Your letter (“Where are you?”, Khamsin Bulletin no. 6, June 1989) was not addressed to me, as for many years I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to warn Palestinian activists such as yourself against the myths and lies spread by your bureaucracy and some of your more gullible activists about the Israeli so-called “Peace Camp” in general and Peace Now in particular. Yet I shall try to answer you directly and, if you’ll pardon me, bluntly. These times are too dangerous for toying with fine phrases; and in my opinion every movement should be subjected to criticism by all.
First, let me advise you and all Palestinian activists and intellectuals to begin, at long last, to distinguish between justice and morality on the one hand, and correct analysis of a situation and of effectiveness, in short of power in its social and other forms, on the other; and not to make predictions based solely on the former factors.
When, at the end of your letter, you state that “the Palestinian struggle will be victorious, sooner or later”, you are in my opinion indulging in dangerous illusions. Of course, I do hope that the Palestinian struggle will be victorious as soon as possible and I try to work to change the objective situation in that direction. But I think my work is much more effective if I do not indulge in illusions. The Intifada may fall, the Palestinian struggle may be defeated, or at least its success may arrive only after a very long time, if the oppressors will have much more power than the oppressed. History, both ancient and modern, as well as the present situation of the Middle East itself, can provide many examples of failure of just popular struggles, especially if their leaders and activists made mistakes and indulged in stupidities and illusions, or even if they lacked the necessary knowledge ‒ if they knew about their oppressors less than the latter knew about them ‒ or for many other reasons. Moreover, a mistake is a mistake; it has an objective quality independent of morality. A just person or movement can make mistakes.
Second, in my opinion future relations between the two peoples, the Israeli-Jewish and the Palestinian ‒ if and when the latter should win even a limited victory leading to some form of independence ‒ will not depend on the present attitude of the Israeli “Peace Camp” or even on the present attitude of the majority of Israeli society, however criminal it is, but on conditions that will prevail at that time and are difficult to foresee now. For example, what may be called the German Peace Camp of the 1930s failed totally and ignominiously to stop the rise of Nazism. But when German Nazism was defeated ‒ not by Germans ‒ the relations that developed from the 1950s between Germans and other peoples, former victims of German Nazism, including Jews, were not much affected by the former failure of the German anti-Nazis. Similarly, current relations between Egypt and Israel are not affected by the criminal failure of the Israeli “Peace Camp” of 1971-73.
So let us keep to the present and the past, and discuss the future only so far as to try to determine the conditions in which the Intifada can succeed.
I am afraid that the greatest mistake made by Palestinians (particularly those living outside Israel itself) is their continuing lack of knowledge of the Israeli-Jewish society, of Israeli and Zionist history, and the resulting indulgence in all kinds of myths and illusions. Hardly less grave than the past mistake of regarding Israel as uniform is the newer mistake of failing to understand what its various parts really want; what they say among themselves rather than in the many fake dialogues with Palestinians, what they intend rather than what they officially declare ‒ in short, failing to analyse Israeli-Jewish society in the way that every society should be analysed, irrespective of whether it is criminal at any particular time.
The Palestinians’ mistakes are exacerbated because the Palestinian press is not free: it is controlled by the various PLO organizations, and the information it gives about Israel, or for that matter about anything else, is strictly tailored to fit a given “line” at a given moment rather than to convey information and initiate a free and meaningful discussion.
Your question, “Where are the tens of thousands [of Israelis] that filled the public square after the invasion of Lebanon?” (my emphasis) displays your unforgivable ignorance, or uncritical acceptance of myths. During the first weeks after the invasion of Lebanon only few in Israel opposed the Invasion ‒ roughly the same sort of people who now support the Palestinians.
Larger, but not really big, demonstrations began only about six weeks into the invasion, when some of the reserve soldiers returned from the front and told the Israeli public that Israeli losses were greater than it supposed and that the generals and the government were deceiving it. The demonstrations at that time were concerned with these two points rather than with the horrors inflicted on the Palestinians and Lebanese.
The much larger demonstrations, after Sabra and Shatila [massacre], were motivated in part by fear that media reports might harm Israel’s image in the USA. To some extent they were a product of Labour Party manipulation; in fact, Rabin and Peres were the main speakers at that demonstration in The Kings of Israel Square in Tel Aviv, which became a myth and was taken much too seriously by the more stupid part of the PLO bureaucracy.
As a matter of fact, almost immediately after that demonstration the Labour Party ceased to oppose the Israeli occupation of about one third of Lebanon. What made Israel withdraw ‒ in 1985 ‒ from the large areas of Lebanon it had intended to hold permanently was simply the increased effectiveness of armed actions by the Lebanese guerillas and the consequent increase in the number of Israeli casualties. Ask yourself: what has caused the great majority of Israelis, including most of the Likkud, to oppose now another occupation of southern Lebanon, the restraint of the Lebanese guerillas or their military effectiveness?
In fact, the continuing military weakness of all the Palestinian organizations, still well hidden by false propaganda, and the continuing lack of almost all Palestinian activists and intellectuals to try to understand military affairs and military effectiveness, together with its social base, is in my opinion the most serious fault of the Palestinian national movement.
The second fault is their refusal to see that Israeli society, including the minority of real supporters of just Palestinian rights within it, is a militaristic society and therefore the question of the effect of military force on this society is of prime importance. You, ‘All J., report that your people ask you “How many deaths do they [those who support the Labour Party, or even those who don’t oppose Rabin at present] need in order to support us?” You should be honest and tell them that for Rabin and his open and covert supporters only deaths of Jews count, whereas the death or expulsion of a non-Jew is of no importance, unless it dents Israel’s image abroad, thereby causing some harm to Israeli interests. For Rabin ‒ one of the main speakers in that famous Peace Now rally after Sabra and Shatila ‒ the deaths and expulsions of Palestinians is a matter of pride, a way of attracting votes away from the Likkud.
The policies of the Israeli Labour Party and of the great majority of the Israeli-Jewish society are influenced neither by Palestinian restraint nor by lack of it, but by Palestinian force, by the Palestinians’ effectiveness in causing harm to Israel ‒ be it military or financial, through other countries such as the USA. To entertain such hopes as you did, that your people’s restraint would influence Rabin or an average member of Peace Now, was from the beginning an illusion based on ignorance. You should acknowledge that you and your leaders were mistaken on that point.
On the other hand, the question of speaking to any kind of Israeli has nothing to do with what Israelis do to Palestinians; and the attitude you report is due to the regrettable unwillingness of so many Palestinians to think about other cases in which national movements, including their own, negotiated or spoke with their enemies. After all, the Vietnamese national movement spoke to Americans in the middle of the utmost devastation caused by the USA government and the inability of the American anti-war movement to stop it. The Vietnamese understood what you refuse to understand in the case of Israel: that to speak with someone or to negotiate with a group or a government is primarily a tactical matter. The Vietnamese invited the publisher of the New York Times ‒ not an organ of the anti-war movement ‒ to Hanoi, because it was more useful for them that such a person should witness and report the havoc caused by American bombers. The PLO or most of the activists in the Occupied Territories have not, I regret to say, reached this stage, because they are being blinded by their own old prejudices. And what about the Arab regimes that killed so many Palestinians? Will you refuse to speak to a Libyan, or even to Qadhafi himself, because of his part in the horrendous civil war of summer 1983; or to negotiate with those who stood behind the second and third genocidal conquest of Sabra and Shatila, or behind the Black September of 1970? Of course, I am not trying to dictate to you to whom you should be talking at any given time; I merely wish to point out that the reasons you quote for not talking to any kind of Israeli, as well as the successive “conditions” of the PLO Conventions regarding which Israelis the Palestinians may or should talk to, are evidence of immaturity and irrationality ‒ qualities which can well exist in the most just movement and cause its failure or delay its success.
In fact, I believe you are mistaken about the views of important parts of your own society on this question of talking with Israelis. The Muslim fundamentalists used to talk very happily to the worst sort of Israeli, namely military governors and officers of the secret police; and in the middle of the Intifada their leaders used to appear on Israeli TV. This love affair has now been interrupted; but not for long, I think. On the other hand, even now, when the toll of Palestinians, particularly children, has reached horrifying numbers, people in the villages and in many of the refugee camps that are farther away from centres of the media express great willingness to talk with all kinds of Israelis who actually visit them. Objecting to talking with Israelis are usually voiced by town-dwelling activists, who had been active long before the Intifada and who persist in their old attitudes (in this and other matters) using new excuses.
Finally, I would like to tell you what all those Israelis who demanded of the Palestinians to accept UN Security Council Resolution 242 or “the State of Israel’s right to exist” etc, as pre-condition for talking to them, really wanted. They wanted to go on oppressing you for ever, while at the same time achieving two additional objectives: that Israel would have a nice and pleasant image on American and European TV screens, and that some of the better sort of Israeli Jews would be deceived into thinking that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is only temporary, and would therefore be better soldiers. An Israeli satirist said soon after the formation of Peace Now that its main object was to allow the Israeli tank crews to mount their tanks more cheerfully when the next war would break out. He knew what he was talking about, and was proved right at the beginning of the invasion of Lebanon.
In short, when considering the majority of Israeli-Jewish society, assume that what they say about Arabs is true about themselves. In particular, when they claim that Arabs only understand the language of force, assume that this is the main language that they themselves understand.
Therefore the only piece of advice I shall give you and the Palestinians generally with regard to the restraint exercised during the Intifada, and indeed with regard to all your political decisions, is a simple one: consider what is effective, what will make your people truly stronger, in the broadest sense of this term. On the other hand, do not confuse actual strength and true effectiveness with theatrical gestures, mere verbal declarations, or isolated actions that do not form a coherent and successful pattern. For example, when considering the global political situation of the Palestinians, do not merely count UN votes while forgetting that many dictatorial states, including some Arab ones, quite often vote for the Palestinians while cooperating with Israel in the most crucial areas.
Remember that true and effective strength depends first of all on free discussion and on social knowledge, and secondly on political and military effectiveness, which must include a recognition that in the past it was absent due to reasons some of which depended on you. If you will be strong in this sense, the majority of Israeli society will respect you whether or not you exercise restraint; and you shall then win something, perhaps much. If you will continue to be ignorant about Israeli society and indeed about the whole world outside yourselves and to indulge in dangerous illusions, if you will believe blindly what any one of your outworn bureaucracies tells you, if you will not remember Francis Bacon’s dictum that knowledge is power ‒ then neither your just demands nor your many innocent and heroic victims will help you win anything at all.
I say this because I desire that you win freedom for yourselves, and this cannot be achieved by heroism alone.