Remembering Dina Goor, graceful human rights revolutionary

Few people can say that they changed direction later in life and started an influential human rights organization. Dina Goor didn’t stop at just one. She believed in her ability to change and influence and called on everyone in her world to join her.

By Alma Biblash and Libby Lenkinski

(Excerpts from Dina’s interview with Just Vision in 2008. Filmed by Mickey Elkeles. Interviewed by Julia Bacha.)

When we watch this video, our hearts fill with the heartbreak of missing her.

Dina Goor was an elegant woman made of fire. When most people think about retirement, they start planning their years of rest and relaxation; Dina made her plans to change reality.

She was an elite model. She was an interior designer. She was a loving and devoted mother and grandmother.

They say that once we reach a certain point in life, people don’t change – we no longer shift our worldviews. Dina’s heart was so open and her yearning for a just society so great that she immediately knew what she had to do. It wasn’t retirement.

Dina’s arrival at the Qalandiya checkpoint a decade ago in her grey Volkswagen Golf, her perfectly straight, grey, shoulder-length hair and her grey sweater, changed the face of the human rights movement in Israel. She joined Machsom Watch, then founded Yesh Din and then the Human Rights Defenders Fund, all part of an unparalleled era in the evolution of this movement – a movement working to create a society that Dina dreamt of on behalf of her grandchildren and all of us. She did all of this with humility and love.

Yesh Din is among the most important organizations in Israel, providing legal assistance to Palestinian victims of violent crimes by Israelis – attacks that went on for dozens of years without recourse. Yesh Din is also the fruit of the pain and anger that burned inside Dina when she met with Palestinian people living under occupation – the people, stories and a bitter reality that kept her awake at night. But she wasn’t one to complain about the situation. She was a revolutionary, an elegant and graceful, soft-spoken revolutionary.

Dina never worried about things like having an office from which to send out press releases. Until her last day, Dina was a field worker. At age 75 she still went to the occupied territories regularly, climbing hills and entering dangerous areas without hesitation: “If Palestinians can live there with all that they’ve endured in my name, the least I can do is go there as much as necessary. I don’t have the privilege to be afraid.” She was a humble revolutionary.

Few people can say that they changed direction later in life and started an influential human rights organization – but Dina didn’t stop at just one. In 2011, after a number of years with Yesh Din, she founded the Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF). The HRDF provides legal assistance, consultation, and representation to activists, to human rights defenders, to ensure they can continue the important work of change-making in the region. Dina ran the fund with respect, passion and vision, with full faith in the goal, with the life wisdom of a 100 year old, and with motivation and energy of a teenager.

Dina was a strong and independent woman. She didn’t let anything or anyone stand in her way. She believed in her ability to change and influence and called on everyone in her world to join her. She was warm and caring, sharp and witty, loved humankind, and educated without preaching. She was a woman of principles who was uncompromising about the truth as she saw it. She believed in and loved the people around her. She was humble from head to toe. She was stunningly beautiful outside and in.

There was something fancy about Dina – her understated style, her childlike laugh. She used to say that she and Mooky, a friend and co-founder of both Yesh Din and the HRDF, were the Saba and Savta to all of us. In a way they were, but unlike most of our real grandparents, Mooky and Dina had a dizzying aura of cool about them – separately and together. And the two of them were an institution for us, one that combined dedication to the cause with a love of life.

On September 27, Dina passed away after a short illness – so short that we almost didn’t get to say goodbye. Dina accepted her bad news with courage and with her usual smile and grace. We, who worked with her, learned from her, loved her, and were loved by her, will not forget. We will not let her work be in vain, we will do our best to adopt her grace and humility, and we will continue her legacy of working for a just society.