Some Thoughts on Uri Avnery's "Manifest Destiny"
Copyright © 2008, R. Kossover
First published at Desicritics.org
7 October, 2008
I first read Uri Avnery's work, Israel Without Zionism: A Plan for Peace in the Middle East in 1971 or 1972, not long after it was published. At the time, Avnery was the publisher of the Hebrew newspaper העולם הזה ha'olám hazé - This World. The title of the publication was not without irony. Jews pray for Redemption and to be deserving enough to live in the World of Truth, the world after the messiah's arrival, and regard this world as "the World of Lies", העולם השקר ha'olám hashéker. Avnery's publication was very much concerned with "this world", a world of scandals, sex crimes and politics. His publication set the standard for the preesent day surviving Hebrew dailies, מעריב ma'arív and ידיעות אחרונות yediót aHronót, which scream headlines in huge sized font, but are as all forgettable as the paper one uses to wrap fish in. Only הארץ ha'áretz has retained its reputation as a real newspaper that writes in literate Hebrew.
Avnery's politics were "pro-peace" and revolutionary for his day, in that he envisaged Israelis as adopting a "Canaanite" identity whereby they rid themselves of the essential tenets of the "ingathering of the exiles" and worked at integrating themselves into the Middle East as Hebrew-speakers in a world of Arabs. He proposed withdrawing from what was then the barely settled Judea and Samaria and the Heights of Golan, and renouncing the special law that grants citizenship to any Jew coming home within ninety days. He believed then, and still does, that an Israel without its Zionist ideological underpinnings would be accepted by the Arabs in the region. In all truth, I no longer have this book, and forgot what he proposed to do about Jerusalem, but at the time, religious belief seemed on the decline all over the world and I suppose that he imagined that both Judaism and Islam would be consigned to museums in some dusty corner somewhere while folks enjoyed life, eating shwarma, drinking Turkish coffee and dancing the debka.
Thirty-seven years ago, any philosophy that proposed to strip Israel of its Zionist underpinnings seemed heretical and ridiculous to most Jews and to most Israelis. But a number of Israelis did read his book and it planted the seed of what became known as "post-Zionism", a deconstruction of Israeli history that paints Jews (and Zionists in particular) as imperialist agents from the west with no real right to live in the Middle East. The white and blue kóva tembél of the kibbutznik was doffed and the black hat of the evil robber tying the Arab woman to the train tracks while robbing her of her home was donned. Ths is the predominant view today of most of the teaching staff at the various universities in the country, of much of the rich Ashkenazi business elite, many commanders in the IDF, as well as that of the publishers of the Hebrew dailies in Israel. For a time following the signing of the Oslo Accords, many work-a-day Israelis tried to persuade themselves of this idea as well, as difficult as it was to swallow, however the bloodlust of the Arabs in their terror attacks awoke most of them from the delusions of peace. But I get ahead of myself here.
Avnery espouses views which I tend to view as traitorous, but one cannot just label someone like Avnery as a traitor without first acknowledging that he fought for the independence of this country from the British, first with the Etz"el, the city-based Revisionist Zionist military force of Ze'ev Jabotinsky and later MenaHem Begin, and then with the IDF in the Sinai campaign. After the war of independence, he watched, as did most Israelis in the 1950's, as the Algerians fought against the French and he drew his ideas from the fact that his sympathies were with the FLN, the force fighting an imperial power, and from the possibilities that he felt that he saw rise from the existence of the FLN (Front Libération National) and other nationalistic Arab organizations.
Avnery seeks peace. One cannot condemn a man for following the mitzvá (commandment) of seeking peace. But, it is necessary to look with whom he seeks to deal. Is it realistic? Loving a woman who spurns you continually is seeking love, but it is not practical. The Arabs, in most parts of the Arab world, reject peace with Jews and with Israel. Thirty-eight years ago it was on nationalistic grounds - today it is on religious grounds. But either way "the Arab woman" is spurning "the Jewish man" courting her love. Avnery pursues this course anyway, despite 58 years of experience that tells him the contrary. That he does so is insanity. After nearly six decades, he should have figured out that his overtures will be spurned and that he is nothing but a useful idiot. But unfortunately, it also endangers the lives of his fellow Jews. Nevertheless, I still get ahead of myself here.
In April 2008, Avnery wrote a piece published at Global Research called "Manifest Destiny?" dealing with what he believed to be the problem facing the Israeli establishment in dealing with what he views as their Arab peace partners. For all my disagreements with the venerable Mr. Avnery, he makes a fundamental point in this essay that needs to be emphasised and re-emphasised to anyone looking at the issues that face Jews in this part of the world.
Avnery sifts through the positions ot various Israeli leaders and comes up with what he views to be the the common thread that creates the problem: their refusal to agree to a fixed border. This is what he criticizes the late and unlamented Moshe Dayan of expressing in a speech to kibbutzniks years ago, this is what he criticizes David ben-Gurion of when fighting for the independence of the country sixty years ago, this is what he criticizes even George W. Bush of in that Bush appears to "buy" the stance of the present "power-holders" in Israel. Let's look at Avnery's words:
That is the reason for David Ben-Gurion's refusal to include in the Declaration of Independence of the new State of Israel any mention of borders. He did not intend for a minute to be satisfied with the borders fixed by the United Nations General Assembly resolution of November 29, 1947. All his successors had the same approach. Even the Oslo agreements delineated "zones" but did not fix a border. President Bush accepted this approach when he proposed a "Palestinian state with provisional borders" - a novelty in international law.This then, is the "secret" agenda against what Avnery views as "peace". In his final paragraphs of his essay he states
In this respect, too, Israel resembles the United States, which was founded along the Eastern seaboard and did not rest until it had reached the Western shores on the other side of the continent. The incessant stream of mass immigration from Europe flowed on westwards, breaching all borders and violating all agreements, exterminating the Native Americans, starting a war against Mexico, conquering Texas, invading Central America and Cuba. The slogan that drove them on and justified all their actions was coined in 1845 by John O'Sullivan: "Manifest Destiny".
Dayan, who was well versed in the ancient texts, probably had in mind the phrase in the Chapter of the Fathers (a part of the Mishnah, which was finished 1,800 years ago and formed the basis of the Talmud): "It is not up to you to finish the work, and you are not free to stop doing it."
That is the hidden agenda. We must haul it up from the depths of our unconscious minds to the realm of consciousness in order to face it, to reveal the terrible danger inherent in it, the danger of an eternal war which may in the fullness of time lead this state to disaster.
Approaching the 60th anniversary of the state, we must draw a line under this chapter of our history, exorcise the dybbuk and say clearly: yes, we have ended the chapter of expansion and settlement.
This will enable us to change the course of the river. To put an end to the occupation. To dismantle the settlements. To make peace. To effect a reconciliation with the neighboring people. To turn Israel into a peaceful, democratic, secular and liberal state, that can devote all its resources to the creation of a flourishing, modern society.
And first of all: to agree on a border.
Avnery is not wrong in all that he says here. We Jews, in dealing with the outside world, must honestly face our past. We must honestly face our heritage and stop trying to weave around it like garden snakes sneaking into a patch of greenery. At bottom in Avnery's essay is a call for honesty. And just a day or two before Yom Kippur, when we Jews ask G-d for forgiveness of our sins against Him, honesty is a very good policy. Our biggest problem is not the Arabs, nor the Americans, nor the Russians. It is our fear to face ourselves honestly in the mirror and be honest - brutally so. That is what G-d demands of a people who would call themselves "chosen"; a people who would view themselves as high priests to the peoples of the world.
But Avnery has provided a border, or rather he has quoted one from Yisrael Eldad, a member of the Stern Group, the smallest military group that fought the British in the days of the Mandate. Let's have one more look at Avnery's essay.
Israel Eldad, one of the Stern Group leaders, distributed for many years a map of the Israeli Empire that reached from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates and included all of Jordan and Lebanon, with great chunks of Syria and Egypt thrown in. His son, the extreme right-wing Member of the Knesset Arieh Eldad, has not given up this map.
I have not given up that map either - for it is drawn from our holy books. The exact lines are less important than the concept - that in the World of Truth, Israel will control all of the Holy Land, both banks of the Jordan River, a good hunk of Lebanon and a good hunk of Syria extending all the way to the Euphrates.
In the World of Truth העולם האמת ha'olám ha'emét, we will live in peace with our neighbors and the foreign nations that stir war between the Children of Abraham will no longer have a voice here. The occupation - the Arab occupation of our land - will end, and the Children of Nevayot and Kedar will sacrifice at a rebuilt Temple on our Temple Mount just a few kilometers south of here in Jerusalem [Isaiah 60:7]. Jewish and Arab children will play together near the mountains of Moav as their parents pray together in the afternoon sun.
It is time to recognize at long last that there is no such thing as "Palestine". It is time to recognize at long last that seeking "peace" with the terrorists who now control the Arab population in the Land of Israel is nothing less than insanity. It is time to be honest and forthright with our Arabs neighbors and tell them that the Prophet David will be ruler here. They will listen, and they will understand - they too respect Sheikh Da'úd el-Nebi.
If we are honest and forthright with ourselves, we will be able to be honest with our Arab neighbors, who deserve to live in peace, prosperity and security, just as we do.
And all of us, all of us Children of Abraham, will be able to look to our Creator and seek forgiveness for our transgressions and hope for a lenient judgment from He Who sits on the Throne of Mercy - rather than stern condemnation from His Seat of Judgment.
Finally, as a Jew who has had a very difficult year, I must ask forgiveness of those of you whom I have hurt. I apologize for the hurtful actions that I may have done, or the hurtful words I may have uttered, in the past thirteen Hebrew months.
g'már Hatimá tová May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for goodness.---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
These comments were made to this article at Desicritics. The person who commented, Vinod Joseph, is a British lawyer of Indian extraction who visited this country recently. I replied to Vinod.
October 8, 2008
Ruvy, I hope you had a Happy Rosh Hashanah (belated Leshana tova tikateiv v'techateim). I'm sure you will have a meaningful Yom Kippur. Gmar Hatima Tova to you.
For a variety of reasons, Arabs will not easily accept the state of Israel. The reasons (in my opinion) vary from the Arab psyche to the fact that Palestine has been under Arab control for most of the last 1000 years. Making Israel a truly secular state will however make it easier for the majority of Arabs to reconcile themselves to the existence of Israel. This is especially true of Israeli Arabs.
I do not agree with the example you have used - that of the Jewish groom wooing the Arab bride. I would rather look at the presence of Jews in Palestine as that of a long lost son returning home after his father's death. His brothers don't want him back. They don't want to give him a share of the land. But the brother is strong and tough. He has undergone many hardships which have made him tough. And he has a few friends who are even tougher and stronger and ruthless. So he takes over a portion of the land (mostly barren and unused land) and builds his home there. When will his brothers accept his presence? Maybe after many years they will. What if the returning brother were to take over, instead of a barren and unused land, the most fertile piece of land and settle down there after throwing out his brothers who occupy that land? You can be sure that his brothers will never let him live in peace. What if the brother (who has acquired so many foreign customs in the course of his wanderings) were to occupy most of the land and insist that his customs and practices are supreme? What if he were to treat his brothers with contempt? Well, you can be sure that his brothers will never accept him. What if the returning brother decided that his customs are no longer suitable to his new home and decides to live as his brothers do? You know the answer to this.
Ruvy, the world is split between people who believe in God and those who don't. Many fall in between. For a religious person like you, everything done in furtherance of the Word is correct, irrespective of the collateral damage. For an atheist like Avnery or an agnostic like me, the scriptures are a damn nuisance and should be hidden in a small dark room and the keys thrown away. Since it is not possible to do that, we would like to interpret the scriptures in the most convenient way. I don't think there will ever be any reconciliation between these two camps.
Many of us out here on DC don't agree with much of what you say, but if you were to stop writing on DesiCritics, it will be a loss for us all. SO, do keep writing! May the new year bring you peace and prosperity!