by Margaret Flowers
As an independent journalist, Alison Weir went on her own to see what was happening during the Second Intifada (uprising) in Occupied Palestine. What she found was the complete opposite of what was being reported in the corporate media. Upon her return, she founded “If Americans Knew” and has been covering Occupied Palestine and the Israeli state in a fact-based way ever since. We speak with Weir about the extent of US support for the Israeli State, the most prominent misconceptions being peddled in the United States and the reality Palestinians experience. She also describes how to reach people in the United States who are misinformed and what we can do to end the injustice.
Alison Weir: In 2001, as the struggle between Palestinians and Israel heated up, Alison Weir left her job as editor of a weekly newspaper and traveled alone to the Palestinian territories. There, she made her way through the West Bank and Gaza, without a guide or a flak jacket, eager to learn what the conflict was all about.
She spoke with Palestinians and Israelis; interviewed mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, hospital workers, teachers. She rushed to the scenes of violence, notebook and camera in hand, and observed Middle East reality first-hand. And she was amazed by what she learned: That the truth of the conflict, on the ground, bore almost no resemblance to the stories told in US media.
Weir came home determined to change that. She began to speak and write on the topic and soon founded If Americans Knew, a nonprofit dedicated to accurately informing Americans. More recently, she also accepted a position as president of the Council for the National Interest. In addition to disseminating transparently sourced data, news, and analysis, If Americans Knew has completed seven in-depth statistical studies of US media coverage of Israel-Palestine.
Drawing on her background as both a civil rights activist and Peace Corps volunteer and the child of a military family, Weir has striven to provide a clear-sighted view of the issue that is free of partisan perspectives or preconceptions and that relies exclusively on facts-based analysis. She believes that open-minded examination of all available evidence, informed by universal principles of human rights, self-determination and justice for all people, is the only way to truly understand the conflict. Thus exposing the truth is, she believes, the best and only hope for justice and, therefore, peace for Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, and indeed the world.
Weir has spoken all over the United States, including two briefings on Capitol Hill, presentations at the National Press Club in Washington DC (broadcast nationally on C-Span), Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine (one also broadcaston C-Span), at World Affairs Councils, and at numerous universities including Harvard Law School, Columbia, Stanford, Berkeley, Yale, Georgetown, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Vassar, the Naval Postgraduate Institute, Purdue, Northwestern, and the University of Virginia. She has given papers at various international conferences, lectured in Ramallah and at the University of Qatar, presented at the Asia Media Summits in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, and given speaking tours in England, Wales, Iran and Qatar.
Weir has also written widely on Israel-Palestine, the US connection, and media coverage. Her first book, Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the U.S. Was Used to Create Israel, was published in February 2014 and has received high praise from both ends of the political spectrum. Her essays and articles have appeared in a number of books and magazines, among them The New Intifada (Verso), Censored 2005 (Seven Stories Press), Encyclopedia of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Rienner), The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, San Francisco Bay View newspaper, CounterPunch, and The Link.
Weir has received various awards and in 2004 was inducted into honorary membership of Phi Alpha Literary Society, founded in 1845 at Illinois College. The award cited her as a “Courageous journalist-lecturer on behalf of human rights. The first woman to receive an honorary membership in Phi Alpha history.”
Note: Alison is NOT the British historian, who shares the same name.
Margaret Flowers (MF): You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the forces of greed with Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese. Clearing the FOG is a project of PopularResistance.org. So today we interviewed Alison Weir.
Kevin Zeese (KZ): Alison Weir has the fantastic website, If Americans Knew. It’s about Palestine, Israel and provides a lot of facts. It’s a website that’s very deep and it’s a place really to go to to get information and her story about how she got involved in this issue and what she’s doing to try to get the facts out, I think will be one that we can all learn from.
MF: This is an area where we need to clear a lot of fog. So stick around for that interview. But before we get to that, let’s talk about some things that are in the news. First off, last week over 15,000 Indiana teachers walked off of the job and went to the state capital to protest their low wages and attacks on the education system.
KZ: And this is part of a whole series of people striking or walking off the job, teachers who are across the country being fed up with the destruction of public education, the low pay for teachers, the lack of support for students. Teacher’s strikes are really exploding. They’ve been exploding for the last year. I think that this problem is not being solved. So they’ll probably continue to explode.
MF: It’s certainly not being solved under the current Department of Education. So it’s important in our communities that we support the teachers who are fighting back for better education for our children. Let’s also talk about a conference that you attended this past weekend in Chicago. It was the relaunch of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. Can you talk about that?
KZ: Well, just to relate it to the first story, it was held in the Chicago Teachers Union building. A fantastic building. A big hall. About a thousand people participated in this conference. And it focused on number of different issues regarding racist police violence, both the police actually killing and being violemt across the country and what can be done about that. A major issue that they’re trying to push forward, which we should discuss, is community control of police. The other thing they focused heavily on was political prisoners. There are still many political prisoners in the United States. We don’t like to admit that in the US. We pretend that it doesn’t exist. But in fact, there are political prisoners and they’re really trying to rally people around to defend political prisoners. In fact, this organization first was developed in 1973 around the Angela Davis case. It was to Free Angela Davis, then became Free Angela Davis and all political prisoners and then became this Association and was just relaunched recently. A very inspiring conference. A great group of people, wide range of ages, wide variety of issues discussed, variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. It really was a unifying event.
MF: And if you want to learn more about the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, we did interview Frank Chapman who was one of the founders of it and has become the new executive director of the relaunched and NAARPR and so you’ll find that on our Clearing the FOG podcast page on PopularResistance.org.
KZ: One thing we focused on around this conference was the issue of community control of police. If you look at the Popular Resistance website our most recent newsletter goes into the history of police violence, the current levels of police violence. Everyone in the country now knows, police are killing black and brown people at incredible rates and what they put forward is a lot being done as far as body cams and efforts to increase prosecution, which is all good. What they are pushing for is something very different, which is to really change the power dynamic between people, communities, and police. They want to put people in communities in charge and so community control of policing essentially is a democratically elected council selected by the people of communities, given broad responsibilities, everything from choosing the police chief, firing police and getting police indicted in grand juries, training materials for police, how police are trained, subpoenaing police investigations and all sorts of powers for the community to get control of police. This is the structural change that will really transform policing. Police often use this slogan, “to protect and serve” but it seems more of a slogan than a reality for most people. In many communities, people fear the police and police have become militarized occupying forces. The idea here is to change that power dynamic by giving people power, people in a democratic way controlling the police. It would be transformational and would really be a step toward black liberation.
MF: Let’s talk next about Julian Assange. People are aware that he is imprisoned in London, in Belmarsh Prison, awaiting an extradition hearing in February of 2020. He could have been released back in September, but the judge has ruled not to allow him to be released. A couple of things that are significant, recently Sweden finally dropped their preliminary investigation against him for allegations of sexual misconduct. Can you talk about that?
KZ: This is like about the third time they’ve dropped this investigation. It is very important, first off, Julian Assange was never charged with any crime in Sweden. It was a very strange situation where they were trying to bring him back from the UK for questioning, even though in many other cases Swedish prosecutors have done questioning of suspects and or witnesses by telephone, by Skype and other technology or by going to that country and interviewing the person. They wanted Assange to come back to Sweden because they wanted to lock him up as part of the effort to extradite him. Julian Assange knew that from the beginning. While he was in Sweden before he came to the UK, when he was in Sweden when this incident these incidents occurred, he actually was interviewed by the police. They thought no charges were warranted. Another prosecutor looked at the facts. No charges were warranted. They finally found a very politicized prosecutor who wanted to continue the investigation and she was the one who tried to question Assange after he went back to the UK, but now finally 10 years later now that Assange is safely in Belmarsh Prison for the potential extradition to the United States, they’ve come to the conclusion that they came to right from the beginning. The first prosecutor and the second prosecutor found what they finally found 10 years later. There’s no evidence that a sexual assault occurred and yet look at the character assassination that has occurred as a result of that. How many people believe that Assange raped someone in Sweden or was charged with a crime in Sweden, the sexual assault crime? That’s kind of the common viewpoint among many. They were very successful in their character assassination and that way undermining the support for Assange who really is a heroic publisher. An editor who’s published the most important stories of this century.
MF: We’ve talked about that before, how that is a common tactic that is used to go after people who are challenging the system and try to discredit them and to reduce public sympathy for them as a way to prevent people from rising up against the injustice that’s being perpetrated against people and I think we interviewed Bruce Levine a number of months ago about one of his books that talks specifically about throughout history how this tactic has been used. That’s good news for Assange that the investigation has finally been completely dropped but bad news is that his health continues to decline and just this week over 60 doctors from around the world, some of them from Australia where Julian Assange is a citizen, sent a letter to the Belmarsh Prison calling on him to be removed from the prison and placed into a university hospital because his health has deteriorated to such a significant degree that he needs really expert care and attention.
KZ: That’s one of the serious problems. One of the interesting things related to that is that the judge in the Assange case who has been ruling against him on bail, ruling against him on getting moved to a medical center, on issue after issue, even access to his attorneys, access to a computer. She has removed herself from the case because of a conflict of interest. Her husband and her son were involved in activities that would conflict with Julian Assange and his work and so maybe with that judge gone, we might get a more fair trial. She had picked by the way for the February extradition hearing a tiny courtroom where only a few citizens could attend and so it would get warped media coverage. There’ll only be a handful of media there. They’d be very carefully selected to give us the false story that the government wants us to hear. And so hopefully with this new judge, we have a chance of moving this issue and expanding Assange’s criminal defense and allowing greater awareness by the public of what’s really going on.
MF: Let’s turn to talking about some of the protests that are going on around the world. We’ve been covering much of the protests that have been happening in Latin America and just this past week Colombia joined those protests with a general strike that started last Thursday, the 21st of November.
KZ: Colombia is a very close US ally. They have a conservative government. They’ve had a conservative government now for a number of years. There’s been very high levels of assassinations of social movement leaders, union leaders, environmental activists and this uprising kind of is a surprise to people because it seemed like it was relatively stable compared to those other countries, but these protests are big and the government’s reacting very harshly.
MF: They are reacting harshly. Curfews have been put in place. There has been a deployment of thousands of military to join the police in suppressing these strikes and these actions. There have been raids into people’s homes in major cities such as Medellin, Bogota and Cali and the thought is that the people that are conducting these raids are people that have been hired by the state to harass social justice organizers. The strike was called initially in response to a package of measures President Duque was trying to put into place, economic measures that would have caused harm to the most vulnerable populations and workers and the strike was called because of that and then the groups decided to continue striking the next day, on Friday, and strikes are slated to continue through this week as well. There are a lot of reasons for people in Colombia to be upset, but I think one of them is the failure of the 2016 peace agreement. Since that was signed, 777 social leaders, this is in just a three-year period, 777 social leaders have been assassinated and a hundred and eighty-seven former guerillas.
KZ: It just shows that Colombia is a fragile neoliberal capitalist US ally and that’s kind of like very important. Remember when you hear the talk of Colombia and Brazil joining the United States to invade Venezuela. There is no way that, if Colombia were to invade Venezuela and be part of Yankee imperialism, their already fragile government would become even more fragile. This just shows this era of neoliberal capitalism and US domination is coming to an end even in countries where it seemed to be on top is has a strong undercurrent against it. A change is definitely in the air in Latin America.
MF: And I should mention that 69 percent of the Colombian population opposes the current president Ivan Duque, so we’ll see what happens in Colombia. Let’s talk about Chile where protests have been going on for some weeks now against their President Piñera.
KZ: Yeah, more than a month of protest now in Chile. Chile is another example of a country that seemed very stable. People are very surprised to see an uprising against the economic system, the neoliberal economic system, in Chile and the President reacted very quickly because he saw this uprising grow immense. There were more than a million people protesting at one point. He removed his entire cabinet. The protests continued. People are demanding a constitutional convention, a constituent assembly to write a new constitution. They’re demanding higher wages, more funding of social programs, ending of neoliberal policies and the protests continued. They just announced more protests this week. Monday and Tuesday national strikes. And the president is trying to play it both ways of while firing his cabinet and listening to the protesters a little bit, he’s also unleashing the military. Now interestingly, Chile’s Constitution doesn’t allow the military to be used in domestic affairs, but they have been used against these protests and he’s trying to now put in place a new law that allows the military to be used to protect public property and public necessities, whatever that means, and so there’s a real conflict rising. The President is feeling insecure and he’s starting to depend on the military even in violation of the Constitution. So a lot going on in Chile.
MF: Andre Vltchek. who we interviewed just a few weeks ago, is down in Chile and he’s covering it so you can check him out on social media and also check out PopularResistance.org where we continue to post articles on this. Let’s talk about what’s happening in Bolivia. Of course, in Bolivia, there was a presidential election October 20th. President Evo Morales was elected to a fourth term and immediately, well even prior to that election, there were rumors that a coup was going to be attempted, immediately after the election the Organization of American states called it fraudulent. Reports were done showing that it was a fair election, but the OAS continued to challenge it and violent right-wing protesters started to cause disruption. In response to that, many of the indigenous of Bolivia, it’s a majority indigenous country, came out into the streets and it’s been really just atrocious what the state now is doing to the people who are calling for their president Evo Morales who was forced to flee to Mexico to come back.
KZ: Brutal repression and such misinformation in the US media. Whenever you hear talk about Evo Morales leaving to go to Mexico, the US media always describes it as a questionable election or election that was in question, but the facts are the election was legitimate. He won by more than 10% of the vote, which meant in the first round that’s sufficient for him to be elected. That’s really what the facts were. There’s no basis for this nonsense about election fraud. What you’re seeing more and more in this Bolivia situation is real racism against the majority population. Estimates of the indigenous population, sixty to seventy percent of the population come from indigenous communities and yet you’re hearing this self-appointed interim president talking in racist ways. Evo Morales’ vice president Linera made it really clear that a lot of this is the view of the white Bolivians that Indians can’t rule, that they’re not capable of making judgments, that they shouldn’t be in government. And so Evo was the first indigenous president. He broke through a very major barrier. He was in power for almost 14 years, 13 years 9 months, made tremendous advancements and a lot of this is about what it’s always been about in Bolivia, natural resources. They had for a long time and still have very high gas resources. That was the focal point in the 80s and 90s when the US was trying to control Bolivia and finally Evo Morales broke through. Now, it’s focused on minerals and minerals that are needed for car batteries and for computer screens and modern electronics. Bolivia has tremendous resources in these areas and the US wants those resources for its economy, for its military and that’s really the root cause issue: who’s going to get the natural resources, Bolivia, the Bolivian people or Western governments especially the United States.
MF: And oligarchs. And so last week, one of the major unions or coalition of unions said to the government that if the self-appointed president, who is a minority senator who declared herself president, Anez, if she didn’t step down within 48 hours, they would start blocking roads. There was a major blockade around a gas plant near El Alto called Senkata and the law enforcement was sent in and started using live ammunition and murdered eight people. The next day there was a march coming to La Paz from El Alto carrying the dead bodies and that march itself was attacked by the police with tear gas.
KZ: That’s right. Coffins were attacked. I mean it, the violence by the coup government is intense and they’re trying to kick out the media. They’re trying to kick Telesur out. They want to do more violence and not be caught on camera or have it reported. There are independent media out there. Some of our allies are down there reporting on it. We’re trying to keep a handle on it and on Popular Resistance, covering Bolivia as best we can because we think it is a very important linchpin of Latin America. And it seems like they’re moving toward a new election. There’s talking about an election in the first two months of next year. The MAS Party, Evo Morales’ party has agreed with the coup mongers to allow an election without Evo Morales on the ballot. I saw an interview with Evo recently where he said he didn’t feel like he had to run. He wants peace in Bolivia and there are lots of good people. He’d be happy to be in Bolivia. He’d be happy to meet with the MAS Party to help them select a candidate. He wants to go back to Bolivia, but right now he’s being blocked and he’s being threatened with arrest if he does come back. So it’s a very in flux situation. The indigenous population is rising up and they have removed presidents before. They know how to do this. And so this is an unpredictable situation because we’re also seeing very aggressive action by the United States and its allies in the coup government, the interim government. That’s the coup supporters opposed to Evo Morales.
MF: That’s right. More information has come out about the US involvement in this coup, including working with Argentina and Southern Command, which is the US military command in Latin America, having troops on the Argentinian border, rapid response troops ready to go into Bolivia. So it does look that this is very much a US-tied coup and what we’re hearing in the US media is problematic. So I really encourage people to check out independent sources. Medea Benjamin from CODEPINK is down there covering it live as well as Wyatt Reed who publishes on GrayZone Project and Mintpress News. Let’s talk about Venezuela. Juan Guaido and the State Department, they just don’t give up. They tried again this past week to stage another coup attempt. This was more than a month of preparation for this mass mobilization that Juan Guaido was calling for and not very many people showed up. It’s interesting. They complained that they couldn’t go to the rally because of problems with the public transportation in Venezuela, but for some reason in Colombia when the buses and things weren’t working, hundreds of thousands of people managed to turn out so I don’t know. Is it just that people in the wealthy communities that are supporting Juan Guaido don’t know how to get anywhere? I don’t think they even take buses.
KZ: You know, even when we were in the Venezuelan Embassy, they were at about their third attempted coup. In fact, there was a chant about that.
MF: Yeah, or a song. I think it was “One Coup, Two Coup, Three Coup Fail.”
KZ: Yeah, I mean but now I’ve lost count of how many times now the US and Guaido have tried this coup effort in Venezuela. It never works. President Maduro has made some statements, pretty strong statements, about how inappropriate it is for the US to be trying to bribe people in the military to rise up against their government. The US keeps trying to do that. It keeps failing at doing that. The military is staying strong and you have to realize that Chavez came from the military. And so the Venezuelan military has been well educated, deeply educated about US imperialism and how to stand up against it and so they’re not going to succeed on that part. Guaido even when we were in Venezuela before going in the embassy, when we went to their largest most-watched television show, Guaido was a joke in Venezuela. People mocked him because he’s unable to even call a protest any longer and yet he keeps calling himself president. It’s just, it’s time for this mockery to end. It’s time for the US to realize they cannot conduct a successful coup in Venezuela. Maduro is the legitimate president. He won a legitimate election. More than several hundred election observers were there to monitor it, report on it, from around the world. They all came to the same conclusion: legitimate election. He is the President. Accept the will of the people. It’s time for the US to stop this coup effort.
MF: But but we’re bringing democracy to Venezuela through a coup.
KZ: You sound like Marco Rubio.
MF: One person brought up a very interesting point on social media, which is that Mike Pompeo and actually vice president Pence as well, were using their social media platforms to cheer on the coup attempt by Juan Guaido. That doesn’t quite seem appropriate for US government officials to be actually, I mean they do it all the time.
KZ: Well, what’s so weird about that is first off they said Guaido is the president but then they’re cheering on Guaido to conduct a coup. Well, which is it? Which is it? If he’s a president, he’s not conducting a coup. If he’s not the president. Well, he’s not the President. I mean so time to face that reality.
MF: Let’s talk about Ecuador because there were some massive protests there about a month or so ago and they have since been in discussion with the Moreno government. This was really something that was triggered after a package of reforms that were being pushed through by Moreno in order to accede to the demands of the International Monetary Fund for a loan that was given to Ecuador. Since then, there’s been a real attack on leaders of Rafael Correa’s party, Citizen Revolution. Four of them are in jail. Three are in hiding in the Mexican Embassy. As well as going after indigenous leaders who were also very much involved in calling those protests. And then in addition to that, President Moreno is continuing to try to push through a Reform Bill to get these measures for the International Monetary Fund. That was recently rejected by their legislature.
KZ: Just remember the last time a month or so ago, when there was an uprising in Ecuador, Moreno had to flee the capital, moved to a conservative coastal city. Not just in the city, but into the military base and he was hiding in the military base because the protests were so significant. He’s playing with fire here. He can arrest a few leaders, but there are hundreds of, thousands of people who are watching this in Ecuador and this will not end well for Moreno if he continues to ignore what the people are demanding. You know, he may kowtow to the IMF but the IMF does not control Ecuador, the people of Ecuador will control it and Moreno really needs to recognize, he needs to get off of the neoliberal capitalist side and get on the people’s side.
MF: Let’s talk about the Middle East because there’s also a lot going on there. We’ve talked about the protests in Lebanon previously, but also in Iran recently there were some protests after some gas prices were increased. These were peaceful protests. Families in Iran because of the unilateral coercive measures that the United States has imposed against Iran that have limited its ability to produce oil, Iran has put forward kind of a quota. Each family gets a certain amount of oil each month and then they wanted to impose an increased price for people that purchase gas beyond that quota. Something that actually in the past the International Monetary Fund had suggested as a way to get revenue because the gas prices are so low in Iran. Well, this led to some peaceful protests that were then infiltrated by violent elements. And Iran is blaming the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel for interfering in their protests.
KZ: This is all in the context of a longtime US economic war that began with unilateral coercive measures or sanctions back in 1979 after the Revolution and have continued. It looked like they had been resolved with the nuclear agreement, that the sanctions would start to be removed, but President Trump reversed that and has instead been tightening the screws. But the Iranian government is not going to give in and the Iranian people are not going to allow US imperialism to control their nation. And so a war with Iran is just unrealistic. We saw the war in Iraq was extremely expensive and a failed effort. Iran is bigger than Iraq, many times, six times bigger has a much larger population, a much more organized military and Iran has connections throughout the region that could cause damage to the US and its allies very quickly. A war in Iran is just not feasible. And so this ongoing economic regime change effort with the unilateral coercive measures to choke off the government is causing these kinds of problems in Iran, but it’s going to unify people around the Iranian government and help to build a resistance economy that stands against the United States.
MF: Right and Iran actually just reported that they’re producing 80% of their food now and this again is in response to the fact that they’ve had these economic coercive measures imposed on them for such a long time. Let’s quickly then go to talking about Israel. Our guest Alison Weir is going to be talking about this more in-depth. But this past week the Trump administration declared that they are no longer going to consider Israeli settlements on Palestinian land to be illegal.
KZ: And you know, of course, they’re illegal under international law. This is not really a decision for a US President to make but this is one more nail in the coffin of the two-state solution, it is just not practical on the ground. We were in Israel Palestine and we visited the West Bank. We visited Bethlehem. We visited Jerusalem. Palestinian areas. And we see the inability of a two-state solution to be put in place for practical reasons and people in Palestine, both Palestinians and Israeli Jews, have completely reversed themselves on the two-state solution. Recent polls show that over the last 10 years, it has dropped from 70 percent support for a two-state solution down to under 45 percent support. People see it’s not practical. So now we need a new solution. We’re hopeful about the new campaign that’s 2 years old for One Democratic State. We wrote about that in our newsletter a couple weeks ago. The newsletter is called, “Occupied Palestine: from BDS to ODS,” One Democratic State. Trump is just pushing that agenda further, faster by his illegal recognition of the settlements that are in Palestinian territories.
MF: Of course, the fear is that this will just give a green light for more settlements and so in the meantime, this is going to be a problem for Palestinians who are continuing to get squeezed into smaller and smaller areas of land. And of course that causes problems, social problems when you have overcrowding like that. The United Nations voted last week on eight resolutions that were condemning Israel for war crimes in Palestine, The issues included in those resolutions were refugees, the terrible living conditions, the situation in Gaza, which is frequently attacked by the Israeli Defense Forces as well as choked off from getting appropriate amounts of food and water and the ability to move freely, talked about the urgent need for assistance to Gazans and condemnation of the settlements and also the ongoing home demolitions in Occupied Palestine.
KZ: The crimes continue, the Israeli crimes continue and US political protection for Israel Palestine in the UN also continues as does the US funding of this apartheid state that functions based on Jim Crow laws.
MF: With that, why don’t we get to our interview with Alison Weir of If Americans Knew. We will take a short musical break and we’ll be right back.
Margaret Flowers (MF): You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the forces of greed with Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese. And we’re joined by our guest now Alison Weir. She is the founder of If Americans Knew and the president of the Council for National Interest. Thank you for taking time to join us, Alison.
Alison Weir (AW): Thank you for inviting me.
Kevin Zeese (KZ): Your website is one I’ve always looked at, a great source of information. So we’ll get into that a little bit but before we get into the site, why don’t you tell us about how you got involved in this issue.
AW: I’d be glad to. People always wonder that because I don’t happen to be Jewish or Arab or Muslim or Palestinian and really like most Americans 20 years ago, I knew very little about this issue. I had been active on some other issues, anti-war during the Vietnam war, civil rights, that type of thing but I had truthfully never focused on Israel-Palestine like many of us until the Second Intifada began in Fall of 2000. I’m sure you know intifada just means “Uprising,” a Palestinian Uprising. So when that began, in Fall of 2000, I just got curious about it. My background is journalism. At that time, I was the editor of a very small weekly newspaper in Northern California. So this wasn’t for my job. It was just my personal curiosity. So I started to follow the news coverage on this uprising and I quickly noticed that it was very one-sided, that we were hearing from and about Israelis in great detail, as I wanted, but then I noticed that we got very little information from and about Palestinians. So this was in the fairly early days of using the internet for research. But I decided to try this new tool and went on the internet and discovered a great deal of information from the region itself, from humanitarian agencies that were there, Israeli media in English, Palestinian media. And when I looked at that, I discovered that, this was in Fall of 2000, that Israeli forces were shooting Palestinians every day in large quantities, including many many children and I noticed that this reality was not being revealed or reported on the news sites that I usually looked at. The San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, especially NPR, seemed to be covering that up. So the more I looked into it, the more I felt this was a truly significant cover-up. I felt and I do feel now that this was the longest lasting and most enduring cover-up I had ever seen before and that it was occurring across the political spectrum, which I was not used to. So after a few months of looking into that, learning what was going on there in the region itself, how many children were being shot, how many were being shot in the head, etc. It’s all well documented. After a few months of that, I decided, it seemed so significant that I quit my job in Sausalito and I traveled as a freelance reporter throughout Gaza and the West Bank. When I came back, as you can imagine it was a very intense trip, I was not part of any delegation, there really weren’t any delegations at that time and it was before ISM, etc. So when I came back, I started the organization If Americans Knew. The goal has been to be very factual, to show the sources of our information. It’s very transparent and to just give all Americans without ideological slant the facts on Israel-Palestine and especially the American connection, especially the fact that we are in many ways responsible for what Israel does because our tax money goes to Israel. It’s now over 10 million dollars per day. We’ve given Israel far more than we’ve given anybody else. So most Americans I think are the way I was. I felt I really had no connection to this confusing issue on the other side of the world, but I learned I have a very direct connection to it and therefore it’s my responsibility to know about it and then to act in ways that I feel are morally required. In a nutshell, that’s how I ended up 20 years later still working on this issue.
MF: That was a very courageous thing to do and of course the US also provides cover for Israel in the United Nations as well or when the International Criminal Court wants to investigate Israel, but let’s go back to your trip. How were you received by Palestinians when you went there to cover the Intifada?
AW: Well, the interesting thing is again, the perception was and is that you will be in great danger from Palestinians. But what I discovered is it was the opposite. I was welcomed. I was invited to stay in people’s homes, which I often did. People were very excited to learn that an American journalist was there. I always told people I’m an American journalist. I’m here to see what’s going on and people would smile at me in places like Gaza where there were really very few Americans in Gaza at that time. I didn’t see any other journalists traveling around. Crowds of people would come up to me and they wanted to show me their bullet-riddled homes and show me what was happening to them. So I found it then and on my other trips there since, I have found people very welcoming, very friendly. Often they’re very aware of how much money the US gives to Israel. Even though most Americans don’t know that, it is known in the region. Despite their knowledge of that and despite their knowledge of how the US as you say has supported Israel in so many ways, they’re still very welcoming to Americans and very willing to not blame us for what our government is doing. So it’s really the opposite of what people have been led to believe it would be like.
KZ: What you just described is really very consistent with our experience. We were just in Occupied Palestine recently and what you described was very consistent with our experience as well. Your website focuses on correcting the misconceptions, If Americans Knew. What would you say would be some of the most important misconceptions that people in the United States have about the situation in Occupied Palestine?
AW: Thank you. That’s excellent because that’s at the heart of the problem because there are so many that it’s hard to make people realize it’s really as different as they expect. If there were only one or two, people can accept that. It’s harder for them to realize, wait almost everything I thought was true, you’re telling me is not really accurate. And that is what I am often telling them. So I guess one of the main things is, as I mentioned earlier, that we are directly related to the conflict, that we give Israel massive amounts of money. This is per capita on average seven thousand times more than we give other people and that’s fairly shocking to know that we don’t even know that fact, but it’s not shocking when you look at media coverage. They almost never tell us that. One of the other things is that many people are unaware that Israel was established in my lifetime, that when I was born there was no Israel. There was a region called Palestine that had been there called Palestine for really millennia, or many centuries. So many people, intelligent and knowledgeable people, are not aware even what Israel Palestine is about, that basically Israel was established through warfare. It was not established by the United Nations, another misconception, and I write about this in my book. It was established by a war of ethnic cleansing. That’s what we now term that type of war. It’s the title of an excellent book by an Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, so, I think the very foundation of Israel is very different than people realize. And that this was an intentional dispossession of the indigenous population. It began from the beginning of the establishment of the modern state of Israel and continues through today that constantly Israel is confiscating additional Palestinian land and taking it over for Jewish only settlements, as they’re called. People don’t know that. Many people are unaware that many Palestinians are Christians. You know, we should know that this is where Christianity began but we don’t know that because it’s rarely mentioned in the US media. I think the other thing that people are often unaware of these days is media coverage always focuses on rockets from Gaza. Every news report mentions rockets from Gaza. On our Facebook page, people always say, oh yeah, but what about those rockets? The fact is that I was there traveling around by myself as a reporter and before any rockets had been fired and I saw already at that time in early 2001 extreme devastation. I saw neighborhoods in Gaza that were bullet-riddled, that looked like the pictures you see of World War II ruins. In the West Bank too shelling was going on. This was before any rockets had been fired. So people think that Israel is defending itself from the rockets, but the rockets were actually resistance groups in Gaza trying to fight back with really very ineffectual rockets. In the whole time they’ve been used, which is well over a dozen years, really more than that. In that whole time, they’ve killed at most a few dozen Israelis. Meanwhile, Israeli forces have killed many thousands of Gazans. The only statistic we get in the typical news report is thousands of rockets have been fired from Gaza. They never tell that the total number of Israelis who have been killed is perhaps by now, maybe 50 perhaps not even that high and they never tell and during that time that these rockets have been fired and before they were fired, Israeli Forces we were killing tens of thousands of people in Gaza, well not, more like, you know, about 5,000 Gazans. So we hear about thousands of rockets. We don’t hear about that they killed 50 people and we don’t hear about the massive bombardment of Gaza that’s been going on for a very long time and that has killed thousands of Gazans. And of course, killed many people in the West Bank also.
MF: Yeah. In fact when we were there in, we were in Jerusalem, and we saw the fighter planes flying over Jerusalem on their way to bomb Gaza during our trip where over 30 people were killed, including a family that was killed in that bombing and it was interesting because you heard from the media in Israel that this was terrible, that the Palestinians were firing rockets at them and that 46 Israeli citizens had been injured. One of them had been hit by some shrapnel, 23 were injured when they were running to shelter and 22 had anxiety attacks. And then you compare that with, I read that tens of thousands of Palestinians were displaced from their homes in that recent siege of Gaza.
KZ: And you know, these so-called rocket attacks, they’re like little pipsqueak rockets. I mean that we saw video on TV of a rocket hitting near a road. It hit, exploded and traffic continued. It didn’t have any impact, there’s just nothing. And these rockets are always a response. It wasn’t like these rockets were fired most recently for no reason. They were a response to an Israeli assassination in Gaza. And Gazan people are basically trapped in Gaza. How do they, how do they fight back against that? It really is a very defensive response, an exaggerated response. It’s really amazing that they use that as an excuse, but they do.
AW: That’s right. They get and they get away with it because if the media only tell about the response and don’t tell about what came before, the American population is completely misled. As you say, most of these are small homemade projectiles, but media will report them as missiles and people I think are imagining a Nike missile or something. That’s just not what’s going on. There have been studies of the chronology of the violence in the conflict. There was one excellent study by an MIT professor who looked at periods of calm, at pauses, at various truces through the years. And her study showed that it was something like 96% of the time in the shorter truces it was Israel that had first resumed violence against Palestinians and in the longer truces, it was 100% of the time that Israeli forces have resumed the violence. This is just not known to the American public because it’s a very filtered news coverage that people are getting. Your point of hearing jets and F-16s, I think now F-35s, flying over to bomb Gaza is very significant. People don’t know that here we have one of the most powerful militaries on the planet, largely due to our tax money and often US weaponry, fighting against the population that has no Air Force, has no Navy, has no aircraft, has no helicopter gunships. You know, the disparity is astounding and the media try to call it a war. A war is between two military forces. That’s not what we have when we look at Gaza and Israeli forces.
MF: Absolutely. It’s such an asymmetric situation. And the Palestinians have been forced from their homes, living in an apartheid state and have the right, I believe under international law, to defend themselves in that situation. But still the Palestinians that we met with while we were there, activists, said we are nonviolent, we believe in using non-violence and even talked about teaching their children not to hate other people, how giving in to that, it was destructive. It’s such a different picture. So one of the things that people push back in the United States is they say that there never really was a Palestine, that Palestinian nationality didn’t start until the 20th century. Can you comment a little bit on that? You said that Palestine has been around for thousands of years.
AW: Yes. This is one of the Israeli talking points that many people have fallen for. You know, you see this on Facebook and Twitter and various places. There is no such thing as Palestine. Palestine did not exist. It’s a nonsensical argument. It’s true, there was not a state of Palestine. There was not a state of Israel. There was a region called Palestine. You can look at old maps. Anybody who looks into this honestly to try to learn the facts can easily find the facts. Old maps show Palestine. It was a region back in biblical times. It was talked about in more recent times. It was talked about in more recent centuries. It was under the Ottoman Empire. It was what’s in the way we call multicultural. Around 1900, the population was about 80 percent Muslim, about 15 percent Christian and a little under five percent Jewish. So this was a region. It was not a nation-state, as we know nation-states came relatively late to the world. Germany wasn’t a nation-state for many years. The United States did not used to be a nation-state. So Palestine was a region. Palestinians have existed. There was a book that was published some years ago by an Israel partisan who went by the name Joan Peters. Katz is actually I think her last name, but she goes by Joan Peters, claiming the Palestinians did not exist, that they were just nomads that had come in because the Zionists’ wonderful entrepreneurial spirit that had created jobs for these nomads to come and join them. This is the thesis of her book called “From Time Immemorial.” Many people read it. It was praised by pretty much every book review in the United States. People like Barbara Tuchman, an Israel partisan, but known as a historian, praised it. It turned out to be a complete hoax. Some very good historians and analysts including some Jewish Americans. What was, I can’t think of the name, various names, right now, but some people looked into the book and found out that these many footnotes were often fraudulent. They were actually coming from Zionist propaganda and that this was a hoax. In Israel itself it was exposed as non-factual. In Britain it was exposed as non-factual. In the United States it eventually was but I don’t think any of the people that gave it a positive review and that endorsed it then had the honesty or principle to retract their erroneous reviews. So many people, especially many Jewish Americans I’m finding, read that book and were taken in by it and then repeat the myth that there were no such thing as Palestinians. Even Golda Meir, the famous Israeli Prime Minister, said at one point that quote there were no Palestinians. That’s like Americans trying to say well there were no Native Americans here. Of course, there was.
KZ: The story about there was no Palestinians, and you go back and you can find maps, scores and scores and scores of maps that show Palestinian territories. I mean, it’s so obvious that this was a Palestinian area throughout history. It’s just, it’s such an obviously false story and yet it’s repeated. And that’s one of the things I find very, to go out about dealing with the question of Occupied Palestine because even in the country itself, Israeli Jews seem oblivious to the reality in their own country. Home demolitions and the settlers putting settlements on Palestinian communities and on Palestinian lands. We drove on Jewish-only roads. And you know, if I Google Jewish only roads, I find an article about Jewish only roads don’t exist. And the images of the beach near Tel Aviv showing rolling grassy hills and sand dunes and no villages and yet pictures of that same area show a large Arab city. One of the challenges I think we have in talking to people in the United States, and even in Israel, Occupied Palestine, is they don’t want to see reality. They can’t see reality. We can point it out so obviously. How do you communicate to people who just seem oblivious whether unintentionally or intentionally, they can’t see reality?
AW: That’s a good point. Certainly, Israelis have been brought up to be just the way you’re describing. Nurit Peled, an academic, has done excellent work showing that Israeli textbooks are very propagandistic in the way that they depict Palestinians. As you say, they’re not even called Palestinians. They call them Israeli Arabs. So this is deeply embedded in many portions of the Israeli population. Fortunately, as I’m sure you also saw, there are many people in Israel that are dissenting from that and they’re trying to reach their fellow Israelis. There are Israelis Against Torture and Israelis Against Home Demolition. There is a number of Israeli groups within the society. They’re are small fraction, but they’re doing really wonderful work in trying to expose what’s actually going on. There are some Israeli journalists, especially Gideon Levy, who write every week in the Israeli media about some of the latest atrocities being committed by Israel against Palestinians. I would love to reach everybody. I’d love to reach every Israeli. I’d love to reach every American who’s taken in by Israeli talking points, but what I focus on is the really fairly promising reality that about three-quarters of the American population despite the pro-Israel media coverage that we’ve been getting for decades and despite Hollywood, the large majority of Americans really does not have a strong view on this issue. And in general surveys will show that they say something like we shouldn’t take sides, which is sensible. If you don’t know much about an issue, you just don’t take sides. That sounds like a fairly wimpy approach to those of us who know what’s going on there, but what that would mean if you don’t take sides is we would stop giving Israel 10 million dollars per day, we would stop vetoing UN resolutions to protect Israel from world condemnation of its violence. So it’s actually quite a good stand if we did what the majority of Americans already say we should do. So I try to focus on giving the general public the facts on this issue and the importance of making their wishes known to their elected representatives that it’s time to stop this massive aid to Israel. It prevents peace. Israeli militarists think they have a blank check from the most powerful nation on the planet, which they do right now because most voters are not voting on it. So my view is we give the voters factual information on this. Show how extremely tragic the situation is because of what we’re funding and the fact that it hurts us as well and emphasize how important it is to tell our elected representatives that we want them to change these misguided destructive US policies of a blank check to Israel. It’s time for us to vote and to work on the issue of Israel Palestine. Not only because of what it’s doing to Palestinians, not only because of the, you know, what it then does to the US but because it has created even more. Our support of Israel has led to our wars in the region. It has led to much of the violence in the region that has since spilled over elsewhere. It’s the core issue of the Middle East and it’s the time for us to focus on it and to address it.
MF: We agree with you on that. I want to ask you about a topic that you’ve been writing about recently. And that is the criticism that people who question or criticize the Israeli state are anti-semitic. Can you talk about that?
AW: Yes, that’s used all the time and most of us are profoundly opposed to bigotry of all kinds. You know, we don’t want to be splattered with such mudslinging, we don’t want to be called anti-semitic. We don’t want to be anti-semitic and we’re not being anti-semitic when we speak out for justice as a principal, but that’s the attack that they try to use. A member of the Israeli Parliament some years ago on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now said and I’m paraphrasing but you can see this video. She said this is a trick. We always use it when somebody is critical of Israel, we call them anti-semitic and that is exactly what going on. Nobody should be anti-semitic. Nobody should be against any population, should be hostile and prejudiced against people. Bigotry is wrong. So that’s what they try to use. What’s gotten worse is that not only do they try to claim somebody’s anti-semitic when we’re talking about a nation-state and talking about injustice and trying to support principles of justice for all people. There is an effort and I’ve written about this quite a bit, there’s an effort to change the definition of anti-Semitism to include criticisms of Israel. This is extremely insidious. It’s been going on for a number of years. There’s a new formulation in which certain criticisms of Israel, factual statements about Israel, will now be defined as anti-Semitism. Therefore it will be defined as hate speech, etc. This effort was begun by an Israeli Minister named Natan Sharansky. It has now been embedded in the US State Department and it’s being embedded elsewhere around the world. We need to learn about that and we need to oppose it. We need to stick with the traditional definition of anti-Semitism and we should oppose all anti-Semitism just as we oppose all racism, but we should not allow that incorrect epithet to be used to silence us or to prevent us from working for justice and human rights for all people including Palestinians.
KZ: You know, it’s interesting. One of the people we visited with when we were recently in Occupied Palestine was Rabbi Hirsch who is with an ultra-orthodox Jew and he makes a very strong case that Zionism is inconsistent with Judaism, that it violates the Torah and that makes the state of Israel really under his religious analysis to be against Judaism. So that really turns on its head the whole accusation that criticizing Israel is anti-Semitism. We’re so glad there are many people now, a growing group of Jews in the United States who are getting active in the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. Jewish Voice for Peace. You know a number of Jewish groups who are actually beginning to criticize Zionism and Israel. So that also undermines that absurd claim. It’s really is an absurd claim that people who criticize Israel or Zionism are anti-Semitic. Of course, and they throw out self-hating Jew or something but it just shows the weakness of their arguments
AW: It does and I’m glad you brought that up because when Zionism, political Zionism, began with Theodore Herzl and some conferences in Switzerland in the late 1800s, the majority of Jews around the world did not join that movement. They said we’re Americans, we’re British etcetera. Even a Jewish population in Palestine was opposed to it, especially observant Jews were opposed to it and considered it a heretical move. And as you know, there are many Jews who for religious reasons opposed Zionism saying this is against the Bible. It’s against God’s will. So that’s also very disguised. That’s part of what people don’t know. And in my book, in the research I did, it was very interesting to see how Zionists were very upset that Jewish Americans were not embracing Zionism in the early years. In fact, for a number of decades and that there were groups such as the American Council on Judaism that actively and strenuously opposed Zionism.
MF: Finally, if you could talk a little bit about where can people find your book and what types of programs does If Americans Knew organize. How can people learn more about the work that you do?
AW: Well, the first thing would be to go to our website: If Americans Knew dot-org. From there, you will also go to our blog, Israel-Palestine News, it’s called the If Americans Knew blog and between those two resources, I believe there’s a lot of information that will be useful to people. My book is available on Amazon. The short title is “Against Our Better Judgment.” I’m excited to say it has over 500 reviews, most of them 5 stars. It’s a best-seller on Amazon. We’ve sold well over 30,000 copies. It can be read very quickly. It’s I think that’s one of the selling points and it’s thoroughly cited. It turned out that this is, I didn’t know until it was actually in hard copy, the book is half citations. So every statement in it, you can find the source for that statement. I hope people will read it. It contains a great deal of information that many people, even experts on the issue, did not know about before because when I started researching it I was starting from scratch so I read a huge number of books. On our website, we also give my upcoming speaking engagements. I don’t have any in this country right now, but I’m going to Europe in a few days to go to a conference there. I guess especially go to the website If Americans Knew.org. We’re also working to encourage people to join the effort to work within their congressional district to inform the people in your community about what’s going on. So if contact us, you can email us at contact at If America’s Knew dot org and help on getting this information off the internet and into the hands of people in your community. We also have a very active Facebook page, If Americans Knew Facebook page where we post things every day. I encourage people to go there and I especially encourage people to join our email list. We should not rely on Facebook for our communication that of course is a private company and they could turn it off whenever they want to so, please join our email list also.
KZ: I’ll just say that you haven’t visited If Americans Knew, it’s a very deep website. If you ever want to understand a particular aspect of Israel or Occupied Palestine, you’ll find a lot, a great starting point at least, a lot of the facts right there. If you’re ever writing about it, debating it, trying to understand and discuss it with others, it’s a very fact-based and deep web site that serves a very useful purpose for engaging on this issue. So people should check it out. And I thank you a great deal for making the effort to put that together over the years. It’s a really excellent job.
AW: Thank you. We’ve certainly tried and the websites been live, I think probably about 15 or 16 years. So there’s really a depth of content there. People keep searching. We’re trying to upgrade it to a more modern look but there’s so much content, we just haven’t been able to do that yet. So it’s an old-school look I’m told but the content is there for people to find and as I say, it’s all sourced. Anybody can claim anything. What we try to do is make sure that our material is factual and show people that that’s the case.
MF: Thank you again, Alison, and thank you for taking time to speak with us today.
AW: Thank you.
KZ: Thanks a lot.