The Carroll News interviewed Lior Yafe, the Israel fellow from the Cleveland Hillel Foundation, on Wednesday, December 12. In the interview, Yafe responded to a CN interview with Iyad Burnat printed in its Dec. 6 issue.
Burnat is a Palestinian and member of what he called a grassroots, non-violent movement originating from the village of Bil’in. Burnat visited campus on Monday, Dec. 3 to speak to Mona DeBaz’s U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East.
Yafe, 25, began his two-year stay in Cleveland as Israel fellow in September. According to the Cleveland Jewish News, his job focuses on “empowering area Jewish students to advocate for Israel and help unaffiliated students identify more closely with the global Jewish family.” He said his job is to work with Jewish students attending Cleveland-area colleges and universities.
Yafe told The CN that programming he has organized at Case Western Reserve University has included collaboration with the Middle Eastern Cultural Association.
“We are trying to build bridges, not walls,” he said.
Here is the transcript of the interview Editor-in-Chief Dan Cooney and World News Editor Sam Lane conducted with Yafe:
The Carroll News: You read the responses to the questions that we posted to Iyad Burnat, who kind of described himself as the leader of this peaceful movement, and he gave his perspectives on the situation, from where he sat and what he considered peaceful. What are your responses?
Lior Yafe: First of all, I saw so many lies on the interview. The first one for example at the beginning, he said Israel is an occupation state, it is an apartheid state. So I wanted to ask him or you guys, what do you think about that we have an Arab-Israeli member of the Israeli parliament? We have an Arab judge in the Supreme Court of Israel. In those videos you can see that some of them and some of the Israelis from the left side of the political map is participating in this peaceful and social gathering in the area. And I am saying is how is it even possible that we have all of that, we have someone in the parliament, we have someone in the Supreme Court of Israel. Think about that if you are going to have that is it really an apartheid state? Do you think that we really want to push or kill every Palestinian from our area? No, definitely no, we want to have them. The Israeli government said four years ago loud and clear that we want to have two state solution. We want to have two states for two nations, for the Palestinians and the Israelis. You can still see that, for example, you can read Resolution 181 of the United Nations that says in 1948 [that] we want to have two states for two-state solution. The Israelis celebrated in the streets, believe me we were so happy to have our own country, our own Jewish state. What has the Arab side done? They started the war against Israel, the independent war. I am just amazed on the interview because it was only one side and he could not bring even any objectivity into the interview and I have so many other things to say. For example, he was saying “the Israelis is to transfer all the Palestinian from their land.” It is funny because I am not sure if you heard about it but in 2005 we had the disengagement from the Gaza strip. So we transfer almost 20,000 people from their houses from the Gaza Strip area only to have a peaceful agreement with the Palestinians. We have the security fence because 75 percent of the suicide bombing attacks came from the West Bank from Judea and Samaria, 75 percent and from Bil’in specifically. So why do you think we have this fence, you think we need to separate ourselves from the Palestinians? Absolutely not, we want to secure ourselves and not to have suicide attacks in Israel. More than 300 people have been killed and murdered, and it is really in specific numbers. And more than 2000 people have been injured from the suicide attacks from 2000 until 2003. You know what was happening from 2003-2004 when the first segment of the security fence being built? Ninety-five percent of the suicide bombers in the area of Israel, there was a claim of 95 percent. So the faster of saying the specific idea that we are claiming all the time. The suicide attacks – we want to stop them.
Think about it from your perspective. Suppose the Mexican border of Tijuana every other day will go to San Diego to bomb and to have a suicide bomb attack in the street of San Diego. What is going to be the response of the American government? What do you think are supposed to be the American response, how are they going to react? They are going to build a fence and say no more, we are not going to have any suicide attacks from Tijuana or from the Mexico area, and (joking) I have no problem with Mexico I think it is a great country. I am just saying think of the perspective.
We have no problem with the Palestinians, we are doing so many efforts in order to have a peace with them. For example, 2008 in Annapolis or in 2000 at Camp David. Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Omert have done such far reaching peaceful agreements with them; we offer them so many things in order to have peace with them. But they are not just declining us. They are not just saying that they don’t want any peace with Israel. They are not even recognizing the state of Israel as a Jewish state. Think about it they are not even recognizing the state of Israel as a Jewish state. Think about it, they are not recognizing us. So how can we reach a hand to them in order to have peace?
CN: Now going off of that just recently Palestine became a non-state observer? What do you think of that?
LY: I have no problem with that, they can do whatever they want. But think about it. How do you want to solve a 70 year conflict in one resolution, that is not even happening in Israel, it is happening in New York. I am saying that if the President Abbaas want to have peace he does not need to go to New York, he should come to Jerusalem. He should shake the hands of Benjamin Netanyahu, our Prime Minister, and start negotiating about the real things. You know that you can’t just have peace in New York, it does not make any sense. Just come and negotiate, it is so simple. How do you want to solve either one side resolution, it just does not make any sense. What do you think about the numbers for example? The ones that I told you 75% of the suicide bomb attacks came from the West Bank? He never told you about it right? That more than 300 people were killed because of those suicide attacks.
CN: Iyad Burnat did mention to me at one point that there were Israelis that join in with the Bil’in protests. Is that accurate?
LY: Well, there are some Israelis who participate in peaceful movements because we are a Democratic state. If someone wanted to demonstrate, not against Israel, or not against the policy, but if they want to show a respect, or a mutual respect with the Palestinians in the area. They have their full right, because we are a Democratic state. We are not an apartheid state, we are not an occupied state. Everyone can do whatever they want, we have the same set of values, the same as the United States. If someone wanted to demonstrate, they have fundamental right. He never mentioned that. It is funny, I think that I am just opening your eyes because it is becoming so clear that there is two different narratives to the same story.
CN: Basing off one of the questions Sam asked in the original interview, often what we see in Western media is just pictures of violence all the time related to this conflict. What is Israel actually like, because I do not quite believe that this is an accurate depiction of what life is really like in Israel. Is it?
LY: Yes I think you’re right. We have a normal, peaceful life in Israel. You can see that in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem, in the North, in Galilee, in every area in Israel. We are having the same life as you have hear in the states. You are seeing Israel maybe on CNN as being attacked by the Palestinians from the Gaza strip or from the West Bank because that is the headline. You are not going to see the innovation of Israel or that we are having the highest innovations in the world. You are not going to hear about that, you are going to hear about the attacks in Israel.
CN: You mentioned Camp David once before. They could not broker a full peace at the Camp David accords. How do you see this conflict ending?
LY: Well, I think the same as the Israeli government said, and that is the narrative in Israel. We are going to have two state solution. We are going to have two states for two nations. The Palestinians are going to have a nation in the Gaza strip, in Judea and Samaria. Meanwhile, Israel would have a state in the rest of the area. It is funny because we mentioned the U.N. resolution before the one that we had last week, and today there is a huge difference between the Gaza strip and Judea and Samaria because Hamas which is defined by the American government as a terrorist organization controlling the Gaza strip and Fatah, who are the PLO, is governing the area of the West Bank. The President Abbaas can’t really go to the Gaza Strip, well he cannot really go there because there is a rival between Hamaas and Fatah. But he is claiming for an independent country for both of those areas even though Hamas, which is a terrorist organization is still attacking Israel and they are still confronting us on so many levels. From one side we want to let them build their own country and their own state because they have the civil right such as everyone of us. But from the other side, if he can control them, if the PLO can control the Gaza strip or he cannot even go there by himself, how would he want to claim an independent country?
CN: What would you say is a common misconception about the entire conflict?
LY: Well, I think that people don’t really know the full perspective of the conflict. I’m not sure if people can really define between Hamas or Fatah or the areas themselves with who governs each area.
The misconception is just that people don’t have the full knowledge about the conflict. No one understands it. We disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005, or no one is reading about the Camp David in 2000, or in Indianapolis in 2008, what we offered to the Palestinians to finish this conflict. Believe me, just read more about it and you’re going to see who is in the good side and who is in the bad side. I’m not saying that were always right, but we’re trying all the time to have a Palestinian state to stop this.
CN: I’ve been to Europe and I’ve talked to European students here. When Israel is brought up in conversation, they seem to indicate that they feel Israel can be too aggressive in its actions in general. How accurate is that? What is your reaction?
LY: People always like the underdog. No matter what. If you’re seeing an underdog and you’re seeing an established state, you’re feeling is going to go toward the underdog. But when the underdog is biting you all the time, what can you do? In which way can you try to engage him? And, you have to read more, we are always trying to engage him in a peaceful way and we’re trying to give them a state. Read for example, what happened in Camp David, the Palestinians said they were going to dismiss all of the weapons that they have and they’re going to stop terrorism. After ten years, you can see there is more terrorism in the area. At first you are sitting with him, you are shaking his hand, you are trying to have peaceful agreement, and then what happened after 10 years? Nothing. It’s getting even worse.
CN: President Bush and Ariel Sharon seemed to have a very good relationship. The relationship between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu has not been as positive.
LY: I am not sure about that. There is more collaborative work between the ideas of the Israeli Defense Force and the American Army than in the last 20 years. I’m not sure you need to mix the personal aspects of the two into the story, but from the country perspective, there is more collaborative work.
CN: How do you feel the Arab Spring has affected things?
LY: It’s funny that you are calling it an Arab Spring, some of the Israelis are calling it an “Arab winter.” because you can see what’s going on in Egypt for example. At first everybody thought that was great.
I traveled in Egypt for two weeks just before the revolution happened and I lived in Tahrir Square. It was two months after, they started the revolution.
Everyone was so optimistic, because now that this crazy guy is down, they’re going to have a democratic state. They’re going to build their own country with the civil rights and everything is going to be good. It’s good for Israel. It’s good for the area because Egypt is such a strategic country in the area, and we said it’s amazing. But after a while, the Muslim Brotherhood took control of the country. You can see the ramifications of that. In the last two weeks, there is a pool, and the president doesn’t want to have a pool there. Think about all of the civil rights that people thought they were going to have, and now they don’t have them. From one side, from an Arab Spring which is supposed to be a great thing for all of the area, not only Egypt, it became an Arab winter. It’s not fulfilling. It’s not really happening.
Look for example what’s happening in Syria. Look at how many people are dying every day because of the Syrian regime. Look at what the opposition is doing to stop Assad from being a dictator, so to speak.