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Zionist Pioneer Renounces Zionism

I’ve never met Dov Yermiya, a Jewish Israeli peace activist who is now 94 years old. But I read of course the book he published in 1983 in which he wrote with anguish about the torture and other gross mistreatment of civilians he witnessed directly during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon the year before.

I have it in my hand now.

I just learned, from  an open letter published  by Uri Avnery, that Yermiya, recently renounced the ideology and practice of Zionism with these stirring words:

“I, a 95 year old Sabra (native born Israeli Jew), who has plowed its fields, planted trees, built a house and fathered sons, grandsons and great-grandsons, and also shed his blood in the battle for the founding of the State of Israel,

“Declare herewith that I renounce my belief in the Zionism which has failed, that I shall not be loyal to the Jewish fascist state and its mad visions, that I shall not sing anymore its nationalist anthem, that I shall stand at attention only on the days of mourning for those fallen on both sides in the wars, and that I look with a broken heart at an Israel that is committing suicide and at the three generations of offspring that I have bred and raised in it.

“… for 42 years, Israel turned what should have been Palestine into a giant detention camp, and is holding a whole people captive under an oppressive and cruel regime, with the sole aim of taking away their country, come what may!!!

“”The IDF eagerly suppresses their efforts at rebellion, with the active assistance of the settlement thugs, by the brutal means of a sophisticated Apartheid and a choking blockade, inhuman harassment of the sick and of women in labor, the destruction of their economy and the theft of their best land and water.

“Over all this there is waving the black flag of the frightening contempt for the life and blood of the Palestinians. Israel will never be forgiven for the terrible toll of blood spilt, and especially the blood of children, in hair-raising quantities… “

Avnery’s response is fascinating. He too is a veteran peace activist, and of about the same generation as Yermiya. But in the letter he is, I think, pleading with Yermiya not to renounce Zionism completely, but rather to reconnect with the “idealistic” Zionism that they both experienced during their youth.

He writes,

“When I think of our youth, yours and mine, one scene is never far from my mind: the 1947 Dalia festival.

“Tens of thousands of young men and women were sitting on the slope of a hill in the natural amphitheater near Kibbutz Dalia on Mount Carmel. Ostensibly it was a festival of folk dancing, but in reality it was much more – a great celebration of the new Hebrew culture which we were then creating in the country, in which folk dancing played an important role. The dancing groups came mainly from the kibbutzim and the youth movements, and the dances were original Hebrew creations, interwoven with Russian, Polish, Yemenite and Hassidic ones. A group of Arabs danced the Debka in ecstasy, dancing and dancing and dancing on.

“In the middle of the event, the loudspeakers announced that members of the UN Commission of Inquiry, which had been sent by the international organization to decide upon the future of the country, were joining us. When we saw them entering the amphitheater, the tens of thousands spontaneously rose to their feet and started to sing the “Hatikva”, the national anthem, with a holy fervor that reverberated from the surrounding mountains.

“We did not know then that within half a year the great Hebrew-Arab war would break out – our War of Independence and their Naqba. I believe that most of the 6000 young people who fell in the war on our side, as well as the thousands that were wounded – like you and me – were present at that moment in Dalia, seeing each other and singing together.

“What state did we think of then? What state did we set out to create?

“What has happened to the Hebrew society, the Hebrew culture, the Hebrew morality that we were so proud of then?”

Then, he pleads this:

“You, Dov, have invested in this state much too much to turn your back on it in a gesture of anger and despair. The most hackneyed and worn-out slogan in Israel is also true: ‘We don’t have another state!’

“Other states in the world have sunk to the depths of depravity and committed unspeakable crimes, far beyond our worst sins, and still brought themselves back to the family of nations and redeemed their souls.

“We and all the members of our generation, who were among those who created this state, bear a heavy responsibility for it. A responsibility to our offspring, to those oppressed by this state, to the entire world. From this responsibility we cannot escape.

“Even at your respectable age, and precisely because of it and because of what you represent, you must be a compass for the young and tell them: This state belongs to you, you can change it, don’t allow the nationalist wreckers to steal it from you!

“True, 61 years ago we had another state in mind. Now, after our state has tumbled to where it is today, we must remember that other state, and remind everybody, every day, what the state should have been like, what it can be like, and not allow our vision to disappear like a dream. Let’s lend our shoulders to every effort to repair and heal!
These are very weighty issues that these two longtime Zionists are debating.”

I remember the evening I had back in early March with longtime Jewish-Israeli nonviolence activist Amos Gvirtz. Gvirtz is “only” in his late 60s or early 70s. But like Avnery and Yermiya he grew up in Israel.

He told me in March,

“I became an anti-Zionist after Oslo, when the government expelled the Arabs of Jahhaleenn to make room for the big new settlement area if Maale Adummim… Like the Zionists, I believe we Jews need a state of our own. But unlike the Zionists I don’t think this should be built on the ruins of someone else’s home. So our state need not necessarily be right here.”

Gvirtz, too, like Avnery, identified a strong link between the events of 1947-48 and the situation today– though the nature of the link Gvirtz identified was very different from Avnery’s: “The Nakba wasn’t really a single event that happened in 1948, so much as a long-drawn-out process, that continues to this day.” In other words, he was quite unwilling to neatly divide Israeli history, as Avnery still does, between the idealized, prelapsarian days of the 1947 Dalia festival and the post-lapsarian era that was inaugurated– in Avnery’s view– only by Israel’s conquest of the West Bank.

Obviously, this is a very weighty issue for Zionists and their supporters to grapple with. Did 1967 mark a notable break between a laudable past and a troublesome present? Or were there indeed, as Gvirtz and many other current non- and anti-Zionists have argued, many elements of continuity from the 1947 period right through to the present?

Anyway, I’d love to see the whole text of the latest Yermiya letter from which Avnery is quoting, if anyone can provide a link to it, preferably in English. The only recent English text that I could find by him online was this letter, published in the Communist weekly Zo Haderekh in June 2008.

In it, Yermiya was returning to Defense Minister Barak the invitation he had been sent to attend a ceremony to honor all veterans of Israel’s 1948 “War of Independence”.

He wrote,

“As a veteran of the 1948 war, who was already wounded in face to face combat two weeks before the Declaration of the State, I feel obliged herewith to return the invitation to you, as Minister of Defence. I do so regretfully but see this as my duty.

“I consider you, Ehud Barak, as one of the top military commanders and prominent political leaders who were responsible for converting the army from ‘the Israeli Defence Force’ to an army of occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people and defender of the criminal settlements in their country.

“40 years of occupation have utterly corrupted the Israeli army and all strata of Israeli society.They are both characterized by the nationalist ‘east wind’ [the east wind brings the chamsin and locusts ]which blows and kindles conflagrations of endless wars, which threaten our people and land with the third and final destruction. Your share in the responsibility for all this is enormous, and therefore I return your invitation to you, without thanks…”

HELENA COBBAN is a veteran writer, researcher, and program organizer on global  affairs. Since 2003 she has published  “Just World News”, a lively blog on international issues that has gained a broad international readership. She can be reached at hcobban@gmail.com

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