Uri Avnery /
Orient House is in Our Hands!
Forget about the battle of Negba. Forget
about the battle of Ammunition Hill. Forget about the Entebbe raid. All
these are overshadowed by the latest exploits of our forces. Songs will
be sung about them, victory albums will proclaim their glory.
In a daring action, in the middle of the
night, the elite units of the border police and the picked commandos of
the paratroops stormed the "Orient House" in East Jerusalem and the
Palestinian governor’s office in Abu-Dis. In a heroic battle, the two
empty buildings were conquered. Our glorious forces suffered no
Every Jewish heart was filled with pride
when the Israeli flag was hoisted over these two fortresses of the cruel
enemy. Every man and woman sang the praises of our valiant male and
female fighters. And when the generalissimo, Interior Security Minister
Uzi Landau, was photographed at the scene of the immortal victory – who
did not share his joy at the realization of the dream of generations?
The governor’s house conquered! Orient House in our hand!
If there is cynicism in this description,
that’s because Orient House is very close to my heart. I was a frequent
guest there, I have spent there many many hours, both happy and sad. I
love this beautiful building of simple elegance and elegant simplicity.
Minutes after the signing of the Oslo
agreement on the White House lawn, I stood, with many others, Israelis
and Palestinians, on its stairs. We embraced each other, feeling that it
was the right place to be at this moment, because for us Orient House
was a symbol of the struggle for peace.
Several times, when right-wing demagogues
in Israel tried to achieve a cheap victory by "closing Orient House", I
was with the peace activists who rushed to the building in order to
express our solidarity with its defenders. Again we stood on these
special stairs, Israelis and Palestinians together, while in the street
hate-mongering Cahanists were shouting their blood-thirsty slogans,
under the protection of the Border Police,.
How many hours did we spend in this
building with the unforgotten Faisal Husseini, talking about peace?
About united Jerusalem that will truly be "ours" – ours, both Israelis
and Palestinians. About the refugee problem, for which Faisal proposed
solutions that were amazingly moderate and sensible. About borders.
About the settlements. About a relationship that will last for
How many demonstrations for peace did we
plan in this building? Against the provocative settlements in Jebel
Abu-Gheneim ("Har Homa") and Ras-al-Amud. For the release of Palestinian
prisoners. How many times did we celebrate there? A joint concert of
Palestinian and Israeli musicians. The marriage of a Palestinian cabinet
minister. Always together, side by side, with mutual respect and
The "conquest" of this building is a
cynical, treacherous, stupid, evil and disastrous act.
A c y n i c a l act,
because it utilizes the terrible suicide attack at the Jerusalem
restaurant, the suffering of the families and the fury of the public,
to do something that has absolutely nothing to do with "the fight
against terrorism". The extreme right, headed by Sharon, Landau & Co.,
just waited for an opportunity to do what they wanted to do. The blood
served as a pretext.
A t r e a c h e r o u s act,
because it is a brutal violation of a solemn promise. Foreign
Minister Shimon Peres signed this undertaking on behalf of the State of
Israel in the wake of the Oslo agreement. It said that Israel will not
close any existing Palestinian institution in Jerusalem. Another piece
of paper torn by the government in which Shimon Peres serves as a
A s t u p i d act,
because it officially confirms the fact that East Jerusalem is an
occupied city. As long as the big Palestinian flag was hanging from the
flagpole at Orient House, it represented the hope of the city’s 200
thousand Palestinian inhabitants that the problem would be solved by
peaceful means. This hope has now been struck down. Like their brethren
on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, they have now been convinced
that "the Jews understand only the language of force". The teachings
of Faisal Husseini will be displaced by the teachings of Hamas. The
conquered building will become a symbol of occupation and resistance –
much more so than at its times of splendor.
An e v i l act, because it
sends an unequivocal message to the Palestinian people and the whole
world: this is the end of the peace process. At Camp David the mantra of
"Undivided Jerusalem, eternal capital of Israel" was put aside. Even
Ehud Barak, who was quite insensitive to Palestinian aspirations,
understood that there can be no peace without giving East Jerusalem back
to the Palestinians (or at least appearing to do so). Now come Sharon
and his henchmen and throw us many years back. What they are saying is:
Peace is out! No Oslo, no Madrid, no nothing. War against the
Palestinians, War against the Arab world, today, tomorrow, for
generations to come.
A d i s a s t r o u s act, because it
is a step in a terrible direction. After Orient House, after Abu-Dis,
what is left to conquer? Once people start to run amok, they cannot
stop. The right-wing demagogues who feed on the occupation will not be
satisfied with this. Their appetite is growing. Where to go now? One
doesn’t have to search long: just around the corner, the golden Dome of
the Rock is shining. No doubt, that is the real aim of this madness: the
Temple Mount, the Holy Sanctuary, the Dome of the Rock, al-Aksa. That is
where the dance of the daemons started, where Ehud Barak and Shlomo
Ben-Ami let Sharon loose. And That is where it will end, in a regional
blood-bath. I do not know when this will happen. But as from this week I
am convinced that it will come, if the world does not pound on Sharon’s
table with an iron fist.
Who will be the accomplices in this crime? Usi Landau,
the smiling fanatic, a right-wing bully disguised as a civilized human
being. Ehud Olmert, the mayor of West Jerusalem and military governor of
East Jerusalem, a mayor making war on half his city, a cynical
politician if ever there was one, a man without principles, who treads
on human bodies on his way to power (see: the tunnel incident). Defence
Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a man for every season and every policy,
whose sole interest is in himself. Shimon Peres, who always objects to
Sharon’s actions and always serves him faithfully. Avraham Burg, who
hopes to become Labor’s chairman, who was rejoicing with us on the
stairs of Orient House on the day of Oslo and is now eager to join the
Sharon government. At the head of the pyramid: Sharon himself,
determined to close every door and window that could serve as an
opening, not only for now but forever, in order to "inherit the land"
and fill it with settlements, as commanded by a god he does not believe
in. And in the background, Binjamin Netanyahu is trying to outflank
Sharon on the right, causing him to move even more to the right.
Indeed, a small step of the occupation, a giant step
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haGalil onLine 12-08-2001