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I Apologize for my 1967 Vote for Annexing East
Jerusalem, It Was a Huge Mistake
By Uri Avnery
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, June
The Israeli occupation and forcible
annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967 is shamelessly called
"unification" by the Israeli invaders.
This Israeli false description of the
sacking, humiliation, and desecration of Jerusalem does not
change the reality that Israelis have committed a historical
robbery by taking over the holy city by brutal military forces.
They have also been persecuting and
subjugating the Palestinian people in Jerusalem, the West Bank,
and Gaza Strip ever since.
Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in Occupied East Jerusalem
Jerusalem: Whoso Confesseth and Forsaketh
IN THE tumult of the last few days, on the occasion of the 50th
anniversary of the "unification" of Jerusalem, one of the articles
stated that "even peace-activist Uri Avnery" voted in the
Knesset for the unification of the city.
That is true.
I have tried to set out the circumstances in my autobiography,
"Optimistic". But not everyone has read the book and it has so far
appeared only in Hebrew.
Therefore I shall try to
explain again that curious vote. Explain, not justify.
ON TUESDAY, June 27, 1967, two weeks after the 6-day war, I did not
get up. I had the flu, and Rachel, my wife, had given me a lot of
medicines. Suddenly they called me from the Knesset and told me that the
chamber had just started a debate on the unification of Jerusalem, which
had not appeared on the agenda.
I jumped out of bed and drove
like hell from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, some 65 kilometers. Upon arriving
I was told that the list of speakers had already been closed. But the
Speaker, Kadish Luz, famous for his fairness, added me to the list.
I had just a few minutes to think. My parliamentary assistant,
Amnon Zichroni, advised me to vote against, or at least to abstain.
There was no time to consult with the leading members of my party, "Haolam
Hazeh – New Force". I made the decision on the spot, and the
decision was to vote in favor.
That was mainly an
instinctive reaction. It came from the bottom of my soul. After the
amazing triumph, which had come after three weeks of gathering anxiety,
the huge victory in just six days looked like a miracle. The Jewish
population, in all its parts, was in ecstasy. This mood crossed all
East Jerusalem was the center of the mass
ecstasy. It was like a Tsunami. Masses flowed to the Western Wall, which
had been unapproachable for 19 years. Both the pious and non-believers
I felt that a political movement, which
intends to win the masses for a new outlook, cannot in such a moment
stand outside the people. Faced with such a storm, it cannot stay aloof.
I myself was not unaffected by the emotional storm. I loved
Jerusalem. Before the partition of the country during the 1948 war, in
which Jerusalem was divided, I had often wandered through the alleys of
the Arab parts of the town. After that war, I longed for the Old City in
an almost physical way. When the Knesset was in session, I often used to
reside in the King David hotel that overlooks the Old City, and I
remember many nights when I stood at the open window and listened to
far-away dogs breaking the silence beyond the wall – and longing.
But besides the emotion, there was also a logical consideration.
Already in 1949, on the morrow of the war during which Israel was
founded, I started to campaign for the "Two State Solution" – the
setting up of an independent State of Palestine side by side with the
State of Israel, as two equal states in the framework of a federation.
In 1957, after the Sinai War, I published - together with Natan
Yellin-Mor, the former leader of the Lehi underground (a.k.a. the Stern
Group), the writer Boaz Evron and others - a document called "the Hebrew
Manifesto", of which I am proud even today. At the time, East Jerusalem
and the West Bank were part of the kingdom of Jordan. Inter alia the
"21. All of Eretz Israel (Palestine) is the
homeland of its two nations – the Hebrew one, which has attained its
independence in the framework of the State of Israel, and the
Arab-Palestinian one, which has not yet achieved independence. The State
of Israel will offer political and material assistance to the liberation
movement of the Palestinian nation…which strives to establish a free
Palestinian state, which will be a partner of the State of Israel…
"22. (There will be set up) a federation of the parts of Eretz-Israel
(Palestine), which will safeguard the independence of all the states
which are parts of it."
According to this plan,
Jerusalem should have become a united city, the capital of Israel, the
capital of Palestine and the capital of the federation.
At the time, that looked like a remote vision. But after the 1967 war
the vision suddenly became real. The Jordanian regime was vanquished.
Nobody seriously believed that the world would allow Israel to keep the
territories it had just conquered. It seemed clear that we would be
compelled to give them back, as we did after the war before that, the
Sinai War of 1956.
I was convinced that this situation would
give us the historic opportunity to realize our vision. For that to
happen, we had first to prevent the return of the territories to Jordan.
The unification of the two parts of Jerusalem looked to me like the
logical first step. The more so since in the proposed law, the words
"annexation" or "unification" did not appear. It said only that Israeli
law would apply there.
All this passed through my mind in the
few minutes I had. I approached the rostrum and said: "It is not a
secret that I and my colleagues strive for the unification of the
country in a federation of the State of Israel and a Palestinian state
that will come into being in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, a
federation whose capital will be united Jerusalem as a part of the State
The last words were, of course, an error. I should
have said: "as a part of the State of Israel and the State of
THE REASONS for this vote were logical, at least in
part, but the entire vote looked to me, in retrospect, like a very
serious mistake. After a short time, I apologized for it in public. I
have repeated this apology many times.
Within a short time it
became quite clear that the State of Israel did not dream of allowing
the Palestinians to establish a state of their own, and even less to
divide sovereignty over Jerusalem. Today it is clear that from the first
day – still under the Labor Party, led by Levy Eshkol – there was the
intention of keeping these territories forever, or as long as possible.
11 years earlier, after the Sinai War, David Ben-Gurion had
submitted to the parallel ultimatums of Dwight Eisenhower and Nikolai
Bulganin, the heads of state of the USA and the Soviet Union. 105 hours
after declaring the "Third Israeli Kingdom:", Ben-Gurion announced in a
broken voice on the radio that he would give back all the conquered
It was incredible that the weakling Eshkol would
succeed where the great Ben-Gurion had failed, and hold on to the
conquered territories. But contrary to all expectations, there was no
pressure at all to give back anything. The occupation continues to this
Therefore, the question did not even arise: whether to
return the territories to the Kingdom of Jordan or turn them into the
State of Palestine.
By the way, in those days, when the glory
of our generals reached the skies, there were among them some who
supported openly or secretly the idea of establishing a Palestinian
state side by side with Israel. The most outspoken of these was General
Israel Tal, the renowned tank commander. I tried very hard to convince
him to assume the leadership of the peace camp, but he preferred to
devote his efforts to building the Merkava tank.
Years later I
tried to convince General Ezer Weizman, the former Air Force commander
and the real victor of the 1967 war. His nationalist convictions changed
and approached those of our group. But he preferred to become the
President of Israel.
Even Ariel Sharon toyed for some years with
these ideas. He preferred a Palestinian state to giving the territories
back to Jordan. He told me that in the 50s, when he was still serving in
the army, he had proposed to the General Staff to support the
Palestinians against the Jordanian regime. He proposed this in secret,
while I was demanding it in public.
But all this theorizing
could not stand up to the reality: the occupation deepened from day to
day. The readiness to give up all the occupied territories, even in
ideal circumstances, dwindled more and more.
And on the other
I had many conversations with the admired (by me, too)
leader of the Arab population in East Jerusalem, Faissal al-Husseini.
The idea of a united Jerusalem, capital of two states, attracted him,
too. We drew up together an appeal in this spirit. We talked about this,
of course, with Yasser Arafat, and he fully agreed – but was not ready
to confirm this in public.
TWO WEEKS after the Knesset
vote, I published in my weekly magazine, Haolam Hazeh, another plan,
under the headline "A basic, fair and practical solution". The first
paragraph read: "There will be created a federation of Eretz-Israel
(Palestine) which will include the State of Israel, the Gaza Strip and
the West Bank, the capital of which will be Greater Jerusalem."
This plan was signed by an amazing 64 well-known Israeli personalities,
including writer Dan Ben-Amotz, humorist Uri Zohar, peace-pilot Abie
Nathan, publisher Amikan Gurevich, sculptor Yigal Tomarkin, painter Dani
Karavan, Nathan Yellin-Mor, captain Nimrod Eshel, film-maker Alex Massis,
writer Boaz Evron, journalist Heda Boshes, art-custodian Yona Fisher and
the famous educator Ernst Simon, the close friend of the already dead
This document, like all the former
plans, included the aim of creating a regional framework, like the
European Union which was then in the making.
(By the way,
lately a new fashion has been spreading in several circles: a new ideal
solution to the conflict: the establishment of an Israeli-Palestinian
federation and a "regional solution". I assume that many of the new
advocates of this solution were not yet born when these documents were
published. If so, I have to disappoint them: all these ideas were voiced
already a long time ago. This should not discourage them. May they be
IN THE recent publications it was also mentioned
that I proposed adopting the song "Jerusalem of Gold" as the national
anthem of Israel.
Naomi Shemer wrote this beautiful song for a
Jerusalem contest, when nobody yet dreamed about the 1967 Six-day War.
I intensely dislike the present national anthem, "Hatikvah" ("the
Hope"). The text is about the life of the Jews in the Diaspora and the
melody seems to be taken from a Romanian folk-song. Not to mention the
fact that more than 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs. (Perhaps we
should learn from Canada, which long ago changed its British anthem and
flag out of respect for its 20% French-speaking citizens.)
decided to propose Shemer's song to the Knesset as the national anthem.
After the 1967 war it had already become the rage of the masses. I
submitted a bill accordingly.
That was, of course, a dubious
proposal. Shemer did not mention in her song that there were Arabs in
Jerusalem. The words have a strong nationalist flavor. But I thought
that after the idea of a new anthem was accepted, we could rectify the
The Knesset Speaker, Luz, was ready to accept the bill and
put it on the agenda only if Naomi Shemer agreed. I made an appointment
with her and we had a pleasant talk in a café. She did not agree
outright, but allowed me to state that she did not object.
Throughout the conversation I had the feeling that there was an
unexplained reluctance on her side. I remembered this years later, when
it was disclosed that the rousing melody was not really composed by her,
but was a Basque folk song. I felt rather sorry for her.
TO SUM up:
The vote of the "peace activist Uri Avnery" for the
"unification" of Jerusalem was a huge mistake. I am taking this
opportunity to apologize for it again.
I request for
the application of the Biblical verse (Proverbs 28.13): "But whoso
confesseth and forsaketh shall have mercy".
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