Earlier this morning, three Qassam rockets exploded in open areas in the western Negev in Israel. We go to the region to speak with Neve Gordon, chair of the Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and the author of Israel’s Occupation. [includes rush transcript]
I wanted to go to Beersheba right now in Israel to Neve Gordon, chair of the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. He’s author of the book Israel’s Occupation.
We just heard a description of the rockets going as far as the Negev. Can you talk about the effects of what is happening right now in Israel proper and what your thoughts are on this movement that Phyllis Bennis is describing around boycott, around divestment?
Well, we just had a rocket about an hour ago not far from our house. My two children have been sleeping in a bomb shelter for the past week. And yet, I think what Israel is doing is outrageous, as opposed to what Meagan said before. We have here a situation where actually Israel did leave the Gaza Strip three years ago, but it maintains sovereignty in any political science sense of the term. We’ve controlled all the borders. We’ve basically had an economic boycott on the Gaza Strip. And the people there have been living in what one should probably call as a prison. And they’ve been reacting with rockets, because probably that’s the only way that they can react.
And I think what Israel has been doing now has little to do with stopping the rockets, but actually it’s an election move inside Israel. It’s a move to build the reputation of the Israeli military after its humiliation in 2006. And what they’re actually doing is bombing from the air and massacring people, and we have to say no to this from here.
I’m not sure an international boycott on Israel is currently the way to go, because I think what we need is pressure from below, pressure from within Israel. As an Israeli citizen, I still believe in the importance of democracy and in the importance of the Israeli people also making a decision. This should be done through pressure. I agree with Phyllis on that. I think international pressure has to come. I think a divestment of the Occupied Territories and everything made in the Occupied Territories should be the first stage.
I think that Obama has a major role to play. He has been silent. And I think he can pressure the Israeli government into reaching agreement with the Palestinian people. I think today and for the past years, Israel has been the obstacle to peace in the Middle East, because it’s not willing to compromise on the three major issues, which is a return to the 1967 borders, it’s the division of Jerusalem, and it’s a recognition of the right of return of the Palestinians with a stipulation that only a small amount can return back to Israel.
And do you see the Obama administration, as he’s now constituted it, going in this direction? Do you see any signs of this, Professor Gordon?
I see — I hear silence. Now, I think I’ve written that Obama has an opportunity, because what it needs to bring peace in the Middle East is — or between Israel and the Palestinians is now known. We’ve had the Geneva Accords. We’ve had the Sari Nuseibeh and Ayalon. We’ve had the Arab Initiative. What needs to be done is clear. What is also clear is that regardless of the elections in Israel, the government that will be chosen will not go in the direction of peace.
Now, the third facet is that a majority of Israelis will probably vote for a two-state solution. My suggestion to Obama is to take — to write up an Obama plan, which I say I think is clear what needs to be done, and to go over the Israeli government and to bring it to a referendum to the Israeli people, and ask them, “Do you want a two-state solution?” We have a constellation, a configuration in the Israeli government, that a large minority will control any government and not allow it to make peace, regardless of what happens in the elections. And so, what we need is some kind of intervention from outside to go directly to the people. I think the people of Israel, if the American president will come and say, “Listen, you take it, and if not, you’ll be penalized, too. You take the two-state solution, and if not, you’ll be penalized.” And I think that is probably the way to go for Obama. I don’t know whether he’ll do it or not.
Neve Gordon, as you said, your kids are in a bomb shelter now. You’re in the Negev. We have seen many images of the rockets, the effect of the rockets hitting Sderot. But we’ve heard little voice from Israelis like you. And I’m wondering, is that an effect of the US media or the Israeli media? Or are those voices not that loud? In Sderot, for example, there is an alternative group that is called Alternative Voices, who actually, despite the rockets there, are calling for an end to the blockade and are calling for a ceasefire, calling for an end to the attack on Gaza. And this is over 1,800 people of Sderot.
There is an alternative movement. This past Saturday — you mentioned protests around the world — I participated in a protest with my children in Tel Aviv. There were about between 5,000 and 10,000 people, which, proportional to the population, is not a small protest. The vast majority — let us not delude ourselves, because the vast majority of the people in Israel do support. There are plenty of voices against. If you read Ha’aretz, the Israeli newspaper, people like Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, you’ll see that there are voices that are against.
The problem is that most Israelis say what Meagan said before. They say, “Israel left the Gaza Strip three years ago, and Hamas is still shooting rockets at us.” They forget the details. The details is that Israel maintains sovereignty. The details is that the Palestinians live in a cage. The details is that they don’t get basic foodstuff, that they don’t get electricity, that they don’t get water, and so forth. And when you forget those kinds of details, and all you say is, “Here, we left them. Why are they still shooting at us?” and that’s what the media here has been pumping them with, then you think this war is rational. If you look at what’s been going on in the Gaza Strip in the past three years and you see what Israel has been doing to the Palestinians, you would think that the Palestinian resistance is rational. And that’s what’s missing in the mainstream media here. And so, although there are voices of resistance in Israel and although there was a quite big protest on — actually, two big protests on Saturday, one in Sakhnin and one in Tel Aviv, it is still a really small minority.
Neve Gordon, I want to thank you for being with us, chair of the Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, speaking to us from Beersheba. His book is called Israel’s Occupation. Phyllis Bennis, thank you for being with us, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. When we come back, we go back to Gaza.