An olive branch for peace
- Since 1967, Israeli soldiers and settlers have removed more than
150,000 olive trees from occupied territory, many planted by the
grandparents of the people living on the contested lands today. The
loss of these ancestral orchards has pushed thousands of Palestinian
farmers into poverty.
Separated from these olive trees by earthworks erected by the Israeli Army, Palestinian farmers have been forced to watch as their olives spoil on the bough.
Whenever farmers in the Palestinian village of Hares attempted to cross the earthworks and harvest their olives, Jewish settlers from the nearby West Bank colony of Ravava would open fire on them with rifles.
In 2000, Neta Golan, a 29-year-old Israeli activist, stepped forward to offer herself as a "human shield," placing her body between the Palestinians and armed settlers. Golan has chained her body to olive trees on Palestinian farms to prevent soldiers from uprooting them. "If we were not here," Golan explained, "these people would not be able to go into their fields. If we leave, they'll get shot."
Golan has faced threats of rape, assault and gunfire. Once, with Israeli soldiers standing idly by, a group of angry settlers opened fire on Golan with M-16 rifles. The bullets struck so close they sent shards of rock into her face. Last year, Rabbi David Mivasair of the Or Shalom congregation in Toronto, Canada, joined Golan in the olive groves. "Without someone like Neta leading the way," he said, "people like me might not even be aware of what is going on here." Hares Mayor Harun Daoud insists that Golan's presence "has saved lives and brought us hope that the Israelis might be able to live with us in peace one day."
On June 1, 2001, Golan and 20 Israeli and international activists joined 200 Palestinians in a nonviolent protest at El-Khader, a small Palestinian village near Bethlehem. Jewish settlers at nearby Efrat have long coveted this stretch of land and a few months earlier had brought in three mobile homes on a hilltop to "establish ownership."
Rabbi Arik Ascheman of Rabbis for Human Rights pleaded with 50 armed soldiers and police to respect the nonviolent demonstration by Jews and Arabs. Suddenly, as the protesters were leaving the hilltop, police rushed the crowd, beating and arresting the Israelis. Two dozen soldiers chased the Palestinians back to their village, shooting and injuring several protestors.
Golan received the worst beating. According to a report filed by eyewitness Adam Keller [http://www.indymedia.org], "When Neta refused to duck or run away," an Israeli policeman "became incensed and continued to strike her. He twisted her arm behind her back and began to drag her up the hill. Neta did not resist." When another officer began to drag Neta by the hair, a member of the Christian Peacemakers Team tried to intervene. The police began to beat this woman as well.
Golan was hit repeatedly with a baton while a third officer twisted her arm until it broke at the elbow. Doctors at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem who treated Golan were shocked that an arm could be twisted so violently that it would fracture at the elbow.
Despite her broken arm, police subjected Golan to a lengthy interrogation. She was told that she would not be released to a hospital until she signed a release promising not to enter a "closed military zone" in the future.
"If it really hurt you, you would sign," the police told her. "They don't know Neta," Keller reports. Golan refused to sign the document. "Finally, four hours later, they let her out and then freed the others."
What You Can Do Support Bat Shalom, a feminist peace group in Israel working for a just peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors [www.batshalom.org]. Read Voices from a "Promised Land": Palestinian and Israeli Peace Activists Speak Their Hearts, by Penny Rosenwasser (Curbstone Press, 1992).