Israeli Peace Activist Visits Atlanta
An earlier version of this article was edited by Bob Goodman and circulated via the Human Rights Atlanta email group.
(APN) DECATUR — With Palestine having been recognized as a state by the United Nations on Thursday, November 29, 2012, it is clear that there is more than one side to the story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One unique voice regarding this conflict was recently heard in Decatur, Georgia, when Israeli peace activist Miko Peled, author of The General’s Son – Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, spoke at the Oakhurst Presbyterian Church, on Tuesday, October 23, 2012.
His appearance was sponsored by the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition. He also had appearances at Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University, Spelman College, and the meeting of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda.
Peled grew up in Jerusalem in what he described as a privileged, patriotic Zionist home. He served in the Israeli military in the elite Red Beret unit.
Later in life, though, he has become an opponent of what he describes as an occupation, and a supporter of Palestinian human and civil rights. Peled is currently on a nationwide speaking tour to promote his book, and to dispel myths and double-standards that he says surround the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His family has deep roots in Israel. His grandfather, Dr. Avraham Katsnelson, was a Zionist leader and a signer of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
His father, Matti Peled, is a well-known Israeli general who was a young officer in the war of 1948, which Israelis call “the war of independence,” and Palestinians call “the catastrophe.” General Matti Peled also fought in the 1967 war that Israelis call “our victory,” while the Palestinians call it “the disaster.”
US taxpayers pay over three billion dollars in direct support, and even more indirectly through armaments, to Israel every year.
“Sadly, on the issue of Israel/Palestine, Americans are the least informed people in the world,” Peled told the audience. Through his book tour, Peled hopes to help create a more informed and active electorate in the US.
In 1947, the United Nations created a partition plan for what was then Palestine into two sections: an Israeli section, to serve as a national home for the diaspora of Jewish people; and a Palestinian section. But Peled said this plan did not last for more than one day because, he alleges, Israel wanted more land.
Peled noted that Israelis believe in “the right of return.” The right of return is an international principle which speaks the right of individuals to re-enter the countries of origin, after being displaced. Israel, for example, passed a Law of Return in 1950, which gives all Jewish people and their spouses worldwide the right to immigrate to and settle in Israel
Peled said Israelis believe they are entitled to land that their ancestors left over two thousand years ago.
However, the Palestinians who were forced off their land by the Zionist army are not allowed their “right of return,” he said.
“As soon as the 1947 UN resolution was accepted, the Zionist forces started a massive campaign of ethnic cleansing. Between 1947 and 1948, the Zionists were able to conquer almost eighty percent of the land, destroy over five hundred towns and villages, and exile almost one million people,” Peled said.
“The Zionists had an army of forty thousand well-trained soldiers and my father was one of them. The Palestinians had no equivalent, they did not have a military force. The Arab army did not enter the war until late May of 1948, over six months into the war, and most of the ethnic cleansing had already taken place,” Peled said.
According to Peled, the national Israeli story that is repeated and believed about 1947 and 1948 is that Arabs attacked the young, vulnerable Jewish community and wanted to destroy it.
“No one investigates or questions this myth,” Peled said.
Peled’s mother, Zika, was born and raised in Jerusalem. As a young girl, she walked around the neighborhood and saw the big, expensive, and beautiful Palestinian homes. In 1948, the Palestinians who owned those homes were forced to leave by the Zionist army and their homes were then looted and given to Israeli families, he said.
“My mother refused to take another family’s home. Her story contradicts what I learned in school and the national narrative that the Arabs attacked us, we won, they left, and we got the spoils of war. The truth lies in the personal story, not the national narrative,” he said.
In 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser kicked the UN peacekeepers out of the Sinai Peninsula–then an area between Egypt and Israel–and put in Egyptian troops.
The Israeli generals saw this as an opportunity for war, but the Israeli Cabinet did not want war, according to Peled.
In going through army archives, Peled says he found where his father and several other generals convinced the Israeli Cabinet that the Egyptians would not be ready to fight a war for at least one and a half, to two years. Israel saw a military opportunity to make a preemptive strike and defeat the Egyptian army.
“So once again, the story is told that Israel was attacked by massive Arab armies wanting to destroy Israel. In only six days, Israel somehow prevailed and conquered the Sinai and also captured Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights,” Peled said.
“After the Six Day War, a massive settlement project and ethnic cleansing began in the West Bank. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were thrown out of their homes and their towns and villages were destroyed. Israel then built new cities and highways to bring only Israeli citizens into the West Bank. This was the Zionist plan to conquer the land, remove the people, and de-Arabize the country. This campaign has been going on for 65 years and is still happening today,” Peled said.
“After my father retired from the military, he dedicated the rest of his life to creating a Palestinian state and equal rights for Palestinians who are Israeli citizens,” he said.
It was only in 1993 that Israel began to negotiate a peace plan with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for a Palestinian state, because they knew that the conquest of the West Bank was irreversible and believed that the establishment of a Palestinian state was impossible, Peled said.
One cannot have a meaningful two state solution when almost all of the Palestinian land has already been stolen by the Zionists and developed for Israeli citizens only.
The Palestinians are living in little enclaves isolated from each other with high walls around them; with checkpoints; and with no equal rights, civil rights, nor human rights.
“It is Israel who is incapable of making concessions because, from the Zionist perspective, taking the land and making it ours is the name of the game,” Peled said. This again is part of the myth that the Palestinians will not make concessions and that they do not want peace, he said.
On September 4, 1997, two young Palestinians blew themselves up in downtown Jerusalem and killed thirteen year-old Smadar, Peled’s niece.
Peled’s sister, Nurit, was asked by the press who she held responsible for her daughter’s death.
“These two young men were driven to such despair and hopelessness that they took their own lives and the lives of innocent civilians, including my little girl. They were driven to this despair by the brutal occupation, by the cruel oppression that Israel had placed upon them. When we take away people’s dignity and their homes and land, when we deny them water, incarcerate their fathers and brothers, kill their young children, and give them no hope, this is what happens: innocents pay the price. I hold the State of Israel responsible for my daughter’s death,” Nurit said, according to Peled.
“My sister’s words set me on a path of exploration and activism,” Peled said. “I began to visit Palestinian communities and made Palestinian friends. I learned no one wanted to kill me because I am Israeli. I realized the Wall, the massive armed Israeli security forces, the terrorizing and harassment of Palestinians at airports and checkpoints, has nothing to do with security. It has everything to do with racism, hatred, and a deep desire to keep us apart. To keep me privileged and to keep them with no rights,” Peled said.
“The Israeli army is the best trained, best equipped terrorist organization in the world,” Peled said.
“Here is one example, of the most shameful day in the history of the Jewish people. On September 27, 2008, Israel attacked Gaza and dropped one hundred tons of bombs on the first day of twenty-one days of slaughter. This is how Israel controls the different populations,” Peled said.
According to Gaza medics, 1,205 people were killed, including 410 children, 108 women, and 113 elderly men, and 5,300 people were wounded. However, Israeli medics only reported thirteen killed including ten soldiers and three civilians, with dozens wounded.
Amnesty International reported the Israeli army used white phosphorus in densely populated civilian residential areas of Gaza City. When white phosphorus lands on the skin it burns deeply through muscle and into the bone.
“I know how hard it is for many Jews and Palestinians to let go of the dream of having ‘our own’ exclusive state. But for the good of both nations, the Separation Wall must come down, the Israeli control over the lives of Palestinians must be defied, and a secular democracy where Israelis and Palestinians live as equals be established in our shared homeland,” Peled concluded.
Israel and Palestine have been in a state of cease fire since November 21, 2012, which was negotiated with the assistance of Secretary of State of the US Hillary Clinton and President of Egypt Mohammad Morsi.