True heroes (and ordinary monsters)

September 10, 2006

In News

By Dalia Karpel

On Friday, August 11th, when the end of the Lebanon War was on the horizon, after several weeks in which no more than token protests had taken place in Bil’in, the weekly demonstration against the separation fence began. Border Police troops, who were waiting, threw stun grenades and fired rubber-coated metal bullets at the demonstrators, even before they left the village to head toward the fence. Limor Goldstein, 28, was wounded in the head by gunfire from a Border Police officer. As documented on the video that was being shot at the time there, two hours elapsed from the time he was injured until he was brought by ambulance to the emergency room at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.

The village of Bil’in, located near Ramallah, has become a symbol of the struggle against the separation fence and has been the focal point for more than a year and a half of joint Palestinian-Israeli demonstrations, held on Fridays. While the protests are intended to be nonviolent, there have been violent clashes with security forces.

Limor Goldstein, a lawyer who was born in Germany and who holds permanent residency in Israel, was wounded by a rubber-coated metal bullet that penetrated his brain. Goldstein, who speaks eight languages, says he is not a member of any of the protesting organizations.

“I have no problem cooperating with them and I admire their persistent action, but I don’t belong to any political organization. I prefer to remain autonomous,” he says now.

In his room at the Re’ut Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Goldstein talks about that day in Bil’in. He looks gaunt and pale. His head is shaven and the marks from the stitches are clearly visible above his right ear, where the bullet penetrated. In a soft voice, nearly a whisper, he says that he still suffers from intense headaches and from pain in his ears and at the place where the bullet struck.

“I have problems with balance. The bullet shattered my skull and entered my brain. The doctors removed it as well as the bone fragments that damaged the brain tissue. They also removed the parts of the brain tissue that were damaged. The part of my brain that was hurt is responsible for visual processing. I have damage to the optic nerve in the left eye and my right eye was also hurt. The long-term damage will be measured over time. In about two months, I’m supposed to have an operation where they’ll implant plastic in the area where they removed the bone.

“I have memory damage. I don’t remember the faces of the doctors who treated me, and I’ve lost details of the event itself. I have a problem with orientation and with my sense of time. It’s hard for me to distinguish between dream and reality. I wake up in the morning and start crying. Sometimes I wake up feeling like I’m supposed to accomplish some task, because that’s what I’ve dreamed, and then I can’t do it and I panic. Sometimes I wake up terrified that I have missed a few antibiotic infusions and that my life is in danger. I usually wake up before dawn and it’s not easy.

“I was in Tel Hashomer for about a week and then I was transferred here, but then the wound became infected and they were worried about meningitis. I was brought back to the operating room at Tel Hashomer and they did a revised procedure on the wound. They removed the patch that was supposed to protect the brain but had become infected, and now the area is open. One bullet penetrated the brain and there was another bullet that didn’t penetrate, but grazed my neck.

“I’m not depressed, but I feel an ongoing helplessness and disorientation. I have nightmares in which I relive what happened and see the Border Police troops coming closer and firing at me, and the road I’m walking on is covered with thousands of bullet casings.

“I can’t read. Everything gets mixed up and it’s exhausting and gives me headaches. I can’t watch television. I listen to music and friends read to me. Now they’re reading to me ‘Sons of Our Neighborhood’ by Naguib Mahfouz. My friends and I are organizing a big demonstration in Tel Aviv against police violence and against political oppression. The meetings take place here on the balcony.”

‘You’re in Lebanon’

“On Friday, August 11, we left our apartment in Neveh Tzedek, my two roommates and I, and drove in the car of Ilan Shalif, a psychologist, to the weekly demonstration in Bil’in. The demonstration usually starts out from the village after the prayer service, at around one in the afternoon.

“That day, over 50 demonstrators had come, including Israelis, leftist activists from the anarchists and human rights activists and others, alongside international activists from the International Solidarity Movement. They were joined by residents of Bil’in. It was another weekly protest against the construction of the separation fence, during which we march toward the route of the fence. Sometimes new people join us and that Friday there were some who’d taken part in the Queeruption Festival, a gay and lesbian political festival in Tel Aviv.” (At the last Queeruption, which took place last year in Barcelona, it was decided that the next, ninth celebration of the event would be held in Tel Aviv in August 2006, as part of the global struggle for freedom, justice and self-definition).

“Before the demonstration started, we explained to the guests from Queeruption that there aren’t always confrontations with the army and that lately, because of the war, the demonstrations had been very brief, and we’d just approached the separation fence route and stopped. We told them about a recent demonstration in which we stood by the fence route for a minute of silence in memory of the victims in Lebanon, and then returned.

“On that day we set out from one of the houses in Bil’in and very soon saw that the army was trying to prevent the demonstration from leaving the village. For anyone who doesn’t know, the main road in the village leads to the home of a woman named Zohra, and after that, there’s a turn that leads to the fence route. We saw the army waiting in front of Zohra’s house and the soldiers standing next to their jeeps, blocking the way and shooting. It’s hard for me to say just how many protesters were with us. There was a column of marchers with spaces between them – spread out in a line – and the army couldn’t have seen exactly how many people had come.

“When my friend Francesca [last name witheld on her request] and I were marching, the soldiers already started firing rubber bullets in all directions and tossing stun grenades. The army, like I said, was still inside the village, before the descent to where the fence route is. One of the first things I saw was a guy who was wounded. He sat on the ground and looked confused and terrified, which didn’t stop the soldiers from continuing to toss more stun grenades in our direction. Francesca and I wanted to help the guy get up, to move him out of there. When we turned around with our back to the soldiers, we saw soldiers on the right, in the olive and fig orchards. On the left was a wall of stones and several demonstrators rushed to find cover there. We went over there while Border Police troops were approaching us with their weapons drawn and firing.

“Francesca and I got pretty close to the guy who was sitting on the ground, covering his ears with his hands, his leg bleeding from a rubber bullet. A stun grenade went off next to him, which made him disoriented. We pulled him to the side and Francesca escorted him to a house behind us, so he could rest there.

“The shooting continued, and the soldiers’ commander, who can be seen on the video without a helmet and holding a megaphone, kept yelling while his soldiers, who were walking on either side of him, kept on shooting nonstop. He yelled: ‘Get out of here! There won’t be any demonstration today. Now you’re in Lebanon.’ The rubber bullets were flying all around and a lot of people got hit in the legs. Today I know that I wasn’t the only one who was hit: 12 demonstrators were hit by rubber bullets and about 10 were beaten by Border Police officers. One of the demonstrators, a young woman from Denmark, suffered a skull fracture as a result of a Border Police officer hitting her on the head with a rifle butt.

“Several demonstrators called out to the soldiers to stop shooting, telling them there were Israeli civilians in this demonstration, but they ignored them and kept on. I was standing by the stone wall as the soldiers kept getting closer and the commander was shouting into the megaphone, ‘Get out of here!’ Meanwhile, Francesca returned. Cameraman Jonathan Massey, was facing the soldiers and walking backward. They beat him with batons and yelled at him to stop filming. He tried to jump back. Francesca and I turned around to head back and I saw that they were coming toward us. We ducked and then I saw that they were aiming at us. I felt a strong blow to the head and then to the neck and I collapsed. I immediately realized that I’d fallen in a bad way because I hit the stones and since there was a slope, my head somehow got caught in barbed wire that was there and my hair, which was long then, got tangled up in it.”

‘It was shocking’

Francesca: “Limor’s head was lying on a rock beneath the barbed wire that hurt his face, and there was hardly any space between his face and the wires. I tried to lift the barbed wires, but I couldn’t, because they were taut. Together with another woman, we managed to lift the wires and free Limor’s head. I can say for certain that the shooting was aimed at Limor. They picked him. We were both already on the way back to the village and with our backs to the soldiers and they aimed at him, and they could have aimed at me, too.”

Goldstein: “The pain was sharp and concentrated on the left side of my head. There was bleeding, but not like with Matan Cohen, who was shot in Beit Sira. I remembered the poster that was put up in Tel Aviv after Cohen was struck in the eye by a bullet. It showed him lying in a pool of blood. I remember that Francesca and others called for help and asked for an ambulance or an army medic.”

Francesca: “The soldiers kept passing by us as if nothing was wrong. Limor was on the ground bleeding and the shooting was still going on. One of the international demonstrators, Jenny, a medic by profession, held Limor’s head. We knew you had to do that with a head injury. Then [another friend] Michal came to help. We kept on shouting, ‘Ambulance, ambulance, army medic! There’s an Israeli wounded in the head’ – and the soldiers who passed by there said, ‘You call an ambulance. We’ll call an ambulance to the war in Lebanon.’ Finally, someone came who said he was an army medic.”

Goldstein: “An army medic came up to me. I asked for a drink and got water poured on my head. He asked me to move my hands. I told him that I didn’t feel good, that my head and neck hurt. My hands were stiff.”

Francesca: “The medic asked Limor what his name was and then he asked, ‘How do you feel?’ And Limor said, ‘Bad, I have pain in my head and neck.’ ‘Move your legs,’ the medic said. Limor moved his legs a little and the medic turned around and left without saying a word. It was shocking.”

Goldstein: “The pain kept getting worse and it was really hot. I was very scared, because this whole time that was I lying there, the soldiers kept on shooting and the explosions from the stun grenades were especially frightening. Francesca kept on calling for help and Michal, who had medical equipment, tried to come over to me, but was prevented from doing so. ‘You shot an Israeli in the head,’ Francesca yelled, and the soldiers answered, ‘There’s no ambulance.’ I lay there writhing in pain and heard everything.”

Francesca: “Stun grenades were still being thrown. We kept Limor in the shade, and he was quiet and pale, and only said that he was hot and in pain. His hands seemed frozen. The muscles stiffened in response to the shock. The whole time we held his head and moistened his lips. The cameraman Jonathan Massey called out to the soldiers, ‘You shot someone,’ and one of the soldiers gave him a bandage and left. We cleaned the wound on Limor’s head and bandaged it. We believed that an ambulance was on the way.”

Goldstein: “People came up and asked what happened. I replied that I’d been shot in the head. I never lost consciousness for a moment. For about an hour I lay on the ground and it felt like an eternity. I just wanted to get out of there and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t being taken away and I felt angry at these crazy guys who shoot at people from short range for no reason.”

New political awareness

“When I came out of the operating room, the doctors said that they weren’t sure if I’d be able to see or to move my limbs,” Goldstein continues. “Now it looks like I won’t be able to renew my driver’s license in Israel, with such a poor field of vision. The first thing my mother said, when she arrived in Israel from Germany and came right to the hospital, is that it’s unbelievable that they could shoot at civilians like that for no reason.

“I was born in Bremen, in northern Germany, in 1978, and I have a sister who’s two years older than me. My father, Sorin Goldstein, was born in Romania the same year, 1949, that my mother, Rivka, was born in Ukraine. Each of them came to Israel on his own in 1969. My mother, who came from a religious family, didn’t serve in the army and earned a degree in biology from Bar-Ilan University. After my father got out of the army, they met in Tel Aviv. My father’s brother lived and worked in Germany, and my father decided to try his luck there. Now he works in insurance for auto exporting and my mother runs a microbiology lab in Bremen.

“My parents didn’t have a common language aside from Hebrew. I finished high school in Bremen and decided to return to Israel then. I earned a law degree from the Hebrew University in 2001. Then I went back to Europe. For about six months I traveled around Romania and tried to improve my Romanian. Afterward, I went back to Germany and lived in Berlin, which is where my political awareness blossomed and where I started to deal with immigration issues. My connection to Israel goes way back. Every year, since I was a little kid, we’d come to Israel for vacations and I have family here, so I had a close connection to the place and to the Hebrew language.

“I returned to Israel in 2004 and began my internship with attorney Smadar Ben-Natan. I thought of working for Kav La’oved [a nonprofit organization that promotes workers’ rights], but it didn’t work out. But I soon realized that immigrant rights in Israel were in a sorry state. Through my internship, I learned about and became familiar with the reality of the occupation.

“The Ben-Natan firm had several appeals against the fence and we had a few cases in the military courts, which are a shocking sight in themselves. The whole time I followed what was going on in Bil’in and other villages where there were demonstrations against the separation fence. In 2005 I finished my internship and started working in the office of attorney Dan Assan, who specializes in human rights, in legal damages for Palestinians from the first intifada, or prisoners who were tortured under interrogation.”

Security forces respond

Francesca: “After a lot of time passed, some soldiers came with a stretcher and acted like they were doing us a favor. About five or six of us lifted him, including myself, Michal, Jenny and the soldiers, and then one of the soldiers, a reservist who was a bit older, said that he refused to evacuate Limor ‘until everyone gets out of here.’

“We pleaded with him and finally he relented. We took Limor on the stretcher to the place where the military jeeps were. As we were walking, a reservist came up to me and pushed me aside, using his rifle to do it. I waited a little on the side and then I went back and joined the stretcher bearers. Jenny held Limor’s head until we reached the pickup truck and then they would only let Michal stay with him. They told the rest of us to get lost.”

Michal A., who is studying English literature at Tel Aviv University: “Next to the military pickup truck two soldiers came and helped to lift the stretcher into the vehicle, which was filled with riot shields. The two soldiers were supposed to hold the stretcher, because the vehicle was going up an incline. I held Limor’s head. During the trip, more and more shields fell on Limor, who didn’t say a word. I asked the soldiers to help me move the shields off him. I asked the driver to slow down. It was a nightmare. We finally reached the gate below and the soldiers took the stretcher off the vehicle and put it down on the ground in the sun.

“Two medics came. They looked and said that he didn’t look so good, but they didn’t even take the bandage off his head. One medic said that a civilian ambulance should be called and the other said, ‘No, we’ll call a military ambulance.’ They went back and forth for another 20 minutes and meanwhile he’s lying in the sun. Not saying anything. I wet his lips. I literally forced them to move him to the shade, and the whole time I was worried about his neck, which still wasn’t immobilized.

“At last a military ambulance came, and it was packed with all kinds of stuff. The medic got out and said, ‘What do we have here?’ He took off the bandage and looked, and then he ordered the soldiers to empty the ambulance. ‘But take your time,’ he said. Finally we left. I sat with Limor in the back and two people sat up front and the ambulance bounced down a dirt road and I shouted for them to slow down because of his neck … and they didn’t seem to care at all. Finally we reached Kiryat Sefer in Upper Modi’in and a Magen David Adom ambulance was waiting there. They immobilized Limor’s neck and we drove about another 300 meters where, before the Shilat junction, an ambulance with emergency equipment was waiting.

“We got to the hospital two hours after Limor was shot. He was calm and conscious and at the hospital he gave his name and his ID number, even though he was in terrible pain. Throughout this arduous trip, he only moaned and tried to touch his head. When we entered the emergency room, he vomited.”

That day, the Israel Defense Forces spokesman said that the Border Police officers acted in response, after the demonstrators threw rocks at them. But the video clearly shows that the troops shot without any warning and without any rock-throwing or other aggressive or provocative behavior on the part of the protesters. The video shows a Border Police officer firing at Goldstein from very short range, about 15 meters, while Goldstein stood across the road.

In fact, today, Border Police spokesman Avi Moshe does not wish to repeat the claim of the IDF spokesman, and prefers to begin his response with a description of other incidents in Bil’in: “First, let’s point out that for weeks demonstrators have been coming to the separation fence in the vicinity of the village of Bil’in, causing provocations and disturbing the peace by throwing rocks and various objects at the Border Police and IDF forces in that location. In most of the events, a number of Border Police officers were injured, and some were even sent to the hospital. Let’s also point out that in one case, when those demonstrators requested to speak with a Border Police officer there, and the officer agreed and came to talk with them, as soon as the officer turned around to head back toward the forces that were standing on the other side, the demonstrators suddenly started to hurl rocks at him and they wounded him in the head.”

Only after this lengthy introduction does the Border Police spokesman offer this laconic response to the shooting of Goldstein: “As for this specific incident, it is under investigation in the Judea and Samaria District and when conclusions are reached, we will act accordingly.”

Asked about the name of the policeman who shot attorney Goldstein, Moshe says: “I won’t give you his name. As I said, when the investigation is complete, we will act in accordance with whatever is deemed necessary.”

Goldstein, meanwhile, has this to say: “My personal story isn’t the important element in this story. Not the fact that I was born in Germany or who my parents are. What matters is the message of what’s happening in Bil’in and in the villages along the fence route. People are being shot. Lands are being appropriated. As soon as I get well I’ll go back to Bil’in to demonstrate.”W