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For a true reconciliation Israel must apologize to the Palestinians, says Uri Avnery
Originally published in Portuguese for Brasilian audience, English translation by the writer
In an interview with Opera Mundi, held a few days before his 90th birthday, the veteran Israeli peace activist, Uri Avnery, outlines his views on the necessary steps so that there is ultimately a true and lasting reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.
Avnery, who fought for the independence of Israel in the 1948 war and was seriously injured, was the first Israeli who crossed literally lines and met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, during the war in Lebanon in 1982, in a bunker in Beirut.
The meeting took place during the bombing of the Israeli Air Force to the Lebanese capital.
In addition to his important contribution to peace between the two peoples, Avnery is also considered the principal teacher of the Israeli press, several journalists who are now in key positions in local media learned the profession working in the magazine he edited - Haolam Hazeh.
Since 1946, Avnery has devoted his life to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and despite all the obstacles, maintains optimism.
He recently launched in Brazil, the book Another Israel, published by Civilizacao Brasileira publishing house.
Opera Mundi - In several of your texts you say that Israel should apologize to the Palestinians for the wrongs he has committed, why is this gesture necessary?
Uri Avnery - In my encounters over the years with all sorts of Palestinians I felt that, more than anything else, what hurts them is the feeling of historical injustice done to them. Other people took possession of their country, their homeland.
From the historical point of view there is no doubt that the Zionist idea is based on a historical injustice to the Palestinians. This land was Palestine, an Arab country for 1300 years, and one day outsiders arrive who claim they were here 2000 years ago and, in a systematic way, by peaceful means in the beginning and then by violent means, take 78% land and may even come to take the remaining 22%. Expel half of the people and may even come to expel the remaining half.
What was made is not possible to delete, but it is possible to partly fix through the creation of a Palestinian state and the return of 22% of the land that were occupied during the 1967 war, including East Jerusalem.
However, the deep feeling that they have suffered an injustice will remain, and so we must ask forgiveness.
The Jews had very good reasons to come here, because of a deep existential need. But that does not change the fact that it caused historic injustice to the Palestinians.
Obtaining justice for Jews was made through a profound, historical injustice, to the Palestinians.
This is a matter of psychological character and we know that historical gestures can move mountains.
Remember the historic gesture of Willy Brandt (former German Chancellor), who knelt and asked forgiveness to the Jewish people in the Warsaw ghetto, this gesture had a huge impact.
At some point we also have to make a similar gesture.
OM - Do you think that Israeli society is able to make such a gesture?
UA - Today obviously not. But hopefully, in the context of peace, as a result of the agreement, it will be possible.
The two peoples are already in conflict for 131 years, since 1882, when the Zionist colonization of Palestine started. Everything must be done to finally get a true reconciliation between the two peoples.
What happened here is unprecedented in History and that`s why it is so difficult to solve. Two national movements emerged at the same time, in order to realize their aspirations on the same land.
The Zionist national movement emerged from the desperate need of European Jews, when anti-Semitic nationalist movements were strengthened throughout Europe.
(Theodor) Herzl and his partners had an almost prophetic vision, they understood, since the late 19th century, that the situation of the Jews in Europe would get worse, but I think even they did not imagine the Holocaust. They understood that it was necessary to create a new nation - the Jewish nation - as attempts to assimilate the Jews in Europe had failed.
The result is that the Zionist movement came to a land that did not belong to it, built villages and when it became strong enough, took almost the whole land.
I am part of it, I fought in the War of Independence in 1948, when I was 24. I shot thousands of shots and do not know how many people I hurt or killed - our battalion fought mostly at night.
Anyway, I take responsibility for everything that happened here.
However, before that war I have advocated an alliance with the Arab national movement. In 1946 I wrote a manifesto called War or Peace in the Semitic Region, in which I proposed that the Hebrew national movement and the Arab national movement unite to expel the British Mandate.
OM - To expedite the peace agreement, what the Prime Minister of Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu, should do?
UA - Netanyahu and Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) must appoint joint teams to discuss each of the main themes of the conflict - borders, refugees, settlements, security, Jerusalem etc..
The teams must formulate the points where there is already agreement and points of disagreement, including the arguments of both sides.
After finishing the work of the teams, the leaders themselves must negotiate and decide what concessions they will make.
Is it possible to make peace in a week. All the conditions for peace have been known for many years, we know them by heart, we can quote them while sleeping. What is lacking is the political will.
Netanyahu believes in Greater Israel. He was created by a ultra-radical father and has to overcome his internal barriers.
He also leads a party increasingly radical, and will have to overlap the party itself. Moreover, his partners in the coalition government are even more right-wing than Likud.
But if Netanyahu offers a peace agreement to the Parliament, I`m sure he will get the support of most MPs, since the opposition will approve the agreement. He will also get the agreement of the majority of the population.
OM – And the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? What should he do to expedite the deal?
UA - For an agreement to be implemented it is important that there is a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
But Hamas is a problematic organization because it suffers from an internal contradiction between its theological vision and political pragmatism. Ideologically Hamas will always be against an agreement because it believes that Palestine is the holy land of Islam, in which there can be no Jewish state.
Another issue is the right moment for reconciliation between the Palestinian factions.
If a national unity happens before the agreement, Hamas may put obstacles to the agreement.
On the other hand, Abbas can not implement the agreement without reconciliation with Hamas.
OM – And the American mediators, what do you think they should do to expedite the deal?
UA - I think the U.S. government should outline parameters for the negotiations, according to the international consensus, should put on the table the basic principles we have known for over 20 years - back to the 1967 borders, the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, East Jerusalem capital of the Palestinian state, an agreed solution to the refugee problem.
Another subject about which there is a consensus, including from the Palestinians and the Arab League, is that some settlement blocs will remain under Israeli sovereignty, and in exchange, Israel will give the Palestinians a portion of its territory, with identical area.
OM - What is the impact of the Arab Spring on the chances of peace between Israelis and Palestinians?
UA - On the one hand the impact is positive, because the Arab countries are not in a position to oppose obstacles to an agreement.
On the other side it is negative, because the turmoil in the Arab world frighten the Israelis and strengthen all the stereotypes and prejudices they have about the Arabs.
OM - What is the role of the Israeli press and media in the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians?
UA - Unfortunately 99% of the role of the press, both written and electronic, is negative. There are some exceptions, but the vast majority of the press contributes to a destructive atmosphere for peace, because it strengthens the prejudices against Arabs.
Many of the journalists act as spokespersons of the government and especially when it comes to issues labeled as security, automatically align with the government`s position.
What`s worse is that many journalists express a profound contempt for the Arab world in general, and you can not make peace with someone who you despise. It`s easier to make peace with someone you hate but you respect.
OM - You`re writing a new book?
UA - Yes, I`m almost done. It is an autobiography that begins with my birth in Germany, and ends with the death of my wife, Rachel, two years ago.
Will be two volumes. The first of 20 chapters, is already completed. And now I also finished 22 chapters of the second volume, three more to go.
OM - You devoted 67 years of your life to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. In view of the results we observe, was it worth it?
UA - Yes, without a doubt. In terms of the struggle for public awareness, local and international, we had a great victory. After the 1948 war, when I talked about the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, no one in Israel recognized the existence of the Palestinian people and no one agreed with anything similar to a Palestinian state.
In 1969 I went to Washington and could not find even one American politician, neither in the White House nor in the State Department, which supported the idea of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Today this idea is global consensus, and even Netanyahu was forced to say he accepts it.
I consider this change a great victory. But even if it was a total failure, I would do it all again.
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