“One Day Ramallah Will Rise Up” is the title of a current column by the provocative Ha’aretz writer, Gideon Levy.
During this same week, Uri Avnery, another Israeli provocateur, entitled his Gush Shalom column, “The Human Spring”.
He sees, and clearly feels, the presence of a “hidden mechanism” pushing the world forward in this post-Arab Spring period.
I would not suggest Levy and Avnery conspired to deliver a common theme to our in-boxes during this first week of July.
But there is no doubt that Levy and Avnery have sensed the presence of a “hidden mechanism” of change in Palestine. It is a change happening in Ramallah, Palestine’s temporary capital, and in the rest of the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and in Gaza.
Uri Avnery opens his “hidden mechanism” column:
When asked what he thought about the French Revolution, Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Communist leader, famously answered: “It’s too early to say.”
This was considered a typical piece of ancient Chinese wisdom – until somebody pointed out that Zhou did not mean the revolution of 1789, but the events of May 1968, which happened not long before the interview in question.
Even now it may be too early to judge that upheaval, when students tore up the cobblestones of Paris, confronted the brutal police and proclaimed a new era. It was an early forerunner of what is happening today all over the world.
It was in May of 1968 when young people demanded change they longed for, focused primarily on freedom.
The Arab Spring, and what follows it, is our current generation’s tangible response to this same demand for political freedom.
Gideon Levy’s Ha’aretz column connects the 1968 revolution to this generation’s Arab Spring and the major changes it is still in the process of developing:
It’s true that this scenario seems unrealistic right now. The Palestinians are still bleeding from the second intifada, which only brought disaster upon them (and the Israelis). They are divided and torn, with no real leadership and lacking a fighting spirit, and the world has tired of their distress. The Israeli occupation seems as strong and established as ever, the settlements are growing, and the military is in complete control, with all the world’s governments silent and indifferent.
On the other hand, it is impossible to imagine that this scenario will not materialize. To our south, the Egyptian people are struggling over the nature of their regime, in a way that can only inspire awe. To the north, the Syrian people are also doing this, albeit in a much crueler fashion. Could it be that only the Palestinian people will forever bow their heads, submissively and obediently, to the Israeli jackboot? Don’t make the minister of history laugh.
We still do not know what progress John Kerry has made in his effort to negotiate Palestine and Israel into a semblance of peace. Diplomacy, however, deals with power politics. Decisions made by political leaders emerge from a process dependent on the limits of human actors. The media reports it that way, writing and picturing how the past shapes the present.
Uri Avnery asks: “What is it that arouses so many different people in so many different cultures to do the same thing at the same time?” Avnery, who will celebrate his 90th birthday September 10, looks beyond power politics and reaches for that “hidden mechanism” that so mysteriously hovers about.
He identifies facts and curries meaning from them. Facts, like two interrelated phenomena in contemporary life that make the uprisings possible and probable: the thoroughly modern forces of television and social media.
Once upon a time, it took weeks for people in Piccadilly Circus in London to hear about events in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. After the battle of Waterloo, the Rothschilds made their killing by using messenger pigeons. In 1848, when revolution spread from Paris throughout Europe, it took its time, too.
Not any more. Brazilian youngsters saw what was happening in Gezi Park, Istanbul, and asked themselves: why not here? They saw that determined young men and women could withstand water cannon, tear gas and batons, and felt that they could do it, too.
Five young men sitting in a Cairo café and talking about the situation could decide to launch an online petition for the removal of the incumbent president, and within a few days tens of millions of citizens signed. Never before in history was such a thing possible, or even imaginable.
This is a new form of direct democracy. People don’t have to wait anymore for the next elections, which may be years away. They can act immediately, and when the groundswell is powerful enough, it can develop into a tsunami.
Revolutions, however, at bottom are not made by technologies. These are merely instruments. The people, Avnery writes, make revolutions. And those ruling elites that refuse to acknowledge this reality are doomed to repeat the sins of previous collapsing empires.
The people, led by the young, will not forever tolerate the absence of freedom and justice.
Like Avnery, Levy is a citizen of Israel. When he compares Israel with surrounding Arab nations, he does not see Israel in a positive light. He explains:
The regimes against which most of the Arab nations are rebelling were generally less brutal than the regime of the Israeli occupation.
They were also less corrupt, in the broad sense of the word. Most did not take over the lives of their subjects day and night, did not so drastically restrict their movement and freedom, did not systematically abuse and humiliate them in the manner of the Israeli regime. Moreover, they were not foreign regimes.
Therefore, the events at Tahrir Square will surely be replicated one day in Ramallah’s Manara Square. The masses will flood the Unknown Soldier’s Square in Gaza, push into Police Square in Hebron and storm all the checkpoints along their way. It is hard now to imagine it happening, but it is even more difficult to imagine that it will not. .. ….
As with other unjust and evil regimes, which are always destined to fall, this regime also will fall – it’s just not clear when and how.
Richard Silverstein, an American Jewish writer, working from Seattle, Washington, joins Uri Avnery and Gideon Levy in recognizing the “hidden mechanism” around us.
Silverstein writes a blog, Tikun Olam. His latest posting is Israel and Arab Spring: “Do Not Ask for Whom the Bell Tolls, It Tolls for Thee”.
In that posting, Silverstein addresses, with disapproval, those writers who reject radical Islamists as potential government leaders.
Silverstein sees this disapproval as a “convenient conviction because it further bolstered Ehud Barak’s old saw that Israel was ‘a villa’ in the Middle East “jungle.” If the region could be portrayed as a nest of Muslim terrorists or terrorists-in-the-making, it would make Israel the only friend the U.S. would have left.
As the Church Lady would say, “How conveeenient, indeed. Silverstein continues:
This, of course, was the same thinking that led Bibi Netanyahu to see 9/11 as good for Israel because of his certainty it would show that Israel and America were lone bastions of democracy amid a sea of Islamic terrorism.
Unfortunately, Netanyahu’s vision was largely realized, thanks to a Bush administration that played the terror card quite deftly and an Obama administration that inherited and expanded upon this sordid legacy.
But developments in Egypt and Turkey have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no such thing as an Islamic Winter. That the revolts of the Arab Spring are progressing toward more democracy and more openness. I won’t go so far as to say they’re progressing toward secularism, because that’s a loaded term in countries like Turkey. But there is a clear movement away from authoritarianism and toward something radically different.
Politicians who cling to power are driven to see the world as a reality of their making, not as it really is. That has led a columnist like the New York Times’ David Brooks to embarrass himself by writing a column, “Defending the Coup”, which denigrates radical Muslims as incapable of leadership.
Brooks made this outlandish assertion, for which he has been harshly criticized, in writing about the change of government in Egypt. One sample from his column will suffice to explain why he should be embarrassed (emphasis added):
“It’s not that Egypt doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition. It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients.”
Brooks is wrong on all counts, so wrong that it hardly seems worth the time to point out to Brooks that the United States was initially led by a motley largely Protestant collection of farmers, lawyers, shop keepers, slave owners, and opportunists of all stripes. These citizens made mistakes at the outset.
Slavery and oppression of Native Americans through racial segregation are just the more blatant examples. Their current successors continue to do so. Governing is always a messy business.
Those first generation American white, male, largely Protestant citizens created a new union which, like all nations, remains a work in progress. In the same manner, new Islamic-led governments will be forced to find their way forward in a new modern environment in the 21st century.
These governments must be judged not by the “cut of their jib”, to use an old nautical term, nor by the religion to which they adhere, but rather, by the way they treat their own citizens and how they relate to neighboring states.
The photo at top of a young protestor was taken during a demonstration in Ramallah in 2012. It is an Associated Press picture that ran in Ha’aretz.