Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Genie Is Out of the Bottle

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 Tunisia, it could have been said:

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 Egypt. A pivotal country. The

heart of the Arab world. The spiritual center of Sunni

Islam. But it could have been said: Egypt is a special

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

Algeria, Bahrain, Yemen. Jordan, Libya, even Morocco.

And to non-Arab, non-Sunni Iran, too.


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

in Palestine, they had the choice between two options:


They could appear in West Asia as European conquerors,

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

America. That is what the crusaders did in their time.


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 Israel for years to come, perhaps

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

quite sincere: most Israelis really believe that the

Arabs, left to their own devices, will set up murderous

"Islamist" regimes, whose main aim would be to wipe

Israel off the map.


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

Arab world: "through the sights of my rifle."

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

common in Europe, which Eduard Said later labeled "Orientalism."


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

in Tahrir Square - but everything was viewed from the

outside, from afar, as if it were happening on the moon.


The only practical question raised was: will the

Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty hold? Or do we need to

raise new army divisions for a possible war with Egypt?

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: how will the new

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. Israel is

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

for Israel's technological and other achievements.


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 Israel.


Our future is not with Europe or America. Our future is

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 Tahrir Square

will be kept alive in the hearts of an entire new

generation from Marrakesh to Mosul, and any 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


Article printed from Antiwar.com

Original: http://original.antiwar.com


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