We Must Unite Against the Extremists
"We Must Unite Against the Extremists"
BEFORE THE SPECIAL SESSION of the Knesset was convened at the request of the Likud to discuss the atrocities in Hebron, the Labour Alignment caucus met for urgent discussions on how to react to the Likud's initiative.
Mapam's representatives were reported to have proposed prior consultations with me, with the suggestion that if I undertook to make what they called a "moderate speech", the Alignment should agree to vote for a committee discussion of my proposals.
If I refused to give any such undertaking, the Alignment should move for the removal of any motion from the agenda.
In all the 27 years of my parliamentary experience, I have never heard so puerile an approach.
Obviously it was intended to convey that the Alignment would be charitable towards the Likud if it was prepared to transfer its motion into committee, whereas terrible punishment would be visited on us if we refused this great kindness.
Mapam, apparently, has forgotten, since it ceased to serve in the Opposition, that the purpose of a motion for the agenda is to direct public opinion to an important issue and to have it discussed in the Knesset plenum and not in committee.
What I subsequently said in the Knesset made members of the governing coalition lose their tempers. In particular, the Prime Minister raged when I spoke to the Government's collective responsibility for the terrible neglect in taking action that would prevent rioters from breaking into the Cave of Machpelah.
I imagine he had thought I would direct all my justified criticism at the Minister of Defence, Mr. Peres.
But just as the Cabinet, collectively, received congratulations for the Entebbe rescue, so, in accordance with parliamentary practice, it must be blamed collectively for the Hebron atrocity.
What the Likud has to say will always be said without regard to the expectations of the Alignment, and only in accordance with our conscience. There will never be any "deal" about the contents of our remarks in the Knesset.
After the debate, "Davar" reported that the Likud attitude in the Knesset had been "extremist". That is a label to which I intend referring later in this article, but let me first give you some extracts from the stenographic record of what I did say in the Knesset:
"I have taken to this rostrum today in sorrow, pain and distress. I have come from Hebron where I saw the burial of the Torah Scrolls that had been desecrated, stamped on and cut up. We saw our soldiers, our sons – officers and privates – bearing the eight coffins containing the ritual objects and the pitchers containing the remnants of the eight Torah scrolls…
"In the month of Av, 5689 – 47 years ago – 62 Jews were massacred in Hebron – men, women and children – with a cruelty equaled only the Nazis; and with them 80 Torah Scrolls were desecrated. Who imagined that 47 years later there would be a repetition of that desecration.
"In connection with this incident we have heard the word "pogrom" – a terrible, degrading Galut word. How has it been transferred from the Galut to Israel under a Hebrew Government? A pogrom in liberated Hebron, under a Hebrew Government? Can there be a pain like ours, an insult like ours, a shame like ours?
"But the truth is that the age of pogroms has passed, never to return. There will never again be a pogromist who will go unpunished.
"I have taken to this rostrum to state that we do not want any religious war. Both Islam and Christianity derived much from Judaism, even though there may be among them ungrateful ones who deny that truth when their passions become inflamed. In spite of all those who hate us, we will live together, Jews and Arabs, Jews and Moslems, together in Eretz Israel. We will live together in freedom, in justice, in equality of rights, in human decency. That is our belief. "I should like to refer to our brethren and friends, the settlers of Hebron, which is Kiryat Arba. A campaign of waged against them. We will waged against them. We will not support it; we will stand firmly against it. But in Hebron we also saw a high officer of the Israel Army, a man who more than once endangered his life for our freedom being shoved around – and pioneers and soldiers brawling. That is unpardonable. Never again should a hand be raised against a Hebrew officer or soldier.
"It is in the love of Israel and in the love of Eretz Israel that our truth will conquer."
After each paragraph, I could have put the question: "Where is the extremism in these words?"
Obviously, I also criticised the Government for two serious actions and for its terrible lapse on the eve of Yom Kippur.
On instructions from the Government, on Shabbat Shuva (the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) our soldiers – over a period of six hours – dragged Jewish worshippers from the Avraham Avinu synagogue. I said that if they had broken any law by going to pray there, they could have been brought to trial. But why should they have been dragged out during prayer? What would have been our reaction if such orders had been issued against Jews elsewhere?
Mr. Peres, who spoke for the Government, said he knew nothing of the incident.
Subsequently, 53 Israelis signed an affidavit attesting to the fact that there had been such an incident, and that it had lasted six hours and had taken place with Arabs looking on.
When he spoke in the Knesset, Mr. Peres did not, of course, accuse me of trying to mislead the Knesset or the public about the incident. He merely stated that the information I received was untrue. We now await a parliamentary statement from Mr. Peres acknowledging that his statement was not based on facts.
During my address to the Knesset I referred to the harm caused by repeated Kol Israel radio announcements on the eve of Yom Kippur about "the desecration of books of the Koran in Hebron."
(A cupboard had been overturned and books fell out) Many of us subsequently heard the BBC report that the desecration of the Torah Scrolls was in retaliation for that earlier "desecration".
Now, after weeks of violence, stone throwing at Jews (a daily event in Hebron) and the virtual abandonment of the Cave of Machpelah to agents-provocateurs, the Government has decided to place a permanent military guard in the Cave.
That belated action is indicative of the responsibility it bears for the extreme events that have taken place in Hebron recently.
- In Israel today there is an extremist group stretching from Moked to a section of the Labour Alignment itself. These people are extremist in their readiness for retreats that are likely to destroy our security and undermine the basis of our existence in this country.
- They are extremist in their readiness to hand over portions of Eretz Israel to an enemy – an act no other nation on earth would contemplate.
- They are extremist in their readiness to surrender peace as an aim. They go so far in their terrible extremism as to refuse to allow Jews to settle in certain areas of Eretz Israel.
They are terribly insulted if anyone reminds them that that was what the British White Papers once did. But the truth is that they have written the blackest page in our history by proclaiming that certain areas of our homeland must not be settled by Jews and by calling for the employment of our Army to oust any Jewish citizens who wish to settle there.
- They are also extremist in their character assassination, in their organised incitement, in their gross expressions, in their unbridled language.
"A cancer in the body of the nation" is what the Housing Minister, and in his wake the Prime Minister, call the Gush Emunim.
At times the hatred that inflames those who oppose these youths who love Eretz Israel is shattering. It is felt in the Cabinet chamber itself – against these young people who, in the main, are soldiers, parachutists, young men who have defended this nation with their bodies.
Is this Government determined, as its words seem to indicate to root out this "cancer"? Does it intend to wipe out this youth?
In the face of this dangerous extremism, it is our duty to consolidate all the positive forces which believe that love of Eretz Israel is something natural, that it is therefore identical with Jewish and Zionist moderation and truth.
This camp of those who love their nation and their land, and will stand up against the extremists, is a mighty one. It is greater now than at any time in the history of our State. We can and will unite it.
(Translated from the Hebrew by Joe Kuttner)