DevMode
In 1948 I was one of several representatives of LEHI (the Hebrew initials of the Fighters for the Freedom of Israel - a.k.a. the Stern Gang) in New York, trying to recruit young people and garner financial ["recruit money" sounds odd] and political backing for our organization, which was then fighting the British - and the Arabs - in Palestine.
The British - and many others in the Yishuv - described us as terrorists, just as the Germans in Russia had so recently used the same term to describe the partisans rising against them. Already then I realized that this is the usual pejorative that people holding absolute, arbitrary power use to describe any civilian who dares to challenge them with force.
We were following the momentous events at home with terrible anxiety, pestering our superiors for permission to return home and join the fight. In letters from home, I learned of many friends, former classmates and acquaintances who had been killed or wounded in battle, and despite our activity in helping the struggle, we felt useless. Before joining LEHI I had been a member of the Haganah (the Jewish community's semi-legal paramilitary organization), and felt quite confident that we could face and defeat the local Arab-Palestinian armed forces. But we feared the imminent invasion by the regular Arab armies. All the weapons I had learned to use in both organizations were small arms, and our field training was rudimentary. But here we were about to face real armies, with tanks, artillery and planes. How could we hope to survive that? We were going to have to fight with our backs against the wall, and we had few illusions as to what would happen to us if we lost.

Discovering the True Nature of the Struggle

But we also had a vision as to what should happen if we won. I revert here to my own case. I was born in Jerusalem in 1927 to a family that had been living in Palestine since the early 19th century. My father spoke fluent "baladi" Arabic and had many Arab friends. The conflict with the Arabs lay like a heavy cloud over all our lives. I still remember in 1936 my father coming home from his law office quite early, all pale, telling us about a legal acquaintance of his who was killed when visiting Jaffa at the beginning of the Arab Revolt. The Haganah always trained to fight the Arabs, and it seemed an endless, hopeless struggle. But a few evenings which I spent as a 17-year-old Haganah night watchman on a kibbutz in the company of an older kibbutz member, who was also a Hashomer Hatzair ideologist, woke me up, to paraphrase Kant, from my ideological slumber.
The real struggle in Palestine, he explained to me, was not between Jew and Arab. We both, Jews and Arabs, were pawns in the hands of the British playing the ancient imperialist game of "divide and rule." The British wanted Palestine not for the purpose of helping the Jews build a national home, but in order to defend the Suez Canal, which leads to India and to the other British possessions in Asia, and to protect the oil pipeline from Iraq. The true way to fulfill Zionist aims was not to serve as an imperialist tool but to collaborate with the Arabs and jointly push out the British and build with the Arabs a common homeland - a bi-national state.
Of course, there were many other contributing causes to my awakening, which lasted more than one conversation and more than one night. In the course of time, I realized that the reality was indeed much more complicated. But it was the beginning of a journey which led me to Marxism on one hand and to Canaanism on the other, and later beyond both to the discovery of myself, of my own views of the world, and of serious politics, going beyond clichés and advancing into political theory.

Becoming a Canaanite

A year or two later, my friend at the time, Amos Kenan, introduced me to Canaanite thinking. When he described it to me, I suddenly realized that I had already struggled with similar barely conscious thoughts. I was just ripe for this new, clearly formulated post-Zionist thinking, which envisaged the Yishuv as the nucleus of a new nation, originating indeed in the Jewish Diaspora, but which is now completely separated from it and pursuing its own national aims. These aims call for the "Hebraization" of the whole Middle East, which indeed was once a Hebrew-speaking region, separating religion from state and ensuring full rights and equality to all members of all the ethnic and religious segments inhabiting it. I did not know it at the time, but the founder of Canaanism, the poet Yonatan Ratosh, had been a close friend of the founder of LEHI, Abraham Stern, and influenced his thinking.
A Time for New Alignments and Political Thinking

But a far more urgent decision faced me and many other young people of my generation. Everybody recognized that the official Zionist policy of collaborating with Great Britain was bankrupt. It was also clear that Britain was no longer the empire on which "the sun never sets." It was a time ripe for new alignments and new political thinking.
It was also becoming clear that the traditional Zionist institutions were already setting their sights on the United States as a substitute for Britain, in the everlasting search for a great power backing to counterbalance the hostility of the region. But some became utterly disgusted with the unseemly wooing of new masters. It was not only a matter of pride. It was a feeling of new strength, a basic feeling that we no longer needed a protector, as a result of the growing size, strength and wealth of the Yishuv. We felt already a state within a state, and few were surprised when the Yishuv easily assumed all the functions of a state immediately upon the end of the Mandate, whereas the British apparently expected chaos to ensue. Everything was already prepared. We had our independent educational system, our own agricultural and industrial systems, our own army and police, our own health care system, all built for decades within the Mandatory cocoon.

Fighting for Liberation from the British

LEHI was the first political underground group to come out with the declaration that our fight was not against the White Paper policy, and it was not a fight aiming to make Britain hold to the principles of the Balfour Declaration. As a matter of fact, LEHI declared that that Declaration was itself illegal. Who gave Britain the right to promise a land that it didn't own to anyone else in the first place? We were the people of the land, and we were fighting to free it from British rule. LEHI also declared in its wall posters that this was a fight to liberate the Arabs as well from British bondage.
For me and others, this came as a breath of fresh air, a hope to liberate ourselves from the perpetual nightmare of internecine war and the eternal burden of subservience. There was also the knowledge of the Jewish catastrophe in Europe, which added to the sense of urgency. But truth be told, it played a secondary role in our minds. I remember a conversation in which a clear-minded acquaintance explained that he was not bitter at the British at all for their detached attitude. The Arabs were far more important for the British than the Jews. Britain was fighting for its life, and had no time for moral and humane considerations. We would have acted the same way under similar circumstances. These were reasons of state and, in my new-found enthusiasm for the unflinching realism of Marx, I had to acknowledge their validity and understand the necessity of maneuvering in the bleak landscape of power politics - which is exactly where we had to move if we wished to gain our independence and dignity.
This mindset propelled LEHI from the extreme right, where it originated, towards the left and the support of the Soviet Union, which was anathema to the right-wing IZL (the Irgun Zvai Leumi, or simply the Irgun in English, as it was known abroad), which remained largely a Zionist and anti-Arab movement. This was partly also due to the admiration and gratitude we felt for the Soviet Union for defeating the Nazis. LEHI began to describe its fight in anti-imperialistic terms, and its aim the abolition of British domination over the whole Middle East, for the benefit of both Jews and Arabs. Our fight, it was reasoned, was the beginning of the region's rebellion against foreign imperialism. This was also what the two LEHI men sent to assassinate Lord Moyne in Cairo in 1944 proclaimed in their defense speeches at the Egyptian court which tried them. These speeches won the enthusiastic support of many young Egyptians, and some Palestinian Arabs also began to cooperate with LEHI, notably some members of the Abu Ghosh clan in the village by that name near Jerusalem.

"Foundations for a Hebrew Foreign Policy"

What made me finally decide to join LEHI in early 1947 was a flyer entitled "Foundations for a Hebrew Foreign Policy," which envisaged a federated Middle East, with the future Hebrew state (the name "Israel" didn't yet exist) as a prominent member. This federation would steer a neutral course between the two emerging post-war power blocs.
This vision provided the answer to the dilemma: What would be the end of the endless war with the Arabs? Anyone with any political perspective had always been aware that we would eventually have to find a modus vivendi with them.

Dreams and Reality

In this sense I am still a member of LEHI. I believe that our full independence will only be gained with our full acceptance by the peoples of the Middle East. That is why the 60th anniversary of Israel is for me now the sad reminder of a broken dream, as well as the memory of the Nakba. This country, a lackey of the worst elements in the United States, worshipping military prowess, corrupted by power and money, with billionaires on one side and the mass of helpless poor on the other, perverted by a perverted religious kleptocracy and messianic maniacs, is not what we hoped for and what sustained us in those terrible months of 1948. <

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