Uri Avnery is 81 or 82 years old, an Israeli activist with a group called Gush Shalom. He was in the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset). Before that, he was in the Israeli militias, some of the elite units that did ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine in 1948 to prepare for the state of Israel. He’s a very complex person with a very long political and writing career. His cause is peace and a two-state solution. He was a friend and supporter of Arafat until his death and had a very moving interview in Ha’aretz after his death.
A Jewish Israeli, an avowed Zionist, a supporter of a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, does not make parallels between Israel and WWI Germany easily. For some, such comparisons do come easily. But for someone like Avnery, I don’t think they do. So Avnery’s piece, ‘The March of the Orange Shirts’, which explicitly compares the settler movement in Israel to the Nazis, is even more alarming. He writes:
In the past I have often hesitated to use this analogy. We have a taboo concerning Nazi Germany. Since nothing in the world can compare with the Holocaust, no comparisons should be made with Germany of that time.
Only rarely has this taboo been broken. David Ben-Gurion once called Menachem Begin “a disciple of Hitler”. Begin for his part called Yasser Arafat “the Arab Hitler”, and before that, Gamal Abd-el-Nasser was referred to in Israel as “Hitler on the Nile”. Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz, in his usual provocative way, spoke about “Judeo-Nazis” and compared the special units of the Israeli army to the SS. But these were exceptions. Generally, the taboo was observed.
Not any more. In their fight against the “rotten” Israeli democracy, the settlers have adopted the Holocaust symbols. They are ostentatiously wearing the Yellow Star that was imposed by the Nazis on the Jews before their extermination, only substituting orange for yellow. They inscribe their forearm with their identity number, like the numbers the Nazis tattooed on the Auschwitz prisoners. They call the government the “Judenrat”, after the Jewish councils appointed by the Nazis in the ghettoes, and liken the evacuation of the settlers from Gush Katif to the deportation of the Jews to the death camps. All this live on television.
Avnery is concerned about the threat this settler movement, which he calls ‘a large fascist camp’ that is attempting ‘to overturn by force the democratic system itself’, poses to Israel’s polity. He notes that ‘this is a revolutionary movement with a revolutionary ideology using revolutionary means’.
His definition of fascism is a useful one:
There is no agreed scientific definition of “fascism”. I define it as having the following attributes: the belief in a superior people (master Volk, chosen people, superior race), a complete absence of moral obligations toward others, a totalitarian ideology, the negation of the individual except as a part of the nation, contempt for democracy and a cult of violence. According to this definition, a large proportion of the settlers are fascists.
Avnery believes that if Israeli citizens do not stand up for it, Israel’s democratic system will be overthrown. I think he is right. I also think things are worse than he writes. If, as he says, there is a fascist movement in the process of overthrowing Israel’s democracy, there is also a genocide underway in Gaza.
Let’s turn to another moderate voice. Even though she wouldn’t be accepted as such by mainstream US culture, Phyllis Bennis is really a reasonable, hard-working left-liberal, and I think it’s fair to say she’s thought of that way by most leftists. In her recent piece on the Gaza ‘Disengagement’ plan to move the few thousand Jewish settlers out of the fenced-in open-air prison for 1.3 million Palestinians that is the Gaza Strip, Bennis actually calls for pro-Palestine advocates to work on sanctions and divestment campaigns against Israel:
Since governments, especially the U.S. government, have so far been unwilling to take seriously their obligations to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law, it is up to our global civil society to do it. Both Palestinian civil society organizations and the UN-based International Coordinating Network on Palestine have called for non-violent campaigns of “BDS” – boycotts, divestment and sanctions – against Israel’s occupation and the institutions and corporations that benefit from it.
Until very recently, sanctions and divestment were viewed, even by most of the left, as ultra-leftist deviation. For Phyllis Bennis to be advocating it strikes me as a sign that things are desperate. And in fact, I think they’re more desperate than sanctions. Phyllis is very clear on what ‘disengagement’ means:
Sharon’s planned “disengagement” from Gaza is not a step towards ending occupation; it is designed to change the character of Gaza’s occupation from direct troops-in-the-streets and settlers-on-the-land occupation to a kind of occupation-by-siege, in which Gaza will be completely encircled by an Israeli fence, as well as Israeli troops and military force. All entry and exit to and from Gaza will be controlled by Israel. The Israeli military will control all crossing points, Israel will control Gaza’s skies and seas, the building and operation of any future port or airport will be under Israeli permission (or denied permission), and the people of Gaza will have no ability to move in and out of their land, to ship agricultural products out or bring crucial medicines in, except under intrusive Israeli control.
On this question of ‘agricultural products’ (otherwise known as ‘food’) and medicine, it’s worth repeating yet again that the UN Special Rapporteur for Food found TWO YEARS AGO that 22% of Gaza’s children were malnourished because of the siege of Gaza (USAID reports said the same thing), a siege that has not been lifted at all since – so we can be sure that the situation has deteriorated steadily for two more years. No employment, no economy, only such food aid as Israel allows.
When I was in Gaza City in 2002, I was told by my Palestinian host that problems with mosquitoes were not as bad as they could be because the Israelis had to protect themselves from diseases, too. That won’t be the case once the settlers are gone. The settlers, who are just a few thousand, occupy something like 40% of the land. Because of the settlement strategy, their presence, despite their small numbers, is ubiquitous. But once they are gone and all of their buildings and infrastructure thoroughly destroyed, there won’t be any protection for the Palestinians of Gaza, not even the accidental protection of colonists protecting themselves.
That is what made people like Uri Davis, Ilan Pappe, and Tamar Yaron – also very reasonable people – panic. These Israeli activists are very worried about the consequences of the ‘disengagement’:
We believe that one primary, unstated motive for the determination of the government of the State of Israel to get the Jewish settlers of the Qatif (Katif) settlement block out of the Gaza Strip may be to keep them out of harm’s way when the Israeli government and military possibly trigger an intensified mass attack on the approximately one and a half million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, of whom about half are 1948 Palestine refugees.
Still another very good Israeli activist, Michael Warschawski, disagrees with the above. He replied to it suggesting that instead “the reason for the evacuation of a few thousands settlers from the Gaza Strip is to help in creating a “Gazastan,” part of the old Sharon plan of “cantonization of the occupied territories.”
Warschawski, like Bennis, thinks that the point of the Gaza evacuation is to create a ‘trauma’ that will help Sharon argue that no more settlements can be dismantled. This can be true and Davis/Pappe/Yaron can also be completely right that a mass slaughter is being planned (and in fact Warschawski admits as much in his piece).
But, because the stakes are so very high, it is important to be absolutely clear.
Israel’s policy towards Gaza is already genocidal. There is already a siege that has already starved tens of thousands of children and is killing and permanently damaging many more. There is already a vicious military with total control featuring snipers murdering little girls as they sit in their classrooms. The place is already fenced in from all sides. Indiscriminate missile attacks already kill dozens of people at the whim of some occupation officer and with no one, in Israel or outside, noticing or caring. There is really no question about whether they can get away with it because they are already getting away with it. There is also no question as to whether they care about Gaza because they have always been very clear about it. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin himself expressed his wish in 1992 that Gaza ‘would just sink into the sea’ (I collected this and some other telling quotes here).
Warschawski is right that Gaza and its 1.3 million people are utterly irrelevant to Sharon, Israel and the US (other than the settler movement, which cares about Gaza, though not its inhabitants). That does not mean those people in Gaza are not facing genocide. They will be fenced in, besieged, left to starve and to drink dirty water and die, like the Iraqi children of the sanctions, because the settlers’ water infrastructure will most certainly be destroyed and defiled and probably poisoned before the settlers finally leave. And when some of them think of revenge, trying hopelessly to launch a metal tube over the electric at their occupiers, Israel will be able to launch the heavy weaponry with an unheard of lack of discrimination, for there won’t be an Israeli life at risk in the killing.
And yes, the West Bank settlement project will be consolidated in the meantime, and yes, the settler movement will be overthrowing Israel’s democracy in the meantime, and who knows what new horrors will be happening in the ‘War on Terror’ elsewhere at the same time.
For now I disagree with Warschawski. I would rather see the settlers stay until there is a just solution than see the genocide advance to a new level of impunity.
We will all pay a horrible price if we allow this to happen.