Radicalization of a people

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Israel’s destruction of 472 Palestinian villages and towns and the ethnic cleansing that followed turned the Palestinian majority into minority in what became Israel in 1948. Israeli propagandists succeeded in turning the Nakba into Israel’s war of independence and the collective destruction, massacres and ethnic cleansing into purity of arms. The Palestinian refugees opted for 20 years of pacifism, waiting in refugee camps for Godot to grant them their right of return. But this non-violence did not help. The international community’s indifference and Israel’s propaganda ploys demonstrated the need for resistance, or what those who deny the Palestinians the right to self determination call violence.

Israel was not ready for peace. Hosni Al-Zaim, the leader of the 1949 American-sponsored coup d’tat in Syria, presented a peace initiative but was rejected by Ben Gurion. Gamal Abdel-Nasser unequivocally declared that there was neither a will nor a way to fight Israel. He proposed another peace initiative, but again the Israelis were not ready. These developments prompted the Palestinians to seek a solution in armed resistance.

A few days after the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, I met the Israeli prime minister’s adviser on Arab affairs. We spoke for about five hours, and he asked me what I thought. “Palestine cannot absorb two peoples,” I replied. “It’s either you or us.” My radical stand, it seemed, served their purpose: they were not interested in partners for peace.

In 1972, Moshe Dayan was attempting to create a group of Quislings as an alternative leadership to the PLO. To confound this plan, and organise the people, the following year I was one of the founders of the Palestinian National Front in the occupied territories (PNF). Two months after our first meetings (advocating a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict), the Israeli military occupation authority exiled me for 20 years. Hundreds of community and professional leaders, the majority advocates of peace, were exiled without trial.

The 1967 War provided the Israelis with a choice between peace and colonisation. They chose the latter. After the dust had settled, the Israeli army razed three villages of the Latrun: Amwas, Yalo and Beit Nuba. Their people were driven by force towards the east. Air raids accompanied by rumours of massacres drove hundreds of thousands of people, many refugees for the second time in their lives, to flee.

In 34 years of occupation, Israel has deployed the full gamut of repressive measures: dispossession, racial discrimination, humiliation, exile, confiscation, uprooting of trees, and demolition of houses. Israeli plans for the occupied territories showed ever greater inventiveness, stipulating that Palestinian towns and villages be surrounded and besieged by Israeli colonies, made easy targets for fanatic colonisers. The Palestinians became guinea pigs in a study of the limits of what human beings can bear.

The Israelis accuse the Palestinians of putting their children in the line of fire. A study titled “The Status of Palestinian Children during the Uprising in the Occupied Territories,” sponsored by Radda Barnen, the Swedish Save the Children organisation, and the American Save the Children organisation, challenges these accusations.

Although this form of child exploitation (sending children to be killed) is described as a phenomenon by Israeli officials, the report states, no case of a child being killed under these conditions has ever been documented. Researchers, however, witnessed the indiscriminate beating, tear gassing and shooting of children at home or just outside their houses, playing in the street, at school, or on their way to the store for groceries. Children were also beaten, tear gassed, and shot for flashing v-for-victory signs. Parents interviewed consistently expressed fear and feelings of helplessness in protecting their children from the army. The four-volume report added that most of the children killed by gunfire had been shot in the head or the neck. Twelve per cent had been shot from behind.

For argument’s sake, however, let us suppose that the primitive Palestinians send their children to be killed in a clever propaganda ploy. Why does modern, democratic Israel kill the children?

A joint Palestinian-Israeli psychologists’ conference held after the first Intifada found that Israeli army violence inflicted on families during home raids was one of the reasons for children’s involvement in the struggle. Witnessing or hearing about the killing of friends or relatives were catalysts for child involvement too. Children change when they discover that their parents are unable to protect them. Young people who stand up to the army become symbols of hope.

Raed Hammoudeh, a plumber, was shot dead at an Israel check-point. Two days before he was killed, Hammoudeh expressed contempt of the Palestinian leadership for its willingness to sign an agreement that “did not give us security.” But he was enraged at Israel’s repressive measures. “We should fight until they leave us alone,” he said. “I am bored to death of them.”

Hammoudeh is indeed dead; as for the Israeli voters, they are not bored to death with being occupiers. The mass murder of Palestinians, many of them young children, does not seem to bother them. They know the captive Palestinian market is worth about $4 billion. There are also the advantages of cheap labour and land on which to build villas.

Unfortunately, the Israeli public brought in a bull to guard their china shops, believing he would force the Palestinians to surrender, or eradicate them if necessary. For the past 34 years, the Israelis have played the same game. Five prime ministers have tried to achieve mission impossible. And they have all failed.

The Palestinians have two options, and nothing to lose. Both options are legitimate and sanctioned by international law. They can resort to non-violent struggle, but the Israeli occupation will undermine its sustainability. They can choose military resistance, which Israel’s repressive measures nourish. The success of the Lebanon resistance seems to indicate this is a more fruitful path to take.

It is not possible, however, to choose one or the other calmly while the occupation continues and the massacre rages on. Still, peaceful resistance has not been abandoned: a few weeks ago, it succeeded in breaking the closure of the Al Bireh-Ramallah and Bir Zeit University road.

Mr. Saleh Abdel Jawad is Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and former minister of agriculture.

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