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The Genie is out of the Bottle

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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 latter labeled "Orientalism."

Viewed in retrospect, that was perhaps natural, considering that the Zionist movement was born in Europe towards 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 towards 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 towards 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 Marakksh 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.

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Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the (more...)
 

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