I should have been angry but I wasn’t. Israeli soldiers at the Qalandia checkpoint slashed all four wheels of my car. Apparently they didn’t like where I and many other Palestinians had parked our cars as we got off and travelled by foot to cross the dreaded occupation checkpoint.
The reason I was not so angry was not a newfound appreciation for the Israeli occupation, but rather a reflection of the new mood in Palestine. This mood refuses to be surprised by anything that the Israeli occupation force carries out. Before seeing my car I had been in my Ramallah office; during my stay there rumours had circulated about an imminent Israeli incursion into the city. People had lost count of the number of incursions; was this whether the fifth or the sixth in as many months?
Most people seem to have stocked up basic food to last for some time.
Discussions in the office had not been on whether another incursion would take place or on the length of incursions. (Rumours were about an incursion that would last up to six months, or however it will take to erect the Israeli fence separating the West Bank, while taking more Palestinian lands) Instead, the discussions were centred on whether the Israelis will place the city under a continuous curfew or not.
Ayman, a colleague, decided that if there is no curfew, it will be fine with him.
In other parts of the West Bank, Palestinian sentiment didn’t vary. The threat of deporting President Yasser Arafat or his top aides didn’t seem to concern many and no one was holding his breath waiting for the expected speech of US President George Bush.
The overwhelming attitude of Palestinians seems to centre on making do. On Thursday, and despite the Israeli incursion into parts of Ramallah, I was surprised to see everyone working as usual in the office. People were in the streets and restaurants and business was brisk. In one Ramallah restaurant, “The Stones”, not a single table was free late in the evening, despite the rumours of incursions. The owner said they would continue to work until a tank stops outside the restaurant and forces them to close.
In Bethlehem I found a similar situation. The owner of a dance hall in Beit Sahour said that their weekly Saturday night dance had a record number of clients. “We had to refuse more people than we allowed because of the high turnout,” said Yousef Shomali. Two days earlier, the Israeli army had withdrawn from the city after yet another incursion.
This apathy means that the actions of the occupying forces against the Palestinians have failed to act as a deterrent. Palestinians were unhappy with the latest attack against civilians and most people were unable to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
A statement published as a full page ad in the leading newspaper Al Quds, drafted by Sari Nusseibeh and including signatures of leading moderate Palestinians, including Hanan Ashrawi, called for an end to attacks against Israeli civilians. The ad, with 55 signatures on Wednesday, was repeated on Thursday with over 70 signatures, and it seems that more signatures will be added to this public announcement.
After contenting myself with the fact that I couldn’t fix my car with all four wheels down, I went to the nearest tyre store and found that the man had been doing brisk business for the past few weeks. The shop had sold plenty of tyres (mostly used) to car and truck owners; their tyres had been shot at or become flat from driving on all kinds of dirt roads to circumvent the Israeli checkpoints.
But the apathy towards incursions and the public call for an end to attacks against Israeli civilians have done little to change the Israeli mindset which seems to be stuck with its own formula of finding military solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And the Israeli expectation that the pressures on all Palestinians will produce a solution to their conflict will, again, not come true.
The apathy which I and others are experiencing is frightening because it reflects a certain level of numbness of normal feelings. In order to regain the normal human feelings of anger, love and even hate, an end to the violence and counterviolence is necessary.
To stop the cycle of violence we need to get out of the mindset of revenge and punishment and begin giving people hope based on genuine confidence that this illegal occupation and all that has resulted as a consequence will end soon.
This is the only hope for all of us to regain our humanity.
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. He is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University which owns and runs Al Quds Educational Television. In May 2001, Mr. Kuttab received the International Press Institute’s award as one of fifty press freedom heroes in the last fifty years.