I’ve written a long essay/memoir in the latest edition of leading Australian literary journal, Meanjin, on Judaism, Israel/Palestine, human rights and modern identity.
Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters recently toured around Australia. One night in Melbourne he took the time to speak at a public event, in conversation with Palestinian writer Randa Abdel-Fattah and me, about politics, the media, Palestine and the Middle East. He appeared before a packed house at the Athanaeum Theatre and the video has just been released of the event, organised by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.
Last Friday night in Melbourne, I interviewed Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters alongside Palestinian writer Randa Abdel-Fattah. The event was organised by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network. Waters is in Australia on his massive “Us and Them” world tour (which I saw on Saturday night and it was one of the most spectacular music performances I’ve ever seen).
The Q&A was a unique public event, over 500 people attended, and we discussed the Middle East, Donald Trump, Palestine and his politics over decades. He was frank, funny and refreshingly down to earth. Unsurprisingly, Australian, pro-Israel politician Michael Danby condemned the event, including my involvement, but got both my names wrong in his press release.
Full video of the evening is coming soon but in the meantime here’s a story from popular music website, Noise 11:
Pink Floyd legend Roger Waters gave his time for the Australia Palestine Advocate Network in Melbourne on Friday and while explaining the issues between Palestine and Israel also took aim at a number of his fellow artists Elton John, Thom Yorke, Steven Tyler, Steve Van Zandt and Nick Cave.
Roger Waters has been working tirelessly since 2006 to try and bridge peace between Palestine and Israel after being confronted by Israeli fans at one of his concerts in Tel Aviv after calling on them to make peace with their neighbours 12 years ago.
Ever since he has campaigned for musicians to boycott performances in Israel and recently praised Lorde for doing so. However, he hasn’t had the same reaction from others.
In Melbourne, Roger Waters sat down for a Q&A for the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN).
During his talk for APAN Waters called Thom Yorke “a self-obsessed, narcissistic, drippy little prick” and Elton John ‘Queen Mum’. He also called out Nick Cave for saying he was bullying him, said “fuck you” to Steve Van Zandt and referred to Steven Tyler as “an old lady”.
Waters has been spreading the message to help mend the Middle East situation after that personal confrontation at his gig.
About Thom Yorke he said:
“Thom Yorke said that Ken Roach and I were throwing mud at him. No we weren’t. We were trying to engage him. I had a long email exchange with Thom Yorke and in the end he said ‘that’s it I’m giving up the music business, you have finally convinced me’. He was just being sarcastic. He is a prick. At least have a conversation. He is just a self-obsessed, narcissistic, drippy little prick”.
About Elton John:
Elton John went and played in Sun City about 500 times when everyone else in the world was anti-apartheid and said you can’t go and play in Sun City and he said ‘yeah I can, I’m the Queen Mum’. You kind of go, well he is just dopey and also he obviously doesn’t give a fuck about anybody else except the lesbian gay whatever whatever community which he does seem to care about. He will make videos protecting his one little area of people who are having violence done to them but he seems blind to (others). We are all human but some people are human in different ways.
About Little Steven
Little Steven, Steven Van Zandt from the E Street Band. He produced ‘Sun City’. I wrote to him and said ‘hey Steve, don’t you think it’s time we did one of these about Palestine because the situation is appalling. It is exactly the same situation it was in South Africa, it’s worse. He wrote me a letter back and said “I think the situation in Palestine is much more complicated and that turned into a threat. He said ‘I think you should be very careful about what you do and what you say because your career could be over in a heartbeat. I thought “fuck you”. This guy in his charlady hat is threatening me. He did say however he admired my courage and would love to have lunch so I wrote back and said “what about next Friday?” That was four years ago.
About Nick Cave
Your bloke, Cave. Gimme a break, was he really saying that his freedom of speech was being infringed? It doesn’t deserve an answer. I was co-signatory of all the letters sent to him. I didn’t speak to him personally. I don’t want to speak to him. I think it is pitiful to bring that up and say “I don’t want Roger Waters bullying me. I’m a musician, I just want to play my music”. What? They are shooting the fucking feet of 18-year-olds who want to play soccer. Don’t talk to me about your freedom of speech. Pay Attention”.
About Aerosmith and Steven Tyler
Aerosmith went to one of these training camps. What are they doing? What were they thinking? I ran into Steve Tyler in a sushi restaurant in LA and he leapt up to me. I thought, who is this, a little old lady? He had his hair up and I thought ‘oh God there’s a little old lady who wants to talk to me’ and it was Steven Tyler.
Gideon Levy is one of Israel’s most outspoken journalists. He’s been writing for decades in Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the devastating effects of the never-ending Israeli occupation of Palestine.
I first met Gideon in Tel Aviv in 2005 when I was researching my first book, My Israel Question.
Since then, he’s become an inspiration for daring to reveal the dark side of Israeli society and what it’s supporting in the West Bank and Gaza.
He recently toured Australia, and received extensive media coverage (on the public broadcaster ABC), and I was privileged to speak alongside him at Sydney University. It was one of the biggest Sydney Ideas events of the year, with nearly 500 people present.
My comments begin at 50:07 and then a Q&A with Gideon.
Here’s the audio:
And the video:
The Melbourne Press Club periodically inducts journalists into its Hall of Fame.
I was asked to write the profile and be interviewed about John Pilger, one of Australia’s most famous journalistic exports:
During his acceptance speech for the Sydney Peace Prize in 2009, Australian journalist, author and film-maker John Pilger articulated a worldview that he has vociferously opposed during a career spanning more than 50 years. “Democracy has become a business plan,” he said, “with a bottom line for every human activity, every dream, every decency, every hope. The main parliamentary parties are now devoted to the same economic policies – socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor – and the same foreign policy of servility to endless war.”
Pilger’s decades-long work in print and television has transformed him into one of the most successful and awarded Australian journalists in the modern era, yet this has not brought him universal praise from his media colleagues or a profession that often prefers safe insiders and embedded “realities”. Pilger is too confrontational towards state power and his industry to be widely adored and he embraces being the eternal dissident.
In the introduction to a 2004 collection of fine investigative journalism from around the world, Tell Me No Lies, edited by Pilger, he warned that the proliferation of public relations forced reporters to take an even more adversarial position towards governments and corporate power. Political and historical context is everything and Pilger rightly demanded more discussion about the “hundreds of illegal [American] ‘covert operations’, many of them bloody” that have denied political and economic self-determination to much of the world.
Pilger has spent years visiting the sites of these often silent wars, genocides and occupations from East Timor to Palestine and Australia to Vietnam. He has never been a cheerleader for “our” side and his journalism is stronger because of it.
In his classic 1986 book, Heroes, Pilger wrote that he had “grown up in one of the most fortunate cities on earth”. Born in Sydney in 1939 to socialist parents Elsie and Claude, he was brought up in Bondi and developed a love of swimming that continued his entire life. With a working class background, his journalism career began as a copy boy on the now defunct Sydney Sun newspaper.
As a cadet on Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Pilger soon discovered what he viewed as the dark heart of modern journalism. Writing in Heroes, he explained that “writing one thing and believing another was the way the system worked and to do otherwise was to risk not working at all.” He lamented many young journalists expressing “fake cynicism towards their craft, their readers and themselves.” It wasn’t surprising that he soon left the parochial shores of Sydney and followed the exodus of Australians to London.
Working as a journalist on the Daily Mirror, Pilger often found himself on the frontline of history. He witnessed the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles. His critical reporting during the Vietnam War, including his first TV documentary in 1970, The Quiet Mutiny, documented declining morale within the US military for the bloody conflict.
His 1979 film, Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia, exclusively revealed the devastation of that nation’s people after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Massive public reaction to the documentary led to millions of aid dollars being raised for the growing famine. Pilger didn’t just blame the genocidal Khmer Rouge for the catastrophe but also Washington for illegally bombing the state and creating the environment for the mass murderers to take power.
In his book, Distant Voices in 1992, Pilger recounted arriving in Phnom Penh in 1979 and “taking no photographs; incredulity saw to that. I had no sense of people, of even the remnants of a population; the first human shapes I glimpsed seemed incoherent shapes, detached from the city itself.” Pilger’s work on Cambodia was inarguably some of his most successful and he made five films about the country.
Pilger has long shone a harsh light on his birth country’s indigenous population. In his 1998 book, Hidden Agendas, he explained that “until we white Australians give back to the first Australians their nationhood, we can never claim our own.” Pilger has made many documentaries about Australia including Utopia, released in 2013. It was a scathing examination of the black population that remains invisible to the vast majority of Australians and the world. He showed desolate living conditions and apartheid-South African level incarceration rates for the nation’s first peoples.
Pilger has been routinely criticised for lacking objectivity, a concept he has dismissed for decades as the position of corporate journalists who routinely forget that they should be reporting on and defending the most marginalised citizens in society rather than siding or socialising with prime ministers, presidents and officials. He has been unapologetic about his defence of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange along with his criticism of liberal heroes such as Barack Obama. Noam Chomsky has called Pilger’s journalism “a beacon of light in often dark times.”
Upon winning the Order of Timor-Leste in 2017, in recognition of his work advocating for the East Timorese people during the Indonesian military occupation backed by Washington, London and Canberra, Pilger showed why he’s one of the best advocates for the forgotten. “Australia owes Timor Leste a huge debt, some would say, billions of dollars in reparations”, he said. “Australia should hand over, unconditionally, all royalties collected since [former Australian Foreign Minister] Gareth Evans toasted Suharto’s dictatorship while flying over the graves of its victims.”
Still engaged and angry in his seventh decade, Pilger is a rare journalist who has never sold out and never curbed his views to accommodate corporate donors. It’s no wonder officialdom has loathed him for decades yet readers and viewers across the world have often embraced his message.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist who has written for the Guardian, New York Times and many other publications. He is author of My Israel Question and Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe and writer and co-producer of the documentary, Disaster Capitalism.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten travelled to Israel this week to “celebrate” the 100-year anniversary of Beersheba and the Balfour Declaration. Palestine was barely on the agenda. After living in East Jerusalem for the last 1.5 years, I was interviewed for Lateline by ABC TV reporter Michael Vincent on the grim reality in Palestine:
In September, I spoke at Sydney University alongside US academic Mark LeVine and Palestinian academic Lana Tatour on the realities in today’s Palestine/Israel. Many interesting comments and my thoughts (after living in East Jerusalem for the last 1.5 years) start at 1:00:26:
Israeli-Canadian journalist David Sheen is facing a major legal battle in Israel.
I’ve investigated the story in British outlet The New Arab:
Israel promotes itself as the only democracy in the Middle East.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak once described his nation as a “villa in the jungle“. But recent years have seen a major erosion of press freedoms in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, and an Israeli Jewish public that wholeheartedly supports the suppression of independent media.
Palestinian journalists are routinely harassed and arrested. Palestinians are increasingly targeted on social media after Israel accuses them of incitement. Al Jazeera is now being threatened with closure. Israel’s communication minister Ayoub Kara claimed that Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain were his inspiration for trying to shut the Qatari news channel.
Israeli journalists aren’t immune. Being opposed to the decades-long occupation automatically makes you a target. Israel cannot maintain its control over millions of Palestinians without instituting a regime of control, intimidation, imprisonment and death. Occupation is brutal, unforgiving and now permanent.
Israeli-Canadian journalist David Sheen is the latest reporter to fall foul of Israel’s draconian political environment – and his case should be a wake-up call to a global community that still clings to the belief that Israel is a thriving democracy.
Sheen has contributed to The New Arab, Haaretz, Al Jazeera and others, and is one of Israel’s finest chroniclers of the state’s mistreatment of its Africans, and a consistent advocate of humanitarian principles.
He is being sued by an Israeli general, Israel Ziv, for writing about Ziv’s connections to the South Sudanese government led by President Salva Kiir.
Late last year, Israel’s Channel 2 discovered that Ziv’s company, Global CST, in addition to assisting and training security forces in South America, Eurasia and Africa, was advising Kiir to defend his beleaguered South Sudanese regime.
Kiir’s military stands accused of encouraging its soldiers to rape women during the ongoing civil war. Ziv and his colleagues allegedly suggested bringing a rape victim to the UN in New York, and giving Kiir the chance to blame these war crimes on traditional African culture. Ziv claims he was only working on agricultural projects in South Sudan.
The South Sudanese regime is guilty of rampant human rights abuses – including murder, rape and ethnic cleansing. Israeli companies have a dark and largely hidden relationship with the African state, selling weapons and surveillance equipment since the country’s independence in 2011.
I was based in South Sudan in 2015 and routinely heard about Israelis visiting to assist the state’s repression.
This fits into Israel’s aggressive policy to befriend African states, selling them arms and defence equipment, in the hope of better diplomatic support at the UN. Israel has also been sending African refugees to Rwanda and Uganda in an opaque process that’s causing immense trauma for the people being sent back.
I interviewed Eritrean refugees in South Sudan in 2015 who had been kicked out of Israel and left to fend for themselves in one of Africa’s poorest nations.
Tellingly, Ziv is pursuing Sheen – but not Israel’s Channel 2 (its report on Ziv is damning). It’s the very definition of a SLAPP suit which is “intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defence until they abandon their criticism or opposition”.
After the Channel 2 investigation aired last December, Ziv appeared on Israel’s Army Radio. One of the hosts, Amit Segal, asked Ziv: “So how did you get into a situation where you are sitting in a café… and in something like a parody of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, you suggest how he [the president of South Sudan] can whitewash his crimes?”
Ziv chuckled. He was accused by a mainstream journalist of secretly plotting to manipulate world opinion, cover up crimes and was compared to the most anti-Semitic work in history, and yet Ziv did not sue Segal. Instead, he’s harassing Sheen.
Ziv has a history of disturbing behaviour and comments in both Palestine and the world’s trouble spots. As a former commander of Israeli forces in Gaza, he has smeared Palestinians as having a “society for whom lies are its truth”. He has blamed murdered peace activist Rachel Corrie for her own death at the hands of the Israeli army in 2003.
In 2002, Israeli media outlet Kol Ha’ir Weekly Magazine reported that Ziv pushed to close an inquiry into the killing of five Palestinian children in 2001, “an investigation that may question, among other things, Ziv’s own responsibility for the killing”.
Ziv is deeply connected with the Israeli political establishment – many former Israeli politicians have worked for his company, Global CST, and assisted in the repression of innocent civilians across Latin America.
According to Amnesty International, Ziv’s firm was witnessed training Guinean military forces in 2009. That same year, Guinean forces committed horrible human rights abuses. Israel has recently upgraded its relations with the African state.
Wikileaks’ State Department cables released in 2011 revealed that the US had major concerns with Global CST, claiming it “created problems” in Colombia and Peru. US ambassador to Bogota, William Brownfield, wrote that the company “had no Latin American experience and that its proposals seem designed more to support Israeli equipment and services sales than to meet in-country needs”.
Sheen, a friend and colleague, has spent his professional life highlighting the descent of Israeli society into state-sanctioned racism. His astute observations are increasingly rare in a country that celebrates the use of unaccountable violence against perceived enemies.
Most importantly, he has examined the growing tendency of Israeli military figures to profit from its brutal occupation of Palestinians. The Israeli state is now a global leader in providing military, strategic and political advice to nations determined to deter, stop, kill or imprison unwanted minorities.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has worked for years with his media allies trying to silence anti-occupation voices. Critical perspectives on the occupation, Palestinian self-determination, Zionism or Israel’s future are increasingly infused with indignant nationalism and rampant anti-Arab racism.
Sheen is a rare voice who should be celebrated, not silenced. The court case against him, beginning in September, should be carefully watched by global media watchdogs, fellow journalists and foreign governments as a test of the Israeli judicial system to fairly arbitrate between a powerful, former military man and an independent journalist.
It’s clear where justice lies.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist who has written for The New York Times, the Guardian and many others. He is the author of My Israel Question and Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe and has been reporting on Israel/Palestine for fifteen years.
During my recent 1.5 years living in Jerusalem, I became friends with the great Israeli-Canadian journalist David Sheen. He’s one of the sharpest reporters on Israel’s far-right turn including the Jewish state’s war on African refugees.
He’s currently embroiled in a legal case in Israel that goes to the heart of that country’s increasing opposition to free speech.
Sheen is a respected reporter and analyst, one with a deep knowledge of Israeli society, who regularly investigates issues related to racism and human rights abuses.
Over the years, a number of investigations by the Israeli media have tied Ziv to some of the world’s ugliest regimes.
Sheen’s comments about Ziv were provoked by the latest such investigation, carried out late last year by Israel’s Channel 2 TV. It published transcripts of conversations between Ziv and his business associates in which they discussed rehabilitating the reputation of Salva Kiir Mayardit, the president of South Sudan.
This was after the United Nations revealed that Salva Kiir had permitted soldiers under his command to rape women and children on a mass scale. Ziv and his team proposed exploiting a rape victim by bringing her to the UN General Assembly so that Salva Kiir could blame such war crimes on indigenous African tribal culture.
Despite being offered the chance on both Ch2 and Army Radio to deny the accuracy of the transcripts, Ziv declined to do so.
In a subsequent article Sheen wrote about the treatment of Africans by Israelis, he commented critically on Ziv’s behaviour. This is what he is being sued for, despite such criticism clearly being protected under the important right of journalists to comment fairly on matters of public interest.
This is not the first time Ziv has sought to silence journalists.
The Hebrew website Local Call received threats of litigation from Ziv over its reporting of his activities.
And in an extremely rare move, the Haaretz newspaper has removed from its websitefive investigative articles it published between 2009 and 2011 on Ziv’s business activities in Guinea and Abkhazia. Haaretz also parted ways with the reporter who wrote the articles after complaints from Ziv, and in circumstances none of those involved are prepared to talk about.
It is noteworthy that Ch2’s investigation revealed discussions between Ziv and his associates on ways that his company, Global CST, could manipulate and deceive the media about Salva Kiir’s brutal policies in South Sudan. Ziv appears to believe that journalists are there to serve his interests and not to act as independent watchdogs on power and its misuse.
Also noticeable is that Ziv is not suing a large organisation like Ch2 that published the original allegations and is equipped to defend itself in court. He is targeting an independent journalist as a way to intimidate other reporters. This is the very definition of a SLAPP suit, which is “intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition”.
It is important that the principle of journalistic freedom is upheld and that Ziv is not able to use the courts as way to exempt himself and his business activities from scrutiny, or from criticism. For that reason, we stand in solidarity with David Sheen and call on the court to dismiss the suit against him.
The show has gone viral. One clip, of fellow journalist John Lyons and I talking about the Zionist lobby’s pressuring of critical voices, has been watched nearly 100,000 times (and growing fast). It’s received international attention.
Back in 2014, I argued in The Guardian that Australia should suffer a sports boycott due to its illegal asylum seeker policies. I made the same point on this TV show and many people, with a few notable exceptions, welcomed the idea. Australian legal academic Dr Amy McGuire wrote a story in The Conversation around the issue.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been caught speaking privately against the European Union and its often critical stance towards Israel. In reality, the EU occasionally condemns the Israeli occupation of Palestine but continues to maintain very close ties with the Jewish state.
Today I was interviewed by Australian current affairs show, The Wire, about the issue.
My article in Australian magazine Crikey:
Less than one and a half hours from Jerusalem, Gaza is like a different planet, literally cut off from the outside world. Its 2 million residents, suffering huge electricity cuts, polluted water (a recent Oxfam report details Israel’s refusal to allow vital equipment into Gaza to fix infrastructure destroyed by the Israelis) and high unemployment (affecting both Gaza and the occupied West Bank) are often forgotten, seemingly doomed to be permanently separatedfrom the West Bank and Israel.
The 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem will be celebrated in Israel this week as liberation — biblically inspired. Palestinians remain under an Israeli regime of house demolitions, ever-expanding illegal settlements (there are now an estimated 700,000 settlers living in occupied territory) and strict controls over daily life. The Palestinian, political leadership is old, corrupt, complicit with Israel and out of touch.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is currently in his 12th year of a four-year term. During his recent visit to the White House, both he and President Donald Trump spoke in motherhood statements about peace but offered no concrete path to create it. A just, two-state solution is dead on arrival; decades of Israeli settlement building killed it. The status-quo is one state, with one rule and law for Jews and another, less equal reality for Palestinians. Trump’s recent Middle East tour offered little more than weapons for Arab dictatorships.
Australia’s role in the conflict is small but significant. Successive governments in Canberra, both Labor and Liberal, though the latter has been more proudly belligerent in Israel’s corner, have offered carte blanche to Israeli actions.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop wrongly questions whether Israeli settlements are illegal under international law (they are, and a UN resolution in December proved that the entire world, except Australia and Israel, knew it). During Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Australia, talk of “shared values” was in the air. This was fitting for two nations that ethnically cleansed their indigenous populations and have yet to fully acknowledge, let alone compensate, the victims.
Israel’s “separation barrier” divides Palestinian communities in Bethlehem. Photo by Antony Loewenstein
The effect of Australia’s obsequiousness towards Israel, yet another example of Canberra blindly following Washington’s lead around the world, is the danger of being both on the wrong side of history and out of step with public opinion. Israeli settlement expansion has pushed Palestinians in the West Bank to the brink. Australia and many Western nations have spent decades enabling this policy. Australia’s Ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, spends his days channelling Israeli propaganda on social media and palling around with extremist, Israeli politicians. The result is a Jewish state that currently feels no pressure to change.
There are, however, signs of change. The latest poll in the US finds that two-in-five Americans now back sanctions against Israel, and Australian citizens, according to a recent Roy Morgan poll, are both opposed to Israeli settlements and supportive of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
During a recent visit to Gaza, my third since 2009, I witnessed a populationmore frustrated than ever before. With the threat of another war with Israel always on the horizon, many in the Israeli military and government are itching to bomb the Gaza Strip again. “Mowing the grass” is the euphemism used in Israel to describe this perennial obsession with attacking the area. The people in Gaza are unable to plan their lives because of it.
I met many locals who didn’t know if they’d be allowed out of Gaza. Israel routinely blocks departures for spurious reasons and the Egyptian border is mostly closed (reflective of leaders in the Arab world, who for decades have paid lip service to the Palestinian cause but done little to practically support it). It’s now not uncommon for couples to marry with one partner in Gaza and the other somewhere else, Skyping into proceedings. They hope to be reunited soon after the event.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Gaza today is the desire of so many people there to leave. After years of isolation, it’s an understandable feeling. Not convinced by the rhetoric or actions of the Hamas government, the party operates a police state in the territory, and distrusting Israeli intentions, finding a better home elsewhere is necessary, especially for young people. But the opportunity to depart is mostly blocked by forces beyond their control. Time passes, frustrations grow and lives are stunted. It’s a recipe for future conflict and radicalisation.
Family in Gaza displaced during the 2014 war with Israel. Photo by Antony Loewenstein
Sitting at her desk in Beit Lahia, Gaza, Aesha Abu Shaqfa battles to be heard above the sound of Israeli fighter jets roaring overhead. She worked as the executive director of the Future Development Commission, a local NGO committed to empowering women. It’s a lonely path in a territory devastated by war, Israeli and Hamas intransigence, misogyny and deprivation.
Wearing a red hijab, Shaqfa recently told me that one of her main goals was to reduce the prevalence of childhood marriage. “In our culture, girls having sex at 14 is not rape so we try and educate the girls about the challenges they will face [when married]”, she said. “Girls at 14 do not know about sex and they think marriage is sweet words, a pretty dress and make-up. The divorce rates of 14-18 year olds, for boys and girls, are rising.”
Domestic violence and sexual abuse against minors and adults are worsening because of regular Israeli attacks, social instability, conservative Islam and high unemployment.
Shaqfa, who is divorced from her second husband, acknowledged the huge challenges in Gaza for achieving gender equality. “I have three brothers and a father and only one of them can make sandwiches and tea,” she explained. “Here, women serve men.”
But she told me that big changes had occurred in the last years, a sentiment I heard echoed across Gaza, despite three wars with Israel since 2007, a repressive Hamas government and suffocating, 10-year siege imposed by Israel and Egypt. “More women are now finishing education, getting work and we’re trying to educate young girls at secondary schools about women’s rights,” she said.
I’ve been living in Jerusalem since early 2016 and returning regularly to Israel and Palestine since 2005. My first book, My Israel Question in 2006, challenged the myopic racism of the establishment, Jewish community and in 2013 I co-edited a collection, After Zionism, that outlined alternatives to discriminatory Israel.
Palestinians are rarely heard in the Israeli media as anything other than a security threat. Arab voices are almost invisible and most Israelis never meet a Palestinian except when they’re serving in the army.
Jerusalem is a divided city, with Palestinians in East Jerusalem subject to discrimination and constant house demolitions. Tel Aviv is a beachside city that’s known as a bubble away from the conflict. Decades of conflict, privatisation and disaster capitalist policies have resulted in poverty being one of the highest in the developed world.
Racism is state-backed and encouraged by the highest levels of the Israeli government, knowing it’ll receive domestic support. Bigotry and incitement against African refugees, Palestinians and minorities is common, reflective of a country that was light years ahead of Trump’s war on Muslims. Trying to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel, or Christian rule in the US, requires discrimination and exclusion. Such policies are the antithesis of liberal democracy. Far-right groups in the US and Europe, traditional enemies of Jews, are increasingly enamoured with Israel due to its hardline against Muslims. Israel often welcomes these new friends.
The Oslo peace accords, signed more than 20 years ago by then-US president Bill Clinton, Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian head Yasser Arafat, sealed Palestine’s fate, entrenching Israeli occupation as state policy. Today, Israel works hand in hand with the private military industry to sell and promote “battle-tested” weaponry for the global market. Privatising the occupation of Palestine has allowed the Jewish state to perfect the art of military control, assets for nations fighting refugees or insurgents.
This is not without controversy, with Israeli human rights lawyers pushing for transparency over arms sales to repressive states such as South Sudan. When I lived there in 2015, in the capital Juba, I regularly heard about Israelis visiting the country to liaise with South Sudanese officials. Its government stands accused of genocide.
The 50th anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War will be marked in illegal, Israeli settlements, a perfect place to commemorate colonial acquisition. A recent poll found that Israeli settlers are the most satisfied of all Israelis with their lives. Many liberal Israeli Jews I know are disillusioned with the situation and looking to leave; they have no hope that Israel’s future will be anything other than a far-right theocracy.
From the beginning of the 1967 occupation, voices of dissent were rare. Euphoria was in the air and dominating the Palestinians without full civil rights was defended as necessary. Little has changed since.
During extensive time with Jewish colonists in the West Bank last year, I found arrogance but surprising insecurity about their long-term situation. Yair Ben-David, living at Kashuela Farms near the Gush Etzion settlements, told me that, “the Western world is at war with radical Islam”. He said Palestinians under occupation “know that Israel is the best place to live,” compared to the rest of the Arab world, and they should be grateful for their situation. “Only Israel is helping the Palestinians,” he claimed. We spoke on a hot day while sheep, goats and rabbits roamed around the settlement. Ben-David always carried a loaded gun.
Despite his knowledge that the Israeli army protected his settlement, and without them he would be unable to survive, he said that he was “greening” the environment for the sake of the Israeli state. If he were forced to leave, because of a peace deal with the Palestinians, he would “resist, though not with a weapon. I would eventually go.”
The situation feels hopeless on the ground but there are rays of hope. Israeli attempts to destroy the global Palestinian solidarity movement has failed. Jewish dissent in the US and beyond is surging, no longer content being associated with a Jewish establishment that offers uncritical backing of the Israeli state. A major step towards change will involve educating Jews and others that occupying the Palestinian people for 50 years isn’t the actions of a normal, healthy state. Without outside pressure, as many Israelis and Palestinians tell me, the situation will never change. Israel’s biggest supporters are increasingly the Christian far-right and far-right fanatics.
Occupying nations never give up power voluntarily. Remember, South Africa was economically squeezed for years before it capitulated and ended political apartheid. Israel is facing a growing global movement aiming for a similar transformation.
*Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe