Whilst in Goa, editing the novel I am currently working on, I read Golda, a biography of the late, great, Israeli prime minister Golda Meir by Elinor Burkett. I have been fascinated by Golda Meir for some time, for not only was she a pioneer and subsequent leader of the only Jewish homeland, a hero and legend, but her wit is comparable to that of Oscar Wilde.
I knew that a book about the woman behind the oscillating image would captivate me but what I wasn’t prepared for, was the extent of emotion that would well up inside me as Golda’s story unfolds. I’m not usually moved by history books and Elinor Burkett has written a history book — one that could have done with another line edit, but never mind — it is without sentimentality, just pure documented research and nothing else. If you are interested in reading about one of the most fascinating women in modern history, I can’t recommend it enough.
The book opens with this quote:
‘One cannot, and must not, try to erase the past, merely, because it does
not fit the present.’
And already, I stop and ponder at how my reading of this text is so very timely, with anti-Semitism on the rise again after having been held in abeyance for so many of my years. Throughout history the Jewish people have lurched from being somebody’s whipping boy to somebody else’s whipping boy, with stretches of relative calm and opportunity in between. I’ve been recently piqued, as many of us have, by prominent personalities who boast their support of organisations that condone violence against Jewish people, distort history, create propaganda, write vicious articles, side with terrorists, and all in a desperate attempt to try and take emancipation away from those that live in Israel, Jewish or not.
I take a deep breath and continue to read on about how a young American woman, early in the 20th Century, was on a mission to help foster a legitimate homeland for her people, away from the cycle of suffering, lies and abuse, that has plagued them for centuries. Driven in her plight, in 1921 she left Milwaukee USA, and went to live in Palestine when it was just a desert ruled by the British, and in doing so defied the wishes of her husband and parents. This magnificent woman proved herself to be completely human; she had flaws.
Too busy in her efforts to nurture a better future for the Jewish people she neglected her personal relationships, and had little time for her marriage and her children.
‘To be or not to be is not a compromise; either you be or you don’t be.’
From the off, Golda was at the forefront in the formulation of Israel and its subsequent government. Her role was often that of spokesperson, seeker of peace, and formidable negotiator.
‘We do not rejoice in victories. We rejoice when a new kind of cotton is grown and when strawberries bloom in Israel.’
When Israel was newly declared a state and was attacked on all sides by its Arab neighbours, it was Golda who went to America and fundraised for arms so that Israel could defend herself, and in doing so she saved the baby country and its people from hell and destruction.
'It is easier to make a revolution than to uphold the values for which it was made.'
She was not interested in power per se. She was not interested in becoming wealthy. She was not an egotist; she lived a humbly. Totally committed to socialism. She was approachable and in her own country was known, simply, as Golda. But by some members of her government and an element of the population, she was also vehemently opposed for her views.
‘It’s no accident many accuse me of conducting public affairs with my heart instead of my head…Well, what if I do?’
Seeing the way the world viewed people of African descent, she saw a reflection of how the world viewed her own people, and she reached out the arm of friendship. She became an aide to several underdeveloped African nations. She was unafraid to show her feelings. She was a tough cookie but she also cried.
‘How’s your health? Journalists asked.
‘Nothing serious,’ she’d respond. ‘A touch of cancer here, a little tuberculosis there.’
All her adult life she was plagued by ill health, migraines, cancer and other diseases, so it was even more remarkable that at the age of 71 she became the 4th prime minister of Israel and the 3rd female head of government in the modern world.
'Only those who dare, who have the courage to dream, can really accomplish something. People who are forever asking themselves, ‘Is it realistic? Can it be accomplished? Is it worth trying? Accomplish nothing.'
In 1971, during the Yom Kippur War, when the IDF Generals were wavering, it was left up to Golda, a 73 year old grandma, to make important strategic military decisions. Unprepared as she may have been for the task, and the decisions impossibly difficult, but make them she did, and blamed only herself for errors.
'The Arabs, to our great sorrow, just don’t want us to be. They want destruction of the state…There is no compromise on a question of that kind…The question involved is, are they prepared to acquiesce to our lives and presence in the areas? …For that is necessary that we meet them and negotiate with them and if they are not prepared to meet us then they certainly are not prepared to live in peace with us.'
Perhaps one day, like Jordan and Egypt, the other Arab states will change their mind.