Israeli Right murder attempt on Professor Sternhell

Zeev Sternhell

Translated from Dutch NOS TV radio:

In Israel, a prominent scholar, who often speaks out against the settlers’ movement, has been wounded by a bomb attack. According to the police, the perpetrators are from extreme Rightist tendencies in Israël.

Professor [Ze’ev] Sternhell was lightly wounded by the attack. He had just returned from abroad and had been threatened repeatedly. This year, he had been awarded the most important prize of Israel, the Israël Prize.

The leftist Meretz party and the Peace Now movement have condemned the attack. They say that Rightist fanatics are threatening democracy in Israël.

From Israeli daily Haaretz:

Jerusalem police on Thursday say they have found fliers offering a monetary reward of over NIS 1 million to anyone who kills members of Peace Now.

Livni’s election and the ongoing shift to the right in Israeli politics: here.

6 thoughts on “Israeli Right murder attempt on Professor Sternhell

  1. Dear Homeyra,

    thank you so much for this award. It is very kind of you. All best wishes for your blog.

    I will now pass on the Brillante weblog award to at least seven other people. Not today probably, as I want to think first about exactly which people; and it will have to be blogs which allow comments. But I will.


  2. Uri Avnery
    It Can Happen Here

    THE GERMAN name Sternhell means bright as the stars. The name fits: the positions of Professor Ze’ev Sternhell indeed stand out sharply against the darkness of the sky. He warns against Israeli fascism. This week, Israeli fascists laid a pipe-bomb at the entrance of his apartment and he was lightly injured.

    The choice of victim seems surprising at first. But the perpetrators knew what they were doing.

    They did not attack the activists who demonstrate every week against the Separation Wall in Bil’in and Na’alin. They did not attack the leftists who mobilize every year – this year, too – to help the Palestinians pick their olives near the most dangerous settlements. They did not attack the “Women in Black” who demonstrate every Friday, or the women of “Machsom Watch”, who keep an eye on events at the army checkpoints. They attacked a person whose entire activity is in the academic field.

    The struggles on the ground are essential. But their main purpose is to influence public opinion. That is the main battlefield, and there the man of letters has an important part to play.

    On this battlefield, two visions confront each other, two visions that are as far apart as the West is from the East. On the one side: An enlightened Israel, modern, secular, liberal and democratic, living in peace and partnership with Palestine as an integral part of the region. On the other side: a fanatical Israel, religious, fascist, cut off from the region and civilized humanity, a people that “dwells alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations” (Numbers, 23:9), where “the sword will devour for ever” (2 Samuel 2:26).

    Ze’ev Sternhell is one of the outstanding guides of the enlightened vision. His positions are bright as the stars, resolute and incisive. Not a surprising target for the Neo-Nazi pipe-dreamers and pipe-bombers.

    THE FIELD of Sternhell’s academic expertise is the origins of Fascism, a subject that has occupied me all my life. The reasons for our interest are similar: Nazism left an indelible stamp on our childhood and fate. As a child, I witnessed the rise of Nazism in Germany. As a child, Sternhell saw it in Poland, when, after the death of his father, he lost his mother and sister in the Holocaust.

    “He who has been scalded by boiling water is cautious even with cold water,” a Hebrew adage goes. Those who experienced Fascism bursting into their lives in childhood are sensitive to the slightest symptom of the outbreak of this disease. In 1961 I wrote a book called “The Swastika” (which exists only in Hebrew), in which I tried to crack the code of the roots of Nazism. At the end of the book I posed the question: Can it happen here? My unequivocal answer was: Yes, indeed.

    Because of this, I am sensitive to every warning sign in our society. As a journalist and magazine editor, I shone the searchlight on all such signs. As a political activist, I fought against them in the Knesset and in the street.

    Sternhell, on his part, after a military career, is a pure academic. He uses the instruments of academia: research, teaching and publication. He strives for exact definitions, without seeking popularity or avoiding provocation. In one of his articles years ago he asserted that the violent response of the Palestinians to the settlements is quite natural. By this he attracted the lasting wrath of the settlers and the extreme Right, which made an effort to prevent him from receiving the Israel Prize, Israel’s highest distinction.

    Now the pipe-bombs are speaking.

    WHO LAID the bomb? A lone individual? A group? A new underground? The terrorists from the settlements? That’s for the police and the Shin-Bet to find out.

    From the public point of view, the matter is much more simple: it is quite clear in which flowerbed these poisonous weeds grow, which ideology serves as fertilizer, and who is spreading it.

    Israeli Fascism is alive and kicking. It is growing in the flowerbed that produced the various religious-nationalist underground groups of the past: the group that tried to bomb the Muslim shrines on the Temple Mount, the underground that tried to assassinate the Palestinian mayors, the “Kach” gang, the perpetrator of the Hebron massacre Baruch Goldstein, the murderer of peace activist Emil Gruenzweig, the murderer of Yitzhak Rabin and all the underground groups that were uncovered at an early stage before their deeds could bring them to public notice.

    These acts cannot simply be attributed to individuals or “rogue groups”. There exists a definite fascist fringe at the margin of Israel’s political society. Its ideology is religious-nationalist, and its spiritual leaders are mostly “Rabbis”, who formulate its world view and the practical application. These Jewish idolaters do not work in secret. On the contrary, they offer their wares on the open market.

    This sector is concentrated in the “ideological” settlements. That does not mean that all settlers are fascists. But most fascists are settlers. They are concentrated in certain well-known settlements. By accident or not by accident, all these settlements are located in the heart of the West Bank, beyond the Separation Wall. The first of these, in the Hebron area, were installed with the help of “leftist” leader Yigal Allon, and in the Nablus area by “leftist” leader Shimon Peres.

    DURING THE last months, there has been a marked increase in the number of incidents in which settlers attack Palestinians, soldiers, policemen and “leftists”.

    These acts are committed openly, in order to terrorize and deter. Settlers riot in the Palestinian villages whose lands they covet, or for revenge. These are “pogroms” in the classical sense of the term: riots by an armed mob intoxicated with hatred against helpless people, while the police and the army look on. The Pogromchiks destroy, injure and kill. These days it is happening more and more frequently.

    In the few cases when the army or the police intervene, they do not turn on the settlers, but on the Israeli peace activists who come to help the beleaguered Palestinian farmers. The spokesmen of the Security Establishment and the commentators try to sound balanced and speak about “rioters from the Left and the Right”. That is a false even handedness, which itself belongs to the Fascist arsenal of tricks.

    The Settlers’ pogroms are violent by nature, both in thought and deed, while the peace activists are non-violent on principle. If there is violence, it comes from the army and the border police, the pretext being that local boys have been throwing stones. What is not mentioned is that the well-protected soldiers and border policemen pursue the Palestinian demonstrators into the alleys of their villages.

    The “boldness” of the extreme right-wing thugs – or “rightist activists” as the media insist on calling them courteously – is increasing by the day. They do whatever they want, knowing full well that no harm will befall them. The police do not interfere, since anyhow the courts will not mete out meaningful punishment.

    ANYBODY WHO knows the history of Nazism is familiar with the shameful role played by the courts and the other law-enforcement agencies in the German republic vis-à-vis the law-breakers whose declared purpose was to put an end to the democratic system. The judges imposed ludicrously light penalties on Nazi rioters, whom they considered “misguided patriots”, while treating Communist rioters as foreign agents and traitors.

    Now we are experiencing this phenomenon here. The law-breaking settlers get symbolic sentences, while Palestinians who are accused of much lesser offenses get harsh penalties. Nowadays, even a settler who sets his dog on a company commander goes free, as does a settler who breaks the bones of a battalion chief.

    The army’s internal justice system can only be called monstrous: the commander who held up a bleeding woman in labor at a checkpoint causing the death of the child, was punished with two weeks detention. The commander who told a soldier to shoot a handcuffed Palestinian prisoner in the leg was “transferred”, meaning that this war criminal can serve in another unit.

    DOES THE increase in the number and severity of such incidents testify to the increasing power of Israeli Fascism? At first sight, one might get this impression.

    However, on second thought I think that the opposite is true.

    The fanatical settlers know that they have lost the support of public opinion in Israel, and that ordinary people consider them dangerous thugs. Their actions, as seen on television, arouse distaste, even abhorrence. The vision of “All of Eretz-Israel” has not only lost altitude – it has crashed on the ground of reality. The Zealots are acting out of weakness and frustration.

    Much as the Nazis hated the German republic, these fanatics are starting to hate the State of Israel. And with good reason. They see that they have no place in a national consensus that is solidifying around the concept of “Two States for Two peoples”, whether it is being accepted for negative reasons, such as demographic fears or the burdens of occupation, or for positive reasons, such as the hope for peace and prosperity after the withdrawal from the occupied territories.

    The discussion about the borders is still going on, but the majority sees the Separation Wall as the future border. (As we made clear right from the beginning, the wall was not really being constructed in order to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers, as was claimed, but as a future border between the two states.)

    The Israeli establishment wants to annex the lands between the wall and the Green Line, and is prepared to give the Palestinians Israeli areas in return. What does this tell the settlers?

    Most settlers live in settlements near the Green Line, which according to this concept will be joined to Israel. These are, not by accident, the non-ideological “lifestyle” settlers, those who were looking for cheap apartments and “quality of life” at a short distance from Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem. These settlers will, probably, agree in the end to any peace that leaves them in Israel.

    The great majority of the extreme settlers, those motivated by a religious-Fascist ideology, live in the small settlements east of the wall, which must be dismantled when peace comes. This is a small minority even among the settlers, supported by a radical minority on the extreme right. That is where violent Israeli Fascism is growing.

    ONCE UPON a time it seemed that a Red Line ran parallel to the Green Line – that nationalist-religious terrorism would hurt “only” Palestinians, not Israelis. Even Rabbi Meir Kahane, a born fascist, said so.

    That illusion was shattered with the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. Israeli Fascism was found to be like any other classical Fascism, which thunders against the “foreign enemy” but directs its terrorism against the “enemy within”. The pipe-bomb at the entrance of Sternhell’s home must turn on all the red lights, as it joins the murder of Emil Gruenzweig and the threats on the lives of other conspicuous peace activists.

    The decisive battle, the battle for Israel, is entering a new phase – much more violent, much more dangerous. But more serious than any danger to individuals is the danger to Israeli society as a whole. Especially if it does not mobilize all its resources – government, police, Security Service, the law, the courts, the media and the educational system – for an all out battle against this danger.

    I do not believe that Fascism will win in our society. I believe in the strength of Israel democracy. But if I am pushed into a corner and asked: “Can it happen here?” I am bound to answer: “Yes, it can.”



  3. Why Israeli settlers are lashing out
    Ilene R. Prusher – The Christian Science Monitor – “Occupation is rotting our society,” said Prof. Sternhell, wounded by an extreme- right explosiuve charge laid at the entrance to his home in Jerusalem. “The terrible violence in the territories is spilling over the Green Line. This is inevitable – different standards and laws for different people cannot exist without affecting all of society. I`m not seeking absolute justice, only an end to building a de facto apartheid, only to ensure the creation of a society that future generations will not be ashamed of.”


  4. Uri Avnery

    Is Akko Burning?

    THROUGHOUT ITS thousands of years of history, Akko has never been an Israelite town.

    Even according to the mythological story of the Bible, the Israelites did not conquer the city, which was already an ancient port. The first chapter of the Book of Judges, which contradicts much of the description given in the Book of Joshua, states unequivocally: “Neither did [the tribe of] Asher drive out the inhabitants of Akko. (Judges 1:31)

    Only a few of the world’s cities can boast such a stormy and checkered history as Akko (Akka in Arabic, Acre in French and English), the main port of the country. It was a Canaanite-Phoenician town, traded with Egypt, rebelled against Assyria, confronted the Jewish Hasmoneans, was conquered by the Crusaders, served as a battle-ground for the legendary Saladin and the no less legendary Richard the Lion-Hearted, was the capital of the semi-independent Arab state of the Galilee under Daher al-Omar and withstood the siege of Napoleon. All these periods have left their traces in Akko, in the form of buildings and walls. A fascinating town, perhaps the most beautiful – and surely the most interesting – after Jerusalem.

    During some of these periods, there existed in Akko a small Jewish community, but it never was a Jewish town. On the contrary: among the Rabbis there was an ongoing discussion whether Akko, from the point of view of religious law (Halacha), belonged to Eretz Israel at all. This was important, because certain commandments apply only to the Land of Israel. Some rabbis believed that Akko did not belong, while others asserted that at least a part of the town did. (That did not prevent us in our youth from singing “Akko, too, belongs to Eretz Israel” – meaning the old Crusaders’ fortress on the sea-shore, where the British held prisoners from the Jewish underground organizations.)

    In the 1948 war, Akko was occupied by the Israeli forces, and since then it has lived under Israeli rule: 60 years out of a history of 5000 years and more.

    This is the background of last week’s events in Akko. The Arab inhabitants consider Akko as the town of their forefathers, which was forcibly occupied by the Jews. The Jewish inhabitants consider it a Jewish town, in which the Arabs are a tolerated minority – at most.

    For years the town was covered by a thin blanket of hypocrisy. Everybody praised and celebrated the wonderful co-existence there. Until the blanket was torn, and the naked truth was exposed.

    I AM a very secular person. I have always advocated a complete separation between state and religion, even in the days when that sounded like a crazy idea. But it has never entered my mind to drive on Yom Kippur. There is no law forbidding it, no law is necessary.

    For a traditional Jew, Yom Kippur is a day like no other. Even if one does not really believe that on this day God makes the final decision about the life or death of every human being for the next year and writes it all down in a large book, one senses that one has to respect the feelings of those who do believe. I would not drive on Yom Kippur in a Jewish neighborhood, just as I would not eat in public during Ramadan in an Arab neighborhood.

    It is difficult to know what the Arab driver Tawfiq Jamal was thinking of when he entered a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in his car on Yom Kippur. It is reasonable to assume that he did not do it out of malice, as a provocation, but rather out of stupidity or carelessness.

    The reaction was predictable. An angry Jewish crowd chased him into an Arab house and besieged him there. In a distant Arab neighborhood the loudspeakers of the mosques blared out that Arabs had been killed and that an Arab was in mortal danger. Excited Arab youngsters tried to reach the house of the besieged Arab family but were blocked by the police. They gave vent to their feelings by wrecking Jewish shops and cars. Jewish youths, reinforced by members of the extreme right, burned down the homes of Arab inhabitants, who became refugees in their own town. In a few minutes, 60 years of “co-existence” were wiped out – proof that in the “mixed” town there is no real co-existence, only two communities who hate each other’s guts.

    IT IS easy to understand this hatred. As in other “mixed” towns, indeed as in the whole of Israel, the Arab public is discriminated against by the state and municipal authorities. Smaller budgets, inferior education facilities, poorer housing, crowded neighborhoods.

    The Arab citizens are the victims of a vicious circle. They live in crowded towns and neighborhoods that have turned into neglected ghettos. When the standard of living of the inhabitants rises, there is a desperate demand for a better environment and better housing. Young couples leave the neglected and underfunded Arab neighborhoods and move into Jewish areas, something that immediately arouses opposition and resentment. The same has happened to Afro-Americans in the USA, and before them to the Jews there and elsewhere.

    All the talk about equality, good neighborliness and co-existence goes up in smoke when Arab families live in a hostile Jewish environment. Reasons are always to be found, and the incursion of Tawfiq Jamal was only an especially grievous example.

    Such a situation can be found in many places on earth. Religious, nationalistic, ethnic or community sensitivities can explode at any time. It took a hundred years after the emancipation of the slaves in the US until the civil rights laws were enacted, and during those years there were regular lynchings. Another 40 years passed before a black candidate could come near the White House. The police in London is notorious for its racism, citizens of Turkish origin are discriminated against in Berlin, an African can play football for the French national team but has no chance of becoming president.

    In these respects, Akko is no different from the rest of the world.

    JEAN-PAUL SARTRE said that each of us contains a little racist. The only difference is between those who recognize and try to overcome him and those who give in to him.

    As chance would have it, I spent Yom Kippur, while the riots were shaking Akko, reading the fascinating book by William Polk, “Neighbors and Strangers”, which deals with the origins of racism. Like other animals, ancient man lived from hunting and gathering. He roamed around with his extended family, a group of no more than fifty people, in an area that was barely sufficient for their subsistence. Every stranger who entered his territory was a mortal threat, while he tried to invade his neighbor’s territory in order to increase his chances of survival. In other words: the fear of the stranger and the urge to drive him out are deeply embedded in our biological heritage and have been for millions of years.

    Racism can be overcome, or at least reined in, but that needs conscious, systematic and consistent treatment. In Akko – as in other places in the country – there has been no such treatment.

    In this country the racism is, of course, connected with the national conflict which has been going on already for five generations. The Akko events are just another episode in the war between the two peoples of this country.

    The Jewish extreme right, including the hard core of the settlers, does not hide its intention of driving out all the Arabs and turning the entire country into a purely Jewish state. Meaning: ethnic cleansing. It looks like the dream of a small minority, but public opinion research shows that this tendency is gnawing at a much wider public, even if only in a half-conscious way, hidden and denied.

    In the Arab community, there are probably some who dream about the good old days, before the Jews came to this country and took it by force.

    When Jews carry out a pogrom in Akko, whatever the immediate reason, it becomes a national event. The burning of Arab homes in a Jewish neighborhood at once arouses fear of ethnic cleansing. When the Arab young people storm into a Jewish neighborhood in order to save an endangered Arab brother, it immediately evokes memories of the 1929 massacre of the Jews in Hebron – which, at the time, was also a “mixed” town.

    THERE IS reasonable hope that at some future time we shall end the national conflict and reach a peaceful solution that both peoples will accept (if only because there is no alternative.) A Palestinian state will come into being side by side with Israel, and both peoples will understand that this is the best possible solution.

    (The Akko events should give rise to second thoughts in the mind of anyone who believes in the “One-State solution”‘ where Jews and Arabs would live in brotherhood and equality. Such a “solution” would turn the entire country into one big Akko.)

    But peace, based on two states living side by side, will not automatically solve the problem of the Arab citizens in Israel, a state that defines itself as “Jewish”. We must be ready for a long, consistent fight over the character of our state.

    The extreme rightist Avigdor Liberman has proposed that the Arab villages on the Israeli side of the Green Line should be attached to the Palestinian state, in return for the Jewish settlement blocs beyond the Green Line that would be attached to Israel. That would not affect, of course, the Arab inhabitants of Akko, Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth and the Galilee villages. But even in the villages near the Green Line, no Arab agrees to this idea. Although Liberman proposes to turn over the entire villages to the Palestinian state together with all their lands and properties, not a single Arab voice has been raised in agreement.

    Why? The million and a half Arab citizens in Israel do not like the government’s policies, the flag and the national anthem, not to mention the treatment of the population in the occupied territories. But they prefer the Israeli democracy, the social progress, the National Insurance system and the social services. They are rooted in the life and mores of Israel much more deeply than they themselves recognize. They want to be citizens in this state, but on terms of equality and mutual respect.

    The Jews who dream of ethnic cleansing do not understand how large a contribution the Arab community makes to Israel. Like the other inhabitants of Israel, they work here, they contribute to the GNP, they pay their taxes like everybody else. Like all of us, they have no alternative – they pay value-added tax on everything they buy and they, too, get their salaries only after income tax is deducted.

    There are many questions that have to be recognized and discussed, and from which conclusions must be drawn. Is it desirable or not desirable, at this stage, for Arabs to live in Jewish neighborhoods and Jews in Arab neighborhoods? How can the Arab neighborhoods be elevated economically to the level of Jewish neighborhoods, in practice and not only in talk? Should every Jewish child learn Arabic and every Arab child learn Hebrew, as the mayor of Haifa proposed this week? Should Arab education receive the same status and the same budgets as, for example, the independent but government-funded Jewish Orthodox education system? Should autonomous Arab institutions be established? Finding solutions to these problems, or at least to some of them, is a vital part of the fight against racism – attacking its roots, and not only its symptoms.

    Actually, there is no alternative: the citizens of Israel, Jews and Arabs, are “condemned” to live together, whether they like it or not. But, as the Akko events have shown again, the joint fabric is still weak. In order to change this, we must all have the courage to look the problem in the eye, to see it as it is, without hypocrisy or falsification. This is the only way we can find solutions.


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