IMEMC Interview with Uri Avnery, founder of the Israeli Peace Bloc Gush Shalom, and former Israeli Parliament member, on August 10th.
Interview transcribed by Tania Tabar

Audio: Download MP3

Q: Could you speak on the response of the Israeli left peace movement to the ongoing invasion in Lebanon and the war between Lebanon and Israel? I understand there have been some protests.

A: The active Israeli peace movement, which has been demonstrating against this war from the first moment and led by Gush Shalom, is against the draft proposed by the United States and France because it will not lead to a cease fire. It is a diplomatic exercise designed to avoid or prevent the ceasefire because the conditions put are unacceptable to Hezbollah, and I would say, to the Lebanese in general. Therefore, it is just pretending to call for a ceasefire while in reality allowing the government of Israel to continue with the war. On the other hand, the proposal by the Lebanese government seems to be the right way to stop the fighting. And we are for it, of course.

Q: Now do you think that the Israeli government will move towards accepting the terms set forth by the Lebanese government?   

A: Well it depends on President Bush, doesn’t it? It is President Bush who decides what the Israeli government will accept and will not accept. If President Bush says please accept it, that is it. If President Bush says don’t accept it, go on fighting, that will go too. I think that is what Bush is telling us at this moment. President Bush is very much disappointed with this war. He started this war. He called on the Israeli government to attack, he sustained us throughout the war, and he is sending us bombs so we can continue the bombardment of Lebanon. I wonder what he is thinking exactly, if you can call it thinking. He is, of course, under strong pressure from America’s allied Arab governments to stop the fighting before Lebanon breaks up all together. On the other hand, he would like Israel to go on fighting perhaps with the idea that Syria would get involved with this war. But it is very difficult to divine what he really has in mind.

Q: Now Condoleeza Rice has talked about the birthing pangs of the new Middle East. Some in the U.S. administration have also talked in these terms that the war in Iraq and this current war between Israel and Lebanon would lead somehow to a new Middle East. Are you aware of that? And what’s your opinion?

A: Well it is leading to a new Middle East, but to a new Middle East that will be much worst for the United States and for Israel. What President Bush is doing is turning Hezbollah  into the national hero of hundreds of millions of Arabs and more than a billion Muslims, who now all admire Nasrallah, as the greatest Arab hero since I don’t know who. He has created an alliance between Shiites and Sunnis. Because of course in this access of supporting Hezbollah, Syria, which is a Sunni country, is an integral part. He also has created an alliance between the Shiite Hezbollah and the Sunni Hamas, the Palestinian (Muslims) are all Sunnis. He has created in the meantime a Shiite Iraq.  Iraq is now governed by Shiites, which are closely allied with Iran and which now openly support Hezbollah. By the way, the only thing in which Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq are united is in their support for Hezbollah. So if this is the new Middle East that Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert had in mind, it doesn’t seem to be a very beautiful picture.

Q: Could you speak briefly on the move of Amir Peretz, from a person who was a supporter of peace, now being a war minister, and who is very much pushing for the expansion of this war?

A: Well Mr. Peretz, who went to the last elections only four months ago as a great social reformer, as a man who would take the money away from the army and give it to education and welfare, has turned into a monster. He is now the biggest warmonger in Israel, worse than the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. He has become the spokesman of the army and I think he is in a way pathetic and ridiculous. He speaks about giving orders to the army to do this and that, he sounds plain ridiculous. Who is he to give orders to anyone, he is like a fly standing on the ear of an oxen and whispering orders.

Q: Could you expand on that?

A: He is completely unimportant. He is a civilian, he has never been in the army at all, except on a little job.  He has never been a fighting soldier, he hasn’t any idea of what war is about. The only thing he can do, when his chief of staff and his generals tell him to do this or that, is to stand at attention and fulfill it. He is not a man who plays any real role in this war.

Q: Are you aware of a group of Jewish Moroccan lawyers who are presenting a case against Amir Peretz in Moroccan court as a war criminal?

A: Yes, I have read this but of course this is not serious. It’s a kind of protest. I know the people by the way, they are very good people. One of them has been in Moroccan prisons for many years because he is a left wing opposition person.

Q: I understand also that a group of Lebanese Jews has spoken out against the war. Are you aware of that?

A: Yes I have heard about this too. But of course they live in Lebanon and they experience this terrible onslaught. They are Lebanese, and I do understand them.  

Q: What about the Israeli public? Has the Israeli public been mainly supportive of this war?

A: There has been an overwhelming national consensus in favor of the war at the beginning. It still is but now you hear a lot of criticism. Not against the war as such but against the lack of planning which allowed for a situation where hundreds of thousands of Israelis are now living in shelters for weeks. It’s a terrible situation. In many places in the north of Israel people can’t leave their shelters. They are vegetating there and they are demanding to be evacuated. And this is the poor part of the population because the rich and well to do have left the north long ago.  This has brought suffering on the Israelis too. And there is mass criticism of the government for not providing for this. About the war itself, I think people are thinking about it again. I think our message is being absorbed by many thinking people. But of course when you are being bombarded by rockets, 150 rockets per day, it’s not a good atmosphere for logical thinking.

Q: And what about the so-called Arab-Israelis? Has there been a different stance that they have taken? And are they being affected more by rocket fire than in other places?

A: In the north of Israel, in the area of Israel which is under rocket fire, about 50% of the population is Arab. So it’s logical that 50% of the rockets are hitting Arabs. They are in an especially terrible situation because in their hearts they support the Lebanese side that it should not have been started at the beginning. At the same time they are becoming victims of the rocket war. Yes, this is a very difficult situation for them.

Q: I know the mayor of Nazareth pointed out that the security bulletins are only issued in Hebrew and not in Arabic.

A: I hope that by now this has been repaired. Actually Jewish-Israelis could not imagine that Hezbollah would bombard indiscriminately Arab towns and villages too. And therefore I don’t think that any preparations have been made. Nor did the Arab population itself make any preparation. They have been killed in such numbers because they do not really react as the Jewish people. The Jewish people went to the shelters from the first moment, for the Arabs it took some time to realize that they are also in deadly danger.

Q: And some, at least in Nazareth that I have talked to, have said that there are weapons facilities near Nazareth that may be what the Hezbollah rockets are attempting to target when they hit Nazareth.

A: I don’t think that Hezbollah knows exactly what it is shooting at. These rockets are very imprecise weapons. you cannot really pinpoint your target. You send them in the direction of towns and villages. I don’t think that they have any intention of hitting Nazareth, or any intention of hitting in a mixed town like Haifa to hit an Arab neighborhood. They are not able to pinpoint their target in such a precise way.

Q: The last time I talked to you, after the seizure of [Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit [on June 25th] in Gaza you spoke about how you believed things were going to get a lot worse. Unfortunately you seem to have been proven right. What do you think is going to happen now in the future?  

I think in the north some kind of cease-fire will be achieved, I very much hope so. This war is going on and on. I mean no one believed that Hezbollah could hold up for more than four weeks, it’s incredible in a way. And I don’t think that the Americans can afford this war to go on because the terrible pictures coming out of Lebanon are inciting the Arab masses against the United States. So I think that sooner or later the Americans will bring together a ceasefire agreement for what its worth because without a clear political settlement including Syria and including Hezbollah there will be no real end to this war.

In the South the situation is much worse because no one pays any attention anymore to what is happening in Gaza. And what’s happening in Gaza is as bad and maybe worst than what’s happening in Lebanon. The Israeli army is operating there at will and there is no military resistance, as there is in Lebanon. There is no international outcry or international interest at all in what is happening there. And therefore things there are getting from bad to worse.

Q: You had previously made an analogy on the fifteenth day of the war saying that when a heavyweight boxer goes against a featherweight and the featherweight is still standing in the fifteenth round, it’s a victory of sorts. Is that what you’re meaning when you say that Hezbollah is still around, still fighting in the fourth week.

Well it’s incredible isn’t it? A little small guerrilla organization which the Israeli army calls a terrorist organization, is about 1200 fighters all together, are standing up to this mighty Israeli army, the fifth strongest army in the world, and there is no sign of them breaking.  This by itself is an incredible victory.