Israeli society “lives in denial” more than any other society, says Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, referring to the suffering the occupation of Palestine causes
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AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. At a meeting with President Trump in Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the main topic was, “Iran, Iran, Iran.” But at home in Israel, Netanyahu was being discussed much differently. As he met with Trump, a third close confidant turned against Netanyahu in a widening corruption probe. Nir Hefetz, known at Netanyahu’s spin doctor, agreed to hand over recordings of Netanyahu and his wife, Sarah, as part of the at least three criminal cases against him.
Well, before this news broke, I sat down with the veteran Israeli journalist, Gideon Levy, a columnist for Haaretz. We spoke in Washington ahead of the annual APEC Summit, which Netanyahu attended before going on to the White House and meeting President Trump. Now, Levy was in town to give the keynote address at a counter-APEC Summit. And I began by asking him about Netanyahu’s domestic troubles.
Many of Netanyahu’s opponents think that this will lead to his downfall. Do you think that they have reason to be optimistic?
GIDEON LEVY: They have reason to be optimistic if you really think that after Netanyahu, Israel will go to a new way with a new horizon and a new policy. I’m not one of them. I think that Benjamin Netanyahu has to resign, I think it will apparently happen. It’s a question of time and it might take more time because this man is not going to resign by himself. But by the end of the day, one should ask himself, what’s next? And unfortunately, the candidates who are going to replace him are not very promising either.
AARON MATÉ: Why do you say that?
GIDEON LEVY: Because by the end of the day in Israel, there is no Israeli statesman who really understands that the occupation is the core issue, and putting an end to the occupation is crucial for the future of Israel. Israel and its politicians are dealing with minor issues and corruption is not minor. But the real corruption of Israel is the occupation, not this stealing cigars and champagne. So, you should fight the small corruption, but when it’s becomes the exclusive battle, then it’s a reason for worry.
AARON MATÉ: Can you explain that gap between the reality of the occupation and the reality inside Israel, where as you say, it’s not even on the agenda?
GIDEON LEVY: I cannot recall one society which lives in such denial like the Israeli society. Anyone who comes over can’t believe it, in which denial we live there in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem, in Haifa and other places. The occupation is totally not on the table anymore. Nobody deals with it, nobody cares about it as if this big elephant which sits in our room, does not sit there because we don’t look at it. And by the end of the day, anyone who comes from the outside is amazed because the occupation is still a big issue all over the world except of one world and one place in the world, Israel. In Israel, the occupation is not such a big deal. As a matter of fact, it’s not even an issue. Many even deny that there is an occupation, as many deny that there is a Palestinian people. This is unbelievable.
AARON MATÉ: In your speech today, you talked about the Israeli mentality, what you think underpins this ability to ignore the suffering of the people literally right next door, and which their government is causing, their government is occupying. What is that force? What is in the Israeli psyche that allows them to dismiss Palestinian human rights and to just ignore the issue?
GIDEON LEVY: That’s the only way to maintain the occupation because you and me know that the Israelis are not monsters. They’re normal people by and large. It’s very hard to live or just be in peace with the reality, like the reality in the occupied territories, with all the brutality, the racism, the militarism, the way you handle human beings like garbage. It’s very hard to live in peace with this when it is on a daily basis half an hour away from your home.
So, Israel heads, defends itself with some kind of walls, walls of denial. And the media is the main actor in creating those walls of denial. And we just live in denial, denying there is a Palestinian people, denying there is an occupation, denying that international law implements on the occupied territories, denials that the Israeli Army is committing crimes on a daily basis, and creating ourself a bubble in which we feel protected. We don’t ask too many questions and have very little moral doubts. Only like this you can maintain an occupation for 50 years.
AARON MATÉ: One symbol of Palestinian resistance that has managed to reach public consciousness here in the US, which doesn’t happen very often, is the Tamimi family. So, you have young Ahed Tamimi, this Palestinian teenager, she was filmed slapping an Israeli soldier in the face shortly after her cousin Mohammed Tamimi was shot in the face and left in a coma. She is still in an Israel military prison, although that was months ago now. It was in December, now we’re in March. Just this week the Israeli military claimed that Mohammed Tamimi had “confessed” that it was not an Israeli assault that left him in a coma with serious brain injuries and his face wounded, but actually that he fell off his bike. Was that, well first of all, can you explain what happened there with that story and did that story convince Israeli society, did people believe that story?
GIDEON LEVY: If you want to prove to how low the Israeli society gets, the Tamimi story is the story because if even Ahed Tamimi, this good looking blond girl who looks like the Israelis, who looks like the neighbor in the front door, in the opposite door, or the daughter of your friend, if even her fate didn’t touch Israelis at all, and the Israelis couldn’t care less about her. If even she is labeled as a terrorist and didn’t create any real debate in Israeli society, then you understand in what level of brainwash and moral death the Israeli society is in.
Ahed Tamimi, I know her, I know her family. I met Mohammed after he was shot. This is a fighting, remarkable family. They fight. I mean, Ahed Tamimi was fighting the occupier with naked hands. Soldiers came to her home one hour after other soldiers shot her cousin 50 meters away from her home. She tried to slap the soldiers, this is all what she had done. And in Israel, she’s labeled as an enemy, as a cruel girl, as a terrorist, as someone who should spend the rest of her life in jail.
AARON MATÉ: Even liberals? Even liberal Israelis?
GIDEON LEVY: Who are liberal Israelis? There are some liberal Israelis, but the real liberals are much less than those who claim that they are liberals because those who claim that they are central left, by the end of the day, they are the biggest supporters of the occupation. They say, “Let’s put an end to the occupation, but we don’t have a partner.” “Let’s put an end to occupation, but not now. What about our security?” They have so many excuses why not to put an end of the occupation, that their connection to real liberalism is really incidental.
AARON MATÉ: In your own case, you’ve been a staunch critic of the Israeli government for years. That’s led to a very uncomfortable position for you, in terms of you’ve received death threats, you’ve had to hire a bodyguard to protect you during heated moments. But yet, your own family history is tied to Israel as a refuge of sorts because your parents came over from Europe in the late 1930s to escape the Nazis. Like many European Jews, Israel was a refuge, it was a home. So, do you still, as critical as you are of the Israeli state, do you still feel any connection for Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people? Does any part of you still believe in that?
GIDEON LEVY: Absolutely yes. My father had no other way to go back to Palestine. He was not a Zionist, by the way. He was an anti-Zionist. But without Hitler, he would have stayed in Europe and spent all his life in Europe. He would never consider coming to Palestine. Same for my mother. But when we talk about them, we should remember that their rescue was on an account of another people. And now it’s the time to compensate the other people, to make the big correction.
Yes, they had the right to come then because they had no other choice. But they were not a people without a land, who came to a land without the people, as we were told. There was someone there. And I always say, the Jews are the biggest victims of the Nazi regimes, but also the Palestinians pay the price for the holocaust because by the end of the day, it was all on their account. If it would have stopped in ’48, I wouldn’t say a word. If we would have created the just reality after ’48, as much justice as you can achieve, you can never achieve total justice, because total justice means that I will leave Israel and all the Jews will leave Israel. Where will they go? You create a new injustice, you create new refugees.
So, by the end of the day, if Israel would have been taken accountable for the Nakba, if Israelis would understand that they did something very wrong to the Palestinian people, and now it’s time to correct, to compensate, to apologize, to take accountability, but all this never happened because Israel never stopped the ’48 policy.
AARON MATÉ: Well, in part two of this conversation, we’re going to talk about what could be done from the outside to pressure Israel to finally end the occupation and provide some semblance of justice to the Palestinians, as we get to the critical role of the US My guest is Gideon Levy, join us in part two.