- Passing through the gates of the Israeli Knesset building is harder than it might seem: I had to wait for half an hour in the rain, hoping they would let me in to do the interview with Kurdish Israeli MP Mickey Levy. In the end, Levy himself had to come down and escort me up to his office.
Levy was born in Jerusalem, but his parents are from the Kurdish town of Cizire in Turkey. Strikingly tall and very masculine, Mickey was the chief of police in Jerusalem when the political mayhem was at its peak in early 2000. He was also deputy finance minister in previous governments. He is now a member of the Israeli Knesset for the Yesh Atid party. In this interview with Rudaw, Levy says he is proud to be a Kurd, and that his ancestors came to the land now called Israel long before Saladin Ayubi, the legendary Muslim Kurdish commander.Below is an edited transcript of the interview:
Rudaw: In addition to Muslims and Jews, you have Druze too in Israel. Have they asked for their own independent state?
Mickey Levy: The Druze came to this area two centuries ago. We share many cultural things with them, like our clothes and customs. They are closer to the Arabs, though. They have not asked for a state and frankly not every nation needs to have a state only because they ask for it.
Rudaw: Would you say the same thing in regard to Kurdistan? Why should the Kurds have a state if that were the case?
Mickey Levy: I think we will support Kurdistan’s independence some day, like Israel.
Rudaw: What do you mean by some day? Have you not supported it yet?
Mickey Levy: We don’t really know what future awaits the region. The situation in Iraq is not good. But we think Kurds are a nation and need to have a state of their own.
Rudaw: Is this the stance of your party too?
Mickey Levy: No, this is indeed my personal opinion. In fact, we have not had any discussions about Kurdish independence, to answer your question.
Rudaw: Where in Kurdistan are you from?
Mickey Levy: My parents are from Kurdistan, from Cizire. I thought Cizire was a small village, but now I hear from you that it’s a big city and is part of Turkey. I didn’t know that, really. When my parents came to Israel, I was born in Jerusalem. I am married now and have four children. Indeed, my wife is not Kurdish. My spoken Kurdish is not sufficient, but I understand quite well. We spoke Kurdish at home all the time. I spoke Kurdish well in the past, but not now anymore. You know, I was born in a neighborhood in Jerusalem which was 100 percent Kurdish. It was close to the Knesset. No one spoke Hebrew here then. They only spoke in Kurdish. It was a good feeling. Even now, when you ask people about the Kurdish neighborhood, they all show you the area where I was born.
Rudaw: Why did you want to become an MP?
Mickey Levy: Before becoming an MP I was serving within the army. I was once in the anti-terror force. I was a commander in Nablus. Then I became the head of the police force in Jerusalem between 2000 and 2004. I was then major general. It was at the same time as the Second Palestinian Intifada. Fifty-two suicide missions were carried out in my district. I was able to prevent 12 attempts, but 40 missions were successfully carried out. In these actions, more than 250 people were killed and about 1,000 people were injured. We had to deal with 11 car bombs, of which we could only defuse four. It was basically because of that that we decided to set up a wall between Israel and Palestine. We were able to prevent the suicide missions. In terms of intelligence, we are powerful enough now to prevent suicide missions on the other side of the wall. When I was the police chief in Jerusalem, I was in charge of a chaotic city. We had to be on our guard constantly.
Rudaw: But you still have a problem with the Palestinians over Jerusalem. Why is that?
Mickey Levy: Yes, me and my party think that we should have two states, a Palestinian state and an Israel with Jerusalem as its eternal capital. When you study history, you see that Jerusalem was the capital of the Jews even in King David’s time.
Rudaw: But half of the city is now Arab and you can’t change that.
Mickey Levy: Believe me, if you ask the Muslims whether or not they want to live in Israel with the Jews, they will answer you ’yes’ in private, even if they might answer differently in public. The reason is that, if they become Israelis, they receive the benefits of healthcare, social welfare. They even obtain an Israeli passport, which gives them the freedom to travel. They are free to travel to Tel Aviv and other places. They clearly see what a chaotic situation Palestine is in, while Israel has the best medical facilities in the region. If you ask them in private, they would no doubt choose Israel.
Rudaw: Be that as it may, the political parties in Palestine do not seem to compromise on the status of Jerusalem. How would you want to reach a deal if you insist on the same?
Mickey Levy: Let me ask you something: are Mecca and Medina cities in Iraq or Saudi Arabia? They are Saudi, indeed. The same way, why would they insist on Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine?
Rudaw: Palestinians and the Arabs have the same question for you. Why do you insist on Jerusalem when you have Tel Aviv as your capital?
Mickey Levy: No, That’s not it. It’s different. Let us look into history. Go back 3.000 years. Even in Islamic books, Jerusalem has never been the capital of Palestine or Jordan. Both Jordan and Palestine are relatively new states. I’m speaking of 3,000 years ago. Look at the historical documents and you will see what I mean. Even in the Quran, Jerusalem is not mentioned like that.
Rudaw: Let us go back to your Kurdish origin. You said you are very proud of being a Kurd. We also know that you were powerful in Jerusalem once. Before you, and four decades ago, Saladin Ayubi came to Jerusalem. Are you proud of Saladin as a Kurd too?
Mickey Levy: You know, this is a difficult question. We were here long before Saladin, really. You can see it in historical findings. I’m absolutely sure you’ll find that we were here before him.
Rudaw: We have had a Kurdish government since 1991. Do you think now it’s time for Kurdish independence?
Mickey Levy: Kurdistan has a right to independence and I hope it will (have it). I just can say so much.
Rudaw: The fact that you are Kurd and hope that Kurds will one day gain their independence, has that in any way affected your opinion about Palestinians having their own state too?
Mickey Levy: This is indeed correct. Because I am a Kurd and I know it’s good for the future of Israel. We need peace with the Palestinians.
Rudaw: Many people argue that the Kurdish lobby for independence should be strong in Israel, but that’s not the case. Why is that?
Mickey Levy: I think we should do more. I can’t say when and how, but I know it should take place. We have to discuss it here, inside Israel. I totally believe in the independence of Kurdistan and will work to create a debate about it inside my own party.