Gideon Levy was once an army recruit and an aide to former Prime Minister Shimon Peres but he is now a veteran journalist who writes for Haaretz, Israeli’s oldest daily newspaper. He said that he feels compelled to tell his fellow Israelis a story they don’t like to hear about their country’s brutal occupation in the occupied territories of the West Bank and in Gaza. “I was brought up as a typical Israeli,” he says, “but in the late 1980s I started to travel to a place a half hour from my home, a trip that most Israelis never make. I started to go into the occupied territories, our own dark backyard.”
Levy spoke recently in an Ottawa university auditorium while on a seven-city Canadian tour to promote his most recent book, The Punishment of Gaza. A group called Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East sponsored the event. Levy said he was surprised that about 300 people attended his talk. “In Tel Aviv not this many people would show up to hear me,” he said.
What follows here are quotes from Levy’s half hour address, which he delivered entirely without notes:
I have never seen an occupation in which the occupier feels so good about himself and in which he also poses as the victim.
Israel is occupation addicted. It wants more real estate. Israel holds 3.5 million Palestinians against their will in conditions that you cannot imagine and there is no way Israel will move without pressure or a push from the outside.
The Israelis are deeply convinced that seven billion people in the world are wrong and that five million Israelis are right. It is a society that is losing its connection with reality. How can they feel so good about themselves? The explanation is simple. Israelis care about human rights, laws, values and morality but they have come to a simple conclusion. Palestinians are not human beings. Palestinians are not human, therefore there is no problem and that allows Israel to continue the occupation. And the Israeli media also tries to convince their readers that Palestinians are not humans.
What has happened to Israel in the last 10 years?Â People have fallen into a coma, into a state of apathy. In 1982 thousands of Israelis were in the streets to protest against the (Israeli-assisted) massacres in the Shatilla refugee camp in Lebanon. That protest would never happen today. There is no left. There is no peace camp.
I don’t think that the necessary change will come from within Israel. The only hope for it is to come from outside but that is problematic.Â Israel is isolated and this would have been the time to put an end to the occupation but the main power outside is the U.S. When Obama was elected there was a feeling of hopefulness but a year and half later there is nothing new under the sun and nothing really different between the two presidents (Bush and Obama). The U.S. position has been very disappointing and Canada usually follows the U.S. automatically.Â In Europe there is a big difference between public opinion and the opinion of the leaders.
Peace talks and Gaza flotilla
This is the longest peace process in history but the current peace negotiations are a photo op. The Israeli prime minister will not take even the most minimal step of freezing the construction of settlements. This is very disappointing. The rest of the world must raise its voice against the occupation. You must criticize the government of Israel. Do we really want blind support from our friends?
Israel’s actions during the flotilla to Gaza show that it did not learn anything or forget anything. The Israelis really think that they are the victims. Their first option is to use force. They think they can do that wherever they want, even in international waters. The people on the boats were called terrorists. Let’s define that. How were they terrorists? What did they do? Israel’s violent actions against he flotilla show that nothing has changed.
Critics called anti-Semitic
Anyone who dares criticize Israel is called anti-Semitic. Judge Richard Goldstone, a highly respected international jurist who reported on the actions of the Israeli forces during the invasion of Gaza, was described in Israel as anti-Semitic. Why? Because that is how we release ourselves from any responsibility. Anyone who dares bring up international law is called anti-Semitic. We believe the international media is anti-Semitic. We believe the entire world is against us.
There is something wrong here that started in 1948 [when Palestinians were forced from their land and homes]. That 1948 attitude has never changed but anyone who thinks we can forget 1948 just does not understand. Israel has to take responsibility for what happened in 1948. We have to admit that we devastated the Palestinians and we have to take responsibility. No Israeli leader has ever done that.
We have to compensate the Palestinians and help them where they are and we have to help others to come back. Years of brainwashing in Israel have made the Palestinian refugee issue a taboo. I do not fear the repatriation of refugees. We have absorbed a million Russians in the past 10 years and half of them were not even Jewish. Yet Palestinians who grew up here cannot have the same right. And not all of the five million refugees would want to come back. If we had courageous leadership or pressure from the bottom up, we could change but we don’t have that.
A witness to truth
Levy was asked during the question period that followed his talk if his reportage is ever censored in Israel. “I am okay. This is not about me,” he said. “I write whatever I want but the fact is that I am just whistling while the convoy goes off in the other direction.” Levy did say that he was shot at once, that he gets hate mail (especially from Jews in America) and that sometimes it is not pleasant to walk down the street. “But I have realized that it is my place to tell Israelis what is being done on their behalf just half an hour away from where they live.”