In any list of Israel’s 100 most important women, Ilana Dayan would occupy a prominent position.
Dayan (no relation to the late general with the eye patch) is the host of one of the most prestigious television programs. While Israeli TV in general is slowly sinking into a morass of stupid "reality" entertainment, her program, named "Uvdah" ("Fact"), stands out as a beacon of responsible investigative journalism, of the kind my late weekly news magazine was known for.
In general, Dayan has always been considered as mildly "leftist" – since uncompromising criticism of the powers that be is generally identified with the Left.
Now she is being accused of serving the extreme, near-fascist Right. Shocking.
In the furious debate that ensued, Dayan quoted me for support. For 40 years, my magazine carried on its masthead the slogan "Without Fear, Without Prejudice". Dayan claimed that was acting according to this motto.
This compels me to get involved in the dispute – against my better judgment.
The background of this affair concerns the very foundation of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Since the Six-day War of 1967, Israel has been occupying, among other territories, the area called by the Arabs, many Israelis and most of the rest of the world "the West Bank" (of the Jordan river) and by the Israeli government and right-wing Israelis "Judea and Samaria", their Biblical appellation.
Almost since the beginning of the occupation, the Israeli right-wing has been making strenuous efforts to "settle the land" – putting up Jewish settlements, towns, villages and small "outposts" all over the place.
To whom do the lands, on which the settlements are built, officially belong?
Much of it was "government land". This goes back to the Ottoman Empire. Communal land reserves, which did not belong to individual fellahin (farmers) but to the entire village, were registered in the name of the Sultan. Under the British "Government of Palestine" it became "government land". When the Israeli army occupied the territory, the Israel government just laid its hands on all these properties. Which means that this land is now being held solely for the benefit of Jewish settlers.
Other areas of land were simply expropriated by the military government for "security reasons" or "public purposes" – and then turned over to the settlers.
Many of these settlements are manifestly illegal, even according to the Israeli law prevailing in these areas. But the law is very rarely applied. The Israeli military government, the army and the police quite openly support the settlements, protect them and connect them to Israeli grids. The courts very rarely intervene.
Yet what about settlements which are being set up on privately-owned Arab lands? Ah, there’s the rub. All possible and impossible tricks have been used to take them over. Among them, the use of false documents, false signatures, often of dead owners. But the most common method is the use of Arab middlemen.
For the Palestinian people, this is an existential struggle. The Israeli Right, which now dominates the government, does not hide its vision of a country free of Palestinian Arabs ("Araberrein" in German). The vision of the entire country settled by Jews, with no one else around, has strong attractions for some, especially in religious circles.
The settlers and their allies have created an entire network for "legal" land acquisition. They approach an Arab owner and offer hugely inflated prices for his land. The money comes from Jewish billionaires in the United States or from secret government funds. The Arab owner is sorely tempted. He wants to sell and run away with the money. But he is afraid of his neighbors and of Palestinian fanatics.
This is where the Arab middlemen come in. They act as agents of the settlers and buy the desired land, in a way that enables the sellers to claim that they sold their property to other Arabs.
For the Palestinian community, these middlemen are worse than traitors. They endanger the very existence of the Palestinian people. They arouse intense fury.
That is where the TV report of Ilana Dayan starts.
It centers on an Israeli peace activist called Ezra Nawi, an Iraqi-Jewish name. He is very active in the Hebron area in the southern West Bank. I have known his name for decades.
My impression has always been that Nawi is a kind of a loner, selflessly at work to help the Palestinians, connected with some of the many active Israeli peace organizations, especially Ta’ayush.
Hebron is a center of the most fanatical Jewish settlers. It is there that the settler-mass-murderer Baruch Goldstein massacred dozens of Arabs while they were praying in the mosque, after which he was killed by the enflamed survivors. He is now revered by the settlers as a saint.
These settlers are engaged in a prolonged struggle to get all the Arabs out of the surrounding villages. They destroy their homes, cut down their fruit trees, fill their wells with dirt. Ezra Nawi works untiringly to help the Arabs to hold on.
On the settlers’ side there are several Jewish fascist organizations (sorry, no other appellation quite meets the case), who are lavishly financed by US Jewish billionaires.
As now appears, these organizations have built an espionage network to infiltrate Israeli peace and human rights groups. One of their agents succeeded in winning the confidence of the unsuspecting Nawi, who, in a moment of self-aggrandizement, bragged that he had disclosed the names of Arab land-sale middlemen to the Palestinian security forces, who executed them for treason.
The fascist organization turned the information over to Ilana Dayan, who made it the centerpiece of her weekly TV program. Nawi made a run for the airport, but was taken off the plane by the police.
So here we are.
In the furious debate now raging in the media, Dayan is accused by leftists like Gideon Levy of having become a turncoat and serving the fascists. Dayan responded with a furious article, in which she cited my motto. It is not her concern, she claimed, to ask herself whether her disclosures serve the Left or the Right. Her job is only to make sure that they are true.
Also, she asserts, it is not her business to investigate the motives of the people who supply the information. There, again, I have to agree with her. Important information may sometimes emanate from quite disgusting sources. The public good may demand its publication nonetheless.
I am against the death penalty under any circumstances. I am also against torture. However, I have never seen any evidence that the Palestinian security services have executed Arab land-sale middlemen, though some may have been interrogated harshly.
There is a comic angle, too. Nawi is accused of having contacts with foreign agents, a crime that equals espionage. Which foreign agents? The security services of the Palestinian Authority, under the command of Mahmoud Abbas. Yet only a few days ago the Israeli security service disclosed that the two security services – the Israeli and the Palestinian – work closely together to prevent Arab “terrorism” and that many Israeli lives have been saved this way. So when are the Palestinian services enemies, contact with whom is such a serious crime?
Another question concerns the disclosure that extreme right-wing organizations, financed by foreign (Jewish-American) donors, are conducting widespread secret espionage activities against Israeli activists. How come the Shin-Bet doesn’t know about this – or if they do know, why do they keep it secret?
One thing is certain: Israeli politics is becoming uglier by the day. The gap between left and right is turning into a gulf of hatred. The right-wing uses methods that remind me of what I saw as a child in 1933 Germany.