Monday, April 30, 2012
Even Ury Avneri is an Optimist
He writes: I am an optimist. When talking about this, I am always reminded of a certain point in my life. It was October 1942, and the world was shaking. In Russia, the Nazi troops had reached Stalingrad and the titanic battle had been joined. There was no doubt that the Germans would take the city and move on. Further south, the invincible Wehrmacht had broken into the Caucasus. From there, a straight line led through Turkey and Syria to Palestine. Erwin Rommel’s renowned Afrika Korps had broken the British line and reached the Egyptian village of El Alamein, just 106 km from Alexandria. From there to Palestine was a matter of days. Already a year earlier, the Nazis had occupied Crete in the first airborne invasion in history. For anyone looking at the map, the situation was clear. From North, West and South the Veteran Leftist Ury Avnery is an optimist. Nazi military colossus was moving inexorably toward Palestine, with the aim of destroying the Jewish semi-state there. Adolf Hitler’s mad anti-Semitism led to no other conclusion. Our British masters obviously thought so, too. They had already sent their wives and children to Iraq. They themselves, it was rumored, were sitting on their suitcases, ready to escape at the first hint of a German breakthrough in Egypt. The Hagana, our main secret military organization, was making frantic preparations. Like the heroes of Masada some 1,900 years ago, who committed collective suicide rather than fall into Roman hands, our fighters would gather on the Carmel hills, there to fight and sell their lives dearly. I had just turned 19, and was living in Tel Aviv, a town nobody even considered defending. We knew it was the end. After the war ended with the total collapse of Nazi Germany, many books about the course of the war appeared. It transpired that the desperate crisis of October 1942 existed only in our imagination. The Crete airborne invasion, far from being a brilliant victory, was in reality a disaster. German losses were so high that Hitler forbade any repetition. Not knowing this, the British launched their own airborne operation in Holland toward the end of the war, which was also an unmitigated disaster. The German troops that had reached the Caucasus were totally exhausted and could march no further south. Of far-away Palestine they could not even dream. And, most importantly for us, Rommel had reached El Alamein on his last drops of petrol. Hitler, who viewed the entire North African campaign as a wasteful diversion from the main effort — Russia — refused to squander his scarce petrol there. He did not give a damn about Palestine. (Even if he did, there was no way to get the petrol across the Mediterranean. The British had broken the Italian naval code and knew of every ship leaving an Italian port.) The moral of the story: Even in the middle of a completely desperate situation, one does not know enough of the facts to lose hope.