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Home arrow Blog arrow April 2009 arrow April 20, 2009

April 20, 2009
April 20, 2009: Red Lights, Holy Fire and a Bouncer in Jerusalem
A Little Red Light

Uri Avnery
http://avnery-news.co.il/english/index.html
18/04/09

PERHAPS Avigdor Lieberman is only a passing episode in the annals of the State of Israel. Perhaps the fire he is trying to ignite will flicker briefly and go out by itself. Or perhaps the police investigations into the grave corruption affair of which he is suspected will lead to his removal from the public sphere.

But the opposite is also possible. Last week he promised his acolytes that the next elections would bring him to power.

Perhaps Lieberman will prove to be an “Israbluff”’ (a term he himself likes to use), and be revealed, behind the frightful façade, as nothing more than a run of the mill impostor.

Perhaps this Lieberman will indeed disappear, to be replaced by another, even worse Lieberman.

Either way, we should candidly confront the phenomenon he represents. If one believes that his utterances sound fascist, one has to ask oneself: is there a possibility that a fascist regime might come to power in Israel?

THE INITITIAL gut-feeling is a resounding NO. In Israel? In the Jewish State? After the Holocaust which Nazi fascism brought upon us? Can one even imagine that Israelis would become something like the Nazis?

When Yeshayahu Leibowitz coined, many years ago, the term “Judeo-Nazis”, the entire country blew up. Even many of his admirers thought that this time the turbulent professor had gone too far.

But Lieberman’s slogans do justify him in retrospect.

Some would dismiss Lieberman’s achievement in the recent elections. After all, his “Israel is Our Home” party is not the first one to appear from nowhere and win an impressive 15 seats. Exactly the same number that was won by the Dash party of General Yigael Yadin in 1977 and the Shinui party of Tommy Lapid in 2003 – and both disappeared soon after without leaving a trace.

But Lieberman’s voters are not like those of Yadin and Lapid, who were ordinary citizens fed up with some particular aspects of Israeli life. Many of his voters are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who look upon their “Ivett”, an immigrant from the ex-Soviet land of Moldova, as a representative of their “sector”. Although many of them brought with them from their former homeland a right-wing, anti-democratic and even racist world view, they do not pose by themselves a danger to Israeli democracy.

But the additional power that turned Lieberman’s party into the third-largest faction in the new Knesset came from another sort of voter: Israeli-born youngsters, many of whom had recently taken part in the Gaza War. They voted for him because they believed that he would kick the Arab citizens out of Israel, and the Palestinians out of the entire historical country.

These are not marginal people, fanatical or underprivileged, but normal youngsters who finished high-school and served in the army, who dance in the discotheques and intend to found families. If such people are voting en masse for a declared racist with a pungent fascist odor, the phenomenon cannot be ignored.

FIFTY YEARS ago I wrote a book called ”The Swastika”, in which I described how the Nazis took over Germany. I was helped by my childhood memories. I was 9 years old when the Nazis came to power. I witnessed the agonies of German democracy and the first steps of the new regime before my parents, in their infinite wisdom, decided to escape and settle in Palestine.

I wrote the book on the eve of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, after realizing that the young generation in Israel knew a lot about the Holocaust but next to nothing about the people who brought it about. What occupied me more than anything else was the question: how could such a monstrous party succeed in coming to power democratically in one of the most civilized countries in the world?

The last chapter of my book was called “It Can Happen Here”. That was a paraphrase of the title of a book by the American writer Sinclair Lewis, “It Can’t Happen Here”, in which he described precisely how it could happen in the United States.

I argued in the book that Nazism was not a specifically German disease, that in certain circumstances any country in the world could be infected by this virus – including our own state. In order to avoid this danger, one had to understand the underlying causes for the development of the disease.

To the assertion that I am “obsessed” by this matter, that I see this danger lurking in every corner, I answer: not true. For years I have avoided dealing with this subject. But it is true that I carry in my head a little red light that comes on when I sense the danger.

This light is now blinking.

WHAT CAUSED the Nazi disease to break out in the past? Why did it break out at a certain time and not at another? Why in Germany and not in another country suffering from similar problems?

The answer is that fascism is a special phenomenon, unlike any other. It is not an “extreme Right”, an extension of “nationalist” or “conservative” attitudes. Fascism is the opposite of conservatism in many ways, even though it may appear in a conservative disguise. Also, it is not a radicalization of ordinary, normal nationalism, which exists in every nation.

Fascism is a unique phenomenon and has unique traits: the notion of being a “superior nation”, the denial of the humanity of other nations and national minorities, a cult of the leader, a cult of violence, disdain for democracy, an adoration of war, contempt for accepted morality. All these attributes together create the phenomenon, which has no agreed scientific definition.

How did this happen?

Hundreds of books have been written about it, dozens of theories have been put forward, and none of them is satisfying. In all humility I propose a theory of my own, without claiming more validity than any of the others.

According to my perception, a fascist revolution breaks out when a very special personality meets with a very special national situation.

ON THE personality of Adolf Hitler, too, innumerable books have been written. Every phase in his life has been examined under the microscope, each of his actions has been debated relentlessly. There are no secrets about Hitler, yet Hitler has remained an enigma.

One of his most obvious traits was his pathological anti-Semitism, which went far beyond any logic. It remained with him to the very last hour of his life, when he dictated his testament and committed suicide. At the most desperate moments of his war, when his soldiers at the front were crying out for reinforcements and supplies, precious trains were diverted to transport Jews to the death camps. When the Wehrmacht was suffering from a grievous lack of practically everything, Jewish workers were taken from essential factories to be sent to their death.

Many explanations for this pathological anti-Semitism have been suggested, and all of them have been debunked. Did Hitler want to take revenge on a Jew who was suspected of being his real grandfather? Did he hate the Jewish doctor who treated his beloved mother before she died? Was it a punishment for the Jewish director of the Art school who failed to recognize his genius? Did he hate the poor Jews he came across when he was homeless in Vienna? All of this has been examined and found lacking. The enigma remains.

The same is true for his other personal views and attributes. How did he attain the power to hypnotize the masses? What did he have that made so many people, from all walks of life, identify with him? Whence sprang his unbridled lust for power?

We don’t know. There is no full and satisfying explanation. We only know that from among the millions of Germans and Austrians who were living at that time, and the thousands who grew up in similar circumstances, there was (as far as we know) only one Hitler, a unique person. To borrow a term from biology: he was a one-time mutation.

But the unique Hitler would not have become a historic personality if he had not met with Germany in unique circumstances.

GERMANY AT the end of the Weimar republic has also been the subject of many books. What made the German people adopt Nazism? Historical causes, rooted in the terrible catastrophe of the Thirty-year War or even earlier events? The sense of humiliation after the defeat in World War I? The anger at the victors, who ground Germany into the dust and imposed huge indemnities? The terrible inflation of 1923, which wiped out the savings of entire classes? The Great Depression of 1929, which threw millions of decent and diligent Germans into the street?

This question, too, has found no satisfying answer. Other people have also been humiliated. Other people have lost wars. The Great Depression hit dozens of countries. In the US and the UK, too, millions were laid off. Why did fascism not seize power in those countries (except in Italy, of course)?

In my opinion, the fatal spark was ignited at a fateful moment when a people ready for fascism met the man with the attributes of a fascist leader.

What would have happened if Adolf Hitler had been killed in a road accident in the autumn of 1932? Perhaps another Nazi leader would have come to power – but the Holocaust would not have happened, and neither, probably, World War II. His likely replacements – Gregor Strasser, who was No. 2, or Hermann Goering, the flying ace with a morphine addiction – were indeed Nazis, but neither of them was a second Hitler. They lacked his demonic personality.

And what would have happened if Germany had not fallen into the depth of despair? The Western powers could have sensed the danger in time and helped in the reconstruction of the German economy and the reduction of unemployment. They could have abrogated the infamous Versailles Treaty, imposed by the victors after World War I, and allowed Germans to regain their self-respect. The German republic could have been saved, the moral leaders, of which Germany had aplenty, could have regained their leadership role.

What would have happened then? Adolf Hitler, whom the widely adored President of the Reich, a Field Marshall, had contemptuously called “the Bohemian lance-corporal”, would have remained a little demagogue on the lunatic fringe. The 20th century would have looked quite different. Tens of millions of casualties of war and six million Jews would have remained alive, without ever knowing what could have happened.

But Hitler did not die early and the German people were not saved from their fate. At the crucial moment they met, and a spark was struck, lighting the fuse that led to the historic explosion.

SUCH A fateful meeting is not, of course, limited to fascism. It has occurred in history in other circumstances and to other persons.

Winston Churchill, for example. His statues dot the British landscape, and he is considered one of the greatest British leaders of all times.

Yet until the late 1930s, Churchill was a political failure. Few admired him, and even fewer liked him. Many of his colleagues detested him with all their hearts. He was considered an egomaniac, an arrogant demagogue, an erratic drunk. But in a moment of existential danger, Britons found in him their mouthpiece and the leader who took their destiny in his hands. It seemed as if during all the first 65 years of his life, Churchill had been preparing for this one moment, and as if Britain had been waiting for precisely this one man.

Would history have looked different if Churchill had died the previous year of coronary thrombosis, lung cancer or cirrhosis of the liver, and Neville Chamberlain had remained in power? We now know that he and his colleagues, including the influential foreign minister, Lord Halifax, seriously considered accepting Hitler’s 1940 peace offer, based on the partition of the world between the German and the British empires.

Or Lenin. If the imperial German general staff had not provided the famous sealed train to take him from Zurich to Sweden, from where he proceeded St. Petersburg, would the Bolshevik revolution, which changed the face of the 20th century, have taken place at all? True, Trotsky was in town before him, and so was Stalin. But neither of the two was a Lenin, and without Lenin it would quite possibly not have happened, and certainly not the way it did.

Perhaps one could add to this list Barack Obama. A very special person, of unique origin and character, who had a fateful meeting with the American people at an important moment of their destiny, when they were suffering from two crises at once – the economic and the political one – which cast their shadow on the entire world.

BACK TO US. Is the State of Israel approaching an existential crisis – moral, political, economic – that could leave it an endangered nation? Can Lieberman, or someone who could take his place, turn out to be a demonic personality like Hitler, or at least Mussolini?

In our present situation there are some dangerous indications. The last war showed a further decline in our moral standards. The hatred towards Israel’s Arab minority is on the rise, and so is the hatred towards the occupied Palestinian people who are suffering a slow strangulation. In some circles, the cult of brute force is gaining strength. The democratic regime is in a never-ending crisis. The economic situation may descend into chaos, so that the masses will long for a “strongman”. And the belief that we are a “chosen people” is already deeply rooted.

These indications may not necessarily lead to disaster. Absolutely not. History is full of nations in crisis that recovered and returned to normalcy. Besides the real Hitler, who rose to historic heights, there were probably hundreds of other Hitlers, no less crazy and no less talented, who ended their life as bank tellers or frustrated writers, because they did not meet a historic opportunity.

I have a strong faith in the resilience of Israeli society and Israeli democracy. I believe that we have hidden strengths that will come to the fore in an hour of need.

Nothing “must” happen. But anything “can” happen. And the little red light won’t stop blinking.


Celebrating Miracle of Holy Fire Behind the Wall

Maria C. Khoury, Ed. D.


It was an amazing and extraordinary day in Ramallah and then in Taybeh receiving the Holy Fire following the miracle at Christ’s Holy Life-Giving Tomb in Jerusalem on this Great and Holy Saturday afternoon.  I decided not to argue with the soldiers and the policemen in Jerusalem like last year where my husband David and I could not get anywhere near the Holy Sepulchre. Also, I decided to take the advise of the Greek monk during my first time to witness the Miracle of the Holy Fire (2002) when he kicked me out of the front row near the Life-Giving-Tomb and said in Greek:  “My child it is not only with the eyes that we see.”  I think he desperately needed the space for the Greek Consul and Greek dignitaries that attend this special miracle but his wise words never left my thoughts.  

 

I had a wonderful day waiting for the Holy Fire to go through the checkpoints and arrive in Ramallah for all those who do not have permits to enter Jerusalem .  Since on top of the security permits, we also need additional passes to go by further checkpoints to get to the Holy Sepulchre.  To access holy places and pray on holy days should be a basic human right not needing any permits or passes but we live a bizarre life under Israeli occupation. Don’t ever take your religious freedom for granted, we suffer to achieve it.

 

It was an incredible two-hour parade in Ramallah which included the Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts from Taybeh and all of the surrounding cities, villages and refugee camps with the largest Scouts group being Sireyt Ramallah which was the first group to initiate the parade and the last group of scouts leading over thirty altar boys from the Ramallah Orthodox Church marching with icons and crosses.  The streets were filled with thousands of Christians and Muslims watching Father Galation, along with the Mayor of Ramallah, the Honorable Jennet Michael, who is a devote Orthodox Christian herself receiving the flame from the miracle of the Holy Fire and marching throughout the main street in Ramallah until they reached the Holy Transfiguration Church with the president of the parish council, Mr. Salem Hanania also accompanying.  Fr. Yacoub, Fr. Nicola, Fr. Emanuel were all present along with Fr. Aktham the Latin priest and the Episcopalian minister. The Ramallah governor was also present in the procession with many prominent Palestinian Christians along with Mr. Moheeb Awad who represents the only Christian vote in the Palestinian Legislative Council beside Dr. Gazi Hanania, former council member and David Khoury, Mayor of Taybeh.  My good friend, attorney Maher Hanania, reflected upon this unbelievable day the best:  “By far this is the most emotional day for Christians.”

 

There were people in the balconies, on the roof tops and hanging out of windows trying to catch all of the colors and sounds of the many drums and bagpipes of over twelve different scout groups with the Ramallah Islamic Scouts, Ramallah Orthodox Club, Jifna, Birzeit, Aboud and Kadoura Refugee Camp to name a few.  My favorite scouts were the two year old boys and girls who needed an adult to keep them marching in a straight line. I specifically noticed the teenager among the scouts wearing the t-shirt, “Our time Has Come,” and immediately I thought it meant our time has come to have a normal life like the rest of the world since nine years there has  been no change in the Holy Land and conditions continue to get worse than the day before. Atrocity after atrocity there has only been violence and darkness while the world watches and does nothing to help end the occupation.

 

A group passed out chocolates to the crowds that had a typewritten note:  “Love one another.”  And if you have ever personally asked me about Muslim-Christian relationships in Palestine , I offer the example of this Holy Saturday reflecting a beautiful day of cooperation and celebration as Christians witness the Miracle of the Holy Fire.  If you have ever personally asked me why Palestinian people do not practice non-violent resistance, I experienced this day in Ramallah and Taybeh as peaceful and non-violent resistance.  People trying to live normal lives and celebrate ancient centuries’ old traditions while locked up within a wall and open prison.  Israeli Occupation forces brutally killed Bssem Abu Rahmeh from Bilin, 30 years old while participation in a non-violent demonstration on Friday and the Israeli settlers from Bet El viciously killed a young boy from Jalazon Refugee camp the same day. It is a struggle to stay peaceful while you are being stripped of your dignity and humanity on a daily basis.

 

After the Holy Fire has been received in Ramallah with this fantastic parade each Scouts group is responsible to carry the flame to their home village to prepare for the Midnight Resurrection service continuing yet another parade and marching to the local Orthodox Church in an ecumenical parade where all Christian faiths participate.  Thus the Taybeh Scouts including our seven year old cousin, Philip, who learned from his dad Ibrahim to carry the flame in the lantern, insisted on holding the sign, “Light of Christ” and riding on top of the tiny white car while entering Taybeh before sunset while the whole community was anxiously waiting chanting hymn giving glory to God.

 

Christian people filled the streets of Ramallah and Taybeh today as witnesses to the true Light. In Luke 16:15 we read that Jesus said: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved."  We witness the truth and His Beatitude the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Theophilos III, received the Holy Fire on Holy Saturday in Jerusalem so that all who are not living in the land of Christ's Holy Resurrection can believe that Christ is the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (John 1:9)  Christ is Risen!


April 18, 2009

Bouncer in Jerusalem

By Sam Bahour

Though hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu came in second in Israel’s last elections, he was tapped by Israel’s president to form a new government. With his coalition now in place, he is off and running. But where is he running to? Netanyahu is no newcomer to Israeli politics. He has even been prime minister before, at a rather pivotal point in history. He led the government from 1996 to 1999 when a Jewish extremist assassinated Yitzhak Rabin for signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Many see Netanyahu as culpable in the collapse of the Oslo Peace Accords, since he had rejected them from the outset. Some even found Netanyahu culpable in Rabin’s death by inciting public fears that the peace process left Israel at risk. This time around, post-Oslo, he is making history again by joining forces with another Israeli party leader who did well in Israel’s latest elections, Moldova-born Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's David Duke.

Lieberman has many problems with the Palestinians of the occupied territory, but is most conspicuously known for his desire to offload the Palestinians still residing inside Israel (one- fifth of Israel's citizenry, albeit third-or fourth-class). In the pure Jewish state of Lieberman's fantasy, these people contribute no added value whatever.

This is the man who will be the lynchpin of Netanyahu’s coalition.

For anyone yearning for an Israeli government with the courage and the will to end Israel's 41-year military occupation of Palestinians, the long-anticipated appointment of Lieberman to Minister of Foreign Affairs leaves much to be desired. The former nightclub bouncer is referred to, only half in jest, by an Israeli friend of mine as “Doberman.”

For western onlookers, it was undoubtedly odd that the top vote-getter, Tzipi Livni, was marginalized in favor of the runner-up, said to be in a stronger position to form a governing coalition.

Livni rather quickly conceded, opting to join the opposition. She made a smart move as much of the world repudiates Israel's dangerous drift to the right. Livni, at best, would have been a mere fig leaf for an extremist government. For Palestinians, meantime, none of the political acrobatics means much. Livni's entire political history is just as violent toward Palestinians as Netanyahu's, despite her peace-lexicon façade.

Palestinians find themselves in a familiar posture, waiting—or more like Waiting for Godot. I daresay even Beckett would have balked at this one. Palestinians have been dispossessed, occupied and brutalized year in, year out since 1948 by an Israel that continues to talk peace while waging war. The roster of political players changes, but Israeli intransigence remains.

One thing Palestinians are not waiting for is some enlightened Israeli prime minister who will step forward and end their misery; they've already seen all kinds: from Israel’s first prime minister, Polish-born David Ben-Gurion, who candidly said "We must expel the Arabs and take their places"; to Israel’s first woman prime minister, Ukrainian-born Golda Meir, acclaimed for her infamous remark that "There is no such thing as Palestinians"; to Israel’s first native-born prime minister Yitzhak Rabin who, during the first intifada, ordered his military to "break the [Palestinian demonstrators'] bones" and then went on several years later to sign the historic Oslo peace agreement—which was inordinately date-driven—only to announce a few days after signing it that there are no sacred dates. Palestinians have also been around the track once before with Netanyahu’s overly-sleek, propaganda-driven personality.

Now Netanyahu seems to have a new gambit: diverting our attention from the ever-more- entrenched military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with an "economy first" approach to peace.

The message, today, is clearer than ever before: Israel’s new government will let the occupied Palestinians live, but just barely, and in a political headlock. Netanyahu and Lieberman evidently forget one revealing chapter in their own history, a lesson accidentally taught, and at great cost to all, by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: There cannot be peace and security until Israel ends its occupation.

For true negotiations to begin, the Israelis must remove the boot of military occupation from the necks of Palestinians.  Then and only then can these two Semitic cousins sit down and carve out a model for peaceful co-existence.  If international law was respected, the framework for a final resolution to this pestering conflict is already on the books by way of dozens of UN resolutions dating back to 1947; however, today, the final number of states to emerge from peace negotiations is less important than making sure the Palestinian people survive to enjoy a post-conflict reality.

We are left with the central axiom Israeli prime ministers love to deny: There is no military solution to this conflict. Israel has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that it cannot win by relentless military force, and the Palestinians—against all odds—refuse to lose the quest for their freedom and equal rights. One more campaign to cover up Israel’s continuing occupation and the attendant war crimes only sets the stage for more death, more destruction, and more fruitless waiting. The world must act rationally today to salvage what remains to be salvaged. President Obama has better roles to play than a 21st century Godot.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman from Youngstown, Ohio who lives in the occupied West Bank and is co-editor of "Homeland: Oral History of Palestine and Palestinians." He may be reached at

Copyright 2009 Sam Bahour.  Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

 
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