I’ve lost my right to protest.
A few decades ago, protests and demonstrations were a family affair. My husband, Dr. David Gild, and I thought nothing of taking our kids with us to Peace Now demonstrations, even when the kids were in strollers. But that changed, over time.
In 1983, in the wake of the first Lebanon War, after the massive demonstration we helped organize demanding a commission of inquiry into Israel’s role in the Sabra and Chatila massacres, we had a march in Jerusalem that was subjected to much violence. At the close of the march, a hand grenade was thrown at us, killing Emile Grunzweig, an MA student at Hebrew University.
Members of the Begin government had called us, Peace Now, a fifth column, and a young man who lived a few streets from me apparently believed the slander. It was he who threw the hand grenade that also injured several of our activists.
Demonstrating became a dangerous matter. Peace Now was really a very mild sort of movement; we discussed, but avoided, civil disobedience or breaking the law – even if we stretched it a bit outside new settlements. Indeed, we were criticized by more radical Israeli groups for our moderation. But the hand grenade was thrown by an Israeli whom, I believe, was indeed convinced that we were traitors.
The grenade attack was a traumatic event. But I had already noticed – at the time of our "Hands around Jerusalem" event and some Tel Aviv demonstrations organized by the Rakach communist party – that the police were extremely nervous, even to the point of violence, when there were also Arabs in the demonstrations. Still, we marched and demonstrated, although we did not take our children with us anymore.
I was reminded of all this last Friday when Combatants for Peace activists were seriously injured. This was not even a demonstration or protest, but rather an activity to bring water to a local Palestinian community, near Hebron, that is being denied access to water.
- Israeli soldiers assault activists, Palestinians bringing water to West Bank village
- Murderer of Israeli left-wing activist says anti-Netanyahu 'germs' should be 'removed from society'
- I grew up watching settlers attacking my Palestinian village. They're getting bolder
- The American Jewish left's untimely abandonment of Israel's leftists
I was not at this event. Although an activist in Combatants for Peace, I stopped going to activities beyond the Green Line over a year ago. The simple reason: I was afraid.
I was, and am, afraid because now, at my age, I can no longer run from settler violence. Nor can I run from tear gas shot by the IDF, or from being shoved to the ground. And that is the problem.
It is one thing to fear violent individuals, such as some of the settlers. But it is quite another thing to fear the legitimate instruments of the state, my state, be they soldiers or police, that is, an arm of the state brought to use against peaceful Israelis. An arm of the state brought against Israelis who, having been combat officers in the past, today advocate, teach and practice non-violence.
It is these instruments of the state, the conscript army in which our friends, relatives, neighbors serve, who are keeping me, albeit indirectly, from exercising my right to demonstrate. These instruments of my state, sent by our elected leaders, are the ones preventing me from even peacefully trying to aid a Palestinian community beyond the Green Line, in the occupied territories.
There is something wrong with this situation. I guess I was right to be afraid, to avoid this activity near Hebron, even if it was neither a demonstration nor a protest.
But, then I must conclude that my right to protest, to demonstrate peacefully, is now being denied. This is not right, not in a democracy.
Professor Galia Golan is Professor Emerita at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a former leader of Peace Now, and former chair of the department of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Twitter: @galiagolan