No End in Sight
No End in Sight
Jon Elmer, FromOccupiedPalestine.org: I have just returned from, Muqata, Arafatâ€™s compound in Ramallah. When I spoke with people on the street who had come to express their solidarity with the besieged leader, they were unanimous in their belief that assassinating Arafat would be a disaster. One man said, "There will be an earthquake - not just in Israel, but all across the Arab world." Is the threat of assassinating Yasser Arafat just Israeli bluster or is it a real possibility?
Gideon Levy: Unfortunately it is a possibility, even if it happens by mistake when they come to expel him [and he resists]. But I donâ€™t think the consequences are the main issue. First of all, I think a democratic, lawful state, does not assassinate people. The whole discussion is disgusting in my view. He is the elected leader of the Palestinian people, and I am not sure that Sharon has less blood on his hands than Arafat. The whole idea of assassinating political leaders is really making me sick.
Elmer: But it does seem to be a discussion that is taking place throughout the whole of Israeli society. In a recent article you site a survey, from Israel's largest daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, saying that a majority of Israelis believe Arafat should be killed, and that a majority also believe that this will not stop terrorism, and may even increase it. What do these figures indicate to you?
Levy: People are brainwashed by the media. Time and again, they are told that Arafat is the only one who is guilty. The other day there was a cartoon in Ha'aretz showing a family stuck in their car, smoke coming out of their engine as they sat on the road, and the father says, "Oh, maybe we should assassinate Arafat." And thatâ€™s the idea: instead of [addressing] the real reasons for terror, the government and the media find all kinds of outlets, and one of them is Arafat. When people are so brainwashed, and they think he is the only obstacle to peace, it's very clear that they will be in favour of removing that obstacle.
Elmer: Is talk of assassinating an elected leader while carrying out a brutal occupation not incongruous with being "the only democracy in the middle east"?
Levy: Absolutely. I wrote an article a couple months ago with the title "Half a democracy", claiming that, just as you cannot be half-pregnant - you are either pregnant or you are not - you cannot be half-democratic. You cannot draw a line and say, I'm a democracy on a certain territorial line, and on the other side of this line I'm not democratic; or, I'm democratic only to one people and I'm not democratic to the other people who live in the same land.
It is a myth today [that Israel is a democracy]. Israel is a democracy - a real and liberal and full democracy - only to its Jewish citizens, only within the old Israel, within the 1967 borders. The rest [of Israel], on the other side of the line, is the farthest thing from a democracy. It is one of the most brutal, cruel regimes in the world today.
Elmer: You have written: "There is no Israeli who doesn't know that the past three years were the cruellest the Palestinian nation has known. Yet, amazingly, and depressingly, Rabin Square, the country's protest site, is empty. It's almost impossible to grasp the fact that more than a year has gone by without one mass demonstration against the occupation in the midst of such an outrageous reality... Apathy is an ominous portent" (The empty square, Ha'aretz, 7 Sept 2003). Can there be any chance of the occupation ending unless this changes? Is it up to Israeli citizens?
Levy: It could be up to the Israelis, it could also be up to the American administration. I wish there was an American administration that would force Israel to end the occupation, an administration that would save Israel from itself. But neither the Israelis nor the Americans are really doing anything. And I donâ€™t see any progress for the coming years, unfortunately.
There is another way to end the occupation - this is the worst of them - and this is when enough blood is shed. This might finally be the road.
Elmer: Do you believe that is possible? Do you believe terror attacks can shake the ground in Israel, can move it towards peace?
Levy: This is just what happened in Lebanon. If so many Israeli soldiers had not been killed, we would have stayed in Lebanon forever. And once it was too much, it was too much. But here [it will take] much more blood to end the occupation.
Elmer: Your colleague Amira Hass is the only Jewish reporter based in the Occupied Territories, and you yourself are one of, if not the only, Israeli reporter who routinely goes into the Territories to file stories. You have said, "the fact that the great majority of the media is oblivious to what's going on does not absolve Israeli citizens of responsibility." But how significant is this imposed silence on Israeli popular opinion?
Levy: It's crucial, because the first problem is lack of information. Israelis know, they have an idea, but they do not know everything. They are not well informed. The information that goes to them is usually twisted and one-sided. Take myths like, "there is no partner for peace", a myth that Ehud Barak spread. As long as people believe in this, the political consequences are critical. If we donâ€™t have a real partner - as Barak claimed, and as most Israelis believe - then we should stay [in the Occupied Territories], and we can be as cruel as we can. The problem starts with flow of information, which is twisted, partial, and very, very damaging.
Elmer: What the reaction to your work within Israel?
Levy: It has changed throughout the years. There is one thing that they have never claimed: that my facts are not facts. I was never blamed for telling false stories, but as Israel has become so apathetic, people just don't care anymore - and that's the worst of the worst.
I published a story last Friday  about a pregnant woman who gave birth in a checkpoint. I am going to publish another story (September 18) about another pregnant woman who gave birth in a checkpoint. The first one lost her child, the second one fortunately did not. Stories like this a few years ago would create some kind of reaction. Now, nothing. People don't care at all.
Elmer: Latest figures indicate that more than 10,000 children have been injured in the intifada (Palestine Monitor). Veteran war correspondent Chris Hedges wrote in his "Gaza Diaries" of Israeli soldiers taunting children in Khan Yunis, then shooting them: "Children have been shot in other conflicts I have covered - death squads gunned them down in el Salvador and Guatemala, mothers with infants were lined up and massacred in Algeria, and Serb snipers put children in their sights and watched them crumble on the pavement in Sarajevo - but I have never before watched soldiers entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport" (Gaza Diaries, Harpers, October 2001). Can you comment on this with your experience as a reporter in this conflict?
Levy: Unfortunately it's not far from the truth. Most Israeli soldiers don't treat the Palestinians as human beings. For them, they are the enemy - all of them. They treat them like animals. When you treat them like animals, the difference between a child and an adult... there is no difference. There is no difference between a young cow and an old cow, you treat them the same. Once you've lost your human touch, your attitude to treat them as human beings, then the difference between children and adults has vanished.
And here we stand. I see these things every week, again and again. And it's inevitable. As long as the occupation goes on, these things are inevitable.
Elmer: Israeli forces have beaten, arrested, imprisoned, shot dozens and killed five journalists since the beginning of the intifada, all of whom were clearly identifiable as journalists - James Miller was seen on AP footage carrying a white flag and yelling that he was a British journalist when he was shot point-blank by Israeli forces in Gaza. When Rafaelle Ciriello was killed during Operation Defensive Shield, the International Press Institute said that it was "part of a concerted strategy by the Israeli army to control reports on the recent surge in armed hostilities in the region". Are Israelis murdering journalists?
Levy: No, I think the Israeli soldiers are just trigger-happy. They don't direct it especially [toward] journalists. They kill anything that walks â€“ it can be journalists, it can be international solidarity activists, and it can be any Palestinian.
Elmer: You wrote recently, "Is their anyone who can make us stop the mad gallop down the path of blood?" In closing, can you answer that question?
Levy: I don't see him around.
Right now I don't see anyone who can lead drastic change in the public opinion.
Elmer: And things will continue to get worse? There is no end in sight?
Gideon Levy is a journalist for the Israeli daily Haâ€™aretz.
Jon Elmer is currently reporting from Israel-Palestine, and is the editor of FromOccupiedPalestine.org