Vocal opposition to the war in Gaza can be hard to express in Israel, where campaigner Gideon Levy says people ‘leave their liberalism’ at the 1967 border
By Giles Fraser in The Guardian
Gideon Levy doesn’t want to meet in a coffee bar in Tel Aviv. He is fed up with being hassled in public and spat at, with people not willing to share the table next to him in restaurants. And now he is fed up with the constant presence of his bodyguards, not least because they too have started giving him a hard time about his political views. So he doesn’t go out much any more and we sit in the calm of his living room, a few hundred yards from the Yitzhak Rabin Centre. Rabin’s assassination by a rightwing Orthodox Jew in 1995 is itself a sobering reminder of the personal cost of peacemaking in Israel.
In his column in Haaretz, Levy has long since banged the drum for greater Israeli empathy towards the suffering of the Palestinians. He is a well-known commentator on the left, and one of the few prepared to stick his head above the parapet. Consequently, he is no stranger to opposition from the right. But this time it is different. Yariv Levin, coalition chairman of the Likud-Beytenu faction in the Knesset, recently called for him to be put on trial for treason – a crime which, during wartime, is punishable by death.
“It is time we stop regarding despicable phenomena like this with tolerance,” Levin said of Levy. Soon after that interview, Eldad Yaniv, a former political adviser to ex-prime minister Ehud Barack, wrote on his Facebook page: “The late Gideon Levy. Get used to it.”
Levy’s unpardonable crime is vocal opposition to the war and to the bombing of Gaza. According to recent polls, support for the military operation in Gaza among the Jewish Israeli public stands somewhere between 87% (Channel 10 News) and 95% (Israel Democracy Institute). Even those who are secretly against the war are cautious about voicing their opinion openly.
LONDON — Sheldon Adelson’s right-wing Israel Hayom, the biggest-selling newspaper in Israel, has called for Gaza to be “returned to the Stone Age.” During the last Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza, in 2012, a government minister called for Gaza to be consigned “to the Middle Ages.” Before that, there was the Gaza War of 2008-2009, in which 1,166 Palestinians died and 13 Israelis, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
The story goes on and on. There is no denouement. Gaza, a small place jammed with 1.8 million people, does not recess to the Stone, Iron, Middle or other Ages. It does not get flattened, as Ariel Sharon’s son once proposed. The death toll is overwhelmingly skewed against Palestinians. Hamas, with its militia and arsenal of rockets, continues to run Gaza. The dead die for nothing.
Israel could send Gaza back to whichever age it wishes. Its military advantage, its general dominance, over the Palestinians has never been greater since 1948. But it chooses otherwise. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s talk of a ground invasion is empty. The last thing Israel wants, short of a cataclysm, is to go into Gaza and get stuck.
What Israel wants is the status quo (minus Hamas rockets). Israel is the Middle East’s status quo power par excellence. It seeks a calm Gaza under Hamas control, a divided Palestinian movement with Fatah running the West Bank, a vacuous “peace process” to run down the clock, and continued prosperity. Divide and rule. Hamas is useful to Israel as long as it is quiescent.
The guide books warn that it’s very unstable and that tourists shouldn’t go there; the Foreign Office tells Brits that there’s a high threat from terrorism – don’t visit any part of the territory, it says, and if you do, there is no ‘our man’ there to help you out.
In truth, it is pretty difficult to get into Gaza anyway. Unless you are a journalist or work for an NGO, the likelihood is that you will get stopped at Israel’s airport-terminal-like border post at Erez, which governs who is allowed to enter the Palestinian territory and, more importantly in Israeli eyes, who is allowed out.
But once you do get permission to go to Gaza, you realise that it is not like anywhere else. After getting the necessary stamps in your passport, you take a long walk through an 800-metre or so long cage, overlooked by Israeli army gun posts and balloons fixed with cameras that keep an eye over what’s going on. Locals call it “the world’s biggest prison”, and it’s not difficult to understand why.
Gaza is about 5,000 years old and one of the world’s oldest cities. In that time it has been both a thriving port and, as it is today, a sprawling mess of refugee camps and poverty. According to the United Nations, 1.5 million people call it home, making Gaza one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. Of the 1.5 million inhabitants, 1.1 million are refugees; those who lived in what is now Israel before 1948 refuse to give up the belief that one day they’ll return to their former homes.