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Gideon Levy: the "most hated man in Israel"

by Michael R. Burch, an editor, translator and publisher of Holocaust and Nakba poetry

Gideon Levy has been called "the most hated man in Israel," because he speaks truth to power. And the truth is that with its brutal ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, Israel has created a modern Trail of Tears.

Gideon Levy was born in 1953 in Tel Aviv. His father was a German Jewish lawyer who fled the Nazi Holocaust. Levy describes his early political views as typically mainstream: "I was a full member of the nationalistic religious orgy. We all were under the feeling that the whole project [of creating a Jewish state in Palestine] is in an existentialistic danger. We all felt that another Holocaust is around the corner."

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.
—Michael R. Burch, "Epitaph for a Palestinian Child"

In 1974, Levy was drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces, where he served as a reporter for Israel Army Radio. From 1978 to 1982 he worked as an aide to Shimon Peres, then leader of the Israeli Labor Party. In 1982, he began to write for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz. In 2004, Levy published a compilation of articles entitled Twilight Zone—Life and Death under the Israeli Occupation.

Levy’s views changed after he joined Haaretz. "When I first started covering the West Bank for Haaretz, I was young and brainwashed," he said in an interview. "I would see settlers cutting down olive trees and soldiers mistreating Palestinian women at the checkpoints, and I would think, 'These are exceptions, not part of government policy.' It took me a long time to see that these were not exceptions—they were the substance of government policy."

Levy defines himself as a "patriotic Israeli" but he criticizes what he calls Israeli society's "moral blindness" to the effects of its acts of war and occupation. In 2007, he said that the plight of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, then under Israeli blockade, made him ashamed to be an Israeli. "My modest mission is to prevent a situation in which many Israelis will be able to say 'We didn't know'," Levy said in an interview.

Levy supports unilateral withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories without concessions. "Israel is not being asked to 'give' anything to the Palestinians; it is only being asked to return—to return their stolen land and restore their trampled self-respect, along with their fundamental human rights and humanity." Levy also says that the Gaza War was a failed campaign and its objectives were not achieved. "The conclusion is that Israel is a violent and dangerous country, devoid of all restraints and blatantly ignoring the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, while not giving a hoot about international law," he wrote in an editorial.

In 2006, Gideon Ezra, Israel's former deputy Minister of Internal Security, suggested that the General Security Services should monitor Levy as a security risk. Levy has joked that there is a thick file of anti-Levy cancellations in the Haaretz newsroom. In 2008, the Anna Lindh foundation, which describes its goal as bringing people together "from across the Mediterranean to improve mutual respect between cultures," awarded Levy the Anna Lindh journalism prize for an article he wrote about Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel awarded him the Emil Grunzweig Human Rights Award in 1996 for promoting human rights, and he has won numerous other awards for his writing.

Survey: Most Israeli Jews would support apartheid regime in Israel
by Gideon Levy in HAARETZ, Oct.23, 2012

Most of the Jewish public in Israel supports the establishment of an apartheid regime in Israel if it formally annexes the West Bank.

A majority also explicitly favors discrimination against the state's Arab citizens, a survey shows.

The survey, conducted by Dialog on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, exposes anti-Arab, ultra-nationalist views espoused by a majority of Israeli Jews. The survey was commissioned by the Yisraela Goldblum Fund and is based on a sample of 503 interviewees.

The questions were written by a group of academia-based peace and civil rights activists. Dialog is headed by Tel Aviv University Prof. Camil Fuchs.

The majority of the Jewish public, 59 percent, wants preference for Jews over Arabs in admission to jobs in government ministries. Almost half the Jews, 49 percent, want the state to treat Jewish citizens better than Arab ones; 42 percent don't want to live in the same building with Arabs and 42 percent don't want their children in the same class with Arab children.

A third of the Jewish public wants a law barring Israeli Arabs from voting for the Knesset and a large majority of 69 percent objects to giving 2.5 million Palestinians the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank.

A sweeping 74 percent majority is in favor of separate [racially segregated] roads for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. A quarter—24 percent—believe separate roads are "a good situation" and 50 percent believe they are "a necessary situation."

Almost half—47 percent—want part of Israel's Arab population to be transferred [ethnic cleansing] to the Palestinian Authority and 36 percent support transferring some of the Arab towns from Israel to the PA, in exchange for keeping some of the West Bank settlements.

Although the territories have not been annexed, most of the Jewish public (58 percent) already believes Israel practices apartheid against Arabs. Only 31 percent think such a system is not in force here. Over a third (38 percent ) of the Jewish public wants Israel to annex the territories with settlements on them, while 48 percent object.

The survey distinguishes among the various communities in Israeli society—secular, observant, religious, ultra-Orthodox and former Soviet immigrants. The ultra-Orthodox, in contrast to those who described themselves as religious or observant, hold the most extreme positions against the Palestinians. An overwhelming majority (83 percent) of Haredim are in favor of segregated roads and 71 percent are in favor of transfer.

The ultra-Orthodox are also the most anti-Arab group—70 percent of them support legally barring Israeli Arabs from voting, 82 percent support preferential treatment from the state toward Jews, and 95 percent are in favor of discrimination against Arabs in admission to workplaces ...

The survey indicates that a third to half of Jewish Israelis want to live in a state that practices formal, open discrimination against its Arab citizens. An even larger majority wants to live in an apartheid state if Israel annexes the territories.

The survey conductors say perhaps the term "apartheid" was not clear enough to some interviewees. However, the interviewees did not object strongly to describing Israel's character as "apartheid" already today, without annexing the territories. Only 31 percent objected to calling Israel an "apartheid state" and said "there's no apartheid at all."

In contrast, 39 percent believe apartheid is practiced "in a few fields"; 19 percent believe "there's apartheid in many fields" and 11 percent do not know.

Excerpts from a PBS interview:

Q: How does it feel to be shot at by your own [Levy is an ex-soldier in the Israeli army].

"This is dilemma which [I’ve been] in for many years now. Just yesterday morning I wrote an editorial supporting the initiative to appeal to the international court against war crimes by the Israeli army. It's a very complex feeling because, you see, my children are here and my children are going to be soldiers and the children of my friends are soldiers and I was a soldier. I'm an Israeli, and I feel so Israeli. But I would like to see a different army. It's not the army that I dreamt about, and it's not the state I dreamt about. Therefore I think that it is very legitimate to do anything against this occupation regime. I feel bizarre when many times I was standing among the Palestinian demonstrators, my back to the Palestinians, my face to the Israeli soldiers, (and) they were shooting in our direction. They are my people, and they are my army. The people I'm standing among are supposed to be the enemy. It's all mixed up ... I tried to deliver the message [to Israeli soldiers] that Palestinians are also human beings, which is not a message they know because that's not the way they treat them."

Q: That feeling within the army that the Palestinians are not human—where does it come from?

"Once we are the occupier, it cannot be that we are equal. The idea was to prove to the Palestinians by force that we are the real landlords of this land, that there are no two landlords, there is only one landlord, the Jewish people. And having said this, you develop a whole dictionary, a whole body language, a whole concept of we the occupiers, the superiors, and they [are] something else.

Indifference to Gaza's children: children of war (published in Ha'aretz, September 2, 2007):

Again children. Five children killed in Gaza in eight days. The public indifference to their killing—the last three, for example, were accorded only a short item on the margins of page 11 in Yedioth Ahronoth, a sickening matter in itself—cannot blur the fact that the IDF is waging a war against children. A year ago, a fifth of those killed in the "Summer Rain" operation in Gaza were children; during the past two weeks, they comprised a quarter of the 21 killed. If, heaven forbid, children are hurt in Sderot, we will have to remember this before we begin raising hell. The IDF explains that the Palestinians make a practice of sending children to collect the Qassam launchers. However, in this case, the children killed were not collecting launchers. The first two were killed while collecting carob fruit and the next three—according to the IDF's own investigation—were playing tag. But even if we accept the IDF's claim that there is a general trend of sending children to collect launchers (which has not been proven), that should have brought about an immediate halt to firing at launcher collectors. But the IDF does not care whether its victims are liable to be children. The fact is that it shoots at figures it considers suspicious, with full knowledge—according to its own contention—that they are liable to be children. Therefore, an IDF that fires at launcher collectors is an army that kills children, without any intention of preventing this. This then is not a series of unfortunate mistakes, as it is being portrayed, but rather reflects the army's contempt for the lives of Palestinian children and its terrifying indifference to their fate ... The liquidations, the shelling and the killing of children will work in exactly the opposite direction of what is intended. In the meantime, look what is happening to us and to our army.

Child buried twice in 'Operation Locked Kindergarten': The boy who was buried twice (Published in Ha'aretz, September 9, 2006):

Saja'iya, Gaza City—Abdullah a-Zakh identified his son's body by the belt. The shoes and socks also looked familiar, irrefutable proof that he had lost his son. In the morgue of Shifa Hospital, after hours of searching, he found the bottom part of the boy's body. The next day, when Operation "Gan Na'ul"—"Locked Kindergarten"—ended and the Israel Defense Forces exited the Saja'iya neighborhood of Gaza, leaving behind 22 dead and large-scale destruction, the other body parts were found. Mohammed was buried twice. He was 14 years old at the time of his death. He was killed last week, three days before the start of the new school year, so he never got to enter ninth grade. Did the planners of the operation give thought to the children who would be killed before giving it the satanic name "Locked Kindergarten"? Did the IDF computer that comes up with the names know that there would be five children and adolescents among the dead? Did they think about the popular song that the operation's name evokes? It was unpleasant, very unpleasant (in the words of the song) this week to see the results of Locked Kindergarten in the Saja'iya neighborhood in the eastern section of Gaza City. This sprawling, overcrowded residential neighborhood was occupied for almost a week by the IDF. The army wreaked destruction in it. A monstrous bulldozer maliciously potholed a few roads, scarring the asphalt with gaping wounds, for no apparent reason. Houses were hit, street tiling was uprooted, electricity poles were cut down, cars were crushed, dozens of trees were destroyed and 22 residents were killed. For almost a week the tens of thousands of residents lived in terror, some of them unable to leave their homes. The IDF Spokesperson's Office explained this week: "The IDF operated in Saja'iya as part of the overall activity to create the conditions for the return of Gilad Shalit ...[In other words, the Israeli army placed the freedom of one captured Israeli soldier above the lives of Palestinian kindergartners.]

There is no hunger is Gaza (Published in Ha'aretz, April 9, 2006):

For the information of all the anxious: There is no hunger in the territories. No baby has died of malnutrition; no child is walking around with a swollen belly. There is no lack of flour, and from Rafah to Jenin rice is available. Let the tongue-cluckers relax: The talk about a "humanitarian disaster" is exaggerated. The international relief and aid organizations are trying in despair to cry "wolf," to alert the Israelis and the world and enlist them in the cause to save the Palestinian people, knowing that only exaggerated talk might move anyone. They might be right, but their calls are coming too soon, and also much too late. The use of the term "humanitarian disaster" is actually proof of the dehumanization of the Palestinians. There's no flour? "Humanitarian disaster." There is flour? Then there's no disaster. There's an assumption that all the Palestinians need is a daily serving of food so they won't be considered disaster victims. It's enough that they have water and food in their troughs to conclude that their situation is fine. But human beings, including the Palestinians, have a few other basic needs as well. The real humanitarian disaster in the territories began a long time ago, and it is not hunger. Those who regard the neighboring people as human beings know this very well. It is true that the dimensions of the disaster are worsening, but that's been taking place over years, and the food index is not the only measure. The cessation of the flow of funding since the rise of Hamas might threaten to depress the economic situation even further, but the thought that if they only have enough food, their needs will be satisfied and our conscience can be clear, is outrageous. There's no need to waste words on the scope of poverty in the territories. Sixty-five percent of Gazans and 48 percent of the West Bankers now live under the poverty line, according to a UN report from last December, issued before the decision was made to freeze the transfer of their tax money to them. There is no need to be an expert in economics to understand that if 37 percent of Gazans with jobs—more than 73,000 people—were employed by the Palestinian Authority and now their livelihoods are threatened due to a lack of money to pay their wages, the situation will only get worse. Palestinian society, which has a very high level of solidarity, will know how to deal with that disaster. Because of the food handed out by UNRWA and the other organizations, there won't be hunger any time soon in Gaza, even if the number of those suffering from malnutrition does increase. But even if they have bags of flour and rice, the living conditions of the Palestinians are chilling. They live in prison. Their daily routine includes humiliation that is no less terrible than malnutrition. Anyone who has to beg for permission to leave his village, to spend hours crowded in line at a checkpoint just to reach his destination, anyone whose bedroom is brutally invaded in the middle of the night by the occupation army, whose time and life is considered valueless, and whose basic human dignity has been trampled into dust, cannot find any consolation in the fact that flour and rice is available. Those who think that all it takes is providing a quota of flour to be free of any responsibility for the fate of the people they occupy, are suffering from a serious case of moral blindness. Does the fact that a Palestinian youth is not hungry in any way blunt the fact that he cannot dream, cannot aspire to a career, an orderly education, a vacation or simple pleasures of life? Does the fact that his belly is not completely empty cover up for the miserable present and the hopeless future?

Netanyahu's speech to Congress shows America will buy anything:

It was an address with no destination, filled with lies on top of lies and illusions heaped on illusions. Only rarely is a foreign head of state invited to speak before Congress. It's unlikely that any other has attempted to sell them such a pile of propaganda and prevarication, such hypocrisy and sanctimony as Benjamin Netanyahu did yesterday.

The fact that the Congress rose to its feet multiple times to applaud him says more about the ignorance of its members than the quality of their guest's speech. An Israeli presence on the Jordan River—cheering. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel—applause. Did American's elected representatives know that they were cheering for the death of possibility? If America loved it, we're in big trouble.

The fact that the only truth spoken in the Capitol was that of a former Israeli shouting "equal rights for Palestinians" is a badge of honor for us and a mark of shame for America. Netanyahu's "speech of his life" was the speech of the death of peace.

It was a 1970s show. Maybe back then people still bought the piles of pretty, wise words shoveled by a peace-loving Israeli prime minister. How can an Israeli prime minister dare to say his country "fully supports the desire of Arab peoples in our region to live freely" without spitting out the entire bitter truth—as long as they aren't Palestinian. Suddenly Netanyahu marvels at the Arab Spring, but where was he when it began? He was on his standard scare campaign, warning of the dangers of an extremist Islamic regime and rushing to build a fence along our border with Egypt. And yesterday, suddenly, it's "the promise of a new dawn." Apparently there is no end to hypocrisy.

And how could he rain praise on Israeli democracy when his government has done more than its predecessors to deal the mortal blow to that democracy, to pass completely anti-democratic laws? How can he boast of the status of Israel's Arab citizens, while his right-wing, nationalistic coalition is passing racist laws against them? Saying that Israel's Arabs have more freedom in Israel than in any Arab state is like saying that blacks in American have more rights than those in Africa. So what? Does that mean that African-Americans had equal rights for generations, that they didn't have to fight for their rights?

And how dare he speak about freedom of worship in Jerusalem at a time when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been denied that freedom for years. Freedom of worship in Jerusalem is for Palestinians aged 35 and up, sometimes 45 and up; sometimes even 65 isn't old enough. And for the 2 million people of the Gaza Strip, there is no such freedom at all.

How can Netanyahu praise the peace with Egypt, when it's easy to guess he would have voted against it? The man who explicitly said he would do his level best to destroy the Oslo Accords suddenly says he's in favor of peace with the Palestinians.

Last night we saw that the Americans will buy anything, or at least their applauding legislators will.

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