The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

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Date: Mon, 12 May 2008 22:08:31 -0400
From: moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG
Subject: "Namely the state of Israel"

"... Namely the state of Israel"

By: Uri Avnery
Left Forum Sunday, May 04, 2008

Every time I hear the voice of David Ben-Gurion
uttering the words "Therefore we are gathered here." I
think of Issar Barsky, a charming youngster, the little
brother of a girl-friend of mine.

The last time we met was in front of the dining hall of
Kibbutz Hulda, on Friday, May 14, 1948.

In the coming night my company was to attack al-Qubab,
an Arab village on the road to Jerusalem, east of
Ramle. We were busy with preparations. I was cleaning
my Czech-made rifle, when somebody came and told us
that Ben-Gurion was just making a speech about the
founding of the state.

Frankly, none of us was very interested in speeches by
politicians in Tel Aviv. The city seemed so far away.
The state, we knew, was here with us. If the Arabs were
to win, there would be no state and no us. If we won,
there would be a state. We were young and
self-confident, and did not doubt for a moment that we
would win.

But there was one detail that I was really curious
about: what was the new state to be called? Judea?
Zion? The Jewish State?

So I hastened to the dining hall. Ben-Gurion's
unmistakable voice was blaring from the radio. When he
reached the words ".namely the State of Israel" I had
had enough and left.

Outside I came across Issar. He was in another company,
which was to attack another village that night. I told
him about the name of the state and said "take care of

Some days later he was killed. So I remember him as he
was then: a boy of 19, a smiling, tall Sabra full of
joie de vivre and innocence.

The closer we come to the grandiose 60th anniversary
festivities, the more I am troubled by the question: if
Issar were to open his eyes and see us, still a boy of
19, what would he think of the state that was
officially established on that day?

He would see a state that has developed beyond his
wildest dreams. From a small community of 635,000 souls
(more than 6000 of whom would die with him in that war)
we have grown to more than seven million. The two great
miracles we have wrought - the revival of the Hebrew
language and the institution of Israeli democracy -
continue to be a reality. Our economy is strong and in
some fields - such a hi-tech - we are in the world
super- league. Issar would be excited and proud.

But he would also feel that something had gone wrong in
our society. The Kibbutz where we put up our little
bivouac tents that day has become an economic
enterprise, like any other. The social solidarity, of
which we were so proud, has collapsed. Masses of adults
and children live below the poverty line, old people,
the sick and the unemployed are left to fend for
themselves. The gap between rich and poor is one of the
widest in the developed world. And our society, that
once raised the banner of equality and justice, just
clucks its collective tongue and moves on to other

Most of all he would be shocked to discover that the
brutal war, which killed him and wounded me, together
with thousands of others, is still going on at full
blast. It determines the entire life of the nation. It
fills the first pages of the newspapers and heads the
news bulletins.

That our army, the army that really was "we", has
become something quite different, an army whose main
occupation us to oppress another people.

That night we indeed attacked al-Qubab. When we entered
the village, it was already deserted. I broke into one
of the homes. The pot was still warm, food was on the
table. On one of the shelves I found some photos: a man
who had obviously just combed his hair, a village
woman, two small children. I still have them with me.

I Assume that the village which was attacked by Issar
that night presented a similar picture. The villagers -
men, women, children - fled at the last moment, leaving
their whole life behind them.

There is no escape from the historic fact: Israel's
Independence Day and the Palestinians' Naqba
(Catastrophe) Day are two sides of the same coin. In 60
years we have not succeeded - and actually have not
even tried - to untie this knot by creating another

And so the war goes on.

With the 60th independence Day approaching, a committee
sat down to choose an emblem for the event. The one
they came up with looks like something for Coca Cola or
the Eurovision song contest.

The real emblem of the state is quite different, and no
committee of bureaucrats has had to invent it. It is
fixed to the ground and can be seen from afar: The
Wall. The Separation Wall.

Separation between whom, between what?

Apparently between Israeli Kfar Sava and neighboring
Palestinian Qalqiliyah, between Modi'in Illit and
Bil'in. Between the State of Israel (and some more
grabbed land) and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
But in reality, between two worlds.

In the fevered imagination of those who believe in the
"clash of civilizations", whether George Bush or Osama
Bin-Laden - the Wall is the border between the two
titans of history, Western civilization and Islamic
civilization, two mortal enemies fighting a war of Gog
and Magog.

Our wall has become the front-line between these two

The wall is not just a structure of concrete and wire.
More than anything else, the wall - like every such
wall - is an ideological statement, a declaration of
intent, a mental reality. The builders declare that
they belong, body and soul, to one camp, the Western
one, and that on the other side of the wall there
begins the opposing world, the enemy, the masses of
Arabs and other Muslims.

When was that decided? Who made the decision? How?

102 Years ago, theodor Herzl wrote in his
ground-breaking oeuvre, Der Judenstaat, which gave
birth to the Zionist movement, a sentence fraught with
significance: "For Europe we shall constitute there [in
Palestine] a sector of the wall against Asia, we shall
serve as the vanguard of culture against barbarism."

Thus, in 22 german words, the world-view of Zionism,
and our place in it, was laid down. And now, after a
delay of four generations, the physical wall is
following the path of the mental one.

The picture is bright and clear: We are essentially a
part of Europe (like North America), a part of culture,
which is entirely European. On the other side: Asia, a
barbaric continent, empty of culture, including the
Muslim and Arab world.

One can understand Herzl's world view. He was a man of
the 19th century, and he wrote his treatise when white
Imperialism was at its zenith. He admired it with all
his soul. He endeavored (in vain) to arrange a meeting
with Cecil Rhodes, the man who symbolized British
colonialism. He approached Joseph Chamberlain, the
British Colonial Secretary, who offered him Uganda,
then a British colony. At the same time, he also
admired the German Kaiser and his so well-ordered
Reich, which carried out a horrible genocide in
South-West Africa in the year of Herzl's death.

Herzl's Maxim did not remain an abstract thought. The
Zionist movement followed it from the first moment on,
and the State of Israel continues to do so to this very

Could it have been different? Could we have become a
part of the region? Could we have become a kind of
cultural Switzerland, an independent island between
East and West, bridging and mediating between the two?
One month before the outbreak of the 1948 war, seven
months before the State of Israel was officially
founded, I published a booklet entitled "War or Peace
in the Semitic Region". It began with the words:

"When our zionist fathers decided to set up a "safe
haven" in Palestine, they had the choice between two

"They could appear in West Asia as a European
conqueror, who sees himself as a bridgehead of the
'white' race and master of the 'natives', like the
Spanish conquistadores and the Anglo-Saxon colonialists
in America. Like, in their time, the Crusaders in

"The other path was to see themselves as an Asian
people returning to its homeland - seeing themselves as
an heir to the political and cultural tradition of the
Semitic region."

The history of this country has seen dozens of
invasions. They can be divided into two main

There were the invaders who came from the West, such as
the Philistines, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders,
Napoleon and the British. Such an invasion establishes
a bridgehead, and its mental outlook is that of a
bridgehead. The region beyond is hostile territory, its
inhabitants enemies who have to be oppressed or
destroyed. In the end, all of these invaders were

And there were the invaders who came from the East,
such as the Emorites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians,
the Persians and the Arabs. They conquered the land and
became part of it, influenced its culture and were
influenced by it, and in the end struck roots.

The ancient israelites were of the second category.
Even if there is some doubt about the Exodus from Egypt
as described in the Books of Moses, or the Conquest of
Canaan as described in the Book of Joshua, it is
reasonable to assume that they were tribes that came in
from the desert and infiltrated between the fortified
Canaanite towns, which they could not conquer, as
indeed described in Judges 1.

The zionists, on the other hand, were of the first
category. They brought with them the world-view of a
bridgehead, a vanguard of Europe. This world-view gave
birth to the Wall as a national symbol. It has to be
changed entirely.

One of our national peculiarities is a form of
discussion where all the participants, whether from the
Left or from the Right, use the clinching argument: "If
we don't do this and this, the state will cease to
exist!" Can one imagine such an argument in France,
Britain or the USA?

This is a symptom of "Crusader" anxiety. Even though
the Crusaders stayed in this country for almost 200
years and produced eight generations of "natives", they
were never really sure of their continued existence

I am not worried about the existence of the State of
Israel. It will exist as long as states exist. The
question is: What kind of state will it be?

A state of permanent war, the terror of its neighbors,
where violence pervades all spheres of life, where the
rich flourish and the poor live in misery; a state that
will be deserted by the best of its children?

Or a state that lives in peace with its neighbors, to
their mutual benefit; a modern society with equal
rights for all its citizens and without poverty; a
state that invests its resources in science and
culture, industry and the environment; where future
generations will want to live; a source of pride for
all its citizens?

That can be our objective for the next 60 years. I
think this is what Issar would have wanted, too.


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