A stalwart in the peace movement, Dr. Art Milholland, was admitted to the
Members of the Jonah House have visited Art, and he is staying strong despite being fed through the nose. Let me know if you are interested in visiting with him. If you do not know Art, please send good vibrations his way.
Why Israeli Jew Uri Davis Joined Fatah to Save
The first Jewish member of the Revolutionary Council of Fatah talks about a unique political journey
By Peter Beaumont
The Observer (
August 23, 2009
Uri Davis is used to denunciations. A "traitor", "scum",
"mentally unstable": those are just some of the
condemnations that have been posted in the Israeli
blogosphere in recent days. As the first person of
Jewish origin to be elected to the Revolutionary Council
of the Palestinian Fatah movement, an organisation once
dominated by Yasser Arafat,
reserve of Israeli resentment. Some have even called for
him to be deported.
He has been here before, not least as the man who first
proposed the critique of
in the late 1980s.
World Conference Against Racism in
condemned by the Anti-Defamation League. During a career
of protest he has been described - inevitably - as a
"self-hating Jew". He calls himself an "anti-Zionist".
And his personal history is a fascinating testimony to
the troubled history of the postwar Israeli left and
forgotten trajectories in the story of
The man elected to the Revolutionary Council in 31st
place from a field of 600 has been as much shaped by the
tidal forces of recent Jewish history - not least his
own family's sufferings in the Holocaust - as any fellow
manufactured account of that experience that he believes
has been used deliberately "to camouflage" its
"apartheid programme". Now he enjoys an extraordinary
mandate to explain his own views. And he hopes, too,
that just as the small number of white members of the
ANC widened its legitimacy during the apartheid era in
in Fatah, transforming it into a broader-based movement
that stands for equal rights for both Arabs and Jews in
a federated state.
So what does
British Jew who met his mother, a Czech, in British
in 1939, four years before his birth. While his mother
escaped the transports to the gas chambers at
many in her family did not. It is a familiar story in
different from the vast majority of Jews who concluded
that never again could Jews depend on others to
guarantee their security from persecution.
"An important part of the education that I received from
generalise. To beware of every sentence that begins with
'all'. It was not 'all' Germans who killed my mother's
family. It was some Nazis." Another distinction was
emphasised by his mother. "If she heard the suggestion
of vengeance, she would be horrified. She sought
justice. One of the biggest problems addressing a
Zionist audience is that the distinction between justice
and vengeance has collapsed."
He is 66 now, but that warning from his parents on the
risk of demonising the Other still resonates in
language. He is insistent that generalities should be
avoided, not least the "normative idea all Israelis are
exposed to: that all Arabs hate the Jews and all Arabs
want to drive the Jews into the sea".
His own self-description is a case in point, fine-tuned
over the decades. "It has gone through a number of
stages. In my autobiography in the mid-1990s I described
myself as a Palestinian Jew. That has now changed to a
Palestinian Hebrew of Jewish origins." How he frames his
own identity is part of his attempt to impose an
"alternative narrative" to the one that has dominated
as "a settler-colonialist" strand of Zionism built on a
massive act of "ethnic cleansing". That moment - known
as the "Nakba", or the catastrophe to Arabs - saw the
flight of 650,000-750,000 Palestinians who fled or were
expelled from their homes by Jewish forces.
and his own "anti-Zionism". The Zionism that he opposes
is the "political Zionism" of
Zionism that amounts, he says, to land grab based on
Davis himself insists on reclaiming a wider meaning for
the word, not least because he was shaped, as he grew
up, by a different school: the "spiritual Zionism" of
thinkers such as Ahad Ha'am, religious philosopher
Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, co-founder of
In contrast to political Zionism, which saw Jewish
statehood alone as a solution to the Jewish question,
these spiritual Zionists believed
accommodate a Jewish homeland but should become a
national spiritual centre that would support and
reinvigorate the Jewish diaspora.
development was profoundly influenced by Buber's
writings" although he has fiercely condemned Buber's
later actions, not least Buber's appropriation of a
Palestinian activist and writer Edward Said.
Then there was Leon Roth, one of his father's relatives
and a fellow professor of Buber at the new Hebrew
University. Roth resigned his post after witnessing the
treatment of the Palestinian Arabs in the creation of
But if these were formative influences on
how he interpreted what he saw growing up in the young
Reading Gandhi and Martin Luther King led him to a
pacifist position that saw him refuse military service
in the 1960s, at a time when it was almost unheard of.
He was eventually assigned to "alternative" service
working on a kibbutz on the border with the
"I refused to participate in the armed patrols of the
kibbutz fence on the border and that led to daily
shouting matches. Then one of the members took me to the
periphery of the kibbutz where there was a cluster of
eucalyptus trees. He said: 'What can you see?' And I
said trees. Then he took me into the wood and showed me
a pile of stones. He asked me what I could see and I
said: 'A pile of stones.' He said: 'No. This is the
while we cultivate their land. Now do you understand why
they hate us and want to drive us into the sea?
"And I said, 'But there is an alternative. We could
invite them back and share it with them.'" He pauses.
"If looks could kill. I saw that he saw me as a hopeless
case. And I'm proud to say I'm still that hopeless case."
later during the first Gulf war, when
Scud missiles at
an unresolved question from his childhood. "I was born
would walk with my peers down to the beach and pass the
ruins of an Arab village under the shadow of a mosque
that was still intact. And the dominant narrative
deleted the reality. The elders of my community said
they had pleaded with the elders of the Arab village to
stay. And the elders of the Arab village refused. I had
no way to challenge this for decades.
"During the first Gulf war the penny dropped. The mayor
of Tel Aviv was abusing all those residents who had fled
under the threat from Scuds. After the war ended, the
families returned. They used their keys. Put their cash
cards in the ATMs. Re-opened their shops. What was
significant was that no one said to them: anyone who has
left has lost their property rights. That was my second crossroads."
distinguishes between racism and apartheid, which, he
argues, requires not simply an official value system
that distinguishes on a racial basis but a legal
than other states in the UN. Rather he believes it
should be singled out because, as he wrote in a letter
to Al-Ahram newspaper in 2003, "it applies the force of
law to compel its citizens to make racial choices, first
and foremost in all matters pertaining to access to
land, housing and freedom of residence".
consequences. After joining Fatah,
period of "de facto exile" at the suggestion of his
lawyer to avoid a show trial. He taught during that time
at a number of British universities, including Bradford,
mid-1990s, following the
for years to secure an appointment at an Israeli
academic institution. " I kept my affiliation with
Exeter and Durham, which helped me with periodical
research that they farmed out to me. I also had an
inheritance." It was only recently that he was appointed
to teach a course at the Palestinian Al-Quds university
on critical Israeli studies.
His marriage in 2008 to a Palestinian woman has not made
life easier for him. She has been denied a permit to
to live in an area under Palestinian authority control
as an Israeli citizen. In consequence, he is vague both
about the circumstances of his conversion to Islam
shortly before the wedding and where he now lives,
describing those arrangements as "private".
What does he hope to achieve as a Palestinian Hebrew who
is a full member of the Revolutionary Council?
His core message, he explains, is "to suggest" to his
new colleagues that there is nothing to fear in
recognising the notion of a Jewish state. "The correct
response is that we will not recognise an
by political Zionism." And perhaps just as importantly,
representing only Palestinian Arabs to representing all
of those who oppose "settler-colonialism".
"It cannot win the struggle for equality that it has
waged for so long as long as it remains only
representative of Palestinians. To win the moral [high
ground] it has to project itself as a democratic
alternative for all. That is the message I first
delivered and that I have persevered with and has led to
my election to the Revolutionary Council after 25
years." It seems unlikely that condemnations on Israeli
websites will prevent Uri Davis from giving up on his
unique mission now.