From Tel Aviv, we are joined by award-winning Israeli journalist and author Gideon Levy, whose latest column for Haaretz newspaper is entitled “Israel cannot imprison two million people in Gaza without paying a cruel price”. Levy analyses the reaction of Israeli society to the unexpected Hamas attack and repudiates the Netanyahu government’s mobilisation only to precipitate the war rather than provide effective assistance to the victims. Levy asserts that “there is no leadership in Israel” and calls on the government to lift its blockade of Gaza and accept that its campaign to eradicate Hamas is “impossible”. After decades of subjugation of the Palestinian people to Israeli rule, “you can kill the current Hamas leaders, but you will not kill the Hamas ideology,” Levy argues.
Interview published on 11 October 2023, subtitled in English.
Transcript of the interview
This transcript is a draft and may be subject to change.
Amy Goodman: -This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the war and peace news. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez.
“Netanyahu is responsible for this war between Israel and Gaza”. That’s the title of an editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The newspaper’s editors wrote: “The disaster that befell Israel during the Simchat Torah celebration is clearly the responsibility of one person: Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister, who speaks proudly of his vast political experience and irreplaceable security wisdom, failed utterly to identify the dangers he was consciously leading Israel into by establishing a government of annexation and dispossession, appointing Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir to key positions [in his cabinet], while adopting a foreign policy that blatantly disregards the existence and rights of the Palestinian people,” the Haaretz editorial read.
We go now to Tel Aviv, where we are joined by Gideon Levy, an award-winning Israeli journalist and writer, columnist for the Haaretz newspaper and member of its editorial board. His latest column is entitled “Israel cannot imprison two million people in Gaza without paying a cruel price”.
Gideon Levy, can you talk about the Israeli answer right now and what you think is important for people outside Israel, especially in the United States, to understand and do, at a time when 300,000 Israeli reservists are being deployed along the Gaza border?
Gideon Levy: -Basically, Israel is in shock. At least in the first few days you could feel it everywhere. Nobody expected this unprecedented situation, which shattered many perceptions, both about Hamas, the Palestinians and their capabilities, and about ourselves and our own capabilities. But this has now been put aside. People are still digesting what happened. The more time passes, the more horrific the scenes are exposed, day after day. I was in the southern region [of Israel] on Monday. And I can tell you… I have been to the south many times in times of war, but what I saw is something I have never seen in the past. But I must say that along with everything I mention here there is also a great feeling of revenge, a great desire for revenge. And the hatred towards the Palestinians is rising to very dangerous levels.
The same anger is also directed at the government, less than at the army. But I think the government, once this war is over, hopefully soon, is going to pay a very high price and will have to resign. I don’t see a situation where Netanyahu can continue, as well as all the ministers around him, who are, all of them, not some of them, fascists, and they, part of them, would even be labelled in Europe as neo-Nazis. These people urged to do all sorts of terrible things and did nothing for Israel to prepare for any danger, and they continue to do nothing now. It is astonishing that we are on the fifth day of war, and the government is missing. They are still preoccupied with their own political careers, with carrying out all kinds of political manipulations. Nobody is taking care of the situation. The army is preparing for a ground operation. But with the exception of the army… I was in many houses that were attacked, I saw many people who lost loved ones. No one was there for them. Nobody is offering them any help.
Israel is falling apart from this point of view. And the man who has ruled Israel for the last 15 years is the only one responsible, before anyone else. This goes without saying. And I suppose that after the war millions of Israelis will take to the streets with one demand: Netanyahu, at least resign. And if you don’t you should go to court to be sentenced for these irresponsible policies you have been implementing.
Juan gonzalez: – Gideon Levy, I wanted to ask you about the press reports that say that at least 1,500 Palestinian Hamas fighters were killed inside Israel, so there was a huge number of militiamen who were able to enter Israeli territory. Can you talk about the government’s decision to relocate large segments of Israel’s army from the Gaza border to protect right-wing settlers in the West Bank?
-Of course. That’s one of the big failures of Saturday, not the only one, because the first failure was obviously the surprise, the strategic surprise. Israel prides itself very much on having the most sophisticated intelligence services in the world, with all kinds of elite units, with all the devices. They know everything. They understand everything. But then, faced with an operation that was prepared for a year by hundreds of fighters, they didn’t know anything. That is the first failure.
The second mistake was obviously to have left the southern front on the border with Gaza totally abandoned, because we were busy with all the festivals in support of these insane settlers, protecting them, but not only protecting them, but also collaborating with them in their “pogroms” against the Palestinians. We have clear evidence that the army saw the “pogroms” and did nothing. And when you have an army that has been busy for years, not just recently, chasing Palestinian children who throw stones and all kinds of Palestinians they see as suspicious, when the army is over-busy in manning illegal checkpoints and entering Palestinian homes in the middle of the night to arrest someone without any legal basis, then the result you get is this. Instead of a professional, motivated and experienced army, you have a bunch of people who do not know what to do in such a situation, because after the first shock, it took hours before the army appeared. And that’s unbelievable.
Juan gonzalez: -And this issue of Netanyahu preparing an invasion of Gaza, could you talk about the immense challenge that this implies, having to literally go house by house or building by building in Gaza to find the hostages being held? Talk about the enormity of this plan.
-First of all, going from building to building is impossible, because there are so many collapsed buildings. And I’m not sure how many buildings are left standing, for example, in the Rimal neighbourhood. Actually, the idea of finding the hostages alive is good for a Hollywood movie, but I do not think that is possible, certainly not with this army and its capabilities, as we witnessed on Saturday.
The invasion of Gaza has other objectives, including putting an end to the Hamas government. And this is another mission impossible, because you can kill the current senior Hamas leaders, but you cannot kill the Hamas ideology, and those leaders will always be replaced.
A ground incursion has the support of almost the entire Israeli population, because Israelis understand that we have to do something after this shame, after this catastrophe. But at the same time, I have to say and I can assure you that if Israel launches a ground operation now, it will go on for weeks or maybe months. A lot of Palestinian and Israeli blood will be shed, mainly Palestinian, obviously. And at the end of this operation, I will be invited back here to Democracy Now!, and you will see that we will be exactly at the same point where we were a week ago, because as long as Israel continues to believe that the Gaza problem is going to be solved by the use of the sword and brute force, through feelings of revenge, justified feelings, then we will be exactly at the same point. Trapped in this vicious circle that will not be solved by force, not by tanks, not by the army, only through a political agreement and, above all and first of all, by lifting this criminal siege, for God’s sake, after 17 years. And what did this siege achieve beyond the incredible and inhumane suffering to which two million people have been subjected? What has this siege contributed to Israel’s security? Here we have the result.
Amy Goodman: -We have less than a minute left, Gideon. I wanted to ask you about the difference between the request from the families of the hostages, older people, young people, children, and their families, one after the other, talking about the fact that among those hostages is, for example, a peace activist, and saying, “Please use restraint,” and the contrast between that and President Biden, in his speech this Tuesday, consciously deciding, and you can see in the transcript of his conversation with Netanyahu a few minutes before he came out to speak, deciding not to ask for restraint. What do you make of that, how important is the US president’s position on this? We have less than a minute.
-In less than a minute, I can tell you, Amy, that last night when I was watching President Biden, I really felt envious of Americans for having such a leader. I never thought that until last night. But last night, Biden was a true leader, someone you can trust, because he was extremely sincere and someone you can count on. If Netanyahu had made the same speech, he wouldn’t be Netanyahu. Netanyahu is busy with politics. And along comes Biden and he says to Israel what Israel wanted to hear. I would love for him to also say some things about Palestinian suffering, Palestinian agony. But he ignored that completely, and that’s a very unfortunate thing. But, at the end of the day, this is what Israel needs now: some kind of leadership. And there is a total lack of it. There is really no one who understands that we have to go in another direction. No one.
Amy Goodman: – Gideon Levy, thank you very much for joining us. Award-winning Israeli journalist, writer and columnist for the newspaper Haaretz, and member of its editorial board. We will link on our website to his most recent article, “Israel cannot imprison two million people in Gaza without paying a cruel price”. His books include “The Punishment of Gaza”.