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March 31, 2015

Thanks for the truth, Mr. Netanyahu

The Canadian Charger

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"I am not a man of hope today." That is how Gideon Levy began his talk at Ottawa’s First Baptist Church about the situation in Israel/Palestine. The talk was jointly sponsored by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East and Independent Jewish Voices.

Levy is a journalist with Haaretz, a liberal Israeli newspaper.  He has been with the paper since 1982.  He told the crowd that in the late 1980’s he realized that Israelis did not know about what was happening to the Palestinians.  “How could people continue this program for so many years with so little awareness?  My role was to change this ignorance.”  While the claim is made that “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East," this slogan forgets the fact that it is “a cruel imposition on the Palestinians,” continuing for close to 50 years.

On one occasion, Levy interviewed Ehud Barak, the then Israeli Prime Minister.  He asked Barak what he would do had he been a Palestinian.  Barak answered, “I would become a terrorist.”  Young Palestinians today face a world in which they have no future and no rights, especially those under the occupation.  

Levy claims to have found the answer to his question on the Israeli mindset regarding the Palestinians.  It is a combination of three factors—a belief that Jews are the chosen people, a self-identification as victims and in fact the only victims in the situation, and a dehumanization of the Palestinians.  While he did not call attention to the German word, the Nazis referred to untermenschen.

He gave an example of dehumanization. 

He was covering the aftermath of a major battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian resistance fighters in Jenin refugee camp in 2002.  As he was leaving, he came to a checkpoint manned by Israeli soldiers.  Just ahead of him was an ambulance, with red light flashing.  The soldiers were sitting, playing backgammon.  Levy asked the ambulance driver what was going on, and he replied that they always kept him waiting at the checkpoint.  He then went to the soldiers to berate them.  “Suppose it was your father in that ambulance,” he demanded of them, trying to break through their mindset of dehumanization. 

Commenting on Netanyahu’s recent victory, he had a word of praise.  “He is the first prime minister who says the truth.”  None of his predecessors have ever been honestly committed to a Palestinian state. 

He also found it positive that Netanyahu publicly announced that there would be no Palestinian state during his mandate. 

“This is the end of the charade, and the world now knows that Israel has no intention to end the occupation.  The peace negotiations never led to any peace.”  Levy is convinced that there cannot be any change to the situation brought about within Israeli society.  Change can only be created from outside.

If there are not two states, then there is only one state. 

“We have been in one state for 50 years.”  The question is what kind of state.  For Jews it is a liberal democracy.  Palestinian Israelis are second class citizens, facing discrimination in all aspects of life.  And Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are third class, subject to the control of the occupiers.  Is this democracy?  He told the audience that democracy is like pregnancy. You either are or not.  He added that Israel is the only country in the world without defined borders. 

So what does one have with two peoples in the same land, one with rights and the other without?  Apartheid.  Will the world accept another Apartheid state?  And if today, for another 50 years? 

He observed that it is possible to be a friend of Israel and also critical, “for the information of your Prime Minister (Harper).”

In speaking of Gaza, Levy said that Israel had decided that it is better to guard the prison from outside rather than inside.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu first, he said, creates fear and then puts himself forward as the one to relieve the fear.  (Levy then alluded to a like situation in Canada.) 

Netanyahu has focused on two kinds of fear, imagined and real or potential.  In the first category is the case of 60,000 African refugees, “an existential threat to the Jewish state.” Then the more realistic is the danger of a nuclear Iran.

Yet, he calls on Jews in France and elsewhere to come to safety in Israel.  He is urging Jews to come to a place which he says is in serious danger, to come for their safety! 

Levy ended his talk by returning to the question of hope.  He saw two possible scenarios. 

In the 1980’s, he noted, the Soviet Union collapsed, the Berlin Wall fell, and South African Apartheid disintegrated, all with almost no bloodshed.  Could that happen in Israel/Palestine?  The problem with that hope is that there are 600,000 settlers on Palestinian land. 

Then there is the second hope.  In this troubled situation, “one must be realistic enough to believe in miracles.”  That paradox was uttered years ago by David ben Gurion. 

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