Tuesday, February 1, 2011

From darkness to light

It happens again and again in history, and each time it comes as a surprise. People endure severe repression for decades, sometimes centuries, and see no choice but resignation, with the ruling power crushing anybody who dares to protest or revolt. And suddenly, without anyone expecting or predicting it, a spark sets off a great conflagration. The oppressed wake up and unite and rebel and discover how powerful they are. Suddenly the chains break and the apparatus of oppression is smashed to pieces and falls down and those who were oppressed yesterday breath the intoxicating air of emancipation.

So it must have been in 1789 in Paris when the crowds stormed the grim fortress and prison called the Bastille. So in the Berlin of 1989 when thousands of enthusiastic youths people celebrated at the top of the Wall where just days before anyone approaching faced being shot to death forthwith. One of the first known cases in human history was in Egypt thousands of years ago, when a subversive revolutionary named Moses led an enslaved people to face one of the great empires of the time and come out from slavery to liberty, from oppression to redemption, from mourning into celebration, from darkness into a great light, as we are reminded in the Hagada of Passover. And again, this very day at Tahrir Square, Liberation Square, in the heart of Cairo, where the millions gathered to overthrow the rule of tyranny.

Who can oppose the demand and aspiration of the massed Egyptians - young and old, men and woman, secular and religious, Muslims and Christians - to change their lives and live in a democracy and win basic rights? Who can object their having the same rights which citizens of Israel take for granted - the right to freely express their opinions, to organize politically as they please and choose their own government and parliament in free and democratic elections?

Who can object to that? In the state of Israel many can and do, a lot of politicians and journalists and commentators and experts until a week ago never imagined what was about to happen in their field of experience. All as one they express concern and worry and anxiety over the spectre which is haunting the Middle East — the spectre of democracy, the fierce storm blowing out of the streets of Cairo and Alexandria and Suez and the other cities of Egypt. Democracy? In Egypt? In an Arab country? What a disaster, what a nightmare, a real nightmare!

Indeed, who can tell what will happen if free elections are held in the land of the Nile? Truly free elections, truly democratic elections to which all candidates can present themselves and all parties contest in a country with eighty million citizens? Who can tell? That's the problem with free elections. You can only be sure of the result after all votes had been counted.

Certainly, there is no certainty and no guarantee that in free and democratic elections – in Egypt or in any other country – it will always be good and worthy candidates who get elected. Here in our State of Israel, which until now boasted of being the only democracy in the Middle East, one can see a living example of how fanatic religious nationalists can penetrate the political system and gain power and influence far beyond their numbers. Also a very concrete example of how a racist demagogue can establish a political party and conduct a campaign of pure incitement and gaining the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs immediately following the elections. On this very day we saw at Knesset in Jerusalem how parliamentarians duly elected in democratic elections can engage in a witch hunt and attempt to gag Human Rights organizations and try to undermine the democratic system in which they were elected.

And still, with all the faults and difficulties, Winston Churchill said of Democracy: It is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried."

Congratulations, Democratic Egypt which was born today! Congratulations from the depth of the heart!

And what about the peace?

"Only Hosni Mubarak and the members of his close associated are truly committed to the peace between Egypt and Israel. If power passes out of this circle, the peace will be in great danger" wrote in the pages of "Yediot Ahronot" one of the experts who are so confused and at a loss over the past week.

Indeed, already for many years the peace between Israel and Egypt is a cold peace, a peace without a soul, a peace with the regime and not with the Egyptian people. This; for a clear and manifest reason - the continued occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people by Israel. In his historic speech in the Knesset thirty-three years ago, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat called for an end the occupation and peace between Israel and the Palestinians, seeking to bring down the psychological walls separating the two peoples. Successive Israeli governments instead insisted on the repression of the Palestinians. From the Sabra and Shatila Massacre, a bare few months after the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was implemented, to the bombing and mass killing in Gaza during the "Cast Lead" war, Egyptian citizens have witnessed on their screens scenes of horror which made them regard their country's peace with Israel as a disgusting phenomenon.

At this moment, the struggle going on in the streets of Egyptian cities is mainly directed inwards, aimed at a deep change in the regime and society, and relations with Israel play only a marginal part in it. Only by at long last ending the occupation and reaching peace with the Palestinians can Israel preserve and even strengthen the peace with Egypt, under whatever government and regime will emerge from the current popular struggle.