Uri Avnery on the recent tensions between Israel and Turkey

January 18, 2010

I TRIED to resist the temptation to tell the same classical Jewish joke a second time, but circumstances delivered a plausible excuse.
Almost every Jew knows the sentence “Kill a Turk and rest.” The whole story goes like this:
In Czarist Russia, a Jewish boy is called up for the war against the Turks.
His tearful mother takes leave of him at the railway station and implores him: “Don’t overexert yourself! Kill a Turk and rest. Kill another Turk and rest again…”
“But mother!” the boy interrupts her. “What if the Turk kills me?”

“Kills you?!” the mother exclaims in sheer disbelief, “But why? What have you done to him?”
Jewish jokes reflect Jewish reality. So this joke became true this week.

UNFORTUNATELY THE joke is on us. It happened like this:
Turkish television aired a rather primitive series, in which Mossad operatives kidnap Turkish children and hide them in the Israeli embassy. Valiant Turkish agents free the children and kill the evil ambassador.
One can ignore such an obnoxious story altogether or protest mildly. But our illustrious Foreign Minister thought that this was the right occasion to demonstrate to all and sundry that we are no longer abject ghetto Jews who take everything lying down, but proud, upright Jews of a new breed.
So the Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, summoned the Turkish ambassador to the Foreign Office in Jerusalem for a carefully staged exhibition of national pride.
When the ambassador arrived, he was surprised to see the place crawling with TV crews and journalists. He was left waiting for a considerable time and then shown into a room where three solemn officials, including Ayalon, were perched on high chairs. He was seated on a low sofa without arms, and had no choice but sit in a reclining position.
Not satisfied with this, Ayalon expressly requested the media people (in Hebrew) to pay attention to the difference in height between the chairs and the sofa, to the absence of the Turkish flag on the table, as well as to the fact that the Israelis did not smile and did not shake hands.

Perhaps Ayalon drew his inspiration from a memorable scene in Charlie Chaplin’s movie The Great Dictator, in which Hitler and Mussolini sit on barber’s chairs, each of them jacking his chair up so as to tower above the other, until both chairs topple over.
Ayalon then delivered (again in Hebrew) a sharp rebuke – all Israeli media used this word rather than the diplomatic term “protest”.
Well satisfied with his work, Ayalon saw to it that it got maximum exposure in the media, especially on television.
The Turkish reaction was, of course, violent. Turks are more sensitive about their national dignity then most (witness their reactions to allegations about the Armenian massacre almost a hundred years ago), so they were foreseeably upset.
Ayalon got, of course, the unreserved backing of his minister, mentor and party boss, Avigdor Lieberman, who was full of praise.
A few weeks before, Lieberman had assembled all the Israeli ambassadors from around the world, some 150 of them, for a pep talk. He rebuked them for not properly defending the honor of Israel and announced a radical new policy: from now on, the main duty of an Israeli ambassador is to stand up for the dignity of his country, attack anyone who criticizes Israel and leave no insult unanswered, be it big or small. This should take precedence over all other diplomatic duties.
No one in the audience, which was mainly composed of long-standing career diplomats, dared to get up and point out that there may be more important Israeli interests, such as good relations with foreign governments, military and intelligence ties and economic matters. Except for one ambassador – who smiled and was soundly rebuked – nobody demurred.
In less that a year in office, Lieberman has already broken a lot of diplomatic china. He has insulted several friendly governments. In one noteworthy case, he publicly rebuked the Norwegians for celebrating the anniversary of their national writer, Knut Hamsun, who had sympathized with the Nazis. In another case, he attacked the Swedish government for not protesting publicly against an article by a minor scribbler in a Swedish newspaper, in which he made the ridiculous accusation that Israeli soldiers kill Palestinians in order to sell their organs for transplants. Lieberman’s exaggerated reaction turned this into world news.
His tendency to insult foreign governments – a rather original trait for a foreign minister – may have been exacerbated by the refusal of many of his foreign colleagues to meet with him, considering him a racist or an outright fascist – as, indeed, do most Israelis.
When Netanyahu set up his government and appointed Lieberman as his foreign minister, the news was at first met with incredulity. A more absurd appointment could hardly be imagined. But Netanyahu needed him, and could offer him neither the Treasury, which he wanted to lead himself by proxy, nor the defense ministry, which is the private domain of Ehud Barak. The foreign ministry, which few people in Israel take seriously, was the only viable alternative.
Therefore, Netanyahu could not criticize these two Neanderthals, Lieberman and Ayalon, and their antics. But Barak was hopping mad.

As it so happens, Barak is due to visit Turkey tomorrow. The relations between the Israeli and the Turkish defense establishments are as close as can be. Not only is there a certain ideological affinity between the two army commands – both consider themselves as the guardians of national values and look down with contempt on the politicians – but the generals of the two countries are real buddies. Also, the Israeli defense industry depends very much on Turkish orders, about a billion dollars annually.
Lately, some dispute has arisen about drones supplied by Israel, and relations have deteriorated. Barak’s visit is therefore considered very important. Some Israeli commentators believe that the whole Ayalon affair was a not so subtle ploy by Lieberman to sabotage his cabinet rival.
Be that as is may, the whole Israeli establishment realized that Ayalon’s stupid charade has done great damage. He was obliged to retract, and did so in a graceless, half-hearted manner, without first finding out whether this would satisfy the Turks. It did not – and the Turks, becoming more and more furious, demanded a clear and abject apology. This demand was presented as an ultimatum – until midnight on Wednesday, or else. Else meant the recall of the ambassador and the downgrading of relations.
Netanyahu caved in. Ayalon apologized again, this time unequivocally, and the Turks graciously accepted. Barak will be going to Turkey.

Behind this childish episode lurks the more serious problem of Turkish-Israeli relations.
The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reminded Israel this week that Turkey has always welcomed Jews. He was alluding to an historic chapter that is never quite acknowledged here: When Catholic Spain expelled hundreds of thousands of Jews in 1492 (some speak of as many as 800,000), the vast majority of them settled in the Ottoman Empire, from Marrakesh to Sarajevo. While Jews in Christian Europe were tortured by the Spanish inquisition and suffered untold persecutions, expulsions and pogroms, culminating in the Holocaust, they flourished for centuries under the benevolent rule of the Muslim Ottomans.
These historic memories were, alas, erased during the short period of Zionist relations with the Turkish administration in Palestine in the early 20th century. Every Israeli child learns about the lovely Sarah Aharonson, a member of a pro-British spy ring in World War I, who committed suicide after being tortured by the Terrible Turks.
Cordial relations were resumed only when masses of Israeli tourists started to arrive at Turkish resorts and were surprised by the warmth of their reception. The tourists love it.

SO WHAT is happening now? Turks, like all Muslims, were upset by last year’s Gaza War and the horrifying pictures they saw on TV. Erdogan, echoing these sentiments as a good politician would, attacked the Israeli policy on several occasions, cancelled joint army maneuvers and once left a public debate with President Shimon Peres in a huff.

After being shown the cold shoulder by the European Union, Turkey has turned towards its Arab neighbors and Iran, seeking to act as a mediator between East and West. It also began to mediate between Israel and Syria, until it realized that the Israeli government had no desire at all to make peace, which would compel it to dismantle settlements and return territory.

The relationship between Turkey and Israel will probably return to normal, if not to its former degree of warmth. Turkey needs the help of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. (Ayalon himself has in the past been sent there to help repel efforts to recognize the Armenian genocide). Israel needs Turkey as an ally and arms buyer.
So what about the joke? Well, it serves as a reminder that provoking the Turks is not necessarily a good idea.

Israel’s Vicious Circle

Ten Years of Writings on Israel and Palestine

Uri Avnery, edited by Sara R. Powell

Ten years of writings from the well-known Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery.

‘There is something about Uri Avnery’s perception of Israel, Palestine and the wider world that is unique. What is it? I would say it is a humanity, wisdom and exquisite sense of history and irony that cuts through the compliant dross of so much of today’s commentary and is a beacon’ – John Pilger

£15 only £11.99 on the Pluto site


Blogging beneath the bombs: An interview with Sharyn Lock

January 6, 2010

This Piece Originally Appeared on Electronic intifada and was written by Arwa Aburawa

Israel has many weapons that it deploys against the Palestinian national movement and one of them is a powerful public relations machine. For years, it has allowed Israel to extend illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, demolish homes, erode the rights of Palestinians and imprison and torture them, all in the name of democracy and security. In the days leading up to last winter’s attacks on Gaza, Israel’s public relations machine was oiled up to give its version of events and without the watchful eye of journalists — who were denied entry into the territory — and it appeared likely to succeed. Yet Palestinians “citizen journalists” in Gaza and a few internationals living in the middle of the conflict decided to report a very different story than the carefully controlled Israeli narrative. Sharyn Lock was one of these voices.

Originally from Australia but now living in the UK, Lock has worked in Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) since 2002 when she shot by an Israeli soldier in the stomach. After being refused entry into Palestine from 2005 to 2006, Lock finally made it back to Gaza on the first “Break the Siege” boat sponsored by the Free Gaza Movement. She was in the Gaza Strip during Israel’s 22-day invasion last winter and her blog “Tales to Tell” documented the daily events she witnessed during the conflict not only with humanity but also humor. These posts have recently been published in the short book Gaza: Beneath the Bombs. The following is an edited interview with Lock about her experience in Gaza and why she feels privileged to have spent time with Palestinians there.

Arwa Aburawa: Why did you decide to stay during the attacks?

Sharyn Lock: With the announcement from Israel for internationals to leave, we assumed — correctly, as it turned out — that this was the start of the land incursion which followed the air attacks which had become regular. ISM were there mainly because of the isolation and the dreadful siege and so at a time when Israel wanted to isolate the Palestinians more, we made a decision that we didn’t want to leave. Also the fact that Israel wanted internationals to leave made us think, well, what is it you don’t want us to see, what is it you don’t want us to document? Whatever that is we want to be here for it.

AA: Did you realize at the time that you were one of very voices few coming from Gaza?

SL: It took a while for me to realize that I was seeing things that nobody else was seeing and that I needed to write them down. We didn’t have anyone telling us what to do and so we just got in the middle of things and were able to able to document them. It was up-to-the-minute reporting and I would try to get to a computer at the end of every day so that what I wrote would have been what I’d seen in the last hours. And once again, it was the least that we could do and it was really encouraging that people used it and responded to it by holding vigils and taking action based on the information that we were getting out to them.

AA: As your book is focused on the war in Gaza, was it hard to talk about anything but the suffering?

SL: It was important for me to portray the humanity and not just the suffering because that is the [story of the] Palestinians. That’s why I go, that’s why it’s a privilege to be there and to spend time with these people who just face something that we would just be crushed by, with courage and determination to keep hold of the things that they value. Basically, that’s what’s made it all possible and worthwhile, the negative experiences were totally outweighed by the positive experiences. That’s not to say that if you’re Palestinian, you wouldn’t want to get the hell out of somewhere where you have to battle to just exist, but people do it with courage and grace and manage to find humor. I guess that’s one of the ways that they survive.

AA: Did any of the events you witness and write about truly shock you?

SL: I am not sure if I can answer that question as all the things that happen all across the world seem to be near me, in front of me and I’m a witness to them even if I am not there. So, I tend to live in this state of mind and so nothing surprises me. Like the fact that civilians were so targeted in these attacks, that’s been Israeli policy for a long time and nothing stops them. And so when people were saying “this is horrifying, this is shocking,” it’s only a continuation of a policy that has existed for a long time.

There was one particular image which stunned people and that was of the baby that some of my medic colleagues retrieved which had been burned and chewed out by probably Israeli army dogs. And that’s a terrible image of something to happen to a child. But I wasn’t shocked by what I saw because that’s what this occupation is and it’s what we currently accept is going on. Also when these things get written up as evidence of war crimes, I do get a little confused as I’m thinking, “well, this was happening at the time and you’re speaking about war crimes now?” I just wish we realized things at the point at which we could try and stop them.

AA: What do you hope for the future of Gaza?

SL: I want to see the occupation end, I want to see the siege end. Weirdly, there was a CIA report that came out when I was there that predicted that in 20 years there would be one state for what is now Israel and Palestine. I feel like that’s what I want to hope for and certainly the Palestinians that I have spoken to have said that that’s what they hope for. Some Palestinians have said to me, “I don’t care whether it’s one state or two states, I just want to be on what’s historically our land, in peace, with equal rights to whoever is living with us and we don’t mind who that is.” There isn’t a sense that it’s us against them, they just want there to be justice for all.

Arwa Aburawa (http://arwafreelance.wordpress.com/) is a freelance journalist based in the UK.

Gaza

Beneath the Bombs

Sharyn Lock with Sarah Irving. Afterword by Richard Falk.

An eyewitness account of events in Gaza that brings home the horror of life in a war-zone, based on the author’s candid and dramatic blog.

‘This is an honest, forthright account full of compassion and insight; it plunges the reader into Gaza as it suffers the Israeli onslaught. Whether you are familiar with the plight of Palestine and the work of international volunteers or looking for an introduction to the subject, Sharyn Lock has made an invaluable contribution.’ – Jeremy Hardy

‘Moving and understated… Sharyn Lock manages to humanise the inhuman… I will long remain grateful to Sharyn Lock!’ – Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestine and Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University

£12.99 only £9.99 on the Pluto site


Ben White: Shattering Israel’s image of ‘democracy’

December 3, 2009

Ben White argues that Israeli ‘development’ policy in the Negev aims to remove Bendouin from the area. This article originally appeared on comment is free Read the rest of this entry »


Eric Lee: Amnesty joins Israel-bashers

December 3, 2009

Eric Lee argues that Amnesty is biased in its coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict and goes outside its remit to criticise Israel. This article first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle. Read the rest of this entry »


A line in the sand

November 9, 2009

Uri Avnery’s take on Mahmoud Abbas’s decision not to stand for re-election as leader of the Palestinian Authority.

Mahmoud Abbas is fed up. The day before yesterday he withdrew his candidacy for the coming presidential election in the Palestinian Authority.

I understand him.

He feels betrayed. And the traitor is Barack Obama. Read the rest of this entry »


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