Avnery views Hamas without hysteria
in Gush Shalom tee shirt,
ISRAELI peace campaigner, former Knesset member and journalist Uri Avnery was once speaking in Cambridge when someone asked him how he could justify talking with terrorists.
"Well, I used to be a terrorist,"
Avnery replied. "I belonged to a terrorist organisation. You may have heard of it. It was called Irgun Zvai Leumi".
To those who complained that Palestinian youths threw stones, Avneri recalled that in his youth he threw stones at British soldiers. He also reminded his audience that Irgun too blew up buildings and killed people. And this being 1983, he reminded them too that the Irgun had been commanded by a man called Menachem Begin, now prime minister of Israel.
A Palestinian called Issam Sartawi had been due to speak alongside Uri Avneri at that Cambridge meeting. They had spoken together previously in London. But Sartawi was assassinated in Lisbon, where he was representing the PLO at the Socialist International.
Afterwards we could read that yet another Palestinian moderate had been killed by one of Abu Nidal's gunmen. But before this, Shimon Peres and his allies had lobbied strenuously to prevent Sartawi being allowed to address the international congress. Uri Avnery had been condemned for having meetings with the "terrorist" Issam Sartawi.
On his 80th birthday last year Uri Avnery went to Bil'in, in the West Bank, where Palestinians were staging a peaceful protest against Israel's "security fence" which separates the villagers from their land. With them, and Israeli and international supporters, he scrambled to escape tear gas and rubber bullets with which the Israeli army answered peaceful protest.
He has returned to Bil'in since, when protestors set up an "outpost" across the occupier's side of the fence and lit Chanukka lights since, as he said, they were today's Maccabbees resisting oppression!
He was back in Bil'in a week ago, when Palestinians of all parties -Fatah, Democratic Front, and Hamas - joined the demonstration. As he wrote:
"IT WAS a colorful day in Bil'in. Political flags of many colors were fluttering in the brisk breeze, the vivid election posters and the colorful graffiti on the walls adding their bit. It was the biggest demonstration in the beleaguered village for a long time. This week, the protest against the Fence was interwoven with Palestinian electioneering.
I was happily marching along in the wintry sunshine, holding high the Gush Shalom emblem of the flags of Israel and Palestine side by side. We were approaching the line of armed soldiers that was waiting for us, when I suddenly realized that I was surrounded by the green flags of Hamas.
Ordinary Israelis would have been flabbergasted. What, the murderous terrorists marching in line with Israeli peace activists? Israelis marching, talking and joking with the potential suicide bombers? Impossible!
But it was quite natural. All the Palestinian parties took part in the demonstration, together with the Israeli and international activists. Together they ran away from the clouds of tear gas, broke together through the lines of soldiers, were beaten up together. The green flags of Hamas, the yellow of Fatah, the red of the Democratic Front and the blue-and-white of the Israeli flag on our emblems harmonized, as did the people who carried them.
In the end, many of us improvised a kind of protest concert. Standing along the iron security railing, Israelis and Palestinians together, we beat on it rhythmically with stones, producing something like an African tom-tom that could be heard for miles around. The Orthodox settlers in nearby Modiin-Illit must have wondered what it meant".
Avnery went on to consider what would happen if Hamas formed part of a Palestinian government, and argued that far from being an excuse to stop any negotiations, it would be all the more reason to open them.
Since the elections, he has said Hamas' victory was a success for Sharon and his backers. "Their message was that Israel only listens to force, and the Palestinian public believed them".
Of course he noted that the vote was also in many respects against Fatah and corruption, and that Hamas appeared willing to modify its more extreme stands if Israel made genuine peace concessions. As for the more hysterical reaction of Israeli leaders and their US backers ruling out any tallks with a Hamas-led authority, the octagenarian Avnery, veteran of Israel's 1948 "War of Independence" as well as decades of peace campaigning, writes:
"WHAT NOW? Well, a strong feeling of deja vu.
In the 70s and 80s, the Israeli government declared that it would never ever negotiate with the PLO. They are terrorists. They have a charter that calls for the destruction of Israel. Arafat is a monster, a second Hitler. So, never, never, never ---
In the end, after much bloodshed, Israel and the PLO recognized each other and the Oslo agreement was signed.
Now we are hearing the same tune again. Terrorists. Murderers. The Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Israel. We shall never never never negotiate with them.
All this is very welcome to Sharon's Kadima party, which openly calls for the unilateral annexation of territory ("Fixing the borders of Israel unilaterally"). It will help the Likud and the Labor party hawks whose mantra is "We have no partner for peace", meaning - to hell with peace.
Gradually, the tone will change. Both sides, and the Americans, too, will climb down from the tall tree. Hamas will state that it is ready for negotiations and find some religious basis for this. The Israeli government (probably headed by Ehud Olmert) will bow to reality and American pressure. Europe will forget its ridiculous slogans.
In the end, everybody will agree that a peace, in which Hamas is a partner, is better than a peace with Fatah alone.
Let's pray that not too much blood is spilled before that point is reached".
For some more comments on the Palestinian elections, articles by Avnery, and reports on Bil'in, see Gush Shalom - Israeli Peace Bloc
Also well worth looking at, my fellow blogger writing from Jerusalem,