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The Bullet, the Ballot and The Boycott”


David Sheen, St Nicolas Hall, Guildford 24 November 2015


We have had many speakers to talk about the impact of the occupation of the Palestinian Territories, of illegal settlements. Not so many to inform us about the position of minorities in Israel, not just Palestinian Israeli citizens - the 1.7 million or so descendents of those not expelled 50 years ago - but also the many other minorities. Yet they are becoming increasingly important.


David Sheen is a Canadian Israeli, a prominent journalist, film-maker and speaker who has lived in Israel since 1999. With just an hour for his presentation before Q&A, he chose to focus on the last part of the title. In a twist perfectly suited to this upside-down world, where oppressors are feted internationally, and the oppressed are ignored, David explained that “the boycott” in the title referred to Israel’s boycott of the Palestinians, both inside its territory, and in the territory it illegally occupies.


David reads, speaks and writes in Hebrew, understanding the nuances of the language. He’s aware of the spin put on comments by Israeli politicians when speaking in English, and the things they only say in Hebrew. Racism is the norm, as is the determined effort to keep Jews and Palestinians separate, which he believes has increased progressively over the last 10 years. Not knowing ‘the other’ breeds fear. Settler violence towards Palestinians is tolerated by the IDF and rarely prosecuted. Fire has become one of the prime tools of the settlers; examples included the fire-bombing of a school in Jerusalem last November, one of the very few schools in Israel that teaches in Hebrew and Arabic. He also showed the burning of Palestinian olive groves, and the horror of the baby burned to death this summer, whose parents ultimately also succumbed to their dreadful injuries. Anybody applying for a job, if he does not speak a clean Hebrew, is often told it is taken yet a Jew applying later is welcomed with open arms.


David’s talk progressed through a series of photos and quotes from public figures in Israel, naming and shaming by their own words, and demonstrating just how ingrained is the racial discrimination towards non-Jews. Even in the Knesset, Palestinian Members are not allowed full use of meeting rooms there, nor are they invited to meet visiting foreign dignitaries.


He stressed there were many Israeli Jews like him who opposed these views, including for instance a recent head of Shabak (the internal security agency), but their influence is very limited and their lives difficult. He does not support a 2 State solution. Even if it were possible, ‘legitimising’ a Jewish state would lead to intolerable discrimination of remaining non-Jewish citizens of Israel.


An excellent speaker, the audience needed to be alert to keep pace with the packed and thoughtful presentation. This was an illuminating perspective on the internal psychology of Israel and the audience, perhaps the biggest we have ever had, was entranced and highly appreciative.


Thank you David.