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"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have
any."-- Alice Walker
*The Mother of all Pretexts*
By Uri Avnery
"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 silly notion.
To cry, because it is liable to cause untold disasters.
To cry even more, because our leaders are exploiting this slogan as a pretext
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
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
life in Europe in order to start a new life in a far-away and -- by the
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
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
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 moral
Only one of the Founding Fathers of the Zionist movement was courageous enough
call a spade a spade. Ze'ev Jabotinsky 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,
therefore, their morality trumped the morality of the Arabs in Palestine.
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
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,
we were transforming from ghetto-Jews into a people of workers and tillers of
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 land-owners, 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
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,
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.
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 U.N.
plan and started the war. If because of this they lost 78% of their country,
they have only themselves to blame.
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
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 P.L.O.," 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 Palestinian people.
The salvation came from America: a professor named Samuel Huntington wrote a
about the "Clash of Civilizations." And so we found the mother of all pretexts.
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
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 progress.
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
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
(like Christianity, like Judaism), which has given the world unmatched
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.
conscience can be entirely clean -- we are among the good guys of this world.
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
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 against
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,
have only one desire in life: to throw us into the sea, simply because we are
Jews, part of Judeo-Christian Civilization.
With an official position like that -- who is there to talk to? What is there
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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