Hebrew University - Nurit
Peled-Elhanan (Dept. of Education) accuses genocide in Gaza; bandies
the word “talk” as a cure-all to all ills
Interview with Nurit Peled-Elhanan
Kol ha-Zman supplement of Maariv, 2 January 2009
Translated from Hebrew by George Malent
Nurit Peled Elhanan is a post-Zionist. Did I say “post”? She is more
Palestinian than Arafat. A lecturer at Hebrew University who was
bereft of her daughter, she takes the side of the Palestinians, is
sure that terrible slaughter is taking place in Gaza, and believes
that we are all racists and that everyone here bears guilt for the
situation. A particularly stormy interview.
appears that for the first time in the history of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, global public opinion is notably
leaning in Israel’s favour. The President of the Palestinian
Authority, Abu Mazen, and the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmad Abu
al-Gheith, were not the only ones who supported – if indirectly –
the air force’s attack. They were joined by actors which up to today
had been considered definitely pro-Palestinian. Even the BBC, a
broadcasting organization that for years was seen as the mouthpiece
of the leaders of Gaza and the West Bank, gave the stage to both
sides. Even politicians of the left were silent. The only ones
within Israel who expressed opposition to the military process were
the Minister of Culture, Science and Sport, Ghaleb Majadle, and MK
Ahmad Tibi. But not only they; also Dr. Nurit Peled Elhanan. The
professor at the School of Education at Hebrew University, who also
teaches at the David Yellin College of Education and Tel Aviv
University, won the European Union’s Sakharov Prize for Human rights
and Freedom of Thought in 2001. Last week she sent a letter to the
prize committee, congratulating Hu Jia of China on the occasion of
his winning the Sakharov prize and dedicated her words to the heroes
of Gaza, as she put it. “The pogrom being carried out by the thugs
of the Occupation army against the residents of the Gaza Strip is
known to everyone and yet the world is impotent as always”, she went
on to write. That letter came to the attention of the journalist
Ben-Dror Yemini and he discussed it in his column last weekend in
the Sabbath supplement of Maariv. “In fact,” wrote Yemini, “there is
no need to wait for any action of on the part of Israel. The lie
industry is already running full steam.” Yemini proceeded to quote
from the words of Peled Elhanan in her discussion of cities of
slaughter. “She writes about cities of slaughter,” continues Yemini,
“but she knows that Israel has never carried out a slaughter, and
nothing that approaches a slaughter, during more than 40 years of
occupation … but since when to anti-Semites deal with the facts?”
Dr. Peled Elhanan is a fervent and active representative of a
minority that belongs to the margins of the margins of the radical
left. Since the beginning of the action in Gaza her positions have
been perceived as particularly utopian. She acknowledges her
membership in the minority, which she herself has defined as
marginal and utopian. “That person is pathological”, she said in
response to Yemini’s column. “Pathological. Everyone in the world
today who wants peace, brotherhood, good neighbourliness and for
children to live and not die is seen as an anti-Semite. Do you
understand? They took that concept that had meaning and drained it.
Why? I hate Jews because I want there to be peace? That is the
logic? Something is distorted. So today everyone who criticizes the
Occupation and the Israeli terror regime that is so contrary to
everything that is Jewish, is an anti-Semite?”
Dr. Peled Elhanan (59) at a restaurant near her home, and she is
agitated. She is the daughter of the late Reserve General Matti
Peled, who was a Canaanite for a short time, a PhD lecturer in
Arabic literature, a Member of the Knesset for the Progressive List
for Peace and – how symbolic! – the military governor of Gaza in
1956. She grew up in a home with a staunchly leftist outlook in the
Rehavia neighbourhood. “I grew up in a Zionist-Leftist home”, she
relates. “My mother is from the Katznelson family. My grandfather
was in Brit Shalom”.
come you abandoned Zionism?
father always said that Zionism had completed its function the
moment the State of Israel was created. He said we should move on,
this is not something one should get stuck on. I do not think that
the Occupation is Zionism. My father, by the way, had a certificate
in his pocket. Somebody said of him that he was anti-Zionist and he
sued him for slander and the High Court gave him a certificate that
he was a Zionist and he carried it in his pocket. My father was the
Zionist, that is Zionism. The Occupation is not Zionism. He was very
proud to be a Zionist. It was the left. My grandfather was in Brit
Shalom during the thirties and their platform was a binational
need for a binational state?
not? You come here, there are people here who need to live together
that very much angers Peled Elhanan is the treatment of Israel’s
Arabs. “The expression “Israel’s Arabs” itself is racist”, she says,
“and it explains why they do not have national or cultural rights.
Arabic is an official language in the State of Israel, but there is
no Arabic-language institution of higher education. Most of the
signage is not in Arabic. The entire linguistic landscape of Israel
is one big manifestation of racism. Look at the sub-titles on
television. They have no rights, not as a national group, not as a
cultural group. Our school textbooks do not speak about them. As if
they do not exist. Neither they, nor their lives, nor their culture,
nor their history, nothing. They are discriminated against and live
in a very very racist state. Ministers can say about citizens of the
state that they are a “demographic threat” and no one puts them in
prison for that. The expression “Israel’s Arabs” means the Arabs of
the Israelis. It is shocking.”
year ago the writer A. B. Yehoshua claimed in an interview that Jews
and Arabs have no chance of living together because of the cultural
differences. “How nice for Yehoshua that he found the answer,” she
replies with overt cynicism, “that he can sit in Haifa and feel
really good. Nice to be A. B. Yehoshua. I think it is nonsense of
the highest order. I will tell you what my son said about that when
he was in Paris. He said, “When I think about home, what is it I am
longing for? For Palestine. The landscape, the smells, the hummus,
that is what I long for, not the Polishness”. We have appropriated
all the beautiful things about that culture. Why is it impossible to
live together? If there are two cultures it is impossible to live
together? If there is equality of civil rights, there will be no
assume that a Palestinian state is created, there is full equality
for everyone in Israel and Hamas begins to shell Israel, what
position should they take?
not my business. Why should I care what position they take? I am not
responsible for the position they take, let them take whatever
position they want.”
support that the residents of East Jerusalem have expressed for Gaza
even while they want to stay in Israel and not to go to Palestine
seem logical to you?
not? They have to be in favour of what is going on in Gaza because
they want to live in Israel?”
They are guests in a state that is defending itself.
stop. You will not draw me into that. The State is not defending
itself. The State is slaughtering. Slaughtering.
slaughtering? It is defending the residents of the south.
Oh, really. That is defence? It is slaughter. It is preparing the
ground for the next terrorist attacks, the next terror, the next
bloodbath. It is anything but defence”.
what is Israel supposed to do in this situation?
whomever possible, with whomever is willing.”
Including with a government that wants to destroy Israel?
“Meanwhile we are destroying them. Two and a half years without
food, without medicine. They live like subhumans. 83 percent of the
children in Gaza are suffering from anaemia. Children are dying in
incubators, students cannot go to school, people are not getting
medical treatment. It is a crime against humanity. That is defence
of the residents of Sderot? I cannot listen to these questions. It
and Haniyeh enjoy watching children die
stage of the interview Peled Elhanan’s tone rises. She is getting
agitated, angry, her eyes blaze angrily at the questions. The
tension reaches its height and she threatens to stop the interview.
Her husband, Rami, who had joined us after a few minutes, asked me
to stop that line of questioning. Otherwise the conversation would
come to an end. After a few soothing words, Peled Elhanan was
placated. “I am not a political person,” she said after she had
calmed down. “Politics does not interest me. Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak,
Ismail Haniyeh, Nasrallah, to me they are all the same. They enjoy
seeing dead children. To me they are all in the same boat.”
them. There is not one who is not like that. I am not a politician,
I can’t stand politicians, I don’t know what they want and I don’t
want to think what they want. I know that children are dying here in
this country and no one is lifting a finger”.
either side. Clearly the Israelis are killing a million times more
over there, but OK, on either side. No one is doing a thing to save
the children and to give the people a good life, so they can live as
neighbours, in happiness. So there can be life with mutual respect
and mutual learning and mutual acceptance and good education, and
there’s no people like the Palestinians for investing in the
education of their children. There’s no people like them. You know,
that in Gaza the literacy rate is among the highest in the world, 92
percent, with all that we are doing to them? They are wonderful
people, charming people. It’s all racism, it is all in a context of
racism is mutual.
mutual. The weak are not racist against the strong. I have not seen
Palestinians express racism against us. Not once. They greet us on
every Jewish holiday, they respect everything. No way, no racism.”
you do, there is also racism on the Palestinian side.
I have not heard of that. I have not encountered it. Their textbooks
are not as racist as ours.”
about Jews who warmly welcome Palestinians?
are you talking? Jews don’t want to register their children at a
kindergarten in Neve Yaakov because there is an Arab child there.
Besides, let’s not make comparisons.”
everything is terribly one-sided.
wait a moment. The strong side is the side that must take measures,
not the weak side. OK? There are very strict laws in the world
against racism. We were in England for a year and a baroness who
fights for minorities said that if she were a Palestinian she too
would commit suicide and right away they removed her from the
Parliament. And there was a woman who was head of a committee on
health services who said that health services were collapsing
because of the immigrants and the next day she was no longer a
member of Parliament. You don’t say such things. That’s it. You
don’t not say ‘them’, you don’t say ‘you can tell by looking at
them’, you don’t say ‘because of them’ but here ministers say about
citizens of the State that they are a demographic threat and in
school textbooks they write ‘demographic nightmare’ and everything’s
“It is a
racist act that is happening here now. Destroying a race, destroying
a people, destroying a culture by erasing villages, by having no
linguistic landscape in Arabic, by not respecting the language and
by universities being unwilling to give a single day off on an Arab
holiday. Once I gave a day off and they nearly booted me out. You
understand? When verbal attacks are tolerated physical attacks
become acceptable. On television there is no report about those who
are harmed, what happens to them. And no one asks. What happens with
those children who are dying there by the dozens, but `the [Israeli]
cattleman was lightly wounded.` The cattleman was lightly wounded
and because of that it is necessary to kill the whole world. On al-Jazeera
I saw a mother sitting with the three small bodies of her children
beside her and she doesn’t know what to do. No one knows about it,
there is no hospital, no medicines and no one takes an interest
because it is them. It’s shocking. That’s what I am crying about.
It’s not a political matter, it’s a human matter.”
identification with them is total. What is happening to the
residents of the south does not seem to interest you. It’s just
them, them and them.
because I am ideologically and overtly on the side of the weak, and
now it is them.”
about the residents of the south?
don’t hear the same fervour from you.
there the cattleman was lightly wounded and in Gaza children are
getting killed by the hundreds.”
the last time you visited the communities of the south?
not visited recently.”
“This is demagoguery, it’s like asking someone what he did in the
“There is no symmetry. A child suffers in Sderot, there will be a
family in Tel Aviv that will take him in or a hospital that will
take care of him. Over there, there is not. We have closed them, we
have choked them, they have nowhere to go. I suffer from asthma and
I heard that a boy died from asthma because there were no inhalers,
and they tried to revive him with a blower. Does that happen in
Sderot? No way. It is true that the government of Israel is making
fine use of Sderot and deprives them so as to heighten their
suffering, that is true. I know about that deprivation because I
worked in Yeruham and Netivot. What is happening in Sderot and Gaza
is the fault of the government of Israel and it is tied together.
What is going on in Gaza is an outrage against humanity. It is not
that they are not unfortunate in Sderot, certainly they are. They
are the scapegoat of the government of Israel. It’s the flag that
they wave, like Gilad Shalit. What bothers me is that the people
take no interest in knowing what is going on there with the
children, with the women, the families. A boy was going to a
mathematics exam and they blew him up when he was halfway there.
don’t report because there are problems entering there.
Israel does not allow it.”
Elhanan is ignoring the period during which Gazan gangs kidnapped
journalists in order to get ransoms. Following a wave of kidnappings
that ended with the release of the BBC correspondent Alan Johnston,
Israel barred journalists from entering the Strip, a prohibition
that was lifted for a short period about two weeks ago.
no problem,” she replies. “We have entered and left as we wished.”
you entered at the wrong time and someone decided to make money off
you, you would not leave there.
not accept that allegation, because it never happened to me. I go to
every place and I get an excellent reception. The walls they are
building will not prevent me from saying that ‘I live here and here
is Palestine’. I want to live here in the Middle East, I am not
European. Israel is located within Filastin, Palestine.”
will be those who will disagree with you historically.
but it’s like what is written in one of the Israeli geography books,
that Jerusalem has always been the capital of the Jews, and in
parentheses, apart from the two thousand years when we weren’t here.
That is the narrative”.
of the bereavement
September 1997 the late Smadar Elhanan Peled was killed in a suicide
bombing on a pedestrian mall, 13 days before her 14th birthday.
Since then the couple has been active in the Parents’
Circle-Families Forum for bereaved parents. Incidentally, the
discussion of their daughter’s death was minimal, because Nurit had
requested before the interview not to talk about the event. The
couple say that instead of taking the pain to a place of revenge,
they preferred to sit with another approximately 500 families of
Jews and Arabs who have fallen in the conflict, with the aim of
talking and trying to come to a situation of peace and good
neighbourliness instead of an unending cycle of revenge. In addition
to that, the two are active in various organizations such as
Combatants for Peace, of which their son Elik is one of the
founders. The organization conducts various educational activities
mainly in Israeli and Palestinian schools. “There’s here a situation
in which we are tied to each other”, begins Rami Elhanan. “We want
security, they want freedom. They will not have freedom as long as
we have no security, and we will not have security as long as they
have no freedom. Because of the despair, because of the frustration,
because of the anger, because they have gone crazy they vote for
Hamas. We, because of the anger, because of the despair, because of
the frustration, because of the fear, we vote for Likud. People do
not vote with their heads, they vote from their guts. Palestinians
did not vote for Hamas because of religious extremism, they voted
because they were angry at Fatah. They were fed up with the
corruption, with the fact that Oslo did not bring anything, because
Camp David collapsed. Peres promised them an independent state and
everything dissolved and therefore it exploded.”
conversation drifted to the change that has occurred in the media.
Peled Elhanan claimed that they are all America’s dogs and I told
her about the BBC’s past bias. “Even if I’m the only one in the
world who thinks that, I think it,” she refused to accept my view.
“What’s going on there is a crime against humanity. If we educate
children that empathy and compassion, mercy and consideration are
dependent on race and religion, it is the biggest crime that we are
committing against ourselves. We are raising generations here that
see everything through the eyes of race. That is the most terrible
outrage. What are we raising here? Children who could be flowers, we
are turning them into monsters. We are corrupting our children,
corrupting ourselves, corrupting the world , killing and destroying.
There is no education to find out how to solve problems
non-violently, they decide in a flash to throw hundred-ton bombs on
a civilian population, but in order to get a word our of their
mouth, it takes years before they make a decision. Do you understand
this? They should talk and talk for a million years. Because every
child they kill there, they kill me and my children.”
other way round?
with ‘the other way round’. It is the strong who decide. Israel
always says ‘our pilots returned safely’. Truly amazing that Hamas’
F-16 didn’t get them. Come on, really, enough. Children with scarves
and homemade bombs. There is a limit.”
like people who do not at all know where you live. It seems to me
that you are living on another planet and do not recognize that the
world is much less ideal than your meetings with the Forum.
“We make this planet with our Palestinian friends.”
“What are you alleging?”
do not understand what world you are living in.
point Rami’s temper rose. He pointed a threatening finger at me.
“Now open your ears well,” he said in a half-violent tone.
haven’t finished talking.
Be quiet a moment and listen.”
now you are turning violent.
you have finally irritated me.”
paid the price for this foolishness and for the last 11 years we
don’t sleep at night. Unlike most of the nation, we are swimming
against the current in the hardest way possible. We are trying to
effect change and not stand aside. It is not a decree of fate that
we must continue to die and to kill here. Unlike the masses all
around we are making an effort to change reality, which is hard,
unpleasant and very problematical. They call us anti-Semites, they
tell us that sorrow made us lose our minds, and they say that we
have gone crazy, that we are traitors and supporters of Hamas, they
say everything about us. Because we have paid the price, because we,
who know the meaning of this pain, can no longer stand aside, we
understand your anger, but you are using a weapon that I have no
ability to contend with.
you never have such weapons.”
it is permitted
Kippur youths from Beit Safafa or Shu’fat set out to a square on the
road that leads to Gilo, where they had a barbeque and yelled
slogans with a megaphone. Jews who were returning from the synagogue
and passed the junction were attacked by the youths with sticks. The
incident has not been reported to this day.
“I don’t believe it”.
“What, deliberately like that on the square or on the grounds of the
in order to provoke?”
were demonstrating. They beat people with sticks.
you want to say by that?”
to understand what is your view?
“In view of the cruel Occupation, in view of the crushing underfoot,
in view of the fact that there are no public services at all in Beit
Safafa, it creates hatred, and hatred creates things like that. It
is bad, but it did not come from nowhere”.
“Do you really not understand how problematic that is?”
as I will not throw a pig at my neighbour’s house during Ramadan or
on any other day, I expect that he will not hit me on Yom Kippur.
“Those who are hurt are never the ones who deserve it. Was George
Bush killed on 9/11? No. He should have been killed. You understand,
that is precisely the point: those who suffer are surely not the
ones who deserve to suffer”.
expecting to hear you say that that is deviant behaviour.
course it’s deviant behaviour.”
don’t hear it from you.
“Because you don’t want to hear.”
to, but all that I hear is Occupation and so on and so forth.
“But that is correct. We have to understand how we have caused the
deprived to behave in such a way. It is our responsibility as the
strong and the rulers. I think that violence, any violence
whatsoever, is a terrible thing. But when the deprived begin to
behave violently, I must I have to think how I drove them to it.”
end of the discussion they asked me if I was convinced. I told them
no, but I had no problem with the fact that they hold their views.
Nurit asked if she could see the piece before it was published and I
refused. After that she asked me if I would distort her words. I
told her that I had no intention of doing that. On my way back home
I thought about her question and I wondered to myself how is it that
she has so much faith in the ability to live with the Palestinians
in coexistence and without borders, when she does not have a drop of
faith in me, a journalist who is one of her people, and especially,