Therefore, for me, this conference here is so crucial and so important. Because we have to face reality, and reality is that there is no chance for a change from within the Israeli society — no way. I’ll try to explain why. But if this is the case, the only hope is for an international intervention, and the only hope is from this place, from Washington, from the United States, from the EU, only from there. Because Israeli society is by far today too brainwashed; life in Israel is by far too good. And Israel, let’s face it, is a society which lives in denial, totally disconnected with reality. Were it a private person, I would recommend either medication or hospitalization, because people who lose connection with reality might be very dangerous either to themselves or to society.
Things are getting worse and worse, and therefore I have so little hope about change from within Israeli society.
Israeli society has lost connection with the reality in its backyard as well as the international environment. They believe that 5 million Jews know better than 6 billion people of the world? They have a firm belief that 5 million Jews will be able to continue to live on their sword forever? Is there one example in history in which any country lived on its sword forever?
When Obama was elected, I had tears in my eyes. I said, “Here it comes.” And it didn’t come. And when I see conferences like this, again, it gives me some hope that change might happen, because change will have to take place here. In Israel it’s a lost case.
Israeli society has surrounded itself with shields and walls, not only physical walls but also mental walls. I don’t want to get into it because it’s another lecture. But I’ll just give the three principles which enable us, the Israelis, to live so easily with this brutal reality.
a) Most Israelis, if not all of them, deeply believe that we are the chosen people. And if we are the chosen people, we have the right to do whatever we want.
b) There were more brutal occupations in history. There were even longer occupations in history, even though the Israeli occupation gets to quite a nice record. But there was never in human occupation history when the occupier presented himself as the victim — not only the victim, but the only victim around. This also enables any Israeli to live in peace, because we are the victims.
Professor Falk spoke about the dual strategy of Israel, of being a victim on the one hand and manipulating on the other hand. After what happened in Paris and in Copenhagen with the terror attacks. Benjamin Netanyahu came [up] with the notion, “All the Jews must come to Israel. It’s the safest place for the Jews in the world. It’s a shelter for the Jews in the world.”
This is wrong because, for Jews, Israel today is the most dangerous place on Earth. But let’s put it aside. It was only 24 hours later when Netanyahu said Israel is in existential threat under the Iranian bomb. And I asked myself, how can you dare call Jews to come and join this suicidal project, when the Iranians are going to bomb us?
But, in Israel anything goes, and both declarations were accepted as the only truth.
c) I get to the third set of values that enable us, the Israelis, to live in peace with the occupation. This is maybe the most crucial one and the worst one. We say victimization, we say chosen people. When I say victimization, it goes without saying, we have to mention the Holocaust and the unforgettable Mrs. Golda Meir that the American jury had exported to Israel. She said once — this unforgettable woman — that after the Holocaust, the Jews have the right to do whatever they want.
The third set of values is the most dangerous one. This is the systematic de-humanization of the Palestinians, which enables us, the Israelis, to live in peace with everything, because if they are not human beings like us, then no question could be raised about human rights.
And if you scratch under the skin of almost every Israeli, you will find it there. Almost no one will treat the Palestinians as equal human beings like us.
I once wrote that we treat the Palestinians like animals. I got so many protest letters from animal rights organizations—rightly so. But by the end of the day, how many Israelis did ever try to put themselves in the place of the Palestinians for a moment, for one day? I want to give you two examples.
Many years ago, I interviewed the then-candidate for Prime Minister Ehud Barak. I asked him a question which I try to ask on any occasion, “Mr. Barak, what would have happened if you would have been born Palestinian?” And Barak gave me then the only honest answer he could give me. He said, “I would have joined a terror organization.” What else would he have done? Would he become a poet? He doesn’t know how to write poems. Would he become a pianist? He’s quite a bad pianist, and I doubt if he would have become a collaborator, because he is a fighter. And it became a scandal, because how can you dare to put Ehud Barak to think what would have happened if he would have become a Palestinian?
And the second incident, briefly, during the second intifada, the city of Jenin, the most closed city in the West Bank, was in total siege. I go out from Jenin. I come to the checkpoint. A Palestinian ambulance is parked there with the red lights. I stand after him, no cars can get out of Jenin in those days; no cars can get in. And I wait. The soldiers start playing backgammon in the tent. Usually, I know myself, it’s better that I don’t get into confrontations with the soldiers, because it always ends up very badly. So I stayed in the car. But after 40 minutes, I couldn’t take it.
I went out from the car. I went first to the Palestinian ambulance driver. I asked him, what’s going on? He told me that’s the routine, they let me wait one hour until they come and check the ambulance. And I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to the soldiers. It became a confrontation, but the question that I asked them which really brought them to direct their weapons toward me was one: what would happen if your father was lying in this ambulance? This freaked them out. They lost control. How can I dare to compare their father and the Palestinian in the ambulance? This set off beliefs that they are not human beings like us, they enable us Israelis to live in so much peace with those crimes, on-going crimes for so many years, without losing any kind of humanity, values I heard today.
People talk about Jewish values. I must be frank with you, I don’t know what are Jewish values. I know what are universal values. Let’s not get into it. There are very clear universal values. And there is a very, very clear international law, but for most of the Israelis, international law is very important, but not for Israel. Israel is a special case. Why is it a special case?
Again, you get with all those set of values, with this living in denial.
Here, I want to get back to the topic, Is it good for Israel? No, it’s very corrupting, because as long as the United States keeps helping Israel to continue —obviously the Palestinians are the first and direct, unbelievable victims of it — but by the end of the day, what will Israel be after all those years? What is it already today? Where does it direct to?
Things are getting worse and worse, and therefore I have so little hope about change from within Israeli society. This is because things, as you might know, are going more and more to the nationalistic, militaristic and religious direction, with very little hope that change will come from within. Why would the Israelis go for a change? What incentive? Why would they bother? Life is so good in Israel.
You should have seen Israel [during] the days when Gaza was bombed, when the beaches were crowded, the helicopters were passing on the way to bomb Gaza but Israeli TV hardly showed photos from there. Newspapers hardly wrote anything. I wrote one article about the responsibility of the pilots and I needed to use bodyguards to get out of my home after this. The problem, by the way, was that the bodyguards were settlers. They argued with me all day long until I saw that I was much more secure without the bodyguards rather than with them.
Last but not the least, the war in Gaza taught us also that Israel has three regimes today. Maybe it is the only country and only state in the world with three regimes: one for the Jews, one for the Arab citizens, and one an apartheid regime in the West Bank and Gaza, one of the most brutal and cruel tyrannies in the world. But even for the façade, even for this democracy which I always thought is democracy for its Jewish citizens, I realized last summer that it is a democracy for its Jewish citizens, but only if they think like the majority.
Therefore, and with this I want to conclude, I want to tell you all that a few of us are looking to the West, Europe and the United States with great hope, because we lost hope in Israel.
Note: The article is based on the speech titled ‘The Israeli Lobby: Is it good for the US? Is it good for Israel?’ by Gideon Levy, made at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. in April, 2015.
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