Late in June, there was a demonstration in New York’s Union Square against Israeli raids in the West Bank at which I interviewed a curly-haired Israeli-American woman handing out flyers and found myself riveted. Tzvia Thier was 70 and had been a Zionist till she was 64 years old; now she could kick herself for believing Zionist myths. She had never met a Palestinian till 2008, she explained; and she’d accepted Zionist myths and passed them on as an educator. “There is no connection between Judaism and Zionism,” she said. “American Jews…don’t understand that they are fooled by the Zionists. They are so naive..”
The response to that video interview was overwhelming. Two people told me more about Thier. Heb posted a video from 2010 of Thier badgering a settler on the West Bank who was trying to steal a Palestinian shepherd’s water; you see a woman in her 60s standing up to a young zealot with what can only be called a heroic presence– she pulls his ponytail, his pants almost fall off.
Shmuel Sermoneta-Gertel emailed me to say he had researched Thier in Hebrew sources and learned that she had authored Zionist texts for children, had taught in Jewish day schools in the U.S., and her brother had been killed while serving in the Israeli army in 1983 in Lebanon. Tzvia Thier had led her life entirely inside the Zionist experience, Shmuel said, directing me to ask her about her attachment to Zionism and her decision to break with it.
I spoke with Thier on a couple of occasions. I apologize for the length of this Q-and-A, but I don’t think you will find a more honest and humorous advocate for equality and justice than this thoughtful woman who loved Israel with all her heart, until she didn’t.
[First interview, July, New Brunswick, N.J.]
Where you were born?
I was born in Romania, in February 1944, meaning that it was still World War II, except I have no memories of that. I was a baby. And our family moved to Israel when I was 6, in 1950.
What did your father do?
My father was an electrician. The main things that I can say about my father are, number one, he was saved from being sent to Transnistria at the last minute—Transnistria was the concentration camp that people didn’t come back from there. And because he was saved I’m sitting here. It was 1942 when he was saved, and my mother already was pregnant with my sister. Meaning that she would be alive anyway. But I wouldn’t.
Why did your father need saving, but your mother didn’t?
I don’t know how it was, and I don’t have anybody now to ask. Too bad. But I think that in Bucharest the situation was not so bad as other places. I know that my father was in forced labor close to Bucharest, and there was another incident, where he fell off a train. But there are things I don’t know now.
My father was one of the people that I loved the most in my life, and he was a leftist. He was a Communist and a Zionist both. In Israel, the communist people were not chased like here, but the regime was not in favor of them. So he would probably vote for the Communist party, but he was not out. But he was a Zionist. And me being on the left side– whatever that means– it was from him. As a child, I used to listen to his political explanations. He used to tell me things and read me things from the paper, he used to take me to speeches before elections. So I was very influenced by him.
Where in Israel did you move to?
When we received the certificate in Bucharest, we didn’t know the word Israel. The certificate was to go to Palestina. The English word “palace” in Roumanian is “palat.” I was six, I thought we were moving to a palace. What was a country? What was a city? I had no idea. I thought we were moving to a palace.
When we arrived to Israel I forgot about the palace, because it was so much different.
Why did they leave Romania?
Most Jews left Romania. Most went to the U.S., some went to Israel. Very few were left in Romania. My grandparents came after us, a year later, and we had an aunt who came a couple of years later. I was in Bucharest a couple of years ago with one of my daughters. No Jews there. Maybe a few thousand, that’s it.
Where did you go in Israel?
We landed in Haifa. And they put us in Shaar Aliyah. That’s the Gate of Immigration. You know you “make Aliyah,” you don’t just don’t immigrate. It’s valued. You go up when you immigrate to Israel; Aliyah means up. When you leave, you go down. Yored.
Before 1948, Shaar Aliyah was a British camp for soldiers. So it had a fence around it, and the buildings were like in a military camp. My sister asked my parents, is this Palestina?
They gave us food that only my father wanted to pretend to like. I can sense the smell till now. Smell is a very strong sense, it’s considered to be the strongest sense. It was salad with eggs and potatoes. I didn’t eat it so I don’t know what it tasted like. But my father ate it and he said it was very tasty. My mother just cried.
From there we were moved to what is called ma’abarah, for the newcomers. There were waves and waves of newcomers. The newcomers were put in– it looks like a refugee camp, and there were many of them all over the place. Some were sheds and some were tents, and we were sent to the kind of ma’abarah where there were sheds. Not tents. Now I won’t go into the issue of the discrimination of the Mizrahi Jews, but I just wanted to mention that the Mizrahi Jews were put in tents usually and the Ashkenazi in sheds. It was kind of upgraded. And we were fortunate to be Ashkenazi.
Where did your childhood unfold?
We moved to Tel Aviv, and I started first grade in Israel. I loved school. I can say my Zionist education started in first grade. On Fridays the teacher would go along the aisles with the blue box, for the Jewish National Fund, and we put our coins there. When I think about it I want to hit myself. Every Friday.
What did you think the money was going to do?
To bloom the country! That is what we were told. And when we got older, there was a competition, which class raises more money. Every grade level in elementary school– we put our donations for the Jewish National Fund. You know in Hebrew it’s Keren Kayemet LeYisrael KKL. So I call them KKK.
Now or then?
Now! After what they do to the Bedouins—and what they do in the country altogether. I didn’t realize it at the time. For me they were such a wonderful organization—in my eyes.
Then we moved to another settlement close to Haifa, called Givat Olga. And again in that settlement, Ashkenazim lived there, and next to Givat Olga there was a ma’abara called Agrobank, and it was for Mizrahi Jews. And when we went to school, there was the good class for Ashkenazin, and there was the lower class for Mizrahim. We had two Mizrahi in our class.
Was the separation based on testing?
No! They didn’t test. Impression! In the other class there were two girls, Ashkenazi. No test! They came from a different background, that’s true, but having been a teacher I know the terrible things that were done over the long run.
We moved to Tel Aviv. It was 7th, 8th grade. One remark: when we lived in Givat Olga, I spoke with a Romanian accent that didn’t bother anybody. But when we moved back to northern Tel Aviv, they were Sabras, they were born in Israel, and when I came they said I am an olah chadasah, a newcomer, and I said, How come? By then I had lived in Israel five years, and they are telling me I am a newcomer. My accent changed like this! I didn’t want to be different.
Then I lived in a kibbutz. I was looking for adventure, I was 13 and I wanted to be away. I lived in many places in Israel. And the kibbutzim are considered to be leftist, considered to be idealist, and it was not that way. There are many things I can tell about. For instance, the workers that came from the town of Kiryat Shimona, they were Mizrahi, and they couldn’t eat with the members of the kibbutz in the eating room. They had to eat outside. I didn’t see the racism. You know, teenagers are supposed to have questions, and want justice. I did not. I mention that just as a fact. The fact is, it didn’t bother me then.
Was the kibbutz in the Galilee?
And you could go here by yourself at 13?
I went and brought my sister with me. That’s another story. But my sister left after a year. She couldn’t stay there. I stayed for four years, from 13 to 17.
Yes and no. On one hand, I was very independent and I was very active, and I was very appreciated. I was a very good student. I did a lot of things there. I was a youth counselor. I was kind of a celeb in the kibbutz. On the other hand I had my lonely moments when I felt like an orphan. When I was 40 I remember having a dream feeling an orphan in the kibbutz. I missed my parents, especially my father, and my brother.
But you put yourself in this experience.
Yes. It was my choice. My parents always listened to me.
In the U.S. that couldn’t happen.
Have you read Amos Oz’s book about the kibbutz in the Galilee.
Yes. But I am not fond of Amos Oz.
Because he plays with words. Have you read A Tale of Love and Darkness? That book is highly appreciated but the Zionist is so strong in the book that—well, I believe him, because I was there. I know. I experienced the same things– except he doesn’t wake up yet.
I don’t know that society, and I like his writing, and he captures a reality. I know it’s inside Zionist culture, but it’s vivid.
But the language is such a tool in his hands, and I would like to see the authors in Israel being more than that.
At 17 I went to Tel Aviv to finish my high school education, and then I went to the army. A rifle was not in my hands, thank god. Now as I told you, I was idealistic, taking after my father. So at this time in the Negev there are the settlements, and mostly the Mizrahi were being put there. In the late 50s and beginning of the 60s, there were huge waves of newcomers, especially from Morocco. And no teachers. Nobody wanted to go there. But I was a proud Zionist bringing education, so I volunteered after high school, with no training as a teacher. I had just graduated from high school, and I volunteered to go to such places and become their teacher. Not as a career, but just for the two years of my army service. I had no intention to become a teacher.
About my experience in Yeruham: It is in the Negev. I was sent to 7th graders, they were 13, some of them 14, and at that time I was 19, and most of them were just a little shorter than I was. Except Machlouf; he was 16 and he was the tallest one. So I was sent there to teach 7th graders, who didn’t know Hebrew, who were thrown into the desert, who were miserable. And they took their frustration out on me, because I was the representative of the state. And it was terrible. I will describe my first day. I was supposed to teach from 7 in the morning till 3:30 in the afternoon. I went to the class, and they don’t know Hebrew, and some of them are sitting on the floor, some are standing, some are running around, some of them ride the broom, some of them jump out the window, some of them throw chalks at the board. They only didn’t beat me– that was the only thing they didn’t do. And I didn’t know what to do. In fact I wanted to resign, to go back to the minister of education and say, I’m sorry I made a mistake. But I’m stubborn, and I didn’t resign.
And after 2 years, at the end of eighth grade, I was trying to say a few words at the end of elementary school, to try to say something– and the girls started to cry and then the boys started to cry and so I started to cry. So we all cried, we didn’t talk. The principal came in and saw all of us crying and he ran away. He didn’t want to be there.
I loved them dearly. I worked 20 hours a day. I went to their homes, they came to me. I took them on field trips on my own on Saturday. I said, Let’s go. I brought them clothes and shoes. And even now– I am in touch with some of them. The one who was dearest to me, Amram Malul, he died a couple of years ago from cancer. Even now they get very excited if I call them, if I come to visit.
And those two years were something I must some day write a book about it. But what I want to explain to you is, I was very genuine, I wanted to educate them, and when I look back, I brought them my culture, the poetry I loved, the music I loved. But I didn’t know about their culture. This was the first time in my life that I lived with Mizrahim. Until then I had lived only among Ashkenazi. And this was a very important thing in my life. Because from being in Yeruham, I can say that I am less racist than people usually are. Because all of us– we are this way or that way– but we are racist. We like to be around people we know, that are like us. It’s more comfortable. And racism– we need to educate others but first of all us, we need to educate ourselves.
And what I am trying to say is, I loved my students very much, and they loved me, but I was the one who brought culture. Absolutely zero of Mizrahi culture was available to anyone. Because they felt inferior. They spoke Arabic among themselves, of course. But we are the cultured people, the Ashkenazi. It didn’t occur to anyone that the culture should go the other way.
At Kibbutz Dan, I could see the Mizrahim not being allowed inside to eat. And now I can ask myself, why weren’t they allowed? But at Yeruham there was no way for me to know about their culture, or did they even have a culture?
There is one other story I want to tell you. Colette. She hated math. She couldn’t do her homework. I was upset, and what did I know about teaching anyway? But I learned with them. And I was very sorry that she didn’t do her homework in math. One day she came with her homework all done and correct in math. And I was so happy. After I finished my tour round the kids, she said, Hamorah Tzvia. Hamorah means teacher. Like Mrs. Tsvia. “I wanted to make you happy, but I copied the homework, I didn’t do them.” I loved those children. They were honest, they were warm. They were people.
I left Yeruham. I went to Tel Aviv. I went to the university. I wanted to study theater, I’m kind of a dramatic person, as you can see. So I wanted drama. But I missed teaching. I went back to teaching.
When did you get married?
I got married very early. In 1965. I had three little children and then I divorced. So I was a single mother. I never got any help from my former husband. I raised my little ones by myself, I worked very hard. And in 1974, I was fed up with the hard work, so I decided I wanted to go to a kibbutz, so they will help me a little to raise my kids. I had memories of the children in the children’s home at Kibbutz Dan, and the parents are freer.
I had to choose amongst three kibbutzim, and I chose Neve Ur on the east side of Israel, close to the Galilee. And at Neve Ur, I met Uri, my present husband, who is a very weird guy who wanted me with my three children.
Well then there was tension in the kibbutz. I think they had their own ideas for Uri. And I came to the kibbutz with three children, barely settled and already Uri and I were together. How come?! Maybe I threatened them. But the kibbutz didn’t like the idea that Uri wanted me, so they decided not to keep me. And they made excuses. The main excuse was I was not such a good mother. They had a meeting, and they claimed that I’m late to the children’s house, and I don’t tell the children stories. You see, all the other parents were a couple, a father and mother, they could work out the times of eating and putting them to sleep.
So they had a vote and the kibbutz split, and by one vote they kicked me out.
What was the real reason?
Maybe they wanted to save Uri. He was single and very talented. “She has three small children. Who does she think she is, Marilyn Monroe, she came and already she has a relationship?” At the kibbutzim, there is no private life. Everyone knows what’s cooking in another person’s place. Whenever you opened the door, someone at the kibbutz knew you opened the door. If somebody comes to the kibbutz who doesn’t belong, everyone knows who is a stranger…
So I had to leave.
How upset were you?
Not too much. It was so stupid, it couldn’t not be funny. But Uri said, we will get married! This was his way of proposing. Because the wife of a member of the kibbutz cannot be kicked out. So he went back to the secretary of the kibbutz and said we would get married. They decided to punish him. Get married, and we won’t continue to send you to college. Uri studied biology, and they said, We will stop Uri’s studies if you get married.
So Uri said, Ok, we are leaving. And we left.
Am I wrong still to have my romance about the kibbutz?
I have that romance too. My memories from Kibbutz Dan are great. It’s so nice to be close to everyone and to go out to work together and go on trips. Even when people are bad they are good. My friend’s grandmother used to say that a man is a man even if sometimes he is not like a man. In Hebrew, ben adam hu ben adam afilu im lifamim hu lo ben adam.
So you’re not judgmental of the kibbutzim?
Here is where I judge the kibbutzim. They were the real settlers during the major ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. They had no religion, they had socialism, but not when it came to Arabs. They were settlers.
If you had been there 10 years earlier, you would have done the same.
Yes. But not all Germans were supposed to be bad people, everyone knows that.
Where did you and Uri go?
We went to Rechovot, south of Tel Aviv. Everything became better. Uri was accepted into Tel Aviv University, the biology department, and I became a principal of school in a town close to Rehovot. I loved my career. As a principal, I will be frank with you– the kids really loved me. Even though I was the principal, and the principal is the one who is supposed to punish, when they had troubles, they came to my office to talk to me. To cry in my office.
We had our fourth child. By the way, Uri adopted by law all three of my children. He is a real father of everybody.
OK, Tzvia, now explain your love affair with Zionism, and how it passed. And what the stages were.
It’s not just me having a love affair with Zionism– it’s everybody. The education from first grade is Zionist. Second grade we already started to study bible. The Zionist movement was a secular movement, but it took the bible as the ethos of our existence. Everybody from second grade to 12th grade studied bible. It’s not a matter of choice.
Including the schools you were principal of.
Yes. Now don’t get me wrong, I love bible. I love bible! The thing that I got the most from Israel is the Hebrew language, because I can read the bible in my own language, and it’s a wonderful book. It’s not a book, it’s a collection of ancient writings. My master degree is in bible.
So there is the bible. You learn how you were an ancient people– so special. I mean these people, we were wandering on the globe for 2000 years! We were not exiled, by the way. If you study history, the Romans didn’t expel anybody. But the situation was very bad, and whoever was in a good situation could leave for other places. Like people do nowadays. But the idea of being the oldest people, from Abraham, to King David 3000 years ago. Then 2000 years ago– since then, we are wandering on the globe and finally the Zionist movement came to our salvation! [Sighing humorously.] What we learned– we learned about how the Zionism came to existence, we learned about the first pioneers coming to Israel, and Israel was in such a terrible shape. And the pioneers– they dried the swamps, the swamps caused diseases, and they had such hardships. And they were hungry. And it was so romantic. At the end of the day they were sitting around a campfire singing and dancing, and the kibbutzim and moshavim were built. All these stories– they are wonderful stories, and I taught them too! I taught these stories to my students. Bible is my favorite, and I can be an actress while I teach bible because there is so much drama there and so much politics there, and ach–it’s a great, great book.
Now I was leftist, you see, and Kibbutz Dan for instance was a kibbutz led by the Mapam party, which is like Meretz now– sort of. So I was the right kind of Zionist; in fact in those days before 67, before the Begin time, the right was not a nice thing to be. So in fact I was the mainstream. I was not Mapai– Labor, left mainstream. But Mapam. Nicer!
How many acts did your crisis unfold over?
Until 1967 everything was clear to me. Even the incident of Kafr Qassem. Are you aware of the massacre in Kafr Qassem. [In Oct. 1956, Israeli police massacred 49 Palestinian civilians in a city in the Triangle section near the West Bank]. Even that– I was not fully aware. I must say that I remember in the high school, when I was in the kibbutz, that we had a conversation about that! As if–what is there to talk about? This was an absolute crime!
Another thing that didn’t bother me, that I wasn’t aware of then, was the military regime until 1965 for the Palestinian citizens. I was not fully aware of that. I mean– How come?
Another thing, I absolutely believed that in 1948 when Ben Gurion declared the state of Israel, the seven countries attacked Israel, and Israel won. Also I bought into the Partition. I didn’t understand how unfair it was. The Israelis accepted it and the Arabs didn’t accept it. So these were facts that were instilled in me- and I believed them! And I taught them too. And I taught about the celebration of the 29th of November 47 [UN Partition vote]. I taught how wonderful it was, how enthusiastic the people were. And during the independence days, we used to dance on the streets, it was such a day.
Now in 1967 there was a change. I was 23, and I had my first baby, he was six months old, and I was so scared I had a stomach ache. Because Egypt and Jordan and Syria– what I knew was, they attacked us. And I visioned myself running with my baby, and the Arabs are stabbing me. As you probably remember [from our first interview June 26], I didn’t know any Arab. And I went to friends of mine who were in their 30s, I thought they were really adults, and I said I am so scared, and they calmed me down. They said, “Listen, our army na na na na, and their armies, na na na na na. So don’t worry—the victory is ours.”
And as you know– six days, what a victory!
I was leftist but I was happy about the victory.
You know who Yeshayahu Leibowitz is? Thanks to Yeshayahu Leibowitz, I switched right away to the demand of returning all the occupied territories to the Palestinians and wanting peace. And this is the left position, until this very day. I mean: Return the occupied territories and make peace.
This was me being leftist. I was not very involved, I had little kids, I worked hard, I was not politically involved. And this is how it continued.
73 was of course a disaster. Then after 73 there was 82, the first Lebanon war and my husband Uri was in that war too. My husband, he was in ’67. in 73, and in 82 and in between. Whatever there was, he was in. We were Zionists. My husband and my brother. In the ’73 war, my brother had just finished his three years of service and he volunteered as a tank commander, to go to the war, and he came back alive.
Then in April ’83 my brother got killed.
Yah! [in pain] He was 31.
What was his name?
Arik. I mean his name was Ariyeh but we called him Arik. He was our baby brother. Had he lived now he would be 62. He was an angel. He was so good at heart. He used to save flowers– if there are buildings, and there are flowers, he used to take them and replant them elsewhere.
My parents never recovered. This is something you don’t recover from. Ever. For my father? My father would take off his shirt for his kids.
Where was he killed?
Lebanon. He was already Reserve, because he was 31.
Where were you when you heard?
I was in the US. I was in Connecticut. I was living in West Hartford. We just came from a day trip that we had with our kids, a wonderful day trip, I think we went to Rhode Island. We used to go on day trips. And I went up to rest and then my husband said that I need to come down, and I went down, and an Israeli woman was there.
At your door?
She came in our house. She needed to tell me so I will go to Israel for the funeral.
Why not a phone call?
Oh no; she came. The embassy called her because they knew her, she lived in the same town. So she came. I’m thankful that she came and not a phone call. And I didn’t know what I needed to take with me. I needed a passport, I needed something to change into, and her husband took me right away to the airport, and I flew to Israel. I remember during the whole flight I just was sitting in the window, and I cried and cried and cried. To be alone from the minute you are told until you get– it’s hours. It was so long. [Sighing.]
One of the things I realized– when I left Zionism, is: Memorial day. I hated Memorial Days. I used to go with my mother and my sister. I was part of it. And at the beginning, being part of this Memorial Day, being embraced by everybody, I thought it helped me to mourn. But then I couldn’t any longer participate in those memorial days with my heart, and I really hated it. They have their speeches, and what an hypocrisy! When the prime minister says, Our heart is with you. I mean, they play on our beloved blood. They dance on our blood. Do you say that in English? To dance on the blood? When you are using the dead for your own benefit? Because the Memorial Day is the day on which we have heroes. But the Palestinians have shahidim [martyrs] and the Israelis mock them, oh, they like shahidim. But what do we have? Why this Memorial Day? We have heroes. We have heroes. [ironically]
The same thing?
But of course. We have heroes! My brother was not a hero—[losing her composure] he wanted to live. There is a word in Hebrew, Hantzaha, comes from the word, eternity, forever. There are projects to make the fallen soldiers, to live in our souls. When Muslims say their shaheeds go to the garden of Eden, and have 70 virgins, that’s ridiculous, but when we do it for our people, they will live forever, that’s OK. My brother is dead, that’s it. He wanted to live. when he was a kid, he wanted to move to the Caucasus mountains because he heard people live so long there. He had so many dreams.
I became more critical after Nurit Peled-Elhanan and her husband Rami created the alternative memorial day, for the fallen– soldiers and non soldiers. It was then that I started to say to myself, what am I doing here? But I couldn’t go to the alternative memorial day because of my sister.
How did you know about Nurit Peled-Elhanan’s alternative?
Because I was a liberal Zionist.
What happened next?
Well I still was a Zionist. I taught in Hebrew school, Solomon Schechter day school, and I taught them about the beauty of Israel. And I was so enthusiastic about Israel that I was hired by Hadassah and I wrote books to teach Hebrew to adults—and all my Zionism was poured there!
Yeah! I loved Israel! I love Israel even now. I love to tour Israel. I know Israel like my palm. And I can go to the same places over and over again. For me it’s a homeland, yes, I’ve been there since I was 6. I mean the story of Zionism is another thing, but I grew up there. I’m attached to that. So I wrote for Hadassah books for learning Hebrew, very good books, you should know — full of love to Israel.
In the ’90s.
What were your politics?
I was leftist. And I said that Israel must return the occupied territories, that there shouldn’t be settlements. I was Meretz. And I will tell you something funny. Because of the writings, because of my yearning for my homeland, I went back to Israel in 1995. And I lived in Israel from 1995 till 2012. I used to come here on my vacations, and my husband would come to Israel. He came less because he didn’t like going back to Israel even though he was a Zionist. He had had enough wars, and he hated the rightwing governments. As if there is a difference!
He thought there was?
We both thought there was a difference. And I mean realizing that the Labor Party was so much worse. I mean, these rightwing guys they put everything on the surface, you know who you are dealing with.
So I came back to Israel. And again I was the prinicipal of another elementary school in Jerusalem. And I was Meretz.
Now 95 when Rabin was killed, I did believe that Rabin was so great. He was better than the others, no question about that, even for the internal politics he was better than the others. He was very intelligent and honest. I don’t know whether he would have changed the reality to a better place, but he was a leader. So Rabin was murdered and Netanyahu came into office. You probably know, there are pictures where he walks with a coffin behind him [demonstrating against Rabin]. It’s like—what is the play by Shakespeare that he sleeps in the same bed of the one that he was responsible for his murder. Hamlet?
I was Meretz, and I was not that involved, I had a lot of work to do. When I retired when I was 67, I continued to work on my own. I had my own small business of teaching with my own ideas of what Israel should be and so on, but I was not active.
I had gone back with our youngest daughter, born here, our 5th child, Daphna. She’s 28 now. We have four daughters. Only two of them are active, but our [third] daughter Hadas who is now 37, already in her early 20s she understood what I only started to understand at the age of 64, in 2008. She went to Rutgers, and at Rutgers, you have some progressive guys. And she is very smart. She knew already, what is Zionism and what is Israel, and about the ethnic cleansing and all this stuff. But she is not a pusher; she did not talk to me or my husband about this matter. She left us, you know; you are free to find your own way.
Daphna, she is a completely different kind of person. I remember when she was in high school, we talked about Hadas’s politics, we said Hadas and us, we think alike, except we are Zionists, and she is not. We meant that in terms of economics. We think alike. But she is not Zionist, and we are.
You didn’t understand how profound a difference that was?
No. Meanwhile Daphna the youngest one moved back to the United States five years ago, and she started to see what is the real thing. Now Daphna is not like Hadas, and she gave Uri, Ilan Pappe’s book [The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine], and he was shocked. Shocked!
It was about the same time that I started my journey from Sheikh Jarrah [in East Jerusalem]. What drove me to Sheikh Jarrah was just the fact that people were kicked out. I was infuriated. You kick out people from their homes to the street? Now you see, in Jerusalem, there is a road running from south to north. This side is Jewish, this side is Palestinian. I never went to that side. You don’t go there!
The first times I went to Sheikh Jarrah, I met liberal Zionists. Moshe Halbertal. Assaf Sharon. They wanted to end the occupation but they were appalled to think that you might have to lose the Jewish state because of the occupation. We have to give back this land, so as to save Zionism. Was that you?
At that point, yes. The steps I made—I was speeding but at the beginning, I just wanted the people to live in their homes. And you cannot expel these ones, because of what happened before ’48– and not give back to them what belonged to them before ‘48.
You mean if you apply that principle to Sheikh Jarrah, why not apply the same principle of restoration in Baka, or in Walaja?
But I didn’t go that far. What I said was, in soccer it is called an own goal. I thought it was an own goal, Kicking out the Palestinians. You see I still was thinking like a Zionist. Because then you need to give back what belonged to them. So I still didn’t go all the way. . Though I was not fully aware of the Nakba at that time, I just thought that [the Jews] who had won their case in the court might lose in the long run,, I still believed that the judicial system might do equal justice for Jews and Palestinians. Of course I was wrong.
What got you all the way?
I started doing my own research. I went to every talk, every tour, I went with Machsom Watch to the West Bank, I went with Ir Amim to East Jerusalem and North Jerusalem, I went with Shovrim Shtika [Breaking the Silence] to Hebron. And then at Sheikh Jarrah, there was a guy with a small desk, and he asked, Who wants to sign to come to south Hebron hills with Ta’ayush? I didnt know what Ta’ayush was. But I am for adventures. That’s why I went to Kibbutz Dan. So I signed, and next Saturday morning 6 in the morning, I was with the Ta’ayush people. You know what Ta’ayush means in Arabic,
Together. I went with the Ta’ayush people, and this was a shock. Ezra Nawi and Emil Vardi told us what to do. Oh, Ezra he is the sweetest guy ever, his heart is– his last penny he would give to release Palestinians. I want to make some money for him, just to send him something! So I went there and I saw the Palestinians, and settlers came and the army came and the settlers didn’t let the Palestinians do– I don’t remember what it was. But I was so naïve. I said to Emil, Can’t I talk to this settler and tell them it’s not right. He said, go ahead.
The settlers mocked me. They were the age, they could be my grandchildren.
They were very rude to you?
Oh definitely. The whole thing—you know how it works; the army comes, and the army says this is a closed military zone and that’s it, and everybody goes away. I was– all of a sudden– I saw the reality. And I was shocked.
What is that reality? Tell Americans, right now.
The reality is that I met the Palestinians that are so poor that they live without electricity, without roads, without water, and they are harassed, and they live in tents, in caves, in all kind of sheds, and they are harassed by the settlers, they are harassed by the army, they are harassed by the Civil Authority. And the only ones that are helping them there are the Ta’ayush people, and we have no power. Only being there and trying to stand up for their rights, and also argue with the army.
You were speeding then in consciousness?
Yes. And when I realized what the reality was, I called my sister whom I regarded as leftist– she is Meretz also– and I wanted to tell her what I experienced. And she didn’t want to listen to me.
What did she say?
Well. She is very gentle. But you can hear through the telephone when someone doesn’t want to hear you. She said, “I know, I have a friend who is in Machsom Watch.” And I said, “But I’m your sister, I want to tell you what I observed! I want to tell you what I experienced!” I was overwhelmed. She is gentle and polite and she listened.
Did she hear?
What I heard was that I will never tell her again anything about what I experienced. That’s it.
Has that been the case?
Well I tried once more. It was almost a fight, and I love my sister and–that’s it. I don’t care about losing my friends, but I don’t want to lose her, so I just gave up.
When did you go with Ta’ayush?
2008 2009 2010. Every Saturday. I was addicted to that.
What about the liberal Zionists who are involved in these actions and say, we need to preserve the Jewish state? Did you have this conversation? Did you share that view?
Among the radical Israelis, there is the inner more radical circle, that we want one democratic state between the sea and the river. However, I’m very scared of that.
Yeah. Not because the Palestinians will outnumber us. I don’t care at all. I’m afraid of even a worse apartheid because the ones who are in power won’t give up the power unless they are forced to, and what upsets me so terribly— Forget about Israel. Eventually it will disappear.
When, 100 years?
I don’t know. As long as the west especially America stands behind Israel, Israel still can exist. But do you know the most rightwing? They want a whole state, but they want to put the Palestinians in reservations. And they have a good example, what America did to the Indians. I mean America was much more successful. America really finished the Indians. Israel cannot because Israel is not in the 17th 18th 19th century. And after World War 2 the world changed, and Israel didn’t realize that. And it still has the support of America.
Am I right in thinking your chief influences were outside the country? Hadas at Rutgers, Daphna coming to America, Ilan Pappe. Your husband Uri fights in all the wars, he’s Israeli through and through. But he’s shocked by a book published in England by a Baghdad Jew? Why is this knowledge something that has to come from outside Israel?
Because in Israel only recently in the past couple years you can hear the word Nakba. The word Nakba– I didn’t know this word before.
So it is important to get outside Israel to understand?
Yes, yes. You see we used to go on many trips. We loved to travel in Israel. We’d go to archaelogical sites, and there are many in Israel. And we would pass Arabic ruins– they’re not interesting, they’re Arabs. I didn’t ask, who lived here? Or where are they? People in Israel– they’re blind. They’re absolutely blind.
Not only that. But I feel released here, that I can speak freely. You saw what happened now, with the mob on the streets that attacked the left demonstration in Tel Aviv, right? I truly think that soon enough there will be a murder.
But why didn’t you stay liberal Zionist? When I go to actions in the West Bank, there are activists I meet who are for a Jewish state. Is that still the case?
So why didn’t you stay in that spot? Why wasn’t that your path? Why did you go further?
Because it’s not right. It cannot be. It just cannot be. The Jews came, expelled the Palestinians and want a Jewish state, which means that 20 percent of the citizens who are Palestinians– they will be the second class citizens. It’s not their place. And I don’t care who lives there, whether they are Jews or Arabs or Africans- I want a country to be a democratic country.
By the way, with what is going on now in Gaza, I am absolutely not in favor of Hamas. They are fanatic religious people who make the people of Gaza miserable. But that is not the issue. They become more and more fanatic because when the situation is getting worse and worse, people become extremer and extremer. This is not the issue. The refugees’ problem must be resolved. The Jewish state—the Jewish state! I mean, where on earth can you have a country that is called Jewish state? Not Israel, but– Jewish state! And bringing into Israel a million Russian people– I don’t know whether they were Jews or not, and I don’t care—but just because they’re white. It is just a racist issue.
When did you understand that racism is at the heart of it?
Well, I was aware of the racism against the Mizrahim. But about the Arabs–I used to look upon that as discrimination. But it is discrimination based on racism.
How often do you talk to American Jews?
When I will be able to talk to American Jews, I feel I will fulfil something in my life. This is my goal, what I want to do.
When did you form the goal?
When I decided to come back here.
After Ta’ayussh and you couldn’t walk up the hills anymore. You said, I’m going to talk to American Jews. How are you doing with that job?
When I found Jewish Voice for Peace, I was happy to find radical Jews. But I must telll you about my friend who is 92. She is a New Yorker. She has been here since she was 7. They came from the shtetl in Russia. She was a radical and a communist, not a Zionist. She’s very smart. And now she’s in a home. So I and my husband went to visit her and we kept telling her what’s going on. And then when we touched ‘48, she jumped. She said, No no no no! You’re not telling me that Israel, a small country– it was attacked by seven Arab countries, did not have the right to fight for itself. So the change in the Jewry in the States won’t come from Roslyn.
What does Roslyn signify?
If she gets scared of what I am telling her, who can I talk to? I don’t know. I met another Jewish woman from West Hartford, I thought she might be radical. And it was true– she’s on my side. But guess what? She went public, and her friends left her. She used to be active in the community of greater Hartford.
She was excommunicated?
Has she accepted that?
She continues her work. But her friends in greater Hartford they don’t want to talk to her anymore.
Because she’s a radical on this question?
Because she doesn’t support Israel.
You have lived in this country a long time. Don’t you see a significant shift inside the Jewish community?
I don’t know enough to tell you. What I can say is, I met Sherry Wolf, and Sherry Wolf told me that she is sensing that among the young people there is some kind of shift. And the fact that there is J Street– some of them just are not brave enough to go all the way. So they are [air-quotes] Zionist. But some of them really aren’t. Some of them maybe they think like Jewish Voice for Peace [JVP] but they are not brave enough because the [mainstream Jewish] community doesn’t want you. And people need to feel that they belong to somebody, that they are part of a community.
In West Hartford I have some acquaintances. Because when I lived there, I was a teacher in Solomon Schechter day school for eight years. And then I left and I founded my own private supplementary school. So I have some fans there. I thought maybe I would go to West Harford,and meet people who have a say in the community. I want to confront them. Because I don’t care. It’s not like in Israel. Here I don’t care. In Israel I do care.
You would be scared in Israel?
You see, in Israel the atmosphere is such – that–
There’s not a lot of personal autonomy or freedom?
Yes. I have new friends in Israel with my own ideas, with whom I relate, much closer, much better, than with my older friends. But one of my best friends, when we talk on Skype, she tells me about her grandchildren. I tell her about mine. But I feel like I’m bored, I’m not telling her what really bothers me, I feel like I can’t talk about terrible things in Gaza. I can’t talk to her about the real things.
How’s your work going in West Hartford?
Oh I didn’t start yet. You see I came here last year. And I didn’t know my area. And I tried to find people to start to be active, and I called and I looked on the internet. Didn’t find. Didn’t find.
What about J Street?
No I knew I didn’t want them.
There’s J Street at Rutgers. Why don’t you walk in there and say, you people don’t know what you’re talking about?
I don’t know how to do that yet. I don’t have the connections. That’s why I want to go to West Hartford. I can talk to Audrey Lichter, Listen Audrey I want to meet you and I want to talk to you. Jeff Halper when he was here, he went to West Hartford, and he couldn’t get any synagogue, so he went into a church in West Hartford. So I want to confront Audrey Lichter, I know who she is, I know she’s active in the community. I know she’s smart, and she supports Israel. I want to tell her, this is stupid. I want to tell her what’s going on.
What would you tell her?
I don’t know yet. As I said, I’m here 10 months. What I found at first was the dialogue project; and that’s nonsense. Do you know dialogue projects. With Marsha [Kanry]? I went once.
Why didn’t you like it?
Because there is nothing to do there. Everybody is telling their feelings. I want to do stuff– not tell my feelings and get sympathy. This is not my goal. I just found Jewish Voice for Peace before I left for Israel at the end of January… And I became active there, and I’m happy. In JVP, I have a say. For instance, that demonstration [on June 26], it was due to my initiative. Because they were talking about Sodastream, Sodastream, and I felt that I was suffocating. And when they finished with SodaStream, I started to cry. Because I knew what was going on. And I said, We must do something. And they listened.
They were already starting the attacks on the West Bank.
Right. So I said we must do something. With all the respect to SodaStream, it’s not– And they listened. It was Monday, and the demonstration was Thursday. So it was quick.
So you are seeking to engage. So you are ambitious?
Oh I am a very ambitious person. Absolutely.
I have a goal. I will be satisfied when the people in the west especially America will understand who is the oppressor and who is the victim and why Israel is criminal, and will pressure their government to stop this crime from continuing. And I think, how can I do that. For my part? I can tell my own experience; I can explain how I came to this understanding. So J Street is a good goal—since they are not fanatic, they’re not AIPAC, so probably some of them may listen… But I think, in this country there are many blacks and Latinos and they don’t stand by the Palestinians. They are people who, from their own life, should support the Palestinians. I was so upset about the progressive mayor of New York who supports Israel. I suggested to JVP, but so far it doesn’t seem that they got enthusiastic about that. So I am trying to see if I can do something on my own to reach out for the blacks and the Latinos in New York.
Maybe I can approach them and tell them, Listen, your organization should do something. In the Bronx, in Harlem, in Brooklyn, Those are the place where I want to see demonstrations supporting the victims. They deserve their support. I don’t know yet how to do it, but I feel like the ground is burning, the people in Gaza are killed, and I don’t have time. How many more people will be killed? How many children won’t have water?
When I talk to my mother’s boyfriend, he says well the Jews have always been persecuted. We just want a safe place. That’s why we need Israel. We were wiped out in Europe. Don’t we deserve that? What do you say when– We need Israel because the world has always hated Jews.
In Hebrew I say that’s a diklum, something you put in people’s mouths and they say the same thing over and over again. A diklum is reciting something. Not like poetry. But in kindergarten you say Rasti Rasti venna halti. It’s a diklum, it’s for little kids.
How do I answer? First of all, the least safe place for Jews is Israel. I mean, If you look at the large picture, in the Middle East, most people are Arabs except for Iranians, and they feel closer to Arabs, because they’re Muslim. And in that area, this Israel, instead of cooperating with the people that live in the Middle East, they’re fighting them. How long will that last? For how long?
That’s why you say Israel can’t last?
It cant last. I just read Ali Abunimah’s book, an excellent book. And I don’t know what will happen to the Jews in Israel after being so terrible to the Palestinians. I don’t know, will they take revenge? I don’t know.
You see this guy. [She holds up a book: Roots Run Deep. Life in Occupied Palestine] Hamde Abu Rahma. Do you know him? So we visited him and bought this book from him. Because he shows the pain and he shows the beauty of life and I think that Hamde– I feel closer to him than to these [Israeli] bastards that go and kidnap kids from their beds at night. So Hamde won’t take revenge, he’s a man of life. But I don’t know!
So, first of all if you’re looking for a shelter, that’s the worst shelter on earth for Jews– just to be realistic.
Now whether the Holocaust that has been abused so badly by Israel—[sighing]. I’m not willing to live with this fear, I’m sorry. Maybe the people around here [in downtown New Brunswick], if they know that I’m Jewish, the most that can happen, They don’t like me.
That’s your assessment of the US.
Not only the U.S. You know, also, Arab countries, Morocco. The Jews there that didn’t leave Morocco, they live a better life there than their Morocco brothers in Israel. I think. I’m not sure. I don’t want to say things I’m not sure of.
The Jews who didn’t leave, you mean?
Yes. They’re trying to scare you, like the Muslims are conquering Europe and they’re going to go after the Jews. Well– who wants to be scared? I feel pity for them. But definitely Israel is not a shelter.
You know about the paranoid American Jews from the Holocaust, who say, It can happen again. They threw us out of England twice, Jews in Germany loved that place, things change. But you’re saying, You don’t live your life in that way?
What shall I do about paranoia? I don’t know. I’m not afraid. I’m not paranoiac.
In 2006, I began to meet Palestinians. And as you say, that’s very important. One day I was walking up Broadway, and a Palestinian shouted, my goal in life is to end Zionism. I was shocked by that statement, but now I would say, one of my goals in life is to end Zionism. Then a couple of years ago, I heard Hannah Mermelstein outside the Israeli consulate in New York saying, When someone asked if Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state, she said No. I was shocked then and now I’m at the point where I think, it shouldn’t be a Jewish state, I don’t know about right to exist. But everyone of us has changed our consciousness. And shocking moments bring awareness. So, you have had that process too. Does Israel have a right to exist as a Jewish state?
No. Absolutely not.
It’s a racist state. Not a democracy. If it’s a Jewish state, meaning that the Jews are the privileged people, and then you have either the Palestinian citizens who don’t have the same rights, and you have the Palestinians under occupation, they have no rights whatsoever. Of course not! Are you going to have in America a Protestant state for instance; they’re a majority no? Or the demographics are changing here too? It’s an oxymoron. Do you know Shulamit Aloni?
No but she died.
Yes. She was Zionist until her last day, and her son Udi, he wanted to know, mom why are you Zionist after all this? Because she was outspoken and she was the one who said, It cannot be a Jewish and democratic state, cannot be. Shulamit Aloni said that. Udi said, So mom how come you are saying you’re a Zionist. She said, Oh, go away! She couldn’t deal with it. All her life she was Zionist. I don’t know what she thought inside herself. You see you live here, so you didn’t experience the pain that I’ve experienced. I had like an earthquake in myself.
In what way?
Everything. All the songs that I love that I heard on Independence Day. All the literature. All the myth with the newcomers. It was so romantic. All of a sudden, everything, it’s gone.
You were how old when this happened?
What does that say about your maturity. Not to be judgmental. But it took you that long– what kept you from awareness so long?
You see, in Israel, all of us– the Jews– are brought together with little differences, left mainstream right, and not knowing, absolutely not knowing Arabs at all. They don’t exist. They exist only in theory. We would drive on main roads and highways, and you see the Arabic villages, they look different and they have the mosques. And you don’t go there. It’s not yours. And speaking for myself, I always, always worked in a very diligent way. I was very dedicated. It was not a job; for me, teaching and running a school, it was part of my life, and I had kids. So I had those ideas—Meretz– but I didn’t really pay attention because the Arabs were not in my life, I didn’t know what was going on. And only when I saw with my own eyes what the reality was—then I was shocked!
Before that there are walls. It’s not in the media. Not in our lives. They don’t exist. They are really half an hour from me. If it’s the back yard, you still can peek thru the window. But it’s not even the back yard, it’s covered, it’s completely covered.
There are the cities that have Jews and Arabs. Haifa, Akko, Jaffa, Ramle, Lod. Those are cities with Arabs and Jews. So they did have relationships. But I did not live there. Maybe if I lived in one of those cities, my awareness would have come before then. But I didn’t see them.
Henry Siegman has moved very bravely. He’s a Holocaust survivor, the former head of American Jewish congress. And still a liberal Zionist, but he’s moved a lot, and he fights with his own family. I want to talk to you about the family fight. I want it known. I don’t’ want it a secret, even if painful, people should know. I want to have the family fight. I want to put four family members on stage, and fight about this in an American setting. It’s never happened. It’s starting to happen. You are open about your conversation with your sister. You don’t mind people knowing about that. And that’s important for people to know, how deep those divisions can be. Do you think we should have that fight publicly?
Yes, but then people need to be brave, because it is painful to be attacked. In a conversation of let’s say half an hour or an hour, you cannot explain much beside who you are. When you have your own ideas and information, and I have my own ideas and information, and I feel I am the one who has the truth– so am I going to educate you and tell you what I learned, what I read heard, and saw, as if I am the knowledgeable person and you are the dummy, and I have to tell you? That’s not a good position. It must be done as a process and not—I mean, just fighting won’t do anything.
You see, I’m active on Facebook because I want to know what’s happening. I constantly have to know what happens. Maybe it’s not good for my health but I want to know. And most of my friends on Facebook are either with my ideas or they are still liberal Zionists. Only very few are not– not part of my ideas. Just my husband’s cousin gets mad at me. And my sister, my niece– they probably see what I put, what I share, but they don’t say anything. They just see it. And think OK. She’s a lunatic, she became extremist.
Who is the extremist?
I am. I am the extremist. One guy got fed up with what he sees on my Facebook wall so he said, when did you say anything about the three teens and so on. [Scoffs.] I started a whole fight with him. And I must say that I wasn’t nice to him. And he said that that’s how the people on the left– he thinks I’m left. I’m smol kitzoni. Smol is left, and you know what kitzoni is– I am extremist. And he said we are arrogant. He really resented it. The truth is he’s not very intelligent, and I was not very nice to him. The more he wanted to convince me that I should not hate my country, the more I was sharp with him. I didn’t convince him at all, he was just insulted and hurt. Then he said I am insane, and when he said I am insane, then an insane person can say anything he wants. So I did it. I gave him all my poison.
What’s the point?
That fighting—didn’t help.
Do you ever talk about your brother? Combatants with Peace, they speak of their own losses. Elik Elhanan talks about losing his sister Smadar. Do you ever use your loss?
In fact, I don’t use it. [Breathing heavily]. It is a loss that it’s difficult for me to use it. I used it once. And I didn’t feel good about it but I used it. I was sued by Israel– as if I attacked a settler. Do you know that story? [laughing] You know, when you put the story of me up, there were comments, and one of them put – you should watch it, a video where I was fighting a settler. Do you know Nissim Mossek? He is the one who films what’s going on. So we went to help Palestinians to have water from the cistern. And a settler, he’s a real criminal, Avidan, he rushed to not let us help the Palestinian, and I was fighting with him, and I started to pull him, and his shirt tore, and his pants almost fell—[laughing]– he was holding them up. So the state sued me as attacking a settler. Now Gabi Lansky, she’s a lawyer for human rights. And she wanted me to write a letter because they wanted to get rid of this nuisance. So they wanted me to use everything possible. That I was a Teacher, I was so good for the country, that I am a Holocaust survivor, I lost my brother.
Are you a Holocaust survivor?
Well, I don’t remember anything. But I was born during the Holocaust. And I lost my brother. So I wrote the letter and I didn’t feel good about myself. Eventually there was the court, but the judge was smart enough, she only said, I had to sign that I won’t attack anybody for two years. So my husband says now he feels comfortable now for these two years.
But, as I don’t want Israel to use the Holocaust to justify its existence, I don’t want to use the loss of my brother to justify my stance. I do have other difficulties with my brother’s loss. For now, I cannot go back to Israel during Memorial Day because there is no way for me to go to the cemetery. And it will kill my sister if I am there and I don’t go. But I can’t go there. I can go on any other day.
Where’s the cemetery?
Kiryat shaul. Because my parents lived near Tel Aviv. And you now you have cemeteries especially for soldiers. And it is upgraded, it’s more important. I just can’t. But I don’t want to use it.
JVP has BDS debates. Would you debate if they had a debate with liberal Zionists?
By the way, did you read the article by Noam Chomsky?
Yes, what did you think of it?
I don’t know. I feel like, who am I to argue with Noam Chomsky? But I do think that BDS should continue and should be strong. He came up with his arguments so it’s me against Noam Chomsky– like that stupid guy who was trying to fight with me over Facebook. [Laughing.]
What don’t you like about what he said?
I have to reread the article, to go more into depth. I don’t want to say stupid things.
Can you imagine having a conversation with a liberal Zionist publicly?
Yes. With one reservation. Maybe next year my English will be better–
I wouldn’t worry about it.
I haven’t been in the country really for almost 20 years. And when I lived in Connecticut I went to work, so the language really improved. Now I’m not going to work. I talk only to Uri in Hebrew. So it kind of scares me away.
You have to get over that, or fix it….One of the things I like to say is that Zionism began with Herzl hearing Death to the Jews in Paris and it’s ending with Jews saying Death to the Arabs in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Do you know that some of them were wearing the shirt of the neo-Nazis. It’s a white shirt, it says, “Good night left side.”
What do you think about that?
It doesn’t surprise me. But it’s going deeper and deeper, it’s just getting worse and worse. That’s why the last demonstration at Habima in Tel Aviv, people were beaten, and some were in the hospital. This is what scares me. Next step is shooting.
Is Israel going to be like Algeria, where people were decolonized?
This is what my husband wants. I’m telling him that it won’t happen. He wants the Jews to leave the West Bank.
But leaving all of Israel and Palestine? Could that happen? We have to get out of here?
I don’t know. Because the French in Algeria, it’s not that they established a state. They were settlers, like the settlers on the West Bank. So de Gaulle just surprised everybody when he took out all the French. But I don’t know, it’s getting worse and worse and the whole Middle East is Arabs. And the Mizrahim Jews, they became like Ashkenazim, they are discriminated against but they still feel above.
In Egypt, we saw that many people preferred dictatorship to chaos.
In Israel too.
Some people like dictatorship more than freedom.
Yes. What is Lieberman. They want a strong person to do the job.
Does that scare you about the future of the society: it won’t become a democracy without a lot of violence.
What scares me about that possibility is the people I know and that I love. I care about the Palestinians, what will happen to them, I care about my family, even though they are Zionist–so what! I care about my son who lives there, I care about my friends that are Zionist– so what, I don’t want them to get hurt, I don’t want them to get killed. I mean the whole scenario is scary but if that is the case, I’m helpless. My position has nothing to do with it.
Out of fear of that violence, some would support the status quo. They’d say, We can’t become Syria.
They dismiss the Palestinians. They want the status quo because they live, some of them better, some of them not that good, but they live well, and they don’t care about the Palestinians who have no rights whatsoever, and I am not willing to accept that so that violence won’t occur there. I can’t.
I can understand the fears of my husband. That’s why what he wants to happen is that all the settlers will evacuate the West Bank, and then when things calm down, there could be a federation maybe. But it won’t happen.
They won’t leave?
They won’t leave. And Israel doesn’t do anything in favor of such an idea. So it won’t happen. Maybe this would be the best dream: that they will leave and the country will calm down, and then there will be reconciliation, and a federation. And like you have 50 states here, in Israel there will be two states, or maybe three states. Maybe Gaza and the West Bank will be two different states– I don’t know. But it won’t happen.
[Second interview, by telephone, Nov. 1]
It won’t happen, why?
Well Israelis is a very strong country, it has one of the strongest armies on earth, they benefit from their colonialism, so why disrupt what is in their favor? In land, water, they keep work, everything. The settlers in the West Bank live such good lives. The housing is cheap, you have wonderful roads, everything is close by and you don’t need to see the Palestinians. It’s comfortable.
With pressure from the west would they leave?
Only when those privileged people in Israel will get hurt economically, then maybe something will change. The militarism is so connected between American and Israel, I don’t see that changing.
Let’s look back on your story. This is not an obituary, but your life is a liberal Zionist myth. Survivor of Holocaust, Aliyah, build the kibbutzim. You write Zionist texts. You love the bible. Your brother loses his life for Israel…
Everything you described is exactly why I went back to Israel in 95 I couldn’t separate myself from Israel. But when the curtains fell down and I saw the reality, I couldn’t hold on to that.
How tough was that process?
At the beginning it was very painful. Now I have to live with that. And what is painful is what is happening to the Palestinians. I live peacefully with my change.
How long did the earthquake and the pain last?
Oh—I never wait very long. I accepted it. Once I went with Ta’ayush and saw the West Bank—that’s it!
Did you waste your life doing all those Zionist things?
I cannot respond to that question. What I did is irreversible. I look at things I’ve done and am very proud of them. The way I raised my family. The way I taught my students. At the time I thought it was right. And today I work very hard at my activism. I go to New York two times a week. The action at Barclays Center was at my initiative—we have to protest. I go also to a group of people of color that I joined: New York solidarity for Palestinians. I joined that group. I am willing to do now whatever is in my strength.
So you found a group of people of color, as you told me you wanted to, back in the summer?
Yes. I went to high school students in the Bronx and met for two hours with children there. Ninth and tenth grades. I told them my experience as a witness. An eye witness. It was the Fannie Lou Hamer school and I spoke as an Israeli activist, telling them my own story and what I have experienced. The connection was made by a JVP member who used to be a teacher there. One girl made a comparison. She said that what Israelis did was like what white men did to the Indians.
What did you say?
I said, she was very smart.
We’ve come to the end of your story, Tzvia. So far anyway! What should people take from this? Should they feel grim about the future in Israel and Palestine, or should they feel hope?
They should feel that they must do something in their country. Only by doing something in this country will things change. The Vietnam war ended because people demanded it. The apartheid ended in South Africa because people demanded BDS then. The leaders won’t change their minds unless the people demand it.