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22 Jun, 2008

Call for Israeli Apology to Palestinians As a Prelude To Peace

Originally Published: 22 June 2008

Barely a few months after this column forecast that one day Jews would have to apologise to the Palestinians, a dissident Jewish peace activist has suggested that an Israeli President or Prime Minister do just that, and even drafted a “historic speech” that could be delivered on the occasion.

Writing in Media Monitors, former member of Knesset and head of the Gush Shalom peace movement, Uri Avnery, noted that apologising for past wrongs has become a part of modern political culture, as evidenced by yet another head of government, this time the Canadian Prime Minister, who apologised to Canada’s indigenous people, just a few weeks after the Australian Prime Minister did the same to the aboriginal “stolen generations”.

Mr Avnery’s comments reflect a rapidly-rising chorus of global moderate Jewish opinion which is recognising that “the emotional aspects of the (Middle East) conflict are no less – and perhaps even more – important than the political ones.”

He wrote, “A profound sense of injustice permeates the minds and actions of all Palestinians. Unconscious or half-conscious guilt feelings are troubling the souls of the Israelis, creating a deep conviction that Arabs will never make peace with us.”

He cited the Canadian Prime Minister’s apology to the indigenous peoples of his country “for the injustices done to them for generations by successive Canadian governments. This way, White Canada tries to make peace with the native nations, whose country their forefathers conquered and whose culture their rulers have tried to wipe out.”

Mr Avnery wrote that apologising “is never an easy thing to do.”

“Cynics might say: nothing to it. Just words. And words, after all, are a cheap commodity. But in fact, such acts have a profound significance. A human being – and even more so, a whole nation – always finds it hard to admit to iniquities performed and to atrocities committed. It means a rewriting of the historical narrative that forms the basis of their national cohesion.

“It necessitates a drastic change in the schoolbooks and in the national outlook. In general, governments are averse to this, because of the nationalistic demagogues and hate-mongers who infest every country.

Mr Avnery added, “The President of France has apologised on behalf of his people for the misdeeds of the Vichy regime, which turned Jews over to the Nazi exterminators. The Czech government has apologised to the Germans for the mass expulsion of the German population at the end of World War II.

“Germany, of course, has apologised to the Jews for the unspeakable crimes of the Holocaust. Quite recently, the government of Australia has apologised to the Aborigines. And even in Israel, a feeble effort was made to heal a grievous domestic wound, when Ehud Barak apologised to the Oriental Jews for the discrimination they have suffered for many years.”

But, he said, Israelis “face a much more difficult and complex problem. It concerns the roots of our national existence in this country. I believe that peace between us and the Palestinian people – a real peace, based on real conciliation – starts with an apology.”

He then went on to draft a “historic speech” that the President of the State or the Prime Minister would deliver in a special extraordinary session of the Knesset.

Such a speech would address “On behalf of the State of Israel and all its citizens” all “the sons and daughters of the Palestinian people, wherever they are” and say: “We recognise the fact that we have committed against you a historic injustice, and we humbly ask your forgiveness.”

It would recognise that most of the founding fathers of the Zionist movement had never been to Palestine before the first Zionist Congress in 1897, that their primary intention was to save the Jews of Europe, and that this basic aim “attached itself to the profound devotion of the Jews, throughout the generations, to the country in which the Bible, the defining text of our people, was written, and to the city of Jerusalem, towards which the Jews have turned for thousands of years in their prayers.

“All this does not justify what happened afterwards. The creation of the Jewish national home in this country has involved a profound injustice to you, the (Palestinian) people who lived here for generations.”

“We cannot ignore anymore the fact that for 60 years of conflict and war, you have been prevented from realising your natural right to independence in your own free national state, a right confirmed by the United Nations General Assembly resolution of November 29, 1947, which also formed the legal basis for the establishment of the State of Israel.

“For all this, we owe you an apology, and I express it hereby with all my heart.”

The speech would note that the wheel of history cannot be turned back, just as neither Canada nor the United States can go back 200 years. Instead it would propose building “our common future on the joint desire to move forwards, to heal what can be healed and repair what can be repaired without inflicting new wounds, committing new injustices and causing more human tragedies.”

It would urge both sides to “work together for a just, viable and practical solution of our century-old conflict – a solution that may not fulfill all justified aspirations nor right all wrongs, but which will allow both our peoples to live their lives in freedom, peace and prosperity.”

“Committed to peace and vowing to create a better future for our children and grandchildren, let us rise to our feet and bow our heads in memory of the countless victims of our conflict, Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians – a conflict that has lasted far too long.”

Mr Avnery said, “Such a speech is, to my mind, absolutely essential for opening a new chapter in the history of this country.

“I do not know when such a speech will be possible. Many imponderable factors will have an impact on that. But I do know that without it, mere peace agreements, reached between haggling diplomats, will not suffice. As the Oslo agreements have shown, building an artificial island in a sea of stormy emotions just will not do.”

Read Mr Avnery’s commentary in full: http://world.mediamonitors.net/content/view/full/52287