How Have 50 Years of Israeli Occupation of Palestinian Land Changed Israel?
Denial and lies about the occupation have allowed Israelis to cover up the reality of what the occupation has done to Palestinians, and so the occupation could continue for another 50 years, says Israeli journalist Gideon Levy
Shir Hever: Welcome to the Real News Network I’m Shir Hever, Heidelberg, Germany. 50 years ago, on June 4th, 1967, the state of Israel has launched an attack against Syria and Egypt, and shortly afterwards against Jordan as well. It was a short war, which Israelis called the Six Day War, but its consequences were very long lasting. Much of the territory occupied by Israel in this war, and more importantly the population that became subjected to Israeli military occupation remain under a status of military occupation to this day, 50 years later, and this is a topic that is covered extensively in the news.
Here at the Real News Network we recently published an extensive interview with Norman Finkelstein in three parts on the history and the geopolitical conditions that led to the start of the war and I recommend that you watch it, but now I want to discuss with Gideon Levy how the occupation looks 50 years later, how it transformed Israeli society. Gideon Levy is a prominent Israeli journalist and author of the weekly column The Twilight Zone in the Israeli paper Haaretz. He’s also an editorial board member of Haaretz. Between 1978 and 1982 Levy served in the Shimon Peres office when Peres was leader of the Labor Party. He won several prominent prizes for journalism and has written the book The Punishment of Gaza. Thank you very much for joining us, Gideon.
Gideon Levy: [inaudible 00:01:28].
Shir Hever: So you have published several pieces recently about the 50 years of occupation, and I was especially moved by a short piece that you wrote about Israeli soldiers, which shot Nouf Iqab Enfeat, a 16-year-old Palestinian girl. They say that she attacked them with a knife. Let’s watch the video, but I have to warn our viewers that this is not an easy video to watch.
Video: (speakers in foreign languages)
Shir Hever: Nouf Iqab Enfeat has died of her wounds a few hours later. This video was published on June 1st, but you, Gideon, you chose to talk about it to exemplify the brutality, which occupation has evoked in Israeli military and in the society. I want to take just one aspect out of this video. The word kahba that the person who is taking the video is using it to assault this woman, which is a Moroccan word for prostitute. It’s not a very well-known word in Israel. Why do you think he chose that particular word?
Gideon Levy: I was wondering as well. I guess that he heard it at home and I guess that in this way of sadism, and I cannot call it any other way but barbarism and sadism. He wanted her to understand what he says.
Shir Hever: Yeah, I think it’s also interesting because this word from Moroccan is probably not well-known to Palestinians. Every Israeli knows the Palestinian word.
Gideon Levy: Yeah. It is known also the Palestinian. I found out that they’re using this word as well.
Shir Hever: All right, okay. So, well, one thing may be that 50 years of occupation do is make Israeli’s know Palestinian society and language better then. We met recently in Berlin and you said that this is the first 50 years of the occupation, and you don’t seem very optimistic that the occupation will end soon. The enthusiasm and euphoria, which captivated the Israeli public back in 1967, the belief that the Palestinians should be grateful to Israel for their economic benefits, which they supposedly received, do you think that this enthusiasm still exists today? Are Israelis confident that the Palestinian resistance is still irrelevant?
Gideon Levy: No. They just close the window. They don’t mind anymore. They don’t care anymore. They don’t want to know anything about the occupation and as long as the occupation doesn’t require them any special prize, not in terms of money, not in terms of politics, not in terms of security, they just continue with it because by the end of the day they’re really meaningful group in Israeli society are the settlers. They took the majority as hostages. You have on one hand totally indifferent apathy and on the other hand very devoted, powerful blackmailing group. This is the outcome.
Shir Hever: Well, I think, maybe we disagree a little bit on the issue of whether Israelis pay a price or not. This brings me actually to another piece you wrote. It’s called, “Fifty Years, Fifty Lies” about all of the lies and deception that the Israeli society had to adopt Israeli government, Israeli media in order to somehow manage this so-called temporary occupation for so long and to continue this illusion of the democracy, when a third of the population are not citizens and they don’t have any civil rights or the right to vote.
So, I think maybe through these lies, there is a certain price that people pay, but do you think that the lies are still effective, and, more importantly, do you think that Israelis really don’t know what is happening in the West Bank and in Gaza?
Gideon Levy: First of all, the Israeli’s are paying a price, but the lies and the propaganda and the denial prevent them of making the linkage between the price and the reason for the price. That’s so terrible because if you even take the Second Intifada, in the Second Intifada the Israelis pay ahead of the price for the occupation but no one-
Shir Hever: [crosstalk 00:06:41] -which started in October 2000, yeah?
Gideon Levy: [inaudible 00:06:44] Hundreds of Israelis were injured, killed. Israel really lived under terror of the main cities, suicide bombers, buses exploding, everything. And it didn’t have any effect whatsoever on the country. Why so? Because, there are those denial wars, those protection wars, in which Israelis are being told, “No, no, this has nothing to do with the occupation.” The Intifada is because the Palestinians were born to kill because they are cruel, because they are barbaric, because they don’t love their children. Therefore, we have an intifada … Nothing to do with the occupation and Israelis believed it. We are today in the same place. People pay some price, not like in the Second Intifada. People will never admit the linkage between the occupation and the price.
Shir Hever: Right. Now it’s commonly said that the current Israeli government is the most right-wing government in the history of the State of Israel, and I believe there is several senior ministers who are openly saying that Israel should apply Israeli law and to occupy the West Bank, annex the West Bank effectively … Then maybe we will have to talk about something else, maybe not exactly military occupation, but a different sort of system. What do you think is preventing them from doing that? If this is really the most right-wing government, why aren’t they just annexing the West Bank?
Gideon Levy: Why should they bother? The annexation defacto is 50 years old. Why should they bother to go for it? First of all, they might go for it, but why should they bother? This might wake up Europe and maybe even The United States, why? Israel can continue with the occupation without annexation, without getting into this [inaudible 00:08:35] of equal rights … Because then the demand will be very clear, equal rights for the Palestinians. Israel, right now, the status quo is the best option for Israel. Israel will continue to maintain this stays quo as long as the price is so cheap as simple as this.
Shir Hever: This brings me directly to my next question because you talk about the status quo and you talk about waking up the world. Diana Buttu, who is a Palestinian Liberation activist … She recently published a call in the New York Times to Palestinians to dismantle the Palestinian authority, specifically in order to wake up the world and to challenge the status quo that you’re describing. In your newspaper, in Haaretz, [inaudible 00:09:22], who is a well-known left activist and former member of the Israeli Parliament, he answered Buttu and he warned her that dismantling the Palestinian authority will not help to end occupation. I wonder what you think? If the Palestinian authority will dismantle itself, are the Israelis ready to assume direct control over the West Bank and the Gaza strip again, to rebuild the civil administration as it operated until 1993?
Gideon Levy: I think both have a point. I think Diana Buttu has a point because the PA is the best agent for Israel to continue the occupation without paying any price. I also agree with [inaudible 00:10:03] that if the PA will be dismantled, I think the first victims will be the Palestinians because Israel will not bother to take care of their destiny, of their [inaudible 00:10:15]life … Nothing. So, by the end of the day, I, for me, as an Israeli, I really concentrate on what we should do. What we should do is to fight the occupation and what we can do is to raise our voices. Dismantling the PA is a Palestinian business not my business. I’m not in a position to tell the Palestinians what to do. That’s the truth.
Shir Hever: Yeah. Well, I’m still going to try with my last question to extract a little bit of hope from you. I think you are maybe an interesting example. You have been reporting on the occupation for 30 years now and you could not remain indifferent to the cruelty and the suffering that you witnessed. You’re right that most Israelis decided to close their eyes and hardens their hearts in order not to see the suffering, but something has convinced you, after all, not to close your eyes and to continue to report in Hebrew to the Israeli public for 30 years. So, what did convince you? Maybe it can also convince other Israelis or at least international activists.
Gideon Levy: I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you and you will not find any sense of optimism. The fact that I continue is because I don’t what to do. This is maybe even a sign of despair because that’s my profession to be a journalist and the only field that I feel that I have to raise my voice is covering the occupation because there are so very few others that do it. I do it, but I’m not sure that it has any effect, for sure not for the short run, maybe for the long run, maybe for the archives, maybe for readers abroad. But by the end of the day, the more I write, the farer is the end of the occupation. That’s a matter of fact.
Shir Hever: Well, although you did not give us a very optimistic note to end our conversation, I still thank you very much for joining us.
Gideon Levy: Thank you very much. Bye Bye.
Shir Hever: Thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.