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October 29, 2011
A VIEW FROM THE VILLA
by Uri Avnery
THE KILLING of Muammar Gaddafi and his son Muatasim was not a pretty
sight. After seeing it once, I looked away when it was shown again and again
on TV – literally ad nauseam.
Commercial TV exists, of course, to make money for the tycoons by appealing
to the basest instincts and tastes of the masses. There seems to be an
insatiable appetite for gruesome sights.
But in Israel there was another motive for showing these lynch scenes
repeatedly, as the commentators made abundantly clear. These scenes
proved, to their mind, the primitive, barbaric, murderous nature of the Arab
peoples, and, indeed, of Islam as such.
Ehud Barak likes to describe Israel as a “villa in the middle of a jungle”. By
now this is accepted by the great majority of our media people. They never
miss an opportunity to point out that we live in a “dangerous neighborhood”
– making it clear that Israel does not really belong to this neighborhood. We
are a civilized Western people, sadly surrounded by these primitive savages.
(As I have mentioned many times, this goes right back to the founder of
Zionism, Theodor Herzl, who wrote that the future Zionist state would be a
part of “the wall of civilization against Asiatic barbarism”.)
Since this attitude has far-reaching mental and political implications, let’s
have a closer look.
I AM against the death penalty, in all its forms. Executions, whether in Texas
or in China, disgust me. I would have much preferred Gaddafi to be tried in a
But my first reaction to the sight was: My God, how much a people must hate
its ruler if they treat him like that! Obviously, the decades of abominable
terror inflicted on the Libyan people by this half-crazy despot have destroyed
any remnants of mercy they may have felt. (His fanatical defenders to the
last, members of his tribe, seem to be a tiny minority.)
His clownish appearance and foreign adventures diverted the attention of
world opinion from the murderous aspects of his rule. From time to time, on
a whim, he let loose waves of horror, torturing and killing anyone who had so
much as voiced a hint of criticism, trying them in football stadiums, where the
roar of the maddened crowds drowned out the pitiful pleading for mercy of
the condemned. On one occasion, his thugs shot all the 1200 inmates of Abu
Salim prison in Tripoli.
True, he spent some money on building schools and hospitals, but that was a
tiny part of the huge amounts of oil revenue squandered on his bizarre
adventures or stolen by his family. This immensely rich country has a poor
population, a singe narrow road from Egypt through to Tunisia and a
standard of living that is a third of ours.
You did not have to be an Arab barbarian or Muslim arch-terrorist to do what
was done to him. Actually, the highly civilized Italians (Libya’s former colonial
masters) did exactly the same in 1945. When the partisans caught the fleeing
Benito Mussolini, he pleaded piteously for his life, but they killed him on the
spot together with his mistress. Their bodies were thrown into the street,
kicked and spat upon by the crowd, and then hanged by their feet from meat
hooks from the roof of a gas station, where the public threw stones at them
for days on end. I don’t remember anybody in civilized Europe protesting.
Contrary to Mussolini and Gaddafi, Adolf Hitler was not caught while
ignominiously trying to escape. He chose a much more dignified exit. But
during his last weeks Gaddafi rather resembled Hitler, living in a world of
crazy delusion, moving nonexistent troops around on the map, sure to the
end of the boundless love of his people.
Nicolae Ceausescu, another bloody tyrant, had his day – or hour – in court. It
was a charade, as such trials are bound to be. The kangaroo court
condemned him to death and he was shot forthwith, together with his wife.
GADDAFI’S DEMISE puts an end to the debate that started months ago.
There can be no doubt any more that the vast majority of the Libyan people
detested Gaddafi and welcomed the NATO campaign that helped to remove
him. It was an important contribution, but the actual heavy fighting was done
by the ragtag people’s army. Libya liberated itself. Even in Tripoli, it was the
people who put an end to the tyranny.
I was sharply attacked by some well-meaning European leftists for blessing
the awful monster called NATO. Now, in retrospect, it is quite obvious that
the overwhelming – if not unanimous – opinion of the Libyans themselves
welcomed the intervention.
Where did I differ from these leftists? I think that they have sewn themselves
into a kind of ideological straightjacket. During the Vietnam war they arrived
at a world view that was appropriate for that particular situation: there were
good guys and bad guys. The good guys were the Vietnamese Communists
and their allies. The bad guys were the US and its puppets. Since then, they
have applied this schema to every situation around the world: South Africa,
But every situation is different. Vietnam is not Libya, the South African
problem was much more simple than ours. Great power politics may remain
constant, and very unattractive at that, but there are huge differences
between the various situations. I was very much against the US wars in
Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, and very much in favor of the NATO
campaigns in Kosovo and Libya.
For me, the starting point of every analysis is what the people concerned
want and need, and only after that do I wonder how the international schema
applies to them. Working from the inside out, so to speak, not from the
Also, I have never quite understood the dogma which seems to answer all
questions: “it’s all about oil”. Gaddafi sold his oil on the world market, and so
will his successors, on the same terms. International oil corporations are all
the same to me. Is there much of a difference between the Russian Gazprom
and the American Esso?
Some former Communists seem to have a kind of inherited attachment to
Russia, almost automatically supporting its international positions, from
Afghanistan to Serbia to Syria. Why? What is the similarity between Vladimir
Putin and the Soviets? Putin does not subscribe to the dictatorship of the
proletariat, he is quite satisfied with a dictatorship of himself.
IF GADDAFI’S savage end has reinforced all the Islamophobic obsessions in
the West, the elections in Tunisia have made matters worse.
Help! The Islamists have won the elections! The Muslim Brotherhood will win
the elections in Egypt! The Arab Spring will turn the whole region into one
vast hotbed of Jihad! Israel and The West are in mortal danger!
This is all nonsense. And dangerous nonsense at that, because it may derail
any sensible American and European policy towards the Arab world.
Sure, Islam is on the rise. Islamic parties have resisted the Arab
dictatorships and were persecuted by them, and therefore are popular in the
aftermath of their downfall – much as European Communists were very
popular in France and Italy after the defeat of Fascism. From there on,
support for these parties declined.
Islam is an important part of Arab civilization. Many Arabs are sincere
believers. Islamic parties will certainly play an important role in any
democratic Arab order, much as Jewish religious parties play – alas – an
important role in Israeli politics. Most of these Arab parties are moderate,
like the governing Islamic party in Turkey.
It is certainly desirable that these parties become a part of the democratic
order, rather than turning into its enemy. They must be inside the tent,
otherwise the tent may collapse. I believe that this is in the best interest of
Israel, too. That’s why my friends and I favor Fatah-Hamas reconciliation and
advocate direct negotiations between Israel and Hamas, and not only for
Our media are outraged: the interim Prime Minister of Libya has announced
that Islamic law – the sharia – will guide the enactment of new laws in his
country. It seems our journalists are ignorant of the existence of an Israeli
law that says that if there are legal questions for which there are no ready
answers, the religious Jewish law – the Halakha - will fill the void. Moreover,
there is a new bill before the Knesset that states unequivocally that the
Halakha will decide legal disputes.
The outcome of the Tunisian elections was, to my mind, very positive. As
expected, the moderate Islamic party won a plurality, but not a majority. It
must form a coalition with secular parties and is willing to do so. These
parties, totally new and practically unknown, need time to establish their
identity and structure.
To add a personal note, Rachel and I went to Tunisia many times to meet
Yasser Arafat, and rather liked the people. We were especially taken by the
many men we saw in the streets wearing a jasmine flower behind the ear. No
wonder that such people could make an almost bloodless “jasmine
If elections in other Arab countries follow this pattern, as seems probable, it
will be all for the best.
THE OBAMA administration was clever enough to jump on the bandwagon of
the Arab revolutions, though at the very last moment. We Israelis did not
have this sense. Our Islamophobia has caused us to miss a golden
opportunity for a new image among the young Arab revolutionaries.
Instead, we contrast our goodness with the barbarism of the Libyans, who
have once again shown the true nature of the jungle surrounding our villa.