Uri Avnery – Why I didn’t become a Canaanite (24/315)

There were Canaanites, who really attracted me I had a friend, Binyamin Tammuz, who was a painter, sculptor and dealt with all sorts of things; he was Canaanite. Canaanites, for anyone who doesn’t know, was a group of mostly aspiring writers and artists, whose ideology was very simple: we are not Jews, we have no business with Jews, we − who were born in this country… we are “Hebrews”‘. This is a new nation that is connected with the people who existed 2000 years ago, the ancient Canaanites, and we are going to establish a Hebrew state here. We have no business with the Jewish diaspora. The Arab national movement is a bluff; It’s an invention of the British. The Arabs are basically Hebrews who at some point converted and they need to be converted back again, to turn them into Hebrews and establish the Land of Ever, from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, from the great river to the Euphrates. This was a very appealing and liberating theory that everything old is nothing, garbage, degeneration. It interested me. Tammuz brought me into it. Tammuz was very impressive. One day he said: ‘You have to meet with Yonatan Ratosh’, who was quite a well-known poet, also a well-known journalist, ‘He will persuade you.’ Okay, I met with Yonatan Ratosh at Cafe Gdanski on Yavne St near Montefiore. Yonatan Ratosh was the ugliest person I’d ever seen. He was so ugly that it almost turned him into something beautiful. We argued. We sat and drank coffee in Gdanski and we argued. First, he lectured about his theory, Then he asked me: ‘What do you think about what I said?’ So I said: ‘It is very appealing and I am very much in favour of this,
I only have two small questions. The first: why are you against Jewish immigration? Jews will come to Israel, they will have children, the children will be Hebrew, you will treat them, the Jews, like factories producing Hebrews’. In parentheses: the word proletarians, a Roman word, comes from the word proletariat. Proletarian − proletariat in Roman… was a person, a citizen of Rome, whose only role in life was to produce soldiers for Rome. Then I said: ‘If you relate to the Jews as to those who have the same function’ one must remember that all of this was before the Holocaust ‘they will come, they will settle here, they will have children, the children will become Hebrews, and that’s it. The second thing: I do not see how the Arabs will become Hebrews. There is a large and splendid Arab national movement, and I think they should be our allies. The idea that they will be Hebrews… appears to me to be a somewhat unrealistic idea’. The man was so offended. Here was a boy − how old was I? 18 or something? He was close to 30 – and he was offended. Many years later, when we would meet on the street, on Dizengoff St, and I would say ‘Shalom’,
he would not answer, ‘Shalom’ Right up to the end of his life he did not say ‘Shalom’ to me. So that’s what happened. I did not become a Canaanite. But I began to process the basic idea that we are a new nation, an idea that I rather liked, and that was what I was processing.

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