So it may come as a surprise that Yael Dayan would become an outspoken peace activist who advocates giving back the occupied territories — including East Jerusalem — to the Palestinians. Dayan was in Nashville yesterday, speaking at Scarritt-Bennett Center, and the Scene had an opportunity to speak with her by phone. Much of what she said may be surprising to Americans, whose impressions of Israelis have been molded by a fairly one-dimensional portrayal in the mainstream media. In fact, she says most of her fellow countrymen are in favor of giving back most of the territories — and that her father, if he were alive today, would share that sentiment:
Are you in favor of giving back most of the occupied territories?
Yes. The majority of Israelis are. I'm not a fringe, isolated opinion. More and more people realize we cannot have peace and occupation or peace and settlement. We have to opt for one or the other. We realize that, as dramatic as it may be, the only possible way to go ahead with the peace plan is the end of occupation and the evacuation of most settlements. All the questions of security — that will be the aftermath, that will be the result of peace. We can not put it as a precondition these days.
So you're saying that the majority of Israelis agree with you?
What do you think it will take for the Israeli government to take the steps to get out of the West Bank?
I don't know. I think they have to come to terms with reality, which is changing in the entire world. And by this, I mean that the United States and the Europeans and the Far East are opting for a two-state solution. … We should make room to make it possible for the Palestinians to have what we have. And the majority of Israelis who are opting for a two-state solution — some happily, some less happily — understand that we have to repartition the land between the Mediterranean and the River Jordan.
How do feel about Netanyahu's stance on things? Do you feel that he's flexible? And do you have a relationship with him at all?
I have a relationship [with him]. He's not really flexible, but he lets himself be pushed into reality, and then when he diverts from it, he finds himself in the minority in Israel, and certainly in the world. We're not very popular in our obstinate stand of not being a partner in peace negotiations. They all say, “We want peace,” but that's an empty word unless you have an agenda attached to it.
Do you think a two-state solution could possibly happen while Netanyahu is still prime minister?
I think so, and I think it will buy him a second term. There is no question that people are eager to see the end of the conflict. And there isn't another end in sight. We are also eager to remain within the family of nations, and to reinforce our democracy and ensure our security, and this will not happen if Israel is not in the direction of compromise.
How old were you during the Six-Day War?
I was in the army. I was doing reserve service, and I was 26 or 27. I was a lieutenant and then a captain in the Israeli army. Obviously we had high hopes, which were disappointed by the results of the Six-Day War. But then we didn't really have a partner, because the Palestinians were partly governed by Jordan, and the other part by Egypt, and it took another 20 years, when King Hussein left them on their own, to produce a national entity with whom we can negotiate. Or we can fight if we choose to, but certainly we can negotiate if we choose to.
So you feel that you have a partner you can work with in the Palestinians?
Certainly. There is no symmetry. We've got what they don't have. And we've got the capacity and the force and the army that they don't have. We cannot prevent history from going the way it goes, which is positive for us, but our attempt to stop it from the point of view that it's not safe enough for Israel, this is just a misconception and very much misinformation. We will never be secure as an occupier.
Do a lot of Israelis share your opinion, that the security situation is not as scary as people make it out to be?
I would say a high percentage — certainly more than 50, 60, 70 percent — know that the last few wars were wars of choice. No one can destroy us. We can be destroyed if we don't have the support of the United States and the rest of the free world, but we don't have a survival problem.
When factions on the far right say that it's a security issue, do you feel that they're being disingenuous?
I think they are abusing the word “security.” I think they are misinforming on purpose. And I think they are really very dangerous for the future of Israel. They are questioning our need for peace and our ability to obtain peace.
And what do you think about the rise of Hamas?
First of all, it's inevitable. In the long run, we don't want to have a three-state solution. And obviously, Gaza and the West Bank have got to get together. I hope Hamas is a partner, but not the policymaker. That's what Abu Mazen said. The policy on peace will remain the same, and Hamas joined the unity government with the knowledge that they will not indulge in terrorism, but also accept all the previous agreements that were signed. … I think that today, all Palestinians are expecting their leaders — whether they are Hamas or PLO — they really want to break away from this desperate position of being promised some kind of victory in a feud where they can't win.
How do you feel about Barack Obama's Israeli policies?
I welcome it. I think he's very careful, because perhaps he has to be more careful than Clinton. I think he's giving us big leeway in order to accommodate us, but he's being stubborn the way that so many Israelis are about [the need to get rid of] settlements and occupation. As I said before, there's just no way that anyone will support peace and occupation. Certainly not Obama.
Do you think the U.S. has been too easy on Israel, as far as not demanding more concessions?
No. I think we get support from the United States in our economy and military, which should enable us to be really very generous. It doesn't need pressure. We are already partners in receiving. Now we shall be partners in giving as well.
I think there is a misconception of the American Jewish community about fears of security and safety. I think this should be shattered. I think that they're doing a lot of harm — you know, AIPAC, and that sort of establishment that is not really the voice of Netanyahu, but of the other extreme right elements in his government, and the religious elements.
So you are the head of the Tel Aviv City Council?
I chair it. It's an elected position.
What is the relationship like in Israel between the two different sides in this debate? Are you friends with a lot of people that you disagree with?
No. Those who furiously hate me and refuse to even think or listen, they are very violent. These are the same people who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, and send me and others life threats. We've learned to ignore it, but it's very disturbing that we have such a voice, which is basically ignorant and not listening to anything. It has to do with racism, and their hatred of the Arabs. It's the same as their hatred of gays or women or anything that is different.
So they consider you a traitor.
Yes. We really hope that we're not going to go back to the times of [the assassination of] Yitzhak Rabin. On the other hand, we've developed a thick skin. We don't shy away from speaking loud and being noticed and demonstrating.
How big is the ultra-religious population?
I think the hardcore is about 15 percent. And then there are religious people who are just traditional who are not extremists. And even if they would like a greater Israel, they understand we cannot go on with the occupation.
Do the death threats worry you?
No. It's shameful. We had a demonstration two weeks ago and we needed police protection, because they were coming too near and too loud. I'm not a young person anymore, and I do need the shield when they become very violent.
Do you have protection all the time?
No, no. Of course not. And I wouldn't like it. I live in Tel Aviv and I work in Tel Aviv, and this is a terrific city of pluralism and liberalism, and you don't feel it in Tel Aviv. I feel it when I go to communities which are much smaller and homogeneous. It's terrible to say, but there are streets in Jerusalem that I really don't like driving in. People recognize me, and they would stop the car and bang on the windows and so on. And it's shameful. It's not frightening. We share history. And whether you like it or not, we share a future.
How do you feel about Jerusalem in the peace negotiations?
The annexation of Jerusalem was not recognized by anybody. The United States, even in its warmest and [friendliest] days, never accepted to move its embassy to Jerusalem. That's not Obama or anyone in particular. It's just that our annexation of East Jerusalem is totally not acceptable by international legitimacy.
So you feel it has to be given back?
It has to be partitioned. Anyway, all of these people who protect Jerusalem, I haven't seen them, like I see myself, in East Jerusalem, talking to Palestinians and going to the restaurants.
A lot of them are living in this country and have probably never been there.
They've never been there. And they talk about it. “This is really what's holy, and the core of Zionism, and we will never give it up! We will die for it!”
We didn't die for East Jerusalem in the past. We never fought for it. It was unfortunate that Hussein got involved in the ’67 war, and now it's time to repartition.
How do you feel about the legacy of your father?
The biggest thing in his life was the peace treaty with Egypt, which he was one of the architects of. And this gave him the greatest satisfaction for everything that he fought for.
Do you think he'd be in favor of giving back the territory?
I'm sure. He died before the Palestinians were rid of King Hussein. But while he was minister of defense, he created a very good dialogue with local [Palestinian] authorities, with the mayors, with the farmers, with the merchants. And not from a patronizing point, but really sharing and arguing and debating, as equals. He never treated the Arabs as inferior.
I know you can't see the future, but do you have any inkling when the change is going to come?
I don't know. I hope the United States, without putting pressure, I hope they make it very clear to those elements who oppose it here [in the U.S.], why the best thing for Israel is peace. And I hope the Israeli government makes it very clear to Israeli society. We can't change the views of the extremists.
On either side.
On either side. But there's nothing that should make America support dictatorships or occupation or deprivation of rights. That's what America is about. That's what the victims of 9/11 suffered from, that America is a symbol for all the things that are wonderful in this world. And we are disrupting that in a way, breaking the confidence.
So you feel that Israel is harming America's reputation?
We're not going with the same agenda. I think we all have to have the same agenda, fight against terrorism and for democracy. And we are disrupting it. We are a wonderful ally, and democratic and so on, but this business of the last years of occupation is disrupting it.
Do you feel that recent developments in Egypt and other Arab countries will affect things positively? Negatively? Not at all?
Negatively, I don't see how. There's no vacuum into which the ultra-religious will step in. They will acquire their place in Egypt. I'm not afraid of it. I think that any kind of struggle for freedom and democracy is commendable. It may take a while, but it can't be negative. We cannot really support, even if they were good to us, the dictators.
Do you like it here in Nashville?
Yes, very much.
Is this your first time here?
No, I've been here before. Also on a speaking tour, very quick. Nashville stands on its own, for many things, which are wonderful. I'm sorry to see that there isn't a stronger portion of the Jewish community that speaks out. It's not that they're against [giving back the occupied territories]. It's just that they're silent.