The General’s Son: From Privileged Zionist to Activist for Palestinian Rights – RAI (1/3)
On Reality Asserts Itself, Miko Peled tells Paul jay that his father, a famous Israeli General, was ostracized for saying it was necessary to negotiate with the PLO and respect Palestinian self-determination; but he never gave up his belief that the expulsion of 1948 and creation of a Jewish state was justified
PAUL JAY, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network and welcome to Reality Asserts Itself, I’m Paul Jay.
Miko Peled is an Israeli activist, author, he was a soldier and his father was one of the most famous generals in Israel. Miko grew up in Jerusalem from a prominent Zionist family. His grandfather Avraham Katsnelson, signed the Israeli Declaration of Independence. His father, Matti Peled, fought in the 1948 war and served as a general in the war in 1967. His father later became a peace activist and a leading proponent of an Israeli dialogue with the PLO as well as the two state solution.
Miko followed his father’s footsteps at first, joining Israel’s special forces after high school and earning the red beret. But he soon grew to regret his decision. He surrendered his status as soon as he earned it, becoming a medic and finally discussed by the 1982 Lebanon invasion, he buried his service pin in the dirt. He’s written a book titled the General’s Son: Journey of An Israeli in Palestine. In a comment about the book Ilan Pappé writes, ‘out of personal pain and sober reaction on the past comes this powerful narrative of transformation, empowerment and commitment’. In her forward to Miko’s book, Alice Walker writes ‘there are few books on the Israeli-Palestine issue that seem as hopeful to me as this one’.
Miko now joins us in the studio. Thanks very much for joining us.
MIKO PELED: Thank you.
JAY: It’s very difficult for anyone who kind of knows much about the Israeli-Palestinians situation to say that something written about it is hopeful.
JAY: But as people that watch Reality Asserts Itself knows, we start from the beginning in terms of your personal story and then I’m sure there were many moments you were not hopeful. So we will try to trace your journey from growing up in this very privileged Zionist family to being an activist opposing much of what I believe certainly the culture would’ve taught you, stratum you grew up in, and also how you end up hopeful out of all of this. But let’s start from the beginning.
Talk a little bit about growing up in the house where your father’s a general and very prominent and what’s the kind of political discourse in the home in terms of your own internalizing of the Israeli narrative?
PELED: Well to begin with there’s a huge sense of pride because everywhere I looked as I was growing up whether it was my father, whether it was other family members, everybody was part of the effort. Either early effort to establish the state of Israel, establishing Israeli military which of course was a source of great pride, fighting in the war of 1948 which is our war of independence, that’s what we call it, and there were several other members of my family that held positions of influence within the state of Israel. So there was a great sense of pride. Absolutely.
Then after my father retired from the military, he embarked on this journey to convince Israelis that we must make peace with the Palestinians. So having taken the West Bank and the Gaza strip and really completed this mission of conquering or the conquest of the land of Israel, he was saying that there was a part of the land of Israel that we have to concede because we have to recognize that there is another nation that lives here. These are the Palestinians and we ultimately want to live in peace so compromise is needed.
JAY: Before we get there because we just jumped through your entire childhood. How old are you when he starts speaking out against that?
PELED: He retired, I was probably 5 or 6 years old.
JAY: Oh you’re young when he starts speaking out?
JAY: Let me just ask you because our colleague who worked with us for quite a few years, Lia Tarachansky, she grew up in a settlement and she said she never even heard the word Palestinian till she moved to Canada when she was 13 or 14 years old. When did you first hear there was such a thing as a Palestinian?
PELED: Well we know that they’re the Arabs of Israel and these are Arabs who live within Israel? Then my father suddenly, early 70’s starts talking about these people called the Palestinians and suddenly we learned that these people are called Palestinians and that was the first I heard of it. That was the first that many Israelis – and Israelis don’t like that term. That’s why even today many people call them the Arabs of Israel because Palestinian – most people know that before the state of Israel was established the country was called Palestine. Even in Hebrew they would say Palestina. My parent’s birth certificate and first ID cards and passports said born in Palestine. So, calling the Palestinians the Palestinians means they have some kind of connection to the land that precedes that proceeds the establishment of the state of Israel. We don’t like that. We don’t want to know that. So nobody calls them that.
Suddenly my father starts talking about that and then to make things worse, he starts claiming that the state of Israel, has to start negotiating with the Palestine Liberation Organization which was, they were the devil. They were worse than the devil. They were murderers and terrorists who were compared to the Nazis. How does a former general who had only recently retired who’s – and he came from the generation of generals that were the gods of the Olympus? Because they’re the young officers in 1948 and then they were the generals in 67 which are really the two most important crucial wars and the most heroic in many ways and so forth. He turns around and just literally moments after the 67 war was completed and says we need to talk to these people, these terrorist who want to kill us?
So I’m growing up and I’m hearing all of this. I’m still a sense of my father the general and now he’s my father talking about all these other things.
JAY: What are you hearing in school?
PELED: Arab lover. Which is like saying nigger lover. You know it’s a terrible thing, you’re an Arab lover. Your father’s an Arab lover. Then later on people start saying, traitor. And I’m thinking, what the hell are they talking about? Don’t they know what he did and who he was? Then as his life-
JAY: Are you angry at your father?
PELED: Not at all. I think they’re idiots. And I’m arguing like a kid in school and I’m getting not beat up physically but ganged on by everybody else saying how could you possibly say these things. Don’t you know they’re terrorists and they’re Arabs and again, Arab lover and so forth. Mostly about my father. So it was strange but I didn’t have any doubts that my father was right. I wasn’t angry at him at all. I thought he was right and they were wrong. So this sense of being in a minority was something I grew up with. I was used to from a very young age.
JAY: Where’s your mother in this?
PELED: My mother was saddened because – she agreed with him of course and in many ways she proceeded him. But she was saddened because at one point their friends stopped inviting them to gatherings. They both became outcast. I talk about this in the book, one point my mother was saying I just hear that all of our friends got together at somebody’s home and we were not invited. So, they really became outcast. And the more he talked about the PLO and later on he began meeting with the PLO and even though the meetings were mostly in secret, the word got out that there were these meetings between my father and several other Israeli Zionists who used to hold prominent positions and now they are renegades but they’re still completely loyal and supportive of the state of Israel, were meeting with PLO members which means they’re meeting with terrorists who want to kill us, you know?
So this was becoming more and more of a problem for my mother and for my parents, socially, not just politically.
JAY: Did you have siblings?
PELED: I do, I’m the youngest of four.
JAY: How did the other kids feel about all of this? Are they older or younger?
PELED: I’m the youngest.
JAY: So the older ones are a little more aware, especially of the social isolation.
PELED: Yes. Well my older brother was very active in the left, the political left in Israel and my two sisters were not that engaged at the time. But this was impacting everyone. The thing is with my father, he was very convincing. I mean he was a smart guy. He did his homework. When he argued the facts there was really very little that you could say that you could argue back because he did his research and his claim was very simple. If we do not allow for some kind of compromise, if we do not recognize the Palestinians do have rights to self-determination, if we do not make this compromise on the small part of the land of Israel which was the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, then in 50-60 years, we’re going to end up with a binational state that’s going to be a nondemocratic state.
This whole idea of a Jewish democracy that he and his generation supposedly fought for will be completely gone because we’re going to be a binational state and we will have to fight terrorism because people resist and when people resist it’s called terrorism. So, the Israeli army will have to use all of it’s resources to fight the resistance and in the end there won’t be a Jewish state.
Now he said this in 1967-68. You know that early. What he said is exactly what happened. Over the last few decades and today we’re faced with this reality.
JAY: In terms of his own progression of getting there. I can sort of understand that this is still in defense of Israel, it’s a more rational policy. But still did he come to regret or have second thoughts about the whole 1948 war. I mean thousands of people expelled from their land and so on?
PELED: No. What had to be done, had to be done. The perspective of the Israeli left and this whole movement that was built around this, what’s called today the two-state solution. The premise was number 1 we don’t look at 1948. The past is behind us, there’s nothing we can do about it and what had to be done had to be done. In other words, we had to establish a Jewish state. We did it.
JAY: Had to in his opinion. Why?
PELED: Because Zionism is the right thing and Jews deserve a state and this is our homeland. So it’s all ideology based. And the ideology is Zionist and the ideology says this is our land, we have returned. We were persecuted people and we’ve returned to claim what is rightfully ours. We had to do what we had to do. Some of it wasn’t pleasant but we had to do what we had to do and that included the expulsion of close to a million Palestinians and destruction of Palestine.
JAY: Did he have family that were killed in the Holocaust?
PELED: No none of us. My grandparents immigrated in the 20’s. To Palestine. They were Zionist and they came for ideological reasons.
JAY: Most people don’t know that period, the extent to which Palestinians were being expelled and not hired in Jewish factories, pre 1940 through the 20’s and 30’s.
PELED: Well you mentioned Ilan Pappé. Ilan Pappé in one of his books, he mentioned how when the very early settlers came, the very early Jewish settlers came to Palestine in the late 19th century, they couldn’t plant lettuce. They couldn’t plant food. They were dying of malaria. They were sick and the Palestinians, the farmers would come and help them because they were starving and they were sick. In their diaries, those same Jewish settlers were talking about how these aliens, we have to rid our country of these foreign aliens which are the Arabs.
So I mean the ideology that the Arabs are the aliens and this land is ours runs very deep.
JAY: Where do they come from?
PELED: Who? All backgrounds. They came from Ukraine. Ukraine and Belarus. My father’s family came from Ukraine. My mother’s family came from Belarus. So they came as Zionist. I think not only my family but the majority of Israelis have no history with holocaust. Holocaust survivors are a small minority of people who actually immigrated to Palestine.
So we had no history of that at all. But this is the ideology. My parents were both born there. They were the first generation Israelis if you will. Even though it was Palestine when they were born. Reviving the Hebrew language and creating this secular socialist colony really of European Jewish or colony of European Jews in Palestine was an ideology that they were indoctrined into. They would hear hours long lectures about the importance of Zionism and socialism and so on and so forth. So they were motivated by this ideology. They were completely secular by the way as well.
JAY: I was about to ask you.
PELED: Completely secular. Which is the typical European, early European Zionist. We’re socialist, secular and they invited basically this myth that Jews are a nation and that the bible is a history book and that Palestine is our country. Those are the 3 myths among the Zionist [inaud.]. And they believed it. They were true believers.
JAY: Well it becomes its own religion.
PELED: Exactly. So my father never looked back at 1948. He never looked back at anything he said or did before the military. Of course, we know the military’s done some terrible things. But he said now we’re at the point where things are different. This is not 1948. He even clearly said, had we expelled the Palestinians or the Arabs from Hebron in 1948, that would’ve been 1 thing. Today it’s a different story. It’s 1967 and now if we want to maintain our existence here as a Jewish democracy then we have to compromise, we have to allow the Palestinians to establish their own Palestinian-Arab state in parts of the land of Israel.
JAY: Now so while your father, when you’re 5-6 years old and as you grow up, he’s very critical of those in power in Israel who don’t want to compromise. But you still grow up with him obviously as a powerful influence. The core of his beliefs are still in the necessity, justice of having a Jewish state. So, you grow up with that. When does it start occur to you, I assume it does or maybe that isn’t the right concept.
PELED: Much later. Much, much later. Any voices that spoke of anti-Zionism or no Zionist solution to what is happening in Palestine was abhorrent. It’s not something we would even listen to. Even though it was kind of more liberal Zionist if you will. I think the reality is that for many people, if not most, drastic change comes at the result of some kind of a tragedy. Some kind of a big shock. So, in 1997, my sister’s daughter was killed in a suicide attack in Jerusalem.
JAY: We’re going to end the segment there and when we come back we’ll pick up things from there. This is your niece was killed in a suicide attack on the streets of Jerusalem. Okay. Thanks for joining us on Reality Asserts Itself. Please join us for part 2 with Miko Peled on the Real News Network.
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