Monday, April 13, 2009

Uri Avnery Speaks (complicated) Truth

Dear Friend,
Here is the last half of a recent editorial from Uri Avnery, Israeli poet and prophet, who agonizes over the complex clash between (early) Zionist idealism and the "people of the land" (Arabs). He seeks to live in the center of the contradictions that (somehow) need to be reconciled, integrated, given their rightful place in the scheme of things over there. God help us in this endeavor. JRK

IN 1948, the songs of the War of Independence joined the pioneer songs. Regarding them, too, not a few among us suffer from cognitive dissonance. On the one side – what we felt then. On the other – the truth as we know it now.

For the fighters – as for the entire Yishuv [new Israeli society] – it was, quite simply, an existential war. The slogan was “There is No Alternative”, and all of us believed in it completely. We were fighting with our backs to the wall, the lives of our families hanging in the balance. The enemy was all around us. We believed that we, the few, the very few, almost without arms, were standing up against a sea of Arabs. In the first half of the war, the Arab fighters (known to us as “the gangs”) indeed dominated all the roads, and in the second half, the regular Arab armies approached the centers of the Hebrew population, surrounding Hebrew Jerusalem and coming close to Tel-Aviv. The Yishuv lost 6000 young people out of a population of some 635 thousand. Whole year-groups were decimated. Innumerable heroic acts were performed.

The idealism of the fighters found its expression in the songs. Most of them are imbued with faith in victory, and, of course, total conviction of the justness of our cause. We did not leave Arabs behind our lines, nor did the Arabs leave any Jews behind theirs. It looked in those circumstances like a simple military necessity. The fighters did not think then about “ethnic cleansing” – a term not yet invented.

We had no understanding about the real balance of power between us and the other side. The Arabs looked to us like a huge force. We did not know that the Palestinians were quarreling with each other, unable to unite and to create a country-wide defense force, that they had a severe shortage of modern arms. Later, when the Arab armies joined the fray, we did not know that they were unable to cooperate with each other, that it was more important for them to compete with each other than to defeat us.
Today, a growing number of Israelis have started to understand the full significance of the “Nakba”, the great tragedy of the Palestinian people and all the individuals who lost their homes and most of their homeland. But the songs come and remind us of what we felt at the time, when the things happened. An abyss yawns between the emotional reality of those days and the historical truth as we know it now.

Some see the entire 1948 war as a conspiracy of the Zionist leadership which intended right from the beginning to expel the Palestinians from the country in order to turn it into a Jewish State. According to this view, the soldiers of 1948 were war criminals who implemented a vicious policy, much as the pioneers of the preceding generation were land robbers, knights of ethnic cleansing by expulsion and expropriation.

They are strengthened in this view by today’s settlers, who are driving the Palestinians from what remains of their land. By their actions they blacken the pioneer past. Religious fanatics and fascist hooligans, who claim to be the heirs of the pioneers, obliterate the real intentions of that generation
HOW CAN one overcome the contradiction between the intentions and emotions of the actors and their many magnificent achievements in building a new nation, and the dark side of their actions and the consequences?

How to sing about the hopes and dreams of our youth and at the same time admit to the terrible injustice of many of our actions? Sing with full heart the pioneer songs and the 1948 war songs (one of which I wrote, of which I am far from proud), without denying the terrible tragedy we imposed on the Palestinian people?

Barack Obama told the Turkish people this week that they must come to grips with the massacre of the Armenians committed by their fathers, while at the same time reminding the Americans that they must confront the genocide of the Native Americans and the black slavery exploited by their own forefathers.

I believe we can do this regarding the catastrophe that we have caused the Palestinians. I am convinced that this is important, indeed essential, for our own national mental health, as well as a first step toward eventual reconciliation. We must acknowledge and recognize the consequences of our deeds and repair what can be repaired – without rejecting our past and the songs that express the innocence of our youth.

We must live with this contradiction, because it is the truth of our lives.


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