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Interview with Professor Haim Bresheeth on the
current situation in Palestine and the Israeli Society

[Note: Professor Haim Bresheeth is a film studies scholar, filmmaker and photographer, based at SOAS University of London, UK. He was born in a DP camp in Italy after World War II to two survivors of Auschwitz, and emigrated to Israel with his parents in 1948, where he grew up in Jaffa. He served in the Israeli Army as a Lieutenant between 1964 and 1967. He left Israel for London in 1972.]

July 28th, 2014

DIALOGUE: As a new and brutal Israeli offensive is hitting the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, we are once again seeing practically all countries, as well as the media, unconditionally supporting the so-called "right of Israel to defend itself". In this context, you have taken the initiative of addressing an open letter to Israeli academics. As an academic yourself, of Israeli origin, can you explain your initiative to us, its impact?

HB: You are totally right. The western supporters of Israel -- the US, UK, the EU, Canada, Australia -- are well beyond listening to arguments on human rights, illegal occupation, settlements or war crimes. They have supported Israel as part of their strategy of confronting the Arab and Muslim world, and of controlling the Middle East. They are also driven by the guilt feelings over the Holocaust, which are periodically stirred and abused by Israeli propaganda. To read the Israeli voices, one would get a very interesting picture: Israel is under attack. It is in mortal danger from Hamas rockets, Israel only wants peace, but the Palestinians only want to destroy it, etc. Netanyahu has spoken of "millions under the missile threat in Israel". You would have thought that Israelis have never harmed anyone, and are now living under a cruel, destructive blitz.

Of course, there is nothing further from the truth. The great gift of Israeli propaganda is reversing the facts, and they have done that for decades. So let us get some fact straight. Israel has for 57 years refused to get out of the Palestinian, Syrian and Egyptian territories it occupied in 1967. It did that in the same manner it refused to carry out the UN resolutions in 1949 that demanded the return of the refugees, resulting from ethnic cleansing by Israel. It defied the UN, the Geneva Convention, the International Criminal Court and the European Court of human rights. It committed numerous war crimes, and never, ever paid in any way for committing them. It has blockaded Gaza for over seven years, making life almost impossible, and has killed thousands of Palestinians since 1967 in its periodic illegal and immoral, brutal incursions into Gaza, the West Bank, Syria and Lebanon. Since 1967, Israel has created a similar number of refugees to that of 1948.

What has happened to Israeli society in those five decades? The society has become totally directed towards the continuation of the occupation. All parts of the social structure have collaborated in this massive task -- instead of dealing with social problems -- Israel dealt with settlements. To do this, massive force and oppression had to be used, of course, which meant the militarisation of society, all levels of society. Israel has the fourth strongest army on this planet -- a country of less than 10 millions! It is also the fourth largest exporter of lethal armaments in the world - Israel lives (well) on death and destruction, and uses Gaza as the largest laboratory of testing new weapons. Israel denied any rights to more than 5 million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, has oppressed and killed many without reason and without legal process, and impeded the economic, social educational, environmental and cultural life of Palestine.

All this could not be done without using thousands of academics, in all disciplines -- those who design and build the housing and settlements, those who design and operate its IT system of fighting criticism online, those who research new and more destructive weapons, new methods of questioning, medicalised ways of oppressing prisoners, those who work on Israeli propaganda -- the list is enormous and wide-ranging. Most Israeli academics are totally supportive of whatever is done by the government, however illegal and immoral it is. The myth of liberal academics in Israel is still very strong in the west. Israel is actively pushing this myth. There is nothing further from the truth. A case in point is the current phase of destroying Gaza.

Over 1,600 academics from across the world have, in few days, signed a call to Israeli academics to stand up with academics in Gaza, and demand an end not only to the murderous attack, but also to the occupation itself -- the source of all political evil in Israel.

These signatories included leading academics and intellectuals from across the world: Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis, Etienne Balibar, Naomi Klein, Jacques Rancierre, Slavoj Zizek, John Berger, Richard Falk, David Palumbo-Liu, Sara Roy, Baroness Tonge, Sir Patrick Bateson, Ahdaf Sueif, Jacqueline Rose -- the list goes on for another 1600 names (you can read the letter and the whole list on http://haimbresh eeth.com/gaza/an-open-letter-to-israel-academics-july-13th-2014/).

Despite this large number of international luminaries signing this call, only 70 Israeli academics signed it! This is much less than 1% of the total number of academics in Israel; It means, one assumes, that 99% of Israel's academics support the war crimes by the Israeli state, a similar number to the support within the Jewish population of Israel!

We suspected that many will not sign our call, but the results are shocking even for us, who initiated the call. It gives us a new factual foundation for a wide-ranging academic boycott of Israel by academics from across the world, against the illegal occupation and the apartheid policies and realities. This we intend to operate over the next decade as a means of recruiting academics everywhere for the battle for Palestinian rights and for a just peace in Palestine. This will be done in confrontation with our governments, whose active support is making the Israeli war crimes possible. We shall win this struggle like we have won the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, by a large coalition of moral support for Palestine from across the globe.

DIALOGUE: What can be said today on the state of mind of the "Israeli Jewish society"? The Israeli settlers of the West Bank, particularly the ones guilty of lynching Mohamed Abu Kdheir, are being presented to us as extremists.

But aren't they the harshest expression of the policy that presents the Palestinians as pariahs that must be got rid of?

HB: There is no doubt that the murderers of Mohamed Abu Kdheir are not only extremists, but are deeply and incurably sick. If that was the problem, then it could have been resolved. The problem, however, is the deep disturbance in the Israeli polis itself, a severe malaise of its social structure, not just of few extremists.

Decades of illegal occupation, oppression and denial of rights to millions of people without any legal or civic status, a system of control through racist apartheid policies and regulations . . . have created a new type of society in Israel. Israel liked to boast of being the "only democracy in the Middle East". How can a democracy be racist by law, to support the denial of human rights, to support and commit war crimes?

Sociologist have termed the phrase "herrenvolk democracy" to describe this phenomenon, first about South Africa, then about Israel. It basically means a society where a "master race" theory separates those who enjoy full rights, from those who have none, the separation being made on an ethno-national basis. In both societies, the existence of apartheid policies meant that millions of human beings were denied basic human rights, and that their life was worthless, and the law could not be used to defend them, as they lacked rights afforded to humans.

This racist theory and praxis over many decades -- Israel has survived, while South Africa had to bow to change, as both societies have instigated their unequal legal structures in the same year: 1948 -- mean that most Israelis do not perceive Palestinians as humans. Many of Israel's leaders have called the Palestinians by derogatory names -- Begin has called then "biped animals", others came up with "cockroaches in a bottle", and the voices speaking today on social networks are even more extreme, and more prevalent. Anyone daring to criticise the war crimes in Gaza now lives in danger, and thousands of calls were made in the last 20 days for murder, burning and destruction of all who criticise the operation in Gaza. Universities have warned staff and students that they are monitoring social media for such voices, for example, under the term "extreme statements". Some academics were already (!) sacked or suspended, though we have no accurate figures yet.

If one wanted to be clear about what this means, Israel has been turning very quickly from a proto-fascist society, into a militarised herrenvolk democracy, set up to deny the rights of the other ethnicity/nationality for ever. That in both countries this was done by a colonising group to the majority indigenous group is yet another similarity between both racist societies.

Thus, we are not speaking here of the few extremists; we are dealing with a sick social stratum, where millions of Jewish Israelis believe themselves to be superior to millions of Palestinians. In such a society, as we have seen in the troubled history of the 20th century, mass crimes can be, and normally are committed against the disenfranchised group. Their blood is allowed - they become the Homo Sacer and can be killed with impunity. This is the reality of the new Israel.

DIALOGUE: In this extremely difficult situation, how can a democratic solution guaranteeing equal rights for all the populations living between the Mediterranean and Jordan be envisaged? Many speak of an occupation that has been in place since 1967, but what is there to be said of the situation since 1948? What do you think of Ilan Pappe's analysis, which indicates that the Nakba is a process that has never ended?

HB: I totally agree with Ilan Pappe on this. The Nakba has not only continued, as I pointed out above, but has intensified. Since 1967, the life of Palestinians in the whole of Palestine are no longer safe, and they can be killed, made into refugees, lose their property, lose their livelihood or their right to live, or be educated, at any point in time. If some people believed in a two-state solution in 1967, it soon became clear that Israel will do anything at all, anything possible to make sure that such a situation is not possible, The two-state solution is not possible, not because the Palestinians did not accept it - they always did, though it meant being left with only 22% of their country. It was Israel which made it impossible, by building the settlements, mass confiscations of land, destruction of houses, villages and communities, brutal oppression and the building of the illegal Apartheid wall. The two-state solution, the mainstay of the western powers and the UN, is dead and buried, because Israel killed it.

Israel has never been prepared to even a miniature Palestinian state next to it.

This raises the question of what remains possible. Unless and until the international community acts with force to make Israel accept a just peace in Palestine, our options are limited. The current situation in Palestine, where four million Palestinians have no rights whatsoever, while almost 1.5 million of them are second-class citizens in a racist state, is surely untenable.

Bearing in mind that there is only one state between the river Jordan and the sea, and that state is racist Israel, then we must act to turn this state around - into a state of all its citizens - a secular democratic state with no special rights to any ethnic, national or religious group. Surely, to demand a democratic society with full rights to all citizens is the normative solution elsewhere, and why would this not be acceptable for Israel? Only anti-democrats will be fighting against this solution; only those who willingly accept the racist assumptions Israel makes about the Palestinian people. This single democratic state in the whole of Palestine is the only solution left, because Israel has made all others obsolete.

Of course, this state cannot be Jewish, Moslem or Christian, or even Buddhist. It cannot be either a Zionist state, or a confessional one. A single, secular democratic state will be the society which will replace the racist herrenvolk democracy now controlling Palestine. A large group of Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals have collaborated on working out the necessary foundation for such a state, and such a future equal society in Palestine, and their efforts are displayed on the One Democratic State website: http://www.1not2.org/One _State_in_Palestine/Welcome.html

We simply hope that this moral and just solution to the Palestine conflict can be accepted by both sides, with the help of the international community. If this solution were also rejected by Israel, then it would be drawing battle lines not just with Palestine, but also with the whole world. I hope that the realities of such a misguided position will be avoided, as they were in South Africa, and that we can start building a common society, rather than continuing the destruction of Palestine.

From DIALOGUE REVIEW ( www.dialogue-review.com )