Starting with the individual

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Four and-a-half years ago I found myself in a difficult position. This week, a problem that began then has been solved. But I am afraid that I can’t say that I am pleased with the results.

Israeli troops decided that a five-storey building in Ramallah, belonging to Al Quds University, was needed for their security. They must have decided that the building which houses Al Quds University’s Institute of Modern Media, Al Quds Educational TV and the university’s archaeological department would make a perfect headquarters for the Israeli army’s engineering unit.

On April 2. 2002, troops that were in areas A of the Palestinian Authority as part of the defensive shield operation moved in to take over this strategically based location. They surrounded the building, detained the few people who were manning the educational TV (faculty and students had gone home) and after some hours sent them home and turned the building into their headquarters. My office, as the director of the institute, became the office of the unit’s commander, and the campus’ large basement cafeteria was turned into a temporary jail.

For 19 days our repeated efforts to get to our offices were physically prevented. Our contacts with Israeli officials produced the same assurances that all our equipment, documents and furniture will be protected and the building will be returned to us in the same shape it was when they took it. They weren’t. Nineteen days later, we retook our building but it was a mess. Expensive cameras and editing equipment was stolen, TV monitors were shot up, the petty cash was stolen and the entire building was a wreck. The Israeli army didn’t tell us when they were leaving, we heard from neighbours and as soon as the morning curfew was lifted, a couple of our staff who lives nearby went over; one filmed on video everything there was. Everything is on the original tape: what was left intact, what was broken and what was missing.

Afterwards we decided to go to court and sue the Israeli army for damages. On Sept. 21, 2006, a three-judge Israeli court headed by Aharon Farkahash rejected our appeal despite the damning evidence on tape and lack of claim by the Israeli army that nothing wrong had been done before or during the Israeli army’s incursion.

The refusal of the Israeli court to address our legitimate claim, symbolically compensate us for our loss, recognise that loss occurred to us or even make an attempt to hold the Israeli army responsible for the wrong it did will not register with many. Much more damage has been done to many more people. But the lofty ideals of peace and justice often come down to a simple personal case.

I was not involved in any of the acts that made the Israelis take revenge on Palestinians in 2002. Just like all the Palestinians and I were not responsible for the reasons that made Israel occupy the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Almost all my adult life, I have tried to work for peace and justice. The same TV studio that the Israeli army wrecked in 2002 produced and will continue to produce programmes for Palestinian children and adults. We are proud to have produced the first Palestinian version of Sesame with Israeli partners, tackling issues of tolerance and mutual respect. I will not change my plans and my beliefs despite the fact that three Israeli judges didn’t find it appropriate to address legitimate claims for the destruction and loss of property incurred by the Israeli army.

Last month, thousands of Lebanese experienced the same feelings of loss; they had no access to an Israeli court so the most basic issue of compensation has not been raised. Unlike them, however, my office is still under the control (direct or indirect) of the state of Israel and an Israeli court headed by three judges had the chance to correct a wrong done by its own soldiers.

The building that was wrecked has been fixed. The equipment that was destroyed or went missing has been replaced. But the hurt of seeing this wrong go uncorrected will not be fixed as easily. Perhaps I am naive, but until and unless Israelis realise that if they are not going to have the courage to correct the small wrong that was done to individual Palestinians, the real peace which we all want between our two peoples will continue to elude us.

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