In our case, he says, there are even factual problems with history. If you go to the proprietary aspect of the law, you have to understand that to declare, “This is mine,” I have to make sure I can prove that since the moment I was expelled from my house, I did everything to come back. This is not the case for Jewish people. Okay, we were expelled from our home 2000 years ago. But we did nothing for 1900 years to come back. Yeah, we had the dream. But most Jews lived and they did not try to come back to create a state here. The Zionist movement that was created at the end of the 19th century was small. Most Jewish people did not join. My father, for example, was the only Zionist child among his brothers. We cannot claim that we did everything, so our narrative should be reinvented. We have to do something about it. Because it brings us to behave in a way that we shall have no future. This is the alternate narrative Professor Chaim Gans offers. He said, “It is not our property. But we have the right to have our state because during the 19th century and the 20th century, the international community accepted the concept of self-declaration.” People have the right to create their own state in which they will live according to their culture or language. We are a nation and we have the right to declare nationhood.
The other question is, “Why in Israel?” Because this is the only way we can live according to our language et cetera. And the most important question is, “Why did we have the right to do what we did to the Palestinians who lived here—Arabs, Palestinians—for the past 1500 years or so? Gans said, “It is like a person who is dying and knows there is medicine that can save his life. And the pharmacist does not sell him this medicine. He has the right to use violence to get it. And no court will blame him because this is for his survival.” This is what we did, because, since the beginning of the 19th century, we felt that the international community was trying to annihilate us. Especially during the Holocaust. So we had the right to demand our statehood. But this right ended in ’67. Since ’67 we are not a dying person anymore. We have our state and it is secured. And it is recognised by the international community. So since ’67 what we have been doing is against human rights and international law.
How can you have this very robust, passionate belief system and still be a highly respected member of the Israeli community? I know that for a Palestinian it’s actually dangerous to talk against their narrative, because they’re still fighting for survival. A lot of people say, “Oh, Ami can talk like that because Israel is a free and democratic place and no one’s going to kill him for having beliefs.” Is that how you see it?
First of all, we killed our Prime Minister. The Palestinians didn’t. Second, I know a Palestinian who talks like that. He’s a professor. When we launched our initiative he took the risk much more than I did.
People’s Voice. It’s a document that outlined six principles of what a future agreement between Israel and Palestine should look like. We took it to the street and got about 450,000 signatures from both Israelis and Palestinians.
When was this?
It was June 2002 and went for about three years. It ended when we felt that we had enough signatures, when a majority, on both sides, accepted these principles. Principles based on the obvious: two states for two people. We know in retrospect that this was one of the reasons Ariel Sharon pulled out of Gaza. He felt that he was losing the street and the Israeli security elite that was on our side. So the Palestinian professor, Sari Nusseibeh, led the Palestinian side. You have to understand that for me, yes it was about breaking some Israeli taboos. But for Sari to come and to say, “Palestinian refugees shall return only to the future state of Palestine, and not to Greater Israel,” he faced violence. For us, Jerusalem was the ethos which Ehud Barak broke in Camp David. Ehud Barak made many mistakes, but he did break the taboo of Jerusalem when he said in 2000: “Arab neighbourhoods in Jerusalem will be under Palestinian sovereignty.” But Sari was the first Palestinian leader who broke the Palestinian taboo of the refugees.
So how do we view this now? How do we have a moment like People’s Voice that garners so much enthusiasm? People used to be in the streets of Tel Aviv marching for peace. It’s quiet here now. And the government is as right-wing as you get.
Yes, because Israelis believe in a false narrative of their history. This was the huge disaster that resulted from the collapse of Camp David. Both sides made mistakes. But if you ask every Israeli what happened during the last 20 years, they will tell you, “We gave them everything and they responded in violence, in intifada.” If you ask the average Palestinian they will tell you a totally different narrative. They will say, “We wanted the end of occupation and all we saw was more military force.”
Yes. More checkpoints, more humiliation. The tragedy of this is that both sides are right. We wanted security and we were ready to give up our dream of Greater Israel, and we got less security. They wanted a state and they were ready to give up their dream of Greater Palestine, and they got less state and more settlements. Each side sees only part of the reality. We do not see the settlements that destroyed their dream. And they do not see our suffering and the terror that destroys our dream. From a different position, from Australia or America, you can see it. Because when you feel the pain, the pain of the humiliation…
You’re talking about empathy.
Right. When you feel it, you undersand.
If we look at what’s happening globally with the environment: temperatures are changing, the Arctic Shelf is cracking into the ocean. And everything connected to the environment that was predicted is happening. The financial world keeps crashing. Refugees are pouring across borders. It’s an atmosphere of global fear and panic. Empathy requires you to let go of your narrative and see the other side. You have to let go! I mean I’ve been talking with Palestinians here, sometimes ‘til three o’clock in the morning, and I had to really let go. I had to just be in the room and listen, even if I wanted to shout. How do you get the global community to do that?
Let me make it more complicated.
I wanted you to make it simpler!
No, it’s not. First of all I don’t have the answers. I believe that it is much more important to ask the right questions. I say that because you said something very important about empathy. But it is becoming much more difficult to create an environment for empathy. If we go back 50 years, when my parents were leading a social and political revolution, they succeeded mainly because they felt the danger close. It was real enough for them to decide that they were sacrificing the present in order to create a future not for themselves, but for their children. So in a way, when they joined the kibbutz they gave up their personal identity.
For the greater good.
Right. In our terms today it was crazy. They sacrificed everything. I think of my mother who came from a middle class family—all she really cared about was family, children, culture and music. She didn’t care about equal rights and socialism. She fell in love with my father. And she sacrificed everything. My father believed in the ideology. When she came she was 14 years old and her parents sent her with a box of goods—they understood they were not going to see her again. I still have the container in my room. The porcelain from three generations in her family that she brought to Palestine. She did not bring it to the kibbutz because it was clear that if she did it was not her property any more. It was hand-painted during the beginning of the 19th century. Today we see the self in the centre. Even me.