Mr. Miko Peled
Transcript No. 368 (21 June 2012)
21 June 2012
The Palestine Center
Mr. Miko Peled:
Thank you all for being here this afternoon. I see most of you are a lot more sensible than I and are not wearing a suit. I think on my next visit to D.C. I’ll be better prepared when it comes to that. Especially if it’s in the summer; there is got to be something wrong with a society that wears this and turns on the air conditioning and wastes all that energy. Something is wrong here.
I always like to begin my talk with a little disclaimer. The disclaimer is that if you came expecting to hear a balanced presentation, then you may as well ask for your money back. This is not a balanced presentation. Frankly, I don’t really believe that a balanced presentation on this particular issue is possible. If anybody says that their presentation is balanced, I think they are lying to themselves or lying to their audience. This is a very, very, very emotional, very complicated, very guttural issue. Whether you are Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish, or not Jewish, it really makes no difference. Many people who have never even been there have strong opinions and strong feelings on this. For me, it is a very personal issue as well. So, I like to put that upfront so that people don’t come back later and say, “Yes, but he wasn’t balanced.” Well he is not balanced. And like I said, I really don’t believe anybody is on this issue.
You know, I have been talking a lot about the book and the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And the issue of Zionism is a big part of that of course. My grandfather signed the [Israeli] Declaration of Independence, he was a Zionist leader, he immigrated to Palestine, he was a young Zionist back in the day, almost 100 years ago. As we know, Zionism is the movement to allow Jewish people to return to their homeland.
And the notion of Jewish people returning is quite acceptable when we talk about it to people today, certainly. Now of course, these are not the same Jewish people who were exiled, it’s not even their descendants because they all died several thousand years ago. But it’s people who claim Jewish heritage, or connection to Jewish heritage, who were persecuted in Europe. Of course, persecution was a serious problem in Christian Europe for Jews, as we know. And therefore, the notion of Zionism became more accepted, but today it’s certainly acceptable.
But somehow when we talk about the right of return of Palestinians, when we try to apply the same notion of return to Palestinians, people suddenly stand up and say, “This is completely unacceptable.” Which is interesting. The Palestinians who were displaced 65 years ago, many of them are still alive. Certainly their descendants are alive. So, if they are allowed to return, we are talking about actual people who were displaced. And whether you think they are displaced or whether you think they left on their own, regardless, they had to leave their homes, their homes are there. The right to return is something that we should respect. But somehow, when we talk about the Palestinian issue, even though there is a precedent with the Jewish issue with Zionism, it is unacceptable.
So there is a bit of a double standard here really. Why is it okay for one nation to return but not okay for another nation to return? And one of the claims that is made is of course, well there’s a demographic threat. If all these Arabs come into Israel, then that constitutes a threat to Israeli Jews somehow. But as Jews were immigrating into Palestine, and then later when it became Israeli, into Israel, that didn’t seem to bother anybody that there was a demographic threat being presented to the Palestinian population. And all the Jews immigrating into Palestine, into Israel, over the last 65 or 70 years presented a serious demographic threat, but somehow that never appeared as an issue to others. So once again, this whole issue is somehow mired in double standard and mythology, and I think in a serious lack of honesty.
Now one of the crowning, if not the crowning, achievement of the Zionist movement was this [slide]. It was the decision by the United Nations, or the resolution taken by the United Nations, in November of 1947 to partition Palestine into two states: an Arab state and Jewish state. And this is what it looks like. The reason it was such a crowning achievement is because it gave recognition to the right of Jews to have a homeland in their historical homeland, to have a state in their historical homeland. This was a very, very important diplomatic achievement for the Zionist movement.
Now the interesting thing is this. At the time, the Jewish community constituted about half a million people. The Palestinian Arab community constituted of about 1.2 or 1.3 million people. So it was by far the larger of the two communities. Yet the United Nations felt that it was right to give the larger portion of the country to the smaller community, which is a little strange. And the expectation was that the Palestinian community would somehow accept this. I don’t know what kind of expectation this was, or why anybody thought that would work. I think that when you look at the map it speaks for itself. It’s an absurd situation that couldn’t possibly have worked. But that is not the topic of my comments today. But I think this map really demonstrates how difficult it was.
Now, the two communities were somewhat on parallel lines. They were really two states in the making. As far as the Jewish community goes, they managed to develop an education system, a healthcare system, an [elected] assembly, an executive branch, all the markings of a democratic state to be. My grandfather was one of the founders of the health ministry and developed the healthcare system. And he was the defacto health minister at the time before the state was established.
But the one thing that the Jewish community developed that the Palestinians didn’t develop was a fighting force, a militia. The Haganah and the Palmach constituted of many thousands of young men and women who were very well trained, reasonably well equipped, and most importantly were very, very well indoctrinated. They were indoctrinated to believe in Zionism, to believe in the right of the Jewish people to return to their homeland, and in their role as deliverers, so to speak, of this right of this land back to the Jews. So then, after the United Nations gave its approval for the creation of a Jewish state, this militia began an extensive campaign of ethnic cleansing to rid the country of its Arab population in order to create a Jewish majority, in order to create a Jewish state that has as much of the land as possible with as little of the population as possible.
Now the story is – and again we talked about the double standard and the lies and the mythology that has developed around this issue – the story is that the small Jewish community was attacked by Arab countries. The story also is that the Palestinians who were displaced had left because their leaders had told them they had to leave, hoping to come back once they got rid of the Jews. And that somehow, the small Jewish militia managed to fight off these Arab countries, fight off the threat, conquer the land, displace the people, destroy more than 500 towns and villages, all this while under attack by all these big Arab armies. And then when you take a look at what happened between the end of 1947 and the end of 1948, it just doesn’t fit. It just doesn’t work. In a twelve-month period, they were able to conquer 80 percent of the country, displace almost a million people, destroy upwards of 500 towns and villages – and some of these towns were over 1,000 years old – destroy houses, destroy mosques, destroy hospitals, destroy schools… How were they able to do all this if there were being attacked from the outside, accomplish so much in a twelve-month period? Now the Zionists couldn’t claim that God was on their side because they were secular. These were Jews who left God outside, in exile.
Yet, at the end of 1948, beginning of 1949, of course, there was a Jewish state, and there was a very, very serious refugee problem. The Palestinians who did remain in the country, within Israel, suddenly, from owners of the land, became this unwanted, discombobulated community, who are now living at the graces of the new landlord. And they were given the term “the Arabs of Israel.” In other words, they just happened to be Arabs and they happened to be in Israel. They have no other identity; they have no connection to the land. They’re not Palestinians. They are Arabs of Israel, which means that they live at the favor of Israel.
And it’s interesting, I had a really interesting conversation with an older Jewish couple in San Diego, big supporters of Israel. And they were saying, “You know, look at the Arabs in Israel and how well they are doing. In fact, they are doing so well that they don’t even want to leave.” You would be hard-pressed to find a house, a school, a hospital, a highway, a shopping mall in any of the Palestinian communities within Israel that was built over the last 70 years. I don’t know if zero investment, but very close to zero investment was made [in Palestinian communities]. While at the same time, towns and highways and malls and schools are being built all around them, but for Israeli Jews. The neglect that these communities suffer is criminal. The poverty levels are far below the national average of the poverty levels within Israel. So somehow this myth – again, that somehow they’re happy and that is why they don’t leave – they don’t leave because it’s their land. And this was the reality which had existed since the end of 1948.
Now this is my mother, when she was young. She is 85 years old now. And one of the stories that she has always told me, it’s in the book. I put this story in the book because it is so moving and it was so important. I remember her telling me this story over and over again as a child. She was born and raised in Jerusalem, and during the war my father was fighting, he was an officer in the Palmach – in the Hagganah. And she was living in a small apartment with her mother with two small children. Just for living with her mother and two small children in that apartment she deserves a gold medal, but that’s beside the point.
As the Palestinian communities in West Jerusalem were being, what they call, “cleansed,” forced into exile, leaving, as they all left, their homes remained. And if you’ve been to Jerusalem then you know that there are certain neighborhoods where these homes are still there. These were beautiful homes – beautiful homes, with large gardens in the back and a lemon tree in the front. And she recalls as a child walking through these neighborhoods on a Saturday morning and seeing the families and so on.
Well, when these homes became available, she was offered one of these homes. They were taken over by the Israeli forces and they were offered to Israeli families who needed them and of course she had two young children and a husband on the front lines, so she was offered one of these homes. And her comment to me was, “How could I possibly take the home of another mother? How can I take the home of another family? Can you imagine how much this family must miss their home, living in exile as they do?” She would comment on the Israeli trucks full of loot driving by. She couldn’t get over the shame. “How are they not ashamed to drive around, to take the loot this way, and empty these homes?”
As I was working on the book and as I was researching all of this material, this story was in the back of my head the whole time. And of course I spoke to her over and over again over the last months and days leading up to the book to hear this story again. But what’s interesting about this story is not only that she made a very moral decision at a very young age– I mean think about it, you get a free home with no mortgage when you’re twenty two and you have two children and you say, “No.” But what she did for me, growing up, was she placed the Palestinian on an even plateau with Israelis, with everybody else. In other words, if something is wrong, it’s wrong. We shouldn’t do it to anybody else. It’s not because we’re Israelis, it’s okay for us, and this is very different from the way Israelis are taught about Palestinians, and we’ll talk about that in a little bit. But that was a very important part in I think the formation of my point of view, and the formation of me as a person. Her story and then it also lends itself, of course, to the Palestinian narrative of what happened in 1948.
I’m going to move ahead now, 20 years, this [slide] is my father. In the early 1960’s, he remained in the Israeli army. The militia – the Hagganah– became the Israeli army after Israel was established as a state. 20 years later he was a general, and during the early to mid-sixties, there was a sense that war was in the air again. There was going to be war – there was a huge military buildup in Israel. He was in charge of logistics and armaments. So he had a big part in the military build-up on the Israeli side.
And the story that we hear about 1967, we learn it in Israel, we hear it here all the time, this is the acceptable story, is that once again the small state of Israel, the small Jewish state, was attacked by Arab armies, intending to destroy it, and once again, miraculously, this small Jewish state was able to defeat and destroy three Arab armies, conquer huge tracts of lands, triple the size of the country in fact, kill over 15,000 Arab soldiers, compared to 700 Israeli casualties – 15,000 in 6 days – and amass what was the biggest stockpile of Russian made arms outside of the soviet union at the time. And they did it in 6 days! And once again they can’t claim that it was God, because these are secular people. But in the mythology of being Jewish, and in the mythology of being Israel, this fits very well, because that’s what happened in 1948. That’s what happened when the Maccabees fought the Greeks. That’s what happened with David and Goliath. This is a long line of victories, of unlikely victories, that we as a minority have been able to achieve. So this is yet another one of them. Because we are the descendants of the Maccabees and King David and so on.
Now, a lot has been written about that period leading up to the Six Day War. Israelis are, I think it’s perfectly fair to say, obsessed with the days leading up to that war. Books upon books, documentaries upon documentaries, Hebrew and English, and I’m sure in Arabic a lot have been written too. And so as I was working on the book, I went to the Israeli army archives to take a look at my father’s career.
Actually I have to give credit to Amira Hass who suggested that I do that. But I went in to see all about his career – I mean he had a long and interesting military career, but I was really intrigued about what actually took place, the minutes of the meeting leading up to the war are available, they’re open. So I went to read it. And I’ve read all of the other books and I didn’t expect to find anything new, but when you read them as they come up, you actually see the minutes, the typewriter on the paper, and it was my father’s name coming up over and over again so it was interesting.
Now his role in the push for war became something of a legend. He was one of two or three generals who were very persistent in pushing the Israeli cabinet to approve a preemptive strike and begin the war. Not only did he say it in no uncertain terms but he probably also crossed the line that a general should[n’t] cross when speaking to a prime minister – when speaking to the elected civilian government. He wasn’t the only one but he was very outspoken, and that was his legacy.
So as I read the minutes of the meeting – several meetings – there was one item that I had never seen, I had never heard before. And that was where he claims, and other generals claim, that the Egyptian army is not prepared for war, that the Egyptian army is placing itself in danger by coming in close to us. Because what had happened if you recall, is [Egyptian] President [Gamal Abdel] Nasser kicked the [United Nations] (U.N.) peacekeeping forces from the Sinai, brought Egyptian troops into the Sinai which was supposed to be demilitarized and threatened to close the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships going up to Eilat, which constituted a breach of the ceasefire agreement between the two countries and really a cause for war… if you’re a military man. The cabinet saw it differently. The cabinet felt that it was important to pursue diplomatic means to end this conflict.
But I had never seen that small item, that the Egyptians were not prepared for war. The claim is that the Egyptians are advancing an ill-prepared army, that they need at least a year and a half to two years in order to be prepared for war. And what he was blaming the Prime Minister with, he said, you’re being hesitant is encouraging him to proceed. We need to be more assertive and you need to give us the green light to attack. And then he said, “How dare you doubt the ability of this army that had never lost in battle? Why do we have to suffer this disgrace… this army that has delivered so much?”
This tug of war between the two forces went on for some time and of course as we know, eventually the government, the Israeli Cabinet, did give the green light. The Israeli army attacked the Egyptians, destroyed the Egyptian Army, took the Sinai in a matter of days, and then went on to take the West Bank and the Golan Heights.
Another interesting fact that comes up is that the generals on their own decided to take the West Bank and the Golan Heights, not waiting for government approval. There was no reason, that was not a part of the plan. There was no such plan. This was a decision that was taken by the generals themselves. But because it was so successful, of course, nobody ever said anything. The West Bank was a sore spot for Israeli generals who were young officers in 1948, and they felt it was a terrible shame, a big mistake that the West Bank wasn’t taken in 1948. Because militarily Israel had the capability of doing it but politically they decided not to, [David] Ben Gurion [first prime minister of Israel] decided not to. And they felt it was a sore spot for them, they felt it was an opportunity that was missed, and they wanted to finish the job, and that’s what they did, pushed the Israeli eastern boundary to the Jordan River.
And I have this great picture here [slide], this is right after the victory. So just to reiterate one more time, this country that you hear about, that was attacked by Arab armies in six days, tripled the size of the country, destroyed three Arab armies, killed over 15000 soldiers, and was able to deliver for the first time after 2000 years the entire land of Israel back to the Jewish people.
And these are the young men, these are the young generals, who did this. And the reason this picture is so interesting is because the man in the center, Zalman Shazar, was the president of the State of Israeli in those days. The President is kind of a symbolic position in Israel, but he was a man who did a lot. He was an important Zionist, he was a cabinet member before that. But he represents an older generation. And between the cabinet members and the generals, there was a generational thing. The cabinet members were all like him: they were older, they all came from exile, they came from Eastern Europe most of them, they never touched a gun, never lifted a gun in their lives. And they raised these young generals who by then were in their early 40’s to deliver, and they delivered.
And here he is standing with these wonderful generals, these new Jews that had delivered the land of Israel, including what is considered the crown jewel, which is the Old City of Jerusalem, back to Jewish hands. So from their perspective this was a huge accomplishment, historical accomplishment, hard to describe in words. But the fact remains that there was no attack and there was no threat. The notion of an existential threat was put out there by the military in order to pressure the cabinet. They knew there was no threat, they said there was no threat. Later on, in years after the war many of them admitted that there was no threat, the whole notion of a threat was something that was developed for other reasons. And that the Egyptian Army, by crossing the Suez Canal into the Sinai Peninsula, did not put Israel at threat; they put themselves at a threat, because it allowed the Israeli army to destroy them and attack them. And you can imagine the lines of supplies into the desert, and so on and so forth, this is 45 years ago. But then another interesting thing happened.
On the day of the very first meeting of the generals after the war, the very first weekly meeting that they had, the general’s staff, my father said, “We now have an opportunity to solve the Palestinian problem once and for all. The local Palestinian leadership is prepared to negotiate a peace-deal with Israel if we allow them to establish a state within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” In principle Israel and the Zionist movement already accepted the notion of partition. “These are our natural allies; it will be the first Arab state to live in peace with Israel and we have to take this opportunity to protect our own Jewish democracy.” He said this over and over again, and eventually [Israeli General Yitzhak] Rabin, who was the Chief of Staff, took him aside, and said, “You know what? This is not the climate to talk about giving the land back, this is not the right political climate.”
What we know today is that immediately after the war, huge settlement projects began, expanding the boundaries of Jerusalem and in the West Bank and so on. A huge settlement expansion began pretty much right after the war was over, with the intention to make those conquests irreversible, with the intention of making the conquest of the West Bank permanent.
Basically this [slide] is what happened in 1967. Palestine was erased and the entire country became Israel. And by the way, when you look at Israeli textbooks, Israeli geography books, and so on, or if you go on a trip, on a hike to one of the natural reserves in Israel, and you pick up a map, this is the map. This is Israel, the entire thing is Israel. Rarely will you ever find the name of a Palestinian town, rarely will you see mentioned the name of a Palestinian institution, like a university, rarely will you see any information about Palestinian populations, and so on. This became Israel and Palestine was wiped off the face of the earth, with one problem of course: there were still millions of Palestinians living there.
My father retired in 1969, and then he went on to talk about the need for a resolution of the Palestinian problem through, as we call it today, the two state solution. And almost in the mid-1970’s, in 1974, [Palestinian leader] Yasser Arafat, who led the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization], made a strategic decision which was to explore the possibility of making peace with the Zionist state through a dialogue with Zionist Israelis like my father. It was my father, Uri Avnery, several other prominent Zionists who felt like this was the most important strategic objective that Israel has: to allow the Palestinians a Palestinian state in the West Bank so that we do not have to be an occupying power, so that we can maintain our Jewish democracy, this Jewish democracy which they have fought so hard to achieve.
One of the things my father said was, “If we do not make peace with the Palestinians, if we don’t allow their national desires to materialize, we will become an occupying power and this will have detrimental effects on the moral fiber of the state and the moral fiber of the Israeli Army which will become inevitably a brutal occupying power, because resistance is bound to develop,“ and when resistance develops than the Israeli army has to fight it, and you get yourself into this cycle of violence.
The man he met with was Issam Sartawi. My dad’s on the left [of the slide], Dr. Sartawi’s on the right. He was the Palestinian ambassador, the PLO ambassador to Paris, and for many, many years, as I’m sure some of you know, there was a wonderful dialogue – a very fruitful dialogue – except for one thing. On the Palestinian side these were official delegates of the PLO and on the Israeli side these were people who were actually renegades. The Israeli government was kept abreast of the discussions but had absolutely no interests, whatsoever, in pursuing a peace with the Palestinians, or with anyone else for that matter.
The change in Israeli policy began when it was absolutely certain that there was no chance in the world that a Palestinian state could actually be established. Once the investments, and the settlements, had made the West Bank an integral part of the rest of Israel, then you heard Israeli politicians like Rabin and [current Israeli President Shimon] Peres, suddenly they had a want to negotiate with the PLO. Suddenly they had the willingness to negotiate and discuss a Palestinian state, but they knew for certain that a Palestinian state was no longer a viable possibility. How did they know? They created that reality.
And I think it’s important to note here, that Israeli is famous I think for its three “no’s.” The three no’s were established by the most moderate, peace-loving, or whatever, peaceful, peace-leaning Israeli government: 1) No to negotiating on the Jordan River Valley, which is about a third of the West Bank; 2) No to negotiating the expanded boundaries of East Jerusalem, which is another 10 to 15 percent of the West Bank; 3) No to negotiating on the major settlement blocs, which are a big chunk of the West Bank. And these three no’s mean one thing: no to a Palestinian state. And when they knew for certain that this was not a possibility, then in the early 1990’s, and the mid-1990’s, with [the] Oslo [Accords] and so on, then they began talking and negotiating.
Two years after my father passed away, my family had its first encounter with terrorism, where my niece, my sister’s little girl, Smadar, was killed by suicide bombers. So she was in Jerusalem, it was 4 September, right after school started. She went to buy school books with some friends. Two young Palestinians blew themselves up on Ben Yehuda Street.
Now this was big news for several reasons. Number one: she was the granddaughter of a famous general. Number two: she was the granddaughter of “Mr. Peace-with-Palestine.” So, “He was Mr. Peace-in-Palestine, and they showed him, didn’t they?” This was the attitude.
And so my sister’s apartment in Jerusalem was jam-packed with reporters, and mourners, and so on, but a lot of reporters, from morning to night. And the first thing my sister said was, well, she said two things. First thing she said was this. She was asked about retaliation and revenge and so on, and she said, first of all, she said, “No real mother would ever want this thing to happen to another mother. Don’t talk to me about retaliation.” And then she was asked, would she be willing to meet and talk with the other side. And she said, “No. But the other side is not the Palestinians. The other side is [Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin] “Bibi” Netanyahu (who was prime minister then), and the Israeli government, who brought these Palestinians to a point where they would kill themselves and take other civilians with them. The brutality of the occupation, the oppression of the people, the lack of hope with which these people have to live, with which these young Palestinians have to grow up, is what brought them to kill themselves and kill my daughter and therefore I point a finger at my own government and I will not discuss, and I will not talk to them, because they are the other side.”
Now this of course created even more news, and more reporters came. And The [Los Angeles] Times suddenly wrote about her, and The New York Times, and everybody. It was a big deal. But she put us all on a path, she put the entire family on the path which, me living in the U.S. at that time, forced me to suddenly stop and think, “I want to do something too. Something has to be done; we all have to do something.”
Now, it’s very easy for me, well, it’s relatively easy for me to come here and talk like this today. Many of you who are Jewish would know that this is actually very difficult to say as a Jewish person, to criticize Israel like this, to admit the crimes of the State of Israel, to admit the crimes of the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces], to realize that the State of Israel is actually capable of these things. But this wonderful myth that Israel is a wonderful democracy, that it is always being attacked, that it is always under threat, is a lot easier. And this is what we were raised to believe.
And the good fortune that I had was that in San Diego, [California], there was a Jewish-Palestinian dialogue group which I decided to join and it was in that environment that I began to hear about the Palestinian narrative. So it wasn’t in a, you know, some kind of debate where someone was pointing their finger and saying, “You did this, you did this, you did this, you did this. We accuse you because you are an Israeli.” It was, “Here is what happened to my family, here is what happened to me, here is what happened to my grandparents,” which is an entirely different thing. And this is how I learned and of course it was not easy, it was painful and difficult, but that was the process by which I really began that journey.
I was born and raised in Israel and in San Diego in the year 2000 was the first time I had ever sat with Palestinians, ever actually met and sat with Palestinians in a normal setting to just talk. You know, the claim is that Jerusalem became united and mixed. It’s united and it’s mixed, but it’s also very segregated. So Israelis and Palestinians never actually do anything together and they never meet each other.
So I began with dialogue in San Diego, and then I ventured in the West Bank and I ventured into Palestinian communities within Israel to learn more and that was kind of the beginning of my journey. And one of the things that I saw, one of the first things that I noticed, was as I was going into the Palestinian Territories, at every point there was this big sign right by the checkpoint. Now notice, the [slide’s] sign is in Hebrew. It’s huge. It’s white over red and it reads this way, it says, “This road leads into Area A which is under Palestinian control. Entry for Israelis is forbidden, it risks your life, it endangers your life, and it is a felony!!” Two exclamation marks. So if the fact that it endangers your life and is a felony wasn’t enough to stop you, the two exclamation marks will, for sure.
And this is only in Hebrew, in other words, it only endangers your life if you are an Israeli. So if you’re a sensible person, you take a look and you go home. You turn around and you walk back. I mean, who would go through this? It’s dangerous. There’s probably, you know, shooting and fighting, and who knows what, on the other side, right? And then you find yourself in Ramallah, or in El-Bireh, or in Bethlehem, and you go, “There are people here and there are schools here and people go to work and there are traffic jams and taxis and, you know, markets.” And the thought began to develop in my mind, “Perhaps this was by design. Perhaps somebody does not want to see reconciliation; somebody does not want to see the two sides meet.”
[Slide] This is a new sign, notice that it is also in Hebrew. I’m sure many of you have heard of Bilin and El-Bisarah, these towns, these villages, where there is an ongoing non-violent resistance every single week. So this road is called the ‘Apartheid Road,’ Route 443 I think it’s called, and the sign says that “by order of the Commanding General (the Commanding Officer) there is a prohibition on Israelis and Israeli vehicles to enter the Palestinian villages in the area.” Mind you, the road goes into settlements and that’s fine, there’s no danger there. But the prohibition is to go into Palestinian villages, knowing that Israelis go there in order to participate.
So what is the point of all this? If we don’t get together, how are we going to solve this? Which is exactly the point. Solving it is not part of what Israel wants to achieve.
I have this picture here [slide]- this is another story in the book- this is a good friend of mine who sat in prison for many, many years for killing two soldiers, stabbing to death two soldiers. Now, I was a soldier. And the story, the way with which he was able- he and a few others were able- to come up and kill two fully-armed, fully-equipped Israeli soldiers on guard, in other words, they were on guard somewhere in some spot, in some post, with knives. And the question that beckons is, well, who is the terrorist here?
Well obviously, he’s the terrorist, he sat in prison, the only reason he’s out of prison is he was released in one of these big prisoner exchanges that Israel had conducted with the PLO. But if you look at international law, he is not a terrorist because armed resistance against a racist, oppressive occupation is legal. And being part of an occupying army, and maintaining an entire population under a brutal occupation is illegal. He’s not the terrorist, I am. And of course he sat in prison, and one of the things Jamal was able to do, he’s shown me a lot about the prisoner, you cannot talk about Palestine without talking about the prisoners, without talking about the prisoner’s movement.
Thousands upon thousands of Palestinians still sit in Israeli prisons in violation of international law. Over 90 percent of them are not charged, or accused, of any violent crime. Over 90 percent of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons are not charged for violent crimes. These are political prisoners.
And this is because the majority of Palestinian resistance is not violent. This is a reflection of the reality which people often forget to notice. It’s another one of those double-standard myths, one of these lies, that Palestinian resistance means violence, that Palestinians are terrorists. The vast majority of Palestinian resistance to Israel has always been non-violent.
And this man [slide], his name is Abu Ali Shaheed, he’s one chapter from the last, he was pretty much… I met him through Jamal, I met him very late in the project and he was the [Palestinian political party] Fatah commander of the southern part of Israel leading up to 1967. And after the 1967 war, he and Yasser Arafat toured the country up and down to look at the cells and to look at the resistance and so forth and he was caught and put in prison. He was probably number two or number three on Israel’s most wanted list.
He was caught, he was put in prison, he was tortured, he sat in solitary confinement for almost 20 years. The reason I met him is because I was told that he went and visited my fathers’ grave and I had never heard of him, I thought, “Why did he visit my father’s grave?”
So I met him and over several days I recorded him and talked with him. His point was this: “Your father with his insistence that Israel must respect Palestinian rights washed the pain and washed the anger from my heart as a Palestinian who suffered the occupation, who suffered the massacres, who suffered all the injustice that Israel had placed upon my people.” He was still in prison for many years after that, but after he was released, on his own he would go and visit my father’s grave.
And there are another couple of stories in the book that connect him with my father, you’ll have to read the book, it’s a very good story, about Abu Ali Shaheed. He was the leader from the prison. You have probably all read about [former South African President] Nelson Mandela’s story, about how he led the ANC [African National Congress] from prison, and he led the prisoners’ movement and accomplished amazing things. If you don’t know about the Palestinian prisoners’ movement, you need to educate yourself because it is one of the most remarkable achievements of Palestinian society and Palestinians as a people.
And then, the very last chapter of my book talks about how do these two nations share a country. The reality is, half the population, or close to half the population are Palestinians and maybe a little bit over a half are Israelis. Projections are that in 20 years, Palestinians will be a majority. No one is going away.
The way this country is run right now is everybody is governed by one government, so it’s one state, there is no question about that. There is one government that governs the lives of every single person there, it’s the Israeli government. They have laws for Israeli Jews, which are liberal democratic laws, they have laws for Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, which are completely different laws. There is a lot of legalized and cultural discrimination against them, and then there are the laws that govern the lives of the people in the West Bank and Gaza, which are horrendous laws, military laws. They are governed by the military and there is no law that protects them.
The only way that we can get out of this that I can see, the only way that we move forward to the benefit of both sides is complete equal rights, a complete transformation from the Zionist racist state that exists today to a real pluralistic democracy where there are equal rights for everybody. That is the way forward. And I believe that people of conscience, people who believe in peace, people who want to see this problem solved need to focus their energies on accomplishing that, because that promises a bright future for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Thank you all very much.
Miko Peled is a writer and Israeli peace activist living in San Diego. His father was the late General Matti Peled, his grandfather Avraham Katsnelson signed the Israeli declaration of independence, and his niece Smadar was killed in a suicide attack in Jerusalem. He is the co-founder of the Elbanna-Peled Foundation in memory of Smadar Elhanan and Abir Aramin. He is a regular contributor to online publications including The Electronic Intifada, The Palestine Chronicle, and his website mikopeled.com.
This transcript may be used without permission but with proper attribution to The Palestine Center. The speaker’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.