Activism

A conversation with Miko Peled

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Four years ago Miko Peled published a memoir, The General’s Son, about his background in a prominent Israeli Jewish family and his path to international activism against Zionism. The book became a bestseller, and Peled, who lives in San Diego, began a peripatetic life as a speaker and writer on the conflict. Then in September in response to an Israeli celebration of the new 10-year $38 billion package of aid from the U.S., Peled tweeted, “Then theyr surprised Jews have reputation 4being sleazy thieves. #apartheidisrael doesn’t need or deserve these $$,” and the Princeton Committee on Palestine canceled his speech at the school, saying the tweet and others that followed were “anti-Semitic and hateful.” Jewish Voice for Peace supported the Princeton committee’s decision, also calling the tweet anti-Semitic. Peled responded that his hosts had succumbed to a quiet campaign of pro-Israel pressure; and he declined to apologize for the tweet. Many members of JVP took on their leadership for its statement, and a week later JVP’s head, Rebecca Vilkomerson, said she had made a mistake and overreached in her criticism, though she maintained that Peled’s original tweet was “reckless and inappropriate.” I am friends of all parties here, and as in other internecine battles, just wished the whole thing would go away. But (hat tip Ira Glunts) I recognized there was journalistic value in interviewing Peled about his activism and the incident. I talked to him by Skype when he was in Jerusalem in mid-November and then by phone back in the States last Sunday. 

What are you doing in Israel?

I was here for sentencing for a trial from 2015 and to participate in a conference in the village of Nabi Saleh.

Tell me about the trial.

So, one of the many times I’ve been arrested in the West Bank during a protest, for some reason the state decided to prosecute. That was a very early incident 2012, with a October 2015 trial. It was myself and two others Israeli activists, one of whom was Renen Raz who recently and very suddenly, passed away. We were acquitted ultimately. And at the very last moment the prosecution decided to appeal, and they won the appeal so the acquittal was reversed. Yesterday there was a sentencing hearing, which I would have expected would go on for a long time but it started and ended pretty fast. We ended up getting 30 days suspended sentence for three years for disturbances. Disturbances is the actual charge, not illegal gathering, so if we are caught and convicted of disturbances again we would serve 30 days in prison. And I think the reason this is worth talking about– number one because it’s politically motivated, so on the one hand it was completely nonsensical, because it has no significance for Israeli Jews, the government wants to do something but they are not prepared to actually act against us and give us a platform– the law is very kind to us as Israeli Jews. So this sentence is their way of saying, We frown upon the fact that you’re out there supporting Palestinians. Even though what we are supporting is nonviolent protests, and the non-violent resistance is the only reason there are no more armed attacks like suicide bombings for example. So the state is acting in a way typical of racist regimes, it is stupid.

The other reason this is worth discussing is that my trial highlights the difference between how the Jews are treated here and Palestinians are treated here. Had a Palestinian been arrested, at the same time, for the same violation, he or she would have been hand-cuffed, shackled, blindfolded and beaten first, then imprisoned for as long as some local officer decides they should be in prison. And then of course they don’t get an attorney until they confess. A Palestinian could be held for a year or a day, nobody knows, it’s still completely random. And so the difference between our treatment—is that we report to the police station, our lawyers are available as soon as we reach the police station. So my trial is otherwise trivial but for these two reasons.

What was the original action?

We participated in a protest in the village of Nabi Saleh in August of 2012. And what happens is, The army shows up and starts shooting. Then the Border patrol troops come in jeeps from the other side. And everyone starts running away. The border patrol starts arresting people.
The way the military describes it, they say, We all sat on a hill, which the Israeli military named “The hill of the burning tires,” and during the trial I refused to accept the term and I told the judge I will refuse testify if they use that term.” So the judge is sitting there and he’s imagining us sitting there with a bunch of burning tires, and all the Palestinians throwing rocks. And this is nonsense. Of course all that is nothing remotely close to what it actually is like. They want to portray the whole thing as if it’s violent protest.

You have the understanding that nonviolent protest is keeping Palestinians from doing suicide bombings. How widely is that understanding held in Israel, that BDS is an alternative to violence and violent protest?

The whole idea that Palestinians have a right to resist is completely alien to Israelis. Because resistance implies that there is some legitimacy to what Palestinians are saying, to their grievances. Here Palestinians are considered terrorists who want to kill us.

But I’m talking to an Israeli Jew who has that understanding. How do you have this awareness?

Well I and a handful of other Israelis decided to embark on a “journey of an Israeli into Palestine.” There are a few Israeli activists who have embarked on this journey, from the sphere of privileged Israelis to the sphere of where Palestinians live. Having done so, we see what life is like for Palestinians, and we understand the plight of the Palestinians. We understand that Palestinians have a right to resist, and their grievances are real. The reality in which they live calls for resistance, and they’re not going to sit there and take it. There are a lot of different ways to resist. Suicide missions were one way, I think you know my niece was a victim of a suicide bombing. Qassam rockets are another method. Hijacking planes is another method. This idea of the nonviolent popular resistance, is a method that Palestinians choose along with BDS. Which is working extremely well, a lot better than all the other ones.

But the right to resist– Israelis don’t like to recognize it. Once you recognize the right of Palestinians to resist, and recognize that they have legitimate grievances, then that starts a snowball effect and Israelis are terrified of the outcome. They’re terrified of the outcome. Once people recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian grievances, then inevitably it would delegitimize the state of Israel. Israelis don’t have this discussion in any form, really outside of the fringe left, radical progressives, who go out there and do recognize it. And also who are very anti-Zionist.

In the US, there is a growing movement of anti-Zionism among young Jews. I think the smartest young Jews on campus are engaged and becoming anti-Zionist. Is there no analog in Israeli society? And what is the effect of these young Jews on Israeli Jewish consciousness?

Young American Jews that have an openness to progressive ideas meet Palestinians when they go to college. So if they already have that openness, and willingness to hear, they’re going to see students from Palestine. Argue with them, disagree with them, agree with them. That interaction exists. Israelis do not interact with Palestinians. One of the things I describe in book: My journey to Palestine began in San Diego. That possibility for Israelis to meet Palestinians– they have to embark on a journey to a very dangerous and not faraway geographically but faraway place where the Arabs live. But here you go to campuses. So there is that interaction. And I think I don’t know the numbers, but the beauty of Jewish activists who support the cause of Palestinian justice, is that they don’t have a big sign saying I am Jewish. They say, I am a person, this is a consciousness, this is a struggle, I’m participating. I’m also Jewish by the way. In SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine chapters] lot of kids are Jewish and they care for this issue.

Wait, I’ve seen people wearing t-shirts, another Jew for divestment. What’s wrong with that?

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it, if they show up because they are Jewish. But they show up because they care. As opposed to synagogues and the mainstream American Jewish establishments, which make a big deal of their heritage. This is in stark contrast to this very ugly way that we see the banners, We support Israel, on the walls of synagogues, it’s just a different way of expressing it. It’s a good thing, if they happen to be Jewish.

So what is the possible effect of this on Israelis.

Well, Israelis are terrified of that. Israel is absolutely terrified of that. I know this because– a couple examples. The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, it has many reports and stories how the BDS is infecting Jews in the one country that’s our best friend, America. Then there was a big caucus in March in Jerusalem, on how to fight the BDS. Which is the general word for Palestinian activism. And their biggest concern is how these young innocent Jews are being pulled into this by all kinds of — like Ali Abunimah and Omar Barghouti and so forth. The likes of them. They’re being fooled into this. They’re naïve and being fooled into thinking there’s some kind of legitimacy to this. This is where Israel has fallen short, by not doing enough to bring back these Jews to the fold.

Then Israeli 10 News came out to the US a couple of months ago and did a four or five chapter series on precisely that, on how the BDS affected young Jews in particular. They interviewed me – described me as the “nightmare of the Israeli Hasbara” — and interviewed Chomsky and a bunch of Jewish activists students on campuses. Again, the lesson for Israel from this was, that Israel is not doing enough to bring back these Jews to the fold, Israel is falling short in propaganda. So the Israelis are terrified, but at the same time they are not willing to acknowledge what the problem is. It’s kind of a catch 22 they’re embroiled in, and I for one have to say that seeing this endless spiral down, this tailspin– this is encouraging. They can’t act on the problem, because it’s about Israeli legitimacy and that is the Holy Grail. Israel spends millions of dollars to combat the Palestinian solidarity movement because it is afraid to lose its legitimacy in the eyes of Americans. A conference was held called “How to fight the BDS” and they had Mossad operatives saying that Mossad hasn’t yet used all of its methods, haven’t used all the tools to fight BDS. This is a real terrorist threat, like Iran. All that kind of rhetoric.

The ministry of strategic affairs was in put in charge, Gilad Erdan, and he came out a week ago and called to citizens to try to identify the BDS people from regular tourists and then report them. Because BDS activists hide among regular tourists, so they’re like terrorist cells. So the level of paranoia and insanity, it’s unbelievable. There’s a sense of panic. The idea that there will be some kind of openness here like there is among Jews in America– I don’t see that happening.

Where are you talking from today?

I’m in Jerusalem in the house where I grew up, the house I stay when I’m here. The room that used to be my father’s study.

Who’s that picture of behind you on the shelf?

That is my maternal grandfather. Avraham Katsnelson. He was a member of the pre-state Jewish government in Palestine. He’s my namesake, and he was one of the signers on the Israeli declaration of independence.

When are you back in the States?

I’ll be back in a couple weeks. Officially I live in San Diego. But I travel a lot.

Have you always had such a nomadic life? Or did your journey produce it?

The nomadic life began almost immediately as soon as the book came out. Actually before it came out, when an interview posted on YouTube got millions of views. When the book came out that was it, I became a full-time speaker. That was in spring 2012.

Is that life as a hunted animal or an outcast or a prophet? Why did this happen to you?

It’s none of the things you described. I enjoy it tremendously. I meet the absolutely finest people I’ve ever seen in my life. I am treated with great respect and invited to speak in the best places anybody can imagine. I’m not at all a prophet. I’m just repeating things other people have said. But for some reason when I say it, my voice carries. Because of my background, because I have pictures behind me of my grandfather, my voice carries more weight. And I take full advantage of that. It’s not at all negative. It’s a very positive experience.

You were invited to Princeton, one of our best places. You were disinvited. And SUNY too?

Flyer for Peled's Princeton event, canceled
Flyer for Peled’s Princeton event, canceled

No, the SUNY campus was great. I had a wonderful lecture there, a lot of people came. I spoke a week or two before the Princeton thing. I spoke at SUNY Geneseo, I spoke at Cazenovia. I spoke– the week after that was at Rutgers. I was supposed to speak in Princeton, that was canceled at the last minute. Then there was a small event in San Diego and I had volunteered to help out. They got freaked out from what happened at Princeton and they called and asked me not to come. I said look it’s your event. I said if you prefer that I don’t come. I said, it’s your environment. I’m fine with that.

What was the venue?

The SJP San Diego State University. That too was taken out of proportion. The student newspaper interviewed me, and acted as if there was some crisis of faith or a crisis of relationship, or split in the camp. You know? I told them what I’m telling you. I was happy to help when they wanted, they decided to do it without me. I’m fine with that. The purpose is really about getting the message out. I’m one of many people who are out there doing this. If I can be available that’s great, if not then I’m fine with that too. It’s not about whether they canceled me.

Tell me about Princeton.

The situation at Princeton was odd. As I arrived, I got an email from the activist, we’re cancelling, are you willing to engage in a conversation? But it turned out not to be that bad. Chris Hedges called me up for dinner and we drove to New York the next day and I did an interview on his show. It wasn’t like the time was wasted. They again decided—I’m sure you know there was a tweet I posted which got this thing started.

And what’s funny is that it wasn’t till almost two weeks after the tweet was posted, that the Princeton thing happened, somehow somebody got a hold of it, and decided to make a big deal of it. Calling it, expressions of antisemitism and all that nonsense. So I have had lots of lectures before Princeton and many lectures after Princeton. Princeton was somehow—this was a bridge too far– one expression too anti-semitic. I’m not even sure what that means. And I stand by what I said. So be it, you know.

Tell me about the tweet and what you meant and how it was received. 

By and large, other than the Jewish establishment, whoever it is that wants to label me– people like you and I as antisemitic– most of the questions during the Q and A session after a lecture about it are very good, they enhance the conversation. I’m happy to talk about it. So: the Israeli ambassador had just tweeted the agreement of 38 billion, congratulating it. So I retweeted it and I added, that now they can’t complain, that Jews have a reputation of being sleazy thieves. Israel does not deserve nor need this 38 billion dollars.

The State that tries or pretends to defend Jews from everything from terrorism to anti-semitic blood libel to anti-semitic caricatures and characteristics and so forth is behaving in a way– it’s not just because of money, it’s underhanded dealings, it’s the mafia-like blackmail, it’s the idea that politicians who express anything remotely in opposition to Israel, they will be blackmailed, they will be shunned, lose the next elections, their opponents will be flooded with endless amounts of money. It’s that. That’s sleazy.

If the state that represents the Jews wants to help Jews, then behaving in a sleazy money-grubbing way is not the way to do it. Beside the fact that the money is used to kill Palestinians, to maintain a regime that is racist, that discriminates against Palestinians. That in Gaza a child with cancer will die because Israel will not give the child access to medicine, when a child on the other side of the border will live. So all this money is going to support a horrific regime, and this horrible existence that is imposed on the Palestinians.

I was asked was it a good idea to be so provocative. I responded, Not only is it a good idea, it is imperative. We must be provocative. If I understand where the question came from– Americans are taught that Rosa Parks was a little old lady who got on the bus, and was really tired and sat in the first available seat that just happened to be a white seat. And she just sat down because she was tired. We know that was complete nonsense. She was an activist, and it was done in order to provoke. This assumption that somehow because you believe in peaceful resistance and civil disobedience, it means being nice all the time– it doesn’t. It means provoking, it means raising the issues that are most painful. Who is responsible? Who at the end of the day is responsible? These are Jews. Who is the government? These are Jews. Who are the soldiers? These are Jews. Who voted for all these governments, for Netanyahu? Jews. Who is giving billions of dollars, people like Ron Lauder and Haim Saban and all these other Jewish billionaires. This is a Jewish issue. When you say Don’t talk about Jews when Jews are at the core of the issue, this is hypocrisy. That is my response to the issue. It may hurt some people’s feelings. But if they took time to read the explanations I posted consequentially, they would have understood it.

Recently I posted about Jeffrey Goldberg saying the donor class of the Democratic Party is Jewish. He seems to reflect a new openness about the role of Jewish money, a truth expressed by Walt and Mearsheimer 10 years ago and suppressed, and you say there’s an imperative to talk about it. Are Americans more open to the analysis?

I have to say yes. You know, the repercussion or the consequences of my expression in that tweet and everything else I write and say– the only impact it has is that I am still getting lots of requests for interviews. I think if this was 10 years, or maybe 6 or 7 years ago, it would have been very different. This is what I hear from several other people who speak and write on the issue. The openness and willingness to engage, particularly college campuses and progressive churches, has changed dramatically. I don’t know that 10 years ago anyone could have anticipated that the change would be so quick. So I would have to say there is a growing openness. This tweet created some friction in some areas, but I’ve been getting more emails and messages, from American Jews supporting what I said and supporting what I do. So I would have to say there is an openness and a willingness.

Some times people feel these things, and are afraid to express them. They get sent somewhere, to Mondoweiss, or I say it, somebody says it, and they think, Now we can all say this, more of us can say this. It’s really out there. That’s how we all feel anyway. That’s what I said.

People lay down a red line so no one else will express the idea. They make the ideas verboten. The word goes out it’s career poison to even touch these ideas. You say that has not worked in your case?

Yes. I mean. I think I’m less vulnerable, I don’t belong to anything, I’m independent. So it’s harder. I spoke at Ithaca. And the Ithaca organizers I think it’s called the Greater Ithaca Activities center, GIAC, a great place, they got emails and letters and threats, all kinds of things that they got, to cancel the Israeli hater. They stood their ground, the director stood her ground. A lot of people came there to support me. So yeah there are these attempts, but they’re failing, and at least in my case they’re failing miserably.

But were you saying that Jews do have this reputation, and it’s something we have to reckon with?

Well the stereotype is there, all the way from Shylock to Fagin in Dickens. The stereotype is there. I talk with Jewish friends, who still remember when they were kids, others would make fun of their people, and talk about money. The stereotype is there, of Jews and money; racism is there in America. I think there’s another facet of that. America is deeply racist, and people are afraid to touch it, because it’s so powerful, and the expression is so deep. This exists, these stereotypes exist, especially about blacks and others—Latinos– exist. They’re ugly, they’re wholly unjustified, wholly inexcusable. At the same time they exist.

Now like I said earlier, the State of Israel has declared itself as the protector of Jews. If the state is protecting the Jews, then it’s incumbent on them to do that and not use the despicable sleazy methods that Shylock and Fagin would have been characterized by. I do think that Jews are not out there enough protesting enough, protesting what is supposedly in their name. I think all Americans need to stand up in opposition. Those American tax dollars, it’s not money that comes off the trees. So all Americans should stand up, and Jews in particular. The synagogues with the Support Israel signs, they should take off the signs in the synagogue. They should say, We are ashamed of Israel. Israel is depriving Palestinians of water, depriving Palestinians of freedom. Never mind that Israeli bombed the hell out of Gaza. This is what we should be saying. I don’t think that Jewish people are doing enough.

In Hebron when I first witnessed apartheid in 2006, I asked whether Israelis know about this, and a person on my tour said, Israelis don’t want to know. Aren’t American Jews responsible in the same way? They don’t want to know. The information has been pounded at them, still they support this delusion. Is there something about the Jewish tradition, maybe reflecting the ghetto, that our institutions have been able to maintain the delusion. There are structural reasons we’re not doing enough– particularism, tribalism, ethnocentricity, parochialism, call it what you like, we have to take it on.

I agree with you. I think you’re absolutely right. I’ll just say this. I think there’s more than one Jewish community. I’m talking about the Reform synagogue, which has the whole Zionist agenda. But I think there are other Jews. Of course there’s Neturei Karta who are a community that opposes Israel, and there are others. I agree with you completely, Brant Rosen said Zionism and Israel has become the new secular religion for American Jews. You don’t have to do much, you can rally around Israel and wrap yourself in the flag, and this is what it means to be Jewish for a lot of those people. Conservative synagogues aren’t any better. But none of it is being Jewish. Zionist indoctrination is pretty effective, it is similar to the indoctrination that my parents got from the time they were born in Palestine. They were indoctrinated by these legendary speakers from Eastern Europe, and to this day that goes on in these Zionist camps in America. They indoctrinate in a very very effective way, presenting Israel in a very positive youthful idyllic kind of way. The counselors are Israeli and they’re fun. It’s very effective.

And there’s a catch 22: which comes first, the indoctrination or the willingness to send our kids to this? If you grow up in America– I have three kids, I look at their textbooks, and they’re in American high schools, they learn about the Mideast world, they learn about Mesopotamia and Babylon and Egypt, and the Hebrews as if there’s some kind of equivalency between these major empires and this little tribe. And what they talk about are King David, Moses and Abraham. None of them are historic figures, they’re biblical figures. We know very well that Christian and Jewish Zioinsts have been digging up Palestine for 100 years, for a shred of evidence that there was a King David and a Solomon, and they haven’t found one. So while Americans are arguing about teaching evolution not creationism, they’re teaching biblical stuff in their 8th grades. None of it is historical. It’s an indoctrination that leads to the understanding of the legitimacy of the state of Israel. Which is why it is there. And it goes on and on. And meantime, Arabs are always portrayed as bad and irrational and evil. So it’s a very sophisticated form of indoctrination.

Is antisemitism an issue inside the Palestinian solidarity community? Where is the line?

I don’t know what antisemitism means. I think it’s an antiquated term. I don’t know what it means. The people I know in this community, the people I work with, I’ve never seen any expression of antisemitism. I think there’s a little bit of nitpicking done to people, where they can find– an ideological difference or a phrase that can or can’t be used. There’s that in every group. But I don’t see antisemitism as a problem. Generally speaking, I haven’t encountered it.

I don’t know that it exists. I haven’t seen it. Or it is someone from the other side, coming on Facebook or on social media, pretending to be one of the guys from within, or a Palestinian, and they turn out to be a troll. But I haven’t seen this kind of a problem on the left at all.

Racism is real in America. You mentioned antisemitism in that context. So isn’t this racism, too? You have no question about what racism means.

No not at all. I think people talk about shared values between America and Israel, and of course I say, Ethnic cleansing, racism and that sort of thing. Basically a regime for white colonizers at the expense of others. I don’t think there’s any question what racism means. The fact that Black lives don’t matter is a sign of racism. People do still repeat the negative characterizations of Jews, so that is very deep, as with all minorities. That is always there. Americans don’t deal with it because it’s so deep. That’s why I say something about sleazy Jews, regardless of the context, and boom, something explodes. Oh my god, it’s antisemitism! Let’s shut it down, let’s not talk about it! Americans are afraid to deal with racism. People are so terrified. Which is why people have a problem, when someone wears a Black Lives Matter shirt, they say, Italian lives matter! They are so uncomfortable with it. My response is, in America black lives don’t matter, which is why we wear the shirts. Some lives matter, some lives don’t. People are afraid of expressing the struggle against racism. But it’s there and I think it’s important to deal with.

What about our American Jewish status? I hear young people in IfNotNow describing Jews as oppressed. Certainly we too have been oppressed. What’s your view as an outsider?

Persecuted is the last word I would use. When you look at the involvement of Jews, not necessarily because they are Jews, but because of where they are in politics, in education, in every sphere– the last thing you could say is outsiders or persecuted. I think we’re taught that we are persecuted from a very young age. One of the downfalls of the Jewish community is that they perpetuate this sense. When the truth is Israelis have never been persecuted, and most Israelis have no connection to the Holocaust. But they walk around as if they are Holocaust survivors themselves. The vast number have never been persecuted. Many came from Arab countries where they were treated very well or didn’t want to leave. Since World War 2, everyone carries a sense that we are a persecuted people, that we have suffered here and we have suffered there. I don’t see that. I don’t accept it.

Is there a recognition of Jewish empowerment in the U.S. that makes this an uncomfortable conversation? You hear it but you can’t say it? It’s verboten.

Well Jews are empowered and Jews are privileged whites, like a lot of other whites. They have been accepted into the fold of privileged white because that’s the reality. But they have to keep carrying that baggage of we are a persecuted people. At Passover, we must always tell our children and our grandchildren, we were slaves in Egypt. They take it quite literally and they carry it over into today. We have a right to remember Egypt, how many thousands of years ago–if it happened at all. But Palestinians have no right to return to their land they were forced from 70 years ago. 70 years is a long time, and they have to forget. That kind of mentality, that is silly.

Also, there’s the argument, that well we have to have an Israel to go to if there’s another Hitler. It’s absurd.

Why? Isn’t Israel a haven for Jews?

Jews live in havens everywhere. Where do Jews not have a haven? Jews live in America and Europe, god knows every other place, and in Palestine they stole someone else’s land and have no right to be here, so of course they live in fear. Jews here feel entitled to live in Palestine even though they are living on someone else’s land and committing genocide.

JVP came out against your tweet, then it walked its criticism back. What do you have to say?

I’m not sure that there’s anything to say beyond what I’ve already said. I don’t want to make it a big thing. The other side is waiting for this kind of stuff, it’s a distraction.

Some have pushed for an apology to you. 

I need to give you some perspective. I just spent two weeks in Palestine, and people asked me about my trial. Would I write something or would I say something? The thing is, it is so absolutely trivial compared to the magnitude of the horrors of what happens in Palestine every day that I’m embarrassed to talk about it. There are so many things we should be talking about and to spend time on this is an embarrassment.

I don’t know if you’ve heard the story about Salah al-Khawaja, he’s one of the pillars of the BDS movement, he’s been detained for 30 days without charge, and it was extended twice. The beating, the torture, the sleepless nights– in the first 22 days he was interrogated 40 times. Interrogation doesn’t mean, we sit there with coffee and chat. He’s probably sitting on a very small chair, cutting into his back. And his hands are chained to the concrete floor, and he’s got at least two people screaming in his ears. And he’s got someone 24 hours a day making sure he can’t sleep.

How do you know all this?

I know all this because I spoke to a friend who spoke to his attorney after. [Jamal Jum’a, who is a close friend and works with Salah: Jamal is the coordinator for Stop the Wall campaign and member of the BNC, the BDS coordinating committee.] He sat with Salah’s attorney. And really he wasn’t allowed to see his attorney for the first 20 days. They had a hearing a few days ago. That was a hearing for extending his detention a second time and that was the first time he sat with his attorney. You couldn’t go in the courthouse, which is adjacent to the Israeli secret police where they interrogate people in Peta Tikvah—it’s a courtroom that’s adjacent to the Shabak detention center. Which is where people are tortured and interrogated. And nobody knows why he’s been detained. They’re saying he had some connection to Iran. You can only guess. My guess is that it’s because he’s involved with BDS, and is one of the few people who knows every single detail about the BDS movement, about the different campaigns against the weapons industry and arms manufacturing and all of that. Then the other night, on Tuesday night I think it was, his office in Ramallah was raided by Israeli forces, in the center of Ramallah, where supposedly Israeli forces are not allowed to go, and everything was broken, the walls were smashed, everything was taken away.

So how can you talk about my little thing compared to this. This guy is consequential. This guy has been a pillar of the BDS movement, and this has been going on a long time.

I want to give you another example. His name is Nasser Abu Srur. He should have been released from prison 20 years ago, just after Oslo. He’s from Aida camp. The whole camp was ready for him to come home. His family was ready, Then moments before he was released he was asked by an Israeli reporter, would he do it again? He had killed a Shabak officer. He reiterated, he’s a soldier of the resistance movement. He’s in prison 20 years later.

Why did you think of his case?

It came to mind because I spent a day in Aida refugee camp, near Bethlehem, and they have portraits of prisoners on the wall right next to the camp, and his picture was there. We were talking about him, and his name came up, and his house was right there.

Right across from there was another spot where a 13 year old kid was shot in the heart by a sniper, just standing around and playing with friends, standing around 2013. [Abed Al-Rahman Obeidallah, 13 yrs old, was killed October 5, 2015 by a sniper, while wearing his school uniform]

It’s interesting, because there’s a picture of him right where he was standing, on a post, and there are bullet holes in the post as well. And you see the wall at the top of the hill; the soldiers came down from there, walking downhill. And you see his family; we were standing by the house, and the father walked by.

What’s the effect, how did that make you feel?

You know, I don’t know that I can put it in words. I really don’t know that I can put it in words– the horrifying reality, and if anything else, the sense of embarrassment that we’re dealing with such nonsense here in this country. Whether I said something anti-Semitic or not, whether I was arrested or not at a protest. There’s really a genocide in place and it’s happening right before our eyes, and kids are targeted. I was sitting in Bethlehem having lunch with a friend, and soldiers just came and started shooting teargas at the kids on the street. We knew because it came into the house. It’s not like there was a protest or anything organized. I’m talking about 8, 9, 10-year-old kids in the streets playing and the gas was coming in. We started smelling the tear gas, and we went outside and we see this sort of stuff.

We could go on and on and on, from horror to horror to horror. I will tell you one other thing, I was part of a conference in Nabi Saleh last weekend, it was the main reason for my trip, and the second day, there’s a small organization called Face to Face, and they provide portraits of loved ones to people who lost loved ones. And they came and gave portraits to some of the families. We’re talking about the Dawabshe family, burned by settlers, we’re talking about the Abu Khdeir family, where in 2014, settlers killed their son. We’re talking about the Nuwara family, the boy was killed by a sniper outside Ofer prison. [17-year-old Nadim]. These are all kids, and families!

There were quite a few speakers. But one guy was a water guy, an expert on water issues. When you hear about Palestinians denied water, there is no surer way to kill people than to deny them water. Other than shooting them. Palestinian are allocated 3 percent of the water in the entire country, Palestinians overall. And Mekorot the water corporation of Israel is going around the world making billions of dollars selling their product, and know-how about water. And again that’s another BDS campaign that people don’t know much about.

This is daily stuff. There is nothing unusual about anything that I am relating to you.

A Jewish friend said to me, I hold it against my family members who voted for Trump, if they did, more than the ones who support Israel. Because they don’t know anything about Israel, it’s a dream. What do you say?

I would say it’s exactly the other way around. I think the difference between Trump and Hillary is cosmetic. Whereas supporting Israel is supporting genocide, it’s supporting one of the worst crimes that’s taking place in our lifetime. And I think it’s unforgivable.

What about the excuse, They don’t know in the Jewish community?

That’s no excuse, that’s Inexcusable. They should know. Especially if they support Israel, they should know.

Thanks Miko. That’s a good place to end it. Oh wait, tell me about your next book.

I’m about to finish it. It’s for Just World Books. I’m writing about the case of the Holy Land Foundation, the Muslim charity that was closed after 9/11. There are five guys in jail, I’ve been writing about them for 4 years. I visited them in prison– the ones I was permitted to visit, which was four out of five. I met their families, visited their towns in Palestinians. It’s been quite a journey.

Miko Peled visiting Mufid Abdulqader in federal prison
Miko Peled visiting Mufid Abdulqader in federal prison

I think there’s been a kind of criminalization of charities for Palestinians. It started a little while before them. But they are the main target. There’s World Vision out of Gaza, that had some trouble, too. What’s interesting is two things. How do you criminalize charity? I mean how do you even come up with a way? And typically a charity supports poor people, and in Palestine they’re focused on orphans and families of prisoners, and the demonic ingenuity of groups like the ADL [Anti Defamation League] and others that are behind the dehumanizing, they came up with this explanation, that by supporting the orphans it’s supporting terrorism, it encourages people to engage in terrorism.

One of the explanations is that these orphans are the children of martyrs. Well, I read thousands of pages of court documents and testimony. I’m still reading. And none of the suicide bombers have children. So none of these orphans are the children.

As for the word martyr: In the context of Palestine, when someone dies, you call them martyr out of respect. Many of the parents of these children were killed by Israel. They were collateral damage. They were maybe engaged in resistance activity, but Israel has killed Palestinians left right and center. Some of them were bread winners. The idea that giving to the orphans is encouraging suicide bombers! The expert testimony under oath — no one brought up the fact of the suicide bombers. The names are well known, there have been 194 or 195 of them.

And the prisoner issue is another issue. If the parents of the children are prisoners– they’re terrorists, end of story. Never mind the fact that according to Israeli sources the vast majority of Palestinian prisoners have never been engaged in violence.

How do you take this persecution of a people in Palestine and continue the persecution in America by bringing down a charity, criminalizing a charity and putting five innocent men in prison for sentences ranging between 15 and 65 years?

When’s it come out?

Inshallah next year 2017.

Title?

Injustice: the Prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation Five.

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If passion alone will free the Palestinians, then who can say that miko peled is on the wrong path. But if dialogue with jews who disagree will someday be part of the path to that freedom, peled leads not in that direction. The noise of a barking dog is how… Read more »

Wonderful job, Phil! Great and timely interview. Thanks!

Very interesting. Israelis are taught that the land is exclusively Jewish. Palestinians are kept well away from where most Israelis live. Out of sight, out of mind. Most non Haredi Jews do military service and are locked into the system of human rights abuses. The Israeli standard of living is… Read more »

Phil, This was a good interview reminding me why I like Mondoweiss. Miko is a heartfelt speaker who goes to places like visits to the Holy Land Five that others are afraid to. Do you realize the similarity between this and Rev Bruce Shipman’s case that you wrote about? He… Read more »

Groupthink is a particular problem with Zionism . The longer one spends observing the world from a particular frame of reference in Hebrew the more difficult it can be to accept an alternative point of view. Furthermore, in the case of Israel this situation is compounded by two powerful reinforcing… Read more »