The author joins us to discuss his text The General’s Son as well as relations between Israel and the U.S. in the Trump era.
Author Miko Peled
Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.
President Donald Trump has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet with him this month at the White House. On top of all the other early drama the president has created, what’s to come of our relationship with Israel? Can the U.S. be an honest broker in this conflict, given the controversial, but unequivocal pro-Israeli Tweets Trump posted shortly after his election?
Tonight then, a conversation about the path forward first with activist and author, Miko Peled, and then we’ll be joined by author and Rabbi Steve Leder.
We’re glad you’ve joined us. A conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Trump era, coming right up.
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Tavis: How many Israelis who serve in the armed forces actually go to the West Bank, look around and talk to people? That’s what Miko Peled did. He grew up the son of an influential Israeli general. His grandfather, in fact, was one of the signers of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. But he now believes that a two-state solution is not viable and that Zionism is an idea lacking legitimacy.
Pleased to welcome author and activist, Miko Peled to this program. His book is called “The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine”. It’s now in its second edition. Miko Peled, good to have you on this program.
Miko Peled: Thank you. A pleasure to be here.
Tavis: Tell me in the time that I have, let’s start with your story. I love this photo on the cover of the book of you and your father. What’s it like growing up as part of the elite in that part of the world?
Peled: It’s a great feeling, actually. You know, you feel great because there’s a sense of pride, a great sense of pride that we have accomplished something no one’s ever done before. You know, the return of the Jewish people, the building of a Jewish state after 2,000 years.
Because the narrative, this mythical narrative, is fed into you, you know, really with your mother’s milk. So being part of this group of people who developed the army, who signed the Declaration of Independence of Israel, man, is a real sense of pride, yeah.
Tavis: I just gave the viewers some sense. We’ll get more into this in just a second. I’ve given the viewers, though, some sense of how your views over the years have changed.
Help me understand how you juxtapose your views against that of your grandfather who signed the Declaration, your father, very influential and well-known general in Israel. How do your views square or not square with those of your ancestors?
Peled: Well, I think if we go back to my grandfather, there’s no way that they square. You know, because legitimizing the idea that Jews have a right to come from Europe, take over a land that is inhabited by other people, kick those people away and establish their own state there, I don’t see how you legitimize that. But these were different times.
These were times where Europeans thought they could come to the countries of people who are not white and do whatever they wanted, and that’s what really Zionism was about. The idea was for white European Jews to go to go to Palestine that was inhabited by Arabs, which means they’re probably just Bedouins and poor people and who cares, and establish a state for the Jewish people.
Again, they all believed in the biblical narrative as though it was history. In other words, early Zionists who were completely secular took the bible and secularized it. They said this is our history book. And then they said, well, the Jewish people, we’re not a religion. We’re a nation.
And, by the way, Palestine is ancient Israel and because we are the descendants of an ancient tribe that lived there 3,000 years ago, we have a right to go and live there. That’s the narrative, you know. So when I look at it today knowing what I know, there’s no way that I could accept it.
Tavis: What about your father? That’s your grandfather.
Tavis: I get that your views do not square with those of your grandfather. What about your father, this general?
Peled: Well, my father as a young man was a patriot. He was an idealist. He joined the Haganah, which was the resistance, terrorist, whatever you want to call it, group before the State of Israel. He was there during the War of 1948 which is the war that established the State of Israel and he remained as a career officer in the military, one of those generals who really developed the Israeli Army.
After 1967 when Israel took the West Bank and, in fact, completed the taking of Palestine, completed the occupation of what was the land of Israel, he stood up and he said, “Well, look, we’ve taken all of our country back.” He fully believed in the Zionist narrative.
He said, “However, there is another nation here and the only way we can survive is to recognize their rights and we should allow them to establish a small state in a small part of the land of Israel and that will be their Palestine.” And that’s when the two-state solution really was born where you have the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as part of Palestine. That’s really when it was born in the late 60s, early 70s.
So he never gave up on that idea that Jews have a right to live in Palestine and have a state there, but he said we need to compromise and the best thing to do is to allow them a small state which would represent their rights.
Tavis: So your father believed in a two-state solution as I advance the story from your grandfather to your father to you. You do not.
Tavis: Tell me why you no longer believe that a two-state solution is even viable.
Peled: Because as my father was saying these things after the 1967 war, the entire Israeli establishment, the military and the government, did everything they could to make that an impossibility. They integrated the West Banks to a degree where there really is no West Bank today.
When you drive along the highways and you see the signs to Israeli cities in the West Bank or you see the signs to Israeli cities elsewhere, there’s no difference. These are all Israeli cities. The West Bank is not called the West Bank. It’s called Judea and Samaria.
In terms of bureaucracy, policing, you know, all those different things, state institutions, it’s called Judea and Samaria Region of the State of Israel. End of story. There is no West Bank. and the reality is also that Jews and Palestinians, whether it’s in the West Bank or other parts of the country, live very close to each other geographically even though they’re completely segregated.
So geographically, it’s impossible to do. There is no area that you can slice out and say, well, this will be in Palestine and this will be in Israel. number one. Number two, there’s another problem. When Israel was established, close to a million Palestinians were forced out of their homes.
Today we have about five million Palestinians living in refugee camps in abject poverty and horrible conditions and they are banned from returning. You know, there is a ban. They’re not allowed to return. The State of Israel passed a law as soon as they were established banning their rights to return. They have a right to return and their homes are not in the West Bank. Their homes are all over the country.
Tavis: So you have three issues here. You have land, the issue of land. Now that’s going to be divided. You have, obviously, the need for a Jewish state. And you have democracy.
Tavis: So land, Jewish state, democracy. How do you get all three?
Peled: Well, I don’t accept that there’s a need for a Jewish state.
Peled: Because that Jewish state is precisely the problem. You cannot have a Jewish state in Palestine without infringing on the rights of the indigenous population, which are the Palestinians.
Tavis: Okay, stop. For those watching right now who you just lost, to have a Jew say that he does not believe that there is a need for a Jewish state, unpack that.
Peled: Yeah. Well, first of all, Jews in the very beginning opposed Zionism anyway. So I’m not saying anything new. I’m just kind of renewing a thought that was already there. You cannot have a Jewish state in an Arab country unless you are going to infringe upon the rights of the local people. You have to kick them out because they won’t have rights.
If they’re Palestinians and they live there and you come and declare that it’s a Jewish state, what are they supposed to do, you know? They’re going to resist. They’re going to fight. You’re going to put them in prison, you’re going to call them terrorists.
I mean, this is how the thing begins. The reality is, however, that there are about six million Jews living in what is called Israel today and, really, the whole country is one country, whether you call it Palestine or Israel, and it’s one state already.
In other words, this idea that one day it will become a single state is not futuristic. It has been a single state for decades now, governed by the State of Israel, but I get privileges, the Palestinians do not. In other words, it gives exclusive rights to Jewish people at the expense of Palestinians.
Tavis: I’m not saying that Palestinians are not, but why are Jews not entitled to their own homeland, to their own state, to their own borders? Why are they not entitled to that?
Peled: Because Jews have their states. They have American Jews in America. They’ve got French Jews in Germany. You’ve got, you know, Australian Jews in Australia. Jews are not…
Tavis: Yes, but that’s like saying Americans, we shouldn’t have a US of A because there are Americans all around the globe.
Peled: But no, I think what it says is that originally the Europeans who came to colonize America did not have a right to come and colonize America. Today you have Americans and they are here. It’s a different story.
Tavis: I take your point.
Peled: So what I’m saying is the Israelis are there. Nobody’s going to kick them out. Nobody’s going anywhere. Out of 12 million people who live in that country, the majority today are Palestinians. You’ve got about 6.1, 6.2 million Palestinians. Jews are slightly less than that. That’s the reality…
Peled: I’m sorry. But they live under different laws. They live in completely different realities, which is what my journey as an Israeli into Palestine finally allowed me to see. So how do you solve this? The only way you solve this is by eliminating the privilege and allowing everybody to enjoy the same rights.
Tavis: So of those three, you can only have two?
Peled: I think so.
Tavis: You can’t have all three.
Tavis: Yeah. How do you deal with — I suspect there will be some who will do this tonight as a result of seeing you on this program. How do you handle when you are called an anti-Semite? How do you handle when a place like Princeton University cancels an appearance by you there? How do you handle when people call you a self-loathing, self-hating Jew? How do you handle that kind of critique?
Peled: Well, Princeton canceled. I mean, I give countless of lectures…
Tavis: Yes, of course.
Peled: And I had one canceled, so I suppose it’s not that big of a deal. It’s not nice. It doesn’t feel good. Calling a Jew who is an anti-Semite is kind of absurd anyway. But what it really says is, when you call somebody anti-Semitic, you’re calling him a racist because anti-Semitism is not something on its own.
Anti-Semitism is racism except we’re focusing on the Jews. If you’re a racist, you probably hate Blacks and hate others and so forth. So to say that I’m racist, again, is an absolutely absurd proposition looking at the body of work I’ve written and the lectures I give and my activism and so forth.
However, what has happened is, particularly in America, but not only in America, is that speaking against Israel has been conflated with anti-Semitism. In other words, if you oppose the State of Israel, you oppose all Jews. That’s not true. Many Jews oppose the State of Israel. Many Jews think the State of Israel is not a legitimate entity or disagree with it at varying degrees.
So it’s a tool that they have. You know, I have a son who’s an activist and he says, “Well, when they call you names, that means they got nothing else. They got no argument.” That’s what it means. It means they got no argument.
Tavis: What do you expect then the relationship between the U.S. and Israel to be in the Trump era, given as I said at the top of the show the Tweets that he put out right after his election that basically told Bibi, “Hold on, I’m coming. Hold on. We’re on the way”? What do you expect?
Peled: Well, I don’t expect big changes because the U.S. has already given Israel everything Israel could possibly want. I mean, President Obama already promised $38 billion dollars. He’s given Israel F35s, the most modern war plane. I mean, Israel has everything it wants. A complete financial and military and diplomatic support from the U.S. That’s already been given.
I think the changes in the attitude. In other words, President Obama talked about Palestinian rights. He didn’t do anything for them, but he talked about them. This president doesn’t even talk about it. He kind of dropped the façade.
He said we don’t care about these Palestinians. We don’t care about other Blacks or anybody else, for that matter, and we are going to support the State of Israel. So the only difference, I think, is cosmetic really. It’s in how they present it. The reality, I think, the essence of the policy is going to be the same.
Tavis: I’m going to talk in a minute a bit more about this with Rabbi Steve Leder, author and a very thoughtful guy. I want to talk more with him, I think, about how we actually have — how we get at this conversation. But let me give you the first strike at that.
So you see how loaded this conversation is, always has been, I suspect always will be. But what might you share about how we actually get at this conversation? What is the way to get at a thoughtful conversation about this dilemma?
Peled: Well, that depends who are the people that are discussing, you know. In my journey, what I did, I went from my very comfortable, very safe, very clean sphere where I thought everybody lived like this into a sphere that was no more than 10 or 5 minutes away from me as it happens where Palestinians live in a completely different reality, different laws.
You know, they get 12 hours of water per week, whereas we have as much water as we could possibly want. You know, things like that. They live under different laws than we do, you know. They get arrested, they get treated differently than I do, which I didn’t know.
So I took that step even though everybody was telling me it’s dangerous over there. There are terrorists over there, they’re going to kill you over there, it’s against the law to go there. You’re committing a felony by going there.
But I did it anyway because it was important for me to see what is happening here and how do we resolve this and why is there this conflict? There’s no easy way to conduct this. You have to confront your fears. You have to confront the reality. You have to confront the fact that there’s racism involved, and it’s not an easy conversation, certainly not in the beginning.
Tavis: Whatever one thinks of his point of view, one has to agree, as I certainly do, that there is no harm done in listening to the other side and doing what he did to go to the other side to listen, to talk, to learn. His text is called “The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine”. The author, of course, Miko Peled. Miko, good to have you on the program. Thanks for sharing your insights.
Peled: A pleasure. Thanks so much.
Tavis: My great delight.
Peled: Thank you.
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