I first learned of Gideon Levy many years ago, during a casual conversation with my friend Edy Kaufman, an Israeli human rights activist. He told me that he had asked Levy why was he such a serious critic of Israel’s government and its policies with the Palestinians. Levy, whose own father was a German Jewish refugee who had settled in Israel, responded, “Because I do not want Israelis to say that they did not know.”
Levy frequently travels to and writes about the occupied territories. As a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Levy shows the evils of the occupation and how it hurts not only the Palestinians but also the Israel that he loves so much. “I am an Israeli patriot. I want to be proud of my country. I want us to do the right thing,” he declared. His writing has gained him several prestigious awards, but also the hatred of many Israelis and several personal attacks.
He is the recipient of the Association of Human Rights in Israel award (1996), The Israeli Journalists’ Union prize (1997), the Leipzig Freedom prize (2001), the Euro-Med Journalist prize (2008), and the Olof Palme prize (2016) which he shared with the Palestinian pastor Mitri Raheb, for their “fight against occupation and violence.”
Last year, at a talk entitled ‘The Zionist Tango: Step Left, Step Right’ in the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Levy touched upon many critical topics having to do with the occupation of the Palestinian territories. He spoke about the possibility of change within Israeli society and said, “Maybe you are holding the key for any kind of change, for any kind of hope because, as I will try to claim later on, the hope for change within Israeli society is so limited. It is non-existent. When the United States is so still, so crucial, people like you can make the difference. People like you can really be a game changer, and I mean it. Never before did Israel and the United States share the same values as in those days. The only place on earth that Donald Trump is beloved, admired, adored, and appreciated is Israel. The only place that Benjamin Netanyahu is admired, adored and beloved is the United States. If these are not shared values, what are shared values?”
Levy does not hide his contempt for the Jewish lobby in the IS, of which AIPAC is the most notorious organisation: “I can tell you in the US, as an Israeli, we don’t have a bigger enemy for justice, for peace, for equality, than those who think that if you supply the drug addict with more drugs you are his friend; that if you support him blindly and automatically in whatever he does, you are a friend. No, my friend, those are not friends. Those are enemies.”
Levy calls the actions of Israeli soldiers in Gaza crimes against civilians, which are hardly covered by the media. Ahed Tamimi is a 17-year-old Palestinian girl whose family demonstrated their opposition to the expansion of the Israeli settlements and the detention of Palestinian activists. When she was 11 years-old, Ahed was commended for her courage by the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, for attempting to prevent her mother’s detention in August 2012.
In 2015, she was filmed while she was biting a masked Israeli soldier who was trying to apprehend her brother for throwing stones against the soldiers. On December 15, 2017, Ahed took part in a demonstration opposing the expansion of Israeli settlements near her village. During the protest, Ahed’s 15-year-old cousin, Mohammed Tamimi, was shot in the head and severely wounded. Ahed, along with mother and a cousin slapped, kicked, and shoved the soldiers.
Four days later, Ahed was arrested with her mother and her cousin and charged with assault and incitement to violence. She instantly became a symbol of Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. Major rallies in her support took place in several major cities in the US and Europe.
Levy is unsparing in his criticism of the Israeli soldiers’ actions. “The crimes [by the Israeli soldiers] are on a daily basis, but a really daily basis. The media hardly covers them. If they cover them, it will be always according to the Zionist narrative. A terrorist of 12, a girl of 14 with scissors in her hands is an existential threat to the state of Israel. A girl who is slapping a soldier is someone who deserves life in prison, not less than this.”
I remember my surprise, several years ago, when I found out that an acquaintance of mine, an Israeli professor, had never, aside from his gardener, had a conversation with any other Palestinian, although he was living in Jerusalem. According to Levy, “…Everyone will deny it. But if you scratch under the skin of almost every Israeli, you’ll find it there. The Palestinians are not equal human beings like us. They are not like us. They don’t love their children like us. They don’t love life like us. So you have a society with a deep conviction in its justice, in its right way with very, very few question marks. Anyone who dares to raise a question mark in a systematic way is immediately erased, demolished. It is unbelievable how this machinery works for Israel.”
Despite a systemic policy of demonization and death threats against him, Gideon Levy continues to denounce the Israeli government’s crimes against Palestinians, who have been unable to counteract this onslaught against their basic rights. Gideon Levy is their Jewish defender and Israel’s voice of sanity.
César Chelala is a New York writer and winner of several journalism awards.