The Battle We Cannot Afford to Lose

Israel will not be defeated in a conventional war, but it won’t be worth saving if its best sons and daughters are forced to abandon it.

Uri Avnery
Uri Avnery
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David Ben Gurion flanked by members of his provisional government reading the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948.
David Ben Gurion flanked by members of his provisional government reading the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948.Credit: GPO
Uri Avnery
Uri Avnery

I’m standing on the deck of the Titanic. On the horizon I see a small white dot and an inner voice tells me it is the tip of an iceberg. I go up to the bridge to tell the captain, but the man is drunk. I turn to the helmsman, but he just laughs at me. Iceberg? What iceberg? Nonsense! The ship proceeds along its course, straight toward the growing white spot. What do I do? Do I lower a lifeboat and row to the nearest shore? Do I alert the passengers and call upon them to depose the captain?

I read Rogel Alpher’s article (“Israel is my home, but I can no longer live here,” Haaretz, August 31) and understood how he’s feeling. He is in despair. He sees the worsening situation, the black future. He does not believe he can do anything to prevent the approaching disaster. He feels like a stranger in his own land. He speaks fluent English. He has a foreign passport. He has decided to emigrate.

I want to say this to him: Please reconsider your decision! I understand you. I’m not about to preach morality to you. (Who am I to preach morality to anyone?) Nevertheless, I urge you – reconsider.

There is a considerable difference in our ages, and this is manifested in our attitude toward the state. I belong to the generation that established it. I feel responsibility for it. I remember listening to the live broadcast, in 1948, of David Ben-Gurion’s declaration of the state, and I remember what I was thinking at that moment: The state is not being established there, on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, but rather here, among those of us who are preparing right now for the next battle.

Since I was one of the people who established the state, and since I have contributed a number of drops of blood to it, I do not intend to relinquish it easily. I intend to fight for it – for its character, for its future – as long as I am able to do so.

We founded a new society, we made a new language, we created a new culture, a new economy – we established them out of nothing. And it’s true, while doing so we caused a terrible injustice to the Palestinian people. This injustice must be rectified, insofar as possible. It is possible to make peace, to reconcile, to live alongside each other, in two sister states.

My late wife, Rachel, once asked me – she also had a moment of despair – whether I would ever consider emigrating from the country. I said to her, “Only when a fascist dictatorship arises and any opposition to it would be impossible. Only then.”

We are still very far from that moment. It is within our power to resist, to demonstrate, to organize, to establish and unify forces, to fight the regime. In short: the opposite of running away.

You, Rogel, belong to a different generation. Google tells me you were born on the fifth day of the Six-Day War – the very day I published a public exhortation to then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to invite, immediately, the Palestinian people to establish a state alongside the state of Israel and make peace with it. His refusal to do so (he explained his reasons to me in a private conversation) transformed the stunning victory into a curse for generations.

Yes, like you I see that if our ship continues along its current course, the iceberg will smash it. The state will, of necessity, become an apartheid state, despised and ugly, a leper among nations, not democratic, not secular, not liberal. Its best sons and daughters will abandon it, as you are already planning to do.

When I studied the history of the Crusaders, I was impressed by the words of historian Steven Runciman, who argued that their kingdom did not fall in battle. Even after it was defeated – after having existed for 100 years – on the battlefield at Hattin near Tiberias in 1187, it continued to exist for another 100 years in a part of the country. It was the emigration that struck the deathblow. New immigrants did not come because the country had lost its charm, and the people who lived here were fed up with the perpetual war and returned to their ancestral homes.

What you wrote reminded me of this insight. The only danger hovering over our state is, in my opinion, the loss of the best of its offspring. We will not be defeated in battle.

Even if the Islamic State and similar organizations aspire to replicate the deeds of Saladin – the Muslim general who defeated the Crusaders – we will withstand that.

But we will not withstand the loss of the best of our young men and women, who will not want to live and raise their children in a benighted, racist, messianic, peace-despising, minority-hating country – in short, under a regime signs of which we have seen in Operation Protective Edge.

We need you, Rogel. We cannot relinquish any man or woman. Our war for the state of Israel is not yet over. It has not yet even begun. In the past decades, we relinquished all our positions, position after position, until we remained a bowed, apathetic, do-nothing and helpless camp. Who will revive this camp, who will give it spirit and strength if not people like you, people who care?

This is a war for our home. We really do not have any other home. In any other place you will be a stranger, detached, uninvolved, rootless. A friend of mine who lives abroad once said to me, “A homeland is the place where you get angry.” If the anger is burning in your bones, it is a sign that your homeland is here.

And to all those who read what you wrote and were appalled: This is a battle cry! This is the call-up notice for the fight for our home, our lives, our future!

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