Ha’aretz columnist and a member of the newspaper’s editorial board. His latest article is "What Does Hamas Really Want?" and he is author of The Punishment of Gaza.
Joining us from Tel Aviv, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy argues that Middle East peace will never come until the Israeli government drops its rejection of basic Palestinian rights. "Sure Israel wants peace, Israel just doesn’t want a just peace," Levy says. "It is all about justice. You look backward and you ask yourself in which stage, in which moment, was Israel willing to give up the occupation? Give me one example in which there was a genuine readiness to put an end to the occupation. It was never there. It was all about gaining time and maintaining the status quo — namely the West Bank occupied, Gaza under siege, peaceful life in Israel. … If you want the ultimate proof for it, it’s the [West Bank] settlements. Israel never stopped building settlements, and [in doing so] says to the Palestinians and the world, [we] have no intention to give up this piece of land." Levy also discusses why he has received threats after calling on Israeli Air Force pilots to refuse to bomb Gaza, and why he sees a potential Palestinian effort to take Israel to the International Criminal Court as a positive step.
AMY GOODMAN: Gideon Levy is with us from Tel Aviv, the Ha’aretz columnist and a member of the editorial board. You, Gideon Levy, in a piece, wrote that "Israel does not want peace." That was the headline. Why?
GIDEON LEVY: You just have to look at the record. I mean, sure, Israel wants peace. Israel just doesn’t want a just peace. And it’s all about justice. You look backwards, and you ask yourself: In which stage, in which moment, was Israel willing to give up the occupation? Give me one example in which there was a genuine readiness to put an end to the occupation. It was never there. It was all about gaining time and maintaining the status quo. And it’s also now about gaining time and maintaining the status quo—namely, the West Bank occupied, Gaza under siege, peaceful life in Israel. This formula cannot last forever. And I wish I’ll be wrong, but I cannot recall one example in which there was a genuine willingness to put an end to the occupation. This was never. There were all kind of—we had Oslo. We had other peace talks. But it was never there.
And if you want the most ultimate proof for it, it’s the settlements. Nobody is saying we’ll continue to build settlements if he has an intention to return those lands. But Israel never stopped building settlements. And as Israel never stopped building settlements, Israel said to the Palestinians and to the world, "I have no intention to give up this piece of land."
AARON MATÉ: Gideon Levy, you also wrote a recent piece that was called "Israel’s Real Purpose in Gaza Operation? To Kill Arabs." And you write, "Since the first Lebanon war, more than 30 years ago, the killing of Arabs has become Israel’s primary strategic instrument." Can you explain this for us?
GIDEON LEVY: Again, I wish I wouldn’t write those harsh things, but look at reality. All the recent wars or operations in the recent 30 years were finally aimed at civilian populations, with horrifying scenes, with unproportional means, like in those days in Gaza. Finally, a war between Israel and Palestinians, in the recent—and Israel and Lebanon—in the recent 30 years looks always the same: Israelis killing many, many civilians, unproportionally, and the resistance, the Palestinian resistance, is trying to fight back. But, as I wrote in this article, it’s a meeting between an elephant and a fly, in terms of capabilities and equipment. And it always ends up the same, with hundreds and hundreds civilian casualties on the Palestinian or Lebanese side, with, thanks God, many, many fewer or much fewer casualties—and many times not at all—in Israelis’ side. And here we go to the next circle, to the next cycle, to the next confrontation.
AMY GOODMAN: Gideon Levy, you also wrote a piece, "Lowest Deeds from Loftiest Heights," about the Air Force pilots who are bombing Gaza. Can you talk about what you said and the response to this piece?
GIDEON LEVY: This article was published one week ago in the middle of the operation. Israel almost got united in a very aggressive reaction to this article. Things became so bad that I need to be accompanied by a bodyguard those days. Israel is not tolerant in those days and not ready to listen to any kind of criticism.
What I tried to write is that watching at all those horrible scenes in Gaza—and, believe me, there are horrible scenes there, because watching the Israeli TV, you see none, or almost none, but watching international networks, you can see the real tragedy there—someone has to be taken accountable for this. Someone is responsible for this. And I thought that the pilots, who are the best of our sons, the most intelligent ones and the most highly appreciated ones—really, the elite of Israeli society—they take part in this, and they cannot remain out of any kind of responsibility, or at least some kind of moral doubts about what they are doing. Yes, they don’t see their victims: They sit in the cockpit. But I thought they should see and confront their victims, the civilian victims, the whole families which were exterminated in the recent days. And I aimed it to them, and I succeeded, at least, in creating a huge public debate in Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: You said they should resist, that they shouldn’t engage in the bombing?
GIDEON LEVY: I didn’t say so. I just say that in 2003, 27 very courageous pilots did not participate, wrote a letter of refusal and said they don’t want to take part in this. I say that this time there is even not one. I didn’t go further than this. We don’t know yet all the details, but I would expect at least some kind of awareness and public discussion about this issue, because they cannot be above, above discussion or above doubts. Also, pilots can be doubtful.
AMY GOODMAN: You are now traveling with a bodyguard?
GIDEON LEVY: Unfortunately, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
GIDEON LEVY: Because the level of threats and the atmosphere in the street. And, believe me, I’m quite experienced with threats, but now it’s becoming really unpleasant and maybe dangerous. I don’t know. But too many people warned me that my life is in danger. I don’t know if it’s true. But Ha’aretz, my newspaper, decided not to take risks, and I had to take a bodyguard, yes.
AARON MATÉ: I want to ask about this new Palestinian effort to take Israel to the International Criminal Court. Speaking to ABC News this past weekend, the influential Palestinian legislator and scholar Hanan Ashrawi said the Palestine Liberation Organization has decided to apply to join the International Criminal Court, which could open up war crimes charges against Israel.
HAMISH MACDONALD: You have threatened to bring forward the application, an application for Palestine to join International Criminal Court.
HANAN ASHRAWI: Yes.
HAMISH MACDONALD: Are you doing that?
HANAN ASHRAWI: Yes, we have taken the decision, and we are going to accede to the Rome Statute, which would qualify us to bring cases to the International Criminal Court. But I don’t believe the world has to wait.
AARON MATÉ: Gideon Levy, your reaction? Obviously, the Palestinian Authority has dithered for a long time on joining these international conventions under Israeli and U.S. pressure. Is this a positive sign now that they’re talking about going to the ICC?
GIDEON LEVY: I am one of those who believe that the only way to get out of this vicious circle is by international intervention, because Israel will not change by itself. And the only way is also by making Israel pay a price for the crimes of the occupation. And for this, there must be a wake-up call for the international community, which is rather passive—and especially so, the American administration, the administration of the United States, who could do—who could have done so much more and is doing so little, so little. So any kind of step toward this direction, hopefully, will be a wake-up call for Israel, first of all, and for the international community.
AMY GOODMAN: We have just lost Gideon Levy at the studio in Tel Aviv. We thank him for being with us, the Ha’aretz columnist, member of the newspaper’s editorial board, author of The Punishment of Gaza. And, Nathan Thrall, we want to thank you for being with us, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, covering Gaza, Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. We will link to your op-ed piece in The New York Times headlined "How the West Chose War in Gaza." This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll talk about the numbers of Palestinian refugees, of the displaced, over 100,000. We’ll go to a spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, known as UNRWA. Stay with us.