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Israeli Journalist Gideon Levy: Israel Should Lift Siege & Call Off Plans for Ground Invasion of Gaza

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From Tel Aviv, we hear from award-winning Israeli journalist and author Gideon Levy, whose recent column for Haaretz is headlined “Israel Can’t Imprison Two Million Gazans Without Paying a Cruel Price.” Levy discusses the reaction within Israeli society toward Hamas’s unexpected attack and condemns the Netanyahu government for only mobilizing for further warfare rather than providing effective assistance to victims. “Nobody is leading Israel,” declares Levy, who also calls for Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza and accept that its campaign of eradicating Hamas is “impossible.” After decades of Palestinian subjugation under Israeli rule, “you can kill the current top people of Hamas, but you will not kill the ideology of Hamas,” says Levy.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

“Netanyahu Bears Responsibility for This Israel-Gaza War.” That’s the headline of an editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The paper’s editors wrote, quote, “The disaster that befell Israel on the holiday of Simchat Torah is the clear responsibility of one person: Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister, who has prided himself on his vast political experience and irreplaceable wisdom in security matters, completely failed to identify the dangers he was consciously leading Israel into when establishing a government of annexation and dispossession, when appointing Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir to key positions, while embracing a foreign policy that openly ignored the existence and rights of Palestinians,” the Haaretz editorial said.

We go now to Tel Aviv, where we’re joined by Gideon Levy, an award-winning Israeli journalist and author, columnist for the newspaper Haaretz, member of its editorial board. His most recent piece is headlined “Israel Can’t Imprison Two Million Gazans Without Paying a Cruel Price.”

Gideon Levy, if you can talk about how Israelis are responding right now, what you feel it’s important for people outside Israel, especially here in the United States, to understand and to do, at this point as 300,000 reservists move along the Gaza border?

GIDEON LEVY: Israel is basically shocked. At least in the first one or two days, you could feel it everywhere. Nobody expected this unprecedented situation. It broke many perceptions, both about Hamas, about the Palestinians, about their capabilities, and about ourselves and our capabilities. But this is now put aside. People are still digesting what happened. The more time passes, the more horrible scenes are exposed, day after day. I’ve been to the south the day before yesterday. And I can tell you — I’ve been so many times in the south in times of war — what I saw there was nothing like it happened in the past. But I must say that side by side with what I mention here, there is also a big sense of taking revenge, a big desire to take revenge. And hatred toward the Palestinians is growing up to very, very dangerous levels.

Same anger is also directed at the government, less than this at the army. But I think that the government, once this war will be over, hopefully soon, this government is going to pay a hell of a price, and it will — must go home. I don’t see the situation in which Netanyahu continues, and all the ministers around him, who are, all of them, no ones, fascists, and they, part of them, would even be defined in Europe as neo-Nazis, those people who called for all kind of terrible things to do and did nothing to make Israel prepared for any danger, and continue now to doing nothing. That’s so astonishing that we are now the fifth day after the war, and you don’t see the government. They are still preoccupied with their own political careers, with all kind of political manipulations. Nobody takes care of the situation. The army is preparing itself for a ground operation. But except of the army — I was in so many homes which were bombed, so many people who lost their beloved one. Nobody came to them. Nobody offers them any assistance.

Israel is really falling apart, from this point of view. And the man who governed Israel for the last 15 years is the one, and the only one, to be blamed, before anyone else. This goes without saying. And I guess at six after the war, as we say, million Israelis will go to the streets, and they will have only one demand: At least, Netanyahu, go home. If not, Netanyahu, go to court and be sentenced for this irresponsible policy that you have been committing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Gideon Levy, I wanted to ask you — according to press reports, as many as 1,500 Palestinian fighters of Hamas were killed inside of Israel, so the enormous number of militants who were able to get into Israel. Could you talk about the decision of the government to relocate large portions of Israel’s army from the Gaza border to protect far-right settlers on the West Bank?

GIDEON LEVY: Sure. That’s one of the big failures on Saturday, not the only one, because the first failure is obviously the surprise, the strategic surprise. We are so proud about the most sophisticated intelligence in the world, with all kind of those elite units, with all the devices. They know everything. They understand everything. And then, an operation, which was prepared for one year by hundreds of militants, they didn’t hear about it. So that’s the first failure.

The second failure is obviously that the southern front with Gaza was totally abandoned, because we were busy with all the festivals of support of those crazy settlers, guarding them, but not only guarding them, collaborating with them with their pogroms among Palestinians. We have clear evidence that the army saw the pogroms and did nothing. And when the army is busy for years now, not only recently, only with running and chasing after Palestinian children who throw a stone, and after all kind of suspected Palestinians, when the army is overoccupied in standing in illegal checkpoints and penetrating to Palestinian homes in the middle of the night to arrest somebody without any legal basis, then this is the result you get. Instead of a professional, motivated, experienced army, you get a bunch of no ones who don’t know what to do in such a situation, because after the first shock, they were still — it took still hours and hours until the army showed up. And that’s unbelievable.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this issue of Netanyahu preparing for an invasion of Gaza, could you talk about the immense undertaking that this involves, having to go literally house by house or building by building in Gaza to find any of the hostages being held? The enormity of this project?

GIDEON LEVY: First of all, to go from building to building is impossible already, because there are many buildings still down. And I’m not sure how many buildings were left, for example, in the neighborhood of Rimal. To find the hostages alive, really, it’s nice for all kind of Hollywood films. I don’t see it happening, for sure not with this army with its capabilities, as we were witnessing it only on Saturday.

The invasion into Gaza has some other goals — namely, to put an end to the rule of Hamas. And this is another impossible mission, because you can kill the current top people of Hamas, you cannot kill the ideology of Hamas, and they will always be replaced.

Ground operation now is supported almost by all Israelis, because Israelis understand that we have to do something after this embarrassment, after this catastrophe. But in the same time, I must tell you, I can assure you that if Israel will go now for a ground operation, it will take a few weeks or maybe a few months. It will take so much blood of both Palestinians and Israelis, mainly Palestinians obviously. And by the end of this operation, you will invite me again to Democracy Now!, and you will see that we are standing exactly in the place that we stood one week ago, because as long as Israel continues to believe that Gaza — the problem of Gaza will be solved by the sword, solved by brutal force, by emotions of revenge — justified emotions — then we will get exactly to the same place. This vicious circle will not be solved by power, not be solved by tanks, and not will be — nor will it be solved by troops, only by political agreement and, above all and first of all, lifting this criminal siege, for God’s sake, after 17 years. This siege, what it was about, to guarantee the security of Israel. So, what happened out of the siege except of the suffer of — unbelievable inhuman suffer of 2 million people? What did it contribute to the security of Israel, this siege? You see the outcome.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have less than a minute, Gideon. I wanted to ask you the difference of the cry, the call of the families of the hostages, of older people, of young people, of children, the family members, one after another, talking about being, for example, a peace activist, and saying, “Please use restraint,” and the contrast between that and President Biden as he addressed the nation yesterday, deciding consciously, and in the readout of his conversation with Netanyahu a few minutes before he spoke, saying they did not call for restraint. Your response? How important is the president of United States’ position here? We have less than a minute.

GIDEON LEVY: In less than a minute, I can tell you, Amy, that last night when I was watching President Biden, I really envied you Americans that you have such a leader. I never thought so before last night. But last night, Biden was a real leader, someone that you can trust, because he was extremely sincere, and someone that you can rely on. If Netanyahu would have taken the same speech, he wouldn’t be Netanyahu. Netanyahu is busy with politics. And here comes this Biden and tells Israel what Israel wanted to hear. I would love him also to say some things about the Palestinian suffering, the Palestinian agony. He ignored it totally, and this is very regretful. But by the end of the day, this is what Israel needs now: some kind of leadership. And it totally lacks it. Nobody is around, really, to understand that we have to go for a new way. Nobody is there.

AMY GOODMAN: Gideon Levy, we want to thank you for being with us, award-winning Israeli journalist and author, columnist for the newspaper Haaretz, a member of its editorial board. We’ll link to your most recent piece, “Israel Can’t Imprison Two Million Gazans Without Paying a Cruel Price.” His books include The Punishment of Gaza.

Coming up, a debate between two leading progressive activists here in the U.S. over funding for Ukraine, also a discussion about increasing funding, military funding, to Israel. Back in 20 seconds.

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