Zeev Sternhell is careful about his choice of words when he
unhesitatingly calls the pipe bomb which exploded outside his front
door last week "an act of Jewish terrorism."
a Holocaust survivor orphaned by the age of seven and a combat veteran
of Israel's wars, Professor Sternhell, 73, who was lucky to have only
been injured in the leg by flying shrapnel from the bomb, is
"horrified" not for himself but because it might have hit his wife,
daughter his grandchildren on one of their sleepovers, or their
neighbours. "It was a terror act because they couldn't know who would
have been hit."
Given that, as he wryly puts it, he has no
known enemies in the "criminal underworld", the reason for what police
think was attempted murder isn't hard to find. As a veteran member of
Peace Now, and vigorous opponent of the occupation since the late
1970s, the Hebrew University scholar, Israel Prize laureate and
internationally-known authority on the roots of fascism apparently
became the target of the highest-profile attack inside Israel by far
right-wing Jewish extremists since Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in
But if the attack was meant to silence one of the country's
foremost public intellectuals, it hasn't worked. For a start he does
not rule out a connection with strong signs of increasing violence by
settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank. In recent weeks,
extremist settlers have rioted, blocked roads, burned Palestinian
orchards and in one case, armed settlers have attacked a village.
that the army and the police are "either unwilling or unable or
probably both" to enforce the law against attacks on Palestinians in a
West Bank where the settlers enjoy a kind of "self rule", he says the
extremists believe that "people like me who think that they are the
real danger to Zionism, to the future of the Israeli state, should be
neutralised and should be punished... So I think there is a link
between the brutality and violence that is the reality of everyday life
in the West Bank and this attack."
Of the 250,000 West Bank
settlers he estimates that only some 40,000 to 50,000 are truly
ideological and of these only "a few thousand are ready to use force."
He pinpoints the new generation of "hilltop youth" who, in a pattern
familiar from "revolutionary movements", regard their aging leadership
as "traitors" for being willing to discuss with the government even the
possibility of voluntary evacuation from a few outposts.
who are "deeply convinced that the future of the Jewish people depends
on them," therefore regard violence as legitimate and believe that "God
is with us, and God will see to it that we will get rid of the
Palestinians. That is more or less their philosophy."
Professor Sternhell, the answer is the early evacuation of "at least 95
per cent of the West Bank" and for the authorities to prepare to bring
the settlers across back across the 1967 border and into Israel. But
here there is a paradox. On the one hand, he believes that the violence
may stem "from a sense of urgency" on the extreme right because "they
have reached the conclusion that the Israeli political elite is now
much closer to what I think than to their ideas".
conclusion was reinforced by the outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert,
who this week finally acknowledged something that Professor Sternhell
has been arguing for 30 years - that almost all the West Bank will have
to be handed back if there is to be peace. But while he thinks
ideologically the left may have won a "battle" - though not the "war" -
he is highly conscious that after relentless settlement growth over 40
years, bringing the settlers "home" in practice will be "a very tough
job" and questions whether the Israeli establishment has "the moral
energy and leadership capability" to carry it through.
Israeli political elite is very weak... the fact is that the people in
power are not ready for the confrontation with the settlers... I am not
optimistic. I don't see who is able in the coming years to start
confronting the question seriously."
Which is why he believes
that the only hope is a "strong intervention by the international
community - the US and EU". He adds: "I think that the British, French
the Germans should start thinking seriously about moving their arses
and trying to do something more than what Tony Blair is doing."
Sternhell may be stretching Mr Blair's mandate as Middle East envoy by
declaring that he is "in charge of negotiations". But he is in deadly
earnest when he considers: "I personally have reached the conclusion we
cannot do it on our own, due to the weaknesses of the Israeli
democracy, the weakness of the Palestinian Authority."
that the "step by step" approach of Oslo was a "total mistake", he
insists: "All the issues need to be dealt with together and everyone
with an interest in the Middle East must participate I don't see how
things can move otherwise."
Asked how he feels, as a Jew with
his classic Israeli biography, to have had his home attacked by Jews,
Professor Sternhell muses that: "Everybody is able to do anything.
Being Jewish or not being Jewish does not immunize you from all the
evils that can exist in history and politics."
Just as it makes
him "very, very unhappy" to see Sudanese refugees arriving in Israel
from Egypt being treated not so differently from how "Jews were treated
in Europe 70 years ago", so he is also mortified to see "Jews as
occupiers of the West Bank" - or the treatment by Israeli soldiers of
Palestinians - not because the soldiers want it but because of a
And he says: "What I want to do is to change the situation."
The thoughts of Zeev Sternhell: An Israeli scholar's verdict
On Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy on behalf ofthe US, the EU, the UN and Russia, the so-called Quartet:
Blair is transforming himself from a ten-year successful Prime Minister
into a ridiculous figure, a clown. He is now in charge of negotiations,
so what is he doing exactly. Where is he?"
On Ehud Olmert,
outgoing Prime Minister of Israel and a recent convert to the idea of
handing back "almost all" of the West Bank:
"He's just 30 years late. It's unbelievable. This is what [we on the left] have been saying for 30 years."
On Ehud Barak, Israeli Defence Minister:
funny - well, not funny buttragic - to see a man like Ehud Barak, a
real war hero, someone who was scared of nothing, who didn't know what
it meant to be scared. [Yet] politically, a confrontation with the
settlers is beyond his capacity. It's very sad."