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Requiem for a Revolution

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The late Israeli journalist and political activist, Haim Hanegbi.
The late Israeli journalist and political activist, Haim Hanegbi. Credit: \ Daniel Tchetchik

The deceased was lowered into a grave in a vault with faux-Roman columns, where the dead are now being buried. He had been a charming young man, an eternal revolutionary, handsome in his pressed military jacket and Italian shoes from Dizengoff Street, who smoked Nelson cigarettes and spent his final years sitting in a café named for Marilyn Monroe. I loved him very much. Haim Hanegbi is dead.

His friends, almost all of whom shared his path, were there. They are the revolution that died long ago and is now slowly going to the grave. They are the last revolutionaries in this country. Old people, at least one in a wheelchair, others are long gone. Most of their names are familiar from the past, members of Matzpen and the other far-left groups of the time. When I was a boy we were brainwashed, trained to fear them and even their children, to avoid them like the plague, to be aware that they were outcasts, unclean, traitors who must remain outside the camp.

After stopping by chance at a small demonstration of theirs while in high school, I was sent urgently the next day to the vice principal’s office. David Ben-Zvi pulled from a drawer a photograph the Shin Bet security service gave him, showing me near the protest, and demanded to know, “What is this about?” I tried to explain that I had only stopped to say hello to a girl from my class. I promised it wouldn’t happen again.

They were ostracized for their beliefs as no one else was here. They were subjected to surveillance, harassment and intimidation by the security establishment. More than a few went to prison for their activities. That was in the swinging 1960s and ‘70s, which everyone now misses and longs for, without cause. That was the face then of the only democracy in the Middle East, which we now panegyrize as if it thrived back then and withers now, all because of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

They had universalist ideas, and some of them were even willing to take risks on their behalf. But not only did the radical left here die a long time ago. So did the dreams and an ideology that disrupt the order of the world. Please do not disturb. Everyone treads, without stopping for a moment to think, the narrow Zionist path, from which it is forbidden to deviate, even slightly. There is no longer any concrete difference between the Zionist right and the Zionist left.

They were the first to understand the curse of the occupation and sound the alarm against it, as with the unforgettable notice placed in Haaretz in September 1967, calling for an immediate withdrawal from the territories, and they were the first to propose a different path, one that was not perpetual occupation.

But they were also resounding historical failures. No one listened to them, nothing came of their high ideas. The end of the occupation was never more distant than it is today. When Hanegbi’s grave was covered over, I thought about what might have happened, had they had been heeded, had we followed the path of these wonderful people, Israel’s modern-day prophets. What a country we could have had. No one, not even on the left, gave them the gratitude they so deserved.

The revolution died because no one proposes alternative subversive ideas anymore, only more and more of the same. Today too, there are worthy, brave and determined leftist organizations. But they focus on the small things. The great ideology is dead, and with it the dreams. And if discussions ever get as far as ideas, which is rare, the participants recite technical solutions, as if by rote.

They mumble about two states and an end to the occupation, and do too little. Not one great new idea, no attempt to reboot everything, despite the growing realization that something has gone very deeply wrong here, almost infinitely so. No one has the courage to dare to touch the Zionist narrative as the people at the funeral did. On both sides of the occupation, both nations are exhausted, without hope and without revolutionaries. In his excellent new biography of George Habash (in Hebrew), Eli Galia writes that on the Palestinian side, too, the last of the revolutionaries have also died. That is a depressing situation like no other. It made Haim Hanegbi’s funeral even sadder.

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