Uri Avnery / 30.6.01
Oh, What a Wonderful Unity!
In all its 53 years, Israel has never been like it is now. The entire
Israeli public seems to have become a flock of parrots.
No matter who is talking – the seller of fallafel or a
professor of history, a taxi driver or Our Political Correspondent, an
army officer or a member of the Knesset – all of them endlessly repeat
the same seven or eight slogans, in exactly the same words:
- "Barak turned every stone on the way to peace."
- "He offered Arafat (almost) everything he asked for.
And what did we get in return? War."
- "Arafat (the villainous, cheating, lying, corrupt),
instead of accepting the generous offer with both hands, started a
campaign of violence and terror."
- "This proves that the Palestinians never wanted
peace. They want to annihilate the State of Israel (throw us into the
- " The right of return is a plot to destroy Israel."
- "We have no partner for peace."
- "The struggle is not about the settlements, but about
Jaffa and Haifa."
- "The conflict just doesn’t have a solution."
Each of these slogans is wrong and can be easily
disproved by the facts. But that is not the main thing. The main thing
is the total uniformity of the public discourse in Israel, including the
voters of Barak and Sharon, the members of the Labor and Likud, the
far-right Moledet and the Meretz parties.
This by itself could be the subject of an interesting
scientific research project. How does this happen? We have no
Goebbels-like ministry of propaganda. Dissidents don’t disappear in the
Gulag, as in Stalinist Russia. Intellectuals are nor dragged to labor
camps, as in the Cultural Revolution of Mao. They are not even compelled
to drink castor oil, as in Mussolini’s Italy.
So how does it happen? How does an entire people in a
democracy behave as if hypnotized? How do the free media – the dozens of
newspapers, channels and networks, with the hundreds of commentators and
correspondents, turn themselves into the organs of a uniform, primitive
propaganda? How does such a system of brain-washing come into being
without a cruel, omnipotent dictator, but as a kind of voluntary
This is especially odd, because the main message of this
brain-washing is not cheerful and optimistic, but as pessimistic as can
be. It says that there is no chance for peace, and never was. That the
war is eternal. That "they" will always want to kill us, and that there
is nothing we can do about it. That anyone who thinks otherwise (if such
a person exists) lives on the moon.
Stranger still, this message does cause some depression,
but that is not the only reaction. When the air escaped from the balloon
of peace, one could hear a vast sigh of relief.
A foreigner will not understand this. We do.
The Oslo agreement, which descended on the public
without any prior preparation, created a shock. I remember the day it
was signed. I was in Jerusalem. In the Eastern part, there was euphoria.
The Palestinians, together with some Israeli peace activists, drank
champagne in the American Colony hotel, rejoiced together on the steps
of Orient House. In the streets, bands of Palestinian youngsters were
wandering about, waving the (forbidden) Palestinian flag and nearly
kissing the Israeli border policemen. When I crossed into West
Jerusalem, I found a strange, hesitant, thoughtful mood, cautiously
optimistic. I was invited to a TV broadcast and found the same mood in
Since than, for eight years, Israel has been in the
grips of a painful syndrome, called "cognitive dissonance". This is a
situation where incoming new information collides with old, deeply
Every person (and, it seems, an entire people, too) has
a world-view, a fixed pattern of perceptions, a kind of mental map that
directs their thoughts and reactions. Without such a map, the person (or
people) feel lost in a world of chaos. The map gives them security; they
know where they are and where they are going. When they are hit by new
information that contradicts the existing pattern, they find themselves
in a frightening situation of uncertainty, insecurity and anxiety.
Whoever is responsible for this becomes the object of hatred and fury.
For hundreds of years, the Jews have been persecuted in
many countries. Everywhere they encountered anti-Semitism, suffered from
discrimination, became victims of pogroms, were murdered in the
Holocaust. Even in enlightened countries, almost every Jewish child
absorbed with his mother’s milk the belief that the Goyim hate the Jews,
always did and always will. Every year, on the eve of Passover, in the
warm family circle, millions of Jews repeat the words: "In each
generation they try to destroy us, but God saves us from them."
Zionism was supposed to create a New Jew, but in
practice it only transferred the existing mental pattern to the new
country. Arab opposition to the Zionist penetration appeared to the Jews
as a natural continuation of the old story of persecution and pogroms.
The existing Jewish pattern was not shattered, but became even stronger.
It created a feeling of unity, permanency and order. A cheerful song,
beginning with the words "The whole world is against us / but we do not
care…" became a folk dance.
And then Oslo came. Perplexing new perceptions hit us.
The Arabs want peace. Arafat, who only yesterday was the Arab Hitler,
became a partner. The Arabs were reconciled to our existence. A New
Middle East. Peace, conciliation, mutual respect are just around the
This picture did not cause happiness. On the contrary.
It caused deep anxiety. It was clear that something was wrong, The
pattern was shaken, and no new one replaced it. The old map, which
described a familiar landscape, did not show the way anymore. It was
necessary to draw a new map, contradicting all that was known and
doubting all that was thought and felt until then.
And then, suddenly, a powerful reaction set in. Ehud
Barak, the man of peace, the representative of the left, killed Oslo and
exposed the Arab plot. He proved that there was no partner. The Arabs
want to destroy us. Thank God, everything returned to what it was
before. What a relief!
After all, in a situation of war and conflict, everyone
of us knows exactly how to behave, what to do. There is no cause for
anxiety. The old map remains true. The pattern that served us for
hundreds of years remains good for the future.
This causes deep satisfaction. Haven’t we said all the
time it’s all a big bluff? As Yitzhaq Shamir put it so succinctly: "The
Arabs are the same Arabs, the Jews are the same Jews and the sea is the
In this situation, a wonderful national unity is reborn.
All the Jewish parties from left and right can unite. Shimon Peres can
sit in the same government with men like Ze’evi, Lieberman and Landau,
who could give lessons to Haider and Le-Pen. The media and academia.
almost without exceptions, can join the feast. Pseudo-leftists of
yesterday confess their sins as if they were in a Soviet meeting of
self-criticism. Oh, what a wonderful unity!
The most repelling exhibition in this orgy is the
treason of the intellectuals. They, who should have drawn the new map
that would lead the people towards the reality of peace, are betraying
their trust. The few, the very few, who stay true to their mission, are
despised and hated.
But on the shoulders of these few the fate of the
country now rests. There is no future for Israel if it goes on behaving
like an armed ghetto. A state is no ghetto, as the ghetto was no state.
In order to exist, the state needs a new perception of itself and its
surroundings, one that suits the new situation.
And that is, first and foremost, the task of the
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hagalil.com / 22-07-2001