Yuval Noah Harari: Israelis and Palestinians ‘each have good reason to suspect their existence is at stake’

Yuval Noah Harari It is always good to have you on this programme, frankly, any programme, because you're a big thinker and you help us, you know, navigate areas that perhaps we hadn't thought of. But first I need to ask you as an Israeli, what is your reaction to the ICC request for warrants? Well, no, it's it's deeply shameful for the citizen of any of any country when the leader is even accused of such crimes. And I think on on on a broader perspective, I I know that there were a lot of accusations against the ICC of making comparisons between Netanyahu and Sinoir and so forth. This is really a spin trying. I mean it's the question is not the comparison. The question is the allegations and the evidence that that backs them. And the other thing, looking at the the whole episode, the whole issue from a broad perspective is whether we would like to live in a world where leaders are held accountable to international law or not, whether we would like to live in an orderly world and a world of of international law. But here the main problem is that the international order really has two main goals. The primary goal is to prevent wars from happening. The secondary goal is to mitigate wars if they happen by providing humanitarian aid and punishing crimes. But if if if the international order is not able to achieve the primary goal of preventing war, then the secondary goal is is ultimately hopeless. If more and more wars erupt, then just trying to punish crimes and provide humanitarian assistance, it won't work. What is the alternative, given that war is so awful and that there are laws of war and there needs to be some assistance provided to those who, you know, a a duet under international what? What is the option? Absolutely. I mean, I'm not saying of course we need to do it. Of course we need to provide humanitarian assistance and to hold leaders accountable. But this is sustainable in the long run only if it's possible also to achieve the primary aim of preventing wars. Because otherwise, if we reach a world, if if the if the global order that we have we have been used to for in recent decades collapses and we see more and more wars erupting around the world, then the entire the entire structure will also collapse. I mean, it is a really difficult moment and there seems to be so many significant wars happening at the same time right now challenging the world order that we thought was here to, you know, to to stay after the Second World War. I want to ask you because you talked about evidence as opposed to equivalence of people and alleged perpetrators. That's what the prosecutor told me in the interview yesterday. And he said our mandate is not to is solely actually focused on putting victims on the same level. Not this is about the equivalence of victims and not the alleged perpetrators. Be that as it may, Israel has the mechanism. It is a democracy. It's done this in the past. It's investigated, you know, post war situations, you know, in many of the wars that that your country has fought. And this prosecutor has said that he's tried to get Israel to actually hold itself accountable. It hasn't done it. Wouldn't it have been better if it did? Would have been much better. But again, the Netanyahu coalition has been weakening the independence of the Israeli court and has been attacking Israeli courts for a long time now. So I don't think that the Israeli court system is now in a position to do something like that. That's that's a pretty dire sentence. Do you think it ever will people believe that there will be some kind of investigation like after the 1973 war and et cetera, et cetera, even after the 2006 summer Hezbollah war. I hope there will be again we are. I mean, I've been part of the struggle to keep the independence of the Israeli justice system and to preserve Israeli democracy for for more than a year now. And we are. People are still struggling in in the streets and I I hope that we will succeed. Let's move on because what you've been writing, admittedly just before the actions by the ICC yesterday, there were elements of hope and I wouldn't mind asking you right off why you? Well, first of all, let's talk about October 7th and the war in Gaza. You said it showed and revealed the worst fears and nightmares of both Israelis and Palestinians. Let's take it from the Israeli side first. Yeah, I think what is crucial to realize about this conflict is that both sides are terrified deep down that the other side is trying to exterminate them, to expel or kill each and every member of, of, of the group, of the of the Jews or of the Palestinians. And the tragedy is that both sides are right. That both sides have good reason to suspect that their existence is at stake. That if the other side will ever get the the, the opportunity, they will try to completely get rid of us. Not necessarily kill each and every person, but certainly expel them. And this is something that a lot of people, you know, people tend to see the conflict from just one side. And the key thing is to realize that both sides are right in the deepest fears, and a path forward towards a real solution to the conflict is only when each side can say honestly about itself. Even if we get the opportunity down the road in 10 years, or 20 years or 40 years, we will not try to exterminate the other side. We recognize our shared humanity. We recognize that they are also a people deserving of rights, including the right to self determination. And this sounds so obvious. Yet so many people, not only in Israel and Palestine but all over the world are unable for some reason to hold this simple thought that the Palestinians are there is a Palestinian people. They have a right to self determination and they have a deep historical connection to the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river and at the same time there is a Jewish people it has a right to self determination and each too has a very deep connection to the same land. It's this is just a reality and actually they also talk about the the river to the sea and this this statement has been weaponized And and you know, yeah, both sides weaponize it without realizing that they are guilty of the same thing, that each side wants everything and is and is unwilling to compromise. Again, on each side there are people who are willing to compromise, but unfortunately they are not the ones guiding it at the moment. And you know it's it's also weaponized in in the UK, in the USA. I hear you know all this anti Zionist propaganda that people equate Zionism with racism without understanding what Zionism means. Zionism is simply the term for Jewish nationalism. It's just the simple idea that the Jews constitute a people, a nation, and as such they have not just individual rights but also a collective right to self determination. This is the only thing that Zionism essentially says it should be incontrovertible, incontrovertible. And again, it doesn't imply necessarily that there is no Palestinian nation or that Palestinians don't have rights. You can at the same time acknowledge that the Jews are a nation with rights and the Palestinians are a nation and also have rights. And do you believe that this current government believes that second part? And they talk about Erez Israel. And in other words, great, the Netanyahu coalition doesn't accept it. I mean they think again, like the demonstrators chanting from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free. So also the Netanyahu coalition says from the river to the sea, it's all belongs only to the Jewish people. It has an inalienable and and exclusive right to the entire land. And you know, you have maximalists on both sides. As long as they're in control, there will be conflict. So I want to ask you, because you also wrote really, you know, interestingly and and we often don't pay attention to the 2 million or so Palestinians, Arabs inside Israel who are Israeli citizens. Yeah. Who, as you say, are not busy calling for the extinction or the eradication or anything of anybody. Tell me about them. And do they still currently in this. Yeah, in this environment have an important role have shown up, you know, for their neighbours at this time because they've been so much about, oh, how none of the Palestinians have commiserated with Israel or or the Jewish Israelis after October 7th. But that's not true. I think that Palestinian Israelis and there are two million Palestinian Israelis are the most maybe hopeful group in in in the region. They are. They feel that they belong to both sides in some sense, even though they suffered from discrimination for decades. They are also citizens of Israel, with the right to vote to the Knesset, to the parliament. And on October 7th, one of the hopes of Hamas was that this group of 2,000,000 Palestinian Israelis will rise against their Jewish neighbors and also try to massacre Jews and so forth. And there was a lot of fear among Jews that this is going to happen. They're also coming to kill us. It didn't happen on that day, actually. You saw that Palestinian Israelis coming to help the Jewish neighbors. Quite a number of Palestinian Israelis were murdered by Hamas while trying to say, for instance, rescue survivors of the Nova music festival and other massacres. There are Palestinian Israelis kidnapped by Hamas to Gaza and held there, and the two most prominent leaders of of Palestinian Israeli parties in Israel, Mansul Abbas and Ayman Ode, both of them. They flatly condemned the massacre. They said this is not the the the way of of the Palestinian people or of Islam. They are still committed to peace and I think again looking at them, they are the most the group that gives most hope in the region that yes, there are people who can hold two thoughts at the same time, be Palestinian Israelis and be in favour of fulfilling the right of the Palestinian people for self determination without exterminating the state of Israel. So talk to me about that then, because you just said they still face discrimination. They're not fully, fully equal Israelis and citizens. Clearly they want that. So how could they play a role in what you seem to think is possible? Maybe not right now, but that there must be a play, a way to get to peace, to get out of this trap as you as you say. My my best advice would be to to invite them here and let them state their views and and and plans. They can do it much much better than me. But again they stated many times quite clearly their support for some version, you know of A2 state solution. It's still basically the only game in town. You know, if you recognize that there is an Israeli nation with the right of self determination and and the Palestinian nation with the right of self determination. So you need to somehow satisfy the the rights of of of both both people. Some people say no, we'll have a one state which will be, you know, this democratic Jewish Palestinian state providing rights and equality for everybody. It sounds like a nice dream. I the problem with that history is often resistant to mere theory and to dreams and many things that sound very good in theory on paper, when you try to implement them it can lead to tragedy. So maybe down the road it would be possible. But given the levels of of hatred and violence and fear, I don't think this is a feasible solution in in the near future. At least you you've you've said in in your about about you know the future. There's enough land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean to build houses, schools, roads, hospitals for everyone. But it can be realised only if each side can honestly say that even if it had unlimited power and 0 restrictions, that it would not wish to expel the other. You just describing that no matter what injustices they committed against us and what threats they still pose, we nevertheless respect their right to live dignified lives in their country of birth. You say this needs leadership and currently you haven't been able to identify that kind of leadership. And so, so far, the Israeli Prime Minister and as you say, his coalition does not want a Palestinian state or even Palestinians to run Gaza after this war. Where do you, where do you think, where do you see on the Israeli side some kind of flipping the switch towards some kind of solution from this untrammelled war? I don't know. At at present, the Netanyahu coalition, it's not only one person, you know, he has a majority of 64 out of 120 Knesset members. They are all supporting him. I mean after October 7th, me and many other Israelis, they, we were sure that this government will fall in, in a matter of weeks. It still is extremely stable. It enjoys widespread support. But you know, history is never linear and we can still hope that people will, will come to their senses. What is at stake I think is really it's not just Israel. I think the entire Jewish people is at a historical junction that we we need to reflect on on on the history of the Jewish people. You know, for 2000 years. If you go back 2000 years to the great Jewish revolt against the Romans in the 1st century CE, it was led by religious zealots who thought that God will help them to defeat the Roman Empire. And they were wrong. They brought a terrible disaster on the heads of on the head of the Jewish people. And I think Netanyahu is building up to being the next Simon Barakova, who led one of these disastrous revolts. And when the Romans destroyed the the Jerusalem and the Temple, they changed the nature of Judaism. Judaism then was a religion of, you know, you had the Temple and the priests with all the bloody sacrifices. And the Romans destroyed that. And Judaism became a religion of learning Jews for 2000 years. They were a religion of learning everywhere they were. And then they they built their state. We built our state. And the big question is what did we learn in 2000 years? And if you ask Netanyahu and his colleagues like Smooth, Rich and Bengovir, we learned only the joy of power, of feeling superior the the dark ecstasy of crushing weaker people under our feet. Now, if this is what we learned in 2000 years, this was such a waste of time because we could have just asked the Romans. They could have told us 2000 years ago how to destroy city and how to enjoy feeling like being superior to others and then and so forth. And I think it's it's, it's a real question that I think Jews should, in Israel and elsewhere, reflect. What did we learn in 2000 years that the Romans didn't already know? Well, I'm going to reflect on that. Yuval Noah Harari, it's always good to have you. Thank you so much. Indeed. Thank you.

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