Neta Golan has been described as “a legendary figure” and is one of very few Israelis who has been arrested, beaten, and harassed repeatedly for working against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. She lives in the West Bank where she works with the International Solidarity Movement.
You have said that one way or another this occupation is going to end. That’s far from a foregone conclusion to most. What makes you so sure?
Every occupation, every colonial society that has ever been established, has ended — with the exception of the Americas, which required a genocide to take place. I don’t think a genocide is possible in this situation. The only way Israel could expel the Palestinians is under a regional war. Under the smokescreen of a regional war, Israel could try to do the ‘transfer’ that is planned and proposed by the extreme right.
I don’t think a regional war is in the US’s interest right now, and without the US’s blessing Israel wouldn’t be able to do it. So I think eventually Israel will tire, as the British tired in India or the French in Algeria or the Indonesians in Timor. Ultimately, it will end.
There are differences between Israel’s occupation and the ones I just mentioned. 1948 Israel is a settler state and it is certainly colonial, but the difference between it and France in Algeria is that the Israelis in the 1948 borders don’t have anywhere to go. The occupied West Bank and Gaza strip, though, are more classic colonies. The settlers can, and will, come back when those occupations end.
But how many will die before that, unnecessarily? How much suffering will it cost?
Even though I’m sure it is going to end, it still needs people to make it happen. So we have to make it happen, and we also have to try to make it happen as soon, and with as little suffering, as possible.
Where do internationals fit in to making the end of occupation?
One possible way the occupation could end is by the international community pressuring Israel. There’s certainly a case under international law for doing so. Both settlements and collective punishments are illegal under international law.
International pressure played an important role in ending apartheid in South Africa. The boycotts were effective, and more important of course was the resistance on the ground. If there was a full withdrawal of the international community, I believe the occupation would end.
But where has the international community been? Until the first intifada, no one even knew Palestinians existed.
As for internationals who come independently, to work with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) they’re addressing several problems. One specific problem is that Israel uses excessive force to oppress Palestinian popular resistance of any kind. Israel does not differentiate between combatants, nonviolent demonstrators, and people who are just trying to live. Everyone gets lethal force. And what happens is that the Palestinians don’t want to go as sheep to the slaughter. The occupation is a pressure cooker and it’s explosive.
If popular struggle is closed by snipers, and if the international community accepts it, then resistance will become more and more violent. The open avenues are the ones that involve people blowing themselves up. If you can’t have a dignified life, you die fighting. Killing civilians is a crime, there’s no question. But it’s important to recognize that if people have something to live for they don’t do this.
Is there proof? When Palestinians believed Oslo would bring them peace, they waited seven years. Through seven years of expanding settlements and checkpoints, expanding provocations, Palestinians waited because they thought it would bring them peace. After seven years they recognized it as a smokescreen for occupation, and it exploded into the intifada.
The intifada itself started with stone-throwing, which was met by sniper fire and machine gun fire from tanks.
What we want to do with the International Solidarity Movement is keep an avenue for popular struggle open. When we accompany Palestinians, because of the racism of the whole system, the army doesn’t treat us as targets the way they treat Palestinians. We want to expose the racist nature of the conflict by doing this, and also to simply try to protect people so they can try to resist politically.
Palestinians asked the world for an international protection force. Such a force would have reduced violence. Israel and the US prevented it, with the US vetoing it in the United Nations. Since our governments are acting to sustain the occupation, civilians have to come here themselves to work as a civilian protection force. The hope is that at some point our governments will follow.
What do you think happens if we fail?
Every Arab civilian in the world knows that their blood is cheap.
Iraqis, Afghanis, Palestinians. They are paying a high price for the West’s racism, being killed, humiliated. Those things create terrorism. Israeli and US state terror and the reaction in ‘retail’ terrorism are two sides of the same coin and they can’t exist without each other. We’re creating that, feeding it, in the Arab world. And one source that feeds it, that tells Arabs their blood is cheap, is what is happening in Palestine.
For Westerners to say we refuse to do this, we refuse to believe that our lives are worth any more than Arab lives, is an important message for all of us. It makes everyone safer.
Bush, Sharon, they’re leading us down a road very dangerous for our future. For our present! The West has already paid a little bit, with the attacks in New York, for the hatred they are creating. There will only be more backlash. So for those of us who want a sane world, for those of us who don’t want to live in a world that is at war, resisting this conflict in a just way is in our own interest.
Interesting that you mentioned ‘a sane world’. Here in Israel, and I guess elsewhere, we’re the ones who are thought of as ‘insane’. I’m sure you’ve been called ‘crazy’, no?
One problem is the disinformation. Hardly anybody who would call us ‘crazy’ knows what’s going on here and if they did, if they came here, they would be motivated in the same ways that we are. But they would have to get up from behind their televisions.
In the Israeli media, the only image of Arabs is violence. The human side, the suffering, is hidden from us. I believe that if they saw people, just like them, suffering the way they are, they would be motivated the same way.
I’m a Jewish Israeli. As a Jew, I carry a wound. I know my people suffered a genocide. They tried to tell the world; people didn’t come, believe, know, want to know, do anything.
Some did. A few did, and they were called ‘crazy’ at the time. I want to do for the Palestinians what those ‘crazies’ did for the Jews, I want to take their example, and the truth is that it’s easier for us to do what we do now than it was then. There are Israelis who support our work here.
Israeli society is going through a collective turn to fascism. It is supporting assassinations, extra-judicial executions, openly. These things are really scary. I feel it, I feel like we’re in the middle of an unfolding catastrophe and I think, quite often, of those ‘crazies’ in Germany who resisted. I feel closer to them all the time.
Many of the activists who have been coming here are also working on an ongoing basis with the ‘anti-globalization’ movement. If it’s all part of a movement for justice, what do you think the next steps should be?
I would love to see the tens of thousands of people who go to a G-8 meeting or a World Bank meeting come here, where the terrible decisions they make are actually being implemented. With several thousand activists we could dismantle checkpoints, break sieges of all kinds, we could make a real difference on the ground where the policies are actually being implemented. I think it would be great to disrupt the implementation of the policies rather than only the planning of them.
Politically speaking, a kind of anti-imperialist, anti-neoliberal force could reach out to moderate Muslims. Muslims’ choices seem to be imperialism or resistance that takes a fundamentalist form. What about resistance that is anti-imperialist and not fundamentalist? If our ideas could reach, and interest, the Muslim community it would add strength and depth to both movements, and give new avenues and political options to people.