Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
The Sea and the River Rhetoric in the
By Uri Avnery
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, December 17, 2012
“Palestine, from the Jordan to the Sea, belongs to us!” declared
Khalid Misha'al last week at the huge victory rally in Gaza.
Israel, from the sea to the Jordan, belongs to us!” declare right-wing
Israelis on every occasion.
The two statements seem to be the same,
with only the name of the country changed.
But if you read them
again carefully, there is a slight difference. The direction.
FROM THE sea to the river, from the river to the sea.
much more significance than meets the eye. It shows how the speaker sees
himself – coming from the East or from the West.
When one says
“from the river to the sea”, one sees oneself as belonging to the extensive
region known to Westerners as the “Middle East”, a vital part of the Asian
continent. The term “Middle East” is, itself, a patronizing expression with
colonial undertones – it suggests that the area has no independent standing.
It exists only in relation to a far-away world center – Berlin? London?
When one says “from the sea to the river”,
one sees oneself as coming from the West and living as a bridgehead of the
West, facing a foreign, and probably hostile, continent.
long recorded history, going back many thousands of years, this country –
whether Cana'an, Palestine or Eretz Israel – has seen many waves of invaders
who came to settle here.
Most of these waves came from the
hinterland. Cana'anites, Hebrews, Arabs, and many others came from the East.
They settled here, mingled with the existing population and were soon
absorbed, creating new mixtures and establishing natural relations with the
neighboring countries. They fought wars, made peace, prospered, suffered in
times of drought.
The ancient Israelite kingdoms (not the mythical
ones of Saul, David and Solomon but the real historical ones of Ahab and his
successors) were a natural part of this environment, as witnessed by
contemporary Assyrian and other documents.
So were the Arabs of the
7th century. They settled among the locals. These very slowly converted from
Christianity and Judaism to Islam, adopted the Arabic language and became
“Arabs”, much as the Cana'anites before them had become “Israelites”.
QUITE DIFFERENT was the way of those invaders who came from the West.
There were three waves: the Philistines in antiquity, the Crusaders in
the Middle Ages and the Zionists in modern times.
Coming from the
West (even if, like the first Crusaders, overland)] the invader sees
the vast enemy continent before him. He clings to the shore, establishes a
bridgehead and advances to enlarge it. Significantly, no “western” invader
ever established borders – they advanced or retreated as their forces and
This historical picture applies, of course,
only to those invaders who came and settled in the country. It does not
concern the invading empires which just wanted to control the area. They
came from all directions and moved on – Hittites and Egyptians, Assyrians
and Babylonians, Persians and Greeks, Romans and Byzantines, Mongols, Turks
and British. (The Mongols came here after destroying Iraq, and were beaten
decisively by the Muslim general Baybars, heir of Saladin, in one of the
most decisive battles in history.)
Eastern Empires usually
continued through Egypt to the West, turning North Africa into a Semitic
sphere. Western Empires continued to the East, towards India.
Tutmosis, Cyrus, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon and many others came and passed
on – but none of them left a lasting mark on the country.
predecessors coming from the West, the Zionists had a bridgehead mentality
from the start, and have it to this day.
Indeed, they had it even before the Zionist movement was officially founded.
In his canonical book, Der Judenstaat, Theodor Herzl, the visionary whose
picture hangs in the Knesset plenum hall, wrote that the future Jewish State
would form a part of the “wall against Asia”. It would serve as a “forward
position of the culture against the barbarism”.
culture, but The Culture. And not just barbarism, but The Barbarism. For a
reader in the 1890s, these needed no explanation: Culture was white and
European, Barbarism was everything else, whether brown, red, black or
In today’s Israel, five generations later, this mentality
has not changed. Ehud Barak coined the phrase which reflects this mentality
more clearly than any other: “We are a Villa in the Jungle”.
Villa: culture, civilization, order, the West, Europe. Jungle: barbarism,
the Arab/Muslim world surrounding us, a place full of wild animals, where
anything can happen at any moment.
This phrase is repeated
endlessly and accepted by practically everyone. Politicians and army
officers may replace it with ”the neighborhood” (“Shekhuna”). Daily
examples: “In the neighborhood in which we live, we cannot relax for a
moment!” Or: “In a neighborhood like ours we need the atom bomb!”
Moshe Dayan, who had a poetic streak, said two generations ago in the most
important speech of his life: “We are a generation of settlers, and without
the steel helmet and the cannon we cannot plant a tree and build a
house…This is the fate of our generation, the choice of our life – to be
prepared and armed, strong and tough, or otherwise the sword will slip from
our fist and our life will be snuffed out.” In another speech, a few years
later, Dayan clarified that he did not mean just one generation – but many
to come, endlessly – the typical bridgehead mentality which knows no
borders, neither in space nor in time.
(Just a personal remark:
sixty-five years ago, a year before the foundation of Israel, I published a
pamphlet which opened with the words: “When our Zionist fathers decided to
set up a [national home in this country] they had the choice between two
courses: They could appear [as] a bridgehead of the “white” race and the
master of the “natives” [or] as the heirs of the Semitic political and
cultural tradition [leading] the war of liberation of the Semitic peoples
against European exploitation…”)
The difference between
sea-to-river and river-to-sea is not just political, and far from
superficial. It goes right to the roots of the conflict.
no escape from the simple truth that there will be two states between the
river and the sea – as well as between the sea and the river.
Unless we want the whole country – sea to river, river to sea – to become
one vast graveyard.