Interview with Gideon Levy – Columnist, Haaretz

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Gideon Levy is an Israeli Author and Journalist, and a Columnist for Haaretz. He has earned several awards for human rights journalism focusing on the Israeli occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories or the OPT.

Language recognized in the work of the OHCHR, Amnesty International, Oxfam International, United Nations, World Health Organization, International Labor Organization, UNRWA, UNCTAD, and so on.

Here we talk about his health, Israeli elections, Palestine and Israel, OPT, journalism, and more.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let us start on a personal note. You have been subject to, unfortunately, cancer and, as a requirement of that, cancer treatment, as well as all the complications that come with that. So, just checking in, how are you doing?

Gideon Levy: I am very, very well. It is not my first cancer. Maybe, it is not my last one. But I am doing very well.

Jacobsen: When was the diagnosis of the most recent one?

Levy: Exactly 1 year ago, or 11 months ago.

Jacobsen: How have treatments been going well and smooth?

Levy: Yes, it is behind me. I just came back from jogging.

Jacobsen: So, with regards to some of the more recent political news in Israel, what are some of the overviews for those who may not be aware of the implications of the recent election outcomes? And how this will be reflected in attitudinal stances of the general population?

Levy: On the one hand, those were not very crucial elections because there was hardly an alternative, a real alternative. On the other hand, they were quite significant, not simply on a personal basis. A prime minister who gets into his fifth term is not something usual, in Western democracies.

That is the case here. But I think we are facing a new development in this government with Donald Trump who will bring us to a new era in the history of the occupation. Namely, the annexation is behind the door. This has many, many implications.

Some of them positive.

Jacobsen: With regards to the five terms, what other precedence is there?

Levy: First of all, it will only be in July when Prime Minister Netanyahu will be in power longer than the founder, Ben-Gurion. He was in longer than Netanyahu, but he was the founding father. In any case, after July, Netanyahu will be the longest acting prime minister in Israel.

There are many examples. Erdogan has been one. I just saw President el-Sisi guaranteed himself until 2030. Five terms are quite rare, I guess.

Jacobsen: In your view, you have mentioned seeing the two-state solution as being non-viable at this point and argue in favor of a one-state solution.

How is this election, this fifth term, going to be impacting this sort of discussion within Israel as well as within the wider Western cultures’ discussions on the Israel-Palestine conflict?

Levy: It is a direct contact between the elections and the one-state solution. Because if it is going to become an annexation government, annexation is for the creation of Israel, then the occupation IS something that will last forever. The occupation is not a temporary phenomenon.

If it is not a temporary phenomenon, then we are facing a one-state now. If this is a permanent phenomenon, then there is no intention to remove it. Then we are facing already one state. There is no room for a two-state solution, obviously. Then the only question will be what kind of regime will be in this one state.

This should be the main discourse from now on, in my view. Will it be a democracy? Or will it be an apartheid state? That is the only open question.

Jacobsen: What about in the parliament? There has been a commentary about the Israeli Knesset. The vast majority being supporters of apartheid, in your own terminology and many others as well.

What will be the general impact on the attitudinal stances of the general public with this vast majority and firm support of the stance towards this annexation?

Levy: I am not sure there is a majority for annexation. There is a majority for the status quo, maintaining the status quo. That is for sure. 80-90% of the Israelis, whether they know it or not, are for maintaining the status quo, which means continuing the occupation for an unlimited time.

Each of them has its own justification and rationalization. There is violence. There is terror. We need security. The excuses are many.

But the outcome is one. 80-90%, maybe 95%, of Israelis – Jewish Israelis for sure – are in favour of maintaining the status quo. In other words, they are in favour of maintaining the occupation for an unlimited period.

Change, therefore, cannot come and will not come from within Israeli society. Because there is no incentive for any change. Israeli schools’ brainwashing system is very efficient. Do not expect any change from within, it puts the whole weight on the world’s shoulders.

Which means, it is really about the world. Does the world accept a second apartheid state in the 21st century? Or is the world ready to do as it did in the first apartheid state, namely South Africa?

Jacobsen: With regards to external pressure, what would be a good argument for an economic boycott? What would be a good argument for an academic and cultural boycott?

Levy: Exactly like with South Africa, it should be everything. The outcome must be only one. The Israelis will start to pay and be punished for the occupation. Any Israeli in any field. As long as this doesn’t happen, there is no incentive to put an end to the occupation.

Therefore, it should be everything. In South Africa, even sports were very, very crucial, you cannot say this or that is more important.

Are the Israelis willing to pay the price for the settlements? Right now, there is no price.

Jacobsen: For those potentially unaware of media bias, when you are interacting with others from other Western states and with those in the media from non-Western states, what is their general image of this conflict, of this annexation, and of this apartheid situation, in either case?

Levy: You cannot generalize. Israel has still a lot of supporters. Zionism has a lot of supporters, mainly in Europe but not only. The occupation has many supporters, as you know. Islamophobia, xenophobia, nationalism, racism, are gaining power in many countries, including in the United States.

All this plays to one direction. The opposite direction, there are more and more civil societies that are not accepting or are not ready to accept the continuance of the status quo for forever. They are contradictory movements in the world.

I do not know which one will take over.

Jacobsen: For those who tend to be on the more dissident margins within the society, they are, in a real way, taking on the more patriotic status.

They are critiquing the power and the privilege of those who are implementing certain policies that the general population might not necessarily know about.

In terms of your own service to Israeli society in regards to providing some awareness about what is being done in their name, what would be a proper response to those who would see you as not a patriotic Israeli?

Levy: It is not about patriotism. It is about looking for justice and obeying international law, and looking for accepting the resolutions of international institutions. Those are totally forgotten in Israel.

If Israel would obey international law, like any other country, and obey endless international resolutions, then there is no question.

Why would we get this point of being a patriot or not being a patriot? First of all, basic things must be implemented, which Israel totally ignores. There is no excuse for this. It does not matter if you judge it from a patriotic motivation or not.

Finally, and first of all, obey the law. Then we can talk about other things. But Israel ignores international law.

Jacobsen: If you’re looking, as a journalist for Haaretz, at the information that is coming, basically, to a general audience in Israel, not necessarily as an indictment of the general population, what are some of the main points of misinformation that is fed into the public media stream?

Levy: The Israeli media is a very free one. It is almost private owned. Ideology plays very little role there. What really plays the role are commercial arguments and interests, this is so destructive, because what is so strong in Israeli media is there is no censorship.

No governmental censorship, nobody tells the media what to write or not to write. The media is a total slave of its own commercial interests, of its readership, of the viewers. They do not want to know the truth. Nobody wants to bother them.

Journalism has a role. It is not another economical business. It should be something else. There is a role in a democracy. This role is being betrayed by Israeli media, almost all of it. Not telling the truth, ignoring the occupation almost totally, totally, the occupation is not covered in Israel.

Except for my newspaper, the occupation does not exist, as if there is no occupation. If you follow the Israeli media, there is no suffering; there are no crimes. This is criminal from the point of the media. It does it voluntarily.

Nobody tells the media to be like this, except the readership and the economic interests.

Jacobsen: Who are reporters who you admire reporting the same issues that you are reporting on now?

Levy: For me, it is hard for me to admire, but I highly appreciate Amira Hass who dedicates her life to the struggle against the occupation much more than me – because she lives under the occupation. Before, she lived in Gaza. Now, she lives in Ramallah.

I think that is the highest level of sacrifice, of struggle, of real journalism, which really has a moral core. So, I can only point out her. I cannot forget the publisher of Haaretz, Amos Schocken, who enables all this. He gives Amira the freedom, me the freedom, total freedom and support.

There are no publishers like him. I do not think there are any other publishers like him in the world.

Jacobsen: How does he, as a publisher, stand out in that way?

Levy: He is a modest man. He always says that he does it for business considerations. But I know he lost much, much money because of me, because of Amira, based on certain articles that we wrote. He really believes in what he does. He really believes that Haaretz has a role. It is not only a business.

He is ready to pay any price. As long as Haaretz continues to exist, he is not suicidal. He does not want Haaretz to die. None of us want Haaretz to die. He will not let Haaretz  to die. None of us want Haaretz to die.

He does anything possible to let Haaretz to live. He gives us this unbelievable freedom and courage.

Jacobsen: Along with some of the work that you have done, you have received death threats. Are you still receiving them? What is the general content of them aside from the obvious threats?

Levy: I think Israel public opinion got used to me. But I really do not know. I cannot judge. Look, many times, you get many threats. The situation seems very frightening, but it is not really frightening at all. When it dies, it seems really peaceful, then it can’t be the worst danger waiting for you.

It is very hard for me to judge. Right now, it is always hard in times of war or bloodshed, of soldiers being killed. Then it is much harder. More people are being killed, so it is much easier. But you never know.

But I do not live in fear if that is the question.

Jacobsen: For those who are outside of Israel, who are living in Western and non-Western countries, and if they are looking to become more aware of the situation as well as to anticipate some of the developments after the election, what should they be expecting or, potentially, predicting with some of the derivative outcomes from the election?

Levy: I think the combination of Donald Trump in Washington and Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem can become a really very explosive combination. They go hand to hand. It is unbelievable support, and fuels the Israeli nationalism and Israeli racism.

He might get to very unpleasant places. It is not only about annexation. It is also about all kinds of legislations in Israel. Israel will change. The United States seems to support those changes. For those of us who live in Israel, it is not very promising.

It will be much harder for me to function as a journalist if their plans will be implemented. They have plans, indeed.

Jacobsen: On a similar note to a more recent interview published in Canadian Atheist, the situation in Gaza has been reported as being unlivable by 2020.

As we are moving more into 2019, and then into 2020, what will be the political and the social fallout and the international relations fallout of the situation if it continues to develop along that trajectory of unliveability into 2020?

Levy: Everyone covers his eyes in the belief that if they do not look to the corner of the room, where the elephant sits; there will be no elephant, but the elephant is there. It is a non-issue here. It is a non-issue in the West and the world.

Gaza, unfortunately, only has one way to remind of its existence and remind of its problems. This is by launching rockets. If they do not launch rockets, who cares about Gaza? Nobody cares about Gaza. This really will end up in a terrible catastrophe.

It’s really a question of whether people will die, but nobody seems to care: not in Israel, not in the West, not in the Arab world. People believe that doing nothing will bring some help.

Jacobsen: Why the shrug from the international community?

Levy: Because Gaza doesn’t interest anybody. Because the world takes no interest in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Because Gaza is Hamas; and Hamas are fundamentalist. And the world doesn’t like Islam right now.

Then many make the comparison or an identification between Hamas and Daesh. So, they are almost the same in the eyes of most of the world. So, people don’t care. The coverage is very limited. Everyone lost interest about Gaza. Two and a half million people starving.

When there is a catastrophe, then, maybe, the world will wake up, but it might be too late. People will really die by the hundreds and thousands of people. This will not stay in Gaza. This will pass to Israel if this is about the water, the sewage, the air. All sorts of questions like this.

Kids cannot stay in Gaza. I must remind you. Gaza is one hour away from Tel Aviv, by car.

Jacobsen: For those who may not know, you live in Tel Aviv, in Israel.

Levy: Right.

Jacobsen: It becomes not only geographically close, but also a very personal question.

Levy: Yes.

Jacobsen: What is Amira Hass’s opinion of the international shrug?

Levy: This you will have to ask Amira Hass, and not me.

Jacobsen: [Laughing] Okay. A common example or comparison is made between South Africa and apartheid and Israel and apartheid.

What are other comparisons on different issues in terms of the conditions in which the Israeli-Palestine conflict is had, and in terms of the internal culture of Israel in history?

Levy: People tend to think that if you compare something, then it should be identical. [Laughing] That is by all means not true. The apartheid system in South Africa was different than the apartheid system in Israel. But the basic principles were basically the same.

Namely, two peoples living on one piece of land. One people gain all the rights in the world. The other people don’t get any rights whatsoever. This is apartheid by definition. The fact that in South Africa there were things that were not here.

Here, there were things not in South Africa. You can ask, “Where was it worse, and why?” I know many South Africans who thought what was going on here is worse than what they had. That is really open. But by the end of the day, it is not about comparing.

It is really about looking at the picture without prejudice and seeing the truth. The truth is that the very brutal tyranny is ruling a people of four and a half million people in Gaza and the West Bank in a very brutal way.

One of the worst tyrannies today. The worst because Israel is one of the only democracies in the Middle East. This masquerade is unbelievable.

Jacobsen: As a historical question, personally, when did this become a moral mission for you in terms of the journalism and the reportage? When did this awareness come to you?

When did this become ethically charged in order to pursue this for much of your life?

Levy: It is a very gradual process, which is still ongoing. It is not as if one day; I saw the light or the darkness. In the late ‘80s, I started to travel to the occupied territories as a journalist. Then I decided to dedicate my professional life to covering the occupation.

The more I saw, the more radical I became, the more disturbed I became. This is really a process that never ended. You cannot find a certain point. Except, one day, I decided to go for a day trip to the West Bank, as a journalist and to seek some old trees that were uprooted by settlers.

It was my first story about the occupation. But it was really a gradual process.

Jacobsen: Is that a common story or pathway in terms of those who come to this consciousness and awareness of it?

Levy: I know very few who came to this consciousness. If I talk, for example, about Amira, it is a different story. It is a different story. Because she grew up in a communist house, a very ideological house. I was brought up in a different home. So, I didn’t get it from home.

Maybe, she got more from home than what I got in terms of more judgment and looking for justice. So, this was my process. It is very individual. You cannot generalize.

Jacobsen: We have been witnessing more prominent awareness of the murder of journalists and harm to journalists, as this represents a threat to journalists.

Not in any particular nation, but around the world, the severity of the threats will differ depending on the region and the country, and the culture.

However, this is an issue. For those who are wanting to enter into journalism, what are the pluses and minuses in terms of the life that one will lead as well as the threats that one will come across in their life, or in their professional life?

Levy: First of all, I can just highly recommend it. I think it is one of the most fascinating jobs that anybody can dream about. It is going through many changes now, because of social media. It is really going to change really rapidly.

The old school of journalism is really dying. But in any case, it is not really about the threats and the dangers. Most of the journalists in the world do not face life threats. Even me, I do not feel as though I am in life danger, not daily anyway. It is about courage.

The courage to tell the truth. But what is more noble than having this courage?

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mr. Levy.

Levy: Thank you very much, thank you.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:

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