Monday, March 21, 2016

“Israel is occupation-addicted”: Israeli journalist Gideon Levy blasts U.S. support for “apartheid” & rise of fascism

The renowned Israeli journalist joined a host of experts at the 2016 Israel's Influence conference in D.C.

"Israel is occupation-addicted": Israeli journalist Gideon Levy blasts U.S. support for "apartheid" & rise of fascism

“The drug addict who is your friend, if you give him money, he will really care about you. But are you really caring about him?” asked Levy, who called Israel’s almost 50-year-old illegal military occupation of Palestinian land “criminal,” “brutal” and “rotten.”

He was speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. for the annual Israel’s Influence conference. The event, held on March 18, explored the close relationship between the American and Israeli governments, and the impact it has on the rest of the Middle East.

The U.S. gives more than $3.1 billion in unconditional military aid to the Israeli government every year. Israel is by far the largest recipient of U.S. aid (Egypt comes in second, with $1.5 billion annually). And yet, in protest of the U.S.’s nuclear deal with Iran, the Israeli government is pushing for even more, up to $4.5 billion in tax dollars per year.

“Every single thing the Israelis do today is with the total approval and total financing of the United States,” Levy explained.

He criticized U.S. politicians, and particularly lawmakers, for their ignorance of basic facts about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“Most American legislators know nothing, and what they know is a product of” propaganda, Levy said.

He proposed giving U.S. politicians a tour of the occupied Palestinian territories. Levy suggested that anyone who doubts that Israel oppresses the indigenous Arab population should spend “just a few hours in Hebron,” a Palestinian city (known in Arabic as al-Khalil) in the occupied West Bank.

“I’ve never met an honest human being who went to Hebron and didn’t come back shocked,” he added.

In Hebron, illegal Israeli settlers live in the middle of the city. Palestinians must travel on separate roads, which are patrolled by Israeli soldiers. They often walk under enormous nets that look like cages, and settlers drop objects — and even urinate — on them from their windows above.

Levy described Israel’s occupation simply as a form of apartheid.

“It looks like apartheid, it walks like apartheid, it behaves like apartheid; it’s apartheid,” he said.

He juxtaposed the conditions of Palestinians living under illegal military occupation in Hebron to those of Israelis just one hour away in the large Israeli city Tel Aviv.

“There’s not one single American legislator who can imagine himself what it means to live as a Palestinian under the occupation,” Levy continued. “He cannot imagine one day of the humiliation, of the danger, of the lack of hope.”

“As long as this is the case, the chances for hope are so small.”

Escalating violence

The Israel’s Influence conference is organized by the nonprofit foundation the American Educational Trust and the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy.

Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of the peace group Code Pink, told Salon that the conference is based on meetings her organization had organized in the past. In early March, Code Pink held a similar event, the 2016 Summit on Saudi Arabia, which explored Saudi influence in U.S. politics and called into question the U.S. relationship with the theocratic absolute monarchy, which funds and exports extremism throughout the world. Salon reported on this summit as well.

Levy lit up the room with his lighthearted yet somber assessment of the situation in Israel-Palestine.

“Life in Palestine now is the cheapest ever,” he explained in the keynote address. “Never was it so cheap, never was it so easy to kill Palestinians.”

For Palestinians in the West Bank, which Israel has illegally occupied since 1967, violence has become a part of everyday life under military occupation. In recent months, however, this violence has greatly accelerated. Since October 2015, approximately 180 Palestinians have be killed, along with around 30 Israelis. Almost every day, there is yet another story of yet another death.

Every few years, Israel wages a war with the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza, upon which Israel has imposed a blockade for almost a decade. The Israeli government controls everything that enters Gaza and controls its waters, airspace, electromagnetic field and even population registry, unofficially occupying the densely populated strip that it officially occupied until its 2005 withdrawal.

Israel meted out the largest yet surge of violence in its summer 2014 war on Gaza, known as Operation Protective Edge. The Israeli military, which human right groups accused of committing war crimes, killed more than 2,250 Palestinians, roughly two-thirds of whom were civilians, including more than 550 children, according to U.N. figures. On the other side, 66 Israeli soldiers were killed, along with six civilians. 92 percent of the people killed by Palestinian militants were soldiers.

Levy argued that, if the U.S. stopped giving billions in aid and guaranteeing impunity for Israel at the United Nation, the occupation would end within mere months.

If a president were committed to actually using punitive measure to pressure Israel to end the occupation, it would end, he claimed. “Israel would never be able to say no to a decisive president.”

He hence pressured Americans to take action against the occupation. “The key is now in your hands, America,” Levy said. “The key is now in your hands, activists, scholars.”

Rise of “fascism”

“The chances to change society from within Israel are so limited,” Levy lamented.

He is very critical of both the ruling right-wing Likud party and the centrist Israeli Labor Party. He noted that “to be a leftist in Israel is a curse.” Leftists in Israel are frequently called “traitors.”

In some of his columns, Levy has warned Israel is witnessing the rise of fascism — and he does not use the term lightly. Other politicians have not been so cautious. In 2012, right-wing Israeli lawmaker Miri Regev proudly declared on a TV interview that she is “happy to be a fascist.” Regev now serves as the minister of culture in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government.

During Israel’s summer 2014 war in Gaza, Levy received daily death threats for criticizing the Israeli military’s actions, and had to even hire a body guard to protect him. Israeli veterans have admitted that they were ordered to kill Palestinian civilians in the war — and killed Gazans because they were bored.

He said at the time that he saw the “first signs of fascism” in Israel. Since then, Levy argues things have gotten even worse. The year 2015, he wrote in a column, “heralded the start of blatant and unapologetic Israeli fascism.”

Although the violent, overtly racist far-right is on the rise in Israel, with fascistic groups like Lehava chanting “death to Arabs” in the streets and organizing anti-miscegenation squads, Levy argued this extremism masks the violence that is normalized in mainstream politics, which whitewashes the occupation and the Israeli governm

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