JERUSALEM, (AP) — General Yair Golan served in the occupied West Bank protecting Jewish settlements for a large part of his military career. He is today one of their most vocal critics.
Golan is a former deputy chief of the military and is currently a legislator for the dovish Meretz party. He has repeatedly condemned settler violence against Palestinians.
His recent comments about violent settlers being “subhuman” have upset Israel’s fragile governing coalition. His opponents have called him a radical. After not speaking up in uniform or in positions of influence, he joins a group of ex-security personnel who have retired to raise alarm about Israel’s five-decade-long militarization of the Palestinians.
Golan said that he believes it is impossible to have a free and democratic country if people are being controlled by us. He spoke this week in an interview with The Associated Press at his Knesset office. “What kind long-term democracy are we building?”
Golan is a rare critic in a society that accepts the occupation as a fact. In a society where settlers have succeeded in pushing their narrative through being close to the power levers, Golan is an uncommon voice of criticism. The majority of Israel’s parliament members are pro-settlement right wing.
Golan, 59 years old, was wounded in action in Lebanon. He also held key posts as the head of the northern command of the country and commander of the West Bank.
He earned a reputation for being a maverick and making bad decisions, which sometimes led to him getting into trouble. He reached an unapproved deal to expel some settlers from Hebron, West Bank. After he allowed the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields in arrest raids, which was banned by the Supreme Court of the country, he was reprimanded.
He was also credited with allowing thousands of Syrians who were wounded in civil war to enter Israel to receive medical treatment.
After comparing fascist trends in Israel today to Nazi Germany, he was made deputy military chief and then passed over for the top position. He feels that the speech cost him his position.
He was elected to parliament a few years after his retirement and joined Meretz, which supports Palestinian statehood, and is now part of the coalition led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Meretz is one of few parties that has made ending Israel’s occupation their top priority. However, many of the coalition’s members have reacted positively to Meretz’s decision to join. They now agree to concentrate on more stable issues and less divisive issues.
Golan hasn’t. He caused a stir earlier this month when he attacked settlers who had vandalized graves within the Palestinian West Bank village Burqa.
Golan stated to the Knesset Channel, “These are not human beings. These are subhumans.” They must not be supported.”
Bennett, a former settler leader was angered by his remarks and others in the coalition were critical.
Golan admitted that his words were not perfect, but he said he still stands behind the sentiment of his comments.
He said, “Is it the expression I used?” or those people who go upto Burqa and smash graves, destroy property, and assault innocent Palestinians?
These statements have made him a symbol for what far-right nationalists call dangerous forces within the coalition that challenge Israel’s West Bank role. The Palestinians see the 1967 Israeli capture of the West Bank as the core of their future state.
Some of Israel’s dovish Left have also been reluctant to embrace Golan who continues to defend Israel’s actions in West Bank.
Golan saw his role in the territory as being primarily to combat Palestinian militants. He believes that most settlers are law-abiding citizens. All settlements are considered illegal or illegitimate by the international community. Many left-wing Israelis and Palestinians view the military as an enforcer for an unjust occupation.
Breaking the Silence is a whistleblower group that represents ex-military personnel from Israel who are against policies in the West Bank. They call for action and not only words to stop settler violence.
“Yair Golan is well aware of the consequences of settler violence and our violent control over Palestinians.” The group stated that while his criticism is important, it’s not enough.
Golan stated that he has always considered Israeli control over Palestinian territory as temporary. Separating from the Palestinians would be the best way to preserve Israel’s democratic status with a Jewish majority.
Golan ordered the evacuation of Amona, a settlement built on private Palestinian land, in the West Bank in 2006.
He said, “I cannot come to terms that someone Jewish who holds Jewish value supports the theft of another’s lands.”
As violence between Palestinian settlers in the West Bank escalates, videos showing soldiers watching as settlers go on the rampage have been released. Golan stated that he would not have allowed this to happen under his command.
He said, “These people don’t accept the essence Israel and abide to the law only when they feel comfortable,”
The establishment is not the only one to be offended by his comments about settlers. Golan, at the time, was deputy military chief and stated that he was seeing “nauseating” processes in Israeli society, which reminded him of Nazi-era Germany’s fascism.
He claimed that the comments were triggered by the death of a soldier who had subdued a Palestinian attacker. Nationalist politicians, including Benjamin Netanyahu, embraced the soldier. Golan stated that the shooting was nothing less than an execution.
Golan keeps next to his desk a photo showing Netanyahu arriving at Jerusalem’s corruption trial. He is surrounded by supporters of the Likud Party as he rants about police and prosecutors.
Golan stated that the image serves as a reminder of his fight against and for.
Golan stated, “I served my country in uniform for so long, it was the best thing I have ever done.” He pointed to the photo and said, “I didn’t endanger mine life countless of times for these folks.”