The World Is Watching

Ian Urbina interviews “peace activist” Neta Golan from inside Yasser Arafat’s compound

Ian Urbina

On March 29, Israel Defense Forces surrounded the compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In hopes of forestalling an attack, 40 international peace observers took up residence in the besieged building. Among them is Neta Golan, an Israeli-Canadian activist with the International Solidarity Movement. She gave this interview to In These Times by phone from the compound on April 8.

Can you describe the scene there?

Things are pretty bad. The Israeli army has let in food but no medicine. We have a lot of people with diabetes and hypertension. There is also no water, so sanitary conditions are deteriorating. But really, the thing thats hitting the Palestinians in here the worst is the unknown. All of them have family in Jenin and Nablus where huge massacres are taking place. No one knows if their children and parents are alive. My husband is in Jenin, and he may be dead.

Who is in the compound with you?

There are 450 people total in the building. Roughly 40 of them are internationals. In a lot of ways, its more diverse in here than outside. There are French, Italian, Canadian and German. Many are with the anti-globalization movement. We take shifts and try to keep spread out and moving at all times. The last time the soldiers came to deliver food, they were sure to take as many photos as possible of the inside. Obviously, they want to know where people are for the purposes of storming the place. Some internationals are near President Arafat around the clock.

Do you think your presence is making a difference?

Sure, our presence helps. For Sharon, foreign blood costs more than Arab blood, but we definitely arent a 100 percent deterrent. Even after we occupied the building, [Israeli Gen. Shaul] Mofaz was caught on a camera he didnt know was rolling, telling Sharon that they had to get rid of Arafat right away. We watched it here on CNN.

Are they going to storm the compound?

Its hard to say. It would be pretty stupid, but just two days ago they started firing machine guns at the building. This isnt all that unusual, and everyone knows to stay away from windows and thin walls. But then the tank fired and hit the building. That really surprised us. I think the Israelis were testing the waters to see how the international community and press would react.

Were there casualties?

Yes. Two internationals were hurt and four Palestinians got it pretty bad, one lost his eye and was in critical condition.

Where is he now?

Well, he was taken out of the compound by medics, but apparently Israeli soldiers stopped the ambulance and removed him. No one has heard anything since, so were not sure if hes gone.

What needs to happen before the internationals will leave the building?

The Israeli troops need to get all the way out of Ramallah.

Do you think Colin Powells trip will help matters?

Yes and no. Assuming he comes to the compound, which he hasnt yet committed to, he will probably get the Israeli troops to move back a little. But the problem is the occupation. Until he gets the troops to pull all the way back to the U.N.-recognized 1967 borders, nothing will really change here.

Is the international community helping?

Again, yes and no. The United Nations keeps getting measures vetoed by the United States. Some aid organizations are doing really important work on the ground. But to slow the bloodshed, we desperately need more international peace shields to come to the Occupied Territories. There also need to be efforts abroad like what was done to bring down apartheid. Rhetoric from foreign governments and citizens isnt going to change anything. There will have to be sanctions and popular boycott efforts.

When it comes to advocating solutions, is there political debate among those on the inside?

I cant speak for Arafats inner circle. Im sure there is discussion all the time there. With the internationals, there are some differing views on tactics but not much else. Basically, everyone here thinks that the occupation is wrong and Israel needs to pull back to the 1967 borders for there to be real peace. Most in here are not hard-core ideologues, its just that circumstances got so bad that we thought it was time to do something.

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