Growing Up Privileged in Apartheid, Colonial Israel - Shir Hever on Reality Asserts Itself (1/5) | TRNN 2014-07-09
Shir Hever is an economic researcher in the Alternative Information Center, a Palestinian-Israeli organization active in Jerusalem and Beit-Sahour. Hever researches the economic aspect of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory, some of his research topics include the international aid to the Palestinians and to Israel, the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy, and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. His work also includes giving lectures and presentations on the economy of the occupation. He is a graduate student at the Freie Universitat in Berlin, and researches the privatization of security in Israel. His first book: Political Economy of Israel’s Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation, was published by Pluto Press.
HEVER: I was born in Jerusalem, and I was born into a lefty household, a critical household. And the most important thing that I think my parents taught me and raised me with is this idea that I have to be aware of my own privileges and to take responsibility for them, because Israeli society is extremely divided and extremely hierarchical, and I am lucky to have been born male, white, Jewish, Ashkenazi, so in all of these categories in which I had an advantage, and my parents told me this is an unfair advantage.
JAY: Now, just because it’s an interesting kind of historical note, there’s kind of two types of Zionist fascists. There are Zionists who are simply very aggressive against Palestinians and people called them fascists, and then there are Zionists who loved Mussolini.
HEVER: Yeah, I’m talking about the second kind. I’m talking about real—people who really adopt this kind of Zionist—or this kind of fascist ideology that the state is above everything, and that we all have to conform to a certain idea, and that we should find our great leader. So that kind of Zionism is not mainstream, actually, and it’s not in power. In many demonstrations that I had the chance to go to, people tend to shout that fascism will not pass.But, of course, when you look at it from a more academic point of view, there’s a difference between fascism and other kinds of repressive regimes, and I would say Israel is a colonial regime, a colonialist regime, in which there’s apartheid, there’s very deep entrenched repression.
But in a colonialist system there’s always fear. And you grow up with this fear also. You always know—.
JAY: Did you?
HEVER: Yeah, yeah. I mean, when I would go to certain areas or when I took a taxi with a Palestinian driver, then even my closest family would get nervous about it. And then it made me wonder: how come you taught me that everybody’s equal but you’re still afraid of Palestinians?
(M)y close family, my immediate family, they were very supportive of my opinions. And we had many political debates at home—sometimes arguments, but in the end I think for the outsider it doesn’t seem like we’re that much far apart. When you go a little bit further to the extended family, then that’s a whole different story. And most of the family on my mother’s side stopped speaking with me after I decided not to go to the army. And so, yeah, my mother’s parents, who were fighters in the Palmach, they had a completely different worldview and a very Zionist right-wing perspective in which they believe that all of these policies against Palestinians were completely justified.
JAY: And your grandparents, were any of them—when did they come to Israel? Did you have direct family that were killed during World War II?
HEVER: Yeah. So this is actually the exact—the interesting intersection of two stories, because my mother’s side of the family came to Palestine before the Holocaust, before the Second World War, and participated in the Nakba against Palestinians. And my father’s family—.
JAY: So they came during the ’30s or ’20s?
HEVER: Yeah, over some time, but yeah. And my father’s family came right after the war. They escaped from the Nazis in Poland. And the vast majority of the family in Poland was exterminated by the Nazis. So they escaped to the Soviet Union, where they lived pretty harsh years during the war. And then the family scattered again, and that part of the family that chose to go to Palestine, to Israel, happened to be my side of the family.
HEVER: That is a concept called Hebrew labor, and it was done very openly and without shame because there was at that point of time no concept that such structural and comprehensive racism against a particular group of people is something that Jews should also be worried about. I mean, it wasn’t something that was even in people’s minds so much, because Palestinians were part of the scenery, part of the background, and not treated as the native inhabitants of Palestine. But it has to be said also that during those fights it wasn’t—even though it was a colonial situation, in which Zionists were supported by foreign powers in coming and colonizing Palestine, it wasn’t clear if they were going to succeed or not, and it wasn’t clear until 1948 whether they would succeed or not. So from the personal stories of these people, they saw themselves as heroes or as overcoming a great adversity, and not as people who had all their options and decided that here’s a little piece of land that we want to add to our collection. From their point of view, this was their chance to have their own piece of land, and when looking at the colonial powers, the European colonial powers operating all of the world, they didn’t think that what they were doing was so strange or peculiar.
HEVER: And during the ’90s there was—the Oslo process began. There was a coalition between Yitzhak Rabin from the Labor Party and Meretz, which was the part that they supported. Meretz was the liberal party for human rights, but still a Zionist party. And this coalition started to negotiate with Yasser Arafat and to start the Oslo process. But at the same time, they would implement these policies that were just completely undemocratic and—for example, to take 400 people who were suspected of being members of the Hamas Party without a trial and just deport them. And at that point my parents had a kind of crisis of faith and they decided not to support his party anymore. And I would say this is the moment where Zionism was no longer accepted.
HEVER: I think the moment that I made that choice is actually much later, because it’s possible to have all these opinions but still play the game and go to any regular career path. But after I decided not to go into the army and after I decided to go to university, in the university I experienced something that changed my mind.
JAY: But back up one moment. You decide not to go into the army. (...) That’s a big decision in Israel.
HEVER: Well, I was again lucky to be in this very interesting time period where Netanyahu just became prime minister, and he was being very bombastic about his announcements, and a lot of people started doubting the good sense of going into the army. So it was a time where it was relatively easy to get out. At first I thought, I will go into the army, because I went to a very militaristic school. My school was very proud of all the intelligence officers that used to come out of it. So I thought, okay, I don’t want to be an occupier, I don’t want to be a combat soldier in the occupied territory, but if I’ll find some some kind of loophole that I can be a teacher or do some kind of noncombat work for the army, I’ll do that.
And I used to support the Oslo process, because I used to read the Israeli newspapers, and it seemed like Israel is being very generous and willing to negotiate, when in fact—. But my mother, I said that she was working for the government. She would bring me some documents about the Oslo process, and there I would be able to read about the water allocation and about land allocation and say, well, this is certainly not a fair kind of negotiation. But then, when the Second Intifada started, it was repressed with extreme violence by the Israeli military, by the Israeli police. And that was also a moment in which I felt that even living in Israel is becoming unbearable for me. But there’s always kind of the worry, is it going to get to the next step? I think this immediate tendency to compare it with the ’30s in Germany is because it’s a Jewish society.
The Palmach (Hebrew: פלמ"ח, acronym for Plugot Maḥatz (Hebrew: פלוגות מחץ), lit. “strike forces”) was the elite fighting force of the Haganah, the underground army of the Yishuv (Jewish community) during the period of the British Mandate for Palestine. The Palmach was established on 15 May 1941. By the outbreak of the Israeli War for Independence in 1948 it consisted of over 2,000 men and women in three fighting brigades and auxiliary aerial, naval and intelligence units. With the creation of Israel’s army, the three Palmach Brigades were disbanded. This and political reasons led to many of the senior Palmach officers resigning in 1950.
"Hebrew labor" is often also referred to as “Jewish labor” although the former is the literal translation of “avoda ivrit”. According to Even-Zohar the immigrants of the Second Aliyah preferred to use the word “Hebrew” because they wanted to emphasize the difference between their “new Hebrew” identity and the “old Diaspora Jewish” identity. For them the word “Hebrew” had romantic connotations with the “purity” and “authenticity” of the existence of the “Hebrew nation in its land”, like it had been in the past.
Related to the concept of “Hebrew labor” was the concept of “alien labor”. Ben-Gurion wrote about the settlers of the First Aliyah: “They introduced the idol of exile to the temple of national rebirth, and the creation of the new homeland was desecrated by avodah zara”. According to Shapira avodah zara means both “alien labor” and, in a religious sense, “idol worship”. Along with bloodshed and incest this is one of the three worst sins in Judaism. Application of this concept to the employment of Arab workers by Jews depicted this as a taboo.
Meretz defines itself as a Zionist, left-wing, social-democratic party. The party is a member of the Socialist International and an observer member of the Party of European Socialists. It sees itself as the political representative of the Israeli Peace movement in the Knesset – as well as municipal councils and other local political bodies.
In the international media it has been described as left-wing, social-democratic, dovish, secular, civil libertarian, and anti-occupation.