“Unbelievable brutality, day after day, night after night…. No other society anywhere lives in such willed ignorance.” Gideon Levy at Mt Eden War Memorial Hall, Dominion Road Sunday 3 December 2017, 3 p.m. (Part 1 of 2)
On a gorgeous early summer afternoon, the Mt Eden War Memorial Hall was packed for this rare chance to see someone who is without any doubt a hero and an inspiration to human rights activists around the world. However, there were some notable absentees: where were the “liberal” bloggers such as Russell Brown and his court? Where was Māori Television? Where was TVNZ? Where was “THREE”? Where was the Herald?
Ngati Whatua o Orakei welcomed Gideon to Auckland. In an eloquent and moving couple of minutes, the speaker established a connection between New Zealand’s treatment of Māori and Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians. He recalled how in 1951 the National Government and the Auckland City Council collaborated to evict Māori families from their homes in Okahu Bay. “It traumatised our people, though they rarely spoke of it. More recently, John Key’s government allowed people to claim our land. We are in the courts all across the land. My advice to the Palestinian people is not to fall for that. Our dispossession was of a different severity to the dispossession of the Palestinians, but they both had the same result.”
Next came some introductory remarks by Nicholas Rowe, who lived in Ramallah from 2000 to 2008, teaching in refugee camps. Professor Rowe is especially interested in the phenomenon of addiction, and why people do such injurious things to themselves. Nationalism, he said, is crystal meth, cooked up in think tanks and exacerbated by peer pressure. Like all addictions, nationalism does not discriminate on the basis of economics. The Israel-Palestine conflict is not a religious one, it’s political. Manufactured ideals are terribly addictive. Prof. Rowe said that Gideon Levy is like a crack baby. He has had to struggle to break away from the grip of nationalism. It’s a very hard struggle. Israel’s brutal politics of exclusion is an issue that needs to be addressed.
The great journalist then began his speech. (I’ve organised this point by point. It’s pretty much verbatim.)
1.) First of all, I have to say that, in spite of the grimness and darkness of the situation, there is still hope. I learned a great deal from my host Parata yesterday. I was greatly impressed to learn of the immense scale and length of the protests in New Zealand against another apartheid state in 1981. We are not pro-Palestinian, we are pro-justice. We are struggling for justice, equality and for respect for international law. (APPLAUSE)
2.) I was stunned to see Māori art at Auckland International Airport. Just imagine Palestinian art at Ben Gurion Airport! It would be erased within hours.
3.) Solidarity is essential. I was born in Tel Aviv. I was a “good Tel Aviv boy.” I was taught to believe the Palestinians are always wrong, that WE are weak, that on the other side are golemwho want to push us into the sea. We were a people without land, who came to a land without people. There were ruins around the roads in Israel. I never asked what those ruins were. I never heard the word nakba until I was twenty years old. We were told that the Palestinian leaders had incited their people to run away.
4.) In the late 1980s, I went to the Palestinian Territories. I was working for the IDF and Shimon Peres; I don’t know which was worse. (LAUGHTER)
5.) In the Occupied Territories I saw unbelievable brutality, day after day, night after night. I decided that I would make it my life’s work to cover the Occupation. For this I have been labeled a “self-hating Jew.”
6.) I’m not “covering the Palestinians”—I’m a journalist. I am covering the story, and holding up a mirror to my fellow Israelis, and saying: “You, and each of us, is accountable.”
7.) In Israel there is a broad coalition of opinion, which says “We don’t want to know.” No other society anywhere lives in such willed ignorance, abetted and amplified by the Israeli media and the Jewish establishment in New Zealand and Australia. Israel is becoming increasingly militaristic, nationalistic, and religious.
8.) In Canberra last week I met some Australian members of parliament. It gave me hope, because until I heard them speak I had always thought that Israel’s right wing politicians were the worst. —-(LAUGHTER)— I’ve never heard any Israeli politician speak about the Palestinian people the way that those Australian politicians did. But they are Australia’s problem, not mine. (LAUGHTER) I spoke with the Australian foreign minister; she talked and she was very nice but we could not agree on anything. (LAUGHTER)
9.) Israel has three regimes. First, there is the “liberal democracy” which is the privilege of its Jewish citizens, but there are many threats to this. The second regime is aimed at the Palestinians—the “Israeli Arabs” who comprise 20 per cent of the population, and who have formal civil rights; they are deeply discriminated against in every way. The third regime is very different from any “liberal” posturing—this is Israel’s dark heart, the regime in the Occupied Territories. This is one of the most brutal tyrannies on Earth today, no less than that.
10.) Israel cannot be defined as anything other than an apartheid regime. It is apartheid. No one with an open heart could not be shocked and moved by the situation in the Occupied Territories. Israel claimed for years that the Occupation was “temporary. We cannot find a partner.” The Occupation is part of Israel, therefore we cannot define Israel as a democracy. Either ALL the inhabitants of Israel enjoy civil rights, or they do not. Either you are a democracy, or there are other names to call you.
11.) I enjoy full freedoms. But this is just a front. You in this audience know more than the average Israeli does, because you are interested. How can Israeli society live with this terrible reality in our backyard? This brutality, this criminal reality.
12.) Whenever there is a catastrophe overseas, Israel sends a rescue team. But we are blind to the catastrophe in our backyard. The roots of this problem lie in the message with which we are inculcated from birth and right through the school system: (a) “Israelis are the Chosen People—therefore we do not have to obey the law”; (b) “Israelis are the greatest victims in history. Not only are we the greatest victims in history, we are the ONLY victims in history, therefore we can do what we want”; (c) “The Palestinians are not human beings like us; the Palestinians are cruel, brutal terrorists, who want to push us us into the ocean. They are NOT human beings.” This message is very effective because if it is accepted, then there is no question of the Palestinians deserving human rights.Though more severe, this is similar to what has been done to the Māori; this is what the colonizer does, dehumanize people.
13.) The informal religion of Israelis is the worship of security. This lets us do whatever we like. No one speaks of the security of the Palestinians, who paid a much bigger price. Israel is the regional superpower, with all the weapons in the world , and still we pretend to be David facing existential threat.
14.) Don’t expect any change from within Israeli society. Life is too good in Israel, and Israeli people are brainwashed. Never before has there been an occupatioin where the occupying force is the victim. There have been longer and more brutal occupations, but this is the only one where the occupier pretends to be the victim.
15.) Israel never stops making excuses for its refusal to negotiate with the Palestinians. “Arafat is too strong, Abu Mazen is too weak. Hamas wants to exterminate us.” But the world is watching. The world agrees, from Africa to Australia to the United States, everyone wants a two-state solution, no one recognizes the Occupation. Israel’s second best friend is Micronesia. The world pays lip service to the two-state solution year after year, and Israel takes advantage. There are endless “peace plans”, all of them the same: Israel must recognize the 1967 borders. In the meantime, Israel has exploded its influence in the Occupied Territories. There are now SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND illegal settlers in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem. Will they ever evacuate 700,000 settlers?
16.) But don’t blame the settlers. We are ALL settlers. We have missed the train of one state shared justly. The Occupation is stronger and more brutal than ever. We have to change the discourse and talk of one thing: equal rights for everyone between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean.
17.) New Zealand is a democracy; that’s enough for my country. (APPLAUSE) There are six million Palestinians, therefore Israel cannot be a purely Jewish state. Israel has to accept it is an apartheid state. The international community fought against South Africa; don’t we have to do the same against this apartheid state? Or do we choose to support, blindly and intentionally, the apartheid state? There is no other way to describe Israel: it is an apartheid state.
18.) The so-called “friends of Israel”, who support Israel automatically and blindly: this has nothing to do with friendship. They are enemies of Israel—they corrupt us. The Jewish establishment in Australia kept saying to me: “Israel right or wrong.” Well, Israel is wrong and they need to stop supporting it. Continuous support by Western governments and by the Jewish establishment is anything BUT friendship.
19.) Gaza is the biggest cage on Earth. It is the biggest experiment on human beings that has ever been taken: let’s lock two million people in a cage and see what happens to them. One in three of Gaza’s children has been a victim of sexual harassment. Families, and society, are falling apart in Gaza. No one is able to support the children. Addiction to painkillers is rampant. Gaza was famous for its solidarity, its willpower, and its devotion. Gazans were famous for being always happy, and never complaining. Now it is falling apart, even Gaza’s famous solidarity. The United Nations has declared that Gaza will be unlivable by the year 2020. That is two years from now. In fact, it is already unlivable. Anyone who goes there is horrified. There is sewage in the streets, and the electricity is cut constantly. Launching rockets is the only way to get world attention.
20.) The occupation of the West Bank has always been brutal. Hundreds of Palestinians are kidnapped by the I.D.F. every week. I ask you to imagine teams of soldiers descending on your home in the night, then taking one family member away for weeks, even months, even years, into “administrative detention. None of us, except the Palestinians here, can imagine living under occupation. Humiliation in front of your family, the routine, daily humiliation and degradation more than the bloodshed, which is horrifying at certain times. Their only hope is civil society—NGOs like yours (Kia Ora Gaza, the NZ Palestine Solidarity Network, ), the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, etc. For me, meeting people like you gives me hope.
21.) New Zealand has a good reputation. On the Q+A program this morning, I was asked about the United Nations Resolution 2334 led by New Zealand last year. Each New Zealander should be so proud of that. (PROLONGED APPLAUSE) The resolution states: “The settlements are a violation of international law.” Who can deny it? Israel denies it of course. Of course, anyone can deny anything. You could say today is not Sunday, but at the end of the day some things are beyond dispute. The settlements are a brutal violation of international law. Some will try to make your government’s brave leadership in this matter an international scandal. The United States did not veto the Resolution because Obama felt guilty after eight years of doing nothing. So don’t let your politicians do the wrong thing; you know more than they do.
22.) Many things in history happen unexpectedly. Think of the last thirty years: apartheid South Africa—gone. The Soviet Union—gone. The Berlin Wall—gone. This gives us hope, even though I can’t expect the situation to change right now. In our part of the world, one should be realistic enough to believe in miracles. (LAUGHTER) And we need miracles. (PROLONGED, SUSTAINED APPLAUSE.)