Today I am highlighting the story of Roni Segoly, an Israeli who spent much of his career with the police and the Shin Bet in the occupied territories. He describes how his worldview, the belief in the “absolute justice” of the Israeli occupation, began to crumble when he had the insight that the Palestinians were simply demonstrating for their freedom – and how their striving resembled his heroes in the Jewish underground who had fought the British during the mandate period. It was as if the scales fell from his eyes and he viewed the world through different glasses. Slowly Roni came to this conclusion: “You cannot rule another nation for a long period of time and there is no way to lead a humanitarian occupation. There is no way to be evil to others without letting this evil penetrate into our lives.
Here is his story.
My name is Roni and in August 2007 I joined the organization Combatants for Peace. Since then I have been an active member and this is My Personal Story.
I grew up in Jerusalem in the 70s, the years of the feeling of euphoria after the Six-Day War. I was a youngster and like most of the youth my age, I joined a youth movement. The movement I joined is called Beitar, the movement of the Herut party, which later became the Likud party. I was a right-wing teen and participated in rallies, which supported the building of settlements, which had just started popping up on the hills of the West Bank, while the government shut its eyes.
During that time, my belief was based on the fact that we had just freed holy lands. By chance there was a group of people living there who claimed that they were a nation. A different solution had to be found for them in the Middle East, there are 22 other Arab countries to where they can go, the absolute justice was with us.
In 1975 I joined the IDF and served in an outpost in the Gaza strip. During my service, the Likud party came into power for the first time, and the feeling of my friends and I was that if we were stubborn enough, the Palestinians would give up and leave or accept our authority. We believed that there was no other way.
After I finished my army service I started working for the police in the Department for Minorities in Jerusalem. For the first time I actually had to deal with Palestinians. I learned their language and customs and I remember how we used to play cat and mouse with the citizens of East Jerusalem. They would try and demonstrate their nationalism in any way possible. They would paint their cars with their flags’ colors and we would fight against any sign of nationalism with persistence and aggressiveness. Needless to say, raising of a Palestinian flag was a serious crime.
In 1983 I left the police forces, and joined the Israeli secret service (Shabak), where I served until 1994 in the occupied territories in different positions where their main aim was fighting terror.
If I look back on where I was then and where I am today, obviously it was a long process. I didn’t wake up one morning with a new political understanding. It was a process that started years ago, in its midst I found myself dealing with large cracks forming in the belief of the righteousness of my way, of my country, and the gap widened until I couldn’t carry on wavering on both side. I chose a way that seemed more natural to me, one that promotes peace and equality.
The best way to describe the way in which change happened in me is to refer to a few points of reference in my past.
During the end of the 80s’ the first uprising (‘Intifada’) broke out. This was truly a national uprising and it even took the Palestinian organizations time to figure out what was happening, to come to sense with it and to control the masses. During the first weeks the real heroes were the masses. In many places on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip the masses marched fearlessly towards the IDF. For the first time I encountered youngsters and adults that picked their heads up, their eyes were sparkling and they were filled with pride and persistence, they believed that they were creating their country, that nothing could stop them. And as for myself, I who was working in the secret service, met not with terrorists (for those people it was obvious who is good and who is bad) but with a nation that was rebelling. Suddenly I caught myself, I who in my childhood had dreamed of the Jewish underground heroes, dreamed of their fight against the British occupation, they were prepared to sacrifice themselves to be freed from being an occupied nation, and suddenly I was on the other side of this equation, and this was the first fracture that started crumbling my belief. My duty was not an easy one even if I still believed we were defending our country, and still there was a gap between the fact that you had to be evil to someone during your job, and then come home to peace and quiet, have a bath and hug your wife and kids. This gap is very difficult to deal with, but when you start doubting what you are actually doing, it becomes completely unbearable.
The second point I would like to address is the house where I grew up. I was born in Baqa neighborhood in Jerusalem (this is the Arab name of the neighborhood that is used until today). I grew up in an Arab house, which to me meant a house with high ceilings, nice tiled floors and thick walls. The fact that in the past Arabs lived there didn’t occur to me at all. In 1967 right after the Six-Day War, when I was 10, a few Arabs knocked on our door, and they told us in broken English that they used to live in the house once, and they asked to see it. That was an embarrassing and strange situation, what do we do? And what do they want? I mean this house is obviously ours. Anyways we let them in, they looked around and left, and we haven’t heard from them since. I presume we weren’t very kind to them. This moment has been engraved in my memory ever since.
In 2006 I went with my mother to Romania to see where my roots were. In other words, where she ran away from after the Second World War. We went to the tiny remote village where she was born. It was a deserted village in the northern part of the country and we looked for the house she used to live in. Today, obviously Romanians inhabit it since there are almost no Jews left in the area. We didn’t find the house, so we knocked on the door of a neighboring house. Someone opened and asked what we wanted? We explained and they were very unfriendly. Then I suddenly realized, this is an identical story to the one that happened in my childhood, with the original residents of the house I grew up in.
Both people, Palestinian and Israeli, are connected to each other through history, and our stories are so similar that it’s nearly impossible to understand. We, children of refugees from Europe, fulfilled our dream of a Jewish state by making another nation into refugees. We, who have been a driven minority for our entire history, are ruling another nation today. The fact that our only way of ruling them is oppressing them, on the one hand and preventing them any ability for nationalism or equality on the other. How come we have changed our skin and in what manner are we managing to justify it to ourselves?
This story doesn’t have good guys or bad ones, just stories that intertwine with each other.
The third point of my story concerns the time I lived abroad. During the years 2000-2007 when I lived abroad, it enabled me to get a different perspective on the life in the Middle East. I found out that there are more nations that have fought one another in this world but have found peaceful ways to live together and look forward to a better future. In 2007, at a time close to my return, I saw a video clip of an opening of a sewage pipe near the settlement Efrat. In order to do so they had to uproot an olive grove of a neighboring Arab village. The inhabitants of the village appealed to the supreme court of justice but lost the case. The video showed the picture of the exact moment that the trucks entered the grove. I saw in this video two scenarios that in my opinion closed the picture of the transformation I had been going through during the last few years. The first was a picture of the Palestinian farmers standing helpless and crying, but what caught my heart was the fact that on their side were young Israelis that were hugging them and crying together with them. I didn’t know this type of solidarity. A second picture that was engraved in my head was of the soldiers that were guarding the bulldozers, walking beside them with clubs in their hands, feeling like kings. My son was supposed to go into the army the following year and the thought of it shocked me.
It took me a while until I was able to tell this story. It took me time until I was able to explain to myself what was happening here. I am sure in the justice of our way, I know that I belong to a minority here in Israel, but we are determined. You cannot rule another nation for a long period of time and there is no way to lead a humanitarian occupation. There is no way to be evil to others without letting this evil penetrate into our lives.
I feel that we are the true bearers of the spirit of Judaism, which means that one needs to acknowledge the right of another even if they aren’t Jewish. The Israeli policy in the occupied territories has been established and based on controlling, stealing and politically oppressing another nation. The magic word for it is “security” but all these aren’t phrases of Judaism and what my country signifies at the moment towards the Palestinian people and to a big part of the world is the ugliest side of humanity.
I am not sure how most of the citizens in this country ignore the situation, and this includes some of my friends and family. How could they be more worried about the starving animals in the zoo in Gaza during the war, than the hundreds of children that were killed by us during the war? We are carrying with us the slogans of laws and security for nothing and on the West Bank, we signify the exact opposite to Judaism and Zionism.
As I understand this reality, neither side (Israeli or Palestinian) will give up; we won’t go back to Europe and they won’t leave the area. We don’t have the ability to control another nation which is half of our size, it is just not possible. Not by force, not by financial repression, and not in any other manner. And there is no way that one can hold a democratic government when under its occupation you have millions of people that don’t have equal rights. The same way that in South Africa you couldn’t have a democratic government while there was apartheid.
Controlling by force doesn’t just harm the occupied nation but the occupier as well. The violence penetrates back to us as our economy can’t strive forever, and all the values that we were educated on are trampled over in the occupied territories. We need to free ourselves from the occupation maybe even more than the Palestinians need to free themselves. We cannot be the “only enlightened democracy in the Middle East”, when people of a village that is only 10 minutes from where I live are prevented minimal human rights by my own country, just because of their origin.
Assessments of different struggles in the world always show that it ends in negotiation and some compromise.
Dezmand Tutu said “ A man is a man when he approves of others as human beings” and old Hillel said “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn” .
Sometimes people say that I have a gentle soul (we call it ‘Yefe Nefesh’ in Hebrew), even though this statement has become a derogatory statement to say that leftists are ‘Arab lovers’. I am actually proud of this term, exactly in the same manner that I see myself as an Israeli patriot.