Not all Israelis and Jews sit idly by while the government of Israel makes life miserable for the native inhabitants of that country, the Palestinians.
Meir Margalit is one of the “good” Jews, who is deeply disturbed by the daily atrocities meted out to the Palestinians, including home demolitions by bulldozer.
Dr. Margalit has committed himself to helping these poor people, and has co-founded an organization that has been building and rebuilding homes in the Occupied Territories for over a decade, and discusses this and more in this wonderful interview (22:30).
Dave Gahary, a former submariner in the U.S. Navy, is the host of AFP’s ‘Underground Interview’ series.
Israeli Works to Help Palestinians
• Efforts to make life better for Arabs in Holy Land earns Meir Margalit wrath of Zionists
East Jerusalem—An Israeli who has dedicated his life to others has been targeted and hauled in for interrogation by government authorities on high to account for his actions in assisting Palestinian families whose homes have been demolished, and is due in court in a few months. Meir Margalit is at the center of the storm of the Israeli abuse and dehumanization of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, where the local government uses a variety of strategies and tactics to displace the Palestinian population.
AMERICAN FREE PRESS conducted an exclusive interview with Mr. Margalit, who discussed his past, present and future.
Born to a Zionist family in Argentina, Margalit, in February 1972, “made aliyah,” which refers to the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel, one of the most basic tenets of Zionist ideology, after his father told him that Israel is the only safe place for Jews. After three months he joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Wounded by a bomb in the Sinai during a battle against the Egyptians during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Margalit spent two months in hospital.
AFP asked if he still believes that Israel is the only safe place for Jews, as his father told him.
“No, it’s clear that the place where Jews are in more danger is in Israel,” he said. “It’s ironic, but [Israel] is one of the only places in the world where Jews are in danger, but not because of anti-Semitic attacks but because Israeli policies put our lives in danger.”
AFP asked when he came to this realization.
“I realized this when I was in the hospital when I found so many people wounded around me, especially when I found so many mothers and sisters and daughters that lost their relatives, then I started to realize that something is wrong with the idea of the Big Israel, something is wrong with the idea of the Occupied Territories. Then I started to realize that the price that we pay for the Big Israel, for the territories, is too expensive.”
In 1975 he became an activist and during the ‘80s he became involved in politics because he “realized it’s not enough to be an activist, you also have to be part of a political party, because this conflict is a political one, and in order to change things from within you have to be in the political arena.”
Margalit is in his second term as a member of the Jerusalem City Council for Meretz, “a left-wing, Zionist, social-democratic political party in Israel that emphasizes peace with the Palestinians, human rights, religious freedom and environmentalism.” Although Meretz is a Zionist party, Meir, as is the case with many other prominent members, does not personally regard himself as such.
AFP asked how someone who fights against a Greater Israel could be voted in.
“In the city of Jerusalem, there are more people voting for my party than in the Knesset,” he said. “It’s not that they share my particular views, it’s that we are a secular party in a city that becomes more and more religious. The secular part of the population wants us to try to stop this process. So it’s not something relating to the Palestinians, it’s mostly relating to the problems with the Orthodox population in the city.”
Married with three children at the time of his early activism, and now in a relationship with Zuly F., he pursued his education and received a Ph.D. in Israeli history under the British Mandate. In 1997, on the 30-year anniversary of the Occupation, Margalit founded with several other like-minded activists the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), along with its United States arm, ICAHD-USA.
AFP asked him to elaborate on the home demolitions.
“We are talking about houses that the Israeli government demolished on both sides of the Green Line, what we call the “’48 Palestinians,” Israeli Palestinians they suffer from demolitions because these people build without licenses because the government refuses to give them licenses for building.”
“In Jerusalem, the municipality refuses to give Palestinians licenses because they’re afraid that one day the Palestinians will become a majority in the city. And the way to stop this process is to refuse to give them licenses under the assumption that then Palestinians will leave the city to live in other places where it’s easier to get licenses. But the Palestinians will never leave the city.”
“What they do is they build without licenses. And then, the municipality comes and put the demolition order on the wall of the house, and 24-hours later, the bulldozers can come to demolish the house without any previous announcement. This is what we at ICAHD are fighting. We are fighting against these kinds of demolitions.”
AFP asked if the Palestinian birth rate compared to the Israeli birth rate is the main factor driving this demolition policy.
“The demographic element, especially in this city, is very dominant. The Palestinians today, they are 38% of the population in Jerusalem, and according to different demographers, in 2020 or maybe 2025, the Palestinians will become a majority. 2025 is not the future, it’s tomorrow, and as you can guess, the idea that in 2025 the Palestinians will become a majority and vote for a Palestinian mayor to the city, this idea makes [the government] crazy. So they are doing everything they can in order to postpone this process, and one of the tools is to refuse to give them licenses.”
AFP asked about his efforts in rebuilding the homes that have been destroyed.
“First of all we try to stop the demolitions. We give the Palestinians with demolition orders legal assistance. Our activists are trying to stop the bulldozers on the ground. And after the house has been demolished, we rebuild the houses, without the license, of course. And thanks to money that comes from hundreds of small communities around the world, churches, private people, I am very proud to say that during the last ten years we’ve built around 1,000 houses for Palestinians in the West Bank and in Israel, too, and Bedouins in the Negev.”
AFP asked what percentage of the homes he builds or rebuild the authorities destroy.
“About 20% of them,” he said, “because the municipality has thousands of demolition orders and a limited budget.”
AFP asked about the Palestinians living conditions in East Jerusalem.
“If you look at the municipal budget,” he said, “the percent of money that the municipality invests in East Jerusalem is no more than 11% and the Palestinians are 38% of the population. This is a tool of control. Together with the demolitions and other elements in education, welfare, etc., the motivation is to convince Palestinians to leave the city voluntarily, because they know they cannot put them on trucks and expel them by force, so they make life so hard that they will prefer to leave the city voluntarily.”
“It’s clear that the government doesn’t know the Palestinian culture, the Palestinian mentality, the Palestinian tradition. No, nothing will make them leave the land.”
AFP asked how activism has affected him and his family.
“It’s not easy to be a leftist or a pacifist in this country, in Jerusalem especially, a very right-wing, fundamentalist city.”
AFP asked if he had received any death threats.
“More than once people sent me letters or they phoned me telling me the next opportunity they will kill me,” he said. “This is something that I don’t take very personally. My wife is afraid, but I don’t take it seriously.”
AFP asked about the Israeli Minister of the Interior’s legal proceedings against him.
“Several months ago they called me for an interrogation and they accused me of building houses in East Jerusalem without licenses. It was a surprise because I’m doing the same work for more than ten years. Why now, I asked them? And the answer is that they are trying to intimidate me and to intimidate this movement in Israel. The guy that interrogated me, he was very embarrassed and he apologized, that [this order] didn’t come from him. And I asked him from where it came, and he said it comes from above. I asked him if it came from the General Director of the Ministry, and the answer was more than this, and I asked him if it came from the Minister himself, and his answer was, you said it. During the next [several] months they will send me to court, and I hope to make this issue a political issue, [as] it’s time the court, also, said something about this situation.”
AFP writer Peter Strahl wrote about Margalit recently and cited an article where he tells how his Franciscan friends are regularly derided and abused in public, even having stones and eggs thrown at them and—fulfilling the dictum of the Talmud—being spat upon by “religious” Jews. Margalit lays the blame for the increase of anti-Christian barbarity squarely at the feet of the Israeli government and the rabbis, who, he says, have the power to stop the harm but refuse to do so.
AFP asked him to confirm his statements.
“It’s not easy for me to say it, but, yes, this is what is going on.”
AFP asked if the Christian priests get spit on.
“Yes. The religious Jewish residents in the Old City spit on the Christians, not just the Franciscans, but also on the Greek Orthodox, the Armenians and others. This has become a very common attitude among the religious groups. Shameful, but true. I know personally this priest that told me this.”
AFP asked if the Christians spit back.
“No,” he said, “Christianity says…[not] to react in this way, and it seems crazy, but they say ‘thank you’ and ‘shalom,’ and they continue.”
From the article that Strahl cited, Margalit states that according to Hebrew tradition, the Jewish temple was destroyed, in part, due to Jewish lack of respect for one’s neighbor. He predicts the collapse of the state of Israel, “not on account of external enemies, but because of the [Israeli] lack of human moral and ethical values.”
AFP asked if he feels this way still.
“Yes, I am trying to save this country from herself, yes.”