Gideon Levy is a Haaretz columnist and a member of the newspaper’s editorial board.
Levy joined Haaretz in 1982, and spent four years as the newspaper’s deputy editor. He is the author of the weekly Twilight Zone feature, which covers the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza over the last 25 years, as well as the writer of political editorials for the newspaper.
Levy was the recipient of the Euro-Med Journalist Prize for 2008; the Leipzig Freedom Prize in 2001; the Israeli Journalists’ Union Prize in 1997; and The Association of Human Rights in Israel Award for 1996.
I became familiar with Gideon’s work through his writing, but also his countless TV appearances on critical independent news programmes like Democracy Now.
I am interviewing Levy for my documentary ‘Palestine: What Hope Peace?’ He is most accommodating – inviting me to his home in Tel Aviv and kindly producing an ash tray so I can enjoy a smoke while he discusses Netanyahu on the phone.
He inquires as to my journalistic background, my life in the UK, and smiles widely as I explain my mixed Caribbean/British heritage and how often I am confused for a wide array of different races and ethnicities. He laughs ‘I thought you could be Israeli!’
The pleasantries over, we get to the nuts and bolts of the interview. The camera starts running and we discuss the crisis around us. Is it a conflict?
“This is false. It is not a conflict. Did we call the French occupation of Algiers the North Africa conflict? No. This is not a conflict, it is the colonial occupation of Palestine, by Israel.”
So if Israel is a colonial occupier, can it be considered a liberal democracy at the same time?
Levy argues this is not the case. Not only is Israel not a liberal democracy but ‘its people have no idea what democracy is.’ He puts this down to an effective ‘propaganda machine’ which works through the nation’s institutions – media, school, armed forces and so on. Israeli citizens are ‘brain-washed’ he tells me into being the kinds of citizens the state requires – militant, racist, ignorant of their status as an illegal occupier and oppressor.
I ask him how it is then, that he came to his opinions? How had his views changed and why? Were there specific events which triggered his move to become one of Israel’s greatest internal critics?
He pauses and thinks the question through. Settling his eyes on me, he explains that this was a long journey. He describes himself as becoming more ‘radicalised’ over time, the more of the occupation he saw, the harder he wanted to fight against it. Crucially, he went and saw it with his own eyes.
I interrupt him here, as Gaza and the West Bank are often reported as no-go areas for Jews in general, and Israeli-Jews in particular. Was he not afraid he would be injured or killed? He bursts out laughing, and in a tone which drips with both ridicule and frustration, dismantles this argument:
“This is a fairy tale! A horror story to dehumanize Palestinians, to make them into these barbaric monsters. I have been there weekly, if not daily, for 30 years. I go openly, as an Israeli. They don’t know who I am (as in, an ally) because they do not read the Jewish newspapers. Every time I have been received with great hospitality and warmth, even in the homes of people whose sons had been killed by the IDF not hours before. These are good people, warm people.”
So has he ever felt in danger there?
“The most dangerous time was when our car was shot at by Israelis. Had it not been bullet-proof, we might not be talking now”
Speaking of danger, while he may feel safe walking the streets of Gaza – the repercussions at home for his outspoken criticism have been serious. In recent weeks, the Chairman of the governing Likud Party coalition and member of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) Yariv Levin called for Gideon to be put on trial for treason.
“Gideon Levy is the lowest kind of provocateur,” Levin told Channel 2 Saturday evening. “When someone who lives among you turns himself into an enemy mouthpiece, while spreading lies, out of the hope that this will undermine your ability to wage war – this is called, in simple Hebrew, ‘treason’.
He is frequently accosted in the street, such as this incident in Ashkelon, where he was mobbed by angry fellow citizens, one of whom thrust money into his palm and told him to put it towards a new home in Gaza.
He tells me this is fascism. Years of this propaganda as sowed seeds of fascism which are emerging today, and he expects things to get worse. He tells me there is no hope of Israel turning itself around.
“There is no one here to do it. No political party, no movement large enough. Israel must be stopped. The world needs to stop Israel, like it stopped Apartheid South Africa, like it stopped many other oppressive states.”
Finally, I ask him – if you could wave a magic wand and anything was possible – what would peace look like?
“Peace. This word has been so over used in our society and media as to have become useless. It is not about peace, but about justice. Everyone wants peace, but very few in Israel want the just peace both peoples deserve. I think the utopian solution here would be one liberal democratic state from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean where we all lived together in peace and equality. This might sound impossible, but any other option is even less possible.”
In which case, are we behind the times when we talk about a two-state solution?
“The two-state solution is yesterday’s news. It is no longer an option. The time passed long ago. It is used now as a smoke-screen, a delaying tactic while more oppression and more occupation happens to Palestinians.”
And with that, our interview comes to an end. He tells me the least expensive way to get back to Jerusalem, we shake hands, and I leave. In truth, we covered more topics than I have shared here, but that is why you must watch the documentary.
During my bus journey back from Jerusalem, I am struck that of the many people I have interviewed so far – none are any longer advocating a two-state solution. Yet this is considered the moderate position for western advocates of a free Palestine. How did we get so far out of the loop? How did our thinking become narrowed?
Tomorrow, I will be in Gaza. I’ll be speaking to you live via webstream at 8pm BST.
You can donate to support the making of the documentary and my independent reporting from Israel and Gaza here.