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Israeli Journalist Amira Hass on Palestinian Resistance, “Peace Talks” and U.S. Role in Region (Pt. 2)

Web ExclusiveApril 10, 2013
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Part two of our interview with Amira Hass, the only Jewish-Israeli journalist to have spent almost 20 years living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank. Christiane Amanpour has described her as “one of the greatest truth-seekers of them all.”

Amira Hass recently suffered a torrent of hate mail and calls for her prosecution after she wrote an article for Haaretz defending the right of Palestinians to resist violent occupation. In the article, Hass defended the throwing of stones by Palestinian youth at Israeli soldiers, calling it “the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule.” In this web exclusive, Hass begins by reading her controversial article.

Watch Part One of Amira Hass Interview

Watch 2009 Interview

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Our guest is Amira Hass, well-known Israeli-Jewish journalist, the only Israeli-Jewish journalist to live in the Occupied Territories, in West Bank and Gaza, for about two decades. In 2009, she came to the United States because she was honored by the International Women’s Media Foundation. She was introduced by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. Christiane Amanpour said that Amira Hass is “one of the greatest truth-seekers of them all.”

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Amira monitors power by following the lives of average people caught in its machinations, and she’s on the ground listening and collecting their testimonies. And as I said, she is often providing the material for those of us who don’t know the story as well or who sometimes are not able to go where she goes to be able to follow her leads.

She writes what the Palestinian journalists think about their country’s leadership but dare not say themselves. She writes what she thinks citizens of Israel should know about their leadership but do not want to hear.

Some call her a traitor. It is uncomfortable to hear the truth; it’s very uncomfortable to tell the truth. Some say that she is the only voice of truth in a polarized conflict. For 20 years, she’s paid no attention to either of these camps, choosing instead to follow her own path. Amira knows what Irena just said, that dictators do not like journalists, but more than that, democracies often don’t like journalists either.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Amira Hass has come to the United States after writing a piece in her newspaper, Haaretz, in Israel, a piece that has led to a torrent of hate mail and calls for prosecution after the piece came out, defending the rights of Palestinians to resist violent occupation. In the article, Amira Hass defends the throwing of stones by Palestinian youth at Israeli soldiers, calling it “the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule.” But we’re going to turn right now to Amira Hass herself.

And, Amira, welcome to Democracy Now! Could you read the article—

AMIRA HASS: All of it?

AMY GOODMAN: —that has caused such a furor in Israel?

AMIRA HASS: OK, if you want.

“Throwing stones is the birthright and duty of anyone subject to foreign rule. Throwing stones is an action as well as a metaphor of resistance. Persecution of stone-throwers, including 8-year-old children, is an inseparable part—though it’s not always spelled out—of the job requirements of the foreign ruler, no less than shooting, torture, land theft, restrictions on movement, and the unequal distribution of water sources.

“The violence of 19-year-old soldiers, their 45-year-old commanders, and the violence of bureaucrats, jurists and lawyers is dictated by reality. Their job is to protect the fruits of violence instilled in foreign occupation—resources, profits, power and privileges.

“Steadfastness (Sumud) and resistance against the physical, and even more so the systemic, institutionalized violence, is the core sentence in the inner syntax of Palestinians in this land. This is reflected every day, every hour, every moment, without pause. Unfortunately, this is true not only in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza, but also within Israel’s recognized borders, although the violence and the resistance to it are expressed differently. But on both sides of the Green Line, the levels of distress, suffocation, bitterness, anxiety and wrath are continually on the rise, as is the astonishment at Israelis’ blindness in believing that their violence can remain in control forever.

“Often hurling stones is borne out of boredom, excessive hormones, mimicry, boastfulness and competition. But in the inner syntax of the relationship between the occupier and the occupied, stone-throwing is the adjective attached to the subject of ’We’ve had enough of you, occupiers.’

“After all, teenagers could find other ways to give vent to their hormones without risking arrests, fines, injuries and death.

“Even if it is a right and duty, various forms of steadfastness and resisting the foreign regime, as well as its rules and limitations, should be taught and developed. Limitations could include the distinction between civilians and those who carry arms, between children and those in uniform, as well as the failures and narrowness of using weapons.

“It would make sense for Palestinian schools to introduce basic classes in resistance: how to build multiple 'tower and stockade' villages in Area C; how to behave when army troops enter your homes; comparing different struggles against colonialism in different countries; how to use a video camera to document the violence of the regime’s representatives; methods to exhaust the military system and its representatives; a weekly day of work in the lands beyond the separation barrier; how to remember identifying details of soldiers who flung you handcuffed to the floor of the jeep, in order to submit a complaint; the rights of detainees and how to insist on them in real time; how to overcome fear of interrogators; and mass efforts to realize or to materialize the right of movement. Come to think of it, Palestinian adults could also make use of these lessons, perhaps in place of their drills, training in dispersing protests, and practice in spying on Facebook posts.

“When high school students were drafted two years ago for the campaign of boycotting settlement products, it seemed like a move in the right direction. But it stopped there, without going further, without broadening the context. Such lessons would have been perfectly in tune with the tactics of appealing to the United Nations—civil disobedience on the ground and defiance of power in diplomacy.

“So why are such classes absent from the Palestinian curriculum? Part of the explanation lies with the opposition of the donor states and Israel’s punitive measures. But it is also due to inertia, laziness, flawed reasoning, misunderstanding and the personal gains of some parts of society. In fact the rationale for the existence of the Palestinian Authority engendered one basic rule in the last two decades—adaptation to the existing situation. Thus, a contradiction and a clash have been created between the inner syntax of the Palestinian Authority and that of the Palestinian people.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Thank you, Amira Hass. Can you talk a little, now that you’ve read the piece, about what surprised you in the responses that you received when the piece was published, including from, as you said, Israeli liberals?

AMIRA HASS: Yeah, and also Palestinians. What surprised me is that I’ve been writing this—I mean, these kind of things, I’ve been writing in the past, as well, about the right to resist. So, we’ve—with some friends, we’ve come to the conclusion that usually they read it only—they read only the first sentence—I mean, that now the difference is that I wrote it on the first sentence and not in the middle of the article, which means that so far they have read only the first sentence, and not… Then—then I was surprised with my surprise, because, after all, you know, I know that any hegemonic group sees its hegemony and the violence it uses for the hegemony as self-evident, as a natural thing, and will do everything possible to protect this hegemony and the violence that is combined with the hegemony. So I shouldn’t have been surprised.

AMY GOODMAN: You say that Palestinians responded, as well as Israelis.

AMIRA HASS: No, I got many support, but some Palestinians neglected the fact that I make a distinction between, you know, targeting civilians and targeting soldiers.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

AMIRA HASS: They don’t—they didn’t relate to this distinction that I make between civilians and—


AMIRA HASS: Because—because many of this—because this needs more—making distinction needs much more planning, needs much more thought, needs much more effort, and this is more difficult. So people know that there has not been much of a distinction between civilians and soldiers, and different especially in the use of arms. So, others—others do mention it. I mean, it’s not—somebody—I just got an article today of someone who wrote we’re just not—I mean, “You are remaining an occupier and an imperialist or colonialist, whatever you say, whatever you do.” So, also this is a reaction. But—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what about the fact that you advocate nonviolent resistance?

AMIRA HASS: I don’t like the term “nonviolent resistance,” yes.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t know what the exact phrase is in this.

AMIRA HASS: Yeah, yeah, no, I’ll tell you why: because it puts the onus of being nonviolent on the occupied rather than on the occupier. And it has the ring of how we please the West in their demands of how to do.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: How is it that you phrase it? Is it “civil disobedience”?

AMIRA HASS: I phrase it “unarmed.”


AMIRA HASS: And “popular resistance,” “popular resistance.” And as we saw with the Second Intifada, armed resistance—or, it wasn’t really resistance, in my eyes, but the use of arms always keeps away the majority of the population. So it’s only—it’s a very masculine, it’s a very macho phenomenon that is—mostly, I say, it is the competition over whose is bigger.

AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, you talk about schools should—in Palestine, should have to teach resistance.

AMIRA HASS: Yeah, yeah.


AMIRA HASS: You see those kids going throwing stones, as I say, it’s their right. And then they’re being arrested by the hundreds every month. They should be equipped also with the knowledge how to face an interrogator, what are your rights, what lawyer to call when you are arrested. This should be part of the curriculum. Or, you know, going to the demonstrations against the separation wall shouldn’t be only the task of the villagers who suffered from the separation wall. Why not have one week or one day a month or one day in the week—I don’t know—each school going to work with the farmers who have land beyond the separation wall, insist on going—

AMY GOODMAN: You know, for most people who are listening to this—


AMY GOODMAN: They have no idea what you mean when you say the separation wall.

AMIRA HASS: Oh. Even 10 years after?

AMY GOODMAN: You live in it—


AMY GOODMAN: But I would say most people don’t.

AMIRA HASS: It’s part of Israeli—as a response to the suicide attacks of the Second Intifada, Israel decided to build a separation wall between Israel and the West Bank—only that it is deep into the western Palestinian—Palestinian territory. In some places it’s a fence, very offensive fence; in some places it is a wall, a wall of concrete. Only that the idea to have a wall started or this barrier started from before the Second Intifada, so idea in June 2000, so before the Second Intifada started. Anyway, this was taken by most of the Israelis as the right thing, as the right way to respond to the suicide attacks. The thing is that it’s deep into the western West Bank and cutting away many, many—a lot of dunams away from Palestinians. It separates Palestinians from Palestinians, Palestinian communities from their land, Palestinians’ villages from cities, etc. So this is—but it’s not—and the separation wall actually materialized restrictions on movement that existed already from before.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: One of the things that you also suggest is that, as against what most people believe, U.S. support for present Israeli policies do not actually work for the benefit of Jews in the region. Could you elaborate on that, because I think that’s rather uncommon a view?

AMIRA HASS: Yeah, yeah. This is also one of the things that’s always astonished me, that people who say that they care for Israel actually assist Israel and Israelis to nurture what I call their suicidal—suicidal character or instincts, because if people think that we can live in that region—we are a minority in that region—so to live forever, for hundreds of years, as a society which is taken as a foreign outpost and as a messenger of another—of a big power, and only rely on our military superiority, I think this is real shortsightedness. This is what I call the suicidal—this is how I see Israel as suicidal. Palestinians and Arab peoples have shown over the past 20 years their willingness to accept this society in the region, but provided it is not a hostile society.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But there are many people who would argue against that, who say precisely that’s not the case, that the problem is that Arab states have not been sufficiently—

AMIRA HASS: No, there is the Arab—look, we are nearing a situation where many, many—when people start to withdraw from this. They say, “We have—there was a peace process or a peace accord. It’s the Oslo. And what did Israelis—Israel show? That they are only after more land, more colonialist endeavor, more confiscation of land.” And actually, Israel built in the—under the guise of a peace process, what Israel managed to make is a group of bantustans, Gaza apart, and then now they work on making bantustans or consolidating the bantustans, the enclaves, or reservations, if you will, in the West Bank, separated from each other, or not separated but thinly connected to each other within an ocean of Israeli-controlled land. So, in the past 20 years, Israel has given many reasons to people—to those who always doubted Israel’s intentions, it has given them many reasons to continue in doubt it and say, “No, we cannot.” But still, I just saw a poll today. Still, Palestinians, the majority of Palestinians, believe that—in a popular struggle against—popular, which means unarmed, struggle against this occupation. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see a one-state or a two-state solution as the most likely outcome right now?

AMIRA HASS: Now, nothing is likely, neither-nor. So—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What’s a desirable outcome?

AMIRA HASS: I joked, and people take me seriously. I said, if to dream, then I would dream about the United Socialist States of the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re the daughter—

AMIRA HASS: If you want to know.

AMY GOODMAN: —of Holocaust survivors.


AMY GOODMAN: We talked about this a little in part one of this interview. You have written a book about your mother. Talk about how that shapes your view of—

AMIRA HASS: It was my mother’s diary, and I added two chapters to them, my mother’s diary in Bergen-Belsen, in the concentration camp, yeah. So that’s not—it was published by Haymarket. Look, the influence is—my parents were leftists, not only Holocaust survivors, and the two were clear—it was a natural combination that you can—what you conclude, that you are—that you resist—first, about the right of resistance. I mean, if I learned from anyone about the right to resist oppression, I learned it from my parents because of this, of their history—and without making comparisons. It doesn’t—it’s not important. But, I mean, the legacy of African Americans fighting against slavery, the legacy of South Africa, and also what I—the legacy of also people in the ex-Soviet Union, in the Soviet Empire, fighting against their oppression, this is part of the legacy. Not only—not just nationalist—our nation’s history is our legacy.

AMY GOODMAN: When you were honored in 2009 by the International Women’s Media Foundation, it was a very fancy banquet. Hundreds of people were there. I also was there. Christian Amanpour introduced you, talked about your courage, your truth telling. And you won the lifetime achievement award. When you got up, you responded to lifetime achievement.

AMIRA HASS: Yeah, I said it was lifetime failure.


AMIRA HASS: Well, writing for 20 years, and you realize that it doesn’t—these words don’t change and not—and the situation is only worse. And if I wanted to appeal to Israelis and to tell them—to be kind of a messenger and give them the facts, you know, not—it’s only lately that I started with op-eds—or not lately, but my main task is to give facts. And then you realize that people do not want to read. And I always say the problem in Israel is not institutionalized censorship. We don’t have censorship, or to a great—maybe some military, but not that serious. We can write whatever we want, and we have—we can exercise this right of information. But the people don’t have the duty to know. And that’s maybe the failure.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: You also said that 20 years ago there was still some shame in Israeli society, because there was some set of ethics and values that contradicted the occupation, but that has completely eroded over the years.

AMIRA HASS: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you explain that? Why did that occur? Why did these values erode?

AMIRA HASS: Well, you know, you have new generations. You get used to the situation. You benefit from it. You see that there is no—the world is not shocked by it. That’s it. I mean, people—you know, the world is demanding Palestinians to be nonviolent, but it’s not demanding Israel to be nonviolent. You know, Obama came, and he spoke about Israel being threatened by Gaza, which is—this is such a—

AMY GOODMAN: When he last visited.

AMIRA HASS: Yeah. It is such a—how would I describe it? It’s absurd. It’s an absurd, to describe this, to accept this kind of balance, as that Israel is being threatened by Gaza. So, yeah, people have—you have new generations. You have youngsters who have no idea that there was a situation—a different situation 30, 40 years ago, 45 years ago, actually. I mean, 25 years ago, still, the majority of the Israelis lived—before all—yeah, you know, like they—without this occupation.

But let’s not—I mean, let’s not forget that it’s not only the Green Line that—I mean, it’s not only—the problem is not only in the West Bank. The problem is institutionalized discrimination against the Palestinians and a systemic dispossession of these people from their land and homeland. And with the years, it becomes clearer and clearer that it is this—a plan. It is not by accident. I mean, if it started by accident, if we had the benefit of the doubt at the beginning that it started because of certain circumstances, it becomes more and more entrenched in Israeli policies.

And this is what endangers the—it is what endangers the existence and the future of the Jewish community. This is what drives me mad. I mean, you know, people do not believe—but of course I care for my community. And maybe it’s time to—it’s what Palestinians very often ask me, a very similar question. They say—when they are stupefied by this Israeli blindness, they say, “Don’t Israelis think about their grandchildren?” And I think it’s a very compassionate and telling question, and valid.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re heading to Brazil, Amira Hass. Why are you going there?

AMIRA HASS: I was invited to give some talks to Jewish groups and Jewish youth, which I don’t know much about, so [inaudible]—

AMY GOODMAN: And what—what is the message you will convey there?

AMIRA HASS: That if they care for the existence of a Jewish community in that region, they should not support Israeli policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass, I want to thank you for being with us. I would like to talk to you when you come back from Brazil on your way back to Israel.

AMIRA HASS: Insha’Allah.

AMY GOODMAN: Amira Hass is Haaretz correspondent from the occupied Palestinian territories, the only Jewish-Israeli journalist to have spent almost 20 years living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

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