Ha’aretz: Flee, Freedom Fighter, Flee
by Yonatan Pollack, translated by Rann Bar-On
The basis of my political education, on the price one must pay for the struggle, was very close to home – within the family in fact. My grandfather, Nimrod Eshel, was among the leaders of the seamen revolt in the early 1950’s. In a desperate attempt to break the strike and with no reason to arrest them, Ben Gurion instructed that he and others should be conscripted into the army. He was 27. My grandfather and his comrades saw the conscription as de facto administrative detention, but decided to go to the recruiting office anyway. This was a purely tactical decision, taken only after they had discussed going underground and the influence of such a step on the strike.
A few years earlier, my grandfather was arrested by the British in Latrun and Cyprus for his part in smuggling Jews from Europe. He often refers to these periods of arrest by saying “I had nothing against the British. It was a war – they arrested me and I tried to escape”. Indeed, the prisoners had planned their escape from both places, though the plans were never executed, but nonetheless clearly showed their feelings as to the duty to fulfill their period of punishment.
When I grew up a little the anarchist movement became my political home, and with it the ethos of the Spanish Underground fighters who were forced into exile, many of whom crossed the border back and forth to harass Franco’s army in the hills. To the stories of the past, other peoples’ memories, I want to add my joy at the end of Apartheid in South Africa, at the return of that country’s exiles. Together with the release of prisoners, those who had managed to escape from the Boers’ jails to Mozambique or Botswana, came back.
Those who escape from the clutches of a repressive regime, whether they are guerrilla fighters or political leaders, deserve support and even admiration from dissidents for the sacrifice they made. Exile, one must remember, is not an easy choice even for those who despise the political regime in their country of birth.
Due to its inability to deal with the demand that the state change from a Jewish ethnocracy to a real democracy, Israel is these days opening a new front in the attack on its Palestinian citizens. This front has taken shape in the form of Shabak statements to the effect that the demands of Israeli Arabs for equality is subversive and will be terminated even if it is not against the law, in the definition of Israeli Arabs as a strategic threat, and most of all in the invention of a criminal case against one of the most prominent leaders of the the Palestinian public in Israel – Azmi Bishara.
Any rational person with eyes in his head can see that that case against Bishara was made up by the Shabak. Despite this, in the current political atmosphere, Bishara’s trial (had he decided to show up for it) would have turned into a show trial and would have concluded long before the investigation was over. Even before the start of the the trial, while a ban on publication – full or partial – was still standing, Bishara was attacked by right-wingers, some more extreme than others, from Lieberman to Steiniz through Tamir and to Beilin. Many will be delighted to have rid themselves of the articulate challenge Bishara puts forth to Zionism and to the character of Israeli society. It is convenient for them to attempt to showcase him as one who has fled from the just punishment he deserves.
It is not surprising when the chorus of voices calling for Bishara to come back and receive his punishment comes from the right-wingers who see him as a strategic threat, but for some reason some of those who do understand the false spirit of the investigation are calling for him to come back and recognize the validity of the law, to come to terms with it in the name of civic responsibility. Those are the people who are abandoning him by the roadside and making him stand alone against the storm. In doing this, they are are abandoning the entire Palestinian Israeli public.
Bishara’s civic responsibility demands in fact that a spade is called a spade, that is to say that the treatment of the Palestinian minority by the Jewish majority in Israel, especially towards its political freedoms, has forced Bishara into becoming a refugee, and is leading to a dangerous situation. Everyone knows that in the face of political desperation, these are those who turn to using the pen as a weapon, and there are those who will be pushed into choosing other means.
It is pointless to return to a trial whose result has been predetermined. It was just for Bishara to leave into forced exile, from where he will be able to continue to point arrows at the enemy of all human beings – racism. All that remains for us to say is: flee, freedom fighter, flee.