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Peace with Syria - Lunch in Damascus

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Message Uri Avnery
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Once while, traveling in a taxi, I had an argument with the driver--a profession associated in Israel with extreme right-wing views. I tried in vain to convince him of the desirability of peace with the Arabs. In our country, which has never seen a single day of peace in the last hundred years, peace can seem like something out of science fiction.

Suddenly I had an inspiration. "When we have peace," I said, "You can take your taxi in the morning and go to Damascus, have lunch there with real authentic Hummus and come back home in the evening."

He jumped at the idea. "Wow," he exclaimed, "If that happens, I shall take you with me for nothing!"

"And I shall treat you to lunch," I responded.

He continued to dream. "If I could go to Damascus in my car, I could drive on from there all the way to Paris!"

* * *

BASHAR AL-ASSAD has done it again. He has succeeded in confusing the Israeli government.

As long as he voices the ritual threat to liberate the Golan Heights by force, it does not upset anybody. After all, that only confirms what many want to hear: that there is no way to have peace with Syria, that sooner or later we shall have a war with them.

Why is that good? Simple: peace with Syria would mean giving back the Golan Heights (Syrian territory by any definition). No peace, no need to give them back.

But when Bashar starts to talk peace, we are in trouble. That is a sinister plot. It may, God forbid, create a situation that would compel us to return the territory.

Therefore, we should not even speak about it. The news must be buried in some remote corner of the papers and at the end of the news on TV, as just "another speech of Assad". The government rejects them "on the threshold", adding that it cannot even be discussed until

Until what? Until he stops supporting Hizbullah. Until Syria expels the representatives of Hamas and the other Palestinian organizations. Until regime change takes place in Syria. Until a Western-style democracy is installed there. In short, until he registers as a member of the Zionist organization.

* * *

THE RELATIONS between Israel and Syria have a documented history of at least 2859 years. In the year 853 B.C. Israel is mentioned--for the first time, it seems--in an authentic document outside the Bible. Twelve monarchs of the region, led by the kings of Damascus and Israel, united against the growing threat of Assyria, The decisive battle took place at Karkar (in the north of today's Syria). According to an Assyrian document, 20 thousand soldiers and 1200 chariots of Damascus fought side by side with 10 thousand soldiers and 2000 chariots of Ahab, king of Israel. It is not quite clear which side won.

But that was a temporary alliance. For most of the time, Israel and Aram-Damascus fought against each other for regional supremacy. Ahab died a hero's death in one of these wars against Aram, just two years after the battle against the Assyrians.

In modern times, the Syrians (although then still under French colonial rule) strenuously opposed the Zionist enterprise right from the beginning. But they also opposed the Palestinian national movement. That is grounded in history: in the Arabic language, the name al-Sham ("the North"), as Syria is called, includes the entire territory between Egypt and Turkey. Therefore, in Arab consciousness, not only Lebanon, but Jordan, Palestine and Israel as well are really part of Syria.

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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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