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Confession of an Optimist

By       Message Uri Avnery       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink

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I AM an Optimist. Period.

No ifs. No buts. No perhapses.

Maybe it's genetic. My father was an optimist. Even when, at the age of 45, he had to flee his native Germany to a primitive little country in the Middle East, his spirits remained high. Though he had to adapt to a new country, a hot climate, hard physical labor and grinding poverty, he was happy. At least he had saved his wife and four children, the youngest of whom was I.

Today, on Israel's 64th birthday (according to the Hebrew calendar), I am still an optimist.

SOME TIME ago I bumped into the writer Amos Oz at a wedding and we talked about this curiosity, my optimism. He said that he was a pessimist. Being a pessimist, he said, was a win-win situation. If things turn to the better, you are happy. If things get worse, you are still happy, because you have been right all along.

The trouble with pessimism, I told him, was that it leads nowhere. Pessimism relieves you of any urge to do something. If things are going to get worse anyhow, why bother? Pessimism is a comfortable attitude. It even allows you to be contemptuous of the optimists, who still struggle for a better world. Optimism is for simpletons.

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But this is exactly what it's all about. Only optimists can struggle. If you don't believe in a better world, a better country, a better society, you can't fight for them. You can only sit in your armchair in front of the TV, tut-tutting at the stupidity of the human race, and particularly your own people, and feel superior.

Whenever I confess to being an optimist, I am showered with disdain. Don't I see what's happening around me? Was this the state you imagined on May 14, 1948, when you listened to Ben-Gurion's speech on the radio and prepared yourself for the night's battle?

No, I did not imagine a state like this one. My comrades and I envisaged a very different state. And still I am an optimist.

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WHEN TALKING about this, I am always reminded of a certain point in my life.

It was October 1942, and the world was shaking.

In Russia, the Nazi troops had reached Stalingrad and the titanic battle had been joined. There was no doubt that the Germans would take the city and move on.

Further south, the invincible Wehrmacht had broken into the Caucasus. From there, a straight line led through Turkey and Syria to Palestine.

Erwin Rommel's renowned Afrika Korps had broken the British line and reached the Egyptian village of el Alamein, just 106 km (66 miles) from Alexandria. From there to Palestine was a matter of days.

Already a year earlier, the Nazis had occupied Crete in the first airborne invasion in History.

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For anyone looking at the map, the situation was clear. From North, West and South the Nazi military colossus was moving inexorably towards Palestine, with the aim of destroying the Jewish semi-state there. Adolf Hitler's mad anti-Semitism led to no other conclusion.

Our British masters obviously thought so, too. They had already sent their wives and children to Iraq. They themselves, it was rumored, were sitting on their suitcases, ready to escape at the first hint of a German breakthrough in Egypt.

The Hagana, our main secret military organization, was making frantic preparations. Like the heroes of Masada some 1900 years ago, who committed collective suicide rather than fall into Roman hands, our fighters would gather on the Carmel hills, there to fight and sell their lives dearly. I had just turned 19, and was living in Tel Aviv, a town nobody even considered defending. We knew it was the end.

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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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