Empire Files: Israelis Speak Candidly to Abby Martin About Palestinians
On the streets of Jerusalem, Abby Martin interviews Jewish Israeli citizens from all walks of life. In several candid interviews, disturbing comments reveal commonly-held views about Palestinians and their future in the region
Female 2: On September 12th, an Israeli Knesset Party approved a plan to annex all of the occupied territories that would erase Palestine completely. This is considered an extremist solution to a conflict that has spanned decades, and the so-called key to peace in the Middle East. But how do Jewish-Israeli citizens feel, those who are not in the government or living in illegal settlements? Last year I traveled around the West Bank to release a series for The Empire Files on the plight of Palestinians, featuring their voices and stories, but I also went to speak to average Israelis in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem.
We’re here in Zion Square in Jerusalem, which the government has actually declared to rename Tolerance Square. We’re just going to ask everyday Israelis what they think about the situation. You’re American? Where are you from and why did you come here?
Female 1: I’m from New York. I came here with my family when I was younger to make aliyah, because it was always my parents’ dream to come to Israel because we’re religious.
Speaker 1: So are you American?
Female 2: Yes.
Speaker 1: Oh cool. When did you move here and why?
Female 2: I moved here 11 years ago. My family moved here because this is the country of the Jewish people, and the future of the Jewish people. We want to be here.
Speaker 1: How old are you guys?
Male 1: 18.
Male 2: We are 18 years old. Now we are here in Israel taking leadership course and we are going to the army for a few months to see how life here. We hope to bring back some of these knowledge to our youth movements
Speaker 1: So you’re in like an internship with the army?
Male 1: It’s about two months and they show you everything about the army
Female 2: Israel is a great place, it’s a nice place, you should come and visit, I love Israel and O feel safe here
Male 1: All the misconceptions, they are not true. There are not people with knives everyday and there aren’t people exploding
female 3: Palestinians?
Male 1: Yeah, pretty much the life here is really good
Male 4: For people living here its just normal to see people in the army walking around with guns and you feel completely safe and protected.
female 3: I feel like we know who the threat is and it’s not coming from anyone random as opposed to in the rest of the world, that could be anyone. Here, we know who are enemy is and we know they are out to get us
Speaker 1: Who is the enemy?
female 3: Who is the enemy? That’s a very good question. I don’t think it’s specifically any nation, I think it’s the people that are so interested in people politically correct, that they won’t actually go after the people that are trying to cover things up.
Male 5: I think that the Islam, it’s a very bad disease. Not just for Israel, for all around the world, we can see it. They think they all have to be Islam. If you’re not Islam, they will kill you.
Female 4: A lot of Americans don’t really understand what Israel is like. We hear a lot of things in the news, a lot of people are sympathizing with the Palestinian plight. Can you talk about what it’s like to live in this situation?
Male 6: First of all it’s very hard. I also have an organization, it’s called “Lahavah”. It’s against the Jews who marry Arabs.
Female 4: Did you say that the organization did what again?
Male 6: The organization, the thing of it is that Jews shouldn’t marry Arabs.
Female 4: Shouldn’t marry Arabs. Why do you feel strongly about that?
Male 6: Because, Jews have a special relation that God gave to the Jews and we don’t want Jews to get mixed up with a different nation.
Male 5: I think Israelis have to take over and they have to kick them away. It will be much better. Not to kill them, just to go back to Arab countries.
Male 7: You can’t deal with these people, there is no need to try, there is no need to talk to them. What we can do is when they do enough harm, we retaliate. That’s war and that’s the situation that any Jew who lives in Israel has to deal with.
Male 8: Speaking Hebrew …
Male 9: I think also that every Arab that doing terrorism attack, we have to kill him. And not because he’s Arab, because he’s a terrorist. I think we should also kick out the family because it all begins with (Hebrew Word).
Male 10: Education
Male 9: Whatever they teach the kid, the kid does. You know it’s families
female 5: I think that we need to (Lots of Hebrew, trying to figure out how to translate thought into English)
Male 9: I think we should give them a country if you’re doing any problem, you are going there, to give them a country and then it’s going to be a war between countries. If they are gonna throw a rocket, we are gonna throw one big one and done.
Male 11: I don’t think there’s any answer to it
Female 4: Really?
Male 11: There is only one way I would carpet bomb them.
Female 4: You would carpet bomb them?
Male 11: It’s the only way you can deal with it, or try to stop them a different way. It never worked
Female 4: You mean all Arabs are Gaza or …
Male 11: I hope to believe they are not, but I do think they are cause I don’t trust them. You can’t trust them. The only way is to stop it completely.
female 6: I think that we miserable. The Arabs make a big whim and we need to kill the Arabis. (Laughter)
Speaker 1: Okay, cool, so?
Male 11: There is also Jewish civilians that aid Arabs, yeah? I am not saying. But we also have people that like the Arabs and everything like “somlamin”.
Male 12: I think that another thing is that the Jews should have the right to hate them.I think we have the right to hate them, I don’t see a reason why not. I wouldn’t trust any of them
Female 4: To better understand this mentality, I also talked to Ronnie Barken, a Jewish-Israeli citizen who grew up in the country and is now an ardent critic of the notion of a Jewish state.
Ronnie Barken: Like anyone growing up in Israel, I went through the holy indoctrination mechanism, and we are being trained to be soldiers from kindergarten. Literally from kindergarten. The moment I realized, I managed to sort of overcome that indoctrination, then everything became very clear, because the situation is crystal clear. One of the main successes of Israeli propaganda is to convince the world that the situation is complicated, but it’s far from being complicated, it’s probably the least complicated conflict in the world today.
It’s all about those who have the power, those who oppress and subjugate and tread over the indigenous people of the land, who have been oppressed and subjugated and expelled from their land. This is what it’s about. The suggestion here is not very different other than the way it is perceived in the world and among Israeli society themselves. They like to perceive themselves as being something else. As being liberal and progressive and all that. I also thought of myself as such until I realized that actually, “No this is not the case.” The case is very clear and I am not on the right side of history, and that’s when I managed to overcome this type of brainwashing, then the rest was very easy.
So Israel is all about creating a place that is for one select group, and only that. It’s not only the fact that they wanted to take over, to usurp the land and the resources and all of that. It’s also about this exclusive nature of the place. That this is ours and only ours and even any Palestinian being born in Israel, even if they are an Israeli citizen, is already regarded as a threat to the state.
Female 4: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Ronnie Barken: The need to segregate, the need to separate and not to interact with Palestinians is part of Israel identity. So we have to understand that Israel identity depends on denying Palestinians their dignity, and denying either the existence of Palestinians all together or the very least denying their identity, their culture and so on. And also, right after the ethic cleansing of Palestinians, right after the Palestinians were expelled from their homes and became refugees, the very next thing that happened was that there was a concerted effort of mass looting of books and other cultural artifacts from Palestinian homes. Which was lead by the national library in Israel. So it’s for a reason that when we say that “existence is resistance” for Palestinians this is true. Just by very existing on their land, this is an act of resistance, in its self. Even more so, when they actually claim their rights, claim their identity, do cultural work like produce Palestinian culture, that is an act of war.
female 8: After learning a lot in Jewish history and Israel history, I’ve like seen that people make a big deal about a lot of different areas. But if you look back, correct me if I’m wrong, but if you look back at the history, the areas, these places are really rightfully ours. If there is any other country that would have conquered these places or had taken over these places, nobody would make a big deal. It’s just because it’s Israel and there’s anti-Semitism and everything.
Male 12: They kicked us about 2000 years ago and we came back. We have Jerusalem. We build every stone here, every stone. 3000 years ago, over here …
Female 4: This all is 3000 years old?
Male 12: This is the city of David. 2500 years ago. All history of the Jewish people. And the Islam doesn’t have history at all in this country.
Female 9: I think that they should actually look at a history book and look at the progression of history and who occupied Israel. Go further back. So it could be that the Palestinians occupied Israel. That’s true, but who occupied that before that and if you keep going back to the times of the bible, you will see that it was indeed the Jews that did occupy.
Male 13: Palestinians, where are the Palestinians people during 4000 years and [inaudible 00:11:57] answer me?
Female 4: Well I’m a journalist sir so I don’t …
Male 13: Ah, and how God punish is the sin? By other people, admit now its some Palestinians.
Female 9: But it’s really rightfully ours, if you look at the history and if you look at the wars, and we didn’t even start a lot of the wars. We conquered these places rightfully, it’s ours
Male 12: We bought the settlements by Gaza. You know all the (Hebrew Word)
Female 4: You gave Gaza back though
Male 12: We gave part of Israel, it’s not Gaza. We do things for peace
Male 14: I think that the Jews came here, they took this land and this is our land now and I don’t think there should be no Arabs. Like Arabs, one, we gave them Gaza, they should live there quietly if they want, they should go back to Iraq. I don’t know, do whatever they want. But this is a place, this is a place that God gave to the Jews and we don’t want the Arabs to be here.
Female 9: Before they accuse anyone of occupying they should actually look back and look at history.
Female 4: So you wouldn’t call any of this occupied territory?
Female 9: No, I think that whatever deals were made and wars were fought, they took the land, and that’s the way things work. I mean would you call America occupied by Americans because the British used to rule?
Male 11: The people who kicked the Jews out of Israel were the Arabs. 1400 years later we come back. Now I’m saying that we can blame the people living here for what happened, but you gotta accept that that is some kind of divine justice, that their great-great-great-great grandfather kicked my great-great-great grandfather out of here and then we come back and all of the sudden they are like, “Oh no, it’s not fair.” They took the land from us not the Romans, the Persians, and not the Byzantines. It was Arabs who took this land from Jews and so yeah, we came back and took what was rightfully ours.
Female 9: Besides the fact that before the Jews came to here in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s, it was like a barren land. Because the Jews came here, it started to flourish or whatever and become actually, people start planting things and making settlements in all these places. If the Jews never came here, then it would be in the same place it was, like 200 years ago, or not where it is today. And so the Jews came here and started making it better for also the Arabs and it only started to be an issue because the Arabs started to make it more of an issue
Speaker 1: How many people think like you? What is the state of the left-wing within Israeli society?
Ronnie Barken: So, the people who think like me are a negligible few and I would argue that there is no left in Israel and it never ever existed. What you have are those self-proclaimed leftists, liberal Zionists, who basically speak the language of peace and human rights and so on, in order to sugarcoat their racism and supremacy. And they speak a very different language than the acting government for example because the acting government is clearly a right winged government. They are shameless about their racist attitudes and so on. They say that this is ours and only ours.
Many of them are decent of us to say, “Yes there was the ethic cleansing of Palestinian and that’s a good thing. The problem is that we haven’t finished the job, that there are still Palestinians left in Palestinian.”
With the other type of Zionists, with the so-called left in Israel, we cannot even agree about the basic facts. But for them in order to feel that they are both Zionist and moral at the same time, they have to keep lying to themselves all the time, every moment of every day. So, they have perfected this whole discourse of lies in order to lie to themselves and also to lie to the international community to justify their existence here in that.
Male 15: I think the occupation does have a role, a big role, it’s important. I don’t think there should be no occupation at all. In the occupation it needs to be more hu-
Speaker 1: Do you get called a leftist a lot?
Male 15: Yeah, I am a leftist.
Female 4: Is leftist a slur sometimes?
Male 15: Yes it is. It is not a good way to be called in Israel.
Male 16: Israel doesn’t want to compromise on security, they have to do a blockage. They have to kind of cut this off. It’s ridiculous what people have to go throw there but it’s also ridiculous what we have to do to keep ourselves safe.
Male 15: We don’t want to fight with them, but if they ask for it, they will get it, and we are much stronger, much stronger. We are, we behave very gently and morally? Very gently with them
Female 4: It could get a lot worse is what you’re saying?
Male 15: Yeah, if the Russians were here, two days they would kill all of them. If the Americans will be here, they will kill them. Two days, they don’t care about human rights, they don’t care about nothing.
Female 4: Israel is holding back.
Male 15: Very, very.
Male 16: But it’s war and civilians get killed in war and it’s a horrible, you know on there side, less on our side, but at the same time, we put money into protecting ourselves
Male 11: Well look, the refugees, their situation is horrible, but no other nation in the world gets the refugee status that the Palestinians do. The Palestinians third generation people are still considered refugees.
Male 17: You know I had friends that were Canadian. They went on their passports. They want to see what the refugee camps were, they wanted to see what it was all about. They came back, they said, “It’s nothing like I imagined it.”
Female 4: Like better than they imagined, or?
Male 17: They said people were driving around with nice cars, people had nice houses, views, things like that. They thought people were being oppressed, you know like living in tents. It’s like they probably were like maybe 10, 15, 20 years ago, you know like in the past.
Ronnie Barken: For them, in order for them to be Zionist and moral. In order for them to have a Jewish and democratic state, they needed, first of all and foremost, to create the Jewish majority by force, by driving away the indigenous people from their land. And this is how the state was founded and immediately afterwards, they created the whole legal system, which would make sure that those who had been expelled would never be allowed back and those who remained on their land, because not everyone was expelled, will never be equal citizens.
Unfortunately, what we hear on mainstream media, this so-called debate between the right and the left is about that. It’s about do we want a large Israel which is Arab free or do we want a small Israel which is Arab free? This is the debate that is taking place
Female 4: Last question, there’s this whole international movement of leftists and activists who want to boycott Israel for human rights violations. Being here and seeing that, what do you just think about that?
Male 18: I think that the BDS movement, that the leaders of the BDS movement, everyone that thinks that Israel is bad. If they can, they should read up about the topic, the other side and they should come here and see how everyone is comfortable
Male 19: People right now, they are looking at Israel and they are calling it an apartheid state and Israel is not an apartheid state. There are places, I mean my family from five generations ago, they are from Geneen. You can’t find one Jew in Geneen right now, I mean, it’s totally Jew free. So if you want to think about a racist apartheid state, it seems its more in my opinion, coming from their side.
Female 4: And just a response I guess to kind of this international movement, the BDS movement, and also the movement that says settlements are illegal, they’re encroaching on Palestinian land, can you respond to that accusation?
Male 11: I think the response would be two part. The first part would be very simple. Nobody gives turkey problems for their settlements in Cypress. It’s an anti-Semitic thing. So maybe they don’t know that they hate Jews, but they give us so much trouble, the UN only talks about Israel. What about North Korea? What about Russia?
Then the second thing would be to say that …
Female 4: Even from the UN?
Male 11: Completely from the UN. I mean, come on, you’re telling me that we’re worse than the North Korean dictatorship. Like nobody in the world thinks that. So those people in the UN, and all these peace activists, I mean look. She’s a woman, she’s walking around however she wants here in Israel. There is female genital mutilation in Egypt, not very far from here. Why don’t people talk about that?
Male 20: I think that we should have not more rights. I think that we have rights to build more houses for our citizens and a lot of things that Israel gets criticism for, other countries will never get it
Male 21: (Speaking Hebrew)
Ronnie Barken: It’s irrelevant, the views of Israelis about the situation are totally irrelevant to the question of how do we change the situation. Did it matter what white people think about apartheid in South Africa at the time? The question is how do we end apartheid and how do we end Israeli crimes?
You know every Israeli official will say, will claim to speak on behalf of the Jewish people and will even demand the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to be a Jewish a state. I don’t recognize Israel’s right to be a Jewish state because it is not Jewish by religion, it is only Jewish by supremacy.
Israel is Jewish just like South Africa was white, in the exact same context, with the exact same meaning. Obviously any decent person around the world should oppose that because it is inherently racist and more than that. And it also happens to be very much against international law. So when we talk about Israel is an apartheid state, even though it’s not exactly like South Africa, it neatly falls under the legal definition of the crime of apartheid, which is a very serious crime. One of the few crimes that is regarded as a crime against humanity, which means that all parties of the world are obligated to do something against it, not to be complicit in that.
What we are coming and saying is, no there are basic fundamental human rights that must be respected. One of them is [inaudible 00:22:19] occupation of course, but that’s not the main issue, that’s part of the issue. The other two rights are equality inside Israel proper or what we called Palestinian in ’48, and the right to refuse [inaudible 00:22:29] which are being expelled since from there since the very foundation of the state of Israel. These are fundamental rights, they must be respected and now can debate, we can argue about how do we implement these rights.
I am willing to discuss that. I am not going to discuss, you know, should we have equality or not. This is not negotiable.