Smith Memorial Student Union, room 327/8, 1825 SW Broadway
Free & open to the public
Miko Peled shared his personal transformation from an Israeli Zionist to an outraged human rights activist with a crowd of over 100 Portlanders February 11th in the Smith Memorial Student Union at Portland State. He recreated for listeners his own rocky path to realization, contrasting the Israeli Zionist narrative with which he was raised with the radically different Palestinian narrative of catastrophe and despair. He urged his listeners to stand on the "right side of history" and call for an end to discrimination in his homeland. Palestinians, Israelis, American Jews, Arab-Americans and activists came together to hear Peled's story and to share stories of their own. An Israeli-American woman whose parents survived the Holocaust and a Palestinian man who has been exiled from his home in Nablus since 1972 shared mutual gratitude for Peled's willingness to stand up for Palestinian rights.
Miko Peled is an Israeli writer and activist living in San Diego. His book The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine (Just World Books) was published earlier this year. The book follows the development of the Israeli Palestinian issue from a national and personal perspective. In her forward to the book, Pulitzer Price author Alice Walker described the book as "one of the most hopeful she has seen on the issue."
Miko was born in Jerusalem in 1961 into a well known Zionist family. His grandfather, Dr. Avraham Katsnelson was a Zionist leader and signer on the Israeli Declaration of Independence. His father, Matti Peled was a young officer in the war of 1948 and a general in the war of 1967 when Israel conquered the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and the Sinai.
In 1997, a tragedy struck his family: Miko's beloved niece Smadar was killed by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem. That tragedy propelled Peled onto a journey of discovery. It pushed him to re-examine many of the beliefs he had grown up with, as the son and grandson of leading figures in Israel's political-military elite, and transformed him into a courageous and visionary activist in the struggle for human rights and a hopeful, lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Peled began his presentation by sharing two histories of the same event. The Israeli nationalist story, of which his father and grandfather were a part, and the Palestinian story, of which he refused to believe until his move to America. 1948 was at one time, for Peled, a year of triumph. He recounted the epic biblical mythology that often followed explanations of Israel's independence, always envisioning David defeating Goliath. The Palestinian story tells a very different tale. It memorializes 1948 as the year of al-Naqba, or The Catastrophe, the year when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homeland and became refugees.
For decades, most Israeli historians did very little investigation into al-Naqba, considering the War of Independence the pinnacle event of 1948. As Peled explained, it was not until the 1980s when Israeli historians like Ilan Pappe began accessing previously classified military documents that the Palestinian story was affirmed in the history books. Emerging revisionist history had little consequence for Peled though, until the tragic event of 1997.
Peled's fourteen-year-old niece, Smadar Elhanan, was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 1997. The event was deeply unsettling for Peled and his family. His grief propelled him into a journey of discovery. He began attending Jewish-Palestinian dialogue meetings in San Diego, and was for the first time confronted with personal accounts of al-Naqba. Despite being raised in Jerusalem, Peled's first conversation with a Palestinian occurred at that meeting in San Diego.
The dialogue fueled Peled's investigation into the Palestinian history that the textbooks of his childhood had overlooked.He began doubting the causes of the 1967 war, and recalled his father telling him that it was ultimately a war of choice. General Matti Peled, who was instrumental in the conquest of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights in 1967, had told his son that the Israeli leadership's refusal to create a Palestinian state at that moment prompted his retirement and subsequent anti-occupation activism.
The final piece of evidence that convinced Miko Peled that his government was not interested in a real solution was the 1993 Oslo Accords. Peled argued that Olso's only purpose was to bring the Palestinians to a point of surrender. The vague language and lack of concession on Israel's part was a death sentence for any workable two-state solution. The reality, Peled explained, is that Israel has already created a single state which it operates under a policy of segregation and inequality. He considers Israel an apartheid, pointing not only to the Jewish-only settlements built in the West Bank but also to the dozens of laws that specifically discriminate against the "non-Jews" who have Israeli citizenship.
The same kind of efforts that were placed into getting rid of apartheid in South Africa have to be placed into transforming Israel into a real democracy.
Peled envisions a single state with a secular democracy that includes all Palestinians and Israelis. Sometimes referred to as the "one state solution", this plan has returned to the forefront of discussion in academic circles and the media. As an attendee aptly pointed out, most Israelis and surely many Palestinians would be against a single, shared state. Peled agreed initially, but explained that ultimately integration is possible. Palestinians and Israelis have much in common including cultural traditions, education levels, and even heritage.
Israelis must overcome their fear of the "other", a task Peled decided to surmount when he visited a village in the West Bank for the first time. Expecting mortal danger at the hands of terrorists, Peled was only met by normal people going about their day. What was most surprising was not the people, but the conditions in which they had to live and their steadfast commitment to justice. He recommended the film "Five Broken Cameras" as an eye-opening look at life in the West Bank.
Miko Peled's presentation held one underlying message, a belief he shared with his audience at the start.
"There is no question in my mind that there will be peace in my lifetime."
- Miko Peled's personal blog
- Miko Peled's book The General's Son at Powells.com
- Ilan Pappe's profile & a list of his publications
- Official trailer for Five Broken Cameras
The Portland State University Middle East Studies Center Lecture Series podcast features audio recordings from the series. Please subscribe to the podcast to receive future episodes.
Stream podcast audio from this event:
Co-sponsored with Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights, Portland State University Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace - Portland Chapter, Friends of Sabeel North America, National Lawyers Guild - Portland Chapter, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, Lutherans for Justice in the Holy Land - A Ministry of Central Lutheran Church, Portland
The Middle East Studies Center at Portland State University promotes understanding of the people, cultures, languages and religions of the Middle East. As a National Resource Center for Middle East Studies under the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI program, the Center serves as a resource on issues pertaining to the Middle East through activities that reach students and scholars, as well as businesses, educators, and the media. The Middle East Studies Center supports academic conferences, workshops, cultural events, lectures, and a resource library.