Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Testimony of Neta Golan (2002)

Over at Mondoweiss they ran a wonderful piece by an Israeli critic of Israel by the name of Neta Golan. But commenter Mondoweiss commenter ‘tree’ unearthed another piece, dating back to 2002, by Neta Golan:

My name is Neta Golan.  I was born in Tel Aviv.  My childhood was scary, and simple.  There were good guys and bad guys.  We were the good guys.  The bad guys could be anyone, but they were mostly Arabs.  Now I'm a 3rd generation Israeli: my grandmother was born in what was still called Palestine.  My mother was born in 1948.  And yet, I grew up in the shadow of the holocaust.  It was always my reference point, for everything.

As a child, I met Palestinians.  They were there, working in construction or sanitation.  But there was never a chance to meet as equals.  Instead there were fears, being fed by the media, by what we learned in school.  I learned always that we were defending ourselves from people who wanted to kill us. 

It wasn't until I was 15 years old that I learned of the occupation.  It was during the first intifada, because before the first intifada Palestinians, the occupation, simply didn't exist to us.  The first intifada made it impossible for Israelis to ignore Palestinians.  But I was raised on Jewish history, a history of oppression, dispossession, suffering ethnic cleansing, of being forced out of community after community.  Could we really be doing these things to another people?

I couldn't believe it because I was a part of the consensus opinion in Israel, that we are morally superior.  They are violent.  We have purity of arms.  If we do kill a civilian or an innocent, it's by mistake.  Even if these mistakes happen every single day.  I didn't believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.  I refused to believe that a soldier would open fire on an innocent child, but I saw it.  Unfortunately in Nablus where I live, I see it too often.  When I would hear about a child being killed by a soldier, I would think-no, he must have thrown a stone, he must have been doing something that endangered the soldier and forced the soldier to shoot back.  I wanted to believe that the children were throwing stones.  But when you are in the West Bank, and you see a child throw a stone at a tank, you understand that if that child is killed, that is murder.  And very recently, 5 internationals were with Baha, one of the children who we knew well, and soldiers in an armoured personnel carrier picked him out from among the internationals, shot him twice in the chest, and killed him.

As a child I wouldn't have been able to believe this.  I would say-the proof of their violence is suicide bombing!  We would never do something like that.  One of my classmates asked me: what's the difference between a suicide bombing and a Phantom jet bombing a refugee camp?  I said-we don't bomb refugee camps.  I couldn't believe the only difference between us and them was that we had better weapons.  But I went home and asked my father.
"Is it true that we bomb refugee camps with Phantom Jets?"

"Yes.  The terrorists think they can hide in the refugee camps, so we prove that they cannot" he told me. 
But that wasn't even enough to change me, because the conditioning runs very deep.  So deep that when I first went to the West Bank, during Oslo, I would have anxiety attacks.  Once a week I would go, and every trip I would be filled with anxiety, filled with fear, thinking: "they all want to kill me!"  And it took at least fifteen minutes of seeing people going about their business, talking to each other, working, doing almost anything other than thinking about how much they wanted to kill me, before I calmed down.  Seeing their openness, their willingness to accept me, their generosity, that has been the greatest gift of overcoming my fear-the chance to discover the wisdom, the beauty of the Palestinian people.  Israelis who can't overcome their fear are much poorer for not having the chance to do that.

After a year and a half of this anxiety, it mostly went away.  But as soon as things changed, when the political situation would become worse, I would fall back on that conditioning and become afraid again.  In 2000, when the second intifada broke out, I was afraid.  I was in Nablus and asked my fiancé, am I being paranoid because I'm afraid?  He said: "yes!" 

I am still shocked, sometimes, to discover what my government does, and to discover who the Palestinians really are and what they are really like. 

During the Oslo peace process, I thought, along with most Israelis: "this is wonderful!"  Because in Israel, there was peace.  But when I heard from the Palestinians, I learned that there was not peace.  There were, instead, settlements, losses in freedom of movement.  Overnight in 1991 Palestinians lost the right to go to East Jerusalem without a permit.  East Jerusalem is the capital-the heart-of Palestine in every way: politically, culturally, spiritually, economically.  Overnight they lost the chance to go there and in 1993 with the peace process, they waited to get their chance back.  The resistance to occupation basically stopped.  But peace never came.  What came instead were the bypass roads, settler roads that surrounded all the communities, with the checkpoints and roadblocks.
Thanks to the bypass roads and checkpoints, it isn't just difficult to travel between cities in the West Bank: it's illegal.  This wasn't the case even during the first intifada.  Today the West Bank has been under siege, under curfew, for months and months.  It's possible for the army to besiege the West Bank in this way because of the infrastructure of the bypass roads that was built during the 'peace process'. 

People saw that the peace process was a smokescreen and that on the ground, the occupation was expanding.  Palestinians would tell me, first, 'nothing has changed, but we're waiting for things to get better.'  Next, they would say 'things aren't changing, and we can't stand this.'  For years I tried to tell Israelis that there was no peace process.  Most Israelis didn't want to hear it.  They would say-these things take time.  And when you have a job, a home, freedom, you have time.  But when you have none of these things, for 7 years, as Palestinians didn't have, you don't feel like you have time.

I remember in 1997, Prime Minister Netanyahu made the decision to build a settlement around occupied East Jerusalem, Har Homa.  East Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine, but it had been surrounded by Israeli settlements.  Har Homa was the final link in a chain that would totally surround East Jerusalem with settlements.   For the Palestinians, this was read as proof that the peace process was over.  There were nonviolent protests.  Palestinians and Israelis joined in.  Feisal Husseini and others were there.  The mountain that was to become Har Homa was squatted by activists.

Netanyahu gave the order to storm the mountain, kick the demonstrators off it, and bulldoze all the trees on the mountain to make room for the settlement.

The night that happened I was devastated.  Again I talked to my father, who supported the decision.
"We can't allow them to tell us where we can and can't build," he said.

I'm not a prophet, but I knew hopelessness, desperation, when I saw it.  And I saw it then.
"But what if there's another suicide bomber?"  There hadn't been one in some time, by that time.
He told me that it was a "calculated risk." 

Hours later there was a suicide bombing.  "Do you still think it was the right decision?"  I asked him.  "Yes, it was a calculated risk."  I couldn't believe it, but I thought "he's upset, as I am, shocked by the bombing, he doesn't mean that." 

Hours after that, our phone rang.  My father answered the phone and when he hung up he was pale.  My cousin had been killed in the bombing. 

My father took back what he said about the calculated risk-I shouldn't have said that, he told me.  "But the only person responsible is the bastard who did it."

The only person responsible.  The "calculated risk" had disappeared.  The context had disappeared.  Just the bomber was responsible.

And the bomber was responsible.  But so was Netanyahu's settlement policy.  And the Israeli government, who are willing to pay the price-- even in Israeli blood, my cousin's blood-- for maintaining and expanding the occupation.
And the international community, as well, for not reacting.  In Israel, I was shocked at the international community's non-reaction.  We kept thinking-there's no way the international community is going to put up with this.  But they did.  And they do, still.

The Palestinian nonviolent movement today faces an unprecedented situation, a level of violence that is unimaginable.  The Israelis don't see it.  I want to show you a day of siege in Jenin, basically a 'non-news' item, where tanks roll around, shooting in the streets to announce curfew as people run in fear.  This happens every single day and it's not news because most journalists don't leave Jerusalem except occasionally to go to Ramallah or Bethlehem.
In an environment like this, people won't join a nonviolent movement.  That's why we need internationals.  We need people to join, to bring the attention of the international community to the situation.  The intifada started with children throwing stones.  They were answered with snipers.  Some Palestinians reacted to this violence by shooting attacks on soldiers and settlers.  They were systematically assassinated, starting in Beit Sahour, and nearly every assassination killed innocent bystanders as well.

I'm often in Balata refugee camp, and I want to believe that Israel believes that its actions  are going to stop resistance but they have to know that they are making the situation so intolerable that non-resistance is a non-option.  There were no suicide bombers from Balata until May of this year.  In May there were assassinations of two young men who were Palestinian fighters, members of the armed resistance.  For the people in these camps, these fighters were heroes who were defending their people.  It was 4 days after these assassinations that a wave of 7 suicide bombers came from Balata. 

The oldest of these bombers was eighteen.

The operations were poorly organized.  Many of them blew up on the way, failed in their missions.  They were obviously acts of pure desperation.  The Israeli Army knows they can't stop attacks like these.  Arafat certainly can't stop them. 

But there is one thing that can stop them.  Hope.

In the first intifada, tens of thousands of Palestinians marched for an end to occupation.  There were some bombings-but Palestinians stopped them.  When Prime Minister Barak wanted to have elections in an atmosphere of quiet, he got his quiet by lifting the siege and opening up a few roadblocks.  That was all it took.  There were no bombings because there was hope.

By your joining us, you can help bring back hope. 

Thank you.

To volunteer with the ISM, see www.palsolidarity.org


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