San Francisco Independent Media Centre
My name is Ilan Pappe, I am a lecturer at Haifa University, in Israel. I am a long time activist, for peace, human rights, civil rights; basically, an historian who wrote several books on the Arab-Israeli conflict, focusing particularly on the 1948 events and their impact on the current situation.
Q: So why did you decide to become an expert, or study the question of the Palestinians and the formation of Israel?
I realized at the very early stage that the research of history in the cases of people like myself, or as anyone knows in Israel and Palestine, is not just an intellectual pursuit; that the reality, the realities of conflict are informed by what happened in the past. And therefore I thought that not only historians, professional historians, but the society at large should look deeply into the past if it wishes to understand the present better. And I also understood that the way history is taught, being taught and researched in Israeli academia is very loyal to the Zionist ideology, and it was very clear for me, from the early stage in my professional carrier that writing history books, and teaching history courses about the Palestine past, is also a political act, an ideological act, not just an intellectual act.
Ever since then I am still convinced that my way of activism, which connects my professional history of writing, and my political activity in the present, is tightly closed together and I think this is why I still insist also on continuing researching the past, and being active in the present.
Q: When you began to study this, I mean, what conclusions did you come to about, about the state of Israel and the situation of the Palestinians?
I think what came out is something which I think many, many Palestinians before me realized, but for me it took this individual journey into the past to understand that. I was taught as an Israeli academic that there is a very complex story there, and in fact what you find out is that this is a very simple story, a story of dispossession, of colonization, of occupation, of expulsion. And the more I go into it, the clearer the story becomes, even it becomes simpler, and it also brought me to think of the state of Israel, and the Jewish majority in it, in very much the same terms that I used to think about places such as South Africa, and the white supremacy regime there. So I think this is the natural, main conclusion.
Q: The theory of Zionism was that if Jews had their own state that would be a solution to anti-Semitism, and that they will need a state to really defend Jews. What is the reality today?
Well, the reality is first of all that if you create a Jewish state, even if, and I will come back to it in a second, even if a Jewish state is the only solution for anti-Semitism, definitely it cannot be a solution if that state is being built at the expense of a native population. I mean, the fact that in 1948 the Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homeland, dispossessed, did not allow Israel to become a safe place. Or the fact that the Zionists' forefathers decided to create a Jewish state in the midst of the Arab world was also not a good formula to insure security. So the timing and the location of the project of building a Jewish state by itself had the seeds of insecurity. So it could not really solve the problem of anti-Semitism, and as we know, it, in many ways, increased anti-Semitism after the Second World War.
But even more than that, I think that one of the major conclusions of Jews who were not Zionists, after the second world war, was that Jews should take a very active part in building a world where not only anti-Semitism, but basically racism and ideologies of that kind, would not have hold of the people’s minds and hearts. And I think this is why you saw, after second world war, many Jews trying to be active in movements such as the civil rights movement, in the socialist movement, and so on; exactly motivated by this belief that the right answer to anti-Semitism was not Zionism but rather an international moral movement.
Of course, there are different versions. One can do it from the liberal side, one can do it from the socialist side, but I think basically it is the same idea. However, I think that these alternatives were weakened by the hold Zionism took over the Jewish story, if you want. Or the Jewish representation in the period after the second world war.
Q: How has Zionism, the ideology of Zionism, affected Israel, and how does the Israeli working class see itself, if you want?
There is a parallel, not the right word, I am looking for. The ethnic origin of the working class in Israel is very distinct. Most of the working class peoples in Israel, ever since the creation of the state, are/were either Jews coming from Arab countries, or Palestinians. These were Palestinians who were not expelled in 1948 and became the Arab minority inside Israel. This correspondence between the ethnic origin of people and their class, socio-economic position in society, informs the role in the state no less than the class-consciousness, so to speak.
So, on the one hand, it was easy, relatively easy, to take the Palestinian working class and to enroll them for instance to the Israeli Communist Party, which was the most popular party among the Palestinians in Israel in the 60s and the 70s. On the other hand, a big failure was with the Jews coming from Arab countries, because they will be asked that their only ticket to be integrated into the Jewish society was to be anti-Arab. And they chose nationalism, nationalism rather than socialism, as the best way of improving their position in life. That meant that the socialist left, so to speak, in Israel, was very weakened by the fact that it really only consisted of Arabs and not of any significant numbers of Jews.
Q: What has been the recent struggle that you’ve been engaged in at the University -why don't you talk about how that began, and why that happened?
I should being by saying that I think the very important, precondition for any genuine reconciliation in Israel and Palestine is an Israel-Jewish ability to acknowledge the ethnic cleansing of 1948. I think the Israelis have a mechanism of denial that educated a whole society to totally obliterate from its memory the terrible crimes that the Jews had committed against the Palestinians in 1948, and even afterwards. I am totally convinced that such an acknowledgement, very much like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, is a precondition for any genuine reconciliation, and therefore my main struggle in the Israeli universities is to allow at least the universities to become a source where people can learn about that denied past.
I encourage students to go and research 1948, and one of these students in his research exposed an unknown massacre in 1948, which was another important brick in the story that we are trying to build. He was a very brave student, most of the students of mine and of others do not dare to write about 1948, and he was disqualified for that. And, I struggled against the university, and because of my struggle against it, and my other political activities, which include the call for boycott and divestment against Israel, the university tried to expel me in May, 2002. And had it not been for the international uproar, they probably would have succeeded, despite the fact that I have a tenured position.
I think this is a bad sign, but it is also a good sign. It is a good sign that there is a feeling in the Israeli academia that if someone tells the truth about what happened in the past, people are not stupid and they are not morally corrupted, and they will do something. And I think the major Israeli struggle is to prevent people like myself to have access to the public, and the main struggle of people like myself is to find alternative ways to get to the people. And for some reasons, which are not always positive, but that is the reality. Israeli Jews, like American Jews, would rather hear it from an Israeli Jew than from a Palestinian. Because what I am saying, the Palestinians have been saying from many years, but for understandable reasons it is much easier for the Israeli public to hear me.
Q: What was the massacre that the student of yours described? And what was the excuse or justification for his disqualification?
Right. The massacre was in the village of Tantura, which is south of Haifa, and the largest massacre in the war. The Israeli army used to occupy the Arab villages in the way that usually left one flank opened so that the people could be expelled through that side. In several cases, like in the case of Tantura, this did not happen. They made a mistake, it was not on purpose, and they closed the village from all four flanks. One of the reasons, on the west the village was on the sea, and the Israeli navy blocked the village. So in situations like these, the Israeli soldiers used to massacre the people rather than cleanse them. And about 230 people, mostly young men and middle-aged men, were massacred and the women and children were expelled to Jordan. That is what he exposed.
Why was he disqualified? The student could not find enough archival evidence, because the Israeli army was trying to hide the events. So he did something, which we call a professional historiography, a oral history. So he went to interview both Jewish soldiers who participated in the massacre, and Palestinian survivors. And both confirmed that the massacre took place. Now, they found six places in his master dissertation where he did not, when they checked his tapes of the interviews, what was said in the tapes did not accurately correspond to what he transcribed. But none of these sections of the interviews made any difference to the overall conclusion. And as we all know, even very experienced professors, if you check them very thoroughly with their sources, there will be some discrepancies between their sources and what happened. And on the basis of that, he was disqualified whereas students and veteran professors, who had many more known mistakes in their works, would never be challenged in such a way.
Q: So that was a pretext?
Oh, yes, definitely that was a pretext. The academic authorities wanted to send a message, and they succeeded, unfortunately. They sent a message to graduate students: don’t touch that subject because you are going to hurt your career chances.
Q: So this is a forbidden subject?
Yes, this is a forbidden subject in Israel. Any many of my students, who were in the midst on working on 1948, after this incident, decided to change their subject.
Q: And on what basis did they try to expel you from your position?
Well, they had just a long list of accusations, but if I summarize it, it boils down to three main issues: One, is my accusation against the university in this affair, where I accused the university of moral corruption, and they said that this was disloyalty to the institute and they found in the context a clause which allows them to expel someone on the basis of that.
Secondly, I taught against their authorization a course on the 1948 Nakba, the catastrophe, the Palestinian catastrophe. That was another reason. And thirdly, my support for the idea of boycotting and sanctioning and divestment against Israel.
They learned in the context that you can bring to court for not being loyal to the state, not only loyal to the institution. So, I think, my trial, my would-be-trial – because the trial eventually did not take place - exposed how undemocratic Israel is when it comes to anyone challenging its Zionist character. It is a democracy in the sense that once you are within the Zionist frame of mind, you can really say what you want, and people even will protect your rights to say this. But once you challenge Zionism itself, the democracy ceases to exist and you are being treated as a traitor.
Q: One of your positions is that you are against the idea of a Jewish state, and when you say that you are not within the framework of a Zionism. Is that what you are talking about?
Yes, yes, definitely. Its sort of a bizarre thing, because, as I say, instead of Israel we should have a democratic secular state, this is tantamount to treason in Israel. This is regarded as treason. But on the other hand it is very difficult to take someone within the Israeli context to court and say: 'this guy is dangerous because he is for democracy and secularism.’ And I think, they have been lying for so many years that the indoctrination was so effective that Jews will never come to that conclusion, and once we are there, they found it very difficult to deal with it.
You know, when a Palestinian says he is for a secular democratic state, they will say 'Yes, and they don’t mean it, we know exactly what they want.’ But when someone who is a product of the Israeli-Jewish system says it, they are going to check the production line !! How did it happen? That’s an abberation and I think they are totally bewildered by that.
Q: And what was the response of the media in Israel to your trial, and their efforts to expel you from your position at the university?
Well, unfortunately, the media, especially in the last five years, was not really supportive of any critical approach and it’s very tragic that both the media and the academia, which are supposed to be the most critical segments in a secular society, as against religious institutions, cease to play that role.
I remember that they never played it, but definitely in the last five or ten years they are totally conformist and they support the government; very few voices of dissent, and I was only attacked in the media.
Q: You were on national television?
Yes, but I learnt very soon that the only reason I am invited - so I stopped doing it - was to stage a public trial against me. Nobody gave me a chance to speak, they would bring me to a studio to do a kind of a public trial. So I understood it was an ambush and I ceased to go to television studios because it was useless, and they did not allow me to speak.
The encouraging side of the story is the society itself: I got a lot of emails, of letters and phone calls of support from many many Israeli Jews whom I never met before, and even in the town where I live people used to stop and shook my hand. And I have a feeling, because a lot of people are not aware of it, that there is a kind of a terror, and intimidation of the Jews in Israel. They are frightened of saying aloud that they feel because it is such a closed society, that you are nearly ostracized. It is not like America where you can away to some other places, it is a very closed society, and it affects your family, it affects your career if you are doing something, which is easily labeled as treason.
But I think people really felt that I, and others like me, were voicing what they were feeling. For many. many months now, but still they don’t dare to say now because the price is too high.
Q: What was the role of the Histadrut, the Israeli trade union, and your own union at the university?
Well, it goes back to the history of socialism and Zionism in Palestine, which we have to be aware of. Socialism, in the case of Zionism, and the Histadrut is the main organization that fuses together, these two ideologies, socialism and Zionism. There was a very limited interpretation of socialism; it was really employing socialism as a means in the hand of a colonialist movement. Socialism was used to at best, at best, to co-opt Arab workers, but more often to expel them from the labor market. This is true about the Mandatory period, between 1918 and 1948, and I don’t think anything changed.
The Histadrut as a general trade union is a body, which does not stand to the workers, or to the unions, but to the Zionist ideology. Without Histadrut, it would have been impossible to colonize the Occupied Territories as a labor market. Without Histadrut it would have been impossible to build the labor market in Israel during the years of occupation in such a way that the Palestinians became really slaves, slave workers rather than equal workers. So, as a union of teachers, or academics, on that level it is even worst. I mean, the Histadrut does not at all dare to take any position against the Occupation, against the government’s policies. It pays lip service to the idea of social equality, and so on. But it does not really do anything. It is a sad story.
Q: How are Palestinian workers, Arab workers, treated in Israel?
Very unfairly, very unfairly. I mean they suffer from two levels of discrimination. Until the 1980s, they constituted a very important part of the unskilled working labor market, and the skilled worker market, but more in the field of construction and services and so on. To put it more simply, one can say they did all these jobs that most Israeli Jews did not want to perform. But they were badly paid compared to Jewish workers, and there was a kind of institutionalized system that discriminated against them on every level of workers rights, from the salary down to the insurance policies, welfare system and everything. The things got worst in the late 1980s, because in the late 1980s there was a big immigration of Russians into Israel, almost one million.
Some of them were pushed into the labor market to replace the Palestinian workers from the jobs that they were allowed to have. So the on one hand, you had a glass ceiling that did not allow the Palestinian workers to go into the more attractive jobs, so to speak, and since the 1980s even these limited jobs were not available and were given by private and public businesses to Russian immigrants.
Q: So the future, within an Israeli state, for the Palestinians, is not bright?
Not at all. In fact, it is even dangerous. Israel controls the life of two groups of Palestinians: there are the Palestinians citizens inside Israel and there are the Palestinians under Occupation. These are very two different groups. I think the group under Occupation is under grave threat, there is still a very serious possibility that this people will be ethnically cleansed, once again, and that mass killing will be performed against it.
Here we are really talking about almost genocide, in the future. Although I don’t think this will really happen and I hope that the world will not stand aside. But for the Palestinians in Israel, where this danger is not that imminent, the future means even less rights, social rights, civil rights, human rights, than they have now. They still have limited of these, but it will become worst. The Jewish state will become more ethnic, more racist, more exclusive, and anyone who is not a Jew, or is not regarded as Jew, will suffer from it more in the future than he or she suffers today.
Q: When you began this call for boycott and divestment in Israel, first of all, what kind of support did you get? May be you can talk about England, and the reaction of the government, and the Israeli state?
This I don’t want to take the credit for it. I did not start it. I think it is very important for people to understand that large segments of the civil society, in the US and in Europe, for many years now, feel that enough is enough with regard to the Israeli policies in Palestine. And I think many good people were waiting for their governments to do it, because all the time there was the talk of the 'peace process,’ the diplomatic effort, and they did not want to disrupt it.
But I think people now realize that the diplomatic effort is helping the Occupation, and is not going to bring an end to the Occupation. And with this realization, there was a lot of energy, especially in Europe, especially in Britain, that people wanted to do something. And they are the ones who brought out the idea of boycott, and similar people in America brought up the idea of divestment; because I think they were veterans of the campaign against South Africa, I think that is where the idea emanated. But when we heard about it in Israel, the most progressive left decided to support it. That support gave a lot of impetus, a lot of encouragement to the people abroad to continue, and when the Palestinian society under Occupation voiced its support for this idea as the best strategy, it really burst out.
In England, a very important group of people belonging to the Association of University Teachers, which is called the AUT, a very important trade union, felt – I think rightly so- that in the campuses of the universities, because you know, England is very close to Israel. Most of the Israelis are Anglophones, they really like England, academics really like to go to England and we have a very good system that allows people to go abroad. Academic institutes encourage people to go abroad, to expand their academic knowledge. And they felt that all these Israelis were coming to the British campuses, for short terms or long terms. They were the experts on the Arab world; they were experts on thehuman rights and civil rights. I mean the discrepancy between the ideologies they represented, and what they were talking about, was such that it was like having the Israeli embassy taking over the academics in Britain. And they decided, but at least they want to start in England, by an official boycott on anyone who officially represents the Israeli academia.
I don’t think they wanted to prevent individual Israelis from coming and talking and dialoguing. I think they were right in pointing to the roleof the Israeli academia, as being the main spokespersons, spokesmenforthe cause. And they passed a motion for boycott, which was accepted.Andthe Zionist lobby woke up and put a lot of pressure…
Q: What did they do?
They hired a very important law firm in England that charged the AUT executive committee with anti-Semitism if they would continue. Of course, I don’t think they would have won the case, but you can see the AUT executive committee saying to themselves, it is not worth it, we don’t want to go, which is a pity, they should have shown more solidarity. But they were really intimidated by this. There was a proper libel suit, and if you know the English law, it is even more difficult to catch someone in England than it is here in Israel. But nonetheless they were intimidated, and even more that they mobilized all the Jewish historians of the Holocaust, and everything. They equated the AUT decision to a decision of the Holocaust denial. This, of course is very stupid, and so on, but it worked on people.
But I must tell you that the AUT people have not given up, they are preparing a new motion, they are trying a new strategy, they are working from one chapter to the other to convince people and the most interesting thing is that the boycott is working, de facto. I mean, the decision of the AUT to retract angered people so much that most of the British members of the AUT actually thought that they did not care whether an official decision was taken or not, they think that it is the right way forward.
Q: Now, the Zionists in the Israeli state, did they have a history of accusing people who are critical of Zionism, of being anti-Semites, or Jews of being self-hating Jews?
Oh yes, I think there are many many chapters from the very beginning of Zionism, from different sources, Jews criticized the idea; it could be from a settler point of view, it could been from an orthodox point of view. I think one of the most telling chapters of this, is the struggle, in a way the unfortunately unsuccessful struggle of Zionism against the Bund in the Jewish international socialist movement in post second world war Europe. As you know, the Jews who survived the Holocaust were in camps, which were called the displaced persons camps. And, in fact, many of the Jewish survivors liked the idea of both the internationalist approach, as we talked about it before, or even the socialist one.
And the Zionists did not only argue with these people, they used a lot of violence. There is a book by an historian, called Yossi Gussinsky, about this struggle, and in fact what the Zionists did, they recruited young Jews to the Jewish underground, the Haganah, so that these people would not be distracted, and won over by a group of international ideologies, or a group which connected Judaism with an international prospective. And that’s just one historical example, and you know we have the history of more non-Zionist groups inside Israel, they are being isolated, like Maspen, who were spied on by the secret services, and later there was the other group that was imprisoned. Definitely, this is something the Zionists are willing to fight with all the force against.
Q: Did you hear about the role of the AFT, American Federation of Teachers, in opposing this boycott?
Yes, I did, and there was also a role played by all kinds of professional associations in the American academia, like the Political Science Association, and so one. And I was not surprised. I did not really think that anyone in the American trade unions, or labor movements, would follow their British colleagues. I think we need a much more, a lot of groundwork here before this will happen. But it really begs these questions, which I hope, that’s another part of the campaign, which people tend to ignore.
It is not just about stopping money into getting to Israel so that the Occupation can continue. I think it is an educational thing, it is to ask American taxpayers, to ask American workers, to ask American human rights and civil rights activists why the only case in the world where you don’t voice a clear position, whereas in any other cases you do, is the case of Israel. What makes it so different, and I think the more we will hear the Jews asking these questions, I hope this will convince them that they had it wrong all these years from excluding Israel from the same criteria in which they would judge other cases in the world.
Q: What has been the role of Israel and Zionism, in
relation to imperialism?
Well, I think it starts with colonialism, before imperialism. It is very clear that without the adoption of Zionism as a colonialist project by the British Empire, there would not have been a Jewish settlement in Palestine. That’s very clear. They needed the British military power, political power in order to start the project, that’s very clear. Without it, it would not have occurred. And then I think that it is fair to say that without serving the American imperialism as a front base, I doubt it whether Israel would have existed or survived. So I think that one of the important lessons the Israelis have still to learn, if they are so closely connected to an empire such as the US, and they are not thinking of any alternative ways of existing within a certain society, or certain area, when the empire will fall, they are likely to fall too. This is something most Israelis do not realize unfortunately.
Q: So the role the US is decisive in keeping Israel?
Oh, yes, absolutely, it is decisive. In any way you look at it, from the financial assistance, not only the grants, but also the loans, from the military assistance, from the diplomatic immunity that America gives Israel at the UN through its veto, voting. And we have seen it in times like the 1973 War, when really the Americans were willing to go to a nuclear war in order to save Israel.
Q: Some supporters of Israel in the US would say it is not fair to compare Israel to the apartheid state of South Africa, and that Israel is a democratic state – what is the relationship of apartheid in South Africa to Israel?
I think like many cases in history, there are similarities and dissimilarities. But I think in a general picture, the similarities are more than the dissimilarities. The apartheid in South Africa was a petty apartheid; it had this abusive side to it which included segregation in buses, services and so one, ways of course of dispossession, tortures and so on. This side of the petty apartheid doesn’t exist in Israel, there is no segregation on that level. But in many ways, if you include the Occupation inside the apartheid regime in Israel, it is worst than the apartheid in South Africa.
So there are sides to the Israeli apartheid, let’s say the external side may seen less threatening and more 'democratic’, but the essence of the regime is as bad, if not worst in many ways. And I think the most important thing is the land issue. The basic feature for apartheid in Israel is the issue of land, not allowing Palestinians to have any relations to landownership, land transactions, and so on. Many people don’t know that the land in Israel belongs to the Jewish people, and because of that it cannot be sold and transacted with non-Jews.
Q: Is that legal?
It’s legal, it is part of the Israeli constitution in law that 93% of the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. Hence the Palestinians who are 20% of the population have only access to 7% of the land, which is of course where they have also to compete with the money and power of the Jewish private sector. But as far as land, as state-owned land is concerned, the vast majority of it belongs to the state. This is the reason why since 1948 you have hundreds of new Jewish settlements, neighborhoods being constructed and not one new Arab village or neighborhood was built. We are talking about an Arab population that has a natural growth which is three times more than the Jewish one, and yet they are limited into a space in which they are not allowed to expand. That is, I think, the worst side of apartheid in that part of Israel. Of course, the Occupation and the regime of Occupation in the West Bank and in the Gaza strip is definitely worse than an apartheid system.
Q: What is the role of the Jewish National Fund?
Very important. The Jewish National Fund has a double role. A historical role in 1948 in turning the villages and the lands from which the Palestinians were dispossessed, into a Jewish land. This, the major role of this organization was historically to make sure that every land and house, and asset taken from the Palestinian side, is not moved to the state, but is moved to the Jewish people so to speak, so that it can never be re-Arabized, if you want, again.
Today the JNF plays a different role. In a way it continues to play this role in the West Bank, where it is an active government agency that tries to dispossess Palestinians, and take their land and transfer it to Jews. Inside Israel it is a very vast landowner; every land that is owned by the JNF is a land that only Jews can have. For example, in the Galilee, where the JNF owns land, there are many settlements, and the JNF can force the settlement, and forces the settlement not to accept any Arabs into their settlement under that law. It is a very important tool of colonization, in the past and in the present. And in the present it is a kind of custodian of the Jewish character of the land, which has many implications for Palestinians.
Q: So it enforces the apartheid regime?
I would say it is the main agency of apartheid in Israel.
Q: The US is interested in pushing its economic policies, privatization, free trade zones, in the Middle East, and also in Iraq. What is the role of Israel in pursuing these policies and pushing them in the Middle East?
I think it is a double role. One is that the Israeli chiefs of the economy, about ten years ago, decided to install in Israel a very extreme model of a Reaganite economy. That by itself serves a lot of American interests. But more important, I think, is the fact that Israel is playing through the American intervention either in Iraq, but also in countries such as Egypt and the Gulf states, and so on, a very important role in solidifying the capitalist system of a new Middle East. The reason that Israel can play such an important role in such a future is both because it has succeeded in selling itself to the Americans as an Orientalist country. That is to say a country, which knows the Arabs well. So if you want to have business in the Arab world, you’d better have some Israeli advisors, or you’d better have your headquarters in Israel because we understandyou, and we understand the Arab world. That’s one way.
The second reason is that the Israeli financial institutes, the high-tech institutes, and so one, are so more advanced in that respect, that they will benefit, and are benefiting already, from that kind of capitalist economy, whereas more traditional economic sectors of the Arab world are going to suffer. It is like taking two societies in a very different economic capacity, and imposing them on this free market ideology, which doesn’t give equal opportunities but rather says: we are all starting from the same departure point, but of course we are not equal in our resources and abilities. And in that respect the Israeli economic system has such a big advantage that I am afraid, that given the chances, it can really exploit the situation in such a way that would even alienate Israel further from the Arab world.
Q: Are you familiar with the role of Intel building a plant on Palestinian land?
Yes, I think this is one the reasons that the divestment movement in the US targeted several projects, in order to bring the message home to the American public, that it is not just a genuine American policy that supports the Israeli Occupation, that people are making money out of the Israeli Occupation. Caterpillar was one example with these huge machines that were used for 48 years to destroy houses on the one hand, wipe out villages and construct apartheid wall.
And Intel is another place where, we have to understand, there is very limited space in the Occupied Territories. And when that space is confiscated, for the sake of creating industrial plants, these industrial plants are serving two purposes. One is to employ Palestinian workers in conditions which are much cheaper to the employers, than they would be in Israel, because the Histadrut does not provide them any protection as workers. And the other way is because land is so cheap, and when you have a land like Intel in the Occupied Territories, that means they don’t pay any taxes. So the profits are very very high if you move a section of your business into the Occupied Territories. This is just a model for the future, it won’t end there. This is, I think, a very important part of the American direct support for the Occupation.
Q: Is there any opposition in the Jewish working class to Zionism?
Not really, unfortunately. There used to be. When the Communist Party was active and strong, in the 1950s and 1960s, it succeeded in convincing workers that there is a direct link between Zionism and workers interests. However, as I describe the process by which the working class is made up of Jews and non-Jews who still think that their ticket for integration is through nationalism, and not through working-class consciousness, I think that we have to admit that in this sense there is no good news to report.
Q: The supporters of Israel, left supporters of Israel, basically say that the two-state solution is the only real possibility for Israel, and that’s why they push its support in the US. What is your answer to that?
I can see a support for a two-state solution emerging, immediately after the Six-Day war, when Israel did not yet annex the East Jerusalem, did not yet build one Jewish settlement in it. There was a lot of logic of saying that despite, despite the fact that it is only 20% of Palestine could be a basis for a Palestinian state, next to Israel, and that these two states, in the future, would develop in such a way that they might turn it into one state, and even find a way of solving the refugees problem. But this is all water under the bridge.
In 2005, with the number of Jewish settlements, with the Greater Jerusalem becoming one third of the West Bank, and the local, and global, and regional balances of power, I think a two-state solution can only become an indirect way for continuing the Occupation. And as I said before, if we understand that the diplomatic effort has deepened the Occupation, has not brought an end to it, so in the case of the two-state solution we have to liberate ourselves from that paradigm. It can only help the Occupation and the Zionist colonization, and only the beginning of ideas of one-state solution can create a different future there.
Q: The US government has had large numbers of neo-cons, Zionists, Wolfowitz…First of all, what do you think about that role of these people inside the US government, and the whole situation as far as the US expansion of war in the Middle East?
I think that neo-conservatism is mainly a product of the Cold War, and I think as happened in Israel, so in the US, a lot of people benefit economically, sociologically, politically, from a situation of conflict which begins with the producers of arms, and it ends with the people who have a hold on the decision-making apparatus in the name of national security.
And of course this was all lost in a way when the Soviet Union collapsed, and the cold war ended. And I think this group of people were looking for a new bogey man, a new threat to the national security of the US and they found it because of the very strong influence, I think, of Israel among other things, in the Arab world and the Islamic world. Of course, movements such as the Islamic Al-Qaeda did not help. They provided the pretext, and the context for even pushing these ideas even further. And what we have now is the same people, a next generation, who would do all they can to perpetuate the conflict, because they benefit from the conflict. They benefit from situations of wars, of conflicts, and so on, and I think this is what enforces their hold over the American policy making in the world at large, and in the Middle East in particular.
Of course, in the Middle East, they are aided by another group of people, the Christian Zionists which should not be underrated, where it comes from a more deep fundamental religious ideology, when these forces fused together you have a very aggressive American policy in the Middle East which has all the features of the colonialist policy in the late 19th century, and will end in the same way I think. People will learn that you cannot occupy and colonize for too long.
But it is very disturbing because any American action in the Middle East also complicates the relations between the US and the Muslim world at large, and I think destabilizes the world. And when we talk about destabilization, it means that the human societies do not attend to their crucial problems, but rather deal with problems which are made up by people such as the neo-cons. Problems that would not really exist, I mean there is not really that much of a cultural clash between Muslims and Americans, but it serves very well the neo-cons through political scientists such as Samuel Huntington to say that there is a fundamental clash. We are not talking here about two human societies, but rather of 'aliens and humans.’ You know, you go to Hollywood, to the American television, and you can see how the cultural production has come, how the cultural production reinforces these images, which serve the capitalist interests of neo-cons and their allies.
Q: Have you been surprised about the media in the US, the way they present the Palestinian situation and the Israeli situation?
Yes, I was surprised because I remember different chapters in the American media coverage of the Middle East in the 50s and the 60s, which I think was better. But what really surprises me was not so much the bias I was prepared for the bias, I was not prepared for the stupidity, I mean for the superfluous. You know, it is almost like an insult to intelligence the way they describe things there. It is not even by taking sides. I would have understood taking sides, like saying this is a situation: we describe it as it is, but we take the Israeli side. I would have been against it, I don’t think it is a fair media coverage, but at least it comes from somewhere. But what we have here is a very simple, childish, way of describing this as a kind of a war between the forces of evil and the forces of good. Almost, there is no difference between Star Wars foes in Hollywood and the way the major TV channels here describe the situation there on the ground. That, as I said, is an insult to intelligence.
Q: The majority of Americans were in favor, initially of supporting the war in Iraq. What was the situation in Israel: is there a growing opposition to this invasion?
I think the support in Israel was even stronger than in America. It was quite amazing to read the Israeli press, and to hear Israelis being very enthusiastic before the invasion of Iraq, and after the invasion of Iraq. If you want, one can define the Israeli sentiment as, 'now the Americans will understand that.’ So don’t expect any opposition in Israel to the war in Iraq. There is no opposition whatsoever, there is only support; much more than there is in the US. Of course, I did not talk about the Palestinians in Israel who were totally against the war, or some other Jews. There is an interesting group of Iraqi Jews who signed a petition against the war, showing solidarity to Iraqis for being Iraqis, knowing that the war would kill a lot of Iraqis, but, unfortunately, there was no continuation for that. I was among several dozens of people, we demonstrated against the war, but it is really a pathetic number, it is not very impressive.
Q: Is this economic crisis ,the privatization, the taxes on the Israeli working-class, had any kind of reverberation politically?
It’s surprising how we are all waiting for it to happen. Israelis have the widest gap between the haves and the haves-not index of social and economic inequality in the Western World, so to speak, Israel is number one. You would expect that this would produce some sort of social protest, to be translated, and every now and then it was, like in the time of the Israeli Panthers, the Black Panthers movement, and before that. But every time this is done, the Israeli government is doing one or two things: it creates a situation of war so that these social protests will not mature, and that’s one of the reasons why the Israeli army went into such a harsh response against the second uprising in the Territories, in 2000, because of the relative calm the social protests were sanctioning , especially in the development towns where most of the African Jews live and work, or do not work because the unemployment is very high. And that’s one thing they do.
The second thing they do, they try to employ some kind of election policies’ economics, which give a lot of benefit to people for a very short period before elections to silence down people. But I think it won’t help them in the long run. Twenty-five percent of the Israelis have a very acceptable, even high standard of living, which is a large number compared to many societies in the Third World. And that gives the Israeli political system some sort of stability. But 75% live very close, if not below, what we call in Israel, the poverty line. And this gap eventually will explode. Now, one of the reasons it does not explode, as I said before, is the Israeli ability to create a continuous situation of conflict, so that you are not allowed to deal with your social and economic problems. But I don’t think it will hold water for too long.
Q: What is the role of the Labor Party in this coalition government?
There was a good article today in 'Ha’aretz’ by Gideon Levy who, I think rightly, said to people who are voters of the Labor Party, to vote for the worst people they can. There is now an actual competition for leadership. And he said, 'don’t vote for anyone who relatively may keep this party alive’ and he gave the names. 'Vote for these people, they are surely going to destroy the party, once and for ever, which is the only chance for building on its ruins a genuine Labor Party’. And this is typical of Levy who always knows how to articulate things better than we all, really summarizes the situation of the Labor party. It’s a shadow party of the Likud, it’s a party that believes in capitalism, and a free market model of the worst kind; it’s support of the Occupation, it has nothing to offer. Any day that this party is alive prevents any other political, genuine political force of socialism from emerging in Israel as an alternative.
Q: That sounds like the Democratic Party.
Yes. I mean I am not a great expert on America, but yes, that’s my feeling. I watch the Democrats and the Republicans, within a very limited prism as an Israeli, but definitively it is true, and, unfortunately, of some of the social democratic parties in Europe as well.