Israel / Palestine: This Needs to Be Heard

A truly fascinating, clear-sighted, passionate insight into the very roots of the intractable Israel/Palestine conflict, by the Holocaust survivor, physician, best-selling author, and beloved speaker on the matter of trauma and addiction, Dr. Gabor Maté. His grandparents, uncles, and cousins were all exterminated in Auschwitz. He grew up experiencing anti-Jewish prejudice and bullying in his native Hungary. He is also someone who has believed, very strongly, in “the Zionist dream,” as he calls it.

This short video should be seen by anyone who has any interest in understanding the nature of the current conflict.

I have no particular political view on the subject. I know good people on both sides of this terribly tragic matter. During my recent trip to Israel, I met many, many Israelis of good will who felt horrified by what the right-wing governments have been carrying out in their name. As an American, I know a little what it feels like to be associated with a society which kills and oppresses and whitewashes the bitter truth away with a dehumanized caricature of “the Other”. It is a heavy burden to bear, and my heart goes out to Israeli people who disagree with the ultra-conservative crazies who run their country. Growing up with images from the Vietnam War being broadcast into our living room, basically live, it made an indelible impression on me, and turned me to regard with deep suspicion the entire human project: How can a blessed, ennobled, supposedly “chosen” people such as ours bomb and strafe an innocent people huddling in their huts, running across their rice paddies with babes in arms? The bloody injustice of the Reagan Administration supporting the Contras in El Salvador led me to participate in social activist “actions” through CISPES (the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador), and to support the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. I was arrested twice for that, because it felt necessary to take a stand against injustice anywhere.

In the same spirit, the recent events in Gaza and the West Bank have inflamed my own feelings of solidarity with the Palestinian people, and sympathize with those in Israel who carry the shameful burden of living out their lives burdened so terribly with the weight of these crimes against humanity being carried out in their name, and against their better moral tradition.

Some quotes from Gabor Maté’s discussion:

David Ben-Gurion, who was the first Israeli prime minister, actually subscribed to this [view]. He actually said this: Who are the Palestinians? The Jews, during Roman times, all of them never left Palestine. Many of them stayed there. And some of them, hundreds of years later, converted to Islam.  So, guess who the Palestinians are? In some cases, they may be the descendants of ancient Jews! They are our cousins, to say the least, no matter how you look at it.

It’s the longest ethnic cleansing operation in the 20th and 21st centuries.

As a [Canadian] Jew, I could land in Tel Aviv tomorrow and demand citizenship under the law of the Right of Return. But my Palestinian friend in Vancouver, Hanna Kawas, who was born in Jerusalem, can’t even visit! Now, if I have a way to return after 2000 years (if that history is even the way it is, which is questionable, but let’s assume that it is), but if I have the right to return after 2000 years, how come Hanna has no way to return after 70 years?

As to the argument that Jews are held to another standard that others are not, it’s the other way around. It’s the other way around. If you look at the Western press, when Hong Kong demonstrators throw stones at the police in Hong Kong, that’s considered to be heroism in the American press. When, in Myanmar, the demonstrators shoot slingshots at the oppressive army, they are considered to be heroes in the Western press. When Palestinian kids throw stones at the Israeli soldiers, they’re called terrorists. Israel gets away with a lot more, with much less criticism in the Western press, than any other country.

I’ll say one more thing: I was contacted by a Palestinian woman from Jericho. She runs a program for Palestinian children who spend time in Israeli jails. 14, 15, 16 years of jail, or months or years, not seeing their families. And she runs a program for them. You know what she does? She meditates with them. She does Sufi dervish dancing with them — swirling, dancing to bring them out of their stressed state. She says, “We don’t have post-traumatic stress disorder here, because the trauma is never ‘post’ — the trauma is daily,” she said. I just wish your Zionist friend would visit the occupied territories and Gaza, like I have. And let him speak the way he speaks now. If he has any ounce of humanity left, he would cry like I did for two weeks, as I have when I went there.

Do you remember who Albert Speer was? Speer was a Nazi armaments minister and economics minister and Hitler’s personal architect. And he was a war criminal and condemned as such. As he wasn’t executed, he spent 40 years in Spandau Prison after the war. And he had kind of a transformation. I read his autobiography. He said, “I was often asked, ‘What did you know [about the Nazi crimes]?’ And he said, “ ‘What did I know?’ was not the right question.” 

He was talking about the Nazi crimes, the genocide, the brutality the war atrocities that the Nazis committed, and specifically the genocide, the murder of the Jewish people. 

And he said, “The question isn’t what I knew. The question is what I could have known had I wanted to. Because I had had plenty of hints.” He describes, for example, how in one of the armaments factories, he runs across some concentration camp prisoners who were seconded to the factory. And he asked them “Would you rather be here or in the camp?” And he said that he noticed the shock on their faces, and he never asked them why they were so shocked at the question. Or at one time, he says to a German general, “I should visit the East sometime.“ And he says that the Nazi general said, “You don’t want to see what’s going on there.” And Speer recounts in his autobiography, “I never asked him why.“ So, the question is not what he knew, but what he could have known if he really wanted to. 

We’re not living in Nazi German. Anybody can go on YouTube and listen to Ilan Pappé, an Israeli historian living in England, totally eloquent on Israeli history, who’s living in England now because life became too difficult for him in Israel. Or you could listen to Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish professor, world expert on Gaza, who was denied tenure at his university because of his public speaking against Israeli policy. And we can listen to any number of Israeli Defense Forces soldiers talk about the brutality that they now regret having committed. You can listen to Israeli pilots who talk about why they refuse to fly over Gaza because of the atrocities they’re made to commit. You can get all the information you want. 

So if anybody these days doesn’t know, it’s not because the information is not available. It’s not what you know, it’s what you could know if you wanted to find out. 

Front page of The New York Times, May 28, 2021.

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