Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy, one of the winners of the prestigious Sokolow Prize for 2021, received the honor on Tuesday at a Tel Aviv ceremony.
Levy, 68, who has been writing for Haaretz since 1982, won the prize for print journalism.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said at the event that a strong society is one that isn't afraid of criticism and Israel's pride is its "free, potent media that challenges the Israeli consensus time and again and takes us out of our comfort zones."
"The journalist's profession is difficult, intense, requires commitment, sharpness, daring," he added. "Not every tweeter is a journalist. A strong and quality press prospers when reporters are given the resources, support, backing and stage to present their findings."
Levy has been writing a weekly column, “The Twilight Zone,” since the First Intifada on the suffering of Palestinians in the occupied territories. In his opinion pieces in Haaretz, he writes about the injustice of the occupation and does not hesitate to express unpopular views against Israel’s policies, which often draw a heavy criticism from readers and the general public.
“Journalist Gideon Levy regularly challenges the Israeli consensus in courageous work on the ground that brings the testimonies and stories of those who do not receive adequate exposure in the local media discussion – the voices of Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and in the past the Gaza Strip,” wrote the judges in their decision to award the prize. Levy “presents original and independent positions that do not surrender to convention or social codes, and in doing so enriches the public discourse fearlessly.”
Levy was born in Tel Aviv in 1953 to parents who had immigrated to Palestine from Europe after the Nazis rose to power. His grandmother and grandfather were murdered in the Holocaust. He grew up in Tel Aviv and graduated from the Ironi Aleph High School. He began his journalistic career at Army Radio in 1974 as a reporter and editor. In 1978, he was appointed an aide and spokesman for Shimon Peres.
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Writing about his youth, Levy said: “I was like all Israelis: Brainwashed, convinced of our righteousness, certain that we were David and they were Goliath, knew that the Arabs do not love their children like us (and maybe not at all), and that they, as opposed to us, were born to kill.”
After the Six-Day War and the capture of the Palestinian territories, like many in his generation, Levy went with his parents to visit what was called at the time “the regions of the homeland that were liberated.”
“I was very excited. I didn’t see people in the territories at the time – only white sheets on the balconies and places we were told were holy. I was part of the great religious nationalist orgy of Israel that began then and hasn’t ended since,” he wrote.
Levy began working for Haaretz in 1982. At first, he was the newspaper’s deputy editor. In 1988, he began writing his column “The Twilight Zone.” It began as a result of a request from former Knesset member David (Dedi) Zucker, who proposed that he join him on a trip to see olive trees that had been uprooted in the grove of an elderly Palestinian woman in the West Bank.
"So started, gradually and without forethought, 30 years of covering the crimes of the occupation," Levy wrote.
"Most Israelis didn't want it then and don't want it now," Levy wrote concerning his reporting. "The very act of covering this topic is seen as a crime by many Israelis. The very fact of treating Palestinians as victims and calling crimes [by that name] is seen as treason. Even describing Palestinians as human beings is considered provocative in Israel," Levy wrote. In over three decades of covering the occupation, Levy came to see more of it than most Israelis. "It has tumultuous, deadly periods and other, calmer ones," he wrote. "There are months when the blood flows freely, and months where what we covered were felled trees, ruined houses, uprooted residents and suspects held without trial."
Levy routinely criticizes Israeli army actions in the West Bank and Gaza, including during special missions and operations. For example, during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, Levy wrote an op-ed harshly critical of air force pilots and drone operators. "They are heroes who are battling the weakest, most helpless people who have no air force and no aerial defense, barely even a kite[…] How do you sleep at night, pilot? Did you see the pictures of the death and destruction you sowed – on television, and not just in the crosshairs?" Levy wrote. The piece, titled "Lowest Deeds from Loftiest Heights," caused a public uproar.
Levy's many detractors say that his writing is one-sided, and some even accuse him of supporting terrorism. In recent months, Levy angered members of the left-wing after publishing several op-eds praising former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "To a considerable extent, he has also contributed. That has to be honestly recognized," Levy wrote. "You can’t ignore that Netanyahu has been one of the most circumspect prime ministers in the use of military force," he added, calling Netanyahu an "eloquent and impressive statesman."
Levy kept working even while battling cancer in 2018. He is the recipient of several prizes for his journalism, including the Emil Grunzweig Human Rights Award, the Sparkasse Leipzig Prize for freedom and future of media and the Olof Palme Prize, jointly with Palestinian pastor Mitri Raheb, for their "courageous and indefatigable fight against occupation and violence." Levy lives in Tel Aviv, is divorced and has two children.
Aside from Levy, Karina Stutland was also awarded the Sokolow Prize for print journalism for her work as chief editor of the La'Isha magazine. The digital journalism prize was awarded to Ifat Glick, Kan's investigative reporter, and Ohad Hemo, Channel 12's reporter covering the territories and Palestinian affairs.