Prof. Sternhell: Supporters of Occupation Are Not Zionist

Haaretz columnist and Israel Prize laureate whose house was bombed last week for 'war on extreme right'.

Professor Zeev Sternhell's house on Jerusalem's Agnon Street is easily located by the iron gate with the broken glass. Sternhell says the bombing could have ended with him having to have both legs amputated.

Fortunately, last Thursday night he and his wife Ziva had returned from abroad and their suitcases, left in the narrow hallway, separated him and the pipe bomb that had been attached to the door.

The living room is filled with flowers and the telephone doesn't stop ringing. The news is quoting ministers' statements from the cabinet meeting.

Sternhell, while still in the hospital, drew a direct line between the state's surrender to the extreme right rampaging in the territories and the terrorist or organization that tried to kill him.

"What are those ministers talking about," he asks, when Vice Premier Haim Ramon blasts the government on the television news for fearing "those hooligans," as Ramon called them.

Sternhell: "Who has to deal with the outposts? Me? You? Who's to blame for the semi-autonomous state in the territories? Groups of settlers do whatever they feel like. Police officers and reserve soldiers go home with broken arms. How did they let things deteriorate to this lack of control in the West Bank? I told my students that not intervening for a weak child who needs help against a strong child is intervening for the strong child. Whoever fails to enforce the law and protect the Palestinians from the settlers who attack them is cooperating with the hooligans and lawbreakers."

The settlers argue that they are the weak child. Especially since the evacuation of the Gaza Strip.

"I understand exactly what it's like to be a refugee and I'm sorry the Gush Katif settlers were not allowed to build a new life within the Green Line. [But] every time the government takes a step in the right direction, like pulling out of Gaza, it hastens to console the settlers and promise them this will go no further.

"I'm suggesting an alternative to exclusive ownership of the land that justifies occupation. It would be based on a rational view of universal rights, especially the right to liberty and dignity, including for the Palestinians. This is the social-democratic approach that shaped 20th century Europe. It would strengthen Zionism, unlike the insistence on exclusivity over all the Land of Israel which rejects the other's rights, undermines the Zionist ideal, and is a proven prescription for disaster."

Are the extreme right wing and settlers anti-Zionists?

"Certainly. The right wing advocating the greater Israel is the real post-Zionist body. Whoever supports the occupation, i.e. a binational state, is no Zionist. This could also be said of politicians who drag their feet in negotiations intended to bring about a two-state solution for two nations. They're putting off this solution to the unforeseeable future, endangering the Jewish state's future."

Will you use the bombing to increase your influence?

"My job is to criticize. I have no intention of returning to politics. I'm glad my injury shocked the cabinet and Knesset. But what remains of [prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin's murder, which caused a much greater shock? A one-day annual festival.

The politicians must declare war on the extreme right and occupation - that's the swamp where those mosquitoes breed. Otherwise they won't even be a footnote in history."

As a member of the Zionist left and a historian specializing in 20th century fascism, are you pleased with the role of the Israeli left in the confrontation with the right?

"The Israeli left has made no political mark. It has good people, like [MK] Ophir Pines and [Education Minister] Yuli Tamir, but they have no impact on their party. No one is trying to shape the future of war and peace, or of social progress. Instead, the strong get stronger and the weak get weaker, even as the free market's mythology is crumbling around us and begging for state intervention to save it. This is the very moment when the left should rear up and proclaim its difference, remind us that the rightist ideology is a total failure and delivers only political, social and economic disaster. A left-wing party worthy of the name should be shouting from the rooftops by now."

In an interview with Haaretz six months ago you said your children's and grandchildren's future did not seem secure.

"I fear that unless an immediate change takes place, in 50 years my granddaughters will have no reason to live here. If we're doomed to be a minority in a multinational state, why live in Tel Aviv rather than California? For that I had to sacrifice so much? Our grandchildren will not understand the justification for the colonial reality here. That's the greatest danger to our society.

"Despite the difficulties my generation has experienced, we were always accompanied by the hope of a better future. My students don't have the feeling that next year will be better, they feel that tomorrow is not safe. We believed we were going in the right way, that justice was on our side.

"Today young people's conviction of that is crumbling. Occupation is rotting our society. The terrible violence in the territories is spilling over the Green Line. This is inevitable - different standards and laws for different people cannot exist without affecting all of society. I'm not seeking absolute justice, only an end to building a de facto apartheid, only to ensure the creation of a society that future generations will not be ashamed of."