FT’s First Person column

November 23, 2008 at 10:40 am (1)


First Person: Omer Goldman

Friday Nov 21 2008 19:50

I first went to prison on September 23 of this year and served 35 days. By the time you read this, I will be back inside for another 21. This is going to be my life for the next two years: in for three weeks, out for one. I am 19 years old now and by the time the authorities give up hounding me, I will be 21. The reason? I refused to do my military service for the Israeli army.

I grew up with the army. My father was deputy head of Mossad and I saw my sister, who is eight years older than me, do her military service. As a young girl, I wanted to be a soldier. The military was such a part of my life that I never even questioned it.

Earlier this year, I went to a peace demonstration in Palestine. I had always been told that the Israeli army was there to defend me, but during that demonstration Israeli soldiers opened fire on me and my friends with rubber bullets and tear-gas grenades. I was shocked and scared. I saw the truth. I saw the reality. I saw for the first time that the most dangerous thing in Palestine is the Israeli soldiers, the very people who are supposed to be on my side

When I came back to Israel, I knew I had changed. I told my dad what had happened. He was angry that I had been over to the occupied territories and told me I had endangered my life. I have always discussed history and politics with my father but on this subject – my rejection of the military and my conscientious objecting – we can’t speak.

My parents divorced when I was three and my father has a new family. My mother is an artist and she is very supportive of me. But my father has been horrified by my decision. I think he thought that I was going through a stage that I would grow out of. But it hasn’t happened.

In prison, I wake up at five and clean all day, inside and out. It’s a military prison so we are made to do ridiculous stuff. They painted a white stripe across the floor, and I have to keep the stripe glowing white and clean. I have to wear a US army uniform. The uniforms were given as a present to the Israeli army by the US Marines. I feel stupid. I am anti-military. I am against the whole idea of wearing the uniform.

The other prisoners are women from the army. They are in for silly things such as playing with their guns, smoking dope, running away from the army. None of them is really a criminal. And then there are five girls like me who are conscientious objectors.

We talk to the other girls, tell them things they have never heard about before. Like that everyone is a human, no matter what religion they are. Some of them are really ignorant. They have never heard of evolution theory, or Gandhi or Mandela, or the Armenian holocaust. I try to tell them that there have been a lot of genocides.

Of course I get scared when I am in prison. Three times a week, I have to help guard the prison at night. But also, it’s frightening that my country is the way that it is, locking up young people who are against violence and war. And I worry that what I am doing may damage my future. The worst part is that I have a taste of freedom and then I am back inside, back to my mundane prison life. It’s hard to go from being a free girl who can decide things for herself – what to wear, who to see, what to eat – and then go back to having every minute of the day timetabled.

Last time I was out of prison, I went to see my dad. We tried not to talk politics. He cares about me as his daughter, that I am suffering, but he doesn’t want to hear my views. He hasn’t come to visit me in prison. I think it would be too hard for him to see me in there. He is an army man.

I suppose, actually, we have similar characters. We both fight for what we believe in. It’s just that our views are diametrically opposed.

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The Great Library — a dialogue

November 22, 2008 at 10:02 am (1) ()

— I’m sorry which way is your ancient Persian?

— Shhhh. There are people studying.

— Yes, but all I want to know is which way.

— Please be quiet.

— Well instead of telling me to be quiet why don’t you point me?

— Very well. But you must promise that once you are there you will not talk.

— Talk to whom?

— The books.

— The books? Who talks to books?

— Please accept that some people do and that it’s not wise to.

— Who?

— They. Don’t you know who they are?

— No. Who?

— The men who talk to books.

— Right. I won’t talk to the books. Which way.

— Yes.

— Well?

— What?

— Ancient Persia. Where is it?

— Well, it’s in the past.

— So will you be if you don’t help me.

— If you threaten me I shall be forced to leave. I mean, I shall be forced to ask you to leave.

— Just please, tell me where the ancients are.

— Greece or Persia?

— Persia.

— Epoch?

— Ancient!

— Could you be more specific?

— I don’t know.

— Well, I can’t help you if you don’t know. It’s a library, not a school.

— Alright, the Safavids.

— Hardly ancient are they? Do you have a permit for using this library?

— Permit? If you if you don’t tell me where the Persian section is I will start to TALK LOUDLY.

— Shhhhhhh! We can’t have people shouting.

— You’re mad.

— This is the Great Library. Men have come here to learn for centuries.

— It probably took them that long to find a book.

— Which book are you looking for?

— I am not looking for a book, I am looking for a section. Ancient Persian.

— Are you Greek?

— Are you bonkers? What difference does it make?

— Greeks burnt Persia’s libraries. Surely you know.

— Yes, I read it in the Evening Post. Terrible, what’s the world coming to, eh?

— So you are –

— No I’m not bloody Greek.

— You look Greek.

— I am not. Let’s say I am.

— Knew it. Well, can’t have you burning our section, good day sir.

First published August 24, 2006

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Comrade Obama? Nah.

November 8, 2008 at 4:30 pm (Double espresso)

The word socialist has been bandied about more in the past few weeks than it has since the early 1990s. John McCain was asked whether nationalising banks was not tantamount to socialism – remarkable, a mainstream network airing the s-word in an interview with a US presidential candidate. In Britain the word socialism is regarded as a terminal virus the Labour party sneezed out in 1994 when the then opposition leader Tony Blair ditched Clause 4 — along with its commitment to “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. After Labour came to power in 1997, its use was phased out.

Now that capitalists themselves are forced to accept that a system that rewards complete bastards, for being complete bastards, is doomed, “redistribution of wealth” and “socialism” are out of their cages. Quite what they mean is a different matter. In the run-up to the US election, socialism had turned into a euphemism for black. “I’m not voting for Obama because he’s a socialist” had less to do with any pledge he had made, to create a system of free health care for all at point of use – or lifting the trade embargo on Cuba – and more to do with his ethnicity. Asked to define socialism, one caller to a New York public radio phone-in rambled incoherently before saying: “Marx! It’s about Karl Marx.”

Yet with Obama’s victory, no-one is asking what is this “socialist” going to do. It’s suddenly “Black! Black! Black! Black! African-American! African-American! African-American”. The thing is Obama can as fairly be said to be white as he is black – he is, after all, mixed race. But we live in a world that still considers white to be something pure that can be tainted by the black. Under apartheid, mixed-race South Africans were called “coloureds”, black painted on to white, not the other way around. So in the US, Colin Powell is regarded as a black man – which really beggars belief.

In one of the first signs that the world is changing in terms of racial politics, demonstrators took to the streets in Rome yesterday after Silvio Berlusconi referred to Obama as “sun-tanned”. The protestors were keen to show the world they are not retarded even if their prime minister is. And perhaps, unlike Berlusconi, they knew that a hundred years ago, immigrants to the US from Italy suffered similar prejudice at the hands of their Anglo-Saxon hosts.

One day, our skin-hue obsessed world will allow the mixed-race person to choose whether he, or she, is black or white. For now, though, we can bask in the honeymoon the mere complexion of this capitalist president-elect affords us in the hope that, one day, the US will elect a leader who is young, gifted and Red.

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