Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Israeli-American peace activist Miko Peled calls for one-state solution to Israeli occupation of Palestine

By Michele Bourdieu

Miko Peled, Israeli-American peace activist and author, presents "Freedom and Justice: The Keys to Peace in Palestine/Israel" on Sept. 17, 2015, at Michigan Tech. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

HOUGHTON, MARQUETTE -- Just a few weeks before renewed violence between Palestinians and Israelis hit the news this month, audiences at Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan universities heard stories about this long conflict from the perspective of an Israeli-American peace activist and author, Miko Peled, whose dream is not the often cited "two-state solution" but a more optimistic solution that would accept Palestine/Israel as one country -- cured of its current apartheid-like colonial occupation.

At the invitation of Miguel Levy, Michigan Tech professor of physics and materials science and engineering, Peled visited Marquette and Houghton on Sept. 16 and 17, respectively, and gave two presentations open to university and community audiences. The events were sponsored by Michigan Tech's Center for Diversity and Inclusion and departments of Humanities, Social Sciences and Physics; the Michigan Tech Indigenous Issues Discussion Group; and Northern Michigan University's Center for Native American Studies.

On Sept. 16, 2015, Miko Peled speaks to a Northern Michigan University audience about what he calls an apartheid-like situation in Palestine/Israel. (Photo © and courtesy Tom Biron.)

Peled is the author of the auto-biographical book, The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine (Just World Books: 2012), which includes a Foreward titled "The Sanity of Friendship," by Alice Walker. She points out that Peled "realizes the insanity of remaining enemies of a people he has had no opportunity to truly know." Peled's book is his own story of how he rejected the narrative he had heard during most of his life as an Israeli and learned to become friends with Palestinians and to treat them as equals.*

In his book and in his lecture, Peled recounts how he was inspired by the example of his own parents. His father, Israeli General Matti Peled, fought in Israel's 1947-48 War for Independence as well as the 1967 six-day war, when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza; but he then left the army, did graduate study in the United States and became a professor of Arabic literature and a peace activist. His mother, a very loving person, was supportive of his father's transformation. At one point she refused to accept the offer of a free house because it had been confiscated from a Palestinian family that she assumed was probably exiled to a refugee camp.

It was his desire to have a career as a karate master that led Miko Peled to move to southern California, where he was far from the conflicts at home but kept in close touch with his family by phone. There, in 1997, he learned his 13-year-old niece, Smadar, had been killed in a suicide bombing. This tragic event was the start of his journey to get to know Palestinians and to understand their cause. In 2000 he discovered in San Diego a Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue group -- his first experience "in a place where Jews and Palestinians exist as equals." Miko soon found himself on a journey of self-discovery and became an activist for human rights and a lasting peace in the country he calls Palestine/Israel.

Through friendships with Palestinians, Miko eventually began to travel across the borders and checkpoints in Palestine/Israel and to explore the situation of the Palestinians first-hand, despite many obstacles. He began to see the Israeli occupation as a kind of colonialism similar to the former apartheid system in South Africa.

At Northern Michigan University: Conversation on treatment of indigenous peoples

Miko Peled's visit to Northern Michigan University on Sept. 16 was a conversation titled "Settler colonialism in the 'promised lands': Similarities and differences between the U.S. and Israeli treatment of Indigenous peoples" with Martin Reinhardt, Northern Michigan University associate professor and chair of Native American Studies.

At Northern Michigan University on Sept. 16, 2015, Miko Peled, right (front) and Martin Reinhardt, left of screen, discuss similarities and differences between Israel's treatment of Palestinians and U.S. treatment of Native Americans. At the podium (far left) is Michigan Tech Professor Miguel Levy, who invited Peled for the presentations at NMU and MTU. (Photo © and courtesy Tania Levy)

Miguel Levy explained why he organized Miko Peled's visit to NMU as a conversation with Reinhardt on treatment of indigenous peoples: "It is important to unite the various streams of struggle around the world against racism and settler colonialism into a powerful torrent that can wipe out injustice from our midst," Levy said. "This is already happening, with very powerful expressions of mutual support and solidarity between Black and Palestinian peoples. The indigenous peoples' struggle through the world against settler colonialism and for the defense of the environment is part and parcel of this joint fight. And this meeting on Settler Colonialism in the 'Promised Lands' was a conscious expression of the development of this unity in action."

Reinhardt, who is a mixed ancestry Anishinaabe Ojibway citizen of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and is involved in defending Native American treaty rights in several Michigan environmental issues, welcomed the conversation and comparison.

During the Sept. 16 conversation with Miko Peled, Martin Reinhardt, Northern Michigan University associate professor and chair of Native American Studies, speaks about the history of colonialism and oppression of Native Americans in what is now the United States. (Photo © and courtesy Tom Biron)

"The discussion with Miko was a great opportunity to speak with someone who has experienced life as a settler in the colonized state of Palestine/Israel," Reinhardt said. "This has so many parallels with the history of the United States in its relationship to American Indian tribes and people."

Martin Reinhardt and Miko Peled compare maps that show how Palestinian lands (top row, in green) were reduced over the years of Israeli occupation and how Native American lands (bottom row, in red) were also taken over in the U.S. as indigenous populations were killed or scattered on reservations. (Photo © and courtesy Tania Levy)

During their conversation, Reinhardt noted how in pre-colonial days 2.3 billion acres of the area that is now the U.S. was under tribal (indigenous) control.

"We are left now with 56,200,000 acres," he said, noting how this land is scattered in reservations and checkerboarded on the map.** (See link to video in Notes below.)

Admitting that he comes from a colonizer background (a Zionist Jewish family in Israel), Miko explained that his journey into Palestinian areas to learn the other side of the story -- that of the colonized -- has helped him understand the racism and fear that makes the colonizer oppress "the other." He pointed out how the changes on the map show that the United Nations gave more land to the people with the smaller population (the Israelis) when Israel was founded as a Jewish state in 1948.

"Twenty years later Israel took the rest of it," Miko said, referring to the 1967 war.

For the Native Americans the loss of land was accompanied by a loss of population, Reinhardt noted, from 100 million indigenous people living in the area now the U.S. in the 1400s to a present population of 5.3 million self-identified Native Americans in the U.S.

In contrast, Miko pointed out that genocide against Palestinians did not work for Israelis. The Palestinians still outnumber Israelis, so the Israelis keep their dominant position through discriminatory laws, aggressive police policies and an apartheid-like system, he explained.

"Today 12 million people live in the entire country -- about 5.9 million are Israelis," Miko said.

He added the Palestinians inside the country number more than 6 million and another 4 or 5 million Palestinians live in refugee camps right outside and around the country.

Miguel Levy added the fact that in 1948 half the Palestinian population at that time (750,000 people) were exiled from the country, and those in refugee camps still insist on their right to return.

During the conversation between Miko Peled and Martin Reinhardt, several NMU audience members asked questions and joined the discussion. (Photo © and courtesy Tom Biron)

Miko Peled at Michigan Tech: Freedom and Justice

On Sept. 17, 2015, at Michigan Tech, in his presentation titled "Freedom and Justice: The Keys to Peace in Palestine/Israel," Miko Peled outlined the history of Israel's occupation of Palestine and spoke again about his own journey to understand the culture and the present-day situation of Palestinians living under unjust, discriminatory laws and daily oppression.

In his introduction, Miko points out why we (Americans) cannot be neutral about the situation in Palestine/Israel; we are supporters of Israel because the U.S. gives $10 million of our tax money to Israel every day:

On Sept. 17, 2015, Israeli-American peace activist Miko Peled begins his talk at Michigan Tech by explaining why he thinks the issue of Palestine and Israel is misunderstood in the U.S. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Miko noted 20th-century historical events leading up to the occupation of Palestine by Israel -- beginning with the 1917 Balfour Declaration, a letter from the United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, favoring the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine.

Next Miko described the United Nations Partition Plan of Nov. 29, 1947, at a time when the Jewish people in Palestine numbered about a half million and Palestinians about three times that number. A map of the partition shows the greater area of land was given to the people with the smaller population.

During his presentation at Michigan Tech, Miko Peled offers some background on historic events that led to Israel's occupation of Palestine. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

After Palestine rejected the Partition Plan, Israel's armed militia fought, defeated and exiled thousands of Palestinians (who did not have an army) in a short conflict which led to the 1948 establishment of Israel as a state. According to Miko, modern Israeli historians have shown that this "war" was one of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians rather than heroism.

Here Miko talks about Gaza, populated mostly by refugees from 1948:

Miko Peled talks about harsh living conditions in Gaza. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Calling Gaza "uninhabitable," Miko noted 1.7 million people are crowded into 140 square miles in Gaza and face a lack of work, water, food and access to medicine.

According to Miko, the Israeli government treats Palestinians unfairly and harshly because it considers their very existence a threat to the legitimacy of the state of Israel.

Here Miko talks about his father's transformation from military general to peace activist after the 1967 war and the diplomatic efforts toward a two-state solution:

Miko Peled relates how his father, an important Israeli general, changed totally and worked for peace with the Palestinians. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

While Miko's thinking was influenced by his father's peace efforts, his own activism actually began after the tragic death of his 13-year-old niece, Smadar, who was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem in 1997. He was inspired by her parents, his sister and brother-in-law, who chose reconciliation over revenge for their daughter's death:

Miko Peled tells the story of the death of his 13-year-old niece during a suicide bombing -- an event that had a profound effect on him. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Miko also spoke about the political prisoners in Israel -- now numbering more than 6,000 -- the vast majority of whom have never been charged with acts of violence.

Miko speaks about non-violent Palestinian political prisoners who protested their "administrative detention" -- indefinite imprisonment without charge -- by going on hunger strikes. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)

"Resistance is a right. It's a duty, and the world recognizes this," Miko said. "None of these people should be in jail."

Miko said these prisoners, if they weren't Palestinians, would be considered heroes for resisting Israeli oppression.

"We have to support the resistance," Miko said.

Here he speaks about one way for people of conscience in the U.S. to resist -- by divestment from Israel:

Miko Peled speaks about the U.S. role in supporting Israel's apartheid-like oppressive regime and the need for divestment if there is to be any hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Following his presentation, Miko fielded questions and comments from the audience at Michigan Tech and then signed copies of his book.

Miko answers some questions from the audience. (Video by Keweenaw Now)

Some members of the audience at Michigan Tech shared their impressions of the event with Keweenaw Now.

"I thought the whole thing was moving, compelling and interesting," said Ruth Robertson of Houghton and Jefferson City, Missouri. "To see the transformation he made in his political view is promising for what any of us can do when we're exposed to more information."

Gloria Melton, retired Michigan Tech dean of students, said she was interested in the presentation because Miko brought up the need for dialogue between people of different points of view.

"I'm always intrigued by people who seem to be enemies beginning to understand what seems to divide them," she said.

Gloria's husband, Willie Melton, Michigan Tech emeritus professor of social sciences, said he thought Miko may have exaggerated some of the numbers cited, but he understood the image Miko was trying to convey.

"My impression was that he was making a point that you've got an internal conflict -- a civil war within a state," Willie noted. "The audience has to be aware that he's advocating a cause."

Zoe Coombs, a Michigan Tech graduate student in energy and environmental policy, had a positive reaction to the presentation.

"I was just glad that someone was actively speaking out on this point of view on campus," she said.

Pictured with Miko Peled after his presentation and book signing at Michigan Tech are, from left, Tania Levy, daughter of Prof. Miguel Levy; Wafa Mazi of Saudi Arabia, Michigan Tech PhD candidate in chemistry; Marwa Abdalmoneam of Egypt, Michigan Tech PhD candidate in physics; and Miguel Levy, Michigan Tech professor of physics and materials science and engineering. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)


* Visit to read about or order Miko Peled's book, The General's Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.

** Click here for a complete video of the NMU conversation, "Settler colonialism in the 'promised lands': Similarities and differences between the U.S. and Israeli treatment of Indigenous peoples."

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