Israel Palestine Middle East Conflict

 

Uri Avnery

5.9.09

 

                                                The Boycott Revisited                                               

 

THE PEOPLE of Sodom, the Bible tells us, were very wicked indeed.

 

They had a nasty habit of putting every passing stranger into one particular bed. If the stranger was too tall, his legs were shortened. If he was too short, his body was stretched to the required length.

 

In a way, each of us has such a bed, into which we put everything new. Confronted with a novel situation, we tend to equate it with a situation we have known in the past.

 

In politics, this method is especially pervasive. It relieves us of the irksome necessity of studying an unfamiliar situation and drawing new conclusions.

 

Once, the pattern of Vietnam was applied to every struggle around the world – from Argentina to North Korea. Nowadays, the fashion points to South Africa. Everything resembles the struggle against apartheid, unless proven otherwise.

 

 

SINCE SENDING out last week’s article, “Tutu’s Prayer”, I have been flooded with responses, some laudatory, some abusive, some thoughtful, some merely angry.

 

Generally, I don’t argue with my esteemed readers. I don’t want to impose my views, I just want to provide food for thought and leave it to the reader to form his or her own opinion.

 

This time I feel that I owe it to my readers to clear up some of the points I was trying to make and answer some of the objections. So here we go.

 

 

I HAVE no argument with people who hate Israel. That’s entirely their right. I just don’t think that we have any common ground for discussion.

 

I would only like to point out that hatred is a very bad advisor. Hatred leads nowhere, but to more hatred. That, by the way, is a positive lesson we can draw from the South African experience. There they overcame hatred to a remarkable extent, largely thanks to the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” headed by Archbishop Tutu, where people admitted their past offenses. 

 

One thing is certain: hatred does not lead towards peace. Let me be quite explicit about this, because I sense that some people, in their righteous indignation over Israel’s occupation, have lost sight of this.

 

Peace is made between enemies, after war, in which awful things invariably happen. Peace can be made and maintained between peoples who are prepared to live with each other, respect each other, recognize the humanity of each other. They don’t have to love each other.

 

Describing the other side as monsters may be useful in waging war, but singularly unhelpful in waging peace.

 

When I receive a missive that is dripping with hatred of Israel, that portrays all Israelis (including myself, of course) as monsters, I fail to envision how the writer imagines peace. Peace with monsters? Angels and monsters living side by side in peace and harmony in one state, hating each other’s guts?

 

The view of Israel as a monolithic entity composed of racists and brutal oppressors is a caricature. Israel is a complex society, struggling with itself. The forces of good and evil, and many in between, are locked in a daily battle on many different fronts. The settlers and their supporters are strong, perhaps getting stronger (though I doubt it), but are far – even in their own view - from a decisive victory. Neve Gordon, for example, has been left unmolested in his post at Ben-Gurion University, because any attempt to remove him would have caused a public outcry.

 

 

I ALSO have no argument with those who want to abolish the State of Israel. It is as much their right to aspire to that as it is my right to want to dismantle, let’s say, the USA or France, neither of which has an unblemished past.

 

Reading some of the messages sent to me and trying to analyze their contents, I get the feeling they are not so much about a boycott on Israel as about the very existence of Israel. Some of the writers obviously believe that the creation of the State of Israel was a terrible mistake to start with, and therefore should be reversed. Turn the wheel of history back some 62 years and start anew.

 

What really disturbs me about this is that almost nobody in the West comes out and says clearly: Israel must be abolished. Some of the proposals, like those for a “One State” solution, sound like euphemisms. If one believes that the State of Israel should be abolished and replaced by a State of Palestine or a State of Happiness – why not say so openly?

 

Of course, that does not mean peace. Peace between Israel and Palestine presupposes that Israel is there. Peace between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people presupposes that both peoples have a right to self-determination and agree to the peace. Does anyone really believe that racist monsters like us would agree to give up our state because of a boycott?

 

The French and the Germans did not agree to live in one joint state, though the differences between them are incomparably smaller than those between Jewish Israelis and Arab Palestinians. Instead, they set up a European Union, composed of nation-states. Some 50 years ago I called for a similar Semitic Union, including Israel and Palestine. I still do.

 

Anyway, there is no sense in arguing with those who pray for the disappearance of the sovereign State of Israel, rather than for the appearance of the sovereign State of Palestine at its side.

 

 

THE REAL argument is among those who want to see peace between the two states, Israel and Palestine. The question is: how can it be achieved? This is an honest debate and is generally conducted in a civil manner. My debate with Neve Gordon is in this framework.

 

The advocates of boycott believe that the main, indeed the only way to induce Israel to give up the occupied territories and agree to peace is to exert pressure from the outside.

 

I have no quarrel with the idea of outside pressure. The question is: pressure on whom? On the government, the settlers and their supporters? Or on the entire Israeli people?

 

The first answer is, I believe, the right one. That’s why I hope that President Barack Obama will publish a detailed peace plan with a fixed timetable and apply the immense powers of persuasion of the USA to get both sides to agree. I don’t think that this is politically possible without the support of a large part of Israeli society (and, by the way, of the US Jewish community).

 

Some readers have lost all hope in Obama. That is, without doubt, premature. Obama has not surrendered to Binyamin Netanyahu – indeed, it is quite conceivable that the opposite is happening. The struggle is on, it is a hard struggle against determined opposition, and we should do all we can to help Obama’s peace policy to prevail. We must do this as Israelis, from inside Israel, and thereby show that this is not a struggle of the US against Israel, but a joint struggle against the Israeli government and the settlers. 

 

It follows that any boycott must serve this purpose: to isolate the settlers and the individuals and institutions which openly support them, but not declare war on Israel and the Israeli people as such. In the 11 years since Gush Shalom declared a boycott of the products of the settlements, this process has been gaining momentum. We must laud the Norwegian decision, this week, to divest from the Israeli Elbit company because of their involvement with the “Separation Fence” that is being built on Palestinian land and whose main purposeis to annex occupied territories to Israel. This is a splendid example: a focused action against a specific target, based on a ruling of the International Court.

 

I think that far more can be done by a concentrated national and international campaign. A central office should be set up to direct this effort throughout the world against clear and specific targets. Such an effort could be helped by world public opinion, which recoils from the idea of boycotting the State of Israel, and not only because of the memory of the Holocaust, but will identify itself with action against the occupation and the oppression.

 

I have been asked about the Palestinian reaction to the boycott idea. At present, Palestinians do not boycott even the settlements, indeed it is Palestinian workers who are building almost all the houses there, out of economic necessity. Their feelings can only be guessed. All self-respecting Palestinians would, of course, support any effective measure directed against the occupation. But it would not be honest to dangle before their eyes the false hope that a world-wide boycott would bring Israel to its knees. The truth is that only the close cooperation of Palestinian, Israeli and international peace forces could generate the necessary momentum to end the occupation and achieve peace.

 

This is especially important because our task in Israel today is not so much to convince the majority of Israelis that peace is good and the price acceptable, but first that peace is possible at all. Most Israelis have lost that hope, and its revival is absolutely vital on the way to peace.

 

 

TO REMOVE any misconceptions about myself, let me state as clearly as possible where I stand:

 

I am an Israeli.

 

I am an Israeli patriot.

 

I want my state to be democratic, secular, and liberal, ending the occupation and living at peace both with the free and sovereign State of Palestine that will come into being next to it, and with the entire Arab world.

 

I want Israel to be a state belonging to all its citizens, without distinction of ethnic origin, gender, religion or language; with completely equal rights for all; a state in which the Hebrew-speaking majority will retain its close ties with the Jewish communities around the world, and the Arab-speaking citizens will be free to cherish their close ties with their Palestinian brothers and sisters and the Arab world at large.

 

If this is racism, Zionism or worse – so be it.