Journalist and former Knesset member Uri Avnery is one of the most prominent political activists identified with the Israeli peace camp. As has been the 86-year-old's habit for decades, he did not miss the leftist demonstration in Tel Aviv, on Saturday night - this one protesting the government's handling of the Gaza-bound flotilla incident last week.
All told, only 6,000 people took part in the demonstration. Is the Israeli peace camp in fact just a negligible minority?
That number is wrong. There were at least twice as many demonstrators, and that is a huge amount when you take into account the unprecedented brainwashing the country experienced during the week, when a a near-totalitarian propaganda machine repeated a single picture and a single story, and prevented citizens from seeing or hearing anything else. We hardly saw anything except for a few minutes shot and edited by the Israel Defense Forces spokesman's office, which confiscated the films shot by journalists. The question may be asked: Why? What are they afraid of?
The photos published by the IDF and the Turkish media clearly show Israeli naval commandos being attacked, thrown from the deck and bleeding. Are you saying those photos were fabricated?
The gap is created when you see only two minutes [of footage]; you don't see what came before or after, and so it is possible to get the impression that the Turks attacked a Jewish ship. Imagine if Jews were in distress, attacked on the high seas, with dead and wounded - just imagine the uproar. Not only the Turks see this as an Israeli attack, but the whole world does.
Are you convinced this was an aid flotilla?
There is no doubt. The intention of the Israeli government is to create a crisis that is so terrible that the people of Gaza will overthrow Hamas. Meanwhile, four years have passed and Hamas is stronger than it was. What is the siege for? Who is it good for? If the Israeli government hadn't sent the poor soldiers to attack the ship, just as the cabinet secretary [Zvi Hauser] suggested, all of this could have been prevented. They could have stopped [the ships], examined them and let them go on. It seems we have to protect IDF soldiers from [Defense Minister] Ehud Barak and [Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu.
When Netanyahu calls it a flotilla of hate, is he lying?
Not only Netanyahu, the ministers, too, in addition to a few people in uniform: the army chief of staff and the commander of the navy. In any well-run country, the head of the navy would have resigned that same night. The operation itself reflected an astounding and disastrous lack of military capability. What is the nature of an army whose admiral personally commands such a stupid undertaking? I was a soldier and I don't remember any of my commanders ever putting me in such an idiotic situation. A person who can give such an order cannot command our soldiers.
And the mounting evidence that the flotilla was a provocation by terrorists fails to convince you?
The story begins with the fact that Israel attacked a Turkish ship because it was bringing aid. The ship was attacked and [the forces] did what they did. After all, we experienced this ourselves with the Exodus, when British soldiers attacked and the illegal immigrants defended themselves any way they could. Three immigrants were killed and dozens were injured. That was the beginning of the end of the British Mandate just eight months later.
Continuing this parallel that you are making, what does this say about us?
Parallel? Then there was a British government minister named Ernest Bevin who was stupid and coarse, and now we have a defense minister who is stupid and coarse. We are led by a gang of idiots. After last week a big change has taken place en route to ending the occupation and the siege on Gaza, which is a siege based on lies and wrapped in stupidity.
Benjamin Netanyahu said the siege exists in order to prevent the transfer of weapons to Gaza. This is a lie. He prevents the entrance of noodles, fruit, children's toys and paper for books. The damage caused to Israel's standing this week is greater than that caused by Operation Cast Lead [in Gaza, in December 2008-January 2009]. I am receiving messages from liberal Jews [abroad] and they see this as a disaster. We are moving forward with the blindness of the people of Sodom - struck blind and going on, increasing the wave of hatred against Israel.
Is it possible that something good can come from this low point, as it did with the Exodus incident?
In Goethe's "Faust," Satan appears and says: I am the power that always wants evil, but causes good. It might happen that, paradoxically, something good comes out of the bad.
Who will lead? After all, the peace camp has no political leadership.
All of the disasters in Israel began with Ehud Barak declaring himself the head of the peace camp. He went to Camp David unprepared and failed. When he returned he did not say that the negotiations would continue. Instead he said: I have turned over every stone on the way to peace; we haven't got a partner. These words caused a disaster we haven't yet recovered from.
But perhaps now, because of this incident, people who have been standing on the sidelines will understand that we have an existential problem. I see the demonstration [Saturday night] as a new awakening. We have a long way to go. We are in a situation in which the political system is split wide open. Last week in the Knesset we saw that Kadima is not a different version of the Likud; it is even worse. I was a Knesset member for 10 years and I don't remember any disgrace that came even close to this: physical attacks [on Arab MKs] by nearly all the Jewish members accompanied by the shouting of racist and sexist remarks.
And the Arab MKs did not take part in the uproar?
There is polarization on both sides. Actions create reactions. There's a vicious cycle here when the parliament descends to such a nadir. I am looking for the right word: parliamentary rabble. It terrifies me anew. It is a death blow to parliamentary democracy.
Did [Turkish Prime Minister] Erdogan incite the region?
That is part of the stupidity. We have had one very important friend in the Middle East for decades: the Turkish army. Turkish politics has been changing over the last two years; Turkey wants to position itself as a Middle East superpower, and wanted to mediate between Israel and the Moslem world. And let's assume we didn't like the fact that Turkey moved closer to Iran. What did we do? We united all of Turkey in hatred for Israel. Was it worth it?
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