Born into a renowned Zionist family and raised on the Zionist ideal of a Jewish state, American-Israeli author Miko Peled’s family life took him on a journey that transformed him into a Palestinian human rights activist and an advocate of a one democratic state where Palestinians and Israelis would live as equal citizens.
His father, Matti Peled, was a fervent Zionist ideologue and military man turned leading peace activist. Growing up in Jerusalem as the son of a prominent major general in the Israeli army was a big deal for Peled.
“It was something that I would hear constantly: Oh, you’re Matti Peled’s son!” Peled told MEMO. “Many times it was positive but many times it was very negative.”
When he retired, Matti Peled began meeting with members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and was one of the earliest proponents of the two-state solution. “That’s when being the son of Matti Peled suddenly became a bad thing,” he continued, “because he was ‘an Arab lover’.”
Though his father spent his life promoting the idea of a two state-solution and convincing the PLO to give up the armed struggle and accept the two-state-solution, Peled’s journey led him to believe that this was not viable or just.
“In hindsight, that was catastrophic for the Palestinians, because a lot of it has to do with why we are here today – the fact that they dropped the struggle.”
“I think that he [Matti Peled] and his group were naive. They believed that you can restrain this settler colonialist project, but you cannot restrain colonialism. You can only overpower it with more power.”
Peled relates his journey of transformation in his book, “The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine”, which he published in 2012. “Geographically it’s a very short journey because Israel is Palestine, which many people don’t realise,” Peled told MEMO, “but the journey from the sphere of the privileged, the sphere where everything is clean and safe and the roads are paved, and you have plenty of water, and your rights are secure and you have no worries to the journey of the oppressed, the journey of the occupied, the journey of the dispossessed is an enormous journey – mentally, emotionally, politically.”
Peled made the transition from being a “coloniser” to being “an immigrant” in Palestine. Coming as a coloniser gives you a sense of being better than the indigenous population and having rights, whereas coming as an immigrant makes you appreciate the land that you’ve come to, he explained.
The longer the journey continues – and it still continues – the more I discover, the more I learn, the more I…gain understanding and appreciation for the Palestinian experience, for the Palestinian reality, for Palestine itself as a country, as a nation, as a culture.
Settlements and the One State reality
Peled says he finds the international community’s response to the settlements, reflected in the anti-settlement UN Security Council Resolution 2334 adopted last December and mounting calls by political leaders to stop settlement expansion, to be “the height of hypocrisy”.
“Settlements didn’t begin yesterday,” he said. “Settlements in Palestine on stolen Palestinian land began in 1948.”
“The settler-colonial project which is the State of Israel has been going on for seven decades, and now suddenly the international community discovers that there’s a problem?” he exclaimed.
Peled is of the opinion that the widespread construction of Israeli settlements across what is known as the Occupied West Bank has in fact created a reality on the ground of a single state, particularly since Israel completed the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.
That is the reality today, so is it one state or two states? The sheer stupidity of this argument – of this conversation – is sometimes shocking because it has been a single state; it’s been an apartheid state from the very beginning.
“There is no West Bank,” he emphasised. “Everybody who is aware of the situation in Palestine knows that there hasn’t been a West Bank in a long time.” Peled argues that Israel began integrating the West Bank to the rest of the country – the land of Israel – before the 1967 war was even over.
“Entire villages, entire towns, entire communities were destroyed by Israeli bulldozers and massive building began for Jews only in the West Bank just like everywhere else.”
“It has been a one state since then governed by a single government which is the State of Israel, albeit by dividing the population by different sets of laws,” Peled said.
“Whereas the laws that govern my life when I’m there are the laws of a liberal democracy as a Jew,” he explained, “the laws that govern the life of Palestinians who are Israeli citizens are a certain set of apartheid racist laws.”
“Jews in the West Bank – or what used to be the West Bank – are governed by the laws of Israel, civil law,” he continued, adding that Palestinians in the West Bank on the other hand are governed by military law, with subdivisions of Areas A, B and C.
As for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, often referred to as Israeli Arabs, Peled says that as far as Israel is concerned they “have no part in this vision of the land of Israel, of the State of Israel, the Jewish State. They have no distinct identity; they have no distinct connection to the land or anything like that.”
“Then sometimes it’s kind of quaint to say: Well, we have minorities,” he added, indicating that they are treated as second class citizens. As an example, Peled drew a contrast between the way in which the state deals with demolition orders, describing how the army would come in immediately and demolish Arab structures built without permits.
“Half…the people I know have homes and extensions to their homes which were done without permits,” he said. “It’s a reality because the bureaucracy is so complicated, but you wouldn’t dream of…armed guards coming in fully armed like combat soldiers and demolishing homes in a Jewish town.”
“It will take years through the courts before anybody even imagines to give me an order to take it down.”
In the case of Gaza, Peled says that Israel is faced with two choices; “Fix the problem, allow the refugees to return, rebuild or kill.” That is why, he says, from time to time Israel “has to escalate” and attack Gaza.
“There is a threat to Israel from Gaza,” he explained further, “but it’s not a military threat, it’s a threat to Israel’s legitimacy because this humanitarian disaster is a direct result of the creation of the State of Israel.”
“Israel can’t allow that,” he continued, voicing his frustration with the international community’s response.
I don’t know how the world, how anybody can be so gullible, so stupid to accept this massacre of innocent, unarmed, harmless civilians can be called self-defence.
Peled says that Israelis avoid any acknowledgment of Palestinian rights and claim to the land. To Israeli society, Israel in 1967 “completed the conquest or the return of our land to proper ownership, the Jews, and that’s the end of the story.”
“There is no Palestine; there are no Palestinians in Israeli consciousness. It’s the land of Israel,” he stressed. “As long as we kill more of them than they kill of us, we’re going to be fine. There is no vision beyond that.”
BDS ‘is how you bring about change’
A staunch supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Peled believes that it is going to be remembered as “one of the major forces that eventually [led to the liberation] of Palestine.”
“No racist regime has ever voluntarily gone up and left,” he argued, “and without consequences for their actions, they’re not going to change.”
Imposing boycott, divestment and sanctions on the State of Israel is morally the right thing to do…It is how you bring about change.
Recently, Israel’s parliament approved a controversial law banning anyone found to support the BDS movement from entering the country. “This shows how this regime is completely undemocratic,” Peled argued.
“It is like all other undemocratic regimes that spend their resources on the survival of the regime – not the rights and wellbeing of the people and not democracy,” he added, pointing out that the government now must investigate every person coming in, including Jewish visitors who until now were considered “safe” and were only subjected to limited questioning.
“They’re trying to conflate [BDS] with terrorism and antisemitism,” he concluded, “because they realise that it is a real threat.”
“That is of course nonsense,” he maintained, adding that the demands of BDS are “completely reasonable”. “The return of the refugees which the international community already accepted, the end of the military regime in the West Bank and Gaza and equal rights for the Palestinians who are, you know, [living within the Israeli borders of] 1948. What could be more reasonable than that?”
“Just like in the 60s people were judged by…Vietnam, and civil rights and then apartheid and so forth in the 80s,” Peled believes that “this entire generation that is alive today will be judged by our stance on Palestine.”
“I think we’ll all want to be in a place where when our children and our grandchildren ask us where we stood, we can say we stood on the side of justice.”
The transformation of a racist, colonialist, apartheid regime into a democracy is doable, and it is doable within a relatively short timeframe. We just need to act.