Last month, I went to the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall in West Jerusalem to interview Israelis, and spent half an hour sitting with three teenagers. After a few minutes, they allowed me to turn on my video camera. Max Blumenthal was with me, and I believe the exchange bears out the themes of Blumenthal’s new book, Goliath: that building and sustaining a Jewish state in defiance of most of the indigenous population has endowed young Israelis with fiercely militant, Jewish-supremacist ideas.
Specifically, the teenagers say that young Jews should not date Palestinians and that Palestinians should not have representation in the Knesset, because these inclusions undermine the Jewish character of the state. And the Jewish people need Israel to survive.
“We know that we can’t be Jewish anywhere else,” says one.
And all this as a guitarist picks out rock tunes in the background, including Tom Petty’s Free Falling.
The three teenagers are religious nationalists, but they say their attitudes are widely shared; and polls have indicated that 50 percent or more of Israelis have similar attitudes toward Palestinians.
The forceful young man on the right who is going into the army soon is named Matanya. He’s 19. The girl on the left in the Justin Bieber tshirt is Shiran, 18. The girl in the middle is 17, and named Shoham.
As the video is very long, I’m supplying a partial transcript below.
Matanya begins by explaining why it is necessary to act in Syria, and why the old are reluctant to do so. “Younger people have fire in their eyes” and are willing to die for their “ideals.” Matanya says he is willing to serve in Syria, whatever the risk.
“We have to do something. Something serious.”
The three agree that Arabs are not ready for democracy. “They don’t have the mentality for democracy like we do,” Matanya says. All humanity is moving toward democracy, but Arab political culture is particularly resistant to it.
Shiran says that she can relate to the uprisings of the Arab Spring. “The Jews always had pain in their history so you can understand being oppressed.”
I ask Matanya about the American belief that the occupation is the problem.
“I say that’s nonsense… I know they say that. It’s not true, because 40 years ago when we had the borders of ’67, still the Arabs want to kill us and want us not to be here anymore…They don’t want us here period.”
Is there an occupation? Max asks.
“In my opinion, No. because we were here before the Arabs.”
Shiran adds that Arabs and Jews could have coexisted but Arabs chose not to, beginning in 1948. “They could have a state right next to us. They didn’t want it from the start. Now the [Israeli] people don’t want it either because of the way they treated the Jews in the last few years.”
Matanya explains that Islam doesn’t permit a Jewish state. “If they want peace, of course we will give them peace. Our religion is all for it… [Judaism] says specifically that we should treat nicely the people who are not from our people. [i.e., the stranger]”
I ask the young people my favorite question of young Jews: Isn’t it better that Israel cease to be a Jewish state than that one more young person die for it to be such a thing? “Am I wrong to say that?”
Shiran says a binational state is a utopian idea. “It’s possible but it can’t be, because the Arab don’t want it.” And neither do the Jews. “The Jews need a place to be where they are not oppressed, a place where they can be Jewish.”
Matanya is more authoritative.
“This country has to stay Jewish for a few reasons. First of all, we saw what happens when there is no Jewish country. I am sure about it, if there’s not a Jewish country, there will be another Holocaust…. Our religion is true, I believe in all my heart that it’s true. This nation has been existing for the longest time in history. I think there’s something true about our religion. You see that something real is happening here.
“We know that we can’t be Jewish anywhere else. We know that Jewish people are forgetting their resource and wherever they come from in other countries, and we know there’s going to be another Holocaust if we’re not here.”
I ask if his attitude is representative. He says, “Most of the older people think exactly like me. That’s why they stay here and they want the country to stay Jewish.”
I say that during the civil rights movement, black and white people sometimes fell in love with one another, and in some parts of the country, that was considered bad. How do they look on love across religious/racial lines?
“We’re religious so religious people are not allowed to do it,” Shoham says.
Shiran says it’s not just religious people. “In girls’ schools, they tell you, teach you about how– I’m not saying that all the Palestinians are bad… they tell you how dangerous it can be.”
Shoham explains the danger. “It’s a different culture. They live in different places.” And sometimes when Israeli women marry Palestinians, they move to their villages. “It’s a different way of living And Israelis people are not used to it.”
“Oppressive,” Shiran says.
“Primitive,” Matanya says. “They treat women very primitively. I would not want… a girl I know to marry some Palestinian guy. Not because he’s bad. But because of the way they treat….”
I ask how much they would do to stop such a pairing.
Shiran: “I would try very hard to stop it.… I’m not saying that they all live that way but still– you’re Jewish, you shouldn’t marry a non-Jew… even if [that person is] a very good person, you don’t know what their family would think, friends would think. Also because You should try and raise your kids Jewish. Not religious– Jewish.”
Max then asks if their schools warn them about these dangers.
Shiran: “Yeah they do. Because it’s very important… Not in a way that Arabs are bad. They don’t wash your brain.”
Shoham clarifies, “They’re talking about family and it’s like– they warn you about not marrying an abusive husband. So it’s like they’re also talking about not marrying a non-Jewish man.”
Matanya ties this into ideas of nationality. “We know that we’re not responsible only for ourselves, but for our whole country and also for the Jewish people. So any action you take you have to think about that.”
I say, I know lots of Jews in the U.S. and half of my friends are married to non-Jews. Is that what Matanya means when he sees Jews falling away?
“Yes. I think that’s the way that the Jewish vanish. If all the Jews will do that, there won’t be Jewish people anymore, and we want to keep the Jewish people running for a lot more generations.”
Near the end now, and I ask about tribal beliefs that Jews are smarter. The teenagers don’t buy this. But they do say that Israelis have more get-up-and-go.
Matanya says, “We push harder, we go further, we’re not afraid. You don’t see it in a lot of places in the world. In the US you live very calmly, you don’t have a lot of pressure. Not like here. Here you have life and death situations. In every area of living, from high tech to army…. We come to a place where no one ever succeeded in doing anything with those lands, and we made them great lands with a lot of crops.”
Shiran: “We work harder, we don’t give up.”
Max says, “How come the Jews aren’t smart enough to get out of this situation of endless war?”
I don’t think the answers make a lot of sense, though Matanya emphasizes, “We don’t come to kill. We come to save life, not to take life. We have no intention of taking anyone’s life.”
I say that these young people seem to want to renew the Zionist dream, and Matanya agrees.
Then I ask about strong leaders.
Matanya says, “I’m not sure we have a lot of them now. But I’m sure there’s going to come new blood.”
Shiran says that the leaders have been “letting us down.” She seems to mean in the economy.
Max asks if Ariel Sharon was strong.
Shiran says, “We don’t like him.”
Matanya: “He did a lot of very good things for the Israeli people. He gave his whole life for our security. But at the end of his life he made a big mistake, a very big mistake.” He refers to the removal of settlers from Gaza in 2005.
“So, no further pullouts of settlers?” Max asks.
“For sure. Ever,” Matanya says.
I then ask Matanya about visiting him in the Knesset 50 years from now, and will there be peace?
“I pray with all my heart that there will be peace, but anyway we’ll keep going.” He says that Arabs will be free to live here peacefully, with liberty and have the best life they can have, better than in neighboring Arab countries.
“But in my opinion they should not have political figures in our Knesset.
“In other words, they should not have Arab members in the Knesset?” Max says.
“Ideally, yeah. We will. For sure, the Jewish people will take care of the Arabs, they will get what they have to get, the food, the liberty, they can work wherever they want, but if we want to keep our country Jewish and Israeli and in peace, we have to take control of what is happening.”
Shiran: “The way they treat us is exactly the way their leaders treat them. Something has to be done.”
Max. “So Haneen Zoabi has to get out of the Knesset.”
Matanya: “No doubt. She has to get out. She is a representative of the Israeli nation, and she goes on the Marmara, that was completely against the country, it was a betrayal…. I think the only way there will be peace is if she won’t be there, and we’ll be there.”
But what rights will Palestinians have? I ask. And must they leave?
Matanya says, they can stay where they live. “We’re not going to take the lands.. but we’re not going to give any of our lands and we will expend what we can expend because it’s our country.” Arabs have the right to live here, but the refugees cannot return. “That won’t happen. But they can stay on the land, we will have control of the country, and they can live here peacefully, and happily, with all the rights.”