Today we’re going to talk about the construction of the state of Israel, founded in 1948, and its historical, cultural, and political legacy. A state that took over a land that for seven centuries had been Muslim, engaged in a process of historical amnesia as well as ethnic cleansing, and has now devolved increasingly into an authoritarian, some would say even Jewish form of fascism.
And with me to discuss that process is the great Israeli peace activist, Miko Peled, born and raised in Jerusalem. His father fought in the Israeli war of independence, became a general in the Israeli defense force, and eventually rose up as a significant and extremely important peace activist in his own right, a great legacy to his children. Miko was in the military at the time of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. He served as a medic. And he has been one of the most courageous and outspoken voices for justice within Israeli society.
Thank you, Miko, for joining us.
HEDGES: We had spoke a little bit before the camera, that this progression into an assault on civil liberties, which has become extreme within Israel, the rise of politicians, Lieberman, Netanyahu, and others who are overtly racist, is in your words a kind of natural progression. And it’s one that is often hard to see because I knew when I was in the Middle East, some of the early figures as you probably did of the Israeli state, people like Teddy Kollek, [inadible] Rabin, Abba Eban, you know, well educated, urbane, Eban was in his own right an impressive intellectual. Talk a little bit about how that natural progression took place.
PELED: Well, I think that all of those early zionist leaders understood that in order to accomplish their goals they have to have this beautified package. And it was up to them to present this beautified package. This very civil, very western, very [crosstalk] liberal
PELED: Secular and open-minded face, and they did a very good job in doing it because they were secular, they were quite liberal. They were European, they were white. And so they’re very good at that.
PELED: And having had that mask so to speak, they were able to commit terrible atrocities. Now they’re committing these atrocities against people who were brown so nobody really cared that much.
HEDGES: Are you talking about 48?
PELED: I’m talking about the ethnic cleansing of ’48, basically, which is the foundation of the state of Israel. Without that there wouldn’t have been a state of Israel. There was a foundational moment, the massacres, the terrorism that that involved. And a state that begins with that, you know, [crosstalk] this is foundation much like the United States
HEDGES: [interceding]Well much like, the United States, although we threw slavery on top of it.
So, they understood that you know, in order to present yourself in civil society you have to look civil. Today’s Netanyahu and Bennett and all these guys, they don’t understand why they have to pretend because they’re getting all the money and all the support they need from America and from the Europeans. They’re doing quite well. They’re continuing the same policies, they’re continuing the same atrocities. Of course, they’ve got better technology so they’re killing more people, perhaps. But they don’t understand why, and [Eidan Papi] wrote this, and he said, you know they just dropped the facade, they’re the exact same people but they dropped the facade. And it’s true. They don’t understand why they need the facade, so they dropped it.
HEDGES: But let’s go back, because I covered Oslo. And perhaps my reading of Rabin is different than yours. It appeared to me, as a reporter that was covering Rabin, that he really did recognize that the occupation was destroying his country, and had a commitment to end it, he understood that he had to integrate as part of the Oslo agreement, the Palestinians into the Israeli economy to give them a stake in the culture in order to bring peace. And then of course, with the rise of Netanyahu he is being burned in effigy at Netanyahu rallies, dressed as a Nazi, and he’s assassinated. It does seem that there was, within Rabin, a kind of cathartic moment, a moment of recognition, but perhaps that’s not a narrative you agree with, I don’t know.
PELED: Yeah, my take is a little bit different.
PELED: I see Rabin as a terrible war criminal.
HEDGES: Well he was, without question.
PELED: Without question, who hated the Arabs, hated the Palestinians, despised them, looked down on them, and there was no way in hell he was going to allow them to establish an independent state in the West Bank.
HEDGES: So how do you read Oslo then?
PELED: Well Oslo was, Oslo I think did exactly what it was supposed to do, which was to strengthen Israeli hold on the land, on the resources, on the people, and give Israel more control, but bring in the Palestinian leadership to maintain some security, maintain some peace and quiet among the Arabs. And I remember when Oslo started, when Oslo came out, my father wrote an article saying Rabin crossed the Rubicon. You know, he shook Arafat’s hand, this is a great step. Later on, after he actually took a look at the Oslo Accords, there was an interview with him in one of the Israeli papers, and he said Rabin does not want peace. This is not a peace accord, this is an accord that’s going to keep the Palestinians completely [crosstalk] dependent on Israel
HEDGES: [Interceding] Because they kept the borders. Israel kept the borders.
PELED: Israel, I mean the Palestinians, there was nothing that was promised to them that was given them. They got no borders, they got no capital, they got no state.
HEDGES: And they were promised I think 5 billion dollars, which then never appeared, but that’s the fault in Europe. I mean, the European Union.
PELED: I mean, in terms of how Israel saw, they saw this as an opportunity to bring in the Palestinians, bring in Arafat and his people, to manage some of the problems, collect the trash, perhaps do one or two of the things, and give them very little authority. Palestinians got absolutely nothing from Oslo, and Israel got everything from Oslo. And people talk about Oslo as a process that failed, I disagree. I think Oslo did exactly what it was supposed to do, and the reality that exists today, life for Palestinians is far worse than it was and it is a direct result of Oslo, and I think Oslo was intending, that was an intention of Oslo.
I’ve got this picture that I have, of Clinton, Mubarak, King Hussein, Rabin, and Arafat all marching together on the red carpet in the White House, and when you look at that picture it says everything. There’s no way that those people are going to do anything, with the exception of Arafat perhaps, that was going to help the Palestinians. These were two vicious Arab dictators that were already in the pocket of Israel, an American president, which we know has to be in the pocket of Israel or else he wouldnt be president, and an Israeli war criminal.
So I was thinking, I remember when my father said this, Rabin does not want peace. Rabin was getting the Nobel Peace Prize. How could he say this? But he read the Accords, and like other people who read the Accords, he say them for what they were worth.
HEDGES: Boy, he was ahead of me then.
PELED: He was ahead of a lot of people. [crosstalk] He was ahead of a lot of people
HEDGES: [interceding]Lets talk a little bit about your father. So, he reaches a position, I mean, especially, Israeli is a militarized society so, you know, it’s not just rising within the military. You know, you achieve supreme social status by beingthis is how Rabin, of course, ends up becoming prime minister, Netanyahu living off the legacy of his brother who was killed in Entebbe in the raid, and he breaks with that establishment. And, you know, I’ve got to believe in, you wrote a book, “The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” that life became difficult for you and your family.
PELED: Yes. Less, well, maybe for me too, but a little bit less. He never thought that there was a break. The way he saw it, he thought that he was completely consistent in his entire life, and what led him to decide and say the things that he did say and think the way he thought was, what was best for the state of Israel? What was best for the Jewish state?
And he was a hawk his whole life. He was a young officer in 1948, you know. At one point before 1948 he left the Palmach, you know, the Jewish militia, because they weren’t doing enough. He thought they were just sitting around doing nothing so he left, he quit, which was unthinkable. And then he came back in ’47 and, of course, the war of independence began, so he joined back and he was in the military as an officers. And then he remained in the military and he dedicated his whole life to the military and then, in the weeks leading up to the ’67 war, he made a name for himself as the one who was the harshest critic of the Israeli government because the government was hesitating and not giving the generals the okay to start the war.
And I talk about it. I looked up these meanings in the Israeli army archives. The way he spoke to the prime minister was, you know, any other prime minister would have fired him and kicked him out, out of the room. So that was his legacy, and then the day after the war is over he stands up and he says, we now need to make peace [crosstalk] with the Palestinians.
HEDGES: [interceding] Well, we should be clear that the ’67 war saw the seizure of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
PELED: Yes, and the Sinai and the Golan [crosstalk] Heights
HEDGES: [interceding]And the Sinai and the Golan Heights, right
PELED: And then he stood up the next day after the war was over. In the very first meeting, the weekly meeting of the general high command, and he said we now have an opportunity to solve the Palestinian problem and here’s how we need to do it. We need to use the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and allow the Palestinians to establish their own state there. We will solve the problem once and for all and we can move on.
And he also said, if we don’t do this now we’re going to have terrible resistance. We’re going to have terrorism, and were going to end up being a binational state. It’s going to be the end of the Zionist state. And he felt very strongly that there should be a Jewish state, a Zionist state, and he was a Zionist until his last day. But, of course, as he was saying this the Israeli bulldozers were already destroying Palestinian towns and building for Jews only in the West Bank, and they really saw it as an extension of the rest of Israel.
The rest of the establishment, both the political and military establishment, saw the taking of the West Bank as completing the job of 1948, which they thought, you know, at the time, they thought it was a mistake that Israel didn’t take the West Bank. But anyway, for reasons that had to do with Israeli politics, not anything to do with the Palestinians, the West Bank wasn’t taken in ’48. So they completed the job. They had the opportunity and for them it was done. Now we build for Jews and get rid of these Arabs.
He saw it as an opportunity, and I think in a way he was naive. He though you could restrain this beast that was created, restrain this colonial beast that was established in Palestine, and of course you can’t restrain it, you know, it has a voracious appetite that knows no end, which is why he and several other notable Israelis [of his day], Yeshayahu Leibowitz, or we have [Neri] and several others who [crosstalk] became
HEDGES: [interceding]Leibowitz being the great intellectual, we should mention, who kind of presciently predicted, I think he even used the word fascism, that would come to Israel if it essentially carried out this colonial project.
PELED: Yes. In fact, Leibowitz coined the phrase Judeo-Nazi for the soldiers who were occupying. So, I think they were naive, because they thought they could restrain this. They thought there was this good side of Zionism and we need to push for that. And, of course, they were wrong, sadly, and that’s the reality that we have today as a result of the fact that they were wrong, you know?
HEDGES: So, now within Israeli society if you stand up and defy the dominant narrative, which is racist towards Arabs, Palestinians, and we can look at some, you know, really historic Israeli figures: Gideon Levy, Amira Hass, Uri Avnery, my sense is that the persecution is far fiercer, perhaps, than what your father endured. Is that correct?
PELED: Well, my father, what my father endured was more of an isolation. You know, I remember, and I talk about this in the book, too, I remember my mother saying, you know, people don’t invite us anymore
HEDGES: He goes on to be an academic, right?
PELED: He goes on to become an academic, [crosstalk] and he teaches
HEDGES: [interceding]In Arab literature, right?
HEDGES: Yes, wow.
PELED: He taught Arabic literature. He became an expert in Arabic literature. He wrote about Naguib Mahfouz, and so on. But, politically, he was very active. He dedicated the rest of his life to the idea of peace with the Arab countries, peace with the Palestinians. He dared to say Palestinians instead of just calling them Arabs
HEDGES: And we should note that among Palestinians he was one of the very few Israeli figures who was really revered.
PELED: Yes. Even today, when I travel around the country, people say, oh, you know, you’re the son of Abu Salam, Abu Salam, you know?
HEDGES: Salam means peace in Arabic.
PELED: So, yeah, they did respect him and appreciate what he did for them, also on a very personal level because he would help people, you know, if somebody’s son was in prison, somebody’s land was taken, so he would use his influence while he still had it, but they were isolated socially as well. Like my mother would say, nobody invites us anymore. You know, all our friends do things and we’re not invited. It didn’t bother him so much. He wasn’t really a social guy but my mother, you know, was troubled.
At school I would, you know, people would say that my father was an Arab lover, which is a terrible thing to, you know, terrible thing to be an Arab lover, of course.
HEDGES: Let’s just stop there for a minute and talk about what happens in Israeli schools, the indoctrination.
PELED: Well, the narrative is taken for granted. So it’s not, I mean, it’s taught as something we all accept as true, you know?
HEDGES: Which narrative?
PELED: The narrative that says that we returned to our land.
PELED: We were gone for two thousand years because we were kicked out. Now we’re back. It’s our land, we took it. We’re reasonable people. We agreed for the Arabs to stay. We accepted the partition plan. They attacked us. After they attacked us and we won we still asked them to stay and not leave and they all just got up and left, so now we have their homes. We have their land, you know
HEGES: And of course they were driven out.
PELED: Of course they were driven out, but we don’t talk about that. We can’t say that.
And then they attacked us again and they attacked us again, and thankfully, being the descendants of the Maccabees and King David, we defeated them every time, but all we want is peace and all we get is, you know, rockets and attacks from these Arabs, [crosstalk] and terrorism.
HEDGES: [interceding] Well, Omar Bartov, the great Israeli historian, writes about the way the Holocaust is used within Israeli schools to essentially tie Arabs to the nazis.
PELED: Yeah. Well, they do it in two ways. One is, there’s a natural progression. You know, there were the Egyptians, and then the Greeks, and then the Romans, and the Inquisition, and then the Nazis, and then the Arabs. You know, people hate us because we’re Jews. There’s anti-Semitism, and that’s just our fate. You know we have no choice, and we have to do our best to fight them.
The other thing is this famous meeting of the Mufti of Jerusalem [crosstalk] with Adolf Hitler
HEDGES: [interceding]With Hitler, right
PELED: And that gets blown, you know, I think Netanyahu said, I don’t know, six months ago or so, that [crosstalk] the idea to [exterminate]
HEDGES: [interceding]Hitler, that the Mufti had suggested to Hitler that he liquidate
PELED: [crosstalk]to destroy, yeah, exactly.
HEDGES: [crosstalk] Right, he had to backtrack on that.
PELED: So, I mean, that’s the narrative, and it’s an insane narrative, and there’s very little dissent that’s allowed. Not that it’s illegal, but socially, and when you’re in society you cannot bring the possibility that perhaps, you know, Israel is an occupier, perhaps Israel contributed to the suffering of [crosstalk] Palestinians.
HEDGES: [interceding] Is it worse now? Because when I lived in Jerusalem you didn’t have the quote-unquote security barrier that has been built, you know, from one end of Israel to another blocking, in essence, the West Bank from the rest of Israel. People would actually go to get their car fixed, you know, in Ramallah or something. There was more, your gardener may have been Palestinian, which has now been stopped. Do you think that because of that the racism is worse now in Israel or not?
PELED: Well, I don’t know
HEDGES: Because there’s no, virtually no contact.
PELED: TheresI don’t think the racism is worse. I don’t think it could get worse from where it was.
PELED: I mean, Israel established itself as a racist, apartheid state from day one, just by the laws they passed and, you know, the nature of the state. But now they added this security issue, this threat from the Palestinians, as though they are out there to get us and kill us and, you know, especially after Oslo the peace process fell apart.
So they use that to isolate, and I think two things happen. Number one, the Israeli, the more liberal kind of peace camp was a Zionist peace camp, which is why it’s failed, because they’re trying to restrainThey didn’t want to give up on Zionism, which is really a racist, colonialist ideology, but they wanted ti have this nice, friendly face.
HEDGES: Well, they’d run summer camps and they’d have Jewish kids and Palestinian kids play together, and then they’d send them back to, you know, Israeli occupation as if that was somehow going to bring peace.
PELED: Exactly. So the kids go back, the Palestinians go back to the refugee camps, the Israelis go to the [crosstalk] military
HEDGES: [interceding]The beach in Tel Avi, [wherever] the military, [audible laughter]
PELED: [inaud.] the military, and then they shoot the same kids and so, you know, that still goes on.
So that’s one reason it failed. The other reason is, you know, the establishment does not want any kind of relationship between Israelis and Palestinians because eventually people will realize that there is no threat, you know, and that, to them, is a threat.
But I think the discourse, like I said, because they dropped the facade, seems a lot more blunt. Seems a lot more racist, you know? But the essence of Israeli society and the essence of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, I don’t think it’s changed at all.
HEDGES: Now, you suffered a personal tragedy. Your niece was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem on a bus, right?
PELED: Not a bus. It was a suicide bomber
HEDGES: A suicide bomber
PELED: On the street. Yeah.
HEDGES: And that had on a huge effect on you, but in an interesting way, in that it made you, you know, rather than retrench and demonize, it pushed you in the other direction. Can you talk a little bit about what happened?
PELED: Yeah. I think it has to do with the fact that, by the time this happened, you know, my father had already passed away, but he left us with this legacy of understanding that the Palestinians were not the enemy and that they were not the devil, and that we are responsible for their suffering. So, you know, we already came into that with that.
When this terrible, unspeakable tragedy happens, you know, don’t know what to think or say. You just kind of, it’s all emotion. But really, it was my sister Nurit who stood up and said, first of all, when Netanyahu, who was prime minister, called and wanted to come and, you know, pay his condolences and so on, they told him not to come. They didn’t want him in the house, because they said, you’re responsible.
The second thing, you know, people asked about retaliation and all this, she said, retaliation? Are you out of your minds? You mean you want to kill more people? And she said, no real mother would want to see this happen to any other mother. Don’t talk to me about killing more people. And besides, we are responsible. You know, when you maintain this kind of a brutal oppression of another people this is the price that you pay as a society of the oppressors. You know, this is what happens to us. This is the price that we pay, and we hold the Israeli government, she said she and her husband hold the Israeli government responsible.
PELED: So, from my perspective, you hear all this and you see all this, and all the emotion plus all the stuff that I already knew, I felt that I had to get more engaged. I mean, there had to be somebody somewhere, you know, that I could talk to, things that I could do, and that eventually drove me to, you know, into activism.
HEDGES: Well, you support the boycott, divestment and sanction movement, and you call for a unified, a singular state.
PELED: Yeah. Well, I think the two are related. Israel established a single state over all of Palestine, so a single state is a reality. The choices we have are either to allow this very racist single state to continue, very cruel, very brutal single state to exist, and this is really the condition of having a Jewish state in Palestine. You have to have racist laws. You’re going to have political prisoners, thousands of them. You’re going to have massacres like in Gaza. This is a condition without which there cannot be a Jewish state in Palestine.
Or, we can look beyond this very narrow, Zionist perspective and say, well there is one state. There are two nations living here. If we want to, if we believe in justice, if we want to seek peace eventually then we have to apply justice and we have to allow for real democracy to emerge and replace this racist regime. And the best example is South Africa, the fall of Apartheid and replacing it with a one person, one vote democracy, and that’s, I think, the model that has to be applied in Palestine as well.
And BDS is the way to do it.
PELED: I mean, I was talking to some people from South Africa even yesterday, and they always, South Africans always tell me BDS is what, it was key in bringing down Apartheid, and so BDS is, I believe, going to be a key, not the only factor, but a key factor [crosstalk] in bringing it down.
HEDGES: [interceding] But we’ve seen, the BDS movement has gotten significant traction in Europe, and it is growing in the United States, and the Israelis are panicking. Why?
PELED: Well, they’re panicking because they’ve come to, for several reasons. Number one, they’ve come to expect what they call anti-Semitism from Europe. So, any thing that, any Palestine solidarity is considered anti-Semitism. So, they accept it from Europe because Europeans are anti-Semites, but not in America. America is our friend. And so I think they’re realizing that the Palestine solidarity movement in America has grown significantly. Its voice is being head.
HEDGES: But, you know, I speak at universities, so I’ll talk for Students for JusticeHalf of them are usually Jews.
PELED: Yes. That’s true. My son is, he’s in SJP UCLA. So, it’s true, and I’ve seen that too. You know, half the kids at a lot of these campuses are Jews and not even Palestinians, and that worries them even more, because the Jews, American Jews are like, they consider them to be the lifeline, you know, and now they’re turning away, and they too are becoming anti-Semitic, or whatever the term, self-haters or whatever.
So that scares them. And I think number two, they know. Everybody knows what happened in South Africa. Everybody knows the strength of the BDS movement. Everybody knows they know that what they’re doing is criminal, even though they say that they, you know, that it’s justified, so they must see that the end is near. You know, they must see that something is happening here that’s detrimental, and now they’re talking about using the Mossad and taking out leaders of the BDS and activists and so forth.
HEDGES: Oh, I didn’t hear that. Well, they are going from campus to campus pretty effectively outlawing, you know, pressuring universities to outlaw these groups, to take these students and strip them of all their student leadership positions, you know, including outside. That could be in the student council, or, they’ve done that at Northeastern, passing, I think they’re trying to pass legislation in some states to make it a criminal offense. Is that?
PELED: Yeah, and the UC system just tried to broaden their definition of intolerance to include criticism of Israel, and there was a big debate about that, and these students, I have to say, my hat’s off to Students for Justice in Palestine. They do an [crosstalk] amazing job
HEDGES: [crosstalk]Yeah, they’re amazing.
PELED: They face the administration. They jump through all the hoops and they get the job done, and they’ve really changed the level of the conversation on this issue in America, you know, more than anybody has expected.
HEDGES: Are you hopeful? Do you think this is the
PELED: I am very hopeful. I wouldn’t be doing any of this if I wasn’t hopeful.
PELED: I think in the next five to ten years there’s going to be a major shift. I think we’re going to be talking about a completely different reality, absolutely.
HEDGES: Well, once America pulls the plug it’s going to force Israel, I mean, essentially, because Israel has become a pariah state now with very, very few supporters other than the United States, you know, should that happen, you know, they’re going to be forced to respond.
PELED: Yeah. I think America tends to join the party a little bit late, usually. But I think that certainly Bernie Sanders opened the door
HEDGES: Yes he did, yeah.
PELED: To criticizing Israel, and that’s, talk about crossing the Rubicon. [crosstalk] This is something you can’t undo.
HEDGES: [crosstalk] Right. Yeah. Right.
PELED: And I think it’s going to be less and less the right thing to do politically, will be to support Israel. And I think, whereas this last AIPAC convention all the candidates were there. They all spoke against BDS, by the way. They all said pretty much the same thing, except for Sanders.
PELED: I think in the next cycle in four years, it’s not going to be like that.