The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Love your enemy more than your friend

Elana Golden • 1 December 2004

"What 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.

This 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.

"I will go to the checkpoints, go to the West Bank, meet Palestinians… go to demonstrations…"

"I 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.

For 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.

I 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 opportunities.

In 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.

Around 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."

Cut 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.

When 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.

In 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.

Back 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."

"Really?" 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?

The 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 his "achievement".

Throughout 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 Association.

With their permission, here are some images from their writing:

A 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.

A 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.

A young and compassionate American nurse volunteers on a Palestinian ambulance during the bloody Israeli incursion into Jenin, in 2002.

In 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 a child.

A 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".

"Our 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 California..

These are only a few from a rich and varied mosaic, a medley, of the Palestinian Story.

An 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.

So 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.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

2 December 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Questions - and Doubts - Remain
Tommy Gorman

Another Crisis for Trimble?
Dr John Coulter

No Gangster More Cruel
Anthony McIntyre

Love Your Enemy More Than Your Friend
Elana Golden

Mick Hall

The Biggest Mistake They Could Have Made
Áine Fox

Danilo Anderson and Condoleeza Rice
Toni Solo

28 November 2004

Anthony McIntyre

The Cost of the Failure of Politicians is Immeasurable
Mick Hall

A Provisional Pushover
Tom Luby

Seeing What You Want to See
Eoin O Broin

Puritan Death Ethic: Ronan Bennett’s Havoc, in its third year
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Mairtin O Cadhain
Liam O Ruairc

Please Help Put A Smile On The Faces Of Palestine’s Poorest Children This Christmas
Margaret Quinn



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