Uri Avnery's Column 

A Four-Letter Word

MANY IMPORTANT struggles in Israel are calling out to people of conscience. Among others (in random order):

The struggle for preserving the environment and the future of the planet.

The struggle for democracy against fascist trends.

The struggle for human rights and civil rights.

The feminist struggle.

The struggle for the rights of gays and lesbians.

The struggle for social justice and social solidarity.

The struggle for equal rights for Israel’s Arab citizens.

The struggle against the discrimination of Oriental Jews.

The struggle for the separation of religion and state.

The struggle for animal rights.

Etc. etc. etc.

What do all these causes have in common?

All of them belong to the liberal, “progressive” world view.

Each and every one of them deserves full-hearted devotion, especially of young people.

But after all, all of them serve today as substitutes for the main battle – the struggle for peace with the Palestinian people.

THERE IS a danger that all these struggles will become something like “cities of refuge” for young idealists, who desire to devote themselves to a noble cause, but have no desire to take part in the main struggle.

Since every one of these struggles is indeed important and is for a good cause, no one can argue with these activists. Scores of organizations are now active in these fields, and thousands of wonderful people – male and female, old and young - are devoting themselves to these causes. I, too, would willingly join every one of them, were it not - - -

Were it not for the fact that all of them – all together and each of them separately – are now draining the life out of the struggle for peace. As I see it, peace stands above all other aims, not least because the success of all other struggles depends on the outcome of this fight.

The unending war creates a reality of occupation and oppression, of death and destruction, brutality and cruelty, moral degeneration and general bestiality. Can any ideal be realized in this situation? Can feminism, for example, achieve its aims in a country that is in the throes of an unbridled chauvinist militarism? Can animals be saved from torture when the torture of human beings is routine? Can rivers and forests, birds and leopards be saved when residential quarters are bombed and shelled with white phosphorus?

THE MAIN question is, of course, why people of conscience are running away from the vision of peace.

This is a fact: peace has become a four-letter word. (In Hebrew, the word for peace, shalom, indeed consists of four letters.) A decent person does not want to be seen in its company. It should not be uttered in polite society.

People do verbal exercises, almost acrobatics, to explore the range of circumlocutions for the word. Politicians speak about “the end of the conflict”, “permanent status”, “political settlement”, just to avoid the taboo term.


First of all, the word “peace” has been exploited so many times that it has almost become meaningless. It has been misused so often that it has been worn out. To paraphrase the classic sentence of the British philosopher, Dr. Samuel Johnson: “Peace is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. Or, to repeat the slogan of the evil empire in George Orwell’s 1984: “War is Peace”.

The hope for peace has been raised and dashed to pieces so many times that the hope itself now arouses suspicion and fear. What has happened to the greatest hope of all, the Oslo agreement and the historic handshake of 1993? What has happened to the triumphal journey of Ehud Barak to Camp David in 2000? One cannot demand from ordinary people that they find out what really happened there, and who is to blame. They see only the plain facts: we hoped for peace, we got war.

Things have come to the point where even peace movements are afraid to mention the word in their political statements. They, too, look for synonyms.

It is now generally accepted that one should not approach young people with talk about peace. God forbid. They are convinced that war is a permanent condition, that peace is an illusion, nothing but an empty phrase of old. They believe that they are condemned, they and their children and their children’s children (if they remain here), to go to war again and again, till the end of time. They do not want to waste their energies on this peace nonsense. Better to save the last leopards in the Judean desert or the eagles on the Golan Heights than to search for the doves of peace, which they have never seen.

Leftists are proud that the solution of “Two States for Two peoples”, once the vision of a handful of crazies, has now become a worldwide consensus. A huge victory, indeed. But it is trumped by the success of the right in turning “We Have No Partner For Peace” into a national credo.

In modern language: peace is Out, all the rest is In.

THIS WEEK the journalist Gideon Levy remarked on a TV talk show that in the present Knesset there is no longer a single Jewish member for whom peace is the No. 1 objective.

Some people mention in this context the new member of the Meretz faction, Nitzan Horowitz. For years he served as a TV foreign affairs commentator and infected the viewers with his enthusiasm for every struggle for peace and freedom throughout the world. His emotional style and his tendency to identify with the underdog have earned him the love of the audience.

But since entering parliament, his flame seems to have gone out. Now he is conducting a noisy fight against the price war among the book stores. So what about peace? What about the occupation? Silence, please.

That is true for his entire Meretz faction, which, in its heyday, served as the vanguard of the Zionist peace camp in the Knesset. Since then, things have changed for the worse. In order to regain some of their strength, they ignore the matter of peace as far as humanly possible. When there is no way out, they mention it perfunctorily, like a Jew kissing the Mezuzah or a Christian crossing himself – and hurry on.

It’s an interesting story. When Shulamit Aloni founded the party in 1973, on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, she was known mainly as a civil rights activist. She was especially engaged in the struggle for women’s rights and against religious coercion. Peace was a secondary aim on her agenda. But as the leader of Meretz, she gradually became convinced that none of her aims could be realized in an atmosphere of war, and peace became central to her views. When the party grew, it became the leading Zionist peace faction.

In recent years, the process has gone backwards, like a video film in reverse. Peace was pushed from the center of the Meretz agenda and has almost disappeared. Meretz has become again a party for civil rights, while going down from 12 Knesset seats to a mere three.

THE ISRAELI right, which is financed by right-wing American billionaires, both Jews and Christian evangelicals, this week launched an all-out attack against the liberal New Israel Fund, which donates generously to all the struggles mentioned above.

Honest disclosure: Gush Shalom has never received a cent from it. The fund has avoided peace movements like the plague. But that has not saved it. The rightists persecute it. Even if one deals “only” with human rights, one cannot escape this lot. The city of refuge offers no safety.

THE CAUSE of peace will inevitably return to center stage because it will decide our destiny – as individuals and as a state. There is no escape.

Of course, none of the struggles for the other causes should be given up, even though the fight for ending the occupation and achieving peace must head all others.

I am looking forward to the day when the organizations engaged in all these struggles will unite their wonderful activists, their enthusiasm, talents and courage, and especially their ability to devote themselves to an idea - into one single force fighting for the Other Israel, whose spearhead is the fight for peace. In one great, united movement, the various causes will complement and feed each other.

Together they will conduct the decisive campaign: the struggle for the Second Israeli Republic.