A Critque of Avnery's "Apology"

by Henry Lowi
June 14, 2008

Gush Shalom is hosting a protest on the sea, coordinated with allies in besieged Gaza. Like usual, Gush Shalom does not demand that the siege be ended unconditionally. It wants a “ceasefire”, whatever that means in the context of ongoing Israeli oppression and domination of Palestine. The same week, Uri Avnery wrote an article entitled “An Apology”, taking as his reference point the dramatic events in the Canadian Parliament last week.

It would have been good to reproduce, or at least review, the text of the apology delivered by the Prime Minister of Canada, and that of the Leader of the Opposition, on behalf of the Liberal Party (that has been the governing party for most of Canada’s history).

See: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2008/06/11/aboriginal-apology.html and http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2008/06/11/apology-future.html and

http://www.canada.com/topics/news/story.html?id=18133d91-b8aa-4fbe-956e-20298d79c1d5 and


The Canadian apologies to the aboriginal peoples are too little, and too late. Much will have to be done -- much struggle will be required -- to give the Canadian apologies any substance. But, all can recognize that these apologies are infused with the spirit of compassion and are an affirmation of democratic values. Furthermore, the Canadian apologies are framed not as the end of this issue, but as the introduction to a new beginning. The Canadian political leaders were not heard to be saying: “Here, you have our apology, now leave us alone and move on.” On the contrary, they hold open the promise, or at least the prospect, of a fresh start, of re-establishing relations on a new basis. As such, these apologies can be employed as levers for the struggle of the First Nations, and for all who want an inclusive Canada based on solidarity.

By contrast, the opening of Avnery’s “apology” is not an apology but a self-justification, effectively saying: “We did not mean any wrong. We did not have bad intentions.” Isaac Deutscher once wrote of a man jumping out of a burning building, causing damage to the people below. But, the Zionist movement did not make any kind of appeal to the people of Palestine, along the lines of: “We represent persecuted people looking for a haven. Our heritage connects us to Eretz Yisrael-Palestine. May we settle in your country, please? We will do our best to be good neighbors and help build up the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants.” The Zionists did not request shelter or a refuge. They barged in. They did not even yell, as might someone jumping out of a burning building: “Help! Watch out below!”

The Zionists came into Palestine with a strong sense of entitlement, showing disdain for the indigenous people, and aiming for mastery, in the manner of colonialists.

A true apology would have said:

Initially, we were oblivious to your needs and your very existence. We ignored the rabbis who reported back to Herzl that “the bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man”. Once we could no longer be oblivious to your existence, we undertook a conscious, carefully planned and professionally executed policy, to obliterate your existence. We called this policy “transfer”, “partition”, “Judaization”, “we are here, they are there”, and “2 states for 2 peoples”.

Uri Avnery offers a vague and perfunctory apology (exceedingly vague and perfunctory, as compared with the Canadian apologies to First Nations), and then proposes an excessively detailed and specific “just, viable and practical solution of our century-old conflict”. His proposed “solution” does not seem to acknowledge that the conflict is ongoing: the military occupation continues, the ethnic cleansing continues, torture continues, Palestinian citizens of Israel are subjected to systemic racism and are denied equal rights, and the cream of Palestinian political activists are still held in Israeli prisons and concentration camps, many in prolonged preventive detention without charges. How, in these circumstances, can a "Committee for Truth and Reconciliation" have any meaning? How will this “allow both our peoples to live their lives in freedom, peace and prosperity”?

Then, Avnery goes back to the principles of Partition, but supplements that misguided segregationist programme by adding to the “Jewish State” the Palestinian lands seized in the war of 1947 – 49, and some of the lands seized in the June 1967 war. This solution, he says, “has emerged from our painful experiences, hammered out by the lessons of our sufferings, crystallized by the exertions of the best of our minds - yours as well as ours.” This, he says, implements the principle of equality. Oy vey to such equality! While refusing to turn back the clock, Avnery digs his heels in on the 60 year-old fundamental features of Palestinian dispossession, thus prolonging the oppressive status quo.

I must say that, in this context, I found the invocation of “our religion” and “yours, and every other” as, franky, disgusting.

The rest of the proposed speech is simply a colonial master dictating terms of capitulation to the colonial slaves, as Israeli governments have been doing to the Palestinians since the beginning. This posture has not worked very well for them until now, and will work less and less well in the future.

When Avnery says “What is Arab shall be yours, what is Jewish shall be ours” he reveals his essential agreement with Ehud Barak’s (and all other Zionist leaders’) goal that “we are here, they are there”, as well as his denial of the Arab character of Palestine, and his rejection of the modern, democratic attitude to separation of religion and state. Thus, he demonstrates his commitment to ethnic-nationalist war without end, apparently hoping and believing that the Israeli militarists and racists will command the upper hand indefinitely.

Avnery emphasizes his commitment to an undemocratic, demographically-defined ethnic-nationalist “Jewish state’ when he limits the refugees’ “right of return” to “coming back to the territory of Israel in acceptable numbers, agreed by us.” Insisting on the ongoing prerogative of the ethnic cleanser empties this “apology” of all content and all credibility, and exposes the quote from Rabbi Hillel as a bare-faced lie.

This “apology” will never be given or accepted as an apology. It is introduced on the Gush Shalom website as “Avnery's dream”. Israel’s most active peace campaigners continue to dream that the Palestinians will accept their oppressive nightmare as inevitable reality. This dream undermines the effectiveness of their political and protest activity.

There is nothing in this proposed apology speech that is “essential for opening a new chapter in the history of this country.” It contains no potential for healing. Not a word or a phrase. Nothing. This text is useful as a frank exposure of the political limitations of the most intrepid Israeli peace activists. Those limitations will be overcome, over time, with the help of democratic agitation and education, sustained and effective international solidarity, and -- most crucially -- the unified mass action of Palestinian workers, farmers, and refugees on the road of democratic revolution.

Israeli and Palestinian peace activists all have much to learn from the revolutionary-inspired values of Western democracy. The sad fact is that the Israelis can start by learning a thing or 2 from the likes of Canada’s Conservative and right-wing Liberal politicians.

Only then will they begin to understand NDP Leader Jack Layton’s remarks, that "we as a Parliament and as a country assume the responsibility for one of the most shameful eras of our history" and "It is the moment to finally say we are sorry and it is the moment where we start to begin a shared future on equal footing through mutual respect and truth."


Henry Lowi