Is the Gaza flotilla the “Exodus ’47” story again, roles reversed?
By Rabbi Arthur Waskow / The Rag Blog / June 8, 2010
A very wide spectrum of Jewish as well as world opinion has condemned the Israeli navy’s attack on the Mazi marmara, and have condemned the arrogance of the mindset behind the attack — from Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic, usually a very strong supporter of Israel, to Uri Avnery, Israel’s own oldest and most venerated living peace activist.
(Especially since the death May 30 of Louva Eliav, who died — in a sadly appropriate moment — just as the Israeli Navy was attacking the Gaza Flotilla. “Louva,” whom I knew in the 1970s, was one of the great heroes of decent Labor Zionism, both in growing Israeli society from the grassroots in the first decades of the State, in serving for many years in the Knesset and in Labor Party leadership, and in campaigning day and night in the ‘70s for peace with the Palestinians. I knew him in those days, and mourn his death — almost a signal of the death of that kind of Labor Zionism at the hands of the right-wing, violence-obsessed, Israeli government and right-wing goons.)
I mention the goons for a reason. After a 10,000-person demonstration in Tel Aviv the other day — condemning the Navy’s attack on the Gaza Flotilla — a bunch of right-wingers physically assaulted Uri Avnery, an 86-year-old Israeli peace activist. He had recently written a very strong and smart critique of the Israeli mindset that led to attacking the flotilla. He compared the political effects of that attack to the effects of the British attack on the Exodus 1i47, laden with Jewish refugees — which he lived through. I am including that essay here.
I have known Uri Avnery since 1969, when I spent a summer in Israel, visited Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, came home convinced that what people called the “mild occupation” would of necessity not remain mild forever, and began to organize support for a “two-state solution.”
Avnery had been (he says of himself) a “terrorist” against the British Empire and its oppressive mandate/occupation of Palestine in the 1940s. After 1948, he focused his life on making peace with the Palestinians. He edited the biggest-circulation national news-magazine, Haolam Hazeh, and was twice elected to Knesset (once sharing a seat with Eliav). He has ceaselessly campaigned for a two-state peace, opposes whole-society “BDS “ — boycotts, divestment, sanctions) against Israel, and supports the notion of bold U.S. action for Middle East peace.
May the stoney-hearted right-wingers who attacked him find their arms and legs so stone-heavy that they cannot harm him, while their hearts and minds soften and open to hear the need for peace.
Shalom, salaam, peace,
[Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director, The Shalom Center; co-author, The Tent of Abraham; author of Godwrestling: Round 2, Down-to-Earth Judaism, Torah of the Earth, and a dozen other books on Jewish thought and practice, as well as books on U.S. public policy. The Shalom Center voices a new prophetic agenda in Jewish, multireligious, and American life. To receive the weekly on-line Shalom Report, click here.]
‘Kill a Turk and rest’
By Uri Avnery / June 5, 2010
On the high seas, outside territorial waters, the ship was stopped by the navy. The commandos stormed it. Hundreds of people on the deck resisted, the soldiers used force. Some of the passengers were killed, scores injured. The ship was brought into harbor, the passengers were taken off by force. The world saw them walking on the quay, men and women, young and old, all of them worn out, one after another, each being marched between two soldiers…
The ship was called “Exodus 1947.” It left France in the hope of breaking the British blockade, which was imposed to prevent ships loaded with Holocaust survivors from reaching the shores of Palestine. If it had been allowed to reach the country, the illegal immigrants would have come ashore and the British would have sent them to detention camps in Cyprus, as they had done before. Nobody would have taken any notice of the episode for more than two days.
But the person in charge was Ernest Bevin, a Labour Party leader, an arrogant, rude and power-loving British minister. He was not about to let a bunch of Jews dictate to him. He decided to teach them a lesson the entire world would witness. “This is a provocation!” he exclaimed, and of course he was right. The main aim was indeed to create a provocation, in order to draw the eyes of the world to the British blockade.
What followed is well known: the episode dragged on and on, one stupidity led to another, the whole world sympathized with the passengers. But the British did not give in and paid the price. A heavy price.
Many believe that the “Exodus” incident was the turning point in the struggle for the creation of the State of Israel. Britain collapsed under the weight of international condemnation and decided to give up its mandate over Palestine. There were, of course, many more weighty reasons for this decision, but the “Exodus” proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I am not the only one who was reminded of this episode this week. Actually, it was almost impossible not to be reminded of it, especially for those of us who lived in Palestine at the time and witnessed it.
There are, of course, important differences. Then the passengers were Holocaust survivors, this time they were peace activists from all over the world. But then and now the world saw heavily armed soldiers brutally attack unarmed passengers, who resist with everything that comes to hand, sticks and bare hands. Then and now it happened on the high seas — 40 km from the shore then, 65 km now.
In retrospect, the British behavior throughout the affair seems incredibly stupid. But Bevin was no fool, and the British officers who commanded the action were not nincompoops. After all, they had just finished a World War on the winning side.
If they behaved with complete folly from beginning to end, it was the result of arrogance, insensitivity and boundless contempt for world public opinion.
Ehud Barak is the Israeli Bevin. He is not a fool, either, nor are our top brass. But they are responsible for a chain of acts of folly, the disastrous implications of which are hard to assess. Former minister and present commentator Yossi Sarid called the ministerial “committee of seven,” which decides on security matters, “seven idiots” — and I must protest. It is an insult to idiots.
The preparations for the flotilla went on for more than a year. Hundreds of e-mail messages went back and forth. I myself received many dozens. There was no secret. Everything was out in the open.
There was a lot of time for all our political and military institutions to prepare for the approach of the ships. The politicians consulted. The soldiers trained. The diplomats reported. The intelligence people did their job.
Nothing helped. All the decisions were wrong from the first moment to this moment. And it’s not yet the end.
The idea of a flotilla as a means to break the blockade borders on genius. It placed the Israeli government on the horns of a dilemma — the choice between several alternatives, all of them bad. Every general hopes to get his opponent into such a situation.
The alternatives were:
(a) To let the flotilla reach Gaza without hindrance. The cabinet secretary supported this option. That would have led to the end of the blockade, because after this flotilla more and larger ones would have come.
(b) To stop the ships in territorial waters, inspect their cargo and make sure they were not carrying weapons or “terrorists,” then let them continue on their way. That would have aroused some vague protests in the world but upheld the principle of a blockade.
(c) To capture them on the high seas and bring them to Ashdod, risking a face-to-face battle with activists on board.
As our governments have always done, when faced with the choice between several bad alternatives, the Netanyahu government chose the worst.
Anyone who followed the preparations as reported in the media could have foreseen that they would lead to people being killed and injured. One does not storm a Turkish ship and expect cute little girls to present one with flowers. The Turks are not known as people who give in easily.
The orders given to the forces and made public included the three fateful words: “at any cost.” Every soldier knows what these three terrible words mean. Moreover, on the list of objectives, the consideration for the passengers appeared only in third place, after safeguarding the safety of the soldiers and fulfilling the task.
If Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, the Chief of Staff and the commander of the navy did not understand that this would lead to killing and wounding people, then it must be concluded — even by those who were reluctant to consider this until now — that they are grossly incompetent. They must be told, in the immortal words of Oliver Cromwell to Parliament: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately… Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
This event points again to one of the most serious aspects of the situation: we live in a bubble, in a kind of mental ghetto, which cuts us off and prevents us from seeing another reality, the one perceived by the rest of the world. A psychiatrist might judge this to be the symptom of a severe mental problem.
The propaganda of the government and the army tells a simple story: our heroic soldiers, determined and sensitive, the elite of the elite, descended on the ship in order “to talk” and were attacked by a wild and violent crowd. Official spokesmen repeated again and again the word “lynching.”
On the first day, almost all the Israeli media accepted this. After all, it is clear that we, the Jews, are the victims. Always. That applies to Jewish soldiers, too. True, we storm a foreign ship at sea, but turn at once into victims who have no choice but to defend ourselves against violent and incited anti-Semites.
It is impossible not to be reminded of the classic Jewish joke about the Jewish mother in Russia taking leave of her son, who has been called up to serve the Czar in the war against Turkey. “Don’t overexert yourself,'” she implores him. “Kill a Turk and rest. Kill another Turk and rest again…”
“But mother,” the son interrupts, “What if the Turk kills me?”
“You?” exclaims the mother, “But why? What have you done to him?”
To any normal person, this may sound crazy. Heavily armed soldiers of an elite commando unit board a ship on the high seas in the middle of the night, from the sea and from the air — and they are the victims?
But there is a grain of truth there: they are the victims of arrogant and incompetent commanders, irresponsible politicians and the media fed by them. And, actually, of the Israeli public, since most of the people voted for this government or for the opposition, which is no different.
The “Exodus” affair was repeated, but with a change of roles. Now we are the British.
Somewhere, a new Leon Uris is planning to write his next book, Exodus 2010. A new Otto Preminger is planning a film that will become a blockbuster. A new Paul Newman will star in it — after all, there is no shortage of talented Turkish actors.
More than 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson declared that every nation must act with a “decent respect to the opinions of mankind.” Israeli leaders have never accepted the wisdom of this maxim. They adhere to the dictum of David Ben-Gurion: “It is not important what the Gentiles say, it is important what the Jews do.” Perhaps he assumed that the Jews would not act foolishly.
Making enemies of the Turks is more than foolish. For decades, Turkey has been our closest ally in the region, much more close than is generally known. Turkey could play, in the future, an important role as a mediator between Israel and the Arab-Muslim world, between Israel and Syria, and, yes, even between Israel and Iran. Perhaps we have succeeded now in uniting the Turkish people against us — and some say that this is the only matter on which the Turks are now united.
This is Chapter 2 of “Cast Lead.” Then we aroused most countries in the world against us, shocked our few friends and gladdened our enemies. Now we have done it again, and perhaps with even greater success. World public opinion is turning against us.
This is a slow process. It resembles the accumulation of water behind a dam. The water rises slowly, quietly, and the change is hardly noticeable. But when it reaches a critical level, the dam bursts and the disaster is upon us. We are steadily approaching this point.
“Kill a Turk and rest,” the mother says in the joke. Our government does not even rest. It seems that they will not stop until they have made enemies of the last of our friends.
[Parts of this article were published in Ma’ariv, Israel’s second largest newspaper.]
Uri Avnery attacked by rightist thugs
After Tel Aviv demonstration against Flotilla attack
‘The Government Is Drowning Us All’
June 6, 2010
A disaster was averted yesterday (June 5) at Tel-Aviv’s Museum Square, when rightists threw a smoke grenade into the middle of the protest rally, obviously hoping for a panic to break out and cause the protesters to trample on each other. But the demonstrators remained calm, nobody started to run and just a small space in the middle of the crowd remained empty. The speaker did not stop talking even when the cloud of smoke reached the stage. The audience included many children.
Half an hour later, a dozen rightist thugs attacked Gush Shalom’s 86 year old Uri Avnery, when he was on his way from the rally in the company of his wife, Rachel, Adam Keller, and his wife Beate Siversmidt. Avnery had just entered a taxi, when a dozen rightist thugs attacked him and tried to drag him out of the car. At the critical moment, the police arrived and made it possible for the car to leave. Gush spokesman Adam Keller said: “These cowards did not dare to attack us when we were many, but they were heroes when they caught Avnery alone.”
The incident took place when the more than 10,000 demonstrators were dispersing, after marching through the streets of Tel Aviv in protest against the attack on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla.
Not only was this one of the largest peace demonstrations for a long time, but also the first time that all parts of the Israeli peace camp — from Gush Shalom and Hadash to Peace Now and Meretz — did unite for common action
The main slogans were “The Government Is Drowning All of Us” and “We must Row towards Peace!” — alluding to the attack on the flotilla. The protesters called in unison “Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies!”
The demonstrators assembled at Rabin Square and marched to Museum Square, where the protest rally was held. Originally, this was planned as a demonstration against the occupation on its 43th anniversary, and for peace based on “Two States for Two Peoples” and “Jerusalem — Capital of the Two States,” but recent events turned it mainly into a protest against the attack on the flotilla.
One of the new sights was the great number of national flags, which were flown alongside the red flags of Hadash, the green flags of Meretz and the two-flag emblems of Gush Shalom. Many peace activists have decided that the national flag should no longer be left to the rightists.
“The violence of the rightists is a direct result of the brainwashing, which has been going on throughout the last week,” Avnery commented. “A huge propaganda machine has incited the public in order to cover up the terrible mistakes made by our political and military leadership, mistakes which are becoming worse from day to day.”