A Palestinian Jew in Israel, PLO member

John O'Neill johnfergaloneill at eircom.net
Mon Dec 2 15:36:35 MST 2002

A citizen of Israel who says his duty is to condemn its actions against

ISRAEL: Uri Davis tells Patsy McGarry how he lives as a Palestinian Jew in
Israel, an anti-militarist member of the PLO.

You could say Dr Uri Davis is something of a rara avis. He is a Palestinian
Jew, an Israeli citizen and a member of the PLO. He lives in the Arab city
of Sakhnin in northern Israel where, as a Jew, he may live, as Jews may live
anywhere in Israel. This right is denied to his Arab neighbours in Sakhnin.

Just 20 minutes away is the city of Karmiel where they cannot live.

Dr Davis is an observer member of the Palestine National Council and a
member of the Palestinian Fatah political party. He was in Ireland last week
at the invitation of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

An anthropologist, he is an honorary research fellow at the Institute for
Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Durham University and at the Institute
of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University.

Although an academic, he does not come across as theoretical. Although
political he does not seem to possess any of the characteristics associated
with our by-now tarnished understanding of that word. His sense of encounter
with a deeply felt, moral outrage at suffering witnessed is overwhelming.

His conscience was forged by the Holocaust. All his mother's family were
lost to it after the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. Her "greatness" was in
rising above that horror and insisting he should never generalise. It was
not the fault, she would say, of "those Germans". Rather it was the Nazis
involved who were guilty.

He sees the "abuse" of the Holocaust by Israel as "a direct assault on her
and her family". This "no- gas-chambers-on-the-West-Bank" implication and
Israel's projection of itself as a Jewish state he regards as "totally
objectionable and immoral". It was intended to "place a veil over their
cruelty towards the Palestinian people".

He defines an ethical and conceptual distinction between Zionism and
Judaism. "Zionism is a political programme. Judaism is a confessional
statement which ought to be left to the private sphere."

He strongly urges that people critically assess the consequences of the
excesses of the Zionist political programme for the indigenous people of
Palestine since 1948.

He believes it has been "wholly negative" and drew attention to "the
atrocities perpetrated", "the ethnic cleansing", "the destruction of medical
and cultural infrastructure and of centres of learning, all of which are war
crimes as described by the International Court".

There is not just "the damage done the occupied people but also the damage
done to Jewish society in Israel. Israel is a Zionist state. It projects
itself as such but using the language of a Jewish state" to "obfuscate
criticism" and play on the conscience of the world. His work is about
removing this veil. As a Jewish citizen of Israel it was more difficult to
smear him as anti-semitic.

He was born in Palestine five years before Israel existed, to a British
father and Czechoslovakian mother. "Her values underpinned my moral
development and are universally relevant for all concerned including
myself," he remarks. "I am not guilty nor is there collective guilt for the
crimes perpetrated by the government of Israel in the name of the citizens
of Israel and the Jews of the world."

Especially as a Jew, a citizen of Israel and as a Palestinian, he feels a
duty to step forward and say "not in my name, not in the name of my family.
You won't use the Holocaust to discredit my family and destroy

He is passionately opposed to suicide bombings, the Kenya bombing and the
attempted shooting down of an Israeli aircraft last week. These were wholly
unacceptable, immoral, illegal actions.

"I do not accept revenge as a basis for political action and have no problem
adding my name to the voices condemning any actions targeting civilians."

He is sure many Irish people understand instinctively how those subjected to
the destruction perpetrated by an Israeli occupation would drive people to
do such despicable things as a way of giving the occupiers a taste of their
own medicine. He does have a problem though with the phrase "Palestinian
suicide bombers". "The lion's share of terror is inflicted by the Israeli
state, not suicide bombers," he says. "The state is the first party guilty
of terrorist violence."

This being so he calls for economic sanctions and disinvestment on Israel
and for the instruments of international law to be used "to limit the
capacity of the government of Israel to inflict such illegal acts". This is
not a conflict of equals, so for instance Israeli soldiers in the West Bank
should be condemned doubly, for perpetrating acts of state terrorism and for
being there in the first place. The suicide bomber should be condemned on
one count, that of terrorism. After all, he was in his indigenous country,
even when in Israel.

Dr Davis draws "enormous encouragement" from the success of the
anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa" and "the achievement of the
indigenous peoples of South Africa led by the ANC".

He takes succour from the success of the small but active white population
who played such an important role in bringing an end to apartheid. He sees
Palestinian Jews such as himself in a similar position. He is confident that
what was done in South Africa can also be done in Palestine.

He believes US support for Israel is "extremely destructive". This is "a
situation of great urgency". He believes the Israeli government is planning
a massive attack on Gaza, the West Bank and Palestinians in Israel to
coincide with a US attack on Iraq, which would act as a veil. For this
reason he believes the groundswell of anti- war feeling internationally is
not just important for the people of Iraq but also for Palestinians.

He was once a pacifist but, having seen what has been done to the
Palestinians he has arrived at a different position.

"I am an anti-militarist and recognise the right to use force in certain
instances, in armed resistance, which is legal in international law. It
allows armed resistance, the targeting of the opposite party in uniform." He
has been "radicalised" by experience. "I am no longer an ideological
pacifist," he says.

© The Irish Times

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