Gideon Levy is one of the most famous and controversial journalists in Israel. The Independent has described him as both “the most hated man in Israel” and the “most heroic.” Levy, in turn, describes Israelis as living in a “bubble”—unaware of their government’s violence against Palestinian civilians and families.
Growing Up “a Good Tel Aviv Boy”
Gideon Levy was born in Tel Aviv in 1953 to German and Czech immigrant parents. His father lived on a refugee boat for six months after fleeing the Nazis in 1939; the boat was turned away from every port until it finally reached Mandate Palestine. His mother was brought to Mandate Palestine in a children’s rescue operation and was placed in a kibbutz.
Levy recalls his father as “traumatized for his whole life” and never quite assimilating into Israeli life, remaining “a foreigner, in his own country.” Yet, for decades, Levy and his family believed “that another holocaust is around the corner.”
Levy completed his military service by working in the Israeli army’s radio station. He describes himself at the time as being “a good Tel Aviv boy [with] mainstream views.” He was even convinced that Palestinians “were happy we had conquered them, that they were so grateful we released [them] from the Jordanian regime.” In another interview, he adds: “I thought – we are the best, and the Arabs just want to kill. I didn’t question.”
A Lone Israeli Voice Covering the Palestinian Side
Levy’s political views gradually changed as he began to travel to the occupied territories for his job as a journalist for Haaretz. He said, “I was attracted gradually like a butterfly to a fire or to a light.” Between the first and second intifadas, Levy found himself to be “almost alone” in Israeli media covering what was happening on the ground in the occupied territories.
He began to see the Palestinians “as they really are,” as people who became refugees upon the creation of the Israeli state. His own parents were refugees, and he understood the difficulties of such a status. “I saw these people and thought of my parents.”
Over the last forty-one years since Levy began his career in journalism at Haaretz, he has become known for writing about Palestinians with humanity and without propaganda. He told the Independent: “My modest mission is to prevent a situation in which many Israelis will be able to say, ‘We didn’t know.’”
Journalist Gideon Levy’s Reporting Calls for Compassion
Levy has witnessed countless violence against Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories, by both Israeli soldiers and extremist settlers: “Children killed. Injured people. Farms on fire. Cars and houses burnt. Shepherds whose cattle were stolen. Farmers whose lands were confiscated. And so many detainees.”
In March 2023, Levy reported on the aftermath of a settler pogrom in the West Bank town of Hawara the week prior which killed one and injured 100 Palestinians. More than 400 settlers rampaged through the town for five hours, vandalizing homes and businesses, unhindered by the Israeli soldiers who maintained their posts.
Settlers committed similar violence in Hawara the year before in the January 2022 settler pogrom, in which a convoy of more than 30 cars drove through the Palestinian town and attacked locals. A week after the 2023 attack, the settlers threatened to repeat the violence yet again.
In Levy’s signature style, he interrupted his reporting to consider how his Israeli readership would feel if 400 Palestinians had raided their own settlements. The Independent has described it as a “simple technique. He asks his fellow Israelis: how would we feel, if this was done to us by a vastly superior military power?”
An Israeli Patriot Calls for Boycott
In a 2003 interview with PBS, Levy described being shot at by the Israeli army despite having the proper permits: “The last two years, I’m much more afraid of the Israeli soldiers rather than the Palestinians.” He continued, “I’m an Israeli, and I feel so Israeli. But I would like to see a different army. It’s not the army that I dreamt about, and it’s not the state that I dreamt about. Therefore, I think that it is very legitimate to do anything against this occupation regime.”
It was not until 2013 that Levy began to endorse the call to boycott Israel. “I am a patriotic Israeli,” Gideon Levy declared in an interview with The Jewish Chronicle. He argues that the economic boycott of Israel has become a “patriotic requirement. […] with Israel getting itself into another round of deep stalemate, both diplomatic and ideological, the call for a boycott is required as the last refuge of a patriot.”
Levy’s Enduring Legacy
Gideon Levy has won many prestigious awards, including Israel’s top prize of journalism, the Sokolow Prize in 2021, and the Olof Palme Prize of International Human Rights in 2016; the Peace Through Media Award in 2012; the Euro-Med Journalist Prize for Cultural Dialogue in 2008; the Leipzig Freedom Prize in 2001; the Israeli Journalists’ Union Prize in 1997; and the Association of Human Rights in Israel Award for 1996.
Levy’s writing can be found at Haaretz in his “Twilight Zone” column, which he began in 1988. He has also published an English-language book, The Punishment of Gaza (Verso, London, 2010), which explores Israel’s 2009 invasion of Gaza. Levy has also contributed to the anthology A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture (Verso, Tel Aviv, London, 2003).
Gideon Levy continues his journalism with love for both Israel and Israelis. He said, “A real friend does not pick up the bill for an addict’s drugs: he packs the friend off to rehab instead. Today, only those who speak up against Israel’s policies—who denounce the occupation, the blockade, and the war—are the nation’s true friends.”