The Genie Is Out of the Bottle
By Uri Avnery On February 20, 2011
This is a story right out of 1,001 Nights. The genie
escaped from the bottle, and no power on earth can put it back.
When it happened in
OK, an Arab country, but a minor one. It was always a
bit more progressive than the others. Just an isolated incident.
And then it happened in
heart of the Arab world. The spiritual center of Sunni
Islam. But it could have been said
case. The land of the pharaohs. Thousands of years of
history before the Arabs even got there.
But now it has spread all over the Arab world. To
And to non-Arab, non-Sunni
The genie of revolution, of renewal, of rejuvenation,
is now haunting all the regimes in the region. The
inhabitants of the "Villa in the Jungle" are liable to
wake up one morning and discover that the jungle is
gone, that we are surrounded by a new landscape.
When our Zionist fathers decided to set up a safe haven
They could appear in
who see themselves as a bridgehead of the "white" man
and as masters of the "natives," like the Spanish
conquistadors and the Anglo-Saxon colonialists in
The second way was to see themselves as an Asian people
returning to their homeland, the heirs to the political
and cultural traditions of the Semitic world, ready to
take part, with the other peoples of the region, in the
war of liberation from European exploitation.
I wrote these words 64 years ago, in a brochure that
appeared just two months before the outbreak of the 1948 war.
I stand by these words today.
These days I have a growing feeling that we are once
again standing at a historic crossroads. The direction
we choose in the coming days will determine the destiny
of the state of
irreversibly. If we choose the wrong road, we will have
"weeping for generations," as the Hebrew saying goes.
And perhaps the greatest danger is that we make no
choice at all, that we are not even aware of the need
to make a decision, that we just continue on the road
that has brought us to where we are today. That we are
occupied with trivialities - the battle between the
minister of defense and the departing chief of staff,
the struggle between Netanyahu and Lieberman about the
appointment of an ambassador, the non-events of Big
Brother and similar TV inanities - that we do not even
notice that history is passing us by, leaving us behind.
When our politicians and pundits found enough time -
amid all the daily distractions - to deal with the
events around us, it was in the old and (sadly) familiar way.
Even in the few halfway intelligent talk shows, there
was much hilarity about the idea that "Arabs" could
establish democracies. Learned professors and media
commentators "proved" that such a thing just could not
happen - Islam was "by nature" anti-democratic and
backward, Arab societies lacked the Protestant
Christian ethic necessary for democracy, or the
capitalist foundations for a sound middle class, etc.
At best, one kind of despotism would be replaced by another.
The most common conclusion was that democratic
elections would inevitably lead to the victory of
"Islamist" fanatics, who would set up brutal,
Taliban-style theocracies, or worse.
Part of this, of course, is deliberate propaganda,
designed to convince the naive Americans and Europeans
that they must shore up the Mubaraks of the region or
alternative military strongmen. But most of it was
Arabs, left to their own devices, will set up murderous
"Islamist" regimes, whose main aim would be to wipe
Ordinary Israelis know next to nothing about Islam and
the Arab world. As a (left-wing) Israeli general
answered 65 years ago, when asked how he viewed the
Everything is reduced to "security," and insecurity
prevents, of course, any serious reflection.
This attitude goes back to the beginnings of the Zionist movement.
Its founder - Theodor Herzl - famously wrote in his
historic treatise that the future Jewish state would
constitute "a part of the wall of civilization" against
Asiatic (meaning Arab) barbarism. Herzl admired Cecil
Rhodes, the standard-bearer of British imperialism. He
and his followers shared the cultural attitude then
Viewed in retrospect, that was perhaps natural,
considering that the Zionist movement was born in
Europe toward the end of the imperialist era, and that
it was planning to create a Jewish homeland in a
country in which another people - an Arab people - was living.
The tragedy is that this attitude has not changed in
120 years, and that it is stronger today than ever.
Those of us who propose a different course - and there
have always been some - remain voices in the wilderness.
This is evident these days in the Israeli attitude to
the events shaking the Arab world and beyond. Among
ordinary Israelis, there was quite a lot of spontaneous
sympathy for the Egyptians confronting their tormentors
outside, from afar, as if it were happening on the moon.
The only practical question raised was
Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty hold? Or do we need to
raise new army divisions for a possible war with
When almost all "security experts" assured us that the
treaty was safe, people lost interest in the whole matter.
But the treaty - actually an armistice between regimes
and armies - should only be of secondary concern for
us. The most important question is
Arab world look? Will the transition to democracy be
relatively smooth and peaceful, or not? Will it happen
at all, and will it mean that a more radical Islamic
region emerges - which is a distinct possibility? Can
we have any influence on the course of events?
Of course, none of today's Arab movements is eager for
an Israeli embrace. It would be a bear hug.
viewed today by practically all Arabs as a colonialist,
anti-Arab state that oppresses the Palestinians and is
out to dispossess as many Arabs as possible - though
there is, I believe, also a lot of silent admiration
But when entire peoples rise up and revolution upsets
all entrenched attitudes, there is the possibility of
changing old ideas. If Israeli political and
intellectual leaders were to stand up today and openly
declare their solidarity with the Arab masses in their
struggle for freedom, justice, and dignity, they could
plant a seed that would bear fruit in coming years.
Of course, such statements must really come from the
heart. As a superficial political ploy, they would be
rightly despised. They must be accompanied by a
profound change in our attitude toward the Palestinian
people. That's why peace with the Palestinians now, at
once, is a vital necessity for
Our future is not with Europe or
in this region, to which our state belongs, for better
or for worse. It's not just our policies that must
change, but our basic outlook, our geographical
orientation. We must understand that we are not a
bridgehead from somewhere distant, but a part of a
region that is now - at long last - joining the human
march toward freedom.
The Arab Awakening is not a matter of months or a few
years. It may well be a prolonged struggle, with many
failures and defeats, but the genie will not return to
the bottle. The images of the 18 days in
will be kept alive in the hearts of an entire new
dictatorship that emerges here or there will not be
able to erase them.
In my fondest dreams I could not imagine a wiser and
more attractive course for us Israelis than to join
this march in body and spirit.
Read more by Uri Avnery
* A Villa in the Jungle? - February 6th, 2011 * Interim
Forever! - January 2nd, 2011 * The Darkness to Expel -
December 26th, 2010 * Ship of Fools 2 - December 19th,
2010 * A General Overhaul - December 12th, 2010
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