Marginalizing Arafat is Not Going to Bring Peace

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Get rid of Arafat and everything will be resolved. So goes the thinking in Israel. Ariel Sharon has toughened up his rhetoric and has lived up to his declaration that the war of 1948 [the year of Israel’s creation] continues. There is even talk of exile. Journalists are prevented from covering the conflict, and there is a growing fear of what will be found when the Israelis finally abide by President Bush’s request for an immediate withdrawal.

Further, we say that Yasser Arafat is the elected leader of the Palestinians, and that we cannot choose our negotiating partners. Then, it is announced that Secretary Colin Powell has no plans to meet Arafat next week but wil meet with other Arab leaders. The contradiction would be humorous if the situation weren’t so dire. Ask a Palestinian and they’ll tell you: the issue is not Arafat but Israel’s Occupation of Palestinians. Almost 35 years ago, the famous Six Day War in the Middle East occurred. Numerous casualties occurred then, and the casualties resulting from Israel’s subsequent occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem continue now.

The recent suicide bombings throughout Israel underscores what military occupation has done to the psyche of some in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. In this case, a growing number of young Palestinians who feel they no longer have anything to lose. The deaths from the suicide bombings were certainly tragic. Loss of innocent life always is, be it Palestinian or Israeli. And there have been many, particularly on the Palestinian side. More than 1,200 deaths and 20,000 injured since September 2000. However, it is troubling that many Israelis appear oblivious to the suffering of Palestinians. Oblivious as to why there is an uprising at all. When one gets past the violent acts, be it suicide bombings or Israeli F16 bombings, the root problem is Israeli occupation.

Would it have been nice to resolve the conflict at the negotiating table? Sure, but Israel sought to circumvent international law and hand out the carrots it wanted to give. The reasons for the current Intifada are many. All of which any human being can understand, and most definitely any American. Freedom from occupation would be a good start. Freedom: from having their olive orchards uprooted, a source of income for many; from having their homes demolished; from Israeli military checkpoints between every Palestinian city, which never went away since the signing of the Oslo Accords; from land confiscation to build more illegal Israeli settlements; to travel to hospitals during emergencies without being detained — some until death ensues; from torture, which still exists despite a ban issued by Israel’s High Court; from the sadist brutality of Israeli border patrolmen when they go to their jobs; to be children as opposed to fighting like adults so that they are not subject to the same humiliation their parents are; of the same kind of security that Israelis want for themselves.

Three million Palestinians have tolerated the denial of these freedoms for more than three decades, overwhelmingly and without incident. They ought to be commended for their restraint all of these decades, as opposed to being demonized in our press. There are an occasional few young men and women who can no longer bite their lip, however. The results are often horrific. It’s been said that there is no enemy greater than the one who has nothing to lose. No jobs, no education, daily humiliation. As Israeli Sephi Leevi — a resident who lives across the street from the recent Tel Aviv bombing — shrugged, “I would do the same.”

Israel’s own B’tselem recently noted that many of the 1,200+ killed were not even involved in armed confrontation. The report also discussed trigger-happy Israeli troops. Palestinian pleas for an international force to protect them have been dismissed by the Israelis – who apparently are the sole decision makers on this issue. Ironic, given that they are the ones that Palestinians want protection from.

There is an expectation that Arafat can somehow put a stop to the Intifada. But the Intifada is bigger than Yasser Arafat. It is bigger than Ariel Sharon. It is bigger than the defunct Oslo Accords. It is about the human spirit and the desire to be free. The famous Patrick Henry quotation, “Give me liberty or give me death,” is actually very applicable in the case of the Palestinian Intifada. Israel seems to believe that ‘might makes right.’ Not so.

When Israel ends the Occupation and implements UN resolutions, as well as deal with their Palestinian counterparts as true equals, peace just might be achieved. Until then, the bloodshed will sadly continue.

Sherri Muzher, who holds a Jurist Doctor in International and Comparative Law, is a Palestinian-American activist and free lance journalist.

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