Miko Peled in Hastings

'Solidarity Isn't Enough, We Need Action'

Saturday 5 October 2019

'It's not two countries fighting over a piece of land. It's not two armies at war. It is a process of genocide and ethnic cleansing of the cruellest kind. It's a destruction of a people and destruction of a country that has been ongoing for seven decades and will not stop.'

Miko spoke to a packed hall at the White Rock Hotel, describing his journey from the son of a prominent Zionist family to Palestinian rights advocate.

In his first visit to Hastings, the former 'Israeli Insider' said that there was a moral obligation on everyone to stand up and demand action on Palestine.

He said: 'We have a moral obligation to see the siege on Gaza ends. We have a moral obligation to see all Palestinian prisoners free. We have a moral obligation to see the refugees be allowed to return to their homes and their land. We do not have the right to say - no, sorry, it's too hard, there's nothing we can do. We don't have that right.'

He went on: 'BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] is the road map that was given to us by Palestinians. So it's crucial that we act, it's crucial that we stand up. It's crucial that elected officials know that we demand action, not resolutions and Free Palestine stickers, not solidarity. Solidarity is no longer enough, we need action. The patient is dying, he's bleeding to death. Standing around and cheering them on is not going to do it.'

Growing up in Jerusalem, Miko explained that his father was a General in the 1967 war, his grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence and his great uncle was President. 'For me, Zionism was something I drank and ate and consumed and breathed every single day of my life,' he said. 'These were the people around the dinner table, there were the people at family gatherings, at weddings. And as you grow up as a child, this is very, very powerful.'

But the killing of his niece in a suicide attack in Jerusalem in 1997 forced him to stop and re-examine his whole belief system.

It was the drive, he explained, that propelled him to ask himself questions like - what is Israel? Where is Palestine? And is it the same place? He gave his subsequent book The General's Son the subtitle Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.

'And that is exactly what the journey was,' said Miko. 'The journey for me was to examine: what is Palestine? What is Israel? And how come there are Palestinians who are Israeli citizens and how come there are millions of Palestinians around the world living in refugee camps? And what is my role in all this?'

The journey for him was not just physical but also political, emotional and mental. And it is one, he claims, that still today very few Israelis have taken. 'It is a journey of the occupier, the coloniser, the white privileged man into the sphere, neighbourhood, city of the occupied, colonised, the oppressed. And typically that is not a journey that is taken very often because: why would I want to leave my neighbourhood, my sphere where there is always electricity and the roads are paved and it looks very nice? I wouldn't dream of not having water in the tap. I wouldn't dream of not watering the lawn. I wouldn't dream of not having the roads paved. Why would I venture from that into this other area where the roads are full of potholes and people look poor and they speak a different language? And I'm told, my entire life, that they want to kill us! But that's the journey. And it doesn't matter if we're in Palestine, America, Australia, South Africa... it's the same journey.'

Miko said that, growing up in Jerusalem, the segregation was complete, despite the close proximity of the two communities, because Israelis are taught from a young age that Arabs are 'dangerous.'

'I remember vividly the first time I drove into Nazareth by myself,' he recalled. 'It's full of Arabs! The billboards were in Arabic. And I was lost! What do I do? If I ask for directions they're going to know I'm lost and that's it. I'm doomed!'

But Miko said that every time he ventured across the road and through the checkpoints he felt better, realising that nobody actually cared that he was there.

'And of course in the process you meet people,' he said. 'And in the process you become familiar with the landscape and suddenly the realisation that I came to is that it's all Palestine.'

Miko insisted that what used to be known as the West Bank no longer exists today.

'What used to be the West Bank is actually called Judea and Samaria,' he said. 'And Judea and Samaria is an integral part of the state of Israel just like any other part of the state of Israel. They have their own police force, their own bureaucracy, own schools, their own shopping malls, big beautiful cities, big towns and farms and everything else. What makes Judea and Samaria unique is, we are told, that within Judea and Samaria we have 'pockets of problematic population'. A non-Jewish problematic population.'

This 'problematic population' is, of course, the Palestinians who live there. And Miko says the complex system of citizenship that exists for Palestinians means that the vast majority who live under Israeli rule - in both Judea and Samaria, and Gaza, do not have the vote - undermining the idea of Israel as a modern democracy.

'So when Israel does a census, for example, they count all the Israelis, but only the Palestinians who have citizenship,' he explained. 'There are about two million Palestinians who have citizenship. There are about five and a half million Israelis and that's it! Close to two and a half million Palestinians living in a concentration camp that is called the Gaza Strip are not counted. They don't exist. This 'problematic population' that resides in Judea and Samaria - about three million Palestinians - do not exist. They don't show up in any census, they don't show up in population maps, they don't show up in any maps. They don't exist! Five million people!'

Miko reserved his greatest criticism for the methods which Israel has used for 71 years to 'erase a country and its history'. These methods, he insisted, are all defined under International Law as 'Crimes Against Humanity' and they are genocide, ethnic cleansing and the establishment of an apartheid regime.

'These are serious accusations,' he conceded. 'And these are very serious crimes. So don't take my word for it. Check the definition of the crime of genocide. Check the definition of the crime of ethnic cleansing. And check the definition of the crime of apartheid. And compare that to what has happened in Palestine over the last 70 years and make your own judgement. Make your own decision.' He said that the realisation for him personally was 'appalling' as he was forced to come to terms with the horrific reality that his own family, those he grew up admiring, were engaged in crimes against humanity.

But Miko insists that it is vital people become aware of the truth of the situation, and do not buy into the 'Zionist, romantic myth' which Miko grew up on and which, he says, the West has swallowed whole.

'People have to become aware of what we're talking about,' he said. 'It's not two countries fighting over a piece of land. It's not two armies at war. It is a process of genocide and ethnic cleansing of the cruellest kind. It's a destruction of a people and destruction of a country that has been ongoing for seven decades and will not stop.'

He went on: 'A child in the Gaza strip with a curable disease will die. A child with the same disease a mile away in an Israeli settlement in an Israeli city will live. And the distance between these two children and perfectly good healthcare facilities is the same distance! That is the reality we're talking about. Now you add to that constant bombing, starvation, imprisonment, torture...

'If you look at the rates of survival of women's breast cancer in the Gaza Strip and compare those rates to Israel - and the reason there's a difference, you'd be shocked, the only reason there's a difference is access. Israel decides who has access and who does not. Based on what? One thing - if you're Palestinian it means you don't have access.'

Miko insisted the 'myths' Israel has created - for example of 'making the desert bloom' - are achieved and sustained by rigid control. For example, the Israeli water authority allocates Palestinians just 3% of the water, despite the fact that Palestinians make up the majority of the population in historic Palestine.

'What this creates is the impression that one side is modern and developed and the other side is backward and dirty,' Miko said. 'Because if all you do is look at it without digging down and trying to understand why it is this way, you don't know about the 3% water. Most people don't. But what they do see is the Israeli Jewish side developed and sophisticated and modern and the other side backward and dirty! That's it! That's what we know about the Arabs! And that's how you can perpetuate this lie that the Zionists, 'made the desert bloom.'

This, said Miko, was just one example of the apartheid regime in place today and insisted the answer lay not in peace talks - 'because it's not a question of war here, it's a question of oppression' - but in supporting the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions [BDS]. BDS holds three demands to force Israel to comply with International law: an end to the military occupation, allowing the refugees to return to their homes and their land, and equal rights.

Said Miko: 'These are all very sensible, very realistic, very peaceful demands that clearly are designed to improve the reality in which Palestinians live today as a result of the state of Israel. The refugee issue, the occupation and the apartheid. Allowing the refugees to return, dismantling the occupation and the military regime and allowing for equal rights.'

Miko went on to debunk the idea that this call was in any way antisemitic.

'Where's the antisemitism? Justice, freedom, equality - where's the antisemitism? Nobody can show it to me. Nobody's been able to point it out because it doesn't exist. In South Africa everybody I met in South Africa told me 'BDS - without BDS we would still have apartheid', which is why in South Africa the BDS movement is so strong because now they feel it's their duty it's their role to help Palestine.'

Miko invited the audience to find out about BDS for themselves, to visit the BDS website www.bdsmovement.net and to check out the campaigns and to start implementing them. And he said it was vital to ensure elected representatives implemented them too.

He added: 'They need to know their constituents demand that they heed the call to BDS, that they support BDS, that they come out publicly supporting BDS and that they wear these badges on top of that. This is what we need to do. And when people come up about these claims it is antisemitic we can laugh in their face and keep doing the right work that we're supposed to do. Stay on task. Because it's nonsense. It is not even deserving of an answer, it is that absurd.'

After the talk there was a lively Q&A session during which Miko answered questions on a diverse range of topics like Israeli military service, the role of international organisations like the UN and the possibility of one democratic state, and later on, refreshments were served.

One guest who listened to the speech commented: 'Miko is a really inspiring speaker. He has fought against everything he has ever been told in his quest for the truth. I admire his honesty.'