Bertrand Russell’s Last Message
By Bertrand Russell
This statement on the Middle East was dated 31st January, 1970, and
was read on 3rd February, the day after Bertrand Russell’s death, to an
International Conference of Parliamentarians meeting in Cairo.
The latest phase of the undeclared war in the Middle East is based upon a
profound miscalculation. The bombing raids deep into Egyptian territory will not
persuade the civilian population to surrender, but will stiffen their resolve to
resist. This is the lesson of all aerial bombardment.
The Vietnamese who have endured years of American heavy bombing have
responded not by capitulation but by shooting down more enemy aircraft. In 1940
my own fellow countrymen resisted Hitler’s bombing raids with unprecedented
unity and determination. For this reason, the present Israeli attacks will fail
in their essential purpose, but at the same time they must be condemned
vigorously throughout the world.
The development of the crisis in the Middle East is both dangerous and
instructive. For over 20 years Israel has expanded by force of arms. After every
stage in this expansion Israel has appealed to “reason” and has suggested
“negotiations”. This is the traditional role of the imperial power, because it
wishes to consolidate with the least difficulty what it has already taken by
violence. Every new conquest becomes the new basis of the proposed negotiation
from strength, which ignores the injustice of the previous aggression. The
aggression committed by Israel must be condemned, not only because no state has
the right to annexe foreign territory, but because every expansion is an
experiment to discover how much more aggression the world will tolerate.
The refugees who surround Palestine in their hundreds of thousands were
described recently by the Washington journalist I.F. Stone as “the moral
millstone around the neck of world Jewry.” Many of the refugees are now well
into the third decade of their precarious existence in temporary settlements.
The tragedy of the people of Palestine is that their country was “given” by a
foreign Power to another people for the creation of a new State. The result was
that many hundreds of thousands of innocent people were made permanently
homeless. With every new conflict their number have increased. How much longer
is the world willing to endure this spectacle of wanton cruelty? It is
abundantly clear that the refugees have every right to the homeland from which
they were driven, and the denial of this right is at the heart of the continuing
conflict. No people anywhere in the world would accept being expelled en masse
from their own country; how can anyone require the people of Palestine to accept
a punishment which nobody else would tolerate? A permanent just settlement of
the refugees in their homeland is an essential ingredient of any genuine
settlement in the Middle East.
We are frequently told that we must sympathize with Israel because of the
suffering of the Jews in Europe at the hands of the Nazis. I see in this
suggestion no reason to perpetuate any suffering. What Israel is doing today
cannot be condoned, and to invoke the horrors of the past to justify those of
the present is gross hypocrisy. Not only does Israel condemn a vast number. of
refugees to misery; not only are many Arabs under occupation condemned to
military rule; but also Israel condemns the Arab nations only recently emerging
from colonial status, to continued impoverishment as military demands take
precedence over national development.
All who want to see an end to bloodshed in the Middle East must ensure that
any settlement does not contain the seeds of future conflict. Justice requires
that the first step towards a settlement must be an Israeli withdrawal from all
the territories occupied in June, 1967. A new world campaign is needed to help
bring justice to the long-suffering people of the Middle East.
Russell Tribunal to meet in Cape Town from 5-6 Nov 2011
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine (see http://www.russelltribunalonpalestine.com/en/ ) will meet in the District Six museum in Cape Town from 5 – 6 November 2011, and will be opened by Archbishop-emeritus Desmond Tutu.
The Cape Town leg of the Russell Tribunal will consider the question: Is Israel an Apartheid State?
This will be by invitation only, but if you would like to be part of this event for one or two hours, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will see to what extent your participation can be secured.
Please see the following video on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpN0GEvl-vk
Stephane Hessel will be in Cape Town from 4 – 6 November to be part of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine
Time for Outrage!
February 16, 2011 |
This article appeared in the March 7-14, 2011 edition of The Nation.
Charles Glass is the London publisher of this book. © Charles Glass 2011.
Toward the end of 2010, a small book by a 93-year-old man unexpectedly reached
the summit of the bestseller list in France. Indignez-vous! by
Stéphane Hessel sold more than 600,000 copies between October and the end of
December, propelling it above Prix Goncourt–winner Michel Houellebecq’s novel La carte et le territoire
by several hundred thousand copies. Hessel had written other books. His publishers,
the independent Indigène Editions in Montpellier, far from Paris, had produced
other volumes. But none had reached the public in such numbers. The book both
reflected and anticipated the spirit of student demonstrations in France and
Britain, as it did the wave of revolt now challenging dictatorships in the
Hessel’s life would make a novel, although his
story is too hopeful to be told by nihilist Houellebecq. His father, Franz
Hessel, was a German Jewish writer who emigrated to France with his family in
1924, when Stéphane was 7. Franz’s friend Henri-Pierre Roché used him and his
wife, Prussian beauty Helen Grund, as models for Jules and Kate in his 1953
novel Jules et Jim.
This was the enchanting tale of a woman who loved and was loved by two men that
was translated to the screen in 1962 by François Truffaut. Franz Hessel wrote
novels in German and French. His admiration for France and French literature
led him to produce, with the great German Jewish literary critic Walter
Benjamin, the first German translation of Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu.
Stéphane grew up in a literary milieu that the German invasion of France
shattered in 1940. After studying at the University of Paris’s prestigious
École Normale Supérieure, he served in the French Army during the Battle of
France and, like more than a million other French soldiers, became a prisoner
of war. Following his escape from a POW camp, he joined Gen. Charles de Gaulle
and his small band of Free French résistants.
Hessel’s was a rare act of patriotism when most of the French professed loyalty
to Vichy leader Marshal Philippe Pétain and his policy of collaboration with
Germany. The attitude of the majority of Hessel’s military colleagues found
expression in the decision of a French court-martial that sentenced de Gaulle
in absentia to death for treason. Hessel belonged to a tiny minority that was
outraged enough to oppose Pétain’s New Order, which replaced “liberty, equality
and fraternity” with “work, family and nation.”
While Stéphane was working with de Gaulle in
London, Franz Hessel died in France. Stéphane parachuted into occupied France
in advance of the Allied invasion of 1944 to organize Resistance networks. The
Gestapo captured him and subjected him to the baignoire, a form of
torture that would later be called waterboarding. He was transported to
Buchenwald and Dora concentration camps, avoiding the gallows only by switching
identities with an inmate who had died. While being transferred to
Bergen-Belsen, he escaped.
Hessel became a diplomat after the war and was
involved, along with Eleanor Roosevelt, in drafting the United Nations
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Awards and honors followed, the most
recent of which are the Council of Europe’s North-South Prize in 2004, the rank
of Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor in 2006 and the 2008 UNESCO/Bilbao
Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights. Throughout his postwar
life as a diplomat and writer, Hessel has retained the sense of indignation
that drove him during the war. This book is a testament to his belief in the
universality of rights, as his defense of Palestinians under Israeli occupation
and of illegal immigrants in France attests. The popularity of this slim but
powerful volume answered the public’s need for a voice to articulate popular
resentment of ruling-class ruthlessness, police brutality, stark income
disparities, banking and political corruption, and victimization of the poor
and immigrants. Hessel had arrived in France when many of the French were decrying
Jewish immigration as the “threat from the East” (about which Joseph Roth wrote
movingly at the time in essays later collected and published in the book The Wandering Jews).
Of course, the real threat from the East was the Nazism that many on the French
right admired as an antidote to what they perceived as the indiscipline of
French society. Their intellectual heirs—echoing the earlier distaste for
foreigners and for the ostensible fecklessness of the working class—hold
positions of power in France today.
Hessel writes in this book, “How lucky I am to be
able to draw on the foundation of my political life: the Resistance and the
National Council of the Resistance’s program from sixty-six years ago.” That
program, declared on March 15, 1944, set out the wartime and, significantly,
postwar goals of the Resistance. Defeating the Nazis and their French
collaborators was only a stage, the combined Resistance declared, on the way to
“a true economic and social democracy.” Hessel rejects the claims that the state
can no longer cover the costs of such a program. It managed to provide that
support immediately after the Liberation, “when Europe lay in ruins.” How could
it not afford to do the same after it became rich? Similarly, in Britain the
state paid for free universal education, including higher education, free
universal medical care and other benefits that improved the health and
well-being of the country’s children immeasurably after a war that left the
nation bankrupt. Now, after half a century of prosperity and the accumulation
of fabulous fortunes, the government says it can no longer pay for the social
rights for which an earlier generation fought and for which it voted
overwhelmingly in 1945. The British coalition government’s cuts in social
benefits, its dramatic increase in the cost of university education and its
transformation of the National Health Service into blocks of private trusts
come in tandem with its absolution of the tax obligations of major corporations
like Vodafone and its public subsidies to private banks. Outrage and
indignation are not inappropriate responses.
Our politicians, guided by corporations and banks
that rob the taxpayer when their business models fail, have revoked rights for
which the anti-Fascists struggled. To erode these gains in France, Britain and
the other countries that fought against the Nazis and Imperial Japan is to
reject the gift of the wartime generation’s legacy. The countries that opposed
the Germany-Italy-Japan Axis called themselves “the united nations” before they
established the organization of that name. Franklin Roosevelt enunciated the
Four Freedoms for which the American people were struggling: freedom of
expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
Roosevelt’s ideals found their way into the Universal Declaration of Human
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights
have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind,
and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech
and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest
aspiration of the common people….
The conscience of Stéphane Hessel was outraged, as
it had been during the war, whenever the postwar world betrayed the Resistance
program and the Universal Declaration. In France he found himself in the
minority, as he had when he joined de Gaulle, who demanded the right of
Algerians to govern themselves. More recently, he has called on Israel to grant
Palestinians the right for which French men and women fought in 1944, for which
Algerians struggled in the 1950s and ’60s and which Israelis claim for
themselves: the right to self-determination and, thus, self-government and
independence. To support those who seek this end, he has endorsed the Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions movement to sever economic collaboration with Israeli
settlements in the occupied territories, all of which depend on the removal of
indigenous inhabitants and are illegal under international law.
In France today, Hessel calls on the young, many of
whom have already marched through the streets with their inchoate fury at
President Nicolas Sarkozy’s “reforms.” They resent the balance Sarkozy is
achieving between benefiting the banks while depriving the unemployed, the old,
students, immigrants and the poor. Hessel’s call for a renewal of the spirit of
the Resistance, albeit a pacific one, resonates in French traditions that
immigrants embrace. It will do the same for youth in Britain and the United
States, whom Hessel calls upon to remember their history and to defend its
Students at the École Normale invited Hessel to
address them in Paris in January. Popular with young people throughout France,
Hessel was likely to attract a full house. Then the authorities stepped in.
Monique Canto-Sperber, the school’s director, withdrew the invitation and
refused to allow Hessel to give an address. She objected to his insistence that
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applied as much to Palestinians as to
the French. An ultra-Zionist French website, Des Infos, praised Canto-Sperber’s
decision: “There are men and women in this country of intellectual courage.
Mme. Monique Canto-Sperber, director of the École Normale Supérieure, is an
example. She has on the afternoon of 12 January 2011 canceled a scandalous
This may be the first time, in an ostensibly free
country, that praise has been applied to the “courage” of canceling a debate.
Such courage was not confined to the censorious director of the school. The
Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France lauded those who
favored suppressing Hessel’s right to speak. They included Minister of Higher
Education Valérie Pécresse, self-styled philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, Alain
Finkielkraut, Claude Cohen-Tanoudji and Arielle Schwab. The administrations at other
colleges succumbed to the pressure and refused to allow Hessel to speak on
Victory for free speech? In the bizarre world of
what passes for philosophical discussion in modern France, to prevent someone
from speaking could be nothing else. Canto-Sperber wrote in her book Moral Disquiet and Human Life,
“Freedom of thought is the first precondition of any thought process.” Her
students are free to think any thought presented to them by the lecturers she
approves. What more freedom does their thought require? The reaction has been
swift. Thousands of people have signed petitions demanding that Hessel be
permitted to speak, and thousands more are reading this book.
In London, on the seventieth anniversary of de
Gaulle’s “Appeal of 18 June” urging the French people to resist, Hessel said,
“I was 23 in 1940, so needless to say that those five years really had a huge
impact on me. This is a war that I experienced in many ways: as a simple
soldier in 1939 and 1940 before the French Army’s defeat, as a trainee in the
Royal Air Force, as a Free French fighter working in the secret services in
London, as a Resistance fighter in France, as a prisoner at the hands of the
Gestapo and then as an inmate in two concentration camps…. Of this long and
arduous adventure, something clearly emerged: the need to give a sense to my
life by defending the values that the Nazis had scorned—which led me to become
a diplomat immediately after the war and to join the United Nations, where I
contributed to writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Hessel’s
polemic echoes de Gaulle’s words of June 1940: “Must hope disappear? Is defeat
The old Resistance fighter is battling those who
would deny him his well-earned platform. Having taken on the Nazis, survived
two concentration camps and kept his mind and spirit intact for ninety-three
years, he should easily defeat Sarkozy’s fonctionnaires
and their apologists. The question before us is, Will we stand up to demand our
own right to be heard?
Stéphane Hessel’s Indignez-vous! was a publishing sensation on its first
appearance, and since then has provoked a heated debate about social justice,
the power of protest and how to harness our common indignation. Below we have
compiled a selection of links from Europe and elsewhere reacting to the
pamphlet and its reception.
“Political essay by 93-year-old tops Christmas bestseller
list in France” by Angelique Chrisafis
“A Call to Outrage” by Ignacio Ramonet
“Are we looking for a new message—or a new Messiah?“
by John Lichfield
“The little red book that swept France” by
“Indignant? We should be” by Simon Kuper
“Worthy persons of the year” by Joseph A.
“Un magma d’indignation ?” by Jean-Claude Guillebaud
“L’économie financiarisée est le principal ennemi,”
an interview with Hessel
“Pour une non-violence militante” by Indignez-vous!
publishers Jean-Pierre Barou and Sylvie Crossman
“Israel’s Choice” by Stéphane Hessel