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Something Is Moving
Uri Avnery, Israel
February 16, 2002
I once saw in a Western a Red Indian (or should I say a Native American?) putting his ear to the ground and hearing a train tens of miles away. In the course of the years I have tried to imitate that Indian. I try to hear changes in the public mood long before they appear on the surface. Not to prophesy, not to guess, just to hear. Now I perceive the approach of a great wave of opposition to the bloody war against the Palestinians (nicknamed "Peace of the Settlements, following the name given to the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, "Peace of Galilee"). The revolt of the soldiers who refuse to serve in the occupied Palestinian territories is an important symptom, one of many.
We have seen in the past several such public upheavals, that start with opaque noises and grow quickly into a public uproar. Such a wave rose during the Lavon affair in the fifties and led to the dismissal of Ben-Gurion. Such a wave carried Moshe Dayan into the Defense Ministry on the eve of the 1967 Six-Day War (led by the women nicknamed "the Merry Women of Windsor"), and the next one, which swept him and Golda Meir away after the Yom Kippur war. Such a wave got the IDF out of Beirut, and later out of South Lebanon (led by the "Four Mothers" movement.)
The mechanism can be compared to a transmission of spiked wheels. A small wheel with a strong, independent drive turns a bigger wheel, which in turn moves an even bigger wheel, and so on, until all the establishment changes course. This is how it happens in Israel,this is how it happens in all democracies
It always starts with a small group of committed people. They raise their feeble voice. The media ignore them, the politicians laugh at them ("a tiny, marginal and vociferous group"), the respectable parties and the established old organizations crinkle their noses and distance themselves from their "radical
But slowly they start to have an impact. People leave the respectable (meaning linked to the establishment) organizations and join the militant groups. This compels the leaders of the mainstream organizations to radicalize their slogans and to join the wave. The message spreads throughout the parties. Politicians who want to be reelected adopt the new slogans. "Important" journalists, serving as weathercocks, smell the change and adapt themselves in time to the new winds.
The famous anthropologist Margaret Mead said about this: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." And the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, said: "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident." Now it happens again. It is difficult to fix the exact moment when it started. Perhaps after the demolition of some 50 homes in the Rafah refugee camp. Or at
the mass-meeting called by Gush Shalom in Tel-Aviv, when Colonel Yig'al Shochat, who had lost a leg in the Yom Kippur war, called upon his comrades, the airforce pilots, to refuse to carry out orders that are manifestly illegal, such as bombing Palestinian towns, and when the philosopher Adi Ophir proposed to open files on IDF officers who commit war crimes. Suddenly the public woke up to the possibility that war crimes are being committed in its name. The mental block was broken, a public debate about war crimes, and consequently about the occupation itself, began.
The announcement by 50 reserve officers and soldiers that they refuse to serve in the occupied territories broke a dam. The number of refuseniks grew quickly, the phenomenon shook the military-political establishment. For the first time, the
leaders of the establishment saw in their nightmares the possibility of a big uprising of soldiers who say: This is where we get off, we will not go on. When public opinion polls showed that nearly a third of the Israeli Jewish public supports the refuseniks, the panic grew. At the same time, hundreds of Israelis visited the besieged Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.
Then came the big, joint demonstration of the militant peace movements ("The Occupation Kills All Of Us!") in Tel-Aviv's Museum Square. Organizations that had got used during the last 16 months to demonstrations of a hundred, two hundred people saw before them ten thousand enthusiastic demonstrators, who
have left despair behind them and were demanding action.
This demonstration had, of course, an impact on the "established left", which is now compelled to confront the new mood of their own public. This is the beginning of a process. Nobody can know yet how powerful it will become and how far it will go. But one thing is certain: something is happening.
Uri Avnery is a journalist, writer, and peace activist.
Published in Ma'ariv (Hebrew version), February 17, 2002.