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The Peleds and Abulhawa appear in NY

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Susan Abulhawa
Susan Abulhawa

On Monday night, nearly a hundred people crammed into a small room at All Souls Church in Manhattan to hear siblings Nurit Peled-Elhanan and Miko Peled discuss their recently published books in a talk moderated by novelist/activist Susan Abulhawa. Sitting on the floor with no back support for over two hours, I learned what “moderate physical pressure” (Ariel Sharon’s infamous euphemism for torture) truly feels like. The audience included Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire and Mariam Said, widow of the immortal Edward.

The Peleds are a high-profile Israeli family. Their father, Matti Peled, was a member of the founding generation of Israel, a contemporary of people like Rabin, Peres, Sharon, and Avnery. Peled fought in the 1947-49 war, and rose to the rank of general by the time of the 1967 War. Sometime after that war, the elder Peled’s views changed, and he eventually became an outspoken peace activist. Nurit and Miko inherited these views and have taken them much further; indeed, I don’t think I have seen any Israelis more critical of their country. Last night, they offered few details of the dynamics of their family’s transformation to the “left,” whether it was sudden or gradual, and whether the siblings followed a similar or different path. Miko surely includes such information in his autobiographical book, which includes the horrifying tragedy of Nurit losing her teenage daughter Smadar to a suicide bomber about 15 years ago.

Miko’s book, The General’s Son, recounts his journeys, both political and physical. While he grew up in a relatively enlightened family, he was exposed to and fully absorbed the official Israeli narrative of the Jews as eternal victims who triumphed over long odds against their bloodthirsty enemies. He remembers his mother telling him that in 1948, they were offered the Jerusalem house of an ethnically-cleansed Palestinian family, and turned down the offer of looted property; apparently this act of simple morality was quite unusual at the time. However, the story seemed to young Miko to be in conflict with the narrative of Palestinians starting the war and suffering the well-deserved consequences of their foolish path. It took him a long time to resolve the contradiction.

Miko credits his own eventual awakening to Palestinians he met in the US who graciously and sensitively informed him of the horrors his country had caused their people. Miko indicated that a more confrontational, in-your-face attitude probably would not have succeeded, as it takes Israelis time to comprehend that their entire view of the world was shaped by deliberately false mythology. Miko also discussed being arrested at West Bank demonstrations alongside Palestinians who were protesting in the same manner. While he, an Israeli citizen, knew that he would sleep in his own bed that night, the Palestinians were subject to a different legal code, and could spend days, weeks, months in jail without formal charges at the whim of the local commander.

Miko told a shocking story that appears in his book. He was socializing with Israeli ex-pats, and one casually told him that he had been a member of an elite Navy unit (think US Navy seals). On one occasion, they ordered some Gaza fishermen to jump into the sea and then destroyed their boat. Then they ordered the men to strip, adding humiliation to the destruction. But then, they ordered the fishermen to count to 100 repeatedly and watched while the men drowned, one by one. I must confess that as well acquainted as I am with instances of intentional killing of civilians throughout Israeli history, I was unprepared for the unimaginable cruelty of this story.

Nurit’s book, Palestine in Israeli Schoolbooks, turns the tables on those who whine about “incitement” in Palestinian schoolbooks. Nurit showed numerous examples of how Palestinians are subtly and unsubtly depicted as backward sub-humans in comparison to modern Israeli Jews, even in supposedly enlightened books. The books depict some of the more sensational massacres of Arab civilians – Deir Yassin, Qibya, Kfar Kassem – only in terms of their (beneficial) effects on Israeli society which clearly outweighed the unfortunate loss of life.

Question-and-answer period produced the one note of (friendly) disagreement between the panelists. A questioner raised the comparison of Israel behavior with that of the Nazis. Nurit said that she avoids such comparisons for various reasons, including that Israel can defend itself easily by saying they are not nearly as bad as the Nazis, they don’t kill people by the millions, so what is the problem? Susan then made a terrific point that it is often only in retrospect that some behavior is regarded as truly evil; people tend to be blind while it is still going on. Comparing Israel’s actions with a well-known evil from history can prove quite instructive. I completely agree, but disagree with her conclusion that comparison with the Nazis is helpful. To me, it is far too incendiary a comparison.

Of course, it is Israelis/Zionists who much more often make the comparison of Arabs and Muslims to Nazis, and Ahmadinejad, Saddam, Arafat to Hitler, and it is intolerable hypocrisy to proffer or even tolerate that comparison while whining about the Israel/Nazi comparison. Still, I prefer to avoid it in most circumstances.

But I do think that Susan’s analysis underscores the importance of the apartheid analogy. In my opinion, it’s much easier to make that case, and apartheid is universally regarded as evil that was long overdue to be overthrown. Noor Elashi was in the audience, and she reminded us all that her father Ghassan is serving a 65-year sentence for facilitating charitable contributions to Palestinians, convicted under a terrible law that is being enforced in a brazen, outrageously discriminatory fashion. He was convicted in the Holy Land Foundation case at a Kafkaesque trial which has been upheld on appeal to the Fifth Circuit and is now on application to the US Supreme Court. Another “victory” for the Obama Justice Department continuing the great work of his predecessor.

It was difficult to watch this brave young woman as she begged a very progressive audience not to forget her father.

The last “questioner” was a man who had served, I believe as a medic, in Vietnam, and he reminded us that the barbarity we see in Israeli behavior is not so unique. Slaughtering civilians in Vietnam was the rule, not the exception, and we Americans have blinded ourselves to such facts, and continue to do so, in much the same way as Israelis do. Even with the passage of decades, most Americans believe that Vietnam was a well-intentioned mistake rather than unspeakable aggression that cost millions of lives.

About David Samel

David Samel is an attorney in New York City.

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19 Responses

  1. annie
    October 10, 2012, 1:49 pm

    thanks david. couple things..i heard miko speak in albuquerque last week. he’s a very effective presenter…but he didn’t mention that horrific story.

    interesting, the part about genocide.

  2. Pamela Olson
    Pamela Olson
    October 10, 2012, 2:04 pm

    Miko is a terrific speaker, highly recommended, and his book is well worth a read. Fascinating and inspiring stuff. I especially appreciate his mention of how a less agressive style was the only thing that could get through to him. He’s a good example that ignorance doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad person. It just means you haven’t yet been informed in a way you can digest. And that’s very human. Brainwashing is the norm in our species — we should study how to counter it most effectively (not just the way that’s most emotionally satisfying for us).

    Here’s the direct link to purchase Miko’s book:

  3. Donald
    October 10, 2012, 3:29 pm

    Nurit said that she avoids such comparisons for various reasons, including that Israel can defend itself easily by saying they are not nearly as bad as the Nazis, they don’t kill people by the millions, so what is the problem? Susan then made a terrific point that it is often only in retrospect that some behavior is regarded as truly evil; people tend to be blind while it is still going on. Comparing Israel’s actions with a well-known evil from history can prove quite instructive. I completely agree, but disagree with her conclusion that comparison with the Nazis is helpful. To me, it is far too incendiary a comparison.”

    I agree that it’s not a good idea to use Nazi comparisons, both because it is too incendiary and also because it lets the Israelis off the hook. A lot of Israel-defenders really seem to think that because Israel hasn’t killed millions , there’s no problem. You actually see people making that argument about Gaza. They couldn’t have killed civilians deliberately or through depraved indifference to human life, because if they wanted to they could have killed hundreds of thousands. That’s the argument.
    They’re grading on a curve. Israel isn’t Nazi Germany, so Israel is fine.

    • pabelmont
      October 11, 2012, 9:32 am

      It’s like “R”s and “L”s. If you hear someone speak your language who does not pronounce “R”s and “L”s as they are (properly) pronounced in your language, a near-miss sounds like a miss-by-a-mile. Think of “fried rice” and the infamous “flied lice”.

      Donald serves us up Fine Irony: “They’re grading on a curve. Israel isn’t Nazi Germany, so Israel is fine.”

      Well, no, of course it’s not fine. Racist evil is racist evil, the 1948 ethnic cleansing and permanent exile of 1/2 [?] a country’s (or a territory’s if you prefer) population is not fine. Murder is not fine even if it’s numbers are smaller than those of the Holocaust.

      But if some people don’t like to hear the words “Holocaust” and “Nazi” and “apartheid” used to describe today’s (and yesterday’s) Israel, then perhaps we’d do better ALWAYS to [1] not use those words directly, but [2] use long multi-paragraph texts to describe what Israel does, paragraphs that start this way:

      “Some people say that Israel is an apartheid state, and others disagree. Here is what apartheid South Africa was like, and why people didn’t approve of it [.. long stuff …] and here is what Israel does today, and why I don’t approve of it: [ … long stuff …].

      This only gets troublesome if you are subject to word-limits or page-limits or your audience has a short attention span.

  4. wondering jew
    wondering jew
    October 10, 2012, 5:42 pm

    I arrived late at the presentation Monday night. the following was my immediate reaction:

    Only caught the last ten minutes of Miko Peled’s initial presentation. Gar nicht g’helfen. He speaks without an accent and is calm and unIsraeli like, in his presentation. But the upshot of his presentation: All Israel is occupied Palestinian territory. For someone seeking commonalities or a way forward, there was no one there to see. When the white flag replaces the Zionist flag, he will be satisfied, not a minute before. But presented very amiably.

    His sister (?) was very Israeli. Chip on her shoulder, angry argumentative, fault finding. Her final line: there are Israelis, those who have taken her classes, who are open to thinking. Whereas Miko’s optimism (when asked by moderator Abulhawa) was the progress of the BBC refusing to carry the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, a landmark achievement for the BDS movement. His sister’s optimism was based upon the students she teaches every year.

    • DaveS
      October 11, 2012, 11:31 am

      yonah, Miko proposes that Israeli Jews abandon their enforced supremacy over indigenous Palestinians and accept equality instead. If you think that amounts to the white flag of surrender, maybe you’re right, but surrender of injustice is a good thing. SA whites surrendered apartheid, the Soviets surrendered their grip on Eastern Europe, southern whites surrendered racist control over blacks. What would “commonalities” with these oppressors have looked like? “You can keep your apartheid, racism and foreign domination, but you’ve got to treat us better” Is that what you have in mind, yonah? As Said would say, “Equality or nothing!”

      It’s also unfair to imply that Miko’s optimism is based on that one incident; while it may have been the only one he mentioned at that talk, his book apparently spells out his optimism in more detail. I’m not sure I would agree – I haven’t read it – but your suggestion of shallow thinking is unfair. Nurit angry and argumentative? She plainly laid out an indictment of the indoctrination, subtle and not, of Israeli youth in preparation for a lifetime of superiority and domination over an inferior culture. Whatever anger she displayed was quite appropriate, and it did not strike me the same way as it did you.

      • DaveS
        October 11, 2012, 11:44 am

        I meant supposedly inferior culture. Ouch.

      • jon s
        jon s
        October 11, 2012, 2:55 pm

        David, I also haven’t read Miko’s book, but I would say that at least the fishermen story doesn’t sound credible: a hearsay anecdote, ex-soldiers sitting around and bullshitting, no names, dates , location or any kind of corroboration…

        As to Nurit, her take on Israeli textbooks is misleading. See a critique here (and I don’t necessarily agree with everything in it):

        A good survey of Israeli textbooks (though not up-to-date) is here:

        Also I note that you -and others on this forum- use the term “indigenous” regarding the Palestinians. Are all the Palestinians indigenous? Are any Jews indigenous? Should indigenous populations have more rights than the non-indigenous?

      • annie
        October 11, 2012, 3:04 pm

        Are any Jews indigenous?


        Should indigenous populations have more rights than the non-indigenous?

        non indigenous populations shouldn’t have more rights than indigenous, as is the case in israel and a vast majority of the occupied territories.

      • ColinWright
        October 11, 2012, 4:02 pm

        jon s: “…Should indigenous populations have more rights than the non-indigenous?…”

        In this case, no, they shouldn’t. You’re trying on the defense of killing your parents and then demanding clemency on the grounds that you’re an orphan.

        The Zionists didn’t just turn up in Palestine. They went there, intending to drive out the indigenous population and replace them. Now they’ve done it — but they certainly haven’t acquired any rights thereby.

        They can leave. Any who wish to stay can do so as part of a Palestinian state, whose form and whose legal shape should be determined by the wishes of the majority of the actual inhabitants.

        However, it all really is a moot point. Zionism essentially depends upon injustice and oppression, and it could never survive the creation of a genuinely egalitarian, democratic state in Palestine.

        So just conform to ordinary, civilized norms, and it’ll all be over. Israel is evil, and it will go as soon as justice is imposed. Those who remain will be authentic Palestinians. Those who flee, never were.

      • Danaa
        October 11, 2012, 7:33 pm

        jon s,

        You did not grow up in Israel and don’t know what textbooks used to be like, but I did. I know what we were taught and it was not a pretty picture. There was hardly anything – not one thing – positive ever mentioned in connection with Arabic people. There was nothing we – who came from Europe – ever learnt about the Mizrahi – because, it was implied that their culture – and they as people – were simply primitive. Just like the Arabs amongst whom they lived. We just knew them to be “inferior” and none of us would ever be caught dead talking to one of them as school children, even as they attended schools not a stone throw away from us. The first i ever met a Mizrahi in person was in the army (I mean other than as cleaners, and servers etc). How’s that for a bubble?

        Same BTW for the religious – we had nothing in common with them – they were to us, simply “weird”, like a strange sect. Same for those living on the Kibbutzim vs those who lived in towns and cities. Lines never crossed. Each in their own enclave. Until one day we meet some of them in the IDF – not that we ever mixed closely with one another even then, and soon after the service, our ways parted again, irrevocably.

        As for the European history we learnt, it was from a mostly jewish perspective, meaning woefully truncated and choppy. Generally, the “goy” was presented as someone not to be quite trusted and Christianity – what little we even heard of it was dismissed as not worth dwelling on – an inferior sect of Judaism at best. None of us – I can say that with confidence – knew or cared to know the slightest thing about Christianity’s history or practice. So we knew the Christians as persecutors through most European history, and of course, incorrigible anti-semites. the hidden implication was that the roots of anti-semitism were wrapped in envy of the superiority of jews as people and the superiority of their teachings and lifestyles.

        As for the history of israel, well, almost everything I have ever learnt about it turned out to have been an outright lie, or a very selective truth at best.

        For 12 years I was lied to and brain washed at every turn. The text books were there to only as part of the programming, not as something that’s useful to learn a few things about the world. For these lies, for the programming they did to us as children, for depriving us of knowledge about the world and about the many good and not so good people of the world, for failing to emphasize things like character in favor of building up a false sense of pride-in-ethnicity, for giving us the most shallow cross section of the great world literature (at least school taught) and most importantly for hiding from us the cost – the enormous human cost of our little, self-righteous bubble of tribal security, for all those things, I can never forgive the israeli educational system. OK, I did get the math and probably a bit more science than the average American school kid, but personally, I think I would have gotten that anywhere, one way or another.

        Nurit looked mostly at the textbooks out there now, not the much much worse that israeli children grew up on in the 50’s through the 80’s before a little “political correctness” and a slight sprinkle of concern for humanity at large started sipping in.

        When you meet an israeli or an ex-israeli, especially one who did not major in History or general political science, and if the happen to be over say, 30 years of age, be aware that this is what they grew up on.

        Frankly, given the historical rubbish I was fed,, I am sometimes of mind to sue the Israeli state for criminal negligence and educational malpractice on a grand scale. Maybe also of t the grand theft of time – as in my time – the only time I had as a child and young adult. If anyone knows a lawyer willing to take up such a case, I am game (especially if pro-bono!).

      • jon s
        jon s
        October 12, 2012, 8:39 am

        As a matter of fact, I did grow up in Israel, and I’m familiar with the school system, both as a student and as a teacher.
        I can’t cast doubt on or argue with your personal experiences and impressions . I would say that my everyday experience is very different, teaching kids of diverse backgrounds: Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, from Russia and from Ethiopia, Jews and Moslems.

      • wondering jew
        wondering jew
        October 11, 2012, 5:25 pm

        As far as Nurit, I imagine that seated at a dinner table she would say, “Pass the salt, if you can stop eating long enough to think of another person,” Maybe her anger was only because of her subject matter, but even when referring to the technical glitch that delayed her presentation she said, “it’s good to see that Americans can be inefficient”, it was an attitude that went beyond her subject matter.

        Miko Peled’s father was one of those who with broad military moves set up facts on the ground: the exile of the Palestinians. Miko Peled speaks in broad terms as well. No nitty gritty, how are we going to deal with the facts as given, but this Zionism must be replaced “and the settlers pursued to the ends of the earth like the Taliban”. These are the words of a man who is of use to activists who agree with him, not to those who are seeking a middle ground.

        Obviously you seem to feel there is no middle ground with Zionism. My objection to the post Zionist picture that you present is that it is based on an ideal and not on the prevailing facts on the ground in the rest of the Arab world and also it does not take into account how we get from here to there. I heard absolutely zero about either subject from the Peleds or the moderator. That is the area that interests me.

      • DaveS
        October 11, 2012, 5:46 pm

        yonah, I certainly did not share your impression of Nurit, and she clearly was making a joke about the technical glitsch that many people laughed at. I guess you weren’t one of them. If you are really interested in the post Zionist ideal I present, but wonder how to get from here to there, there is abundant reading material on the subject. Ali Abunimah’s book, the new Moor/Loewenstein compilation, and much, much more. I think the first step is to recognize that state-imposed discrimination in favor of an ethno-religious group to the disadvantage of an indigenous population is a no-no in the 21st century and unsustainable in the long run. I question whether you have taken that first step yourself.

      • wondering jew
        wondering jew
        October 11, 2012, 10:30 pm

        David Samel- My vision for the future of Israel is split: I wish a two state solution were possible. That envisioned Jewish state would discriminate regarding only one issue: immigration. It would have a long way to go both in attitude and in policy. I think the odds against a two state solution are very long. In which case the only solution is one state in which there will be a Jewish minority. Nothing in the present tense of the middle east promises that to be anything other than a “complicated” status.

    • eljay
      October 11, 2012, 11:39 am

      >> When the white flag replaces the Zionist flag, he will be satisfied, not a minute before.

      The Israeli flag could replace the Zionist flag, and a secular, democratic and egalitarian Israeli state could replace the oppressive, colonialist, expansionist and supremacist “Jewish State”.

      Zio-supremacists, however, will have none of that. Aggressor-victimhood is a tough gig, but it’s their tough gig, dammit!

  5. chauncey
    October 11, 2012, 1:44 am

    I saw Miko in Sacramento. Excellent. His no-nonsense, charismatic style reminded me of the impact Pat Tillman may have had if he had returned to the U.S. and begun speaking out. May Miko find a larger and larger audience.

  6. CitizenC
    October 11, 2012, 10:35 am

    Here’s a video of Miko Peled (28 min), exploding “three myths”, myth of Land
    Without a People, and destruction of Palestine in 1948; myth of “existential threat” in 1967; myth of “Israeli democracy”. Not a live talk, a sitdown talk in a studio, good quality, and very eloquent.

  7. yourstruly
    October 11, 2012, 11:26 am

    I don’t agree that comparison of Israeli crimes with Nazi crimes should be avoided. No, the Israelis have not resorted to industrial scale slaughters (yet), but what does Gaza represent, if not a slow motion reprise of the Warsaw Ghetto? Besides, the scale of dehumanization (also the obverse side of that same coin, racial or ethnic supremacism) is similar, as is the resort to tribal mythology. That’s not to say that less confrontational approaches at enlightening the public on the subject of Israel’s crimes against humanity are not appropriate, but that sometimes rubbing their noses in the mess that they (Israel & its U.S. supporters) have created is the most effective way to get to them. Perhaps not immediately, but when the emotions settle down and introspection sets in.

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