Nurit Peled-Elhanan is a professor of language and education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, peace educator and activist and co-laureate along with late Prof. Izzat Gazzawi of the 2001 Sakharov Prize for Human Rights and the Freedom of Speech awarded by the European parliament. Peled-Elhanan has translated Albert Memmi‘s Le Racisme (1982) and Marguerite Duras‘ Écrire (1993) into Hebrew. In 1997, her daughter Smadar, aged 13, was killed in a suicide bomb attack in Jerusalem. “Terrorist attacks like this are the direct consequence of the oppression, slavery, humiliation and state of siege imposed on the Palestinians”, she told reporters in the aftermath of Smadar’s death. She and her family work with the Palestinian and Israeli Bereaved Families for Peace. Professor Peled has critically dissected the ideological content of Israeli schoolbooks for the past five years. She considers children as victims of Israel’s militaristic, settler-colonial culture. Her radical views have exacted a professional cost. “University professors have stopped inviting me to conferences. And when I do speak, the most common reaction is, ‘you are anti-Zionist’”! “Change”, she said, “will only come when the Americans stop providing us with 1 million US dollars a day to maintain this regime of occupation, racism and supremacy”.
At a mass rally of Women in Black in September 1997, she addressed the gathering:
Wars are waged for no other reason than the insanity and megalomania of the so-called leaders and heads of state. For them children are no more than abstract notions: You kill one of mine, I will kill 300 of yours and the account is settled… “Satan has not yet devised a Vengeance for the death of a young child” said the Jewish poet Bialik, “and that is not because Satan has no means to do so, but because after the death of a child there is no more death for there is no more life. The child takes the war and the future of the war into his little grave to rest with his little bones…” I wish to revive two slogans that were misused by the Israeli right wing and have not been heard since the present government came to power. The first is that “Brothers are not to be forsaken”. Our brothers and sisters in the refugee camps and under occupation, who are deprived of food and livelihood and of all their human rights, should not be forsaken now. The other slogan is, “The uprooting of settlements tears the nation apart”. Uprooting of olive groves and vineyards, the demolition of houses and confiscation of land will tear apart our already endangered species of peace-seeking people and will bring it to extinction. And when this species no longer exists, there will be nothing left to write, nothing left to read, and nothing left to say except for the muted story of slain youth.
This interview with Professor Peled took place during the fourth international session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine (RToP) in New York City, November 6-7, 2012. The theme for the fourth session was “US Complicity and UN Failings in Dealing with Israel’s Violations of International Law Toward the Palestinian People”. Speakers included former adviser to Palestinian negotiators Diana Buttu, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, author and activist Ben White, the Palestinian Center for Human Right’s Raji Sourani and others.
The RToP was launched in Brussels on March 4th 2009 chaired by Stéphane Hessel, ambassador of France and among the initiators were Ken Coates, Chairman, Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, Leila Shahid, General Delegate of Palestine to the European Union, Belgium and Luxembourg and Professor Peled. Speaking at the press conference in Brussels, Professor Peled remarked:
As an Israeli it is very painful to me to realize the word Israel has become the synonym of oppression, tyranny, ruthless apartheid and racism, and that the Star of David is equated in rallies all over the world to the swastika. I wish this tribunal will encourage people to arise and go to Gaza – the city of slaughter – or to any other city of oppression in Palestine to see with their own eyes the horrifying ghettoes in which the Palestinian people are incarcerated, get married, have families, educate their children and lead an impossible day to day life. I hope the free people of the world can have the courage to come to my country and defy all blockades and high walls and not give up until all barriers are broken and human dignity is restored. But the siege of Gaza is only one of many sieges imposed today in the world by democratic powers as well as by non-democratic ones. All those sieges are meant for one purpose: to silence the voice of freedom and justice.
The first international session of the RToP was inaugurated in Barcelona, Spain, whose objective was to consider the complicities and omissions of the European Union and its member states in the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel and the perpetuation of the violations of international law committed by Israel, in total impunity. The second international session of the RToP made deliberations in London, 20-22 November 2010. It examined International corporate complicity in Israel’s Violations of International Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law and War Crimes. The focus of the third session held in Cape Town, South Africa (5-7th November 2011) was whether or not Israeli practices against the Palestinian People in breach of the prohibition on apartheid under International Law.
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine or RToP is an International People’s Tribunal created by a large coalition of citizens involved in the promotion of peace and justice in the Middle East. These past years, following, inter alia: the international community’s failure to implement the International Court of Justice’s 2004 Advisory Opinion on the construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the lack of implementation of the resolution ES-10/15 confirming the ICJ Opinion, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on in July 2004 and the Israeli offensive on Gaza in December 2008 – January 2009, committees were created in different countries to promote and sustain a citizen’s initiative in support of the rights of the Palestinian people, with public international law as a legal frame of reference.
The RToP was imbued with the same spirit and espoused the same rigorous rules as those inherited from the first Tribunal on Vietnam created by the eminent scholar and philosopher Bertrand Russell (1966-1967), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 and chaired by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, to investigate US war crimes committed in Vietnam and to adjudicate them on the basis of international law. Eminent intellectuals, writers and activists such as novelist James Baldwin, black power activist Stokely Carmichael, novelist Julio Cortazar, Lazaro Cardenas, former President of Mexico, and feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir took part in the first tribunal’s proceedings. The Russell Tribunal II on Latin America (1974-1976) was organized by the Lelio Basso International Foundation for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples.
The RToP proceedings comprised a number of sessions, which dealt with different aspects of complicities and omissions by states, international organisations and corporations in the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel and the perpetuation of the violations of international law committed by Israel. The RToP was particularly of the view that by neutering the UN and shielding Israel from any form of accountability, the United States has engendered more intolerance and hatred among Israelis towards Palestinians. In 1985, as black South Africans together with their allies globally rallied against Apartheid, President Reagan continued to back his white ally in Africa. The US categorized Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and did not remove him from its terrorist watch list until 2008. In part in response to this, a popular movement across the globe united in a campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Apartheid South Africa until its dismantlement in the early nineties. It is this movement that currently inspires and informs the current international struggle for justice for Palestinians.
The twelve member jury who served on the fourth session of RToP in New York City included:
- Alice Walker, a Pulitzer-Prize winning American poet author.
- Stéphane Frédéric Hessel, former ambassador of France, writer, concentration camp survivor, French Resistance fighter and BCRA agent.
- Angela Davis, Distinguished American Professor Emerita, University of Santa Cruz and global justice activist.
- John Dugard, Professor of International Law, former Special Rapporteur for both UN Commission on Human Rights and International Law Commission.
- Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Nobel Peace laureate 1976, Northern Ireland.
- Ronald Kasrils, anti apartheid activist, writer and former Defense minister of South Africa.
- José Antonio Martin Pallin, Emeritus judge, Chamber II, Supreme Court of Spain.
- Cynthia McKinney, former member of the US Congress and 2008 presidential candidate, Green Party.
- Dennis Banks, activist and writer, co-founder of American Indian Movement.
- Miguel Angel Estrella, Argentine Pianist and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.
- Michael Mansfield, Queens Council, Master of the Bench, Greys Inn; Professor of Law, City University, London; Fellow of Law, University of Kent.
- Roger Waters, a founding member of the rock band Pink Floyd, songwriter, bass guitar player and vocalist.
Interview with Nurit Peled
Q. Can you comment on the nature of challenges posed by your professional work in Israel, in particular your work on literacy and child education?
Peled: Israeli children as we know receive a very advanced, profound humanistic Jewish education yet why do they become monsters once they are in uniforms? According to the prevailing military ideology, this is because they are possessed by the `narrative’! This is the justification: like in any conflictual society, we in Israel are possessed by the meta narrative. But the great Zionist narrative of emancipation moulds our children and prepares them for one thing only, that is to be good soldiers, which means carrying on the practise of occupation. In my most recent book, Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education, (2012: I. B. Tauris) I examined school text books from the period beginning with the Oslo Accord to the present, altogether sixteen books on geography, history and civic studies, all authorised by the Ministry of Education. My focus was on the representation of Palestinians and of Palestine in these text books, both visual and verbal using the method of semiotics, the study of signs and symbols. There is no peace education in Isreal not anyway at the official level, no peace education or conflict resolution education. There are small initiatives like programs and projects scattered here and there.
I teach kindergarten and high school teachers, the former I must say are more open to new ideas. The question that animated my critical inquiry when I embarked on the study of school text books was who was represented, how and why and what were the power relations at work. I was interested in analysing the preconceptions and presuppositions of the architects of these text books to really decode the message that they meant to convey to their audience, that is Israeli Jewish children about the military as an alluring career prospect. What I saw was elements of a racist discourse emerging through the textual/visual field, I use the term racism but broadly defined not just racism anchored in biological differences but also social and cultural differences. Now when you want to represent people as other and not as us, we could either exclude them, that means not to talk about them at all, this is the main strategy of the text books I analysed. Arabs in Israel do not figure in the larger Israeli public life. They are not seen as part of its culture, its economy, nor part of the political scene. None of the textbooks studied, includes, whether verbally or visually, any positive cultural or social aspect of Palestinian life-world: neither literature nor poetry, neither history nor agriculture neither art nor architecture, neither customs nor traditions are ever mentioned. We have seen protests in Israel over austerity measures but the issue of occupation and the dispossession of Palestinians did not form part of the protestors’ discourse. When images of Arabs do figure they are often negatively depicted as less human or sub human, subservient, deviant, criminal and evil. Islam is always projected through western European Islamophobic discourse, associated with practices such as circumscision. Of course, Jews are protrayed as a homogeneous group, always a unified, undifferentiated collectivity. Here all differences among Jews are erased or effaced. See when you look at certain forms of anti semitism, Jews are associated with greed, this we know is a popular stereotype of the Jew. When Arabs are depicted in Israeli text books, and they are seldom depicted as I said before, but when they do appear in Israeli school books, they are referred to as the `Arab minority in Israel’ without any images of them. But they are never depicted as what is called in the literature `PLU’, (people like us), modern, productive and progressive, but always as constituting a “problem” and “threat” to Israeli society; Asiatic backwardness, demographic problem and security threat. The term ‘the Palestinian problem’ was salient in the ultra-right-wing ideology and propaganda of Meir Kahane, the late Israeli politician and Rabbi who openly called for the Palestinians to be expelled. I find this disturbing, coming as it does only 60 years after the Jews were called ‘The Jewish Problem’.
The orientalising imagery of the Arab citizen of Israel in these books does not correspond to any Arab reality, except in the imagination of the 19th century European painter. For instance,when you look at a typical geography book, Arab society is presented as traditional, resistant to change, afraid of change or objects to change, or that modernisation is dangerous to them and they are unwilling to give up anything for the greater good. What it actually says is that they are unwilling to give up more and more land! Israeli state land is what it has confiscated from the Palestinians and Arabs. Another text book will say that Palestinians are migrant or foreign workers, like those from China or Thailand, who are engaged in unprofessional jobs that pay low wages. In fact this is how the developing countries are presented so in comparison Israel is a better place! In these text books, we are talking about Arab citizens of Israel not even Palestinians in the occupied territories who are not citizens. This depersonalisation of human beings, that is Arabs as constitutive of a `Jewish problem’, or of Palestinians, as a problem for the state of Israel given their own poverty, degradation and suffering, is part of the racism that undergirds school books. Any kind of human agency is denied to the Palestinians as if Israel had nothing to do with the dispossession and dislocation of Palestinians, as if the Palestinians inflicted suffering upon themselves due to backwardness and inaction endemic in, and specific to their culture. This portrayal of the suffering and dislocation of Palestinians, for instance through references to refugee camps, is presented as evidence of a monumental “envrionmental catastrophe” unfolding as an “ecological disaster” visited upon Israel. The plight of Palestinians as refugees is the iconic image permeating text books. In its very mode of presentation, the refugee loses her/his identity, specificity and singularity. The refugee is stripped of all her/his subjectivity and location, he/she could be a refugee anywhere, there is nothing to suggest the refugee is Palestinian let alone living under Israeli occupation. In this particular book which explictly talks about refugees, the historical context is provided for refugees elsewhere. For instance the book contains case studies of refugees from Haiti, Ruwanda, Burundi, Sudan and other places complete with maps, stories and images of actual refugees. But the Palestinian refugee appears as a phantom.
The refugees are not just an environmental calamity for Israel but they have also “poisoned” Israel’s relationship with the international community. Or they are secretively longing for the land of Israel – not the land of Palestine – which makes them invaders and intruders. The most dominant visual image of the Palestinian is that of a terrorist, even children are portrayed as terrorists. Now this is important: the Israeli treatment of children as terrorists is state strategy and policy– we have more than 700 Palestinian children in Israeli prisons. In the last two years alone thousands of children were arrested. They are usually snatched from their beds at night, taken for interrogation and put on trial. Other images of Palestinians range from primitive farmers to their primitive villages which are contrasted with images of elegant Swiss houses built for illegal Israeli settlements in the west bank with special signature sloped roofs originally designed for alpine snowfall, while Arab houses look minimal and functional with their flat roofs (actually used to capture rain water for use). When you look at Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza the westernisation of the landscape is evident and I contend that it is an important part of the Judaisation of the area. This is why cartographic practises of the Israeli state need to be looked at. Maps of all kinds abound in Israel wherever you go, maps invade the public sphere. But these maps are not about the existing state of Israel, they are about the “greater Israel”. This is a crucial distinction. The territorial borders of the state of Israel are not given once and for all, they are yet to be defined. There is no delineation of any boundaries. This suggests the state’s desire to annex more Palestinian land. That is why geography books use the term “the land of Israel” not the state of Israel. Even we were brought up with the belief that the state of Israel was a temporary structure of the land of Israel which was considered to be a complete geographic unit. We have three generations of students who do not even know where the borders are. The purpose of these maps is to erase the historical existence of Palestinian life. Designed in a variety of ways, some even have startling Biblical allusions reiterating the “divine promise” to give “Abraham’s Jewish seeds” to the whole area. In others what I call mental maps, Arab villages appear as enclaves and peripherialised, cut off from any town or city or center, hardly exposed to modern life and there sturcture and lay out suggest a “structural impediment inhibiting Arabs from connecting with the rest of the world” while Israel is shown to be an endangered place beseiged by hostile Arab neighbors.
Q. Can you talk about the mediating relationship between the state and educational institutions in Israel?
Peled: The books under my analytical scrutiny harness the past to the benefit of the Israeli policy of expansion, whether they were published during leftist or right wing education ministries. In the way they are designed the school text books also legitimate a series of massacres of Palestinians. Some books recall and record accurately three massacres that took place in 1948, 1953 and 1956. Here the message is unambiguous. For example, Deir Yassin [a Palestinian village close to Jerusalem pre-1948] was the scene of a horrific slaughter of Palestinians by terrorists from the Zionist militias Irgun, Lehi and Haganah. In schoolbooks they tell you that this massacre initiated the massive flight of Arabs from Israel and enabled the establishment of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. So “it was for the best.” Maybe it was unfortunate, but in the long run the consequences for the Jews were good. That is how the 1948 war is rationalized as necessary in order to create a `sequence’ and this would not be possible without the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian cities and villages. Those who know their history should know that the Jewish state was achieved at the cost of its Arab inhabitants. In this claim, the line of flight of Palestinians fleeing the scene of the crime led to the establishment of the Jewish state; therefore the massacres helped advance that cause and/or the killing of Palestinians was necessary for the survival of the nascent Jewish state– you see how history is twisted and contorted. These historicization of these massacres also confers dignity and pride on the military. Therefore how these massacres are justified in the books is equally horrifying. The blame is placed on the Arabs. The story is that “Arabs were informed through loud speakers to leave their homes and villages at once and failure on their part led to them being massacred”. It is also suggested that “Arabs were hiding in their homes without the knowledge of the military”. The visual effect of this imagery is very powerful because the military is the idol, role model and god of the Israeli youth– everything they do. From kindergarten to 12th grade, children are fed, through literature and songs and holidays and recreation, with these chauvinistic patriotic notions. So the whole school curriculum is geared towards legitimating the massacres and glorifying the feats of the military a la Sharon, Barak, Rabin. Invariably at the end of each of these descriptions you find in the books a song of praise valorising and glorifying the army. These books draw on and feed into the pervasive culture of hatred, racism and fear.
Violence and racism are part of the state of Israel. There is nothing Jewish about Zionism, it is racist, violent, it is horrific. The text books are expression of these factors. Israeli textbooks, in general present Israeli-Jewish culture as superior to the Arab-Palestinian one, Israeli-Jewish concepts of progress as superior to Palestinian-Arab way of life and Israeli-Jewish behavior as emblematic of universal values. Why is that a Palestinian life does not count as life; that a Palestinian does not even count as human? It is shocking how violence against Palestinians and Arabs are normalised in Israeli society. This is because the idea has been ingrained that Palestinians are not human beings like us who work as we do, feed their families like we do and educate their children. No! This is not how Palestinians are viewed in our society. They are seen as cockroaches, vermins, creatures who should be stamped out. They are also seen as incapable of taking care of their children because they send them to the streets to throw stones at the Israeli military! Even the two year old Palestinian baby is guilty of committing terrorist acts! They are never referred to as Palestinians unless the context is terrorism. A staple of Israeli hasbara (public information, propaganda) has long been that Palestinian children are ‘taught to hate’ in their schools – a claim long debunked. Palestinian schoolbooks also reflect a certain perspective; they do distinguish between Zionists and Jews. They make this distinction all the time. They are against Zionists, not against Jews. Yet the calumny that Palestinian schoolbooks teach anti-Semitism originated with anti-Palestinian propagandists such as Israeli settler Itamar Marcus and his “Palestinian Media Watch”. Another false claim is that Palestinian schoolbooks teach terror and suicide bombing. These books, published by the Palestinian Authority and studied in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, are tightly monitored, supervised and financed by the EU and other international institutions. There is no racism, no racist incitement. They refer to the “Zionist enemy” and so on but this is not racism. They have very incisive chapters on Judaism, Christianity and non-violence. But books used in particularly East Jerusalem are subject to the Israeli Ministry of Education so any section of the book that deals with non violent resistance, nationality, Zionism and the occupation gets erased so you have blacked out pages in the book. Palestinian children were not allowed to study their own books instead they were given books published by the Jordanians and the Egyptians, which were full of stereotypes. Among the common racial stereotypes of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs in Israeli textbooks are: their lands are diminishing; the Arabs refuse to live in high buildings; the Palestinian refugee problem was created in the Arab countries; their expulsion was the lot of both sides and that leaders of the Arab countries exploited the problem of Palestinian refugees for their own political needs; Arafat was the embodiment of Hitler; the Palestinian Authority steals water from Israel in Ramallah; the population in the refugee camps is growing fast and the standard of health services, education and hygiene is low; and the purpose of Mitzpim (“lookout settlements” or dormitory settlements formed from compulsory purchased Arab owned lands) is to preserve national land and protect it from illegal invasion by the non Jewish population.
Apart from my teaching obligations I am also involved in the training of teachers. I work with teachers because they interact with students and as instructors their job is to impart knowledge to students and especially when you teach subjects like history and geography, highly politicised and sensitive disciplines, areas of study closely monitored and scrutinised by state institutions, it is important for you to have a sense of historicity, a historical sensibility. Partly it is about getting the story and facts right. It is hard work but that is what I try to do. It is very difficult sometimes to get through their ideological prisms. They are also products of state indoctrination, propaganda and racism. There are teachers who digest every negative stereotype of Israeli Arabs in the rightwing media and when they see real Arab students in their classroooms, they refuse to accept them as human beings. There is a real tension and uneasiness. They do not see their own contradictions. So it is a struggle. I find greater openess among librararians with whom I interact. They are less dogmatic whose thinking is animated by a certain critical sensibility. They are constantly surrounded by books and are exposed to ideas that embrace values of plurality and liberty.
The Zionist indoctrination of Israeli children begins in kindergarten. Every year through Memorial Day and Holocaust Day, Israeli children are traumatised and retraumatised to the extent they develop a (xeno)phobic disposition and become fearful of the other. This other can be the ancient Romans, the Greeks or the Nazis. It does not matter who the other is, who the enemy is. All the state needs to do is conjure up some enemy. Today it is Ahemadinejad, yesterday it was Nazarallah, the day before it was Arafat, before him it was Hitler. You grow up in a state of panic and fear. William Faulkner is useful here. Racism is something written under your skin. But it is a racism that prepares young Israelis for their compulsory military service. In this climate of racism and fear, it is hard to see people – who are considered nonhuman – as humans. The making of the other as cockroach negates the land of Palestine for Palestinians as human habitation because the Israelis believe Palestine was and is perennially empty of its lawful and truthful custodians— the Jews. In a perverse sense, the education system is entrenching and enhancing ignorance among Jewish children about their neighbors, they know nothing about them, they do not see them, do not speak to them, do not mingle with them, no interaction between them. They know nothing of the life of these people who live 100m from them, sometimes in the same street as in Abu-Tur in Jerusalem.
When you hear the jokes among Jewish children in the settlements, they crack jokes about torturing Palestinian children, Palestinian workers and teachers, this is their past time. It is very hard to de-educate once their minds have been infected with such viruses.
The state is predicated on a very medievalist, extremist and therefore narrow concept of religion. Not something we can recognise as the religion of Judaism. It is a very narrow interpretation that certainly stands in the way of change. Education which we understand to aid in the honing of visions and the enlargement of horizons remains stuck in origin myths, racist discourse and the primitivisation of the other.
Schools and universities are state controlled. Educational policies are designed by the ministry of education. But this entire education is designed to groom Israeli children into becoming soldiers, good soldiers with a capacity to kill and thereby to fulfil the destiny of the Jewish nation, a greater Israel. So school textbooks are firmly anchored in the ideology of militarism and the militarisation of Israeli citizens begins in the classrooms with images of war, massacre, mutilation and killing that both draw on the holocaust narratives which figure Jews as victims but based also on the post 1948 triumphant ascendency of the Israeli state – hence the heroic, redemptive narrative of the systematically carried out ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the destruction of a living Arab culure, heritage and society, a practice which has been termed sociocide, that is the destruction of the living envrionment and habitat of a people and the inability of a community or society to reproduce itself.
In the classrooms, they replay endless footage of massacres of Jews by the Nazis, these are primarily holocaust episodes. This footage is played over and over again. This kind of dramatising is very traumatising for the children. Alarmingly enough the footage has no historical or political context. Children see only the images and there is no narration. And when the enemy is conjured up and put on the screen it is the figure of the Arab that emerges. Dominique La Capra, a critical theorist, has argued that there are two ways to deal with historical trauma. One is through mourning and memory. The other, a more dangerous or destructive form is to visually reenact the horror to incite both guilt and fear through endless repetition of such horror. This traumatropism works to the advantage of the Israeli state in their war of aggression and terror on Palestinian Arabs living in Israel and those in the occupied territories. The identification of enemies with Hitler’s Nazi Germanyis always arbitrary; during the 1967 war it was the Arabs (that included Egypt and Syria) and the much reviled and despised figure Arafat, in the 80s it was Lebanon and Hezbollah, then Hamas and today Iran and Ahamedinejad.
This is a very sophisticated pedagogical/political strategy from the vantage point of the ideological state apparatus. Because this constant depiction of endless war, in which the self (the Jewish state) subdues the other (the Arab enemy), serves to keep the two communities apart, as divided and permanently at odds; it also s alienates Israeli citizens from reconciliation to the extent that any possibility of peace becomes impossible.
The entire education system is designed to reproduce this enemy figure through pedagogical methods of traumatisation. The underlying political and ideological message is clear. Students are bombarded with these traumatic episodes to remind them and to inculcate in them the noble, ethical, superior, just cause of the Israeli state which must in the end prevail over primitivism and barbarism, represented the Palestinian Arab who only appears in fixed cultural terms as primitive, foreign, alien and usurper. The Arab as the dark oriental is a common and popular depiction in school textbooks. Palestinians therefore fall into three dominant stereotypes; they appear as terrorists, refugees and primitive farmers. In a typical cartoon the Arab appears with a camel in Ali Baba dress. This Orientalist imagery is pervasive. In some popular media representations, Palestinians are referred to as cockroaches and vermins. So one could argue that Palestinians are the homo sacer, to use Agamben’s term, living as “disqualified life” under a settler colonial society. Once you plant the seeds of racism and bigotry in the minds of children in their formative years it is easy to get them to do what you want. This is criminal and fascistic. Racism functions as part of the ideological and the repressive apparatus of the state. In one school book, which focuses on youth movements you find three types of youth portrayed against a background painted in grey brown, a very symbolic color (evoking the Nazis); the Hitlerite youth, the Italian fascist youth and the youth movements of Israel. All the children are playing the same game; they run to the streets, they get weapons training. The Nazi children play a table game called “chase Jews into Palestine”. The Jewish youth plays “Receive Jews into Palestine”. There is no hidden message here, the political message is abundantly clear.
Textbooks are a private industry in Israel authorized by the ministry but not produced by them. We are talking about a huge production of books but you cannot find a single photograph of a Palestinian in any of these books, no Palestinian doctor, teacher, lawyer or even a child. They are an absent presence in Israeli society. In the dominant mode of visual and discursive representation, photographs of shanty towns are displayed described as Palestinian refugee camps but you see no people, no human beings. In population maps of geography textbooks for instance, Palestine is blotted out and this whole area painted in white is presented as “uninhabitable”. In a map of employment patterns you find Israeli factories and plants in the occupied territories but there is no single Palestinian city, factory or institution like a university shown. History books are rather totalizing declarations, which glory in the idea “look, we killed more of them and they killed less of us!”
Color is a crucial strategic element in the racist ideology and discourse; whenever they depict Palestinian villagers or Israeli Arab villagers, you see them in natural colors like olive green, dirt and yellow, the natural colors of the country and these are the colors that arouse fear and alienation in Israelis. Whereas Jewish settlements are shown to be like Swiss villages saturated with bright green, grass and flowers even in a desert. Critical geographical literature focuses on the use of colors in visual depiction and mapping. Depending on what color is used, you can easily arouse feelings of sympathy or antipathy towards the image. The earth-tone colors convey ideas of primitivism and stagnation or lack of modernity. And Europeanized color schemes artificially adapted by the Israelis in visual depiction and architecture signify progress!
On the concept of death depicted in text books: Israelis are educated to worship death, to sacrifice themselves for the good of the country and to feel there is nothing wrong in the death of Palestinians or to see the latter’s death as a lesser evil if it entails positive consequences for Israeli citizens. I studied depictions of massacres, which are essentially simplistic narratives and they are underpinned by a mythological logic. For example, Oedipus killed his father but he saved his city. The historical justification Israeli narrative gives is: yes a lot of people were killed but in the end killings were justified because it guaranteed a Jewish state for the Jewish majority! This was how the massacre carried out by Ariel Sharon and his notorious unit of killers was justified in textbooks. In order to avenge the killing of a Jewish woman and her children in Yahud, (a former Palestinian city subsequently reinhabited by Jewish immigrants from Arab countries), Sharon’s units conducted ethnic cleansing by massacring the people of Qibya in Jordan (1953) and destroying their homes. The claim was made that such reprisals would restore dignity and morale to the army and inspire confidence in the Jewish citizenry. The “official excuse” subsequently given was that the army commanded through a loudspeaker for the villagers to leave and they failed to comply. The same excuse was given subsequent to the war on Gaza: “we ordered them to leave their homes, they did not come out and we were forced to attack!” This discourse of “excuse” is sinister. Because underlying this presentation is the rationality that any evil done to them is condoned as long as it circumvents a greater or equal evil to us. It is with this kind of distorted argumentation, which is pervasive in school textbooks, that students join the military. What we have is a whole process of production, reproduction and perpetuation of these myths, which acquire a life of their own.
In diagrams and graphs indicating “progress”, there are asterisk marks to suggest the data indicates a lack of progress among non-Jewish populations. Since geography books are presented as scientific, objective and neutral, you do not suspect they are inherently biased. However, this ideologically serves the presentation of the non-Jew as a non-citizen, an outcast, and a non-being. The non-Jew is never called Palestinian but Arab which can be easily subsumed under the greater Arab ‘nation’ which is seen as Israel’s common enemy. But once you demystify this claim, you see its murderous political message; since they are part of the Arab nation there are so many Arab countries they can go to why should they live with us? The appellation Palestinian is used often to assign terror not as a way of referring to a people.
We have so many memorial days as holidays to commemorate the heroic feats and glorious victories achieved by the Israeli army. Educational literature, songs and programs are orientated towards celebrating military valor. The army is regarded as the high point of your education. In high school, military personnel are brought in to give lectures to children as part of an attempt to lure them to join elite units as fighters and as combatants. So the model promoted is the model of the combatant, the Ariel Sharon type. At the age of eighteen they must join the torture machine, the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). Children during high school also must spend weeks in a military camp to acquire what they call a military education to cultivate a `passion’ for it. Their aim is to be good soldiers and preferably a combatant. I would say a killer.
History books usually present two points of view: it is one Jewish historian’s view versus another Jewish historian’s perspective. Yet history books written by Palestinian scholars like Walid Khalidi that present the Palestinian point of view get banned, deauthorised, taken off the shelves and suppressed. Bookstores are not supposed to sell them. This is what happened to Khalidi’s book. So the precondition for presenting the Palestinian perspective, in this case, was to authorize an Israeli historian to present the Arab point of view. Anybody can write a book. Most books are not written by professional historians: some are but many written by history and geography teachers. Thereafter they go through an authorization process with five to seven committees granting approval. But certain important criteria have to be met. They must comply with Zionist ideology. Every time the labor ministry is replaced by a right wing ministry, they reject published books. For instance, Daniel Koby, a history teacher, his book The World of Change: (2001) was deauthorised and the reason given was that he did not emphasize Zionism as the redemption of the Jewish people. But of course there were other factors. Koby saw the conflict as the Zionist-Palestinian conflict and not as Jewish-Arab conflict, a descriptor used by approved Israeli historians. He also addressed the issue of de-Arabisation of Palestinian villages, the renaming of places, the reinscription of space, giving the graphic example of how the Palestinian village En Hud was changed into the Israeli En Hod. He was the only historian who featured a map in his book indicating the escape route of Palestinian refugees.
Q. Can you comment on the nature of the public sphere in Israeli society?
Peled: When you examine media institutions, freedom of experession and liberty, Israel is backward and very repressive. Most media institutions are state owned and preach the doctrine of the superiority of the Jewish race. They have are part of the state propaganda machine. Palestinians are often treated in the so called liberal press as two kinds of converging threat: a demographic threat and a security threat. The oft repeated mantra in the media is what an advanced democracy Israel is! This is a hollow claim. That Israel is the last outpost of democracy in the region is itself a a fabulation that remains central to the foundational myth of the state. Israeli children grow up in a highly militarized settler-colonial culture where most of them know they are destined for the army where they will be ordered to occupy and to kill.
The state is moving towards fascism at a terrifying speed. In this year alone we have sixteen new racist laws being introduced. There is no public outrage. Maybe in the distant future revolutionary change is possible. But there is greater academic freedom in Israel that is not in the United States. In the US, a lecturer can be fired for saying what I say about Israel but in Israel this is what I teach. And when students and teachers see that, they cannot ignore anymore. I believe that change comes from below, because every teacher has at least four classes and something like forty students. That is a tremendous amount of work. I believe in that kind of revolution. Politically, things are very frightening not only for Palestinians but for Israelis too. The sort of visual and discursive representation, the racist discourse that I am investigating does not stop the Palestinians from revolting. The racist discourse is the same in reference to Jews who came from Arab countries or Ethiopians who came after Israel was established, but the specific threat each one of those groups poses to so called “national security” is treated as different. The tragedy is that Israelis do not seem to realize that they live in a very racist society. The small talk in Israel typically contains two troubling questions: are you a Jew and if you are, are you an Arab Jew or an Occidental Jew? They take these kinds of questions as valid and legitimate. The prevailing tension and the toxic atmosphere in Israel have primarily to do with racism, mainly towards Arabs but not just towards Arabs. In the school where I teach they used to have Christmas trees for Arab Christian students but not anymore.
Pro-Israel propaganda sites often revel in images of Palestinian children posing with weapons, as if such images prove that Palestinian children are indeed uniquely vicious, or deserve no sympathy or justice when killed. This type of propaganda reflects what Joseph Massad has called Arabopaedophobia – the Israeli and Western fear of, hostility towards, and dehumanization of Arab children. Children live with the consequences of Israel’s violent occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, whether it is Israeli children indoctrinated to continue this oppression as adults, or Palestinian children brutalized and traumatized by the organized violence of occupation, colonialism and apartheid that pervade their lives.
Q. How interventionist and proactive is civil society?
Peled: The Israeli left is as always small and timid, but especially now. There has never been a real left in this country. When public protests took place against economic hardships at the time of the Occupy movements around the world it was disconcerting that the Israeli protestors never linked their country’s economy to the system of Apartheid instituted through the occupation and colonisation of Palestine. 78% of the children in Gaza suffer from anemia. You have 5.5 million Palestinians controlled by Israel who live in a horrible apartheid with no civil and no human rights. And you have the other half who are Jews who are also losing their rights by the minute. These protests were not taken to be threatening of the status quo. At the same time there is no organised resistance against racist and discriminatory policies of the state. There is a state of fear orchestrated by the political establishment sustained with EU and US complicity. The state of Israel is for a particular group of Jews. It is exclusivist and exclusionary. It does not represent all Jews. There have beeen a series of attempts to restrict Israeli citizens’ right to protest and criticise their government. I only see the path to fascism.
Q. What is the role of the `military zone’ in a democracy?
Peled: Whenever a few people gather anywhere inside Israel for a casual conversation or to engage in some recreational activity, you immediately draw the attention of the military. Men in uniform, they are all over. It is a heavily policed society, wherever you live, it is not easy to escape their gaze or scrutiny. I remember an instance when a Palestinian girl in serious health condition was being driven in an ambulence, when it reached the Israeli checkpoint, it was not allowed to pass into Israel. So the doctors attending to the girl and their staff had to move her into another ambulence. Immediately this incident caught the attention of journalists and camera men. The Israeli army did not like the fact that their mistreatment of Palestinians drew reporters to the scene. In order to contain the swarming crowd, they declared the area a military zone (under martial law) as a way of shutting out world attention. When Palestinian children are killed by Israeli soldiers, Israeli lawyers are not allowed to go into the occupied territories. However if you carefully examine the way Israeli society is organised, that is, how state-society relations are organised, starting with Israel’s disastrous and even suicidal policies and a certain kind of Zionism, how the system of indoctrination is administered and maintained, how children get drafted into the army right after high school, how the occupation is enforced, then one could possibly say that the entire country of Israel is a military zone! Militarism or militarization has no place in a democracy because in democracy power rests with the people.
Q. Let’s examine the category of the internal refugee? What is the citizenship of the internal refugee since their presence is always a conditional status? They are simultaneously citizens and non citizens?
Peled: Palestinians constitute internal refugees within Israel itself who were displaced during the 1948 war and who remain displaced to this day in unrecognised villages in the West Bank with little or no infrastructure. These villages do not even exist on Israeli maps. Then there are those who were outside Palestine when the 1948 war broke out but were prevented from returning to their homes. There are Palestinian refugees from the 1967 war. There are refugee camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where people suffer from the double oppression of being both occupied and rendered refugees. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have no citizenship. They are euphemistically called “residents”. Unlike the Israelis, Palestinians lack “full humanity”. The internal refugees in Israel live in better conditions than those in the occupied territories or the Arab world but psychologically they experienced unspeakable suffering for the past sixty years, such as watching their houses, businesses, factories, shops, fields and villages being demolished, pillaged and taken over by Jews. Again, citizenship is a dubious category here. There are two elements to the Palestinian predicament. The first relates to the dismal conditions in which people live– caged in camps. Even when they become neighborhoods, they remain on the margins of local society and left to survive in a limbo existence. Secondly, more refugees have been created as a result of Israeli policy since 1948. There is no end to Palestinian dispossession in sight. International law has recognized that all these refugees have the unconditional right to return. As long as the refugees are not allowed to exercise that right there is will be no reconciliation.
Q. This relates to the previous question. What form of minority is the internal refugee especially in reference to other minorities who do not share this condition? In your analysis Israeli Palestinians are structurally refugees.
Peled: I work with a group of Ethiopian Jewish children who share widely held negative attitudes in Israeli society about Palestinians and Arabs living in their midst. Their `Jewishness’ is, strictly speaking, not quite their own “property”. Their Jewishness is seen as different, because it is based only on the Bible and not on later books of Jewish law – the Halaha. That is why they were compelled to “convert” to Judaism as part of their immigration. They form part of the non-Ashkenazi, non-privileged sectors of the population. They have citizenship rights at least in theory, but their day to day living reality is different. This is to say they are recognised as citizens though discriminatory attitudes and practices against them persist. One could say they are an oppressed community because they live in slums. The status of an immigrant population like Ethiopian Jews is different. There is always panic about what constitutes “authentic Jewishness”. If this is not racism what is? Whereas Arabs in Israel must live in a constant state of fear and vulnerability, with the threat of hostility and dispossession hanging over their heads like a sword of Damocles. The Israeli-Palestinians have citizenship and they can practice their citizenship as long as they do not protest or organise themselves against the Jewish state. Any expression of solidarity by them with Palestinians in the occupied territories is not tolerated and swiftly crushed. So there is structural violence against Israeli-Palestinians. But Palestinians in the occupied territories (under full Israeli military administrative control) are not considered citizens. They are called residents. To come back to your question, both Ethiopians and Arabs fall into the classification of minority. In my work with Ethiopian Jewish children I try to organise visits to Arab neighborhoods inside Israel where the former gets to mingle, interact and play with Arab children and engage in recreational activities. At the end of the encounter, you can see a tangible change in their preceptions. They immediately begin to articulate their experience, a kind of new experiment for them in sociality, they begin to appreciate and open their minds to seeing a different reality, seeing that other children, Arab kids, do what they do in their own community. But there is much more work to be done. But the Zionist state would very much like Arabs and Palestinians to disappear. My task is to challenge racist and xenophobic depictions of Palestinians as well as other minorities, like Ethiopian immigrants in Israel who are Jews but are discriminated against and treated like trash, and this is why I study school textbooks.
There is always the anxiety, who is the real Jew? Or who is the better Jew? Or more proper Jew? The preferred, ideal, proper Jew in Israel is the tall blond Russian Jew. Israel was founded by East European Jews who were called “blacks” by the West European Jews. The former did two things. Some of them came to America and whitened themselves in relation to the black population in the US. Some of them went to Palestine and westernised themselves in relation to Arab Jews. Today Israel calls itself a western nation. But there is nothing western about it. Arab Jews, Jews who came from Arab countries in the 50s, had to face discrimination. They were forced to give up their culture, their Arabness in order to integrate. This means 1500 years of glorious culture, customs, music, language, dialect everthing had to be given up. Families were torn asunder. All this was well documented. We have a fourth generation who still cannot overcome that horrific experience. Israel pursued a policy of bringing Jews from all over the world, it offered citizenship and other privileges to them as a way of enticing them into Israel. The most racially discriminated group is Ethiopian Jews. They are being herded into concentration camp like ghettoised spatial structures called “absorption centers” and treated like trash. They usually do not go to school with whites and if they do, they are given separate lessons and separate grades.
The Russian Jew was the dream because the European Jewry was exterminated and this was the Jewry that the Zionists planned on. Once the Russian Jews started emigrating to Israel, doctors, pianists, scientists, engineers and all kinds of professionals, there was euphoria at the time over this. The state keeps inviting Russians into Israel who are not Jewish by far but it does not matter. They prefer them because they are blond whereas Ethiopians are black. The attitude towards the Ethiopians who have lived for thousands of years by the Torah is that they simply do not constitute the proper Jew or their Jewishness is not Jewish enough! Therefore they have to be recircumcised no matter what age. In addition, they must pass tests which no one can pass. I could not pass these tests myself! They must attend orthodox schools and are subject to a very strict regime of discipline that induces fear in them. On the other hand the Russians, whether Jewish or not, are welcome and are treated differently. Even movies will have Russian translation but not any other language.
Q. Can you comment on the politics of habitat? Disrupting another’s living, physical and cultural environment and appropriating it? This occurred in Galilee in the 1950s under Ben Gurion’s leadership and it has occurred in the West Bank?
Peled: The `Judaisation’ of Israeli state has been achieved at the cost of destruction of Palestinian cultural and civilizational heritage. Isrealis destroyed a centuries old Arab cemetery in Galilee. Today you see Israeli children giving away pieces of debris to visiting tourists in the area. The disciplinary apparatuses of history and archeology are the two most powerful institutions which the Israeli state uses very effectively to undermine the claim of historic Palestine as belonging to Arabs.
Gaza is an open prison. It is the most densely inhabited urban space on earth.
I visited the camp sometime ago, surrrounded by a massive wall. Palestinians live confined as refugees under a heavily militarised security regime. The windows have been sealed off with bricks because the Israeli soldiers are constantly firing into the camps. This is perhaps the world’s biggest security post. The literacy rate in Gaza is a staggering 94%. How? Palestinian families place a high premium on the education of their children. In this crammed space they all study diligently and with a keeness that is truly admirable despite all the odds against them. There is no water, no electricity, no sanitation, no health care, there is lack of basic services, conditions are dire, but they keep their precarious `homes’ neat and very clean. I am amazed by their spirit of affirmation, of life and their daily struggle for survival which they pursue with a singular intensity. Cruelty, humiliation, starvation, torture and death define their relationships to their Israeli masters, their occupiers and their governors. Yet I have received generosity and hospitality from them. Despite the devastation around them and the systemic privations from which they suffer, I have never seen anger in them as I have seen anger in Israeli society, never! It is remarkable, amazing! But in Israel ‘hate speech’ is the norm, it is acceptable and is dignified. The language of animosity is the dominant language.
The Israelis are intent of robbing the Palestinians of land, water and any other natural resources. They control Palestinian air space. Well, they have no air space, basically. Israel controls water and mineral rights underneath the West Bank. Israelis locate their settlements on Biblical archeological sites. Demolition of Palestinian homes and confiscation of land continue uninterrupted. Israel is building and expanding settlements and there is one judge from the settler community who sits in the supreme court and presides over cases filed by Palestinians about illegal land appropriation. Palestinians do not get justice. A settler is an illegal occupant of Palestinian land. When a member of the settler movement gets elected to the supreme court he is elected from within the judiciary. Judges are not appointed by the state. But they do the state’s bidding. So there is no independent judiciary. The justice system is tilted towards realising the illegal goals of the state through legal and non legal means. There are thousands of Palestinians who are employed by the settler population, in this manner the settlers keep the Palestinians economically divided. Since 1948, Palestinians have not been allowed to build a single house not to mention a village or city. But the story constructed by geography books is always either that they build without a license because they do not want to pay or they are heavily invested in clan structures and unwilling to sacrifice land for the greater public good like building unlike the Jews.
The Israeli education system succeeds in building mental walls that are far thicker than the concrete wall that is being constructed to incarcerate the Palestinian nation and hide their existence from our eyes. That is why Israelis never protest against the apartheid wall. Most Israelis, including leftist Zionists, see the wall as an appropriate solution to the “problem”. Because apartheid is not only a bunch of racist laws, it is a state of mind, fashioned by education. Apartheid in Israel and Palestine, imposed and practiced by the Israeli security forces, is enabled by the most profound racism, practiced every day, in every domain of life, in every encounter or action, in education and in the media that are wholly dedicated to the production and reproduction of fears and heterophobia.
As we speak the Tribunal is holding a discussion of sociocide. I want to raise the following issue. We just heard the first testimony by a Palestinian, Prof. Saleh Abdel Jawad of Birzeit University who, like me, is concerned with the degree to which Palestinians are being reciprocally disciplined by international humanitarian law and its advocates and not being allowed to change and to innovate law. For instance, The South African anti-apartheid activists resented it when they were reduced to the American civil rights movement.
Q. Can you talk about the peace movement, the women’s movement in Israel? What is the status of the Women in Black movement – inspired by Argentinian women activists – which originally came out against war, occupation and militarisation?
Peled: In mainstream Israeli politics there is a universal consensus that war is apparently the sole solution to all of Israel’s political problems. Therefore a continuous state of warfare serves as a pretext for the political elites to prolong the military occupation and excuses the state of Israel from accountability to the Palestinian people but also, no less, its accountability to the younger generation of Israelis who are called upon to perform the occupation, policing, destruction, and terror. With the rise of rightwing nationalist and religious parties on the Israeli political scene and with sophisticated fear inducing propaganda about the “Arab terrorist” being aired in every Jewish home, the Israeli peace movement suffered setbacks. The media organs of the state keep dishing out the same old rhetoric: wherever there are Muslims, there is terrorism. Wherever there is terrorism, there are Muslims. Every Arab learns from early childhood that the Jews must be killed. “There will never be peace between Jews and Arabs because the Arabs do not want it,” and so on. When peace becomes negatively associated with the destruction of Israel and presented as an existential threat (a term coined by the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt), it becomes a stigma even for peace activists. This explains why the peace movement is currently inert, with no peace process in sight for some years now. Support for left of center parties has slipped dramatically indicating the waning power of the discourse of peace or human rights or conflict resolution inside Israel. But there is resistance though these voices are muted. New Profile is a feminist anti-militarism group who critiques the education system for promoting veneration of the use of force, rampant fear and dread of a new holocaust. Achieving peace is much harder than waging war. And the consequences have been cataclysmic. Where do women stand in Israel-Palestine in terms of education, health and gender equality? I am referring to both Jewish and Palestinian women. The status of women is dismally poor. Bat Shalom is a women’s group in Israel, they always argued that equality was indivisible. They sought to build alliances between Jewish and Palestinian women through activism to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights and they recognize Palestinians’ right to self-determination. The Coalition of Women for Peace came out in solidarity with the members of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.
At first there was the tendency among Israeli feminists to suppress or silence the larger geo-political picture/story and to highlight women’s rights narrowly defined. Before the Intifada began, there was three prominent women’s organizations in Israel dedicated to “peace and coexistence”: TANDI (The Movement of Democratic Women in Israel), Gesher and the Israel branch of WILPF (the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom). A higher proportion of Israeli-Arab women take part in organizational activities than Israeli-Jewish women. (Also missing were Jews of Mizrahi origin – from Muslim countries – and Arabs.)
Soon after the start of the Intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation (in December 1987), several more women’s organizations dedicated to peace emerged able to mobilize other (politically inactive) women from all strata into their fold and this was tremendously empowering as it was all part of a democratizing impulse. These were Shani (Israeli Women Against the Occupation); the Women’s Organization for Women Political Prisoners; the Peace Cloth; Neled (Israeli Women for Coexistence); Reshet (Women’s Network for the Advancement of Peace); the Women and Peace Coalition; and Women in Black. Women’s peace initiatives; Yesh Din: women organization for human rights that obtains evidence of violations of human rights in the territories where lawyers are not allowed to go. Collectively known as the Israeli women’s peace movement, became the most vibrant and persistent part of the peace camp in Israel. Women in Black in particular registered a very emotive response; their mode of activism and public demonstrations took the form of vigils. The concept of women dressed in black standing in silence was a simple and easily implemented tactic. It evoked a powerful symbolism – mourning, dignity and conscience – upon the event. But Women in Black is virtually defunct today. They have been pushed back into invisibility and marginality. There is no real passion, commitment for peace in Israel today. I can’t see it, not among the general public anyhow. Of course you have groups like Anarchists Against the Wall (AATW) who were and still are – in the forefront of the solidarity campaign on the Israeli side from the start, organizing convoys of Israelis to protest together with the Palestinian villagers. They are blacked out in the national media. So the efficacy of their practice does not reverberate. This kind of work is not very popular among the Israeli public. In fact it is easy to brand anyone in the peace movement as a “traitor”. Zionism outside Israel is even more effective. Let me recall one high profile incident. Two lectures on the theme “The Right to Health in a Conflict Zone” by the Israeli-based charity Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) were cancelled after a Zionist organization told hospitals in Manchester, Liverpool and Bury (in the UK) hosting PHR-I that they were “anti-Israel”. The challenges for peace are daunting. There is sustained opposition to Israeli occupation by the popular resistance of Palestinians but it comes at a terrible price for them because as protesters they are the first get shot! They get jailed for stone throwing too for weeks and months if not years until the Israeli commanders decide what to do about them.
Q. To what degree are you willing to identify the current policies of the Israeli state as enforcing a system of apartheid?
Peled: It’s really difficult to relate to the place where I live and work as my home or homeland. On the one hand, what do you do in order to go on living there because that is the only place we have. There are organisations whose preoccupation is to teach the Nakba to the Jews. Independence day is a day of mourning for the Palestinians. They have developed a kit for the schools and children who are taught how to recognize what was there before and how to live with that. First you must know that happened and then you need to acknowledge it as a historical event. It is important to know that on the same location as the neighborhood you are living in today there was another neighborhood that was wiped out. Otherwise we will end up justifying our being there. Every morning we will have to justify our life there. Israelis know the names of all the herbs that grow there but do not know what to do with them whereas Palestinians do not know the names but know what to do with them! I mean a French child does not wake up every morning to say I am French! I am French! I am French! But the Jewish children have to dramatise their identity, their allegiance, their loyalty. Any Jewish Israeli that refuses to justify his/her presence there is asked to leave for she/he has no rightful place in Israel! There is no escape without really acknowledging the past and then comes the painful decision: what does one do with the past?
Again I want to stress that Israel’s prevailing culture of racism, fundamentalism, support for war crimes and apartheid against Palestinians is partly a product of an educational system that indoctrinates Jewish-Israeli students with militant colonial values and extreme racism that turn them into monsters once in uniform. Many in Israeli society are bewildered by the sadistic, gratuitous cruelty of Israeli soldiers towards Palestinians. Israelis have internalised the message that Palestinians are people whose life is dispensable with impunity and whose presence has to be diminished. One should not wonder then why, at the height of the Israeli massacre in Gaza 2008-2009, a Tel Aviv University poll (reported in the Jerusalem Post, Jan. ’09) of Jewish-Israeli opinion showed a shocking 94% support for the assault despite full knowledge of the enormous suffering this Israeli aggression had inflicted upon the 1.5 million Palestinians incarcerated in the Gaza “prison camp” and of the massive destruction of their civilian infrastructure. More BDS (Boycott Divestment & Sanctions) is needed to end Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid.
There is racism internal to the construction of Jewish identity. Racism does not stop at the checkpoint. When a society is racist, racism prevails over everything. One of the reasons why the conflict is perpetuated is the refusal to be introspective, the refusal of self critique. The day that there will be reconciliation and peace among the different Palestinian factions, there will be civil war in Israel.
Long Reads brings to Groundviews long-form journalism found in publications such as Foreign Policy, The New Yorker and the New York Times. This section, inspired by Longreads, offers more in-depth deliberation on key issues covered on Groundviews