Palestine

Peering Through the Wall

When Israel launched its attacks on Gaza last December, Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz, Israel’s prestigious daily, “Once again Israel’s violent responses, even if there is justification for them, exceed all proportion and cross every red line of humaneness, morality, international law, and wisdom.”

Such bold critique is not unusual in the Israeli media. Haaretz stands at the epicenter of dissent, with stories by writers such as Amira Hass and Levy that attack the government for its seizures of Palestinian lands, its savaging of Palestinian civilians, and its battlefield brutalities.

“There is no pressure on Haaretz,” Levy said in a phone interview from Israel. “Not even from the government. Here and there, people cancel their subscriptions, but nothing more than that. Haaretz would not surrender to that kind of pressure.”

The general lack of respect for official sensibilities was clearly illustrated in a November 2003 interview in Yediot Aharonot, a daily tabloid and the most widely circulated paper in Israel, with four former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security apparatus, its own FBI. Each interviewee condemned the occupation in voices that sounded more like Gideon Levy’s than J. Edgar Hoover’s.

Avraham Shalom, for instance, was quoted in the right-leaning paper as saying, “We are behaving disgracefully. Yes, there is no other word for it. Disgracefully. We totally debase the Palestinian individual … Nobody can take this. We too would not take it if it were done to us.” Ami Ayalon, another former Shin Bet head, agreed. “Much of what we are doing today [in the Territories] is immoral, some of it patently immoral.”

Israel is a country that takes its schizophrenic democracy seriously. It may deny the people it occupies their basic human rights, but it manages not to let that be an impediment to the functioning of its democratic institutions.

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Sojourners Magazine November 2009
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Death of an Activist

Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American peace activist, was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003, while trying to stop the destruction of Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. Israeli military police concluded that her death was accidental, though eyewitnesses claimed she was murdered. Simone Bitton, an Israeli filmmaker living in France, examined the conflicting accounts of Corrie’s death in her documentary Rachel. Becky Garrison, author of The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail and Rising from the Ashes, spoke with Bitton at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival in April, where the film had its North American premiere.

Becky Garrison: What drew you to this story?

Simone Bitton: I am an Israeli citizen, though I live in France now. This story has special significance for us because it was the first time a foreign peace activist protecting Palestinians was killed by the Israeli army. Somehow a red line had been crossed.

On a more personal level, I was moved by the story of this young girl. I’m 53 years old, and I’m at the age when one starts mourning one’s youth and evaluating one’s own present and past commitments. I had been a peace activist since I was young, and I have a deep feeling that my generation has failed. We didn’t achieve anything. The Occupation is more terrible than it used to be.

Corrie’s death received little press, but she still received more coverage than the Palestinian who died the same day.

In general, in the Middle East and a lot of places, the value of life is not the same for the media and the public. The lives of Palestinians aren’t worth much in comparison with the lives of Americans and Israelis. Although I made a film about an American citizen and not the anonymous Palestinian victim, my choice to focus on the American should be questioned in the film. And I think it is.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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