Gideon Levy is a rare voice of dissidence and opposition in Israel.
A journalist for the Ha’aretz newspaper for the past 28 years, he is dedicated to chronicling the suffering of the Palestinians, particularly those who are trapped in Gaza.
The Punishment of Gaza, his new book, is a collection of his writings since 2006.
It begins with a chapter entitled “A Just Boycott” in which Levy exposes Israel’s searing hypocrisy.
He points out that Israel vociferously advocates a boycott of Hamas—which won the majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament in elections in 2006—but decries the growing global movement for boycott directed against itself.
Levy appears to support such a movement. As he explains, “The occupation is not just the domain of the government, the army and the security organisations. Everything is tainted.”
Subsequent chapters reveal in painful detail some of the innumerable tragedies that families across Gaza have been forced to bear.
This includes the story of Hamdi Aman, whose seven year old son, wife and mother were instantly killed when a bomb hit them during a family outing.
And that of the Wahba family, of which three members were wiped out when a missile landed in their dining room as they were sitting down to lunch.
Similar stories are repeated throughout and each one is a indictment of Israel’s policy of wanton killing.
But Levy also cuts through Israeli lies and doublespeak to reveal the extent to which every institution—even the legal establishment—is complicit with the occupation.
There is nothing legitimate about cutting off electricity to 750,000 people, he argues.
This kind of collective punishment has nothing to do with halting the largely ineffective rockets that are fired into Israel. Instead, it is an act of vengeance against the Palestinians for daring to resist Israel.
As to the question of “who started it?” Levy’s response is clear: “We started it. We started it with the occupation.”
There is also a chapter on Ari Folman’s film Waltz With Bashir, which Levy accuses of vindicating Israel of any direct responsibility for the slaughter of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps during the 1982 war in Lebanon.
In Levy’s words, “Art has been recruited here for an operation of deceit.” This was by a film-maker who “didn’t even mention the war in Gaza, which was raging as he accepted the prestigious award” given to him at the Golden Globes.
The Punishment of Gaza is an important book for all those who oppose Israel’s crimes, but Levy is not an anti-Zionist.
While he refers to the catastrophe for the Palestinians of 1948 in one chapter, his writing is focused on the horrors of occupation and the edifice of lies, distortions and racist propaganda that sustains it.
Levy is also addressing an Israeli audience, and as such he positions himself as a “patriot” who wishes to see a more just and moral Israel—one that can be saved from itself.
This drives Levy’s opposition to what he feels is shamefully being done in his name. But it means his writing can be frustrating and his conclusions at times disappointing.
He describes the 1987 First Intifada as “unnecessary and cursed”, and later states that Hamas “in its foolishness [...] brought [the Operation Cast Lead assault on Gaza in 2008] on itself and on its people.”
It seems astonishing that Levy could lapse into these kinds of arguments in what is otherwise a very lucid critique.
These criticisms should not deter people from reading his writings or recognising the value of such a humane voice in the wilderness that is the Israeli media.
If it were not for the likes of Gideon Levy and a handful of other disparate voices, who would be left to set the record straight within the dream world of victimhood that Israel projects?
The Punishment of Gaza is available from Bookmarks bookshop. Phone 020 7637 1848 or visit www.bookmarksbookshop.co.uk