are you doing tomorrow?" my friend Edna asked.
"I am trying to go to Ramallah" I said.
"Why? I don't understand. They are our enemies..."
she confronted me.
phone conversation took place in Tel Aviv, while
I was there, in September of 2004. I did not get
into a political argument with her. This had been
established the first time I visited her and she
asked me what I was planning to do on my visit.
will go to the checkpoints, go to the West Bank,
go to demonstrations
am not going "there" with you," she
interrupted me, her "there" not referring
to the places mentioned but to the political conversation
she thought I was about to begin. A year earlier
we had a huge fight when I said that the war in
Iraq has to do with Zionist presence in Palestine.
She exploded and accused me of being an anti-Semite,
and did not speak to me for a long time.
me, Palestinians are not enemies. And this is despite
the fact that I grew up in Israel and am Jewish,
- though I live in the U.S. since 1978. Maybe it
was a lucky strike that at age 12, a month after
the 1967 war, I spent a month in a summer school
in Switzerland, where I met and befriended kids
from Kuwait, Libya, Soudi Arabia, and Lebanon. My
best friend there was Maya from Beirut, Lebanon.
We shared a room, and after the summer exchanged
letters through a friend in Paris for a year. It
was then that I knew that Arabs are not my enemies.
That I have no enemies and indeed want to live a
life without making one.
did not know at age 12 about Palestinians, and thinking
in retrospect, it's possible that some of the kids
in the Swiss summer school were of Palestinian origin.
But soon after that summer, back in Tel Aviv, I
was reading Uri Avnery's left-wing magazine - Haolam
Haze -- "this world", in Hebrew. It spoke
of clandestine meetings between Israelis and Palestinians
in London, - meetings that were outlawed by Israel
at the time. I was fascinated by those meetings,
intrigued by Palestinians, and wanted to know more
about them and "meet" them. Life offered
1972, my senior year in high school, I would skip
school and instead, drive to Jerusalem with one
of the founders of Matzpen - a left-wing group,
advocating a one state solution for Palestinians
and Israelis. Sitting in cafes in both east and
west Jerusalem I began to meet Palestinian activists
and intellectuals and to understand what had happened
to the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israelis.
And at a time when Golda Meir was stating that "there's
no such thing as Palestinians", here I was,
sitting with a few, who were telling me about how
their parents and grandparents had been expelled
from their villages and homes, from Jaffa and Haifa
and Ramle, in 1948 and before.
that time I had to go to the Israeli army. I really
did not want to go, but met a boy I fell in love
with, and together we formed a group that would
serve on a Kibbutz, a Communist Kibbutz, and not
serve in the occupied territories. This was accepted
by the army back then. In "basic training"
I spoke to all the other female soldiers about Palestinians,
about the occupation since 1967, and that Israel
has to get out of these territories. I was accused
of incitement. I was not put in jail, but punished
to spend most weekends on the base. This was combined
with my refusal to learn how to shoot a gun. Finally,
after a time, I got out of the army, released under
the clause, "Unfit for military service."
to many years later, it's now 1997 and I live in
L.A. The Milky Way, a film by a Palestinian Israeli
filmmaker, Ali Nassar, is part of the Israeli film
festival. I had met Ali in Jerusalem a few months
earlier, and now went to see the film again, at
a screening in Beverly Hills. There's very few people
in the theater, none Palestinian or Arab, though
the film is in Arabic. No PR has been done for the
film in the Arabic speaking communities, and I make
it a point to reach out to these audiences. This
is when I meet Pat and Samir Twair, she an American
journalist writing for The Washington Report on
Middle East Affairs, he a Syrian peace activist,
poet and journalist. It's also then that I meet
Hanna Elias, a Palestinian filmmaker, and Nabil
Azzam, a Palestinian violinist - both living in
Los Angeles. Four new friendships begin to blossom
I also begin to read and to learn more about the
roots of the conflict, about Zionism, about history.
I visit my mother that spring I witness from her
sixth floor window a bus exploding on a main Tel
Aviv street by a suicide bombing. My mother and
other Israelis point their fingers at Palestinian
aggression but I try to remind them that the Israeli
casualties, and the Palestinian suicide bombers,
are all victims of the Israeli Occupation.
September of 2000 I am again in Israel, (by now
my mother has died), when Ariel Sharon walks into
the Al-Aqsa mosque one Friday morning, with 1000
Israeli military and police men, and what's called
the "second Intifada" is sparked. For
the first time in my life I see up close, in Jerusalem
one night, Israelis beating up a young Palestinian
man. A few days later, at a concert I attend in
Jaffa, the concert's Israeli guard is beaten up
by a Palestinian. The images on TV are unbelievable:
Israeli tanks position themselves around Ramallah,
and I sit there with my friends, in a comfortable
Tel Aviv living room, watching, as Israeli tanks
begin to bomb Ramallah.
in the US, I continue to follow the news as suicide
bombings take place more regularly, and Israel escalates
its policy of "targeted assassinations and
liquidations". The images of the later are
less reported and less criticized by U.S. media,
though with each such targeted assassination and
liquidation Palestinian civilians and children are
killed, their homes destroyed, life interrupted.
What the media shows over and over, and by now it's
the spring of 2002, are the suicide bombings, images
of Israeli teenagers blown at a night club, for
example. This has such an effect, that for a moment,
even I, begin to doubt: Maybe I am wrong. Maybe
Israel is right when it says "we have no partner
for peace". And for a moment, even I, find
myself responding to an American girlfriend who
points out the atrocities Israel is committing on
the Palestinians, with: "If it was the other
way around, the Palestinians would be doing worse
things to the Israelis."
the American friend asks me calmly, "how do
you know?" And then I realize what I have just
said, and it shocks me. How do I know, indeed. Was
I too, brainwashed? Am I too, taking into account
only the symptoms while forgetting the root cause?
next day, as if the universe enters the conversation,
the Israeli incursion into Jenin takes place. I
see a picture on the Internet of Israeli soldiers
rounding up Palestinian men, striping them bare,
and marking numbers on their arms - like the Nazis
did to the Jews and other "non-grata"
people. Israeli military admits to reading and learning
from Nazi tactics. Images of mass-graves in Jenin
appear on TV. I read an interview with an Israeli
reserve who raves about razing Jenin into a football
field, in his bulldozer, while drinking whiskey
for 72 hours, without sleep or food. "Just
give me more homes to demolish, more Palestinians
to kill," he laughs, blood thirsty, remembering
the years I had started a school for creative writing
in Los Angeles. As the images of Jenin shook me
so deeply, the only thing I could do (besides demonstrating
in front of the Federal building in L.A., or sobbing),
was to offer a (free) workshop for Palestinians
and Israelis, Jews and Arabs, or anybody effected
by the Palestine / Israel conflict. I invited them
to write their stories, to bring their pain and
that of their ancestors out of their bodies and
minds and onto the page. With time I began to have
more and more writing students from the Arab, Muslim
and Palestinian world, and considering 9/11, this
"writers' UN" became even more important
to me. It culminated in a writing workshop I did
for 12 Palestinian women and one man, in August
2004, titled "Writing the Palestinian Story,"
and sponsored by PAWA, Palestinian American Women
their permission, here are some images from their
fresh egg scooped from under a chicken, by a grandmother
in a West Bank village, for her grandson visiting
from America. As he eats his breakfast on this morning
in 1991, he imagines how Palestine must have once
been, with almond, olive and fruit trees everywhere.
young Palestinian girl stops breathing for "15
minutes" during the 1967 war, when armed Israeli
soldiers shine a bright spotlight from their tank,
into her childhood room, in the middle of the night.
young and compassionate American nurse volunteers
on a Palestinian ambulance during the bloody Israeli
incursion into Jenin, in 2002.
the 50's, in Haifa, a kind, noble Palestinian Christian
Orthodox priest beaten by young Jewish Israeli goons.
This is recounted by his daughter who was then but
colorful wedding among checkpoints and curfews,
in 2001. When after much harassment the procession
of cars is finally let through, all the drivers
beep their horns, "like trumpets".
family field was swallowed by the Green Line
and the tears that roll down her father's face as
he says goodbye to his land, as he takes a lump
of soil in his hand, in his suitcase, when the family's
forced to flee to the other side of the Jordan river,
in 1948. This was the experience of a six year old
Palestinian child, now a grandmother in Southern
are only a few from a rich and varied mosaic, a
medley, of the Palestinian Story.
email I received after the workshop said: "I
never could believe that I would write my pain and
suffering to a Jewish Israeli woman, - you must
be one of us
" Or another: "Tell
the world that the Palestinians want peace with
justice for all." This workshop took place
a few days before my visit to Palestine / Israel
in September 2004, and those were the images and
sentiments that accompanied me, before I saw, first
hand, what's happening there now.
when my friend Edna in Israel said, "I don't
know why you want to go to Ramallah, they are our
enemies", I did not go into a political argument
with her, but I did tell her about the writing workshop
with Palestinians, and about the ensuing deep friendships.
This, she somehow, could hear.
Elana Golden is a Romanian Israeli living in the
US since 1978. She is part of Women in Black, Los
Angeles and a writer, filmmaker and has a school
for Creative Writing in L.A.