Gideon Levy, veteran Israeli journalist and author of Punishment of Gaza, talks to TNS [Rabia Mehmood*] about the current round of violence
The News on Sunday (TNS): Why is Israel doing what it is doing?
Gideon Levy (GL): Israel wants to maintain the status quo — namely West Bank will be occupied, Gaza will be under siege and life in Israel will be peaceful. This is impossible. And life in Israel stopped being peaceful with the rockets falling into many cities and towns in Israel. And Israel found it suitable to react with massive bombing from the air and then from the ground operation. But those rockets did not fall from the sky for nothing because, you must know, the context – and, the context is that a few months ago Israel stopped the so-called peace talks with Mahmoud Abbas after kidnapping and murder of three young Israelis in the West Bank. Israel declared war on Hamas in the West Bank. Israel arrested about 500 Hamas activists who had nothing to do with kidnapping and murder. Israel stopped the salaries of about 40,000 employees in Gaza and Israel also declared that it is objecting to the unity government of Palestine. All this is the background to the present confrontation.
TNS: Who are the advisors that make-up such aggressive policies in the Israeli government, leading to extreme bloodshed which is disproportionate?
GL: This is not a question of certain advisors. This is the DNA of Israel. Israel has always over-reacted to resistance from Palestinians. And you have seen this one after the other – Operation Cast Lead, the First Lebanon War, the Second Lebanon War, the operations in Gaza and the fight against the Second Intifada. It has always been the same language of disproportionate aggression.
TNS: Was Israel waiting to start this operation?
GL: They were talking about another operation on Gaza for a long time, but I don’t think anyone had expected it or was interested in this confrontation. The belief that Israel can do all this and Hamas would not react was either unbelievable arrogance or blindness or both.
TNS: Where do you see this current assault on Gazans going?
GL: Apparently, there will be a ceasefire. But as long as Israel does not change its policy, a deep change, a substantive change, a basic change – namely to lift the siege from Gaza — nothing will change, and we can prepare ourselves for another confrontation in a few months, another year or two. As long as the problems are not really solved, nothing will change.
TNS: In your July 20 column for Haaretz, you wrote that the demands of Hamas for ceasefire were not bad and that Israel should talk to Hamas. What do you think Hamas really wants?
GL: Right now, Hamas wants lifting of the siege. And Hamas was on its way to the unity government. Maybe Hamas is not willing to talk to Israel directly. Surely, Israel is not willing to talk to Hamas. The fact is, would Israel support or would Israel be willing to negotiate with the unity government. It would put Hamas in a different place — because they would be directly or indirectly a partner in any kind of political process. But, instead, Israel chose to fight against the unity government and not let Mahmoud Abbas really negotiate over any kind of settlement. Therefore, I do not see this current government of Israel changing its policy.
TNS: How do people in Gaza look at Hamas? Would more people join Hamas as a result of the current Israeli operation?
TNS: Most of the Palestinians are looking at Fatah, and Mahmoud Abbas who is trying to get to any kind of settlement with Israel through diplomacy. And they see he cannot reach anywhere, cannot achieve anything for Palestinians. On the other hand, they see Hamas resisting — and, I must say, quite courageously. I am sure the national instinct would be more support to the Hamas. As you know, people of Gaza are suffering again like a few people in the world suffer. Firstly, they want a ceasefire. So, the first option would be to end Israeli aggression and then time will show if Hamas would get any substantial achievement other than the ceasefire. Secondly, Hamas could go on running Gaza. I am sceptical this would be the case. I think people of Gaza would have to prepare for the next confrontation. There is no other way for them.
TNS: Is there any debate among Israeli parliament on what is happening?
GL: Right now there is no debate. Gaza is desperate. But, it does not make people any less devoted. We know from history that people who are desperate are more devoted to fight. What do they have to lose?
TNS: Does Israeli media raise any voice against the current operation in Gaza?
GL: Unfortunately,Haaretz is the only lighthouse in the Israeli media. TV, newspapers, radio and social networks are in a militaristic mode. And there is little tolerance to protest, opposition and resistance. The government or the security establishment does not dictate this. The media in Israel is quite free. Media is willing to please public and public is right wing.
TNS: Can you give us more context of why the Israeli society reacts the way it does to the plight of Gazans and Palestinians?
GL: Israelis react the way they do due to years of dehumanisation of Palestinians. This is the basic tool they use to continue the occupation without having any moral doubts.
In recent years of the right wing government — the whole process of nationalistic and many times racist and anti-democratic legislation, a lot of violence against Muslims, Arabs and Leftists — Israel’s democracy is showing dangerous cracks. This should have worried many Israelis but unfortunately most of the Israelis are brainwashed by the one-sided media. Palestinian sacrifice is missing in the Israeli media.
TNS: Why is there insensitivity among Israeli public towards the suffering Palestinians?
GL: There are two ways to get out of the trauma of persecution: one, become more sensitive to human rights and persecution; and two, as the late PM Golda Meir said that after the holocaust Jews have a right to do whatever they want. In many ways, Israelis share Meir’s sentiment, together with the feeling that Israelis are the chosen people. It is also based in understandable fears that Holocaust might happen again.
Also, Arabs and Muslims, who live in Israel are discriminated against and there has been a ugly campaign against them in recent years.
TNS: How do you look at the US intervention in the Israel-Palestine conflict?
GL: The US support for Israel makes Israelis believe that they have a right to do whatever they want. The people of the US need to question why their country supports Israel and if it serves their interest or even that of Israel’s. These questions are being raised slowly. The answers lie in the domestic politics of the US. Even Barrack Obama, whose heart is in the right place, is unable to alter the US domestic policy.
TNS: Can Israel not defend itself without massacring Gazans?
GL: There are two ways of dealing with a drug addict: One, to give him more money; and two, force him to go into rehabilitation. Now, Israel is addicted to occupation and the US is supplying money, instead of sending it to a rehabilitation centre.
TNS: How do you look at Egypt’s role in the current situation?
GL: For Egypt to not open borders to homeless and injured is problematic. The current regime is known for its hatred of Hamas — because Hamas did or did not murder a few Egyptian soldiers and officers a few years ago. And General Sisi will never forget it. He treats Hamas like garbage. Therefore, his efforts to bring a ceasefire are not genuine. For him, Hamas is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, his most bitter enemy. This enables Israel to continue.
TNS: So, who would be a partner for peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict in the Middle East as Egypt cannot be trusted?
GL: Egypt cannot be trusted. But there is no other alternative, as Israel does not trust Turkey and Qatar. So I am afraid it would be Egypt. The ceasefire process would be on Egypt’s pace. Ultimately, Egypt together with the US will be the mediators, probably with Mahmoud Abbas.
TNS: Does the global protests in support of Gaza have any effect on Israeli perception of the operation?
GL: Israelis have convinced themselves that the world is against them. So, why would they bother? And, then, they have the US support. They think they have nothing to worry. And do not forget that the pro-Gaza protests are shown to the Israeli public via Israeli media, which makes everything look comfortable.
TNS: Why do you support the one-state solution?
GL: I preferred the two-state solution previously. Now, I do not think it is possible with half a million settlers. So, it is a choice between a democratic state and an apartheid state — and I do not see a third option.
The interview was conducted by Rabia Mehmood, for The News on Sunday (TNS) on July 22, 2014.