Uri Avnery on the Middle East Conflict

Battle with the Myths of Two Peoples

Writer Uri Avnery has been championing the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace and the coexistence of two states for decades. Silke Bartlick questioned him on the central problem of the ongoing Middle East conflict: myth-making by the Palestinians and Israelis

Writer Uri Avnery has been championing the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace and the coexistence of two states for decades. Silke Bartlick questioned him on the central problem of the ongoing Middle East conflict – myth-making by the Palestinians and Israelis

Uri Avnery and Yasser Arafat (photo: dpa)
There have been numerous occasions in the past when peace could have been established, says Avnery, but neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have seized the opportunities

​​Uri Avnery says he has never known a life of peace. He has always lived against a background of discord, beginning with his childhood in Germany amidst the growing Nazi movement and during the first months of the Third Reich and then in Palestine and Israel, respectively, since the emigration of his family.

Peace as "science fiction"

"In the 72 years that I have lived in Palestine, neither I nor any other Israeli or Palestinian has known a day of peace," says Avnery. "The daily news is constantly dominated by reports of fighting. This is why peace for us here in this land is almost akin to science fiction."

There have been numerous occasions in the past when peace could have been established, says Avnery, but neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have seized the opportunities.

He has asked himself what sort of contribution writers can make towards bringing an end to the conflict, and even if they should make the effort. Avnery, a longstanding peace activist, has a clear answer. "A writer can and even must change the situation!"

Overcoming myths

Every war produces its myths, asserts Avnery. Myths provide the basis for why a victim is a victim and an enemy is an enemy. They thereby hinder every form of change or understanding.

It is the task of the writer, therefore, to overcome the myths of his own people and to understand and explain the myths of the other side, the so-called enemy.

"Every Israeli is convinced that certain events took place as they remember, while the other side recalls the same events in a completely different way," claims Avnery. "The points of view are so radically divergent, that one can hardly speak of two peoples living in the same small land, living alongside each other, but rather more like two peoples living in two completely different parts of the world – or even on two different planets."

The fight for independence versus national catastrophe

The Israelis, for instance, regard the war of 1948 as a fight for their own sovereignty and independence, while the Palestinians, in contrast, see this war as a national disaster, a national catastrophe, in which the Israelis drove half of the Palestinian people from their lands.

According to Avnery, 99 percent of the population believe these myths. They are prepared to sacrifice their lives for these myths and are fully convinced that they are right. "Only when it becomes clear that both sides are one hundred percent right can we hope to begin the path towards peace."

Yet, this requires patience and time – a lot of time, admits Avnery. The man known as a "skeptical optimist" is convinced, however, that writers and intellectuals can truly help to break down traditional points of view – despite the recurrent outbreaks of violence in recent years.

Silke Bartlick

© DEUTSCHE WELLE/Qantara.de 2006

Translated from the German by John Bergeron

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