just one generation – but many to come, endlessly – the typical bridgehead mentality which knows no borders, neither in space nor in time.
(Just a personal remark: sixty-five years ago, a year before the foundation of Israel, I published a pamphlet which opened with the words: “When our Zionist fathers decided to set up a [national home in this country] they had the choice between two courses: They could appear [as] a bridgehead of the “white” race and the master of the “natives” [or] as the heirs of the Semitic political and cultural tradition [leading] the war of liberation of the Semitic peoples against European exploitation…”)
The difference between sea-to-river and river-to-sea is not just political, and far from superficial. It goes right to the roots of the conflict.
BACK TO Meshal. His speech was a reiteration of the most extreme Palestinian line. The same words could have been delivered seventy years ago by the then leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. It is the line that has played into the hands of the Zionists and condemned the Palestinian people to disaster, to untold suffering and to its present situation.
Part of the blame must go to the Arabic language. It is a beautiful tongue, and can easily intoxicate its speaker. Modern Arab history is full of wonderful orators, who got so drunk on their own words that they lost contact with reality.
I remember an occasion when the Egyptian president, Gamal Abd al-Nasser, an outstanding rhetorician and the idol of the Arab masses, was making a sensible speech about Egyptian affairs, when somebody in the crowd shouted: “Palestine, oh Gamal!” Nasser forgot what he was talking about and launched into a passionate exposition of the Palestinian cause, heating himself up more and more, until he was obviously in a kind of trance. It was the state of mind which led him into the Israeli trap in 1967. (Israeli politicians since Menachem Begin are, fortunately, very poor speakers, speaking very inferior Hebrew.)
One could say, of course, that Meshal’s speech before the masses was just a politician’s bid for popularity and does not really count – what counts is the very different positions he adopted behind the scenes in Egypt and Gaza. That might sound reasonable – but is not.
First, because speeches influence the speaker. It would be very difficult for him to extract himself now from the verbal trap he set up for himself, even if Arab listeners have learned to take grandiose speeches with a grain of salt.
Second, because extreme Arab speeches immediately become ammunition in the hands of Israeli extremists. They reinforce the general contention, also from Ehud Barak, that “we have no partner for peace”. Meshal’s mirror image, Avigdor Lieberman, has already used this speech as his main weapon in repulsing the European condemnation of Netanyahu’s new destructive settlement project.
IN REALITY, Meshal is now more than ever ready for compromise (as was Nasser at the time he made the speech I mentioned.) He has indicated that while not ready to make peace with Israel himself, he would accept a peace agreement signed by Mahmoud Abbas and ratified in a Palestinian referendum. He also indicated that such a peace should be based on the 1967 borders. He knows, of course, that Abbas is ready for an “agreed” solution of the refugee problem – agreed, that is, by Israel. This means that only a symbolic number will be allowed to return to Israeli territory.
Trouble is, in his exciting public speech he said the very opposite, and worse. So did Nasser, and it killed him. So, for some time, did Yasser Arafat, until he saw the folly of this method. As, I think, will Khaled Meshal, in due time.
There is no escape from the simple truth that there will be two states between the river and the sea – as well as between the sea and the river.
Unless we want the whole country – sea to river, river to sea – to become one vast graveyard.
POSTSCRIPT FROM RABBI LERNER: well, I really don’t disagree with what Avnery says, but only what he leaves out, because this is a moment to say clearly that what Meshal and those who agree with him in Hamas are saying is morally unacceptable and must be publicly challenged. We do the same for Bibi Netanyahu and his recently resigned partner Lieberman. Our job is not to choose sides, but to be on the side of both peoples, neither of which is served by violence or triumphalist (we are going to win, the other side is going to be unequivocally defeated) rhetoric.==Rabbi Michael Lerner