Over the weeks before last Tuesday’s election, Otzma Yehudit Chairman MK Itamar Ben Gvir met with Kan 11 News Arab correspondent Suleiman Maswada, and their conversation, immortalized in the three videos below, which I translated this morning. Maswada was born in the Muslim quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and today lives in Rehavia, the capital’s prestigious neighborhood where Benjamin Netanyahu is about to move into the PM’s residence. Interesting point: like most Arabs who were born in eastern Jerusalem, Maswada is not an Israeli citizen but a legal resident, which should give the conversations below an added punch.
I was wondering if Ben Gvir was aware of how his unabashed statements would be perceived by liberals in and out of Israel, but then I remembered the man is a successful attorney specializing in civil rights law. He meant every word.
What to Do with the Palestinians
Maswada: The Palestinians will receive a state, an entity?
Ben Gvir: No such thing. Not a state and not an entity. And we saw what happened when they wanted autonomy…
Maswada: Then you’ll give them Israeli citizenship?
Ben Gvir: No, not Israeli citizenship either.
Maswada: What will you do with the Palestinians over there? What will be their status?
Ben Gvir: So, I’ll tell you. They’ll receive exactly the same status they had before the dreadful Oslo accords came into our lives.
Maswada: You dismantle the Palestinian Authority?
Ben Gvir: I dismantle the Palestinian Authority.
Maswada: So who will be in charge of the daily affairs?
Ben Gvir: An authority that teaches how to murder Jews, an authority that funds terrorists,
Maswada: Elections – are they allowed to vote somewhere?
Ben Gvir: They will not vote for the Israeli Knesset. I’m also against the autonomy. I’m not in favor of letting them run their own lives for themselves.
Maswada: Can they request Israeli citizenship and go through the process of proving their loyalty?
Ben Gvir: They will not submit requests for citizenship. And their ID cards will not be the blue ID cards. I reiterate, this is the State of Israel, there’s no such thing as Palestine. It’s ours, it’s our country. You want to live here? Ahalan wasahalan (welcome).
The next conve5rsation took place on the fast of Gedaliah, the day after Rosh Hashanah.
Ben Gvir: Don’t take advantage of the fact that I’m fasting – he’s going to smack me because I’m fasting…
Maswada: Why? I had a very tasty coffee but I put it aside. I respect.
Ben Gvir: You respect, that’s good.
Maswada: On Ramadan, you eat like there’s no tomorrow…
Ben Gvir: (laughing) Listen, you fast 30 days, not one day, you understand. Everything with you is extreme.
Maswada: Why? It’s actually…
Ben Gvir: Instead of being moderate, like us,
Maswada: It educates the soul.
The Jewish State and the Nakba
Maswada: If you were to be told that we have undergone a very important historic event in ’48, in ’67, and we wish to teach about it in our education system, teach our children. So that they’ll at least know what happened there.
Ben Gvir: History is, of course, an important thing, but not to teach it in the form of a “Nakba” and “Nakhsa” and all those things.
Maswada: Why not?
Ben Gvir: Why? Because this is a Jewish state. Because it’s my home.
Maswada: Why does one negate the other?
Ben Gvir: Because what they mean by “Nakba” is my rebirth, my resurrection.
Maswada: But a parent would tell you, I want my son to integrate, I want my son would feel like an Israeli, but he sees the national anthem and he says, there’s not a single thing here that represents me.
Ben Gvir: The same way a Jew in the United States stands at attention and respects the national anthem, here there should at least be respect for the anthem. We will expect anyone who lives here will be loyal and faithful that … He can live here, but this is the state of the Jewish people. And anyone who doesn’t believe in it will have a problem.
For the record, as someone who voted for Ben Gvir, I confess that some of his statements made me extremely uncomfortable. He did not offer a viable, humane plan for the Arabs in the liberated territories – his partner, Smotrich, does, and it includes a citizenship track. As to the anthem, many secular Israelis feel dubious about it and have suggested new, more uplifting alternatives – maybe Israel should have two anthems, one deeply aware of the nation’s history like the Star-Spangled Banner, the other more cheerful, like America the Beautiful.
I was impressed by both participants in the above conversations: Ben Gvir, who didn’t give an inch and showed an unyielding ideological firmness; and Maswada, who kept his cool in an encounter with someone representing the core of his fear and loathing.
Maybe a true dialogue between Jews and Arabs starts in this kind of frank exchange, no niceties, nothing politically correct. That part was truly refreshing.