PRISONERS OF WORDS
Translation of an article which will appear
in Ma'ariv, August 30, 1999
There is no tyranny like the tyranny of words. We create
them, and from that moment on we are their slaves.
Afterwards, the words "blood on their hands" were
invented. Meaning Jewish blood which, as everyone knows, is redder than
other blood. Someone who has "blood on his hands" - as distinguished
from a settler who has killed a Palestinian boy - is a "two-legged
animal", a "drugged cockroach", and must rot in an Israeli prison to his
very last day. He will never be released (except if Ahmed Jibril
succeeds in capturing an Israeli soldier, in which case we exchange him
for a thousand mekhablim).
For example: The Hebrew word for terrorist, "mekhabel". It is enough
to put this label on any person or locality - for example, a PLO-run
elementary school in Eyn-al-Hilweh refugee camp near Sidon - in order to
bombard it. Because we have to fight the mekhablim, wherever they are, and
at any time.
But as it so happens, some of my best friends are Palestinians
with "blood on their hands". Since Oslo, I have become acquainted with
quite a lot of Palestinians in the course of joint Israeli-Palestinian
actions for peace, and some of them have become friends. By sheer
accident, so it seems, they are all ex-prisoners who were released by
the Jibril-exchange. Sirkhan has spent 13 years in prison, Hisham 21
years. Once I invited some of them to lunch in a Tel-Aviv restaurant,
and we counted 54 prison-years around the table.
In the course of time I learned that this was no accident. In
prison, the Palestinians have learned Hebrew and been exposed to Israeli
radio and TV. They have come to admire Israeli democracy and especially
loved the spectacle of MKs shouted at the Prime Minister. No wonder,
then, that the prisoners with "blood on their hands" are the most ardent
advocates of peace. They know Israeli reality better and understand
better the need for peace. By the way, Sa'id Hamami, with whom I started
the long march for Israeli-Palestinian peace some 25 years ago, and who
paid for it with his life, was a former commander of mekhablim, and so
was Issam Sartawi, who also sacrificed his life for peace. He had the
blood of actress Hannah Maron - among others - on his hands.
Therefore, the haggling over the prisoners looks to me both
hypocritical and disgusting. Without the words "mekhablim" and "blood on
their hands", everybody would understand that these are enemy soldiers,
who served their country as we served our country (which, by the irony
of history, happen to be one and the same country). They shed blood as
we shed blood. They hit civilians as we hit civilians. They followed
orders as we did follow orders. And the people who gave the orders - to
them and to us - are now sitting together around the negotiating table.
What would we have said if the British had taken the prisoners of the
Hebrew underground with them to England, and held them in their prisons
even while their former commander, Prime Minister Menahem Begin, was
there on his state visit?
Prisoners of War
If we would call the incarcerated Palestinians "prisoners of
war", as suggested by minister Shlomo Ben-Ami, the problem would have
been solved easily. Everybody agrees that prisoners-of-was are to be
released when peace comes.
However, our representatives have come to understand that
the prisoners are good objects for trade. Every prisoner has a price.
One can get something for him. But that's the attitude of a street
peddler, not of a peace-making statesman. Experience shows that if we
release all the prisoners at once, as a shining gesture at the start of
final-peace negotiations, most of them, including Hamas people, will
become advocates of peace, like their comrades of the Jibril-exchange.
That is - to use the mentality of our representatives - a "wholesale"
price, much bigger than the small "retail" price we can get for them if
we haggle over each individually. But before we can do that, we must
liberate ourselves from the poisonous words.
Today, in Gaza, a conference on this subject will be convened. I
was invited to speak, and shall say there what I have written here.
Uri Avnery - Article will appear in Ma'ariv,
August 30, 1999