1. Amira, welcome to Berkeley. Where were you born and raised?
2. Jerusalem, Israel.
3. And looking back, how do you think your parents shaped your thinking about the world?
4. They were Jewish Holocaust survivors, members of the Israeli Communist Party. My mother had been a partisan in Yugoslavia against German occupation, but then she was deported to a concentration camp. My father was in the ghetto. I think I was raised in their personal attempt, an ideological attempt, to compensate for the terrible emotional and ideological vacuum and family vacuum created after the Second World War, with the loss of most of their family and friends, history and life; to compensate this with the hope that you can work on for a better world, where the principle of equality is recognized as a basic for human life.
5. In the introduction to your book, Drinking the Sea at Gaza, you talk about family. I get the sense of both a legacy of loss, of looking back, but also of resistance. Is that fair characterization?
6. Yes, only that the loss is not that you look back and you feel the loss. The loss is always there. You don’t have to look back to feel the loss. It’s in everyday life. If your brothers and sisters and other beloved ones have all been murdered by the Nazi system, then the loss is ever-present.
7. Your mother [Hanna Levy Hass] was a writer.
8. That’s right.
9. Tell us a little about that.
10. She wrote a diary in the concentration camp [published as Inside Belsen], which already was a death penalty if she [had been] found writing it. Her friends or the other inmates in the barracks were covering for her when she was writing. She wrote on pieces of paper that she found who-knows-where, and she described the life there. She didn’t talk so much about herself. She made a kind of analysis of what was happening to people around her. She was also teaching children. It was another forbidden activity for inmates in this concentration camp back in Bergen-Belsen. She taught children because she felt that they needed to be taken care of in this hell. To her it was a way of fighting, for sure, to have these most forbidden activities.
11. Where were you educated?
12. Jerusalem and then Tel Aviv.
13. At what university?
14. I went to the Hebrew University and then Tel Aviv University, but I was stuck with my M.A. studies.
15. First you did some human rights work, but then you became a journalist?
16. When I was already working for Ha’aretz as a text editor, I needed something for my neshamah, as you say in Hebrew, for my soul. [So] I volunteered. It was in the middle of the first Intifada. I volunteered in a group called Workers Hotline. We assisted Palestinian workers, mainly, whose rights were violated by Israeli employers. They were not represented properly by Israeli trade unions. So we started this advocacy group, and also offered active assistance in the sense of approaching the employers either through lawyers or directly in order to get for these people what they deserved.
17. Is this where you first developed your consciousness of the plight of the Palestinian, years ago?
18. No, no.
19. That goes back further?
20. Yes. I grew up in a political family and a political surrounding. I was active in the Israeli left wing for years. So occupation; I mean, I’ve been involved by accident in occupation, but I always thought that our activity should be in the Israeli street with Israelis, and to explain to them and to try and promote the understanding that occupation is wrong. For this I didn’t need to go and meet with or experience Palestinian occupation. But there was a change with the first Intifada, and I felt that all this kind of political activism led nowhere. With this activity of mine with Workers Hotline, I came to know Gaza, especially, and it was like discovering this new world. I didn’t have prejudice, I think, but I didn’t have much knowledge about ordinary life there; mostly I had theoretical knowledge. So it was an opportunity to have more detailed knowledge. I was fascinated by people in this society. I found it a very warm society, a very welcoming society, a very resilient society.
21. Before we talk about the occupation and the suicide bombers, let’s talk a little about the way you see your craft, the methodology you use and so on. You, in your work, have gone to live in the communities that you write about. Tell us about that choice as a way to do your craft as a journalist.
22. I think it’s so natural for a journalist to do so. If I were asked to cover French affairs, I would go and live in Paris, and travel a lot in France, not write about France from Germany. So this a basic in this sort of journalistic work. Then, also, I have this research curiosity which I could satisfy by living there, because what it is, is an ongoing research. So I’m very lucky; I discover a new society and I discover all kinds of facets of this society by living in it, but still by being some sort of an observer and not part of the society in the real sense of the word. Of course, you become part of it sort of, but I’m always in this position of observer while living in the society. It’s interesting. Some have compared my work with anthropological work -- maybe more progressive anthropological work. So this, for me, has been very important also, personally. I do have an obsession with getting the taste of the flavor of things from inside. When I was twenty, I lived for four or five months in Romania. It was under Ceausescu. I felt this philosophical responsibility, I will tell you, because I came from a communist family. I didn’t have any illusions about the regimes in Eastern Europe. I felt because I come from such a family and from such ideological background, I have a philosophical responsibility to taste life in the mutation or in this terrible dictatorship that evolved in Eastern Europe.
23. You wrote in the introduction to the Gaza book: “It has always been my conviction that history is made more in the currents of ordinary life than it is by rulers and their ceremonies.”
24. I referred there to why I was not interested in the coming of Abu Mazen to Gaza, after he had one of a series of feuds and disagreements with Arafat. He came all of a sudden, so everybody was very interested in this. But for me, it just looked like a boring ritual of people who think themselves at the top of the Olympus. I prefer to be with friends who made their own history.
25. I can’t resist asking you this question, because you come from a Marxist/Communist tradition: What is the relation of theory to observation and facts in your work? Clearly, you’ve headed, as you’ve already discussed, toward [an understanding] of the real situation, what people’s lives are really like. But how do you think about theory in the back of your mind?
26. I think it exists in the sense [that] I always see the class conflict. I always see class tensions. I don’t even have to theorize about it. It’s all self-evident. That’s why I was, very early on, very critical of the Palestinian Authority, because I saw the way that they were creating new classes in all sorts of corrupted and corruptive ways in order to build up a stronghold which supports the Oslo process. So I saw this. At the same time, I saw the Israeli ongoing colonization very clearly. I saw it was done in order to establish Israeli Jewish privileges in the area. But then, because I’m very aware of my theoretical in-built assumptions (I cannot even help it; it’s not that I’m a scholar in Marxism -- I’m not) I was very careful to collect a lot of information. I was very, very careful when people started telling me about Arafat’s people starting to accumulate capital in the occupied territories while most of the people went through a process of impoverishment. I was very careful and didn’t immediately write about it; because I’m inclined to believe this, I have to collect more information. So in a sense, I’m sometimes more careful about it because I’m aware of it.
Tell me a little about your craft
as a writer. Your pieces are beautifully written. They are comprehensive and
they detail every day life. There’s an eye for things that people ignore. How
do you do this? How did you come to do it so well?
Thank you. That’s not the basic requirement of journalism. Sometimes
I see kind of a film, and then I feel I have to describe the film in words. If
I were a filmmaker, that’s how I would have done it with pictures. So that’s my
way. Then, also, of course, I don’t only write features, I write op-eds. I know
that I have to expose the analysis, but I prefer to expose it through examples
from daily life, and not to burden with slogans. I’m trying to avoid slogans as
much as possible, because I live in a society, both Israeli and Palestinian,
that is really overcrowded with slogans and one-sentence exclamations. And I’m
very ... I’m appalled by it.
29. It sounds like you keep many stories in your mind at one time, and choose when you actually write it up and publish it. So you’re not driven by the headlines as many journalists are.
30. I don’t need to be, because I don’t cover daily news. I know some things are structural, and they might not get the headlines. They are structural, and they are developed within Israeli policy or within Palestinian tactics. So I pay attention to this much more than to what seems to catch the attention of everybody at certain moments, and then dies after two, three days.
31. Let’s talk now about the Israeli occupation. You have delineated in an essay in Palestinian Studies the structure of Israeli rule. Explain it to us. What are the byproducts of the strategy that Israel is employing to control the territories?
32. Let me first say this, that occupation is not necessarily a military occupation. Occupation means when one people and one government -- foreign government -- decides about the future and scope of development, and chances of development, of another people who have not elected this government. I came to understand what occupation is especially in the years of Oslo, the Oslo process, which everybody thought was the peace process. I felt this ongoing and ever-intensifying Israeli policy of control over Palestinian life, even though the army was not directly inside Palestinian populated areas, and even though there were negotiations between Palestinian leaders and the Israeli government. The two main manifestations of this control, an Israeli persistent and successful attempt to dictate Palestinian future, were: One is the policy of colonization or of settlement, whereby Israel got hold of much more land within Gaza and the West Bank during the Oslo process, and made sure that it created the infrastructure of one state in the one country between the land and the river. It was one infrastructure of very good highways, roads, and connecting settlements, remote settlements, with the Israeli mainland, establishing the same sewage system, water system, electric grid, education system, whatever, of Israel in these remote places in the occupied territories, but an infrastructure for Jews alone. Now in between this infrastructure, this grid of roads and settlements, you had Palestinian enclaves which were allotted self-rule, but the self-rule was in itself very limited, because you could not expand in your natural territorial reserve because this was taken by the Israelis in the time of the so-called peace process. So this was one. The second [way] to control Palestinian development was through a new system introduced first in ‘91, which it was practically a pass system, like the one in Apartheid South Africa, which meant that Palestinians’ right to freedom of movement was taken from them, was not respected. In reverse, what had happened between ‘67 to ‘91, in spite of the occupation and in spite of all kinds of attacks against Israelis by Palestinians during these previous years, they were granted freedom of movement in the whole country, with certain exceptions; were allowed to move freely, except for a few categories which were chosen by Israel in different times and were granted a very limited freedom of movement. Now, with the years, the system has perfected. It involves more and more people who need permits, and in smaller and smaller areas. At the beginning, you needed a travel permit from Gaza to Israel, or from Gaza to the West Bank, and vice versa; you now need a permit to go from one city in the West Bank to another city in the West Bank. In certain areas in the West Bank and Gaza, people who live near settlements need permits to go out of their own area in special hours through special gates. So what Israel has been doing during the last twelve years is fragmentizing not only Palestinian territory but the Palestinian population into categories which are characterized by their accessibility to the privilege of freedom of movement.
33. So what you’re saying is that the reality, the actual lives of Palestinians, the actual rules that Israel is imposing, is very different from the general perception. Because all of this was happening at a time when the Oslo accords seemed to [suggest] a peace process moving towards final status in which Palestine would have its own state.
34. Exactly, exactly. It was a process which guaranteed that the final status would be a very enfeebled Palestinian political entity.
35. You are also saying that Israel, through the processes of its rule, was creating facts, creating realities, that in a way narrowly limited the future place where the Palestinian state could be.
37. In your writing, you focus on time and space in this process. You write: “Time and space together make room in one’s world, not only materially to accomplish one’s tasks and activities, but at the level of the spirit, enabling both the individual in the community to breathe, to develop, to prosper, to create. Space in the occupied territories has been gradually but ruthlessly encroached upon for more than thirty years, as more and more land has been expropriated.” It’s [the constraint] that you just described. This is kind of a theoretical statement. Give us an example in everyday life. I read recently a column of yours about children trying to get through the fence. Tell us that story, because when we deal with these issues from afar, or maybe even in Israel, we don’t think about their implications for everyday life. But you are addressing that.
38. Of course; I’ll share with you this story of a village, Jabara. It found itself locked between the new-built fence -- Israel’s security fence -- and the former green line.
39. This fence, we should explain, is a fence that Israel is building allegedly for security purposes to separate the Palestinians from the Israelis.
40. Exactly. To prevent suicide bombers infiltrating into Israel. But the fence is not built along the green line, along the border of ‘67, but it’s built in many places deep into Palestinian territory in order to incorporate Israeli settlements. So it is upgrading the former border and it is actually expropriating land from the Palestinian community, and it locks in people. People in these areas are not allowed to go freely to Israel and cannot go freely to Palestinian territory. In this village are only 300 people, but you have 100 children studying in a nearby village, which is actually the mother village of this little village.
41. So the students have to go to this other village.
42. Through the fence.
43. Through the fence.
44. The fence has a gate. Sometimes it is opened; sometimes it is not opened. There are [also] teachers teaching in a nearby Palestinian city called Tul Karm. They have to cross from another place through an Israeli checkpoint with soldiers. Sometimes they are let through; sometimes they are not let through. Now, the villagers need to have a special identity card, additional to what they [already] have, which is the Israeli authorization for them to live where they live -- this is a very new issue -- because they live in this area which was declared a closed area, but only to Palestinians. Jews can go there and live there, but Palestinians cannot. Only those who live there are allowed to stay, provided they get this authorization from the Israeli authorities, Israeli military. A few were already told that they are not allowed to stay there, because some of them were politically active years ago and were in Israeli jails, or so on and so forth. But this is their land, this is their home, this is their family, and now they’re actually supposed to leave it. This is something which happened on a different scale in the Gaza Strip. You have areas in the Gaza Strip where people need to go through fences and through gates twice a day, once a day, sometimes not, sometimes yes. They cannot go with their cars. They’re not allowed to bring in things. They cannot market their agricultural products. So many people have been pushed to leave these areas, which are not, by surprise, the only vacant areas in the Gaza Strip, and where some of the big Israeli settlements are situated. So you see, it’s slow. It’s a policy in the name of security which forces many people to leave their own land and their own homes if they want to conduct a decent life. If they insist on staying there, they are doomed to impoverished life and pushed into charity life, subjects of charity, and they are not living off their own work.
45. This combination of the pass system and of the infrastructure to support the Israeli settlements leads to everyday problems, so that for an Israeli to travel on the highways that were built for the Israeli settlements, a trip could take, hypothetically, thirty minutes on a freeway like we have in the Bay Area. But for a Palestinian, who’s not entitled to go on these roads, the same trip could take several hours.
46. Yes, or he could not leave at all. So it is not only the grab, the robbery of land, but you have a robbery of time. Palestinians’ time has been robbed in the last thirteen years, because you have to wait for a permit and you don’t get it, then you have to wait again. Then you waste time waiting at the checkpoint, then you waste time in submitting another request for a permit, then you waste time trying to go through all kinds of small, dangerous bypass roads. And time is a means of production. Time is so precious for one’s development, internal development, community development; and this has been grabbed by the pass system. This very important means of life for every person, not just Palestinian, has been robbed of them. Sometimes I think it’s more precious than land, because land you can get back one way or the other. The lost time, you will never get back.
47. It must lead to a sense of helplessness, of frustration that eats away at the soul.
48. It’s total strangulation. The thing is that people are not that aware of how huge this loss of time is. But I see how people, because of this loss of time and loss of space because they don’t have freedom of movement, have lowered their span of expectations. They are not expecting much of their lives because they know that they will be disappointed. You cannot plan to go to see friends. I’m even talking about this before these terrible times of armed clashes between Israelis against Palestinians. People have lowered, so much, their expectations of themselves. They restrict themselves to their narrow surroundings -- family, work, home; family, work, home -- nothing more than that. You don’t even go in Gaza now. Even the sea, half of the shore, is blocked for Palestinians. You live 400 meters away from the shore, and you can’t reach the sea because there are settlements, and the security of the settlements comes first.
49. Help us understand how Israel came to adopt this strategy. In your readings I get the sense that initially these were ad hoc decisions with regard to control, that have, in essence, turned into something else.
50. It’s something that I’m always asking myself, to what extent it had been a master plan from the start. I’m still oscillating between the two possibilities, or how much it was taken in ‘91 as an ad hoc policy, meant especially to contain the first Intifada, because in ‘91, the first Intifada came to a standstill, in terms of Palestinian measures and an inability to continue a mass uprising, and the Israeli oppression came to a standstill, because at that time, Israel acknowledged its status in humanitarian terms as an occupying power. It had responsibility for the welfare of the civilian population. That’s why it could not bomb Palestinians. It could not repress their uprising by dropping one-ton bombs on civilian areas, or by killing every day five, six, seven people. So it had to confine itself to bureaucratic logistic means, and the pass system was such a bureaucratic means. It tried to contain the Palestinian uprising from spilling over into Israel proper. And also, it allowed Israel much more control, because people were subject to all these extra documents, and then you can control people’s movements, and then you contain their activities. But with time, and especially with the Oslo years, they understood how they could control economic life, how they could actually lead this economic war of attrition vis-á-vis the Palestinian authority, and thus force them to accept all kinds of concessions during the talks, during the negotiations, about the interim status and then the final status. Then, I think, it evolved. I don’t know at what stage. I think very early on it evolved as a means to achieve demographic separation. Not geographic separation, not political separation, but demographic separation, which means that Israel is still in control all over the territory where two peoples live, but it is separating the two peoples. It separates, but for the sake of one people, of one demographic group.
51. Let’s talk a little now about the suicide bombers, because in this recent phase, the last couple of years of the second Intifada, this has become a series of events that have shattered our ability to understand what is actually going on in that part of the world, and has obviously been tied to the U.S. policy and war against terrorism, and links have been made, whether they are justified or not. Help us understand how suicide bombers emerged in this conflict on the Palestinian side.
52. The first suicide bombings, which occurred in Palestinian territory, not in Israel, were in ‘93. This was ten years after the first suicide bombings in Lebanon, which means that for ten years, Palestinians, who are mostly Muslims, did not think of endorsing such a way. Their fight was always based on hope for life, not for death. Now, ‘93 is two years after the imposition of the pass system and of the closure policy. I think it has to do -- you feel this impotence, this terrible impotence that Palestinians felt in the times when their space was reduced. And this was only ‘93, and [comprised] three or four [suicide] attempts inside the occupied territories -- Gaza and the West Bank -- against mostly military targets, and settlers (who are seen by Palestinians as military, not as civilians). The first suicide bombings inside Israel were in ‘94. These were one month or so, or two months after the murder conducted by a Jewish-American physician or doctor in Hebron, where he killed twenty-nine Muslim worshipers in their holy place. So this was a revenge one time, and then [more] revenge started. It started to be emulated by Hamas and by jihadis against Israel, always saying that this is retaliation against Israeli actions in killing those civilians. But it had a clear political motive on the part of Hamas, and this was to foil the Oslo agreements, or to push to a corner the Palestinian Authority. This is, I think, is obvious. So it had a political motive and especially an internal political motive, the struggle within the Palestinian Authority.
53. So the factions within the Palestinian leadership, in their competition with each other for popular support, see this as a tool?
54. It was a tool then by Hamas. In this Intifada, it became a tool in the competition between everybody. These factions are using people’s disgust with life, total loss of hope, the need for revenge, because so many Palestinians civilians have been killed during the last three years, almost unnoticed by the entire world. They feel this need to take revenge, and they feel this need to get out, even for a moment, from their captivated and very limited space, vis-á-vis Israeli military technology, and to be omnipotent even for one moment. They’re ready to die for this, because they don’t see any point in living. But then the factions are using this readiness, not because they strategize and they think this will bring them closer to independence, but because they compete with each other on their popularity within the Palestinian population.
55. Let’s broaden our understanding of this. What you have is a hypothetical person whose family’s land is taken away, or who loses a relative, or ...
56. Or who sees so much blood around them.
57. Right. Who has been led to unbelievable depression and frustration, and becomes a target of opportunity for factions among the Palestinian leadership, who want to use him in this way to strike back at Israel.
58. Very often they don’t have to work hard to recruit him or her. Very often such people voluntarily look for someone and say, “We would like to make a suicide attempt.” So they come themselves very often.
59. But from our side of the water, it’s hard to understand what would lead a person to take this act. One is not sure whether they’re motivated by religion, by going to heaven. Talk a little about that.
60. For me as a secular person, it’s also very difficult to, on the one hand, to believe or to understand when people do talk about heaven. So I need the help of my Palestinian friends and acquaintances, who might not be very secular but not either very religious. Most of them say that going to heaven, or the religious motivations of being shahid, being martyred, and getting eternal life in heaven, these are not the main motivations, they only come last, or they are being adopted because it is accepted as the norm. The real motivations are those personal community ones -- not even personal in the sense that one’s life is a total wreck. No. We see that many of those who went to explode themselves had careers or started to have careers, were not coming from the poorest families, were enrolled into universities. So it’s not people who were a total loss in Western norms, or even Palestinian norms. They felt they represent the society in its despair, and they want to do something, [make] some use of this despair, revenge. It is a very delicate interplay between the personal despair, but not immediate despair, and the political community despair. Many of them got strength by becoming more observant, by going to the mosque, by praying five times a day, by reading Koran over and over again. It’s only then. Some of them started with the Koran at the beginning of the Intifada when they saw so much bloodshed. So many of their neighbors and friends and relatives getting killed, civilians getting killed by Israeli soldiers. They found compensation and solace with reading the Koran. So it strengthened them. But this was not the motivation. It was, maybe, the support. At the same time, as I told yesterday in my lecture, I did speak to one person from Hamas who eventually was killed, not in a suicide attempt. He was always going out vis-à-vis the Israeli military tanks and soldiers, and eventually he was killed in one of those battles. He with his gun and invading tanks in his neighborhood. We had talked a year before he was killed, and he saw himself as a candidate for suicide, because this was suicide. To fight against the Israeli army is almost suicide, because the proportions are such that you are always getting killed. He didn’t mention religious motivations at all, only the national ones, only to think how many of his friends got killed. He was a very educated person, and also very religious, theoretically religious. He didn’t use religion as the first motivation for him at all. It gave him support, but not motivation.
61. We’ve talked about the Israeli policies of occupation and now the response on the Palestinian side from some parts of the Palestinian community with the use of suicide bombing. In both of these cases -- that is, on the Israeli side and the Palestinian side -- there seems to be a failure of leadership, of a responsible leadership that sees both the implications of policies and the dynamic of the situation. Let’s look at both sides. I want to ask you about, first, on the Israeli side, it seems that even Labor governments who initiated and tried to implement the Oslo process continued to build settlements, and that that was a real failure of leadership. Do you agree?
62. I think not at all. Not at all.
63. You don’t agree?
64. No, no.
66. You say failure because you assume that Israel’s main goal was to have peace with the Palestinians, and just peace with the Palestinians.
68. Yes. I think their main goal was to guarantee a stronger Israel, a bigger Israel, and an enfeebled Palestinian political entity. And they were very successful. So it’s a very responsible leadership, if you think that this was their main goal.
69. So all of the sides of the Israeli debate are committed to enlarging the size of Israel through settlements?
70. I think so. This has been made clear during the Oslo process especially, not before, because before you could always say security, bargaining chip, whatever. But during the Oslo times, when everybody expected Israel to freeze all settlements, no, they were only expanded, and since Rabin all Israeli governments. So they were very successful. It’s not a failure of leadership. It’s a failure of Israeli constituencies that did not support these policies, but let themselves believe that their leadership was going towards peace.
71. So why did these constituencies, then, fail to see what was going on, and try to build a political coalition to oppose that?
72. I guess that many people wanted to believe that it is possible to break the spell of conflict. People were very optimistic about the Oslo process. They thought that their demands of years for a two-states solution and talk with the Palestinians in recognition of the Palestinian people, etc., were coming true under Labor. They just felt, “Oh, we were right all these years, and now there is a government which acknowledges we were right.” So they paid very little attention to the reality on the ground. You can explain psychologically, not attributing bad motivations to these people. But others saw that peace was possible with settlements. Until ‘91, we were made to believe that peace was not possible with settlements. Then with the Oslo process, after Arafat actually signed an accord where Israel is not being demanded to stop all settlement activity. So Israel saw that peace with settlements was possible. So maybe Palestinians are satisfied with it. After all, the settlement activity was beneficial for many segments of Israeli society. This is why these constituencies failed to understand the discrepancy between the promise of stability and normal life in a state, and the reality of permanent colonization.
73. Let’s talk about the Palestinian leadership, then. How do we account for their failure? I hear you having said two things: one is that important parts of that leadership sold out to the Israelis in the Oslo process -- those are my words, not yours -- but compromised themselves, creating a class system, almost, among that leadership and the Palestinian people. And then secondly, I think I heard you say that they have failed by the abuse of their own people, especially in the case of the suicide bombers, where they see them as tools for jockeying for position vis-á-vis the other factions in the cause.
74. It’s not true about the suicide bombings. I don’t think that the Palestinian leadership sent suicide bombers. It maybe did not dare to stop it on time in this Intifada. But it did not use the suicide bombers. It’s the factions of some of them in opposition to the leadership, and some Fatah groupings, but which had loose connections with Arafat. So it’s not a failure, but it is true that vis-á-vis Israeli, it was a failure to correctly analyze Israeli motivations and to conduct a better strategy of negotiation. I think it’s partly the naïveté of this Palestinian leadership; also, a human need to see a change. I do believe, in spite of all what they said in Israeli and American propaganda: that they did not intend to have peace with Israel. Let’s not forget they were the weaker party. I think that they were very sincere in their readiness for a two-states solution as the final status solution. But they failed to see [or] to learn Israeli methods. And Arafat’s people didn’t consult with people inside the occupied territories who had known Israelis better. When they signed on the Declaration of Principles, they didn’t even know what a settlement looked like. They thought it was military distant position, so that’s why they did not bother to insist on it. They were not sold out so much as they let themselves be pampered by Israeli methods, very colonialist methods of pampering an elite with all sorts of privileges, especially privileges of freedom of movement, which allowed the Palestinian Authority to build up an entourage which benefited economically from the process. That’s why it gave its political support to the process and participated in the political negotiations. So what you had were people who were economically dependent on the Israelis because of the privileges, and were also conducting the political negotiations with the Israelis about how quickly the Israeli withdrawal/redeployment will be and how big the settlements will be or not be. So this was the byproduct -- what you feel as being sold out. I don’t think it was intentional. Many of them did believe that if they served Israeli security demands for some time, they would guarantee the future and the stability of a Palestinian society. This is it. Now class society, it has always been. Palestinians have always been a class society. But the Palestinian Authority, internally, had a responsibility for the welfare of the people. Now, instead of dedicating [themselves to] the development of human beings inside, it invested a lot in all kinds of symbolic aspects of life which served the grandeur of the authority. It allocated much of its budget to security organizations, multiplied security organizations, because Arafat needs this multiplicity in order to control. They did not develop enough the health system, the education system; did not see the person, the human beings, in order to use their own opportunities to develop. I think this was their main failure. It stems out from the fact that they were not really elected, they came from outside, they were very indifferent to the people. They come from very undemocratic traditions, and this was a major failure. I think that if they cared more for their people and were more attentive to people’s demands, internally, they would have been stronger vis-à-vis Israel in the negotiation table.
75. What is the role that you as a writer can play in elevating consciousness of these dynamics? And in what way does that, in the long-term, contribute to a change in the situation?
76. Sometimes I think that I’m only writing for the archives. But in five, ten years, people would say, “Oh, she wrote so-and-so.” Look, I didn’t have influence. I’ve been writing about the discrepancy between the [rhetoric] and the facts on the ground during the Oslo period. I’ve been writing extensively in my paper, and then my book. People read me. But, somehow, it did not sink in. Most of the people, I would say, did not get the message, because it’s not for one writer to change things; you need a movement. You need a social movement, certain activity in the street of people who speak out clearly. And then this interplay between voices in the media and voices outside in the streets, in social activities, can make some sort of a change, or can be heard. When you’re one voice ... and I was considered a radical extremist, pessimist ...
78. Yeah, Cassandra. Cassandra can be a joy-killer, yeah. I’m always spoiling the party, so I was told. I was told by my editors, sometimes, “Everybody’s talking about how Gazans are happy, but you only tell us about the pass system and travel permits and all this.” I was even told by somebody that I don’t have perspective because I live in Gaza. So it’s a new definition of journalism. So, no, I don’t think I made a difference. On the contrary, I’m very frustrated because I voiced so many clear and very logical voices among Palestinians which warned Israelis about the coming explosion if Israel continues this policy of pushing the Palestinians into a surrender arrangement.
79. One final question. What is your advice to students who are interested in this region and want to prepare for a future that might involve a relationship with that region? But also, advice to people in other communities that have an interest in the region, that have to view events there from afar, and many of whom may not read your writing on a regular basis and are driven in their understanding by what they read in the headlines in the English-speaking press?
80. One has to read other things than the headlines.
81. “Read Ha’aretz online.”
82. No, not only ... not only. There are all kinds of messages, e-mail. Not everything is always accurate, but they have to very skeptical about what they read first, and then, always, to meet people within the region and maybe try to see al-Jazeera -- news which is not only from a Western point of view. This is one. Then to remember, and I think it’s true about every place, to be very skeptical about official versions, very skeptical. Power, any power, has to be suspected everywhere, and has to be monitored. This is the main test of journalism. So they have to look for those kinds of writing which monitor power and which describe the situations not from the eyes of the ruler only.
83. I get the sense that you think and believe, both in word and in deed, that truth emerges from understanding, describing, and being immersed in the reality that you’re writing about.
84. Yes, I believe that what I’ve been describing is the truth. I don’t believe that it makes much change and much influence. It does not preach to the non-converted. It does not reach the non-converted. It reaches the converted. But, still, I believe this is true, what I’ve been writing.
on that note, I want to thank you very much for taking the time to come to the
Berkeley campus, but also being a guest today on our program. Thank you very
And thank you for an interesting talk.
thank you very much for joining us for this Conversation with History.