In this urgent installment of “Not in Our Name,” an ongoing series on The Marc Steiner Show bringing together Jewish voices around the world speaking out against the Israeli Occupation, we go to the heart of the war that’s taking place in Israel and Palestine. As Israel prepares to invade and flatten Gaza in retaliation for the Hamas-led attacks on Israeli kibbutzim and towns by the Gaza border on Oct. 7, the possibility of peace and an end to the Occupation seems farther away than ever. In this panel discussion, Marc Steiner discusses the world-changing events of the past week and the potential futures for Israel and Palestine with: Nir Avishai Cohen, a major in the reserves of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and author of the book Love Israel, Support Palestine; Joshua Saltzman, who served as an IDF combat medic in the Lebanon War; and Meron Rapoport, award-winning Israeli journalist, editor at Local Call, and the former head of the News Department in Haaretz.
Studio Production: David Hebden, Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: David Hebden
Marc Steiner: Welcome to The Marc Steiner Show here at The Real News and to another edition of Not in Our Name. We are going to the heart of the war that’s taking place in Israel and Palestine. This will be a part of a series of conversations we’re having from Israel, the occupied territories, Gaza. And Gaza’s very difficult to get through to, as we talked about before, but we’re going to bring that to you too as soon as we can.
We now have a conversation with three men, all of whom have served in the Israeli military, two of whom live in Israel, and the other’s here in the United States. They’ve all been peace activists, people fighting for dialogue and a future between Palestinians and Israelis. Nir Avishai Cohen from the Moshav Almagor in Israel, was a Major in the IDF, which is the Israeli army. He’s a political activist, human rights activist, was spokesman for Breaking The Silence, and he wrote a book called Love Israel Support Palestine: An Israeli Story.
Joining us here from the United States is an old friend of mine, Josh Salzman, who served as a combat medic in the Israeli army in the war with Lebanon. He is an ordained rabbi and has been an activist for peace for a long time.
And we will be joined shortly by Meron Rapoport. Meron is an award-winning investigative journalist, over 30 years in Israeli media. He won the Napoli International Prize for Journalism, and is a longtime activist and one of the founders of the Land for All Movement.
Gentlemen, welcome. Good to have you all with us.
Nir Avishai Cohen: Hi. Good to be here again.
Marc Steiner: Yeah, it’s great to have you back. It’s great to have you back. So let me just start with where we find ourselves at this moment, in some ways unexpected, but Avishai, I may begin with you. Unexpected, but it seems that this is a profound moment that could really create a significant change in what happens in the future.
Nir Avishai Cohen: Yes, I agree with you. I think that the Middle East in general, and specifically Israel, will not be the same after this terrible war. Definitely after what’s happening, the nightmare of last Saturday.
Marc Steiner: And Meron, good to see you. Good to have you with us.
And the article you wrote really struck me a lot. One of the things you said at the end of the article about all the pain that was caused in this war that we’ll get to in a moment. But you also thought it had left an opportunity for something to happen in the future, even though it seems like the crisis is almost impossible to overcome at the moment.
Nir Avishai Cohen: Yeah. So I look back to the history and I look at the Yom Kippur War in ’73, which was, until last Saturday, the biggest crisis Israel ever had. A few years after this terrible crisis, the peace agreement with the Egyptians came. And I don’t know if someone during the war in ’73 thought that the peace with the Egyptians would come so early. So if I try to find a little spot of light in these really dark days, it’s maybe try to hope that history will happen again these days.
Marc Steiner: Meron?
Meron Rapoport: Yes. Good evening. Yes, at this moment, treaty seems very far, I must say. And there are motives for revenge [more] than anything else. That’s what dominates the atmosphere in the Israeli public at the moment. Revenge to level down Gaza, wipe out Hamas. This is the slogan. And even yesterday I heard on Channel 12, retired General [inaudible] talking about the goal of the Israeli operation in Gaza is a new [foreign language]. That’s how he phrased it in a very plain way, as if it’s a legitimate war objective. And nobody even commented on this when he was talking about it.
So the atmosphere could lead to very dangerous places. And the blockade on Gaza and the fact that Gaza was this evening is cut off from electricity. There is practically no running water, food may be in shortage in just a few days. And military leaders and political leaders are talking openly about driving out hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into Sinai, pushing them out of Gaza. So we are here in a very dangerous mood in Israel, very dangerous mood.
But what I said in the article is that, paradoxically, what happened here, it came in the middle of the negotiation. We don’t know exactly where they were with normalization with Saudi Arabia. And the whole idea of the Netanyahu effort, first the Abraham Accord with the Emirates and Bahrain and Morocco and Sudan and now with Saudi Arabia is that the Palestinians are not an issue. We could bypass [foreign language]. He said it in his own words, we could bypass [foreign language] and have peace for Israel and prosperity.
And we don’t… The conflict with Palestine does not really matter. What happened Saturday morning in a very brutal, the most cruel, the most… Nobody can imagine such cruelty. But what happened is that certainly Palestinians, but they knew it all the time, but Israelis do understand that the conflict is with the Palestinians. It’s not with the Emirates. It’s not with the Saudis. It’s with the Palestinians, and it is with the Palestinians that we have to deal with.
Now, the first instinct now is revenge. And I would even say, okay, if the conflict is with the Palestinians, let’s drive them out of here. I even hear people from the Gaza area, from the people living around Gaza from the kibbutzim that was so badly hit saying, we will no longer have neighbors anymore. It’s either us or them. So one conclusion is, okay, if the conflict is with Palestinians, let’s just drive them away. And if not, maybe worse.
But as I think, this is really not possible for many, many, many reasons. I think that, in a way, if you recognize that your conflict is with Palestinians and that the status quo is no [longer] possible, what was in the last 50 years, and going to Saudi Arabia will not help you, and you can’t drive them away, then the only option is to have some kind of political arrangement with them. So this is why I have a glimmer of hope. They are very bad days. The atmosphere is not at all an atmosphere of peace. But eventually realizing that we are stuck here with the Palestinians and all these dreams of driving away in the Arabian desert on trains headed to India is really a fantasy.
Marc Steiner: Josh?
Josh Salzman: Yeah, I just want to set the context a little, Marc. Without taking sides, of course, but we have to realize that we’ve had 75 years of systematic oppression of the Palestinian people. And that most recently we see the displacement of many, many, many families, Palestinian families in the West Bank. And even though many Gazans have been allowed to work in Israel, one could almost say de facto that Netanyahu was allowing that, that actually supporting Hamas – his interest was not in peace. His interest is in the destruction of the Palestinian people.
Now, does that justify the brutality of Hamas? No. But we can say that something was going to happen, whether it would be an intifada in the West Bank or some other kind of violent reaction. You cannot oppress a people for so long and not expect them to react. This is the history of humankind. Every time you oppress a people, they will rebel. So in a way it was a profound surprise. And in a way, there’s nothing new that’s happening today that hasn’t happened in the past, in the sense of a people responding to the ongoing oppression and ultimate aim of genocide of that people. Again, that does not justify in any way the reaction of Hamas and the brutal violence, but it does set a tone.
I agree with Marone for what we might see when all of this terrible fighting is over. That maybe the world will say, maybe the Western countries will say, maybe some of the Muslim countries will say, okay, now we have to figure out how do we find peace? Perhaps after this then the government will fall. There’s going to be an accounting. So maybe this is Netanyahu’s last stand, as it were. I don’t know.
I also have shared that hope that after the fighting and the destruction and the devastation is over, maybe it will put us on a new path. That is my hope.
Marc Steiner: So let me take what you all have said and just talk about where this might lead and what might happen here. You have the most right-wing government in the history of Israel. The people have called what Hamas did on the border of Gaza a war crime, and it can count as a war crime, but so are things that the Israeli army and Israel has done to Palestinians can also be counted as a war crime.
A lot of the people, as I was joking with a friend – Not joking, but talking with a friend of mine, an Israeli writer who is living in Germany now. He and I talked on the phone last night, and he was saying that most of the people who oppose this right-wing government live in Germany, or they live in France, or they live in Britain, or they live in the United States. They’re not in Israel anymore. They’re gone.
So I really am curious what you all think is the future given what we’ve just seen. The violence that we just saw on the border of Gaza was incredible. It was unbelievably horrible.There are still like 300 people, I think, held by Hamas who were taken as prisoners. The destruction of Gaza now is just immense. The entire place is being flattened and about to be invaded, if it hasn’t already been invaded when we have this conversation.
So where does that take the future of Israel and Palestine? What do you think happens next? I’ll start with Avishai, because we haven’t heard from you in a few minutes. Let me let you begin.
Nir Avishai Cohen: Speaking about the far future, I think we must first think about the near future, meaning about tomorrow, about next week. As we see it, this war will last for a while, for at least a few weeks, maybe a few months. During that time, I think we have a serious duty to first make sure about what’s going on in the West Bank, because already some of the settlers started to take advantage of the fact that the media and all of the focus goes to the Gaza Strip. We see a rise in violent events against Palestinians.
I think we, the Israelis and also the rest of the world, should not forget about the millions of Palestinians that are living these days in the West Bank. We think that also we must remember that about 2 million Palestinians are living right now in the Gaza Strip. I really do think that we will have no choice but to fight Hamas. We must remember that most of the Palestinians in Gaza Strip, they’re innocent. So I think we must state, day after day, we must remember our responsibility for those Palestinians.
Regarding the far future, as I see it, Israel, we need to understand that there’s no… I really do think that more and more people will understand after this terrible war that we have no choice but to find a solution with the Palestinians. Either one-state solution, or two-state solution, or three-state solution, we must find a solution, which it’s not the current one. I think this huge crisis will lead to this understanding in levels of the society that didn’t have this understanding before.
Marc Steiner: So Israel has had – Meron, I’ll let you jump in here. Israel has had governments that are liberal and left, and some very conservative right-wing governments with Herut and other parties in power, and now you have a really far-right government in Israel. Some would even call it a neo-fascist government in Israel. So picking up what Avishai said, said how does that happen in this atmosphere? How could this possibly lead to something different that Avishai was talking about?
Meron Rapoport: I think in the short term, we have first to the political side. It’s the most unpopular government maybe, at least in the last decades. It is extremely unpopular. Not only in the polls, where it has lost, according to the polls something like between 10 to 14 seats out of the Parliament of 120 seats. So it’s a considerable amount it lost in the polls.
But it’s not only the polls. Just today on the TV and on social media, two ministers, the environment minister and the economy minister, visited hospitals, went on a visit to hospitals. They were chased out. They were driven out by ordinary people that, at least how they look like, they look like classical right-wing voters. They were shouted at and humiliated. “You destroyed Israel.” So it’s an extremely unpopular government.
The failure of what happened this Saturday morning… I don’t see a government surviving with such a failure. Intelligence, military, infrastructure, everything collapses as if there’s no government, as if there’s no state. So I think Netanyahu just today added guards into his government, and that’s not a sign of force, but a sign of weakness.
I think this government and Netanyahu in general, and Israel in general, is facing a really complicated situation because, yes, it can bombard Gaza without any problem. Its airplanes can come and go, and they could level down whole neighborhoods in Gaza. That’s no problem. And they could kill 4,000, 5,000 Palestinians, 6,000 Palestinians. This is no problem. The question is, if the goal is to topple down Hamas, then they have to go in. They have to go in to take Gaza. There’s no other way. You cannot topple Hamas without going into Gaza.
Now here, two very, very complicated questions. The first one is, is the Israeli army capable of doing it? It has not shown a very high level of fighting against Hamas in this beginning of the week. So it’s not very clear if they can do it. And what price? And if the Western world will allow it and our countries will allow it, whether Hezbollah will go into action. So there are many questions here militarily wise.
But the most complicated is the day after. Because if you take Gaza, there’s two options. Either Israel controls Gaza – This is impossible. It’ll not happen. Israel will not run the lives of 2 million Palestinians. It will not do it. That’s for 100% sure. It’ll have to give it to someone else. The only one to give it to is Abu Musa and the PLO. And giving it to the PLO means reviving the two-state solution. This is that thing that Netanyahu strived to prevent in the last 15 years. This is the core of his policy, to prevent the two-state solution by using Hamas and the division between Gaza. So that he will give a present to Abu Mazen of taking over Gaza and reviving the two-state solution. It is as if he’s wiping out his whole heritage. Everything he did in these last 15 years will be destroyed by himself.
So here is a really complicated question. And I think what Netanyahu wants is just revenge, bombing, destroying neighborhoods, killing 5,000 Palestinians, then saying, we want to maybe kill one of the leaders of Hamas, Mohammed Deif or Sinwar, one of the leaders of Hamas and declare victory, but Hamas will stay. This will not be accepted by Israelis if this will be the result of this war. And even if Netanyahu will say, we won, we killed 5,000 Palestinians, we killed 10,000 Palestinians. But Hamas stays in power after what they’ve done? He will be toppled down the next day. So it’s a very complicated situation.
Marc Steiner: It is. That’s what I’m trying to get through. I’m glad we were getting… Go ahead, Josh. You wanted to say something. I can see.
Josh Salzman: First of all, let’s be clear, we’re talking tens of thousands of Palestinians who are going to die, and many, many Israelis. This is 5,000 Gazans is, I think, a gross underestimation of what this is going to look like. But, just like on the intelligence level we had a profound failure of imagination, I think we have the same failure of imagination on the political level, and the Palestinian Authority and Abu Mazen, that is, in fact, a thing of the past. And this is where I see Israel, the Western countries, perhaps diaspora Jewry, perhaps diaspora Palestinians. We’re going to have to totally reimagine what is possible. And that may mean some type of new configuration. Because we can go the way of Iran and the way of war, or we can find a new way.
And to be honest with you, I can’t, at this point, imagine what that is, but that is the road where we’re going to have to open up for ourselves the challenge of what it means to dream the impossible and how that will look. I don’t know, Marc, I can’t say what that is going to look like, but it has to be some new configuration. It has to be a willingness on the part of Muslim nations, on the part of Western nations, a new sense of how we are going to make it safe for Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace, whatever that means. And I don’t really know at this point, to be honest with you.
Marc Steiner: Right, whatever that means. One state, two states, how many states. And I think that there’s a question here about how more difficult it could become. Because if you look at the attitudes in the polling of Jews across the globe, a lot of Jews are getting tired of Israel, tired of supporting Israel, especially younger people. There’s not a younger person in my family who isn’t done. They’re all done. Even the ones who lived there, even the ones who came from there, even the ones who used to be in love with Israel, they’re done. So I think that this latest war could be what leads to the destruction of Israel itself. It won’t be overnight, it won’t be easy, but it could really be the beginning of the end.
And the question is, how is that prevented? How is something new built? And I think that when you look at the statements that Ben-Gvir has made, the others have made, Smotrich, have made about Palestinians literally saying, just wipe them out. Tear down everything they have, push them out. It’s like, somehow Jews, we have become the neo-fascists that tried to kill us before. So to me, that’s part of the complexity that we have to address and [inaudible] happen. And Josh, I’ll let you start, and Avishai jump in, and Meron jump in, please.
Josh Salzman: Yeah, I agree with you. And I think there are, among young people today, there’s profound disillusionment about the state of Israel. But I’m not saying that it’s going to be easy, but I don’t believe that the state of Israel is doomed, God forbid. But I do think that there has to be a new vision, and hopefully, that we have to identify new leaders who are willing to do what people have not been willing to do up till now. And that includes reaching out to young people in Israel, to our young people, and trying to… I don’t know, I’m frankly at a loss for words.
I think Israel, at this point, is in a lot of trouble. I don’t know how long the world will tolerate what’s about to happen in Gaza. There’s going to be tremendous pressure. And at some point, when the fog of war clears, there’s going to have to emerge a new way of approaching this. And again, I can’t exactly say what it is, but I don’t believe that that means… It’s not the end of the state of Israel. It’s just we have to really reevaluate what we want, and it’s very complex. I wish I had a better answer for you, but I don’t think it’s… Yeah. I’d like to hear what the other guests have to say.
Marc Steiner: Yeah, let me go to Avishai, bring him back in. Because in part, I remember your book, Avishai, this is a piece of what you’ve been writing about as well.
Nir Avishai Cohen: Yeah. I must say that I agree with Josh. I don’t think it’s the end of Israel, but I think we’ll need to find out a new division here between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. I mean, we, the Palestinians and the Israelis will need to find a solution, how to live here without having war or these attacks every few months, few years.
And I think there is an opportunity that after this war, it might happen, maybe with the help of the world, maybe with the help of the United States. Also, we need to understand that we need to be more involved with who is trying to make peace here.
And as it was before, I think both nations, the Palestinians and Israelis, will maybe elect or maybe have new leaders. Because those leaders, both sides, didn’t lead us to a good place. So I don’t know just what will be the solution, but I see the opportunity of us having some kind of solution.
Marc Steiner: Go ahead, Maron. I see that critical look. What are you about to say?
Meron Rapoport: Again, if Israel insists on continuing to be an occupying power, and that occupation is woven into its politics and to its raison d’etre, then yes, maybe Israel, I don’t know, the word “doomed” is big, but it will have very big difficulties, I think. If you add what happened, what we saw from Hamas, an organization, they were armed with kalashnikovs, basically [Kaimans] and kalashnikovs. No armed vehicles, nothing. No tanks of course, no cannons, no planes, nothing, just kalashnikovs. And they took over a territory of 100 square miles, something like this, this is the calculation, in one day.
Hezbollah is better. Who knows what will happen in Jordan in the end. And Iran, of course. And Syria one day will… So if Israel insists that the only way it knows to deal with the Palestinians is by force, then it might have really difficult times in keeping itself together. But at the same time, I think people have this will of life. People want to live in peace. It’s something basic, even if they don’t see it now.
I am one of the leaders of a movement that calls for a kind of confederation union between Israel and Palestine, with open borders and freedom of movement. Two states, yes, because every people needs the right to self-determination. I don’t see one state, especially after what happened this week. To see these people live together as if there’s one ethos. It’s very hard to see a one-state solution in this moment. So we talk about a two-state solution, but with open borders, Jerusalem as a shared city.
I think what happened, if I come back to what I said in the beginning, the fact that the Abraham Accord is out and Saudi Arabia is out as a way, as a tool to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I’m talking. Maybe there will be peace with Saudi Arabia, but it will not really affect.
So the realization is that we are two people on this land seeing the whole of it as their homeland. These murderers from Hamas across the border, one of the [pieces of] evidence I saw, they first of all kissed the land after they crossed the border and said, this is the land of our fathers and grandfathers. They are refugees from these very parts. 75% of the Gazans are refugees, and most of them come from villages exactly there. So it is in the imagination of these two people, this is one homeland between the river and the sea.
And to a certain sense, we live in this space together. And the economies in Gaza, now attacked by Israel, where people came with such hatred, people pay in shekels. When they buy falafel, they pay in Israeli shekel. So there’s a shekel zone that includes the Gaza Strip with Hamas in it. So the realities that make us share space are very strong, and I think once the realization will come, that these are two people, that nobody’s going anywhere. 7 million people. 7 million Jews, 7 million Palestinian, nobody’s going away.
So, if we’ll have a place of our own in our own state, but at the same time, sharing the land economically, demographically, et cetera, I think this is a very… It sounds maybe now a little bit like a fantasy. I think it’s the most realistic one, the closest to reality. And maybe. Maybe. I hope so. It’s difficult to see through the clouds of war and hatred and anger and such a will to revenge. Through these clouds maybe you’ll see some glimpse of light that will lead us to the solution that I think is, more or less, the only solution possible. Two states in one land, because this is one land, but two states. I think we will get there. I hope with as [few] people killed as possible, but I think we will get there.
Marc Steiner: Well, that was a beautiful closing thought, but let me let Avishai and Josh also have one as we finish up. Go ahead, Avishai.
Nir Avishai Cohen: I just wanted to say that four years ago I met Meron, and he spoke with me about this solution. And back then I thought it’s a fantasy, and it’s imaginary, and it’ll never happen. I must admit, these days, I think I agree with Meron, what he just said. Again, I think the day after the war will be a possibility to a solution that we never thought could happen. And I hope it will.
Marc Steiner: Josh, a quick thought?
Josh Salzman: Yeah, I would just add a couple of things. First of all, let’s keep in mind that half of the population in Gaza are children. They’re under 18. So, that in itself is difficult to imagine.
But I agree also with Meron and Avishai. Let’s just look at the success of the Jewish diaspora and the Palestinian diaspora. Both of those are great examples of very strong economic powers. And it’s exactly what Meron said. On some level, we’re going to have to figure out – And I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before, but we’re going to have to figure out how we can rebuild an infrastructure so that the Palestinians, who have the capability of creating in whatever way they do, ultimately resolving it with the Israelis. Because when it comes down to it, it’s going to have to be between the Israelis and the Palestinians of finding a way for some kind of economic parity, and helping them, and that level of cooperation.
Yeah, I would agree that it’s some kind of open, two-state solution. But yeah, it’s going to require a very radical and different way of thinking about what can be for these people who are now suffering so greatly.
Marc Steiner: And we’ll see how things play out over the next weeks with this. First, I just want to say that in Israel-Palestine at the moment, Avishai Cohen and Meron Rapoport, besides thanking you for being with us today, is having the courage to stand up to say what you say in the face of the very right-wing power that exists in Israel, and being a different voice. And those are really important, and societies need those voices. I want to thank you both for that.
Meron Rapoport: I think there is a community near, and we’re not alone. We’re not alone. It’s not a huge community, it’s true, but we’re not alone. We’re not alone.
Marc Steiner: No, I know you’re not alone. I know you’re not alone.
And Josh Salzman is a dear friend, an old friend of mine. It’s good to have you here as well and standing up for the voices of peace that you’ve done with your work. I want to thank the three of you again for joining us today and look forward to more conversations, and I’ll be staying in close touch.
Josh Salzman: Great to be here, Marc. Thank you.
Meron Rapoport: Thank you very much.
Nir Avishai Cohen: Thank you. Bye-bye.
Marc Steiner: And thank you all for joining us today. And I want to thank our guests once again. Josh Salzman, Nir Avishai Cohen, and Meron Rappaport. And we will be linking to their works so you can see more about what they’re saying.
And of course, thanks to Cameron Granadino for running the show, David Hebden for the editing and getting us on the air, and then tireless work of Kayla Rivara behind the scenes, and everyone here at The Real News for making this show possible.
Now, please, let me know what you think about what you heard today, what you’d like us to cover. Just write to me at email@example.com and I’ll get right back to you. And we’ll continue our coverage of Israel and Palestine, so let us know what you think about that, people you’d like us to talk to, issues you’d like us to raise, what you think about this coverage.
So, finally, for Cameron Granadino, Kayla Rivara, David Hebden and the crew here at The Real News, I’m Marc Steiner. Stay involved, keep listening, and take care.