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Eli Aminov, 20 April 1939 – 5 August 2022

By: Ofra Yeshua-Lyth

(The original Hebrew text was partially published previously at https://zoha.org.il/114640/ on 14 August 2022. It is fully available in Haifa Hahofshit.)

With the death of Eli Aminov, this week the small community of opponents of the regime of the State of Israel lost one of its clearest and most important voices, a thinker, writer, worker, and political activist whose original thinking influenced multiple generations of activists and writers.

Eli was born in Summayl, a Palestinian village that was transformed into an impoverished Tel Aviv neighbor­hood in the late 1930s, to a father who had immigrated from Bukhara and a mother who had come from Poland. When he was nine years old, when the State of Israel was established, the family’s Arab neighbors, including Eli’s childhood friends, were turned into refugees, and their homes were given to Jewish immigrants, an event that etched itself deep into Eli’s memory. After his military service, Eli worked in various jobs, and in the course of his life he worked, among others, as a jeweler and as the owner of a print shop.

Eli was a veteran member of the Matzpen organization, which he joined in the beginning of 1967. His signature appears on the historic declaration from the summer of 1967, in which political activists called on the State of Israel to withdraw immediately from the territories that were occupied in the war and to strive for a solution of a just peace with the Palestinian people.

In 1975, Eli left Matzpen to join Brit Hapoalim (the workers alliance organization, also known as “Avant­garde”, the name of its theoretical publication). This was a period of rising mass Palestinian struggle that preceded the general strike and uprising of March 30, 1976, the historic “Land Day”. Brit Hapoalim, which was identified with a Trotskyite anti-Stalinist ideology, emphasized at that time the Pales­ti­nian character of the revolution, and called on Jewish activists to join the Palestinian struggle. It called for the establishment of a socialist state in Palestine, emphasized the necessity to dismantle the colo­nial entity established by the Zionist movement in order to create a basis for a shared future for Arabs and Jews, and objected to the recognition of a right of self-determi­nation for Jews in Palestine – a position that Eli had already championed earlier in internal discussions inside Matzpen.

Eli’s activism was not limited to bringing about an end to the occupation and to the increased militarization of the State of Israel. He also saw the need for presenting a comprehensive alternative, and he was among the first to support the one state solution of a single democratic state in all of Palestine. In the 1990s he ini­ti­ated the estab­lish­ment of the “The Committee for one Secular and Democratic Republic
in the whole of Palestine”. The committee’s principles, which were phrased in plain language by Eli Aminov and Dr. Yehuda Kupferman, included the call for the establishment of one democratic secular state in all of Palestine, in which the economic infra­structure and means of production would belong to the entire population as a democratic right and an expression of its sovereignty.

Eli was close to Prof. Israel Shahak and one of the executors of his will, together with Dr. Emmanuel Farjoun. In the afterword that he wrote for the Hebrew edition of Shahak’s Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, he reminded readers that Shahak had been one of the first thinkers who had defined Israel as an apartheid state.

In his essay “A ‘Binational State’: The New Deception Replacing the ‘Two State Solution’”, published in 2013, Aminov wrote that “there is no practicable political alternative to a single secular democratic state between the Jordan River and the sea.” In his last essay, “From Land Redemption to Apartheid Regime”, which appeared in an essay compilation published this year by November Books under the name The Nation Trap, he surveys the ways and methods by which the Zionist project, for decades before the establish­ment of the Israeli state and during all the years of its existence, dispossessed the Palestinians of their land in order to establish a Jewish nation state. He defined the nation state as an “origin-based meta­physical entity”, and described how the methodical land theft became the basis for the system of Jewish-Israeli apartheid laws, which he described in the essay. Aminov wrote about what characterized Israeli apartheid, as compared to the South-African system. His conclusion was: without a fundamental reform transforming Israel from a state based on ethno-religious origins to a secular and democratic state, a remedy to the apartheid regime is not possible. “Ultimately, the ‘Jewish nation’s’ ownership of the land is the material glue that connects the colonial racism of the Zionist movement with the xenophobic racism of Halachic Judaism”, he wrote.

In his final years, despite a marked deterioration of his health, Eli would arrive every Friday to the vigil in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in the company of Nitza Aminov, his former wife, who had remained a close and supportive friend. He regularly posted succinct and pointed comments on Facebook and on various websites, and addressed many current events in local politics. He was a sociable man and an excellent cook who will be sorely missed by his many friends and acquaintances, those who know him personally and those who came to appreciate his character on the internet. May his memory be blessed.

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Eli Aminov in a demonstration – 2017 – from Facebook

So far Ofra’s article. Please allow me to add some personal memories.

I knew Eli when he was a member of “The Revolutionary Communist League” (AKA “Matzpen Marxisti”) in Jerusalem in the 1970s. I had joined Brit Hapo­alim (that had split off from Matzpen in 1970) in 1973, and we held pointed discussions with Matzpen and with the various factions that split from it. In 1975, Eli and some of the other members of Matzpen Marxisti decided to join Brit Hapoalim.

Eli told me how he had become a leftist activist. When he was young, he had been a detective with the Jerusalem Police. Around that time, Uri Avnery and the “Ha-Olam Ha-Zeh” group organized civil protests against religious coercion, and Eli had sent the organizers a letter of support. Instead of a response from the intended recipients, he was summoned to be investigated and reprimanded because of his dangerous views. This helped him understand the character of the regime that he was serving, and soon thereafter he resigned and became a democracy activist. The struggle for the separation of state and religion and against the central role of the Jewish religion in the justi­fi­cation and foundation of the racist structures of the Israeli regime always remained a key interest of his.

In the mid 1980s, the period of the activities of the “Committee for Solidarity with Bir Zeit University”, settler rabbi Moshe Levinger would organize provocative demonstrations opposite Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem. The people in the camp asked for our support in holding counter-demonstrations. I remember how we would come from Haifa to Jerusalem and drop in at Eli and Raya’s, his then-partner, enjoy their boundless hospitality, eat, and get organized for the demonstration. From there we would continue to the vigil in Dheisheh, all together, including the children, and after the vigil we would either end up being hosted by activists in the refugee camp and have fascinating political conversations, or we’d end up under arrest at the Bethlehem police compound. And after being released we would know where to go: to Eli and Raya’s.

Later, in the “Abnaa el-Balad” movement, we made a number of attempts to broaden the reach and to recruit Palestinian, Jewish and international partners to the struggle for the Palestinian’s right of return to their land and to establish a secular and democratic state in all of Palestine. Conventions with that goal were held in Nazareth in 1998 and again in Haifa in 2008 and 2010. Eli and the groups of activists that he always collected around him were always our first address when we would look for partners whose loyalty to the democratic route was uncompromising and never in doubt.

After the Munich Conference in support of one democratic state in historic Palestine (July 2012), a communiqué went out, calling for coordinated action in all of Palestine (on both sides of the green line), in the Palestinian diaspora, and in the solidarity movement, around a basic plan that defines the demo­cratic principles of the restoration of Palestinian rights, and to solve the problem of the migrant population that were brought into Palestine in the framework of the Zionist project. Eli and the members of the “Committee for One Democratic State in Historic Palestine” took part in setting up a work group in Jaffa and participated in the coordination meetings with various organizations in Ramallah.

I visited Eli in his home in Jerusalem about two months before he passed away. His body was already weakened by his sicknesses, but his spirit was strong, and his mind was sharp and analytical. We brought up memories from 50 years of joint struggle. Together we analyzed recent international developments and agreed that the increased crisis of imperialist hegemony and the resulting ongoing wars only prove that the democratic solution that we had fought for all our lives was not only the most just solution, but also the only sustainable solution, and that for that reason, the fight will ultimately be won.