25 Aug 2010

An increasingly lone Israeli voice

To Amnesty International last night for a session with Gideon Levy the iconic columnist (the Twilight Zone) of the widely regarded Haaretz newspaper. He’s an increasingly lone voice in Israeli journalism, urging his fellow countryman to recognise what their illegal occupation of Palestinian lands is doing to their own society, their own country.

An extraordinarily lyrical speaker in a language that is not his own, Levy’s spoken words flow as his written work does. It was an evening of extraordinary insight into present-day Israel and the changes the country has gone through – particularly in the last two decades. He’s here to promote his book ‘The Punishment of Gaza’.

Intriguingly, those present claimed the Israeli Embassy had helped to promote the meeting. Hard to say whether this exposes a dissident breakaway group of diplomats urging their own citizenry to wake up to the effects of the Gaza crisis, or whether they wanted people to turn up to put an alternative view to Mr Levy’s.

If it was the latter, only a handful of ‘alternative voices’ turned up. But they were loud and robust. One damned Mr Levy for calling Gaza a prison. Mr Levy shares the view with David Cameron who called the enclave exactly that on his visit to India last month. The questioner elaborated. He said the Israelis had left Gaza in 2005, how could it therefore be a prison?

Levy observed that you can administer a prison from without or from within. Having tried the former, he said, Israel was now engaged in the latter.

Last night’s event was staged by a coalition of Jewish and Palestinian organisations. I met a number of Jewish members of the audience, as I did recently in America, who are actively organising a flotilla of Jewish boats that hope this autumn to breach the Gaza blockade.

The discussion was informative and stimulating. The hall was packed to over flowing. Levy said that such a meeting in Tel-Aviv would not fill a bus shelter. It seems that civil discussion of Gaza inside Israel itself has dwindled to the level here in Britain. But perhaps I misspeak.

Mr Levy, having originally come to the UK merely to speak at the Edinburgh Book Festival has now played to packed houses at last minute events in both Manchester and London. He’ll make a final appearance at the Frontline Club tonight. I have no word as to whether the Israeli embassy is promoting that event.

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