HER STORY #25 - galia

Didn't Like Being a Minority

I moved to Israel from the US in 1966. I am from all over the US. Before emigrating, I had been working for the US government as an expert of East-European affairs. 

I decided to emigrate because I didn't like being a minority. I hated Christmas, for example, and, in the 1950s, there was a lot of antisemitism in the US. There were places where Jews couldn't live, and there was a good deal of anti-Catholic, anti-Black and anti-Semitic sentiment. 

There is another reason I chose to move to Israel. I studied in Geneva for a year and did my Master's degree in Paris for a couple of years. I come from a very secular family with a strong Jewish identity, and in Europe I felt an affinity with Jews in Holland, Czechoslovakia and other countries. When I went back to the US in 1962 from my stay in Europe, I felt as if Jewish identity in the US was associated with synagogues, while I, in Europe, felt as if I belonged to a people, not a religion. 

I had no Zionist background, but I had visited Israel twice and saw it as a young socialist country, which it was back then. When I visited, I was amazed by the archaeology, the ruins, and the sense of history - my history. These were my ruins. Because of my own experiences and being part of a minority, I felt that since there is a state for the Jewish people, well then that is where I belong. It was a very intellectual decision. I didn't know about Aliyah [the word for immigration of Jews from the diaspora to Israel]; I had no [Zionist] background.

After the war in 1967, I felt a much stronger connection to the land and began to see myself as a Zionist, believing that Jews need a state. I still believe in the state, but I've come a long way since then, as I, back then, had no political opinion regarding the conflict. 

I recall having to teach a course at the Hebrew University called "Conflicts in International Relations," as a teaching assistant my first year in the country. It had to do with six conflicts and one of them was the conflict of the creation of this state. I had to teach this, and I knew nothing. But one of my colleagues gave me a ton of books to read, and my friends from both the left-wing and the right-wing taught me a lot as well, so my first year was all spent in learning. 

Petition

During the 1967 war, I was in Nahal Oz. I had been a tourist there in the past, so I went there as a volunteer, during the period of preparations for the expected war. Nahal Oz is on the border with Gaza. We didn't expect war in Jerusalem, so I went to Nahal Oz and "manned" a field telephone in the trenches during the war. It was one of the most important decisions of my life. At the time. 

I still didn't have a political opinion on the conflict. After the war there was great expectation that we would exchange territories for peace. I went around with my friends in the summer to see the West Bank before we were to give it back. Most of the country, including myself, didn't know that Israel was beginning to set up settlements, but later when I heard news of the establishment of a settlement in Hebron, I (actually naively) thought to myself: "How can we give back territories for peace, if we build on them?" Some people were surprised by my [left-wing] reaction. But this is when I became political. My first political act was to sign a petition against the building of that settlement in Hebron. That's the beginning of it. 

About a year after the 1967 war I was already on the left in Israeli politics. 

A peace group was set up in the early 70's called the Movement for Peace and Security. I went to one of the meetings; the group mostly consisted of intellectuals from the Hebrew University. 

There was a very famous "protest" play called Malkat Ha'ambatiah ["Queen of the Bathtub"] that I went to. It had been banned, but they showed it at the university, and going there was a political act. 

I have moved much further to the left since then. I became very active in the 70s. I was part of a group of intellectuals who demonstratively joined the Labor Party in 1977, right after the Likud won the elections. The year after that I became part of Peace Now when it was created and remained in the "dovish wing" of the Labor Party until 1992 (when I joined the newly created Meretz). 

I became increasingly active, very vocal, and for a while had a regular column in Yedioth Ahronoth [national daily newspaper in Israel] in the 80's. The peace movement became part of my identity. The more I learned, the more I learned about the past, and the more I learned about "the other side." In time I wrote books about it as well. 

The worse the conflict and the occupation became, the stronger my views became. In the 70's there were many terror attacks. Although people have forgotten, the 70's were quite bad; terrorist attacks were taking place all the time. I even bought a gun back then. But the terrorist attacks made me still more convinced that we need a peace agreement. Shelly Yachimovich was a journalist back then, and she called me to get an official response from Peace Now after a terrorist attack happened in Beit Lid (in the 1990s). She said: "Doesn't this make you think twice about all your peace activism?" And my answer was: "No, it makes all of our determination even stronger." The worse it gets, the more determined I feel, and the more I've learned about the past and the other side, the more complicated the picture gets. 

Then in 1988, the PLO changed its position, triggered by the First Intifada. That's what made Oslo possible. They [the Palestinians] decided to accept Israel's existence, its right to exist. It was a big move. That's what made peace possible. The PLO was willing to settle for a state next to Israel (not instead of Israel). 

Can't Let It Go

I think that I need the activity. I'm not sure, how I could cope with a situation that's so negative, if I didn't do anything. 

My life has been made up of three parts: my family, my professional life and my activism. Even when I went on sabbatical, I was appearing with Palestinians and doing other Peace Now things. 

I could never be without it, because I feel responsible. I can't let it go. I can't not try to change it. If I see something I don't like, I have to change it. 

Being active means being with other people who think the same way, and I always felt that I was part of the mainstream. I think it's because I'm a Zionist...still. When I look at the people I work within the peace organizations, they are all like-minded people. 

But I often ask myself, why I continue.

I feel guilty for what my state is doing - what I am leaving for my children and grandchildren. I care very strongly, and I certainly feel responsible; I force myself to read what Gideon Levy writes, because we have no right to run away from it. 

The reason I am so active is to not feel like I haven't done anything. I don't feel guilty for what I've personally done - it's a collective guilt. But many people do live in a bubble. I wonder how they cannot be active. 

But many people do a lot of things. One of my daughters is a civil rights lawyer, and her main  issue is human rights. She is very active. Although her work is not connected to the conflict particularly, she is very sensitive to the occupation. My other daughter voted for Hadash [acronym in Hebrew for the political party "The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality"] and has been active as a feminist. My boys are less active. 

I increasingly feel that I don't know what's going to work, whether it be demonstrations, petitions, breaking the law etc. However, I do believe that even if we have smaller numbers, we have to be out there protesting, and it is better to do so with the Palestinians. 

Feminist

I became a feminist, when I got married, in 1972. 

My husband was already a feminist (my good luck). When I married I began to realize how difficult it is for women. Until then I was a superwoman, a "queen-bee," that's women who feel like they have made it, so why can't all women - without Help. It's about dismissing the need for any kind of help, changes for women. I don't know how the image of a queen-bee came about, but that's what it was called, and I guess that's what I was until I married and had kids. Guess who stayed home with a sick kid? Well.

I was one of the founders of the International Women's Commission for Just Peace in the Middle East, and Bat Shalom (of the Jerusalem Link). Also, I founded the Women's Studies at the Hebrew University - the first in the country, and I was one of the founders of The Israel Women's Network. 

Today I'm less active in terms of work with women, for two reasons. Firstly, the joint Palestinian and Israeli women's peace groups collapsed. Secondly, some of the women's organizations have become less radical, and I haven't found myself in any other, in any of the many feminist groups today. I'm very happy that they are there, but I'm less involved. 

An important initiative was started by Itach Ma'aki [Hebrew name for organization "Women Lawyers for Social Justice] with the goal of writing an Action-plan for 1325 [UN Security Council Resolution 1325]. They brought women together from various women's organizations, including me and my daughter. They worked on it for two years. I joined the meetings occasionally, but today, I am less involved in feminist issues. I do belong to Women Wage Peace, and I am one of the founders of The Institute for Inclusive Security (today Dvora) in Israel.

I've done quite a lot, and I don't feel a burning need to keep working in this cause, important as it still is, as there are so many women out there doing so much.