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The Palestinian protest against restrictions on the Al-Aqsa mosque is the latest challenge to a 50-year occupation, but self-denial and racism preclude Israelis from listening, says veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy

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Aaron Mate: It’s The Real News, I’m Aaron Mate. Israel is removing metal detectors from the al-Aqsa compound after more than a week of Palestinian protest. But those protests still continue. Palestinian worshipers say they’ll keep praying outside the gates until Israel drops all restrictions. Israel’s kept surveillance cameras in place and is considering other measures. Israel imposed the restrictions after Palestinian gunmen fatally shot two Israeli soldiers. That led to a massive civil disobedience campaign of Palestinians worshiping in the streets outside, rather than enter Israeli checkpoints. The standoff turned violent on Friday when Israel cracked down on protestors, leading to the West Bank’s worst violence in years. At least five Palestinians were killed, and hundreds more wounded. Three Israeli settlers were also stabbed to death in a West Bank settlement. Although the removal of metal detectors is a victory for their protest, Palestinians say it’s about more than that. They accuse Israel of trying to change the status quo over the compound, which is occupied, since 1967. They also say Israel has provoked Palestinians with visits to the compound by far-right extremists and incitement by top Israeli figures. Well, earlier I spoke about this with Gideon Levy, an award-winning journalist who writes a weekly column in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. Gideon, welcome. Gideon Levy: [inaudible 00:01:37] Aaron Mate: Thank you for joining us. The controversy that we hear about when it comes to the al-Aqsa protests, is that the main Palestinian issue with Israeli policies is these metal detectors. I’m wondering if you could tell us, though, about the culture inside Israel that Palestinians say has also been provoking Palestinians in terms of incitement, especially. Gideon Levy: By the end of the day, the basic must be clear and the basic is that al-Aqsa is an occupied territory by Israel, occupied 50 years by force. By quite brutive force and nobody can escape from this basic, basic thing. Secondly, one should understand that there is no freedom of worship in a [inaudible 00:02:31] in contrast to all the Israeli decorations and big services, most of the Palestinians can not make it there. Gaza is under siege. West Bank is in hardly any condition to get there and there is no freedom of worship for the Palestinians there. Aaron Mate: So Gideon, I want to read you a few quotes from a piece that was just put up on the website, Electronic Intifada, by Dan Cohen. It’s called “These are the Israeli leaders who want to destroy al-Aqsa.” He just lists a series of quotes by prominent Israelis that he says has been inciting Palestinians in terms of wanting to change the status quo at this holy site. So the first group that he cites is this group, The Temple Movement, and I’m wondering if you can talk about them, just after I read this. They said amidst all this protest, they said, “We must liberate the Temple Mount from the murderous Islam and return it to the people of Israel.” Can you talk about who they are, Gideon? Gideon Levy: A small group, very extreme, very radical. Very marginal and they are not the [inaudible]. The problem is is that what they say, any others believe. That’s the real danger, because by the end of the day, if you take the present coalition government in Israel, they are quite [inaudible], who in their, right now secret dream, would like to see the Temple Mountain only for the Jews. Would like to see the Temple being rebuilt one day. Who would like to see the mosque being demolished. They wouldn’t talk about it right now, but it is out of their belief and this is extremely, extremely dangerous belief. So the problem is not those, this small group of activists, who are really marginal. The problem is that their beliefs have many more supporters than one could see on the surface. And you could see now, so many of the right-wingers were so happy to see the Mountain empty of Muslims. This can lead to a catastrophe. Aaron Mate: I want to quote more. Bezalel Smotrich, from the Jewish Home Party, he said, “I would set up a synagogue on the Temple Mount today, this morning.” Gideon Levy: Yeah. He’s the most extreme right-wing member of Parliament and he’s part of the coalition and he’s the leader of his party. He’s Minister of Education of Israel and he reflects many, many more beliefs and believers than only his sound. Right now, he’s the only one to say it, but take my word that this can gain momentum, this kind of really extreme beliefs and dangerous beliefs. Aaron Mate: So I want to ask you about Omar el-Abed. He is the young Palestinian who stabbed to death three Israeli settlers inside the occupied West Bank this weekend. You wrote about him and there have been calls inside Israel from lawmakers to execute him. I want to share one with you. This is a member of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, Oren Hazan, from the Likud party. Oren Hazan: I want to say the truth without sounding too extreme, God forbid, but if it was up to me, I would go into the killer’s family’s home, catch him, his family and execute them. Yes. Like that, no shame, execution. Towards the main inciters, which are sitting in the Israeli Knesset, there should be no misunderstanding. The knife, the knife yesterday murdered through the hands of the terrorist, but the head and the heart are of [inaudible 00:06:35], [TB 00:06:37] and their friends.” Aaron Mate: So Gideon, when he’s talking about the main inciters sitting in the Israeli Knesset, who was he talking about? Is he referring to the Israeli Arab members of the Knesset? Gideon Levy: Absolutely, he’s referring to the joint [inaudible], the mostly Arab members. And again, he is considered as the clown, as in the clown of [inaudible]. But he reflects much more of a wider circle who wouldn’t maybe phrase it the same, but would support this penalty and would support kicking out the Arab representative from the Knesset. We will face also, one day, a resolution of making the Knesset pure Jewish. We are heading there. Aaron Mate: The Palestinian man who committed the … Okay. Now, Gideon, you wrote about this young Palestinian who committed that stabbing attack. The headline was “Every Israeli Should Read the Palestinian Assailant’s Last Will and Testament.” What did he say and why do you think it’s important for Israelis to read it? Gideon Levy: Not important, it is vital because you know, in order to invoke violence, you have to overcome all your emotions and try to understand why, what pushes a young guy who has a reasonable life, I mean, he had dreams and ambitions like any other young guy. What motivates him? What pushes him to go to a settlement which is two and a half kilometers away from his home and to stab to death three settlers? There are the Israelis, mostly Muslim Israelis, the right wingers, the main thing, who believe the Palestinians were born to kill, who believe the only thing that interests Palestinians when they wake up in the morning is how many Jews will they slaughter today? But that’s obviously a very primitive and ignorant belief, because those people were not born to kill and those people have other ideas in their minds, except of just killing for the killing. They live in despair, their life has no perspective whatsoever. [inaudible] and occupation and their life has no perspective for any kind of hope for better life, or any kind of life without the constant humiliation, the daily humiliation that they are going through under these [inaudible]. He wrote about it. He wrote about his dreams, about his ambitions and he asked what life [inaudible]. And you know, you can ignore those voices and saying that he’s just a barbarian murderer and then you did nothing, and start to think merely under occupation, do you know one example in history in which people did not do this kind of resistance? This kind of violent resistance? Do you think it will ever stop as long as occupation continues? So those questions that most of Israelis totally ignore, those are the real questions that should be raised. Aaron Mate: Yeah, you write that the sheer brutality of the occupation should be enough to keep Israelis up at night, but even if they’re not concerned about what is being done in their name to other people, Israelis should be concerned about the impact it will have on them and their own security. You live in Israel. Is that message at all getting through? Gideon Levy: Unfortunately not because the brainwash machinery is much more effective than one newspaper or one voice which stands against it and unfortunately, most of the Israelis not only don’t agree to this, but think that what I wrote was really treason, was really outrageous and I should punished, imprisoned or maybe even executed for things like this. This is when brainwash system is so effective. Aaron Mate: And Gideon, can you talk about what it’s like inside Israel? I’m always struck, when I’m there at how the occupation is just totally invisible, that even if Ramallah and the rest of the West Bank is only a few miles away, if Gaza’s right there and people are suffering so harshly, you just have no sense of that inside a place like Tel-Aviv, where everyone’s on the beach enjoying a pretty pleasant life. Gideon Levy: This is not by chance because this doesn’t happen by itself. There are those agencies do everything to enable this. Above all the Israeli media, which totally ignores the occupation, not out of ideology, by the way, but only out of commercial considerations. The occupation doesn’t sell and accusations for brutality, for war crimes, for violation of human rights, Israelis don’t want to hear about it, so the Israeli media is serving their readership by really just pleasing them and avoiding them from knowing and obviously the government, the right-wing parties, the military establishment, it’s really a wall to wall coalition in which nobody wants to know. And you know, living in denial like the Israeli is living in such a denial, I can hardly think about one society today in the world, for sure enough in the free world, who lives in this kind of denial. They think that if they don’t talk about the elephant in the room, the elephant is not there, so I have news for the Israelis, the elephant is there and is there to stay. Aaron Mate: Finally, Gideon, you’ve covered the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians for a long time. This incitement that we’ve been discussing coming from prominent Israelis, how does it compare to previous periods that you’ve covered over many years? Gideon Levy: Oh things went out of proportions. I remember when Rabbi Kehane was elected to the Parliament and he was really racist. The Israeli Parliament used to [inaudible]. Even really good party, [inaudible] begging [inaudible] get out of the war when Kehane would speak or have a speech there. What Kehane said then became almost the mainstream today. And the problem is not the incitement and the extremist, the problem is the legitimacy of racism in Israel. Racism is as legitimate, as politically correct as in no other country in the world. There are racists everywhere, but in Israel, racism is the political corrective-ness, and this you don’t see anywhere else. Aaron Mate: Gideon Levy, award-winning journalist, writes a weekly column for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Gideon, thank you. Gideon Levy: Thank you very much. Thank you. Aaron Mate: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.

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Gideon Levy is a prominent Israeli journalist and author of the weekly column Twilight Zone in the Israeli paper Ha'aretz. He is also an editorial board member of Ha'aretz. Between 1978 and 1982 Levy served in the Shimon Peres office when Peres was the leader of the Labor Party.