The Mother of all Pretexts
By Uri Avnery
10/13/07 "ICH" -- - WHEN I hear
mention of the "Clash of Civilizations" I don't know whether to
laugh or to cry.
To laugh, because it is such a
To cry, because it is liable to
cause untold disasters.
To cry even more, because our
leaders are exploiting this slogan as a pretext for sabotaging
any possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. It is
just one more in a long line of pretexts.
WHY WAS the Zionist movement in
need of excuses to justify the way it treated the Palestinian
At its birth, it was an
idealistic movement. It laid great weight on its moral basis.
Not just in order to convince the world, but above all in order
to set its own conscience at rest.
From early childhood we learned
about the pioneers, many of them sons and daughters of
well-to-do and well-educated families, who left behind a
comfortable life in Europe in order to start a new life in a
far-away and - by the standards of the time - primitive country.
Here, in a savage climate they were not used to, often hungry
and sick, they performed bone-breaking physical labor under a
For that, they needed an
absolute belief in the rightness of their cause. Not only did
they believe in the need to save the Jews of Europe from
persecution and pogroms, but also in the creation of a society
so just as never seen before, an egalitarian society that would
be a model for the entire world. Leo Tolstoy was no less
important for them than Theodor Herzl. The kibbutz and the
moshav were symbols of the whole enterprise.
But this idealistic movement
aimed at settling in a country inhabited by another people. How
to bridge this contradiction between its sublime ideals and the
fact that their realization necessitated the expulsion of the
people of the land?
The easiest way was to repress
the problem altogether, ignoring its very existence: the land,
we told ourselves, was empty, there was no people living here at
all. That was the justification that served as a bridge over the
Only one of the Founding Fathers
of the Zionist movement was courageous enough to call a spade a
wrote as early as 80 years ago that it
was impossible to deceive the Palestinian people (whose
existence he recognized) and to buy their consent to the Zionist
aspirations. We are white settlers colonizing the land of the
native people, he said, and there is no chance whatsoever that
the natives will resign themselves to this voluntarily. They
will resist violently, like all the native peoples in the
European colonies. Therefore we need an "Iron Wall" to protect
the Zionist enterprise.
When Jabotinsky was told that
his approach was immoral, he replied that the Jews were trying
to save themselves from the disaster threatening them in Europe,
and, therefore, their morality trumped the morality of the Arabs
Most Zionists were not prepared
to accept this force-oriented approach. They searched fervently
for a moral justification they could live with.
Thus started the long quest for
justifications - with each pretext supplanting the previous one,
according to the changing spiritual fashions in the world.
THE FIRST justification was
precisely the one mocked by Jabotinsky: we were actually
coming to benefit the Arabs. We shall redeem them from
their primitive living conditions, from ignorance and disease.
We shall teach them modern methods of agriculture and bring them
advanced medicine. Everything - except employment, because we
needed every job for the Jews we were bringing here, which we
were transforming from ghetto-Jews into a people of workers and
tillers of the soil.
When the ungrateful Arabs went
on to resist our grand project, in spite of all the benefits we
were supposedly bringing them, we found a Marxist justification:
It's not the Arabs who oppose us, but only the
"effendis". The rich Arabs, the great landowners, are
afraid that the glowing example of the egalitarian Hebrew
community would attract the exploited Arab proletariat and cause
them to rise against their oppressors.
That, too, did not work for
long, perhaps because the Arabs saw how the Zionists bought the
land from those very same "effendis" and drove out the tenants
who had been cultivating it for generations.
The rise of the Nazis in Europe
brought masses of Jews to the country. The Arab public saw how
the land was being withdrawn from under their feet, and started
a rebellion against the British and the Jews in 1936. Why, the
Arabs asked, should they pay for the persecution of the Jews by
the Europeans? But the Arab Revolt gave us a new justification:
the Arabs support the Nazis. And indeed, the
Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, was
photographed sitting next to Hitler. Some people "discovered"
that the Mufti was the real instigator of the Holocaust. (Years
later it was revealed that Hitler had detested the Mufti, who
had no influence whatsoever over the Nazis.)
World War II came to an end, to
be followed by the 1948 war. Half of the vanquished Palestinian
people became refugees. That did not trouble the Zionist
conscience, because everybody knew: They ran away of
their own free will. Their leaders had called upon them to leave
their homes, to return later with the victorious Arab armies.
True, no evidence was ever found to support this absurd claim,
but it has sufficed to soothe our conscience to this day.
It may be asked: why were the
refugees not allowed to come back to their homes once the war
was over? Well, it was they who in 1947 rejected the UN
partition plan and started the war. If because of this
they lost 78% of their country, they have only themselves to
Then came the Cold War. We were,
of course, on the side of the "Free World", while the great Arab
leader, Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, got his weapons from the Soviet
bloc. (True, in the 1948 war the Soviet arms flowed to us, but
that's not important.) It was quite clear: No use
talking with the Arabs, because they support Communist tyranny.
But the Soviet bloc collapsed. "The
terrorist organization called PLO", as Menachem Begin
used to call it, recognized Israel and signed the Oslo
agreement. A new justification had to be found for our
unwillingness to give back the occupied territories to the
The salvation came from America:
a professor named Samuel Huntington wrote a book about the
"Clash of Civilizations". And so we found the mother of all
THE ARCH-ENEMY, according to
this theory, is Islam. Western Civilization, Judeo-Christian,
liberal, democratic, tolerant, is under attacked from the
Islamic monster, fanatical, terrorist, murderous.
Islam is murderous by nature.
Actually, "Muslim" and "terrorist" are synonymous. Every Muslim
is a terrorist, every terrorist a Muslim.
A sceptic might ask: How did it
happen that the wonderful Western culture gave birth to the
Inquisition, the pogroms, the burning of witches, the
annihilation of the Native Americans, the Holocaust, the ethnic
cleansings and other atrocities without number - but that was in
the past. Now Western culture is the embodiment of freedom and
Professor Huntington was not
thinking about us in particular. His task was to satisfy a
peculiar American craving: the American empire always needs a
virtual, world-embracing enemy, a single enemy which includes
all the opponents of the United States around the world. The
Communists delivered the goods - the whole world was divided
between Good Guys (the Americans and their supporters) and Bad
Guys (the Commies). Everybody who opposed American interests was
automatically a Communist - Nelson Mandela in South Africa,
Salvador Allende in Chile, Fidel Castro in Cuba, while the
masters of Apartheid, the death squads of Augusto Pinochet and
the secret police of the Shah of Iran belonged, like us, to the
When the Communist empire
collapsed, America was suddenly left without a world-wide enemy.
This vacuum has now been filled by the Muslims-Terrorists. Not
only Osama bin Laden, but also the Chechnyan freedom fighters,
the angry North-African youth of the Paris banlieus, the Iranian
Revolutionary Guards, the insurgents in the Philippines.
Thus the American world view
rearranged itself: a good world (Western Civilization) and a bad
world (Islamic civilization). Diplomats still take care to make
a distinction between "radical Islamists" and "moderate
Muslims", but that is only for appearances' sake. Between
ourselves, we know of course that they are all Osama bin Ladens.
They are all the same.
This way, a huge part of the
world, composed of manifold and very different countries, and a
great religion, with many different and even opposing tendencies
(like Christianity, like Judaism), which has given the world
unmatched scientific and cultural treasures, is thrown into one
and the same pot.
THIS WORLD VIEW is tailored for
us. Indeed, the world of the clashing civilizations is, for us,
the best of all possible worlds.
The struggle between Israel and
the Palestinians is no longer a conflict between the Zionist
movement, which came to settle in this country, and the
Palestinian people, which inhabited it. No, it has been from the
very beginning a part of a world-wide struggle which does not
stem from our aspirations and actions. The assault of terrorist
Islam on the Western world did not start because of us. Our
conscience can be entirely clean - we are among the good guys of
This is now the line of argument
of official Israel: the Palestinians elected Hamas, a murderous
Islamic movement. (If it didn't exist, it would have to be
invented - and indeed, some people assert it was created from
the start by our secret service.) Hamas is terroristic, and so
is Hizbullah. Perhaps Mahmoud Abbas is not a terrorist himself,
but he is weak and Hamas is about to take sole control over all
Palestinian territories. So we cannot talk with them. We have no
partner. Actually, we cannot possibly have a partner, because we
belong to Western Civilization, which Islam wants to eradicate.
IN HIS book "Der Judenstaat",
Theodor Herzl, the official Israeli "Prophet of the State",
prophesied this development, too.
This is what he wrote in 1896:
"For Europe we shall constitute (in Palestine) a part of the
wall against Asia, we shall serve as a vanguard of culture
Herzl was thinking of a
metaphoric wall, but in the meantime we have put up a very real
one. For many, this is not just a Separation Wall between Israel
and Palestine. It is a part of the world-wide wall between the
West and Islam, the front-line of the Clash of Civilizations.
Beyond the wall there are not men, women and children, not a
conquered and oppressed Palestinian population, not choked towns
and villages like Abu-Dis, a-Ram, Bil'in and Qalqilia. No,
beyond the wall there are a billion terrorists, multitudes of
blood-thirsty Muslims, who have only one desire in life: to
throw us into the sea, simply because we are Jews, part of
With an official position like
that - who is there to talk to? What is there to talk about?
What is the point of meeting in Annapolis or anywhere else?
And what is left to us to do -
to cry or to laugh?
Uri Avnery is an Israeli author and activist. He is the
head of the Israeli peace movement, "Gush Shalom".
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