Uri Avnery

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In Berlin, an exhibition entitled “Hitler and the Germans” has just opened. It examines the factors that caused the German people to bring Adolf Hitler to power and follow him to the very end.

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Kill a Turk Then Rest

The traditional Israeli concept is: hit the civilian population again and again, until it overthrows its leaders. This has been tried hundreds of times and has failed hundreds of times. Conclusion: Hamas is there. It cannot be ignored, says Uri Avnery.

I was reminded this week of the old tale about a Jewish mother taking leave of her son, who has been called up to serve in the Czar's army against the Turks.

"Don't exert yourself too much," she admonishes him, "Kill a Turk and rest. Kill another Turk and rest again ... "

"But mother," he exclaims, "What if the Turk kills me?"

"Kill you?" she cries out, "Why? What have you done to him?"

This is not a joke (and this is not a week for jokes). It is a lesson in psychology. I was reminded of it when I read Ehud Olmert's statement that more than anything else he was furious about the outburst of joy in Gaza after the attack in Jerusalem, in which eight yeshiva students were killed.

Before that, last weekend, the Israeli army killed 120 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, half of them civilians, among them dozens of children. That was not "kill a Turk and rest". That was "kill a hundred Turks and rest". But Olmert does not understand.

The five-day war in Gaza (as a Hamas leader called it) was but another short chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. This bloody monster is never satisfied, its appetite just grows with the eating.

This chapter started with the "targeted liquidation" of five senior militants inside the Gaza Strip. The "response" was a salvo of rockets, and this time not only on Sderot, but also on Ashkelon and Netivot. The "response" to the "response" was the army's incursion and the wholesale killing.

The stated aim was, as always, to stop the launching of the rockets. The means: killing a maximum of Palestinians, in order to teach them a lesson. The decision was based on the traditional Israeli concept: hit the civilian population again and again, until it overthrows its leaders. This has been tried hundreds of times and has failed hundreds of times.

As if an example for the folly of the propagators of this concept had been lacking, it was provided on TV by ex-general Matan Vilnai, when he said that the Palestinians are "bringing a Shoah on themselves". The Hebrew word Shoah is known all over the world, where it has one clear meaning: the Holocaust carried out by the Nazis against the Jews. Vilnai's utterance spread like a bushfire throughout the Arab world and set off a shock wave. I, too, received dozens of phone calls and e-mail messages from all over the world. How to convince people that in day-to-day Hebrew usage, Shoah means "only" a great disaster, and that General Vilnai, a former candidate for Chief of Staff, is not the most intelligent of people?

Some years ago, President Bush called for a "Crusade" against terrorism. He had no idea that for hundreds of millions of Arabs, the word "Crusade" brings to mind one of the biggest crimes in human history, the appalling massacre committed by the original crusaders against the Muslims (and Jews) in the alleys of Jerusalem. In an intelligence contest between Bush and Vilnai, the outcome, if any, would be in doubt.

Vilnai does does not understand what the word "Shoah" means to others, and Olmert does not understand why there is rejoicing in Gaza after the attack on the yeshiva in Jerusalem. Wise men like these direct the state, the government and the army. Wise men like these control public opinion through the media. What is common to all of them: blunted sensibilities to the feelings of anybody who is not Jewish/Israeli. From this springs their inability to understand the psychology of the other side, and hence the consequences of their own words and actions.

This is also expressed in the inability to understand why the Hamas people claimed victory in the five-Day War. What victory? After all, only two Israeli soldiers and one Israeli civilian were killed, as against 120 Palestinian dead, both fighters and civilians.

But this battle was fought between one of the strongest armies in the world, equipped with the most modern arms on earth, and a few thousand irregulars with primitive arms. If the battle ended in a draw -- and such a battle always ends in a draw -- this is a great victory for the weak side. In Lebanon War II and in the Gaza war.

(Binyamin Netanyahu made one of the most stupid statement this week, when he demanded that "the Israeli army must move from attrition to decision." In a struggle like this, there never is a decision.)

The real effect of such an operation is not expressed in material and quantitative facts: so-and-so many dead, so-and-so many injured, so-and-so much destroyed. It is expressed in psychological results that cannot be measured, and therefore are inaccessible to the minds of generals: how much hatred has been added to the seething pool, how many new potential suicide bombers were produced, how many people vowed revenge and became ticking bombs -- like the Jerusalem youngster, who woke up one bright morning this week, got himself a weapon, went to the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, the mother of all settlements, and killed as many as he could.

Now the political and military leadership of Israel sits down to discuss what to do, how to "respond". No new idea has come up or will come up, because not one of these politicians and generals is able to bring up a new idea. They can only go back to the hundred things they have already done, and that have failed a hundred times.

The first step on the way out of this madness is the readiness to question all our concepts and methods of the last 60 years and start thinking again, right from the beginning.

That is always hard. That is even harder for us, because our leadership has no freedom of thought -- its thinking is very closely tied to the thinking of the American leadership.

This week, a shocking document was published: David Rose's article in Vanity Fair. It describes how U.S. officials have in recent years dictated every single step of the Palestinian leadership, down to the most minute detail. Though the article does not touch the Israeli-American relationship (in itself a surprising omission) it goes without saying that the American course, including the smallest items, is coordinated with the Israeli government.

Why shocking? These things were already known, in general terms. In this respect, that article held no surprises: (a) The Americans ordered Mahmoud Abbas to hold parliamentary elections, in order to present Bush as bringing democracy to the Middle East. (b) Hamas won a surprise victory. (c) The Americans imposed a boycott on the Palestinians, in order to nullify the election results. (d) Abbas diverted for a moment from the policy dictated to him and, under Saudi auspices (and pressure), made an agreement with Hamas, (e) The Americans put an end to this and compelled Abbas to turn over all security services to Muhammad Dahlan, whom they had chosen for the role of strongman in Palestine, (f) The Americans provided plenty of money and arms to Dahlan, trained his men and ordered him to carry out a military coup against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, (g) The elected Hamas government forestalled the move and itself carried out an armed counter-coup.

All this was known before. What is new is that the mixture of news, rumors and intelligent guesses has now condensed into an authoritative, well substantiated report, based on official U.S. documents. It testifies to the abysmal American ignorance, which trumps even Israeli ignorance, of the internal Palestinian processes.

George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, the Zionist neocon Elliott Abrams and the assortment of American generals innocent of any knowledge are competing with Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak and our own assorted generals, whose understanding reaches as far as the end of the gun barrels of their tanks.

The Americans have in the meantime destroyed Dahlan by exposing him publicly as their agent, on the lines of "he's a son-of-a-bitch, but he is our son-of-a-bitch". This week Condoleezza dealt a mortal blow to Abbas, too. He had announced in the morning that he was suspending the (meaningless) peace negotiations with Israel, the very minimum he could do in response to the Gaza atrocities. Rice, who received the news while she was having breakfast in the exciting company of Livni, immediately called Abbas and ordered him to cancel his announcement. Abbas gave in, thus exposing himself to his people in all his nakedness.

Logic was not given to the People of Israel on Mount Sinai, but handed down from Mount Olympus to the ancient Greeks. In spite of this drawback, let us try to apply it.

What is our government trying to achieve in Gaza? It wants to topple Hamas rule (and incidentally also put an end to the launching of rockets against Israel).

It tried to achieve this by imposing a total blockade on the population, hoping that they would rise up and overthrow Hamas. This failed. The alternative course is to re-occupy the entire Strip. That would carry a high price in lives of soldiers, perhaps more than the Israeli public is ready to pay. Also, it will not help, because Hamas will return the moment the Israeli troops withdraw. (In accordance with Mao Zedong's first rule for guerrillas: "When the enemy advances, withdraw. When the enemy withdraws, advance.")

The only result of the Five-Day War is the strengthening of Hamas and the rallying of the Palestinian people behind it -- not just in the Gaza Strip, but in the West Bank and Jerusalem, too. Their victory celebration was justified. The launching of rockets did not stop. The range of the rockets is increasing.

But let us assume that this policy had succeeded and that Hamas had been broken. What then? Abbas and Dahlan could return only on top of Israeli tanks, as subcontractors of the occupation. No insurance company would cover their lives. And if they did not come back, there would be chaos, out of which extreme forces would emerge the like of which we cannot even imagine.

Conclusion: Hamas is there. It cannot be ignored. We have to reach a cease-fire with it. Not a sham offer of "if they stop shooting first, then we will stop shooting". A cease-fire, like a tango, needs two participants. It must come out of a detailed agreement that will include the cessation of all hostilities, armed and otherwise, in all the territories.

The cease-fire will not hold if it is not accompanied by speeded-up negotiations for a long-term armistice (hudna) and peace. Such negotiations cannot be held with Fatah and not Hamas, nor with Hamas and not Fatah. Therefore, what is needed is a Palestinian government that includes both movements. It must bring in personalities who enjoy the confidence of the entire Palestinian people, such as Marwan Barghouti.

That is the very opposite of the present Israeli-American policy, which forbids Abbas even to talk with Hamas. In all the Israeli leadership, as in all the American leadership, there is no one who dares to spell this out openly. Therefore, what has been is what will be.

We will kill a hundred Turks and rest. And from time to time, a Turk will come and kill some of us.

Why, for God's sake? What have we done to them?

Israelis and Palestinians Raise Another Bloody Generation

Incredible! In Palestinian schoolbooks, there is no trace of the Green Line! They do not recognize the existence of Israel even in the 1967 borders! They say that the "Zionist gangs" stole the country from the Arabs! That's how they poison the minds of their children!

These blood-curdling revelations were published this week in Israel and around the world. The conclusion is self-evident: The Palestinian Authority, which is responsible for the schoolbooks, cannot be a partner in peace negotiations.

What a shock!

Truth is, there is nothing new here. Every few years, when all the other arguments for refusing to speak with the Palestinian leadership wear thin, the ultimate argument pops up again: Palestinian schoolbooks call for the destruction of Israel!

The ammunition is always provided by one of the "professional" institutions that deal with this matter. These foundations of the far right, disguised as "scientific" bodies, are lavishly funded by Jewish-American multimillionaires. Teams of salaried employees apply a fine-toothed comb to every word of the Arab media and schoolbooks, with a preordained objective: to prove that they are anti-Semitic, preach hatred of Israel and call for the killing of Jews. In the sea of words, it is not too difficult to find suitable quotes, while ignoring everything else.

So now it is again perfectly clear: Palestinian schoolbooks preach hatred of Israel! They are breeding a new generation of terrorists! Therefore, of course, there can be no question of Israel and the world ending the blockade on the Palestinian Authority!

Well, what about our side? What do our schoolbooks look like?

Does the Green Line appear in them? Do they recognize the right of the Palestinians to establish a state on the other side of our 1967 borders? Do they teach love for the Palestinian people (or even the existence of the Palestinian people), or respect for the Arabs in general, or a knowledge of Islam?

The answer to all these questions: Absolutely not!

Recently, Minister of Education Yuli Tamir came out with a bombastic announcement saying that she intends to mark the Green Line in the schoolbooks, from which it was removed almost 40 years ago. The right reacted angrily, and nothing more was heard about it.

From kindergarten to the last day of high school, the Israeli pupil does not learn that the Arabs have any right at all to any of this land. On the contrary, it is clear that the land belongs to us alone, that God has personally given it to us, that we were indeed driven out by the Romans after the destruction of our Temple in the year 70 (a myth) but that we returned at the beginning of the Zionist movement. Since then, the Arabs have tried again and again to annihilate us, as the Goyim have done in every generation. In 1936, the "gangs" (the official Israeli term for the fighters of the Arab Revolt) attacked and murdered us. And so on, up to this very day.

When he comes out of the pedagogic mill, the Jewish-Israeli pupil "knows" that the Arabs are a primitive people with a murderous religion and a miserable culture. He brings this view with him when he (or she) joins the army a few weeks later. There, it is reinforced almost automatically. The daily humiliation of old people and women -- not to mention everybody else -- at the checkpoints would not be possible otherwise.

The question is, of course, whether schoolbooks really have that much influence on the pupils.

From earliest childhood, children absorb the atmosphere of their surroundings. The conversations at home, the sights on television, the happenings in the street, the opinions of classmates at school -- all these influence them far more than the written texts of the books, which in any case are interpreted by teachers who themselves have been subject to these influences.

An Arab child sees on TV an old woman lamenting the demolition of her home. He sees on the walls in the street the photos of the martyred heroes, sons of his neighborhood, who have sacrificed their lives for their people and country. He hears what has happened to his cousin who was murdered by the evil Jews. He hears from his father that he cannot buy meat or eggs, because the Jews are not allowing him to work and put food on the table. At home there is no water for most of the day. Mother tells about grandpa and grandma, who have been languishing for 60 years in a miserable refugee camp in Lebanon. He knows that his family were driven out from their village in what became Israel and that the Jews are living there now. The hero of his class is the boy who jumped on a passing Israeli tank, or who dared to throw a stone from a distance of 10 meters at a soldier who was pointing a gun at him.

We once went to a Palestinian village in order to help the inhabitants rebuild a house that had been demolished the day before by the army. While the adults were working on finishing the roof, the local children gathered around Rachel, my wife, showing a keen interest in her camera. The conversation that sprung up went like this:

Where are you from? From America?
No, from here.

Are you messihiin (Christians)?
No, Israelis.

Israelis? (General laughter.) Israelis are like this: Boom Boom Boom! (They assume poses of shooting soldiers.) No, really, where are you from? From Israel, we are Jews.
(They exchange looks.)

Why do you come here?
To help in the work.
(Whispers and laughter.)

One of the boys runs to his father:
This woman says that they are Jews. True, the embarrassed father confirmed, Jews, but good Jews. The children draw back. They look unconvinced.

What can schoolbooks change here?

And on the Jewish-Israeli side? From the earliest age, the child sees the pictures of suicide attacks on TV, bodies scattered around, the injured being taken away in ambulances with blood-curdling shrieks from their sirens. He hears that the Nazis slaughtered his mother's entire family in Poland, and in his consciousness Nazis and Arabs become one. On every day's news he hears bad things about what the Arabs are doing, that they want to destroy the state and throw us into the sea. He knows that the Arabs want to kill his brother, the soldier, without any reason, just because they are such murderers. Nothing about life in "the territories," perhaps just a few kilometers away, reaches him. Until he is called up, the only Arabs he meets are Israeli Arab workers doing menial work. When he joins the army, he sees them only through gun sights, every one of them of them a potential "terrorist".

For a change in the schoolbooks to have any value, reality on the ground must change first.

Does that mean that schoolbooks have no importance? It should not be underestimated.

I remember giving a lecture in one of the kibbutzim in the late '60s. After I explained the need for the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel (a fairly revolutionary idea at the time), one of the kibbutzniks stood up and asked: "I don't understand it! You want us to give back all the territories that we have conquered. Territories are something real, land, water. What shall we get in return? Abstract words like "peace"? What shall we get -- tachles (Yiddish for practical things)?"

I answered that from Morocco to Iraq, there are tens of thousands of classrooms, and in every one of them hangs a map. On all these maps, the territory of Israel is marked "occupied Palestine" or just left blank. All that we need is that the name Israel should appear on these thousands of maps.

Forty years have passed, and the name "Israel" does not appear in Palestinian schoolbooks, nor, I assume, on any school map from Morocco to Iraq. And the name "Palestine" does not appear, of course, on any Israeli school map. Only when the young Israeli joins the army, does he see a map of "the territories," with its crazy puzzle of Zones A, B and C, settlement blocs and apartheid roads.

A map is a weapon. From my childhood in Germany between the two World Wars, I remember a map that was hanging on the wall of my classroom. On it, Germany had two borders. One (green, if I remember correctly) was the existing border, that was imposed by the treaty of Versailles after the (first) World War. The other, marked in glowing red, was the border from before the war. In thousands of classrooms all over Germany (then governed by Social-Democrats) the pupils saw every day before their eyes the terrible injustice done to Germany, when pieces were "torn" from her on every side. Thus was bred the generation that filled the ranks of the Nazi war machine in World War II. (By the way, some 50 years later I was taken on a courtesy visit to that school. I asked the principal about that map. Within minutes, it was brought out from the archive.)

No, I do not make light of maps. Especially not of maps in schools.

I repeat what I said then: The aim must be that the child in Ramallah sees before his eyes, on the wall of his classroom, a map on which the State of Israel is marked. And that the child in Rishon-le-Zion sees before his eyes, on the wall of his classroom, a map on which the State of Palestine is marked. Not by compulsion, but by agreement.

That is, of course, impossible as long as Israel has no borders. How can one mark on the map a state which, from its first day, has refused, consciously and adamantly, to define its borders? Can we really demand that the Palestinian ministry of education publish a map on which all the territory of Palestine lies inside Israel?

And on the other hand, how can one mark on the map the name "Palestine," when there is no Palestinian state? After all, even most of those Israeli politicians who profess -- at least pro forma -- to support the "two-states solution" will go to great lengths to avoid saying where the border between the two states should run. Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, is totally opposed to the announced intention of her colleague, Minister of Education Yuli Tamir, to mark the Green Line, lest it be seen as a border.

Peace means a border. A border fixed by agreement. Without a border, there can be no peace. And without peace, it is the height of chutzpa to demand something from the other side that we totally refuse to do ourselves.

Turning Point for Israel

The most dramatic and the most boring election campaign in our history has mercifully come to an end. Israel looks in the mirror and asks itself: What the hell has happened?

On the way to the ballot box, in the center of Tel-Aviv, I could not detect the slightest sign that this was election day. Generally, elections in Israel are a passionate affair. Posters everywhere, thousands of slogan-covered cars rushing around ferrying voters to the ballot stations, a lot of noise.

This time -- nothing. An eerie silence. Less than two-thirds of the registered citizens did actually take the trouble to vote. Politicians of all stripes are detested, democracy despised among the young, whole sectors estranged. Those who decided not to vote, but at the last moment relented, voted for the Pensioners' List, which jumped from nothing to an astonishing seven seats.

This was a real protest vote. Even young people told themselves: Instead of throwing our vote away, let's do them a favor. Old people, sick people (including the terminally ill), handicapped people and the entire health and education systems were the victims of the Thatcherite economic policies of Netanyahu, backed by Sharon, which Shimon Peres (of all people) called "swinish."

That vote was a curiosity. But what happened in the main arena?

At the beginning of the campaign I wrote that the whole of the political system was moving to the Left.

Many thought that that was wishful thinking, sadly removed from reality. Now it has actually happened.

The main result of these elections is that the hold of the nationalistic-religious bloc, which has dominated Israel for more than a generation, has been broken. All those who announced that the Left is dead and that Israel is condemned to right-wing rule for a long, long time have been proved wrong.

All the right-wing parties together won 32* seats, the religious parties 19. With 51 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, the rightist-religious wing cannot block all moves towards peace anymore.

This is a turning point. The dream of a Greater Israel, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, is dead.

Significantly, the "National Union," the party that is completely identified with the settlers, has won only nine seats -- more or less like last time. After all the heart-rending drama of the destruction of the Gaza settlements, the settlers remain as unpopular as ever. They have lost the decisive battle for public opinion.

Netanyahu declared that the elections were going to be a "national referendum" on the withdrawal from the West Bank. Well, it was -- and the public overwhelmingly voted "yes."

The main victim is Netanyahu himself. The Likud has collapsed. For the first time since its founding by Ariel Sharon in 1973, it has been subjected to the humiliation of being the fifth (!) party in the Knesset.

The heartfelt joy about this rout of the Right is tempered by a very dangerous development: the rise of Avigdor Lieberman's "Israel our Home" party, a mutation of the Right with openly fascist tendencies.

Lieberman, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union and himself a settler, draws his main strength from the "Russian" community, which is almost uniformly extremely nationalistic. He calls for the expulsion of all Arabs (a fifth of Israel's population), ostensibly in a swap of territories, but the message is clear. There are also the usual hallmarks of such a party: the cult of the leader, a call for "law and order," intense hatred for "the enemy" both within and without. This man got 12 seats and has overtaken Netanyahu. His main slogan "Da Lieberman" ("Yes, Lieberman" in Russian) reminds one of similar historical salutes.

For those who are interested: the fascist group that called for my murder as part of their election program has failed to attain the 2 percent necessary to gain entry into the Knesset. But, of course, an assassin does not need 2 percent to follow such a call. (I would like to use this occasion to express my heartfelt thanks to all those around the world who expressed their solidarity.)

The joyful scenes at the Labor Party's headquarters may seem at first glance exaggerated. After all, the party got only 20 seats, as against 19 last time (to which must be added the three of the small party led by Amir Peretz at the time). But the numbers do not tell the whole story.

First of all, the political implications are far-reaching. In parliament, it is not only the raw numbers that count, but also their location on the political map. In the next Knesset, any coalition without the Labor Party has become impractical, if not completely impossible. Amir Peretz is going to be the most important person in the next cabinet, after Ehud Olmert.

But there is more to it than that. Peretz, the first "Oriental" Jewish leader of any major Israeli party, has overcome the historic rejection of Labor by the immigrants from Muslim countries and their offspring. He has destroyed the established equation of Oriental = poor = Right as against Ashkenazi = well-to-do = Left.

This has not yet found its full expression in the voting. The increase in Oriental voters for Labor has been only incremental. But no one who has seen how Peretz was received in the open markets, until now fortresses of the Likud, can have any doubt that something fundamental has changed.

And most important, when Peretz arrived on the scene, hardly three months ago, Labor was a walking corpse. Now it is alive, vibrant, hungry for action. It's called leadership, and it's there. Peretz is on his way to being a viable candidate for prime minister in the next elections. Until then, he certainly will have a major impact both on social affairs and the peace process.

That is, of course, the main question: Can the next government bring us closer to peace?

Kadima has won the elections but is not happy. When it was founded by Sharon, it expected 45 seats. The sky was the limit. Now it has to be satisfied with a measly 28 seats, enough to head the government but not enough to dictate policy.

In his victory speech, Olmert called on Mahmoud Abbas to make peace. But this is an empty gesture. No Palestinian could possibly accept the terms Olmert has in mind. So, if the Palestinians don't show that they are "partners," Olmert wants to "establish Israel's permanent borders unilaterally," meaning that he wants to annex something between 15 percent and 50 percent of the West Bank.

It is doubtful whether Peretz can impose another policy. Possibly, the whole question will be postponed, under the pretext that the social crisis has to be addressed first. In the meantime, the fight against the Palestinians will go on. It is up to the peace movement to change this. The elections show that Israeli public opinion wants an end to the conflict, that it rejects the dreams of the settlers and their allies, that it seeks a solution. We have contributed to this change. Now it is our job to show that Olmert's unilateral peace is no peace at all and will not lead to a solution.

On our election day, the new Palestinian government was confirmed by its Parliament. With this government we can and must negotiate. At the moment, the majority in Israel is not yet ready for that. But the election results show that we are on the way.

*Note: All numbers mentioned in this article are those published with 97 percent of the votes counted. There may be slight changes in the final count.

A Great Day for Israel

Editor's Note: Uri Avnery, an Israeli, is the founder of Gush Shalom, the Peace Bloc.

August 18th, 2005 was a milestone in the history of the State of Israel.

This was the day on which the settlement enterprise in this country went into reverse for the first time.

True, the settlement activity in the West Bank continues at full speed. Ariel Sharon intends to give up the small settlements in the Gaza Strip in order to secure the big settlement blocs in the West Bank.

But this does not diminish the significance of what has happened: It has been proven that settlements can be dismantled and must be dismantled. And important settlements have indeed been dismantled.

The settlement enterprise, that had always gone forward, only forward, in a hundred overt and covert ways, has been turned back. For the first time.

It is a historic event. A message for the future.

This was the day on which the message of the Israeli peace movement finally got through. A great victory, for all to see.

True, it is not us who did it. It was done by a man far removed from us. But, as the Hebrew saying goes: "The work of the righteous is done by others." Others, meaning those who are not righteous, who may even be wicked.

At the beginning of the settlement activity, during one of my clashes with Golda Meir in the Knesset, I told her: "Every settlement is a land-mine on the road to peace. In due course you will have to remove these mines. And let me tell you, Ma'am, as a former soldier, that the removal of mines is a very unpleasant job indeed."

If I am angry, profoundly sad and frustrated today, it is because of the price we all have paid for this monstrous "enterprise": The thousands killed because of it, Israeli and Palestinian; the hundreds of billions of shekels poured down the drain; the moral decline of our state; the creeping brutalization; the postponement of peace for dozens of years; anger with demagogues of all stripes that started and continued this March of Folly out of stupidity, blindness, greed, intoxication with power or sheer cynicism; anger over the suffering and destruction wrought on the Palestinians, whose land and water were stolen, whose houses were destroyed and whose trees were uprooted -- all for the "security" of these settlements.

I also have sympathy for the plight of the inhabitants of Gush Katif, who were seduced by the settlers' leadership and successive Israeli governments to build their life there -- seduced either by messianic demagoguery ("It's God's will") or by economic temptations ("A luxury villa surrounded by lawn, where else could you dream of this?") Many people from the remote townships in the Negev, stricken with poverty and unemployment, succumbed to these temptations. And now it is finished, the sweet dream has evaporated and they have to start their life anew -- albeit with generous compensation.

The television networks did us a great favor when they reran, between the scenes of the evacuation, old footage of the founding of these settlements. We heard again the speeches of Ariel Sharon, Joseph Burg, Yitzhak Rabin (yes, him too), Hanan Porat and others -- the whole litany of nonsense, deceit and lies.

During the last few years, the peace camp has been seized by a fashion for despair, despondency and depression. I keep repeating: there is no cause for this. In the long run, our approach is winning. Now it must be emphasized: the Israeli public would not have supported this operation, and Sharon would not have been able to carry it out, if we had not prepared public opinion by voicing ideas that were far removed from the national consensus and repeating them countless times over the years.

This was the day when the settlers' ideology collapsed.

If there is a God in heaven, He did not come to their rescue. The messiah stayed at home. No miracle occurred to save them.

Many of the settlers were so sure that a miracle would indeed happen at the very last moment, that they did not take the trouble to pack their belongings. On television, one could see homes where the uneaten meal was still on the table and the family photos on the wall -- sights I remember well from the 1948 war.

All the boasts and bluster of the pair of settler leaders, Wallerstein and Lieberman (who always remind me of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two villains in "Hamlet"), went up in smoke. The masses did not stream into the streets all over Israel and use their bodies to block the forces sent to empty the settlements. The hundreds of thousands, including the opponents of the disengagement, remained at home, glued to their television sets. The mass refusal of soldiers to obey orders, promised and incited by the rabbis, just did not happen.

At the decisive moment, the reality we always knew about was exposed for all to see: the messianic-nationalist sect, the leadership of the settlers, is isolated. In their behavior and style, they are foreign to the Israeli spirit. The hundreds of settlers who have lately been seen on television, all the men wearing yarmulkes, all the women wearing long skirts, with their interminable dancing and their 10 endlessly-repeated slogans, look like the members of a closed sect from another world.

"It looks as if we are not one but two peoples: a people of the settlers and a people of settler-haters!" moaned one of the rabbis when his settlement was emptied. That is accurate. In the confrontation between the lines of soldiers, drafted from all strata of society, and the lines of the settlers, it was the soldiers who, in this unique situation, represented the people of Israel, while the settlers embody the negative side of the Jewish ghetto. The unending bouts of collective weeping, the meticulously staged scenes designed to evoke images of pogroms and death marches, the monstrous imitation of the frightened boy with his arms raised from the famous holocaust photo -- all these were reminiscent of a world that we thought we had shaken off when we created the State of Israel.

At the moment of truth, the Yesha leaders found that no part of Israeli society stood up for them, except the gangs of male and female pupils of the religious seminaries, whom they had sent to Gush Katif. The bedlam they created on the roof of the Kfar Darom synagogue, when they viciously attacked the soldiers, put an end to their hopes of winning public support. But even before that, the settlers had lost the crucial battle for public opinion when their real purpose was revealed: to impose by force a faith-based, messianic, racist, violent, xenophobic regime, with its back to the world at large.

But most importantly, this was the day when a new chance was born for achieving peace in this tortured land.

A great opportunity. Because Israeli democracy has won a resounding victory. Because it has been proven that settlements can be dismantled without the sky falling. Because the Palestinians have leadership that wants peace.

Because it has been proven that even the radical Palestinian organizations hold their fire when Palestinian public opinion demands it.

But it must be clearly stated that this withdrawal carries with it a great danger: if we stop in the middle of jumping over it, we shall fall into the abyss.

If we do not progress rapidly from here to a settlement with the Palestinian people, Gaza will indeed turn into a platform for missiles -- as Binyamin Netanyahu is prophesying (which may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy). In the eyes of the Palestinians, and the entire world, the withdrawal from Gaza is -- first of all -- a result of the armed Palestinian resistance. If in the coming weeks we make no progress towards a negotiated agreement, a third intifada will surely break out, and the whole country will go up in flames.

We must immediately start serious negotiations, declaring in advance that within a specific time-span the occupation will end with the establishment of the State of Palestine. All the main elements of the settlement are already known: a solution for Jerusalem in line with the Clinton proposal ("What is Arab will belong to Palestine, what is Jewish will belong to Israel"), withdrawal to the Green Line with an agreed exchange of territories, a solution to the refugee problem in accord with Israel.

This day will go down in history as the day on which a great hope was born.

Not the beginning of the end in the struggle for peace, but certainly the end of the beginning.

A small step towards peace, a giant step for the State of Israel.

The Gaza Trip

Perhaps Abe Lincoln was right when he said that you can't fool all the people all the time -- but a lot of people can surely be fooled for a long, long time. Just look at Ariel Sharon.

From the start, the Gaza "Disengagement Plan" was an exercise in deceit. But the world is eager to be deceived. The world's statesmen take it seriously, it causes violent storms in Israel, the media have a ball. All this for a plan with neither hands nor feet.

So what is the purpose of all the mayhem? Cynics might say: the mayhem itself. It puts Sharon in center stage where he can continue to play the master of events. Now the commotion has reached a climax.

The main aim of the exercise is to satisfy George Bush. The president demanded a plan which will show him doing something for peace. The more he gets sucked into the Iraqi quagmire, the more he needs to prove that he is achieving something in Israel. Especially since his last baby -- the "Road Map" -- has died in its cradle.

Bush demanded that Sharon come up with a plan. No problem. Hocus pocus, here is a plan, with a fine promising name: "Disengagement." Speeches, meetings, a visit to the White House, exchanges of documents, state visits, emissaries, Mubarrak, Abdallah, disputes, compromises, and finally even a full-blown cabinet crisis. All this for a balloon full of hot air.

The plan claims to have three aims: to get the settlers out of Gaza, to turn the Strip over to Palestinian rule and to destroy the "terrorist infrastructure" there.

This week, Sharon himself defined the first aim in an unequivocal manner: "By the end of 2005, not a single Jew will remain in the Gaza Strip!"

A resolute, bold and strong-willed statement, as befits a great leader.

In fact, this statement has a faintly anti-Semitic ring. If the Palestinian government wants to invite peaceful Jews to live there, why shouldn't they? Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to say: "No settler will remain in the Gaza strip"? But never mind.

The key words in the statement are "by the end of 2005." They are reminiscent of the classic Jewish joke about the Polish nobleman who threatens his Jew with death if he does not teach his beloved horse to read and write. The Jew asks for three years to accomplish such an arduous task. When his wife hears of it she exclaims: "But you know you cannot teach that to a horse!" The Jew calms her: "Three years is a long time. By then, either the horse or the nobleman will have died."

In Israel, eighteen months are half an eternity. The situation changes by the week. Before the end of 2005, many things may happen: Bush may lose the election, catastrophe may overcome Iraq; in Israel, events may reach such bloody proportions as to obliterate any memory of the "plan."

Events this week made clear the central role that time plays in the "plan." Tzipi Livni, the Minister for Immigration Absorption, worked hard to engineer a compromise between Sharon and his opponents. She reinvented the egg of Columbus: The government will officially adopt the plan, but not the implementation of the plan. For some nine months, only "preparations" will be made. Not a single settlement will be evacuated. After that, the government will decide whether to evacuate any settlements at all, and, if so, which ones. (The opponents then demanded that the government continue to pour money into the very settlements which are supposed to be evacuated.)

The fact that everybody treated this proposal seriously speaks for itself. A plan that is supposed to be implemented next year may as well be postponed to next century.

But let us examine the plan on its merits, as if Sharon really intended to put it into practice. He evacuates the settlements and demolishes them, the army leaves the Gaza Strip, some kind of Palestinian administration takes over.

Will this bring peace? Will this stop the attacks?

No chance.

The basic principle held by all Palestinian factions is that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip constitute one integral territorial entity. This was stated explicitly in the Oslo Declaration and all the following agreements. Following this principle, Yasser Arafat has rejected all "Gaza First" proposals unless they include at least a significant part of the West Bank (Jericho, for example).

Sharon knows this, and therefore he added to his plan an appendage: a small area on the northern fringe of the West Bank will also be evacuated. Four small settlements are located there, and their inhabitants are very eager to leave (with generous compensation, of course). No Palestinian will take such an evacuation seriously.

There is not the slightest chance that the fighters from any of the Palestinian factions in the "liberated" Gaza Strip will look quietly on, while Sharon realizes his designs on the West Bank: the annexation of 55% of the West Bank to Israel ("settlement blocs," "essential security zones," or "areas of special interest to Israel," as the army planners put it), with the Palestinians corralled into small enclaves. This work is already going on rapidly with the building of the monstrous "separation wall."

The "liberated" Gaza Strip will inevitably become a base of the battle for the liberation of the West Bank. The Israeli army will react, as usual, with all its might, invading, killing, destroying and uprooting. If this does not do the job (as it hasn't thus far), Sharon may cut off the supply of electricity, water and food. Since the Strip will be isolated from the world, this is possible. But it will not succeed, because the world will be watching, and the Americans cannot afford this.

The military planners know this well, and have been inspired by a new possibility: Get the Egyptians involved.

Brilliant, or so it seems. The Egyptian regime lives on generous American handouts -- rewards for signing a peace agreement with Israel. Congress, eager to please the Sharon government, recently threatened to delay the payment of $200 million to Egypt. It is therefore vital for Hosni Mubarak to show the Americans that he is Sharon's ally.

But Mubarak knows that he's walking a tightrope. Egypt's 4000 year-old connection with the Gaza Strip is filled with ups and downs. Most recently, the Egyptians ruled the Strip after the 1948 war and do not like to be reminded of it. More than once, they tried to control the Palestinian cause, but each time it ended with their humiliation. President Gamal Abdel-Nasser created the PLO in order to thwart Yasser Arafat, but within a few years Arafat had taken it over. President Anwar al-Sadat tried to become the guardian of the Palestinians, only to be put to shame by former Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin.

If the Egyptians now try to take over Gaza and obstruct the Palestinians' fight for the liberation of the West Bank, they will be considered collaborators and be exposed to attacks that may well spill over into Egypt itself. Hamas has powerful allies there who won't step back from violence.

Mubarak will be very cautious about accepting responsibility in Gaza, especially if Arafat is not involved. He knows well the curse beloved by Arafat: "Go and drink from the sea of Gaza!"

Therefore, this whole plan is standing on its head. It has no basis in reality. All in all, it is a recipe for the continuation of the war in another form.

But no need to worry. Sharon is not really serious about it. He is sure that before the time comes for the evacuation of even a single settlement, either the horse will die or the Polish nobleman will forget all about it.

Uri Avnery is the founder of the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom.

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