Filmmaker: Israel's ethnic cleansing must stop

November 23, 2014
Many Israelis are not taught the history of genocide and dispossession through which the Israeli state was created.

In a move that surprised many ― and symbolises Israel's growing isolation and global opposition to its crimes ― former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr has publicly declared his opposition to Israeli policies of apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

Carr's change in position was announced in a November 8 Australian opinion piece titled “Why I am now a friend of Palestine rather than Israel”.

The shift is especially symbolic given that Carr, a member of Labor Right, was key to setting up Labor Friends of Israel in 1977. Now, Carr is a patron of Labor Friends of Palestine.

In his piece, Carr ponts out that Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank and Gaza Strip “has lasted 47 years”.

“There are 500,000 settlers,” he says. “Up to 60 per cent of the Israeli cabinet is on record as opposing a two-state solution. Palestinians have been part of a peace process for 25 years.”

Carr points out the logic of the situation, saying: “Settlers won’t move. The Israeli government won’t force them. So an indefinite occupation morphs into the extremists’ goal of a Greater Israel.

“With one catch. It will have two classes of citizen.” As Carr points out, the word for such a situation is “apartheid”.

“In 1977 when we launched Labor Friends of Israel we knew, to our disgrace, none of their narrative,” Carr says. “Now Israeli historians ... have gone to the archives of their army to tell the full story of how massacres were used during the foundation of Israel in 1948 to drive out 700,000 Palestinians.”

The former “friend of Israel” asks: “Where do Palestinians stand now? Gideon Levy wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that it leaves them living with mass arrests (760 in a recent sweep, 260 of them children) expulsions, demolitions.”

Carr notes the inevitability of Palestinian resistance, writing: “From the writers of The West Wing came this. Discussing Gaza and the West Bank, a White House adviser says to another, 'Revolutionaries will outlast and out-die occupiers every time.'

“No other colonial rule has survived, let alone with rich settlers on fortified hilltops with Los Angeles lawns, the wretched huddled in the gullies, their 12-year-old kids subject to military arrest and-detention.”

Sincerity is a difficult thing to judge. It is not possible to measure how much Carr's about-face represents a true change of heart as opposed to a tactical shift recognising the need for a negotiated settlement in the face of Palestinians' refusal to accept defeat.

It is also undoubtedly much easier to speak the truth when out of power and retired. But none of that makes what Carr says any less true.

And is not just high-profile former politicans like Carr who are discovering the truth about Israeli apartheid and history of ethnic cleansing. Many Israelis are not taught the history of genocide and dispossession through which the Israeli state was created.

Like many people who grow up in colonial-settler societies ― such as Australia ― learning the truth can be a shock.

This is why Israeli filmmaker Lia Tarachansky sets out in her new film On The Side Of The Road, to address the uncomfortable truth about the Nakba, or “Catastrophe” ― as the Palestinians call the 1948 ethnic cleansing that drive Palestinians off their land to allow the State of Israel to be founded.

Speaking to Electronic Intifada, Tarachansky explained that making a film on this topic ― which remains taboo in Israel ― was the result of a long and ongoing process of rejecting Zionism.

When she was six, Tarachansky was brought from Ukraine to the occupied West Bank by her mother. She grew up in the settlement of Ariel on land stolen from the Palestinians, yet inculcated with the idea that the Palestinians were an enemy of Jewish people.

Tarachansky now lives in Canada and is a reported on Palestine for The Real News Network. She spoke with Electronic Intiafada's Sarah Levy. The full interview can bwe read at


What led you to make the film?

Discovering 1948 for myself and discovering just how little I knew of my own history. That was really revolutionary for me and I thought that if it was so revolutionary for me, maybe it would also be for others.

How did you first hear about the Nakba?

I was working as a journalist in Washington, DC when someone sent me a link to a video of a woman who was a veteran in 1948.

In that clip, she talks about huge ethnic cleansing campaigns she was involved in. Up to that point I had always thought that if the occupation were to end, then everything would be fine. All [of a] sudden I was hearing about these ethnic cleansing campaigns and that was really shocking.

So I picked up a book by [Israeli historian] Ilan Pappe called The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and that was it for me. It was very clear to me that this [occupation] is not just about any one or other fact on the ground; this is about a mentality and an ideology: Zionism.

You yourself were raised in a settlement, and now you are anti-Zionist. Was there a first instance that nudged you to begin your own process of de-Zionisation?

The strongest thing for me was having a conversation with a Palestinian for the first time when I was at school in Canada. I was standing somewhere in the university and this guy comes up to me and asks for directions.

And we start talking and he says, “You have a strong accent, where are you from?” and I say, “Oh, I’m Israeli,” and he says amiably, “Oh yeah? I’m a Palestinian!”

So he asks for directions and then he goes on his way. And as he walks away I realize that I’m holding my purse just a little bit tighter, that my whole body is kind of uptight, and it takes me a couple minutes to calm down from being terrified for my life.

But then I realised: he knows I’m an Israeli, he told me he’s a Palestinian and he didn’t try to kill me. That was revolutionary for me because, I’d been told my whole life that Palestinians are just brainless, emotional, primitive, murdering anti-Semites who just want to kill Jews all the time.

For me, this was something that didn’t fit with anything I had known before. So it actually began a very violent process of tackling a lot of the mythology that I thought was true about the conflict.

What inspired you to look at and understand the issue in terms of what you call “collective amnesia”?

I actually started out making a very different film. It was about historical truth and I had historians and veterans and they would prove that this was collective punishment and ethnic cleansing and that this was terrible …

And what I found was that even though I was shocked by some of the things I was discovering, when I talked to people in Israel about these things, I wasn’t seeing that “Oh my God!” look on their face. And that’s when I realised, okay, something’s missing here.

I ended up basing a lot of my film on the work of Stanley Cohen and his monumental book, States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering. He talks about how societies look at their own collective historical taboos and the experience of their own collective amnesia.

What I found is that it wasn’t that people didn’t know [about the Nakba]. It was that they didn’t assign a moral value to what they knew.

And I wanted to understand why. I wanted to understand what was blocking people from seeing the truth, from understanding what they knew. This is exactly what Stanley Cohen calls “denial”: this process of knowing and now knowing at the same time.

In the film, you show a lot of footage of what you could call Jewish extremists, rallying and saying things like, “Yes, I’m a racist. I don’t want Arabs here and I don’t want you here, either.” Has Israeli society always been like this or do you think this level of open racism has intensified?

I think that it has gotten way worse. This [recent attack on Gaza] really brought a lot of the fascists out of the closet.

But to be honest with you, I think that a lot of these people are just the ugly in-your-face version of the whole ideology.

I mean, if you look at Zionism honestly, it argues that Israel is a state for the Jews, only for the Jews, and therefore necessarily excludes anyone who’s not a Jew.

How do you see the process of dehumanisation of the Palestinians as a part of the Zionist project? For instance, how is the dehumanisation of Palestinians learned or passed on growing up in Israel?

I think the brainwashing about Palestinians for Israelis is more about what is not said than what is said.

Growing up in a settlement, I never thought about the Palestinians. They never played any major role in my life.

I never interacted with them. I never spoke to them. There was no place where our paths crossed.

Yet by the time I finished [high] school, I was convinced that it would be so much better if the Palestinians just were not here. It was just a natural thing that they are the cause of death to Israelis, they are violent, they throw stones at our soldiers, they started the intifadas, and they want to kill all the Jews.

These are a people that we’ve been fighting forever and ever, and it’s never going to end until either they’re all dead or they’re somewhere else. And that’s it.

What do you hope to come out of the film?

I hope that the discussion in the activist community shifts from focusing exclusively on how many checkpoints and settlements there are and this whole discourse about the facts on the ground. These are important, but really not as important as people think.

I really think that there’s nothing that exists right now on the ground that cannot be dismantled. By changing the ideology of the regime, everything is easily changeable. I think this is what we need to talk about and this is what we need to tackle and this is what I tried to do in my film.

What do you think it will take to reach a solution in the region?

The very first step is to stop funding the Israeli arms industry. This means boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure the US and Israel and to delegitimize the idea of an ethnocracy.

I’m not saying delegitimise the right of the Jewish people to live in Palestine or Israel ― I’m talking about delegitimising Zionism.

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